As yet, communication is still reliant on either voice contact or a mobile signal that never improves beyond General Packet Radio Service.
Great news! After much patient discussion with the choirs of internet angels, we are to be reconnected to the virtual world on Wednesday the 29th of this month. This is later than we had hoped, but earlier than I have come to expect from previous experience of reinstating such nebulous lines of communication with the outside world. Better yet, the connection will be one of these ultra-modern, exceedingly quick affairs I have previously seen advertised on the moving picture box, but not experienced for myself. A wonderful woman called Christine explained to me that the standard copper cables in this part of the world had proved so inferior to the company quality standard, the company had taken the decision to replace them.
Such is the speed of this new connection, which I understand is made of some type of silk — Christine used the term fibre, and as this is for connecting to the web one is led to infer it must be extruded from the abdomen of some kind of arthropod, perhaps perforce, as one cannot imagine such a thing being domesticated — we are obliged to replace our now antiquated equipment with new equivalents. No more tin can attached to string, although one cannot help but note that string is also a type of fibre.
A conversation with another angel, this one from the choir of appliances, has produced an appointment with an engineer to whom the relevant spare parts for our oven have already been dispatched. In less than a fortnight we should once again have full use of our cookery station, and I greatly look forward to our first fresh loaf of bread in what is now month. A mere two days after that a gentleman from a nearby town is arriving to sweep our chimneys and inspect the wood burner with a view to offering a quote for repair.
With the arrival of a replacement steam generator, and these appointments in place, we can see the end of the initial phase of transition. By the end of this week we hope to have removed all trace of our presence at our previous locale, lest our enemies use it to find us and wreak terrible and unjust revenge for imagined slights.
I have now acquired the relevant maps for the new location, and have undertaken a small amount of exploration. The velocipedes are eager to exercise, disappointed as they are that riding to and from work each day is now an impossibility. There may be a compromise involving utilising the railway service for part of the trip, but that experiment is for a later date.
My mother has been to visit, presenting us with a magnificent birdbath. She knows how important it is to us that we rapidly form excellent relationships with the local wildlife, our first line of defence. Already the resident blackbird, a fine fellow called Edgar, has shown his appreciation for this wonderful and thoughtful gift.
I think we could be very happy here.
I love living in Scotland. I missed it terribly while I was down south and experienced a profound sense of relief when I came back. I spent the best part of twenty years in England, and the only way I can think to describe the difference is to imagine what it feels like to be on a crowded train, where you can’t move without bumping into someone. Then imagine what it’s like to be walking on a hillside with only a few other people around and none of them especially close. The difference is one of expansion, but then that might be the synaesthesia talking.
Then again, in Scotland we have places like this:
So it’s an odd thing for me to experience, as I do today, the sudden urge to pack up and go to another country. I have an itch to revisit Bavaria, or the Austrian Tyrol; to spend some time in Scandinavia or acquaint myself with the Basque country; to explore the hinterlands of Russia or hike the Caucasus. The other tell-tale and oh-so-familiar sign of restlessness is the ready distraction of my collection of recipe books, as RB2 declares dissatisfaction with everything on our current menu list and demands NEW FOOD.
I have no idea what has brought this on. It’s as sudden and unpredictable as a summer squall and, while familiar, not something that has happened in two or three years. In a couple of weeks, I’m visiting Toulouse for the wedding of a dear friend whom I haven’t seen in too long to mention, and perhaps that will satisfy the itchy feet.
Tomorrow there is Knockburn Loch sprint triathlon, and today I’m chained to my desk with deadlines glowering at me over the temporal near horizon. If that doesn’t serve to distract me, it may be time to start planning a roadtrip.
I had one of those WTF moments the other day. This particular one happened in Tesco’s car park at Danestone and involved a bumper sticker on the rear offside wing of a shiny red Ka.
As someone with a lifelong interest in things to be found outside the set of stuff most consider to comprise the rational world, this struck me as being, well, to paraphrase Pauli, not even wrong.
Nor is it any of these:
In fact, when I hear the word “angel”, the first thing I think of is something like this:
Now I don’t know if something like that can fly, but I’m pretty damn sure that if I saw one hovering behind me in my rear view mirror, I’d be putting my foot down. Or possibly screeching to a halt at the side of the road and running for it, in the hope it was the car it wanted rather than me.
The King James Version (not the album by Harvey Danger, do pay attention at the back), describes the Angel of Revelation as being:
…clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire
This sounds more like Katamari’s King of the Cosmos, and I can’t think of anyone I’d less like to have my back in the event of a road traffic accident.
Have you played the racetrack level? In Drive mode?
Ezekiel has a bit to say about angels:
I looked, and I saw beside the cherubim four wheels, one beside each of the cherubim; the wheels sparkled like topaz. As for their appearance, the four of them looked alike; each was like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the cherubim faced; the wheels did not turn about as the cherubim went. The cherubim went in whatever direction the head faced, without turning as they went. Their entire bodies, including their backs, their hands and their wings, were completely full of eyes, as were their four wheels. I heard the wheels being called ‘the whirling wheels’. Each of the cherubim had four faces: One face was that of a cherub, the second the face of a human being, the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.
Let’s be honest. That sounds more like a bad acid trip. If you had one of those following your car you’d be calling BUFORA, not feeling reassured about your personal safety.
For me one of the best depictions of angels is in the 1995 film the Prophecy, starring Christopher Walken and Elias Koteas. The film depicts them with a modern imagery, all wings and trenchcoats, but the characterisation is what I enjoyed.
“Did you ever notice how in the Bible, when ever God needed to punish someone, or make an example, or whenever God needed a killing, he sent an angel? Did you ever wonder what a creature like that must be like? A whole existence spent praising your God, but always with one wing dipped in blood. Would you ever really want to see an angel?” — Thomas Daggett
“I can lay you out and fill your mouth with your mother’s faeces, or we can talk.” — Lucifer
Let’s forget, for a moment, the arrogance of assuming that God’s messengers have nothing better to do than compensate for poor driving technique. If all that’s preventing someone speeding is the worry that a supernatural entity of indeterminate appearance — a six-winged sphinx, a semi-precious flying saucer with more eyes than a scallop, a burning bush or Christopher Walken with bad hair — can’t keep up, then that person does not belong behind the wheel of a moving car in a shared public space.
If that person is advising other people the most important reason for watching their speed is the concern that said supernatural sphinx/UFO/bush/Walken won’t be able to match the pace, then he or she probably shouldn’t be allowed out unless in the company of a responsible adult.
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.
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 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.
I find winter endlessly fascinating. Already people are complaining about the snow — SNOBEPOCALYPSE — and looking forward to the thaw. Not I. I love winter. Autumn is my favourite season, because it’s full of smells and textures and sensations and promises. Winter, though… Oh a proper winter steals my heart away and puts it in a crystal box and whispers “You can have it back if you’re a very, very good girl.”
And this year it has been a Proper Winter. We’ve had snow for weeks now, the roads icy beneath their demerara-sugar-and-beaten-butter slush; the fields white as a laundry powder commercial; the light so clear and brittle it feels like an entirely different world from the usual dreich greyscale of eastern Scotland.
I took this picture while out in the field. I was at Aberlady Bay, a nature reserve in East Lothian, not far from Gullane. There was thick ice covering the bed of the estuary, grey and organic-looking, as if an alien lifeform had oozed along there and left a trail; and these amazing circular structures of pancake ice on the surface. I didn’t think I’d ever get to see pancake ice in the wild. I must have been a very good girl indeed.
Autumn is my favourite season but a proper winter feels like coming home.
Because hypergraphia is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, the way it manifests can also be subject to a kind of obsessive-compulsion. In my particular case, one of the ways it manifests is that I’m hugely particular about the tools I use, and every so often those tools are subject to change.
Sometimes it’s deliberate. Hypergraphia doesn’t mean not ever suffering from writer’s block. What it means is that when writer’s block strikes it has side-effects. I learned a long time ago that there are ways to break it. I had to. Writer’s block feels like an infected wound, swelling and throbbing. The only thing that helps is to lance and drain it, and that means finding a way to get the words out of my head. I will change pens, change ink, change paper. If it’s severe I sometimes resort to pencil on loose pages, because somehow the impermanence of it makes it easier to translate the pressure into letters.
It hasn’t been that bad in a long time now, mostly because I’ve found that the combination of moleskine and Bic Cristal Grip biro with a back-up of the faithful old narrow-ruled, feint and margin keeps things flowing nicely enough. The only things I ever start on the computer are blog entries, and even those occasionally begin life as ink on paper.
Still, occasionally the urge comes to change tools, and just recently I found myself obsessing over fountain pens. I’ve always owned fountain pens. I’ve had a collection of coloured inks on my desk for years, from the days when Parker had a brief foray into the more esoteric end of the stationery market and produced a number of beautiful coloured inks in wide-based bottles that resembled ship’s decanters. I have one of each. The emerald is particularly nice, and I also like the ruby. As far as I know these inks are no longer available, and I feel a little sad about that, as I’ve often broken a threatening writer’s block by switching to one of those colours.
Not the sapphire, though. I never got on with the sapphire. There’s something wrong about blue ink, and I can only imagine there is a point where the synaesthesia and the hypergraphia square up to one another on the battlefield and agree to mutual tolerance as long as we don’t go there.
I got it into my head that what I wanted was a good pen. I have a collection of Parker Vectors, and the stainless steel model was what I considered to be my “good pen”. But I have small hands with thumbs that don’t oppose properly, and heavy or thick pens don’t sit comfortably in my grip. I like a light pen with an ultra-fine nib that produces a well-behaved line with no feathering. In the past the only pens I’ve found that will do the job are liquid-ink tech points.
Then I bought a Platinum Carbon, and I’ve been extremely happy with it. So happy, in fact, that I’ve almost run out of the Parker Ebony ink. Unfortunately it is not a pen you can chuck in a bag and forget about, as it is long and slender and has a pointy end. I was still in need of a good quality fountain pen that I could carry around with me.
Rather than taking an expensive gamble on a well-known brand, I followed the recommendation of a fellow cyclist and stationery geek and ordered a couple of Jinhao pens. I also ordered a bottle of Noodler’s Bulletproof ink.
Here, then, is what currently serves to keep my head from exploding in an unnecessary and potentially messy fashion all over the walls, floor and ceiling. Pen, ink and paper. Each is beautiful in its own right, even before it gets as far as contributing to the semiotic sanity-prophylactic that is the written word.
Of course, in looking for a replacement for the Parker Ebony, I discovered an entire new subject on which to turn my obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Ink. I didn’t know it was possible to buy scented varieties. And all those colours! I’m going to need more room on my desk.
It’s my birthday today and I am officially much older than really I feel is right. It’s one of those “How the hell did that happen?” moments. Mind you, I occasionally still get asked for proof of age, so I can’t be doing that badly.
I’ll be pretty busy, so while I would normally find time on a weekday off from work to post some rambly nonsense about telly adverts or bicycles or computer games, you will have to wait for my considered opinion on Rabbids Travel In Time because I have a cake to make, another batch of ice cream to start and a whole pile of vodka jellies to do.
Yes, it’s my birthday, and I shall do my own catering if I want to.
In the meantime I leave you with this image I captured using my (practically obsolete) mobile phone while out for a lunchtime walk last week. I love these colours. I love the scents and textures of these colours. My synaesthesia gives these colours a tang and a fizz. Imagine a curtain made of fine, bronze threads hanging in an open doorway on a hot Mediterranean summer’s day with the azure sea just visible far below when the breeze separates the threads a little. Now walk up to it until the threads rest on your face.
Stick out your tongue.
Someone coated the threads in sherbet.
Well, we’re sort of back, although most of the site content is missing, the posts between 2001 and June 2009 haven’t imported properly, my graphics directory has been given root permissions so I can’t do anything with it and I can’t seem to make hspace or vspace work on the avatars. But, you know, I can post and it’s not entirely awful.
At some point I’ll get around to altering the background image to something I like, reinstating my blogroll, modifying the stylesheets etc etc etc (maybe even learning some php) but right now I have to get to the shop and back before Dr Who comes on.