Life with Frood
But what can you tell about a book owner from her books?
I have been heard to complain about the amount of trashy fantasy cluttering our bookshelves. But when we moved last time, Frood very kindly bought some new bookshelves so we had enough space to put out all of our books, about half of which had been in storage for years. He worked out, using the measure of length of stacked books, that we had around 1.3m for every year we’ve been together.
You can keep all your decomposing flowers, expensive chocolates and dubiously-mined gemstones: that’s romantic.
I have a couple of favourite exercises I do to get a firm grasp of any character I am writing. These exercises do not necessarily make it into any finished story —nor does the character, in some cases— but I find they work for me. One of them is the “what does he keep in his pockets?” exercise (which for one WIP turned into the “what does she keep in her courier bag?” exercise, as cyclists tend to keep not much in their pockets). You can tell quite a bit from what someone keeps in his or her pockets (or bag).
The other one is what the character’s living space looks like. What do they keep to hand? What do they have on display? Is it done for other people or for themselves? Why do they have those things? What meaning do they have?
Sometimes I look at what I keep around me and reflect on what it says about how I’ve changed through the years. My desk, where I write, is arranged differently from the way it was just a couple of years ago, and not just because we’ve moved twice in that period. Some things are the same —the inkpots, some of the pictures, the Penguin of Death— and some things aren’t (it’s a lot emptier now). It’s not possible to recreate a previous living space in a new environment, of course, but we also make very conscious decisions about what to leave behind and what to keep when we move house, and not just in the material sense of decluttering, or paring down to reduce the cost of the process. I imagine most people are the same in that respect.
Taken to the extreme, if a character had to keep moving, all the time, without having a chance to settle, what he chose to keep with him would be very telling. Then the two exercises I described above might become the same exercise.
I think I quite like what my bookshelf says about me these days. But then, it was Frood who stacked it for me.
Do check out his website. It has cool art and hypnotised rocks.
Blimey! It has been a while. Prolonged internet absence has made updating the blog a near impossibility. So what has been happening on Planet Sam?
In the last 6 months we’ve moved house, twice — as mentioned in this previous post, we moved from Edinburgh to Aberdeen last year as I was offered a new position in the day job — first of all to temporary accommodation and then into a wee cottage where it took nearly 2 months to get (very slow) broadband connected (although, on the plus side, we have open fires in every room, a garden full of birds, the perfect length of cycle commute and horses coming to say hello whenever we step out the back door, which is fabulous). Both Frood and I have been very busy in our enforced absence from the Virtual World. He has been looking for work and I have been getting to grips with a new territory and new responsibilities.
People kept saying to me: “I suppose you don’t realise how much you rely on the internet.” Oh, I did. I so, so did. At the time our internet went live I had been without a home internet connection since October last year. It has been frustrating, to say the least. On the other hand, it has given me the space to concentrate on other things and I suspect the experience will change my future internet usage. For the better. I know which things I missed the most and which I didn’t miss as much as I expected (cough FACEBOOK cough).
On the writing front I’ve already made more submissions this year than I have in the last two and am now a member of Lemon Tree Writers, which is proving most interesting. Frood and I are also hard at work on a comic that will allow us to pool our creative silliness into something we hope others will enjoy reading as much as we’re enjoying the process of putting it together.
In March we attended Hi-Ex, which was a great hoot, and definitely going on the repeat list for next year. Many thanks to Vicky and Richmond for putting on a great event and to all the guests for donating their time and effort.
I’m taking another year off triathlon, primarily for financial reasons. It’s an expensive sport, once you figure in the gym membership and travel expenses, and as I’m still working on getting my run fitness back, there’s no point investing in the rest until I’m sure I’m going to be able to complete a race distance. That doesn’t mean I’m sitting on my backside, though. This year’s Dumb Run has been swapped out for an away match. We are doing Edinburgh to Aberdeen instead, with an epilogue of Pirate Adventure Golf and, potentially, GoApe!.
I think that’s enough of a summary for the meantime. Hopefully entries will go back to being at least semi-regular from now on. I’ll leave you with a photo of a badger we took at the gallery in Inverness while we were up for Hi-Ex. We felt very sorry for this badger, who was probably a very respectable, fairly conservative mustelid while alive, and had been permanently fixed by the taxidermist in a position that can only be described as “provocative”:
I had hoped to be blogging rather more regularly by now. Unfortunately we’re still not properly settled in Aberdeen, and currently working with intermittent access to the internet. I’m busy with the new job and various writing projects, trying to squeeze the words in between work, food and sleep. My hypergraphia, which trundles along for most of the year but usually goes for broke in November/December, was a month late this year, and I’ve been frantically scribbling things I can’t use since just before Christmas. It does get in the way.
Both Frood and I will be attending Hi-Ex in Inverness at the end of March, seeing as how it’s practically just up the road. If any fellow writers/artists/comic fans/circumstantial-cyclists want to say hi, he’s the one with the beard and I’m the one with the black right eye and the Pictish tattoo. We’d love to meet you.
As has become something of a tradition over the past couple of years, we’re spending Christmas away from (temporary) home in the company of family. As is also something of a tradition, we’re spending the holiday season in the back of beyond where there is almost no phone reception, so if you have sent me any text messages wishing me good cheer and I haven’t replied it’s not because I don’t love you any more: I haven’t received it. We do, however, have wifi and this year I brought a laptop so I can continue writing.
The lodge where we’re staying is amazing. Seriously amazing. I could live in a house like this quite happily. The only thing that could make it better is if it were a lighthouse, but I’m being picky. The weather so far has been fairly grim and dreich, so the light has been far too poor for taking photographs. Still, I snapped this shot of the view from the upper balcony in an effort to show the spectacular view of the torrents roaring constantly in the background. We sleep with the window open.
Yesterday Frood and I went out with the parents on a short but windy, wet and enjoyable bike ride to explore a little. Needing something that would fit on the rack, and with most of the noble steeds in storage, I was obliged to bring Shackleton, sporting his brand new wheels (more on that particular saga later). The thing is, I’ve put the Hutchinson Gold Cross tyres on him in preparation for the snows, and I left the 16 tooth sprocket on, so he’s currently rolling around with gear inches in excess of 70. This would be fine for the hill-free streets of Aberdeen, but out here in the wilds the roads come in lumpy. I think we did all of 6 miles yesterday and my legs are no longer speaking to me. I am seriously out of practise on fixed!
Finally, here is medium-sized Stitch (still on his Scotland tour) wearing the Stitch slippers Nick and Candice got me for my Christmas:
It has been a month of big changes. When we moved to Scotland — a return to home territory for me but a new country of residence for Frood— we initially lived in Fife. I was born and mostly raised in Fife (even if my most potent childhood memories are all of the west coast, Highlands and Islands), so the territory was one with which I was gratefully familiar. It’s hard enough making a change of job that significant without having to learn a new geography as well, at least when the job requires a good local knowledge.
After a year or so I transferred to Edinburgh, as Frood was working there and was tired of the lengthy commute and the seasonal rail fares taking up a significant chunk of his monthly pay. We’ve been living and working in and around Edinburgh for four years, which is by no means the least time I’ve spent in any one place, although it’s towards the bottom of the scale.
I am restless by nature, easily bored and always looking for the next intellectual challenge. I doubt I will ever be satisfied with going in to work to do the same thing day after day. My comfort zone is not static. It’s more of a bouncy castle, floating in a swimming pool on the deck of an ocean liner in the middle of a storm.
Fortunately, just as my feet were growing itchy again, the desire to get back to dealing with the technical specialisms of water pricking at their otherwise insensitive soles, an opportunity came along.
This month we’re in the process of upping sticks and moving to where granite rock glistens in the salt spray of the North Sea and radon seeps from the ground in quantities insufficient to have any significant health implications, never mind be enough to activate the Marveliser (dammit). Here the local tongue is the Doric and I will be as linguistically handicapped as Frood, for my knowledge of the Doric starts and ends with poorly-remembered episodes of Scotland the What? from an old audio cassette we used to have.
I have managed to get lost three times in the last week, a decent sense of direction apparently being insufficient when there is a complete lack of familiar place names and/or landmarks. I am learning that it gets dark damnably early, especially since the clocks went back, and that the warnings about it being cold did not take into account the preferences of a cryophiliac like me. My ride to work in the mornings is short enough that I arrive before I’ve really got going. The supermarkets have the same names above the entrance and yet their selection of goods is both entirely expected and unfamiliar: along with the dubious pre-packed pizzas and DVDs for £3 I can buy daikon radish at the Morrison’s on King Street —an item of exotica never seen in Granton’s Waterfront Broadway store— and, wondrous wonder, CR2032 batteries, yet I cannot buy gluten-free plain flour there. The Sainsbury’s in Berryden, in addition to the usual range of chocolate and teabags, sells special handles for poach pods but doesn’t have any Spanish smoked paprika or Clearspring white miso.
Cultural and consumable differences aside, what has struck me the most is something both more and less mundane:
That’s the view from my office window. This is my lunchtime run route.
I think I’m going to like it here. I hope Frood will, too.
Now I just need to find somewhere selling Celestial Seasonings Apple and Cinnamon Spice tea.
On Monday of this week it was Frood‘s and my twentieth anniversary. Two decades, five weeks and five days exactly had passed since we first met; twenty years two weeks and five days since we got engaged; and thirteen years exactly since we got together with friends in a circle of stones millenia old and promised to do our best to make one another happy for the rest of our lives.
For our twentieth anniversary we made it official and legal in a manner recognised by the state. In other words, we got married.
We were lucky with the weather: it was the warmest day of the year so far and the sun shone for us. There was nothing traditional about it save for the exchanging of rings — the bride and groom would have been the first ones there if we hadn’t had our friend Andy staying with us.
I did, however, manage to resist the urge to have GLaDOS sing “This was a triumph” as I entered.
My thanks to everyone who sent us good wishes, cards, gifts and luck on the day. My especial thanks to Calum and Puzzle, Will, Andy, Neil, my brother Nick and of course my parents for making it a special day to treasure. It was a good day — a great day — because they made it one. Seriously guys, you are all awesome and I’m incredibly lucky to have friends and family like you.
Here’s to at least another twenty years of what Red Stags Morris once called, with visible relief, mutually assured distraction.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Christmas this year was spent on the south shore of Loch Tay, at Bracken Lodges. Frood and I were both working on Christmas Eve, as well as doing the Christmas dinner, so by the time we got home from work and got everything packed and into the car it was quite late.
It was also incredibly cold. And snowing. We’d had an early start on the back of a month of early starts, which, coupled with my insomnia, meant that I knew that the drive was going to be a tiring one before we started. I did seriously contemplate leaving it until the morning, but I knew Mum and Dad would be disappointed, so I HedTFU and got on with it.
Because the weather had been extremely wintry for several weeks the outer lane on the M90 was restricted width and there was no hard shoulder. The A9 wasn’t much better. There was too much snow. It was also -15°C, which is down around the point where grit stops working. I own a Ford Mondeo Estate, front wheel drive and back-end heavy, and it’s a pain in the ass in slippery conditions, so I was driving very carefully. The other issue we had is that the CD player in my car broke sometime last year, swallowing several of my CDs in the process. There is no MP3 player port so we’re reduced to listening to whatever we can find on the radio.
At the turn-off towards Aberfeldy we hit the roads that hadn’t been gritted adequately and, coincidentally, I became fed up with the interminable club dance tracks Scott Mills was playing on Radio 1. Classic FM was out because it was non-stop little boys singing carols, so I took a gamble on Radio 2 and found a fascinating documentary about Kenny Everett. For the next 45 minutes we minced along the road at about 20mph, discovering that Kenny did all of his special effects using just two tape decks — including the 8 part harmonies in which he was the only one singing. The world turned gradually more and more surreal as Captain Kremen’s Granny turned up and the snow kept falling.
Part of the route coincided with the road I’d ridden during the Aberfeldy Sprint, and I remarked that I’d been faster on the bike. That’s how carefully we had to drive.
At Kenmore we turned onto the narrow, single-track road that winds along the coast of the loch. By the time we got to the other side of Acharn I was really tired, and suffering from continually peering at a frosty road in low visibility with nothing but dark vegetation, the occasional dry stone wall and lots of snow either side of me. The road there was so slippy that I had to concentrate even harder on maintaining momentum over the ice without going so fast that the car slid out of control down the steep bank to the right and, for all I knew, straight into the water.
Frood had been using his GPS to track progress, but kept getting confused between distance to destination and distance to next junction, so I’d been given several conflicting miles to go messages. After what felt like the whole of eternity I asked Frood to call Mum and ask her if this place had a sign or something, because I was sure we’d missed it.
“Don’t worry,” he told me. “She says there’s a big blue Christmas tree right at the entrance and you can’t miss it.”
At about this moment a deer bounded across the path, eyeing us using that backwards glance they give things they don’t like but have ascertained aren’t really predators and couldn’t catch them anyway.
“Grand,” I replied, trying to get my heartrate back to normal after controlling a slight skid under braking.
Ten minutes later there was a dip in the road followed by a slight rise. As we crested this the deer was back and I couldn’t believe my eyes.
It had a blue arse. There was a deer, all delicate legs and waggly ears, looking at us backwards, and there was a bright, electric blue glow where its arse was.
I goggled at this like… Well, like you would imagine anyone goggling at a deer with blue light streaming out of its arse. I wondered what in the hell it had been eating.
After a moment the deer hung a sharp left but the blue light didn’t. There was the Christmas tree and there was my mum, standing at the side of the road waving her arms in the air.
I can’t remember the last time I was that relieved to arrive anywhere mostly intact. And, even knowing that what I saw was the light of the Christmas tree, what I remember and always will remember of our drive up north for Christmas is a deer with bright blue light coming out of its arse.
I have a minor Stitch obsession, as a few of you might know. This one I got not that long ago. He came inside a massive mug covered in Stitch faces. He is referred to as ‘Scruffy Little Stitch’ to distinguish him from the various other Stitch incarnations in the house, including, most recently, MegaStitch (there will be a picture of him along later).
Scruffy Little Stitch lives on my desk along with the Penguin of Death and the Lara Croft figurine. He’s one of my favourites, despite his small size, because he always looks like he’s holding his arms out for a hug.
At some point Frood put him on the Gorillapod he bought me for my birthday. Stitch then refused to come down — perching up there despite me thumping the desk quite hard — reminding me of the plush Cthulhu we put above the fireplace in Devon as a Christmas decoration one year. He wouldn’t come down, either. He stayed up there for 18 months or so.
He has a particularly smug look about him in this photograph. Either he’s pleased with my word count or he knows something he’s not telling. Being a suspicious cow, I suspect the latter.
Once I’d taken his picture he came down all by himself. He just wanted his picture taken. Such an exhibitionist.
Oh, and this is Christmas Cthulhu. I think I might have been slightly squiffy at the time:
Having synaesthesia means that I see things differently from others all of the time. The very word “see” is generally inappropriate. Light hits the retina, electrical impulses travel back along the optic nerve, and about there the similarities stop. In me that signal is processed by the brain through a weird amalgam of all my other senses. My synaesthesia even includes one of the senses not considered in the usual five: proprioception. Is it because I lost an eye at a critical age, rather than being born blind in one, or losing it much later? I don’t know. Sometimes I think that could explain many things about me, from the way I smell colours and inhabit the shapes of sounds to the way I have to do some things right handed and some things left.
On the whole, though, I think that what I am probably doing there is looking for a reason. And, a lot of the time, things just are. They’re not purposeful, they’re not meaningful, they’re not deliberate, they’re not fair or unfair… They just are.
I get a special thrill from experiencing a similar sense of wonder and joy at a particular thing to that of someone else. While I know it’s terribly unlikely that the other person is excited by the shape formed by that particular aroma, or the soundscape that whispers and hums in the background to a piece of scenery, the sharing of that childlike marvel that the world can be so astonishing and wonderful is more than enough.
Last night the temperature was -15°C and the skies were clear. Outside the snow froze surface-crisp. And how it sparkled! We have a rough patch of waste ground out back, and there’s a car park surrounded by a chain-link fence. It’s not beautiful. It’s no Midnight. Yet, even so, it was astonishing, because a myriad diamond glitters danced across the snow. For a moment I could imagine that stars have a spawning cycle that includes a terrestrial phase, the way coral has a planktonic larval stage, and these were the babies fallen to Earth. Frood also thought it was brilliant and we stood in a darkened room with our noses pressed against the glass, staring.
I decided to photograph it. Sadly the battery on my camera died and I was forced to use my phone, which doesn’t have the optics to do it justice. Although, of course, for me the synaesthetic response is different when looking at photographs. I see the photograph, not the thing in the photograph. So no photograph can ever capture the moment, despite what the camera adverts say.
Doesn’t stop me trying.
Now, see, I know I’m not the only person to find the Bird’s Eye Polar Bear adverts creepy. I know this for a fact. Other people find him creepy too. The great divide seems to be whether or not we like him.
Short answer: I don’t.
He tries to tell you what to eat! A polar bear! Who lives in the freezer! And somehow can survive the lack of air and general scarcity of seals in the average British domestic household!
Then I realised. He’s trapped in there, talking to himself, going batshit crazy like Adrian Brody in The Jacket. Playing with the switch that makes the light go on and off until the bulb blows; or fapping into the bags of vegetables while trying to drink himself to death on ice-cold vodka. The only interruption in his interminable life of tedium, imprisoned in the dark with the tupperware boxes filled with solidified leftovers and the peas that escaped from the bag to grow wrinkled and grey in the hoarfrost, is when someone opens the door.
He’s deranged. Anyone would be after being stuck in there. There is no one who could possibly survive that sort of environment mentally intact. But these people, coming to the door, letting in a brief glimpse of daylight and a warmer world of colour and sun… He has to be careful. He can’t scare them off. They might not come back. He has to be nice, friendly, helpful.
There’s nothing quite so creepy as a deranged predator trying to be nice, especially when the mask slips and the simmering rage and hatred sneaks out in the form of sharpened sarcasm:
“Hey, Laura. You know, I love preparing chicken.”
“No, Laura, nobody does.”
“I’m feeling a little neglected… And Clive? Don’t be a stranger.”
I swear the subtext to that reads: “Because if you are, next time you open this door you might just find that I gut you like a pig.”