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:
Dec.03, 2011, filed under Planet Sam
The Brits are known for their love affair with their pets. There have been documentaries made about it — Nick O’Dwyer’s Most Pampered Pets In Britain, for one. People go a bit mad for their animals, and it can result in them treating their pets as children: they buy them clothes and let them sleep in their beds and then wonder why they end up neurotic and disturbed and in need of assistance from the lovely Victoria Stilwell.
Dogs are dogs as far as I’m concerned. I’m not the sort to be won over by doleful brown eyes trying it on for scraps from the dinner table. I love dogs, and hope that one day our life will allow for us to get one or three —it wouldn’t be fair to the dog to get one before we have the time to commit to ownership— but I don’t believe in treating dogs as if they were human. A dog should certainly be a member of the family, because the family has to be the dog’s pack, but that doesn’t mean they should be treated like the human members of the family, despite current theories suggesting dogs and humans evolved, quite possibly together, to have an instinctive grasp of mutual social language. A bright dog can learn by imitation, and dogs watch their families constantly for instruction and communication the way humans chat to each other. Canines are all about body language.
Given all that, I’m not too sure what to make of JML’s latest range of dog toys, Frood took great delight in pointing out to me:
Crazy Critters are ultra durable and realistic looking plush toys that will provide your best friend with hours of playful fun. What makes them different from other dog toys is that they are stuffing-free, you’ll never have to clean up the mess from a ripped stuffed animal again, plus your pet won’t ever be tempted to eat the stuffing, which could be harmful to its health. Crazy Critters are also machine-washable, so you can use them indoors or outside over and over again.
Admittedly, it’s a damn sight better than buying them tutus covered in Swarovski crystals or a Calvin Klein jacket or even special dog cologne. Dogs are supposed to enjoy worrying dead animals. They are carnivores, after all.
Still. Those Crazy Critters resemble road kill rather more than the usual dog toys I see, and I think I might feel a bit weird offering my dog a squished fox to rip to shreds, even knowing that the dog wouldn’t think it resembled a squished fox in the slightest. I would know.
Maybe they should be renamed “Countryside Alliance Critters”.
It’s my birthday. Birthdays are cool and special and I’ve never grown out of feeling that there is something particularly important about birthdays. I know other people feel differently about birthdays. Some seem to treat them as something to ignore: an inevitable indicator of time passing and thus mortality; another year, another set of wrinkles. To some they are an excuse to party.
To me they are something to celebrate in a congratulatory fashion. Hey! Well done you! You survived another year and you know what? You’re doing okay, actually.
We moved recently —are still sort of halfway, if truth be told— and while packing I found a photograph of myself taken
many several an unspecified number of birthdays ago. It was one of four identical pictures taken in a photobooth, back when I was still cutting my hair very short and shortly after I acquired my very first black artificial eye (a huge moment in the personal history of me). I think this was the year I went to Ashton Court Festival and became inordinately attached to a helium balloon in the shape of a dolphin, which I called Jones.
My friend Charlotte commented:
Cor, that looks like a portrait from the assasins’ academy graduation yearbook.
I think she has a point.
Women with hair that short attract the wrong sort of attention and attitudes. The immediate assumption, if only of those who feel it is appropriate to voice such opinions to strangers, is that one is either a “dyke” or a cancer victim. Unless the woman in question is playing a particular part in a movie, or is a model doing a show that is avante garde, or “edgy”, then hair that short is generally considered unattractive, and I’m pretty sure that presumptions about gender roles play a large part in that. Long hair on a woman is usually better regarded than short hair. Women often invest a lot in having long hair — look at the tearful reactions of the would-be supermodels on reality shows such as America’s Next Top Model during the makeover section, when their precious locks are lopped off in the name of fashion.
It’s only hair. It does grow back.
I loved having short hair. I loved the practicality and fuzziness of it — it was incredibly soft. I liked how it emphasised my bone structure and showed off my ears. I thought it looked good.
Six years ago I reluctantly stopped shearing mine with the clippers once a month, as I was planning on re-entering the job market and I knew it would create a poor first impression. I resent the expense of a hairdresser — when I had it cut for the wedding in March it cost me £60! — and so I have grown it out to the point where it no longer needs that attention.
Although I won’t, because in the real world sometimes being professional requires that one refrains from being unconventional, looking at this photograph made me want to cut it all off again.
It was fluffy. We like fluffy!
We’re packing up the flat today — to be fair, Frood is doing most of the work. Partly this is because there’s not much space to work with all the boxes and things stacked up all over the place, partly it’s because he has ninja packing skills and I’m rubbish; and partly it’s because I’m completely cream-crackered at the moment and feel like a limp dishrag that can’t so much pack as flap feebly at items in an attempt to shoo them into their boxes. I thought I’d come and blog a bit while he’s dismantling my desk. I am sure I’d only get in the way. Every time I offer to help he says no.
I was a big fan of speculative fiction even when I was younger. I read Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed when I was 10, although I didn’t really grasp all of the themes until I was much older. When I was at school I discovered Moorcock, and although I found the Elric and Hawkmoon books more entertaining (at the time), the series that stuck with me was that of Jerry Cornelius.
There is a scene in The Final Programme where Cornelius is attempting to infiltrate his brother Frank’s secret base somewhere on the coast of France, to rescue his sister. Some of the base defences are psychedelic in nature, blasting out hallucinogenic experiences that come straight from a bad acid trip.
When I saw this foghorn on the Torry peninsula Moorcock’s anarchic, polysexual superspy was the first thing that popped into my mind. I can all too easily imagine it blasting out rays that boil the brains of anyone foolhardy enough to approach too close, leaving them as dribbling wrecks whimpering about Cthonic colours and hyperdimensional clowns with spleens where their faces should be.
I’ve just finished reading, by way of light evening entertainment, Derren Brown’s Tricks of the Mind. Before I review it, I’d better ‘fess up about my ambivalent feelings towards Mr Brown.
I am not fond of hypnosis used for the purposes of entertainment. This is an understatement so vast you could use it as an air-craft carrier and rescue the entire fleet of Harrier jump jets without them ever having to make a VTOL again. It takes an effort of persuasion or morbid curiosity regarding a particular stunt for me to watch any such performance on the television. The only Derren Brown show I have ever enjoyed was the one in which he went around debunking charlatans who were profiting from the gullibility of others (the school teaching blind people to see energy, in an effort to give them the kind of preternatural sight afforded by melange overdose to Paul Atreides, was an excellent case in point). I found his Zombie show repellent, believing, as I do, very strongly in the notion of informed consent.
My problem with Mr Brown comes down to that one critical idea: informed consent. As his show is one of magic and illusion, by its very nature he cannot explain how he does it. He is not the masked magician giving away Magic’s Greatest Secrets (not that I’m convinced by that, either). It is necessary for him to refrain from explaining himself and I appreciate that. It means, however, that the people he involves in his illusions and “experiments” cannot know precisely what he is going to do to them. It wouldn’t be so entertaining for the audience, otherwise. He needs them to be, as he describes the subject of Zombie in his book, of “naïve status”. Notwithstanding his insistence that
“It is very important to me that they enjoy themselves immensely and finish with a very positive experience of the process.”
I take issue with putting someone through any form of experience that, let’s be blunt, messes with his head, without prior full disclosure.
Mr Brown and I do share common ground, however. In a Venn Diagram of believers (e.g. Dion Fortune, say, or Kevin Carlyon), disbelievers (Richard Dawkins) and sceptics (Charles Fort), there is a cozy overlap of a set that includes everyone from Paul Daniels to Derek Acorah and Rupert Sheldrake.
There is an unfortunately large subset of performers that is contiguous with the middle set — the confidence tricksters, who know damn well they themselves are not psychic (whatever they feel about the supernatural in general) but who pretend to be psychic in order to extract money from gullible people. There is a special level of Hell reserved for people like them, and I expect the demon in charge is by now fed up with all the correspondence from me suggesting suitable punishments.
Snotgobbet, demonic secretary: You have email, my Lord.
Beelzebub, Master of Hell: FFS. It’s that mad Scottish woman again. How many is that this week?
Snotgobbet: That’s the third, my Monstrousness.
Beelzebub: She must be busy. Or slacking. We usually get more than that. Hmm. Do we even own that much chilli oil?
Snotgobbet: I will ask the Quartermistress, oh Ruler of Negative Empathy. If not, I am sure she can procure some from a suitable wholesaler.
Beelzebub: Oh, very well then. I’ll sign the order. Let me know when it comes in and fetch me the Dremmel.
Mr Brown and I share that particular distaste, at least.
The book promises to take you on “a journey into the structure and psychology of magic”. But we all know that what is written on the back of the book may not necessarily reflect what the author thinks the book is about. Mr Brown does this in the preface, explaining, by way of what is presented as an amuse bouche of an anecdote, that it teaches more about the various skills he employs to “entertain and sexually arouse the viewing few”.
On this front I have no disagreement. Mr Brown does indeed discuss the techniques he employs in his performances. He discusses mnemonics and hypnotism, sleight-of-hand and illusion, the power of persuasion, cold-reading, statistics, the way people are swayed by emotion, and the commonalities of the human experience that can be relied upon to make an individual treat a generic, stock answer as being a treatise on the dark corners of her soul. What it does not do is tell you exactly how he performs any one of his particular tricks. Indeed, he specifically says that he deliberately obfuscates so that what might look like a memory trick is actually manipulation and misdirection and vice versa.
Do not buy this book expecting to find out precisely how he pulled off Russian Roulette, or how he made a table levitate for Dr Robert Smith of UCL (although there is a good picture of the latter in the glossy middle pages). Do buy this book —or borrow it from a library— if you would like to read about Brown’s fascination with mnemonics and what he got up to as a student. Get it for the discussions of how what seems self-evident doesn’t hold up when analysed mathematically (always change your mind when presented with the last two boxes in the Monty Hall problem). If you liked the depiction of Hannibal Lecter’s Memory Palace you may well enjoy the exercises that start you on the road to creating your own.
He has a bee in his bonnet about pseudo-science, which is fair enough. He is only slightly less harsh about homeopaths and alternative medicine practitioners than Ben Goldacre, although makes no mention of TAPL. He does, however, lump a big section of the environmental lobby (including, by textual proximity, Greenpeace) in with the anti-MMR brigade, and misrepresents the Precautionary Principle used in environmental protection to a degree that makes it seem like environmentalists are as risk-averse as the mythical PC Health & Safety brigade (the one that insists that a banana must be straight just in case someone wishes to use it for a purpose other than consumption and runs the risk of injury as a result of excessive curvature).
He discusses, for instance, the banning of DDT and Carson’s Silent Spring, stating that he read in a book by Dick Taverne that “no tests have ever been replicated to show that DDT damages the health of human beings”, thereby missing the point, a bit, about Carson’s work. DDT’s effect (or lack thereof) on humans is only a small part of the picture. It was banned because of its effect on wildlife. Equally, GMO crops and the questions about growing them don’t have as much to do with their effect on the people eventually eating them as on the ecosystem as a whole. In trying to slam the green lobby for preferring “ideology over evidence” he shows a very human-centric view, and makes himself seem something of an idealogue —just a different sort of idealogue. One that sees the odd scientific fact and juicy rational tidbit and pounces on it, much as he describes those who believe in spiritualism and horoscopes as doing. I suppose that this only goes to show that we all do it, whether we like it or not, and a little amount of knowledge can be a dangerous thing.
I wouldn’t presume to offer an educated view on magic, memory and illusion. I appreciate Mr Brown’s desire to debunk charlatans and pseudo-scientists, but I do think he should be a bit more circumspect in how he chooses his examples.
That aside, the book is far more entertaining than his television shows. I still will not be persuaded that the more extreme examples of what he does are not a form of assault that is television-friendly.
At the end of the day, the book is also a performance. I doubt, despite his assurances, that the reader will learn much of the real Derren Brown. He swings from being deliberately self-deprecating to being self-aggrandising in a way that we are no doubt supposed to take tongue in cheek. On the other hand, as he says, who you are in an objective sense isn’t so much who you believe you are as how you present yourself. It’s not about what you think, feel or intend but about what you do. If what Derren Brown does is hypnotise people without asking into believing they are fighting zombies, or take potshots at the environmental movement because people who worry about the effect of bioaccumulative pesticides on apex predators are “eco-fundamentalists”, then I am content to carry on avoiding his shows and let him make his money from people who enjoy that sort of thing.
But I might be persuaded to read another of his books.
When I woke up this morning it was clear that winter is lined up in the starting blocks and has its arse in the air, ready for the off. The car was frosted white and there was that sense of sparkle I particularly associate with the first proper cold snap at the end of autumn.
The days are short up here, and the clocks have gone back, so although I rode to work (brrr! tepid!) I wanted to get out and enjoy the glorious sunshine at lunchtime.
I am currently in the base-training stage of preparing to go back to racing next year, after what will have been a two-year lay-off as a result of my foot injury. This means learning how to run again, and learning how to run differently — my foot cannot tolerate normal trainers any more, and so I am running in VFF Bikilas. This is proving remarkably successful, if my heart rate is anything to go by. I’m something of a fast-beater, and I’m used to running an easy 4km loop at an average heart rate approaching 175. As I can maintain an easy 10km/hr pace at a heart rate of 162bpm now, I can only assume the claims of greater efficiency are not exaggerated.
My new lunch run is a little over 3.5km, which is just long enough to feel worth it while not so long that it forces me to take more than a 30 minute break for lunch. Perfect. Not only is it the ideal length —when I start racing again I can always lengthen or double it— it is also the most scenic of any lunchtime excursion I have had in my working career.
Today’s session was particularly slow because the weather was so good, and the scenery so uplifting, that I kept stopping to take photographs.
While I don’t normally like the Beatles song referenced in the title, as the synaesthesia renders it yellow, which tastes horrible, I thought it most appropriate for this post. I don’t think the synaesthesia is cut-and-pasting from common depictions of the sun as Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun is a deep red, the colour of old blood, and I can think of at least one other song that is the same colour (it’s one of Frood’s Japanese pop acquisitions, but I’m not sure which one).
Nov.05, 2011, filed under books
It was with a mix of sympathy and amusement that I read this article on iO9 responding to Glen Duncan’s piece on Colson Whitehead’s Zone One in the New York Times magazine. On the one hand we have the opening paragraph, which is clearly a rather unwarranted set of clichés and prejudicial presumptions:
A literary novelist writing a genre novel is like an intellectual dating a porn star. It invites forgivable prurience: What is that relationship like? Granted the intellectual’s hit hanky-panky pay dirt, but what’s in it for the porn star? Conversation? Ideas? Deconstruction?
On the other we have the undeniable fact that Duncan clearly likes the work in question:
There will be grumbling from self-¬appointed aficionados of the undead (Sir, I think the author will find that zombies actually…) and we’ll have to listen for another season or two to critics batting around the notion that genre-slumming is a recent trend, but none of that will hurt “Zone One,” which is a cool, thoughtful and, for all its ludic violence, strangely tender novel, a celebration of modernity and a pre-emptive wake for its demise. If this is the intellectual and the porn star, they look pretty good together. For my money, they have a long and happy life ahead of them.
As it happens, Duncan’s The Last Werewolf has just moved off the top of my currently reading pile, and while I do have issues with Duncan’s blunt stereotyping of both intellectuals and porn stars, I think the only work he’s hurting is his own.
There is little chance of anyone trying to argue that The Last Werewolf is not a piece of genre fiction — and, before anyone starts screaming blue bloody murder, I do not think that this is a bad thing. Personally I get fed up with the insistence on labelling and hierarchies just as I get fed up with people who complain that action movies are somehow inferior simply because they tick all the boxes in the correct order. A book isn’t necessarily bad if it has as its primary goal the attempt to entertain. Not every single piece of written word has to have as its underlying purpose the statement of something profound about the human condition.
Nor is this to say that genre fiction can’t have something profound to say about the human condition. Genre fiction has a great deal to say about the human condition, and can be as thought-provoking as any so-called literary work.
Indeed, The Last Werewolf reads not so much as a depiction of lycanthropic existence as an attempt to pen a study of graceless ennui caused by over-stimulation, perhaps as an allegory for the internet generation’s desensitised state of been there, done that, got the two-girls-one-cup-happy-slap-t-shirt.
It did not light any fires chez Raven. It was a decent book — I have no showstopper complaints about it. I read it right through to the end and didn’t have to stop to rant (much) at any point. The prose was well-constructed, the imagery suitably lyrical, and the writing style avoided being clunky at any point. Marlowe’s character had a very definite voice, which meant the first-person perspective worked well. The idea that werewolves in this world were not eating the flesh of their victims so much as their histories and memories was a great one: taking a life meant taking a life, leaving one to infer that a werewolf’s lifespan was limited by sheer capacity more than biology. I enjoyed the throwaway trivia, for example that the expected pack structure was not there because female werewolves were in such short supply any other male would be regarded as a sexual rival. While I don’t want to give any plot spoilers, I appreciated that the female characters were, in their own way, powerful, and in some cases more powerful than gender stereotyping might lead one to expect.
Yet there were too many clichés spoiling the originality. Surely we have had enough of the vampire hates werewolf, werewolf hates vampire trope? Duncan went to some lengths to explain it but I sighed when Pratchett did it and Duncan does not have a pre-loaded soft spot in my heart as Sir Terry does.
I had issues with the pacing. The first two thirds of the book read like one of those movies in which there is lots going on but, inexplicably, nothing actually seems to be happening. This was no doubt meant to reflect Marlowe’s loss of enthusiasm for life, however it left me feeling oddly unmoved by any of the dramatic scenes, which meant that they were rendered not all that dramatic. Not enough was made of Marlowe’s access to the memories of those he had consumed and there were moments when I was left thinking “show, don’t tell”. At one point, in the last third of the book, there was an example of this so egregious I found myself thinking “FFS, couldn’t you at least try?”
Once again we had the assumption that living a long time means being able to accumulate vast riches. I suppose we wouldn’t have had all the globe-trotting if he’d been a pauper rather than someone for whom a cool twenty million is mere pocket change and I suppose one could argue that 200 odd years is enough time to get rich. Marlowe started off rich, though, which was irritating. I feel that there should be only so much disconnect between the reader and the protagonist, and there are big enough hurdles in getting to grips with the idea of being obliged to consume a person and his entire living memory once a month, as well as the idea of being so full of other lives and bored with one’s own life (not unhappy with it, but bored) that a violent death seems the preferable option without having to imagine being financially carefree in a way that only a tiny fraction of a percent of the world’s population experience.
You see, there was something that came close to being a deal breaker: Marlowe as a werewolf was the hybrid, bipedal, intelligent man-wolf type, nine feet tall and apparently unconstrained by conservation of mass.
I read advice somewhere to the effect that the reader will suspend disbelief for one thing and one thing only, so the writer would do well to make sure that one thing is the most implausible part of his story and that his plot hinges on it. Unfortunately for my enjoyment of this book the most implausible part of the story was that an ordinary-sized man can turn into a bipedal wolf-creature that is nine feet tall and stronger than Marius Pudzianowski. I let that slide, but then found myself unable to stop grousing about other major implausibilities.
Duncan’s review of Zone One left me wondering whether he thought it was the porn star or the intellectual who was aiming below his or her station in life. It is easy to infer he was describing a form of superiority when he wrote:
“…he’s a literary writer, hard-wired or self-schooled to avoid the clichéd, the formulaic, the rote.
Given that Duncan’s own work is a literary kind of genre fiction, taking this analogy at face value leads inevitably to one question: Does Duncan see himself as the porn star or the intellectual?
Because, quite frankly, in The Last Werewolf he has produced something that, while being entertaining and by no means the worst werewolf book I’ve ever read, fails either to deliver on the porn-star’s delight in his material or the intellectual’s hard-wired avoidance of rote and cliché.
If you want a good book about werewolves that examines the human condition, I recommend Kit Whitfield’s Bareback.
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.