We’ve had a quiet Christmas at home, the first one we’ve ever not spent with other people. We’ve avoided the traditional festive excess, although I did buy a tree, which is currently festooned with various plush animals, scented pine cones, tinsel and blue lights that resemble tiny aliens or deep sea bioluminescence more than they do fairies. As we’ve both been suffering from the plague that suddenly descended upon Aberdeen, it was quite nice to have the time to recover.
I’m already looking forward to next year’s triathlon season, and contemplating camping destinations for the summer. My new, water-resistant Vibrams should arrive in time for New Year so maybe we’ll be able to resurrect our Hogmanay Chain Walk tradition — winter adventuring has been out of the question for the last couple of years because of my dodgy foot, as the existing Vibram Fivefinger models are neither waterproof nor especially warm. Not ideal for Scottish weather in the cold months.
I have been restricted to short walks in big boots, but there are still beautiful things to be seen even then. One of the joys of this time of year is the low sun in crisp, clear skies.
I have a particular love for the interactions of sun, sea, sand and sky, and in winter they can be especially glorious. My skill with the camera not being sufficient to do them justice doesn’t stop me trying.
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.
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).
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.
OK. I’ll admit it. I’m not a big fan of Neil Gaiman. This marks me out as a pariah in the world of SF&F, apparently, because Mr Gaiman can do no wrong.
Please don’t misunderstand me: it’s not that I think his work is rubbish. I quite enjoyed the early Sandman graphic novels. It’s just that, well, I think he is over-hyped. He doesn’t do it for me in the way Pratchett does, for instance. He doesn’t do it for me in the way Grant Morrison does. He doesn’t do it for me the way Warren Ellis does. Or Alan Moore (when he’s on form). That’s just my opinion and I’m sure he’d be the first to say I’m entitled to it. He’s the one making all the money, and I can’t imagine him giving a monkey’s uncle what I think one way or the other.
And yet, despite this, The Doctor’s Wife was the only episode of the current series I really enjoyed. I loved the emphasis on and exploration of the relationship between the Doctor and the big blue box that means so much to him. I liked the banter, which had been sorely missing since… pretty much since the Lodger back in Series 5 (River’s “What time do you call this?” was good, but not enough).
But… Oh, there’s always a but.
You know what? The sign on the door that says pull to open? That refers to the cupboard where the phone is kept, not the door to the police box. Look at the door design and the location of the hinges. The door can’t open outwards. Maybe TARDIS doors are supposed to open outwards, like fire doors are, but police box doors don’t because they can’t.
Can I say “Did not do the research” about Neil Gaiman? Seems a bit churlish given that he wrote the only episode of the current series I thought was any good.
Here’s a picture of Fingal next to an original police box:
We have a lot of police boxes in Edinburgh. They make me sad, because so many of them are in such a terrible state. This is what the Doctor’s TARDIS would have ended up looking like, I think, if House had had his way and no one had mentioned her being the last one.
I had to be in the city centre today, on business. For various reasons the bike was impractical (it takes a peculiar set of circumstances to render a bike impractical as far as I’m concerned, I can assure you) and so I took the bus to Princes Street and did a lot of walking. I think I’d covered several miles by the end of the day, as the still-controversial tram works have messed up the bus routes and I spent ages wandering around trying to find a bus stop that would allow me to get home again*.
It was brutally hot — at least as far as I am concerned — and I was dressed for work and on a schedule. The streets were furred with the inevitable tourists. At this time of year there are lots of tourists, and it will only get worse as we move further into Festival season. It reminds me of fat-clogged arteries: there is only so much space on the pavement, and when there are lots of people standing there gawping at the architecture, taking pictures of each other next to the Scott Monument, waiting to get on a tour bus, or trying to decipher street signs and the complexities of our public transport system there isn’t enough room for those of us who are trying to get somewhere in a hurry.
I dislike very warm weather unless I’m in the sea, spoffling sea creatures, and my temper was fraying after I’d walked the entire length of Princes Street three times and been up and down Cowgate, Lothian Road and George Street. My feet hurt — that’s the furthest I’ve walked since I injured my plantar fascia — and I was hot and bothered and grumpy. I decided to take a breather before I melted into an angry puddle and went to find some soft grass in Princes Street Gardens.
There’s a children’s playpark at the west end. It has the usual slides and some interesting climbing structures, but what caught my eye was the Victorian Merry-Go-Round.
I find funfairs creepy at the best of times. The scents, sights and sounds of the carnival don’t inspire me to think of excitement and the thrill of wurlitzers. There’s something scarily superficial about funfairs. Perhaps it’s their itinerant, temporary nature, or the way the high gloss, gaudy colours, candyfloss aroma and loud, brassy music never quite cover up the cables and motors, the stale grease and spilled beer and the racing thud-thud-thud of the generators. They are the buzz of a brain fried on sugar and caffeine and adrenaline, hiding behind a painted mask polished to a high sheen.
I’ve never trusted them. They are shiny and they smell bad. The attendants always look bored. They give me the same sense of disquiet as some adverts do: the explicit message is at odds with the implicit.
I took this picture of the Victorian Merry-Go-Round. I didn’t mean to include the only people riding it at the time. They arrived in the middle of the shot as the shutter snapped. I like this image, however. The small child, face blurred beyond recognition as he or she looks towards the camera, expression unreadable but certainly not one of thrilled delight. The way the movement of the horses makes their outlines and painted decorations blur as if at any moment they could disperse, perhaps to reform as something else; perhaps to dematerialise, taking the riders with them. In the centre the hub is still and sharp: here is the only safe place on the Merry-Go-Round, where the attendant sits. What does he know, to sit in there while everyone else rides the glimmering ponies?
The colours are hot and unnatural. The fence looks to have been added later, an afterthought to disguise the ephemeral character of the ride and make it look less like it will fly away at any moment, should the attendant choose to press a particular button.
Come one, come all, come for the ride. Who knows where you will land? Perhaps here, perhaps there, perhaps somewhere no one has ever heard of…
On occasion I’ve thought I’ve caught something in the expressions of funfair attendants that was slightly too sharp, too predatory to be pure boredom and I’ve wondered, as I do so often, how to peel back the superficial layer to see what is really going on underneath.
And then I remember that I live on Planet Sam, where the creepy polar bear isn’t there simply to offer helpful advice on frozen food but is on an infiltration mission, and nicotine patches cause you to hallucinate giant cigarettes. I am the sole inhabitant of Planet Sam (although Frood has a permanent visitor’s pass), which is probably for the best.
I was sorting through some of the photos I’ve been taking recently using the HTC and I decided, on a whim, to take a picture of my desk here at home. It’s fairly representative of me as a person, I think. Here you can see a souvenir of my triathlon days, the Lara Croft figurine, two different incarnations of Wolverine (sad Marvel Fan Girl that I am), the pile of moleskines, the ink, the pens, the English language reference texts. There’s a sonic screwdriver, next to which a couple of interesting rocks sit ready to be used as paperweights. The pink post-it note on the wall is a reminder of a major alteration I need to do to a story I’m working on: I can’t get around to doing it until the latest round of hypergraphia has eased off and I’m not at all sure when that will happen, or whether, when it does, I’ll have time to do as much of the rewrite as I need to before it flares again. The image on the computer screen is a picture of my desk, in which the monitor is showing a picture of my desk.
Here’s me: desperate to be tidy with a tendency towards kipple, inside and out. Easily bored, easily distracted, easily amused. Obsessive, compulsive, impulsive, inquisitive, frequently argumentative and almost always recursive.
There is a long and sorry tale practically worthy of a Norse saga associated with me and my mobile phone. Maybe one day I shall write the whole thing Edda-style: the challenge being that I am so fed up with it that it would be hard to make a reader not be fed up with it too.
For various reasons to do with the way Frood and I acquired our very first mobile phones, back in the dim and distant past, it hasn’t been easy to upgrade when time came due. My first relatively contemporary phone was a Sony Ericsson K850i, but I drowned it on a camping trip. Well. I say ‘drowned’. It got slightly moist in a manner my old Nokia would have shrugged off. Mind you, my old Nokia shrugged off being dropped in ponds, beer, puddles, the sea and even a toilet. There’s something to be said for old tech.
Since the damp demise of my previous mobile I’ve been using Frood’s old Samsung something-or-the-other, which weighs as much as half a housebrick and is sturdy enough to be used as a offensive weapon, assuming that you keep the slide shut. It has the most irritating interface of any phone I’ve ever used, and has reduced me to swearing on more than one occasion with its insistence on using a set of nested options positively bureaucratic in its complication in order to achieve the simplest of things (such as choosing a recipient for a text message). I’ve never experienced so many delayed voice message notifications or lost text messages as I have with this phone. And, to rub dirt into the road rash of annoyance, Frood has been sitting on the sofa twittering and facebooking on his WiFi networked HTC Android phone for about a year now. The git.
Last weekend we went to the shop and upgraded my phone. I am now the proud owner of a brand-new, shiny, HTC Desire S, and it has not only brought out the geek in me but given me cause to think.
First there’s the playlist problem. The HTC Desire S doesn’t recognise WMP, which means that transferring a playlist (.wpl) gets all the songs onto the phone, but not in the desired order. Thinking it might be another MMT setting I did some research, musing on how I was already coming at the problem from a whole new platform built on my experience with the Samsung. A problem that Frood has been dealing with for a while was solved in five minutes of google-fu. We’ve ended up installing MediaMonkey and now Frood is engaged in the task of converting our old PC into a proper music box, mostly by re-ripping all of our music so that it’s stored in a consistent format.
Then there’s the camera. It’s only 5MP. I had my eyes set on one of the new Sony Ericssons, with their 8.2MP cameras, but there weren’t any in stock and I do carry my Canon Ti 10MP around with me everywhere anyway. But then I discovered the retro camera app and I’ve been having some fun with that.
Here’s a picture of me wearing my new Buff hat. I took this using the standard camera. There’s a small front-facing camera on the phone so you can see what you’re doing in self-portraits, although you have to stay very still and the quality isn’t the best. The hat is reversible and adjustable and has a neoprene peak and groovy cave-painting style figures all over it, including one of someone on a bike. It is the best cycling hat I have ever had, and I own two Campag hats.
Speaking of which…
Here is a shot I took using one of the retro camera functions. It shows a box of Peroni (Italian beer) next to the new bottom bracket that finally arrived. It’s a Campag Centaur to go with my Centaur triple chainset. Two lovely Italian things. Beer and a bottom bracket.
I am the sort of woman who gets excited by shiny new tech toys, but only when they have improved functionality and make my life easier, more fun or more interesting. I’m also the sort of woman who can overhaul the transmission on her handbuilt British-made touring bike (with the 6mm offset rear triangle for an undished rear wheel, boo-yah baby) and appreciates not just the functionality of the bicycle but the inherent beauty in high-quality components.
This, for me, encapsulates what I find most geeky about myself. I’m wearing my new Minister of Chance t-shirt (GO! BUY! WE NEED MOAR!) — and I experienced a little warm glow of pleasure when I received an email from the crew thanking me for my support. There’s a bike in the background. In my life there is always a bike in the background. There’s a stack of Fortean Times magazines, because I use them as research and also harbour an ambition to write something one day they might publish. I took this using a retro camera on a shiny new smartphone with which I’m deeply in love: a camera effect I chose because it makes it look like I’m taking postcard shots during a zombie apocalypse. I’m wearing my buff hat, although you can’t see it, and I’m not looking my best. But that last point doesn’t matter. This is me. I have one eye: the missing one I have replaced with moulded black plastic. What is important about me isn’t what I look like. It’s not the fact that I have wrinkles and grey hairs or scarring from a skin disorder. It’s not, to revisit an old complaint, my breasts or my buttocks or whether lycra looks good on me.
I enjoy feeling attractive, and it’s not that I won’t make the effort on occasion. But it’s not what defines me. In a recent discussion online regarding the objectification of women one of the participants observed that it’s human nature to find people attractive: he used wanting to look good for one’s wedding as an example. And I think, for my wedding, I did about as good a job as I could have done with what I’ve got without calling in the services of a professional stylist.
But wanting to be and enjoying being seen as attractive doesn’t make a woman’s looks public property and it doesn’t grant tacit approval for her to be reduced to breasts and bum and maybe a pretty face on top.
My favourite wedding photo is this one:
I think I look pretty damn good in that. But I also think I look like me in a dress (and, for added geekery, a pair of Vibram Five Fingers).
What I am is all of these things, and it’s true of every other woman. We are all more than what we look like in our chosen form of dress. Someone might look at one of my triathlon photos and see nothing but an arse in lycra (and they do, believe me). Yet who I am is someone who can build her own wheels and would be quite capable of handling herself come the Undead Armageddon. I can sort out technical problems with our home network and have a strong view on component choice. I can spot a 5mm hex key at a distance of ten paces. I like computer games. I read and write and enjoy science-fiction. I have lived life and taken its knocks and it shows. I am all these things, and more, as well as someone capable of putting curves in green velvet.
I think it’s tragic that we are still prepared to judge accomplished women by what they look like. I think it’s unfair and annoying that women who are conventionally beautiful will tend to do better than women who aren’t; and that our media constantly chooses conventionally attractive women as every potential role model, thus propagating the idea that being good at what you do is not enough. I get angry when someone uses a woman’s desire to feel attractive in order to please herself as justification for looking at that aspect of her in isolation. And I become utterly livid when I’m told that it’s just boys being boys and only a bit of fun and I’m taking it too seriously.
Equality isn’t about treating everyone the same. It’s about looking at people for what they are in totality: the sum of their talents and abilities; their hopes and fears and passions.
I could never have been a supermodel. I am not a clear-skinned, fresh-faced, perfectly symmetric, youthful beauty. There are days when I am depressed by how I have been culturally indoctrinated into thinking my life could be better if I were. But if you were trying to get your playlists to synch to your mobile device before hitting the road when there was no petrol left and there were zombies in the garden, I’d be your huckleberry.
I have a couple of pictures for you today and not many words to go with them. The first is a photograph of a red squirrel. He was on a tree above the Falls at Acharn, which when we visited were frozen into a cascade of sharpened, jagged teeth and chaotic, amorphous, billowing pillows of sugary ice. I will post pictures of that when I’ve decided which are the best.
My mum thought this little chap was playing peek-a-boo around tree. To me he looked more like a celebrity fleeing the paparazzi, and I was lucky to get a shot of him at all. He was last seen scampering across a fallen tree under the bridge to escape our enthusiastically pointing fingers. The red squirrel is up there on the shortlist of Scotland’s iconic animals, along with the Highland Coo and the haggis. I’ve always assumed that Ratatoskr was a red.
This second picture I took on a horrible, grim, dreich day when the snow was starting to soften and melt. Frood was attempting to stack rocks on the shores of Loch Tay and grumbling about the soft schist and cold fingers. I was disappointed by the light and lack of things to photograph. And then I saw this:
I am not entirely sure what process caused this ice formation, with its fat drops hanging from the brittle, delicate sheet above. I could hazard some guesses and have pondered it at length. And yet, at the same time, I am content to have found a moment of startling and unexpected beauty and captured an echo of it as a souvenir.
I spent Christmas and New Year with Frood and my parents — my brother and his girlfriend Candice joined us for New Year. Like last year, my parents had rented a place somewhere far away from work: this year it was on the south shore of Loch Tay, at Bracken Lodges, a little way along from Acharn. It was a beautiful setting, informed by mountains and water and, for most of it, thick drifts of snow and sheets of ice. I’ve brought back more than 200 photographs, and it’s going to take me some time to go through them all and choose the best ones.
This is one of my favourites so far:
2010 has been an interesting year, to use the word in the context that Pratchett used it in, if I recall correctly, Small Gods. It has gone incredibly quickly — it seems to be no time at all since we were sitting in the lodge at Erigmore for last year’s Christmas — and in some ways it has been one of the longest years ever. It has certainly had its ups and downs and it’s one I think I shall chalk up to experience rather than relishing in fond memory.
I’d like to think that 2011 will see an upward rather than a downward trend. For the time being I am going to consider that in life’s game of Play Your Cards Right 2010 is what happened when Mr Forsyth turned over the four of spades.
Onwards and upwards.