Sunday, January 31, 2010

Avatar and the distressing burning sensation story

I finally got to see Avatar on Friday. After four weeks and numerous failed attempts due to the cinema being booked out, I pre-booked tickets online and was IN.

So what did I think (I know you're all CLAMOURING to know)?

Well, yeah, it was OK. I probably enjoyed it about as much as I thought I was going to, but I have no real desire to see it again at the cinema or when it comes out on DVD. I think I looked at it more as a wonderful technical achievement rather than a riveting movie, particularly as I saw the 3D version. It was like a showreel for all the wonderful things you can do with CGI these days (particularly when you've forced your audience to wear glasses that make them look like a Roy Orbison appreciation society), which thankfully was quite a lot because the plot was a bit on the thin side and the film nudges three hours in length. That said, I did think some of the effects were noticeably CGI-y, which did take me out of the narrative a bit and make me think that I was watching something akin to Toy Story in the woods.

The plot, as I said, was stretched a smidgeon tight and I kind of lost interest a bit towards the end where it just descends into a huge ruck, particularly as I saw the 3D version and it all gets a bit confusing when loads of things are exploding and flying towards your head. I found it to be more effective earlier on when Soldier Sam was integrating himself in to the blue people village (I'm sorry, I genuinely can't be arsed to Google the correct spelling of their name) and falling in love with the CGI Uhura, although I did feel this all happened a wee bit too fast; Dances with Wolves it was not, but at least in these genteel scenes you got to appreciate the 3D effect rather than dodging out of the way when an explosion flung a gangly blue man out of the screen at you.

My biggest complaint was undoubtedly how heavy-handed it was. Yes, we get the idea it's an analogy for environmental concerns as well as the whole messy Iraq/Afghanistan situation, but we don't constantly need it forced down our throats (which is almost doable in 3D), particularly by one-dimensional characters like Colonel Caricature; James Cameron clearly thought that if subtlety couldn't be rendered in CGI it had no place in his film.

All in all, though, I'm glad I've seen it. For the most part it was diverting enough, and I would probably watch it when it comes on the telly at some point. I am not, however, clinically depressed by the fact I can't go and live on Pandora. Because that's just ridiculous.

Would William Shatner like to contribute something?

(If, however, you want to Na'vi-up and paint yourself blue, just watch this disturbing video to find out how)


I'm always intrigued by how people find my blog, and as such my sitemeter data is a constant source of fascination. Just this last week, for instance, I discovered that writing a post with the words 'porn-star' in the title can lead to all manner of visitors stopping by, and even lead to your humble little entry and a picture of your magnificent moustache being listed on a porn star celebrity news page between articles on 'Exclusive: Celebrity Porn Star Calls Tila Tequila’s Bluff' and 'What's a Porn Star to Do When the Industry's Cashflow Dries Up? Turn to 1-on-1 Fan Meetings.'

(Incidentally, you can vote for me - I don't know for what purpose, but I just did because I like the idea of winning things even if they are excessively porny. OK, especially if they are excessively porny)

Anyway, one of the most memorable search terms used to find my blog over the last year was 'what happens if I put Tiger Balm on my cock?' That particular Googler was undoubtedly left unsatisfied by his visit, because while I had written about Tiger Balm, I had not written about putting it … well, *there*.

For those who don't remember, after my car accident last year I was told by my doctor to buy some Tiger Balm, a potent little cream that, when applied to sore muscles causes them to heat up to a temperature something like that only found on the surface of the sun. I hated the sensation at first, but truth be told I grew to rather like it over time. I suspect in that respect it's a little bit like morphine.

Back to the present. I went to yoga on Thursday evening after work, and just minutes into the class I felt a teeny-tiny little bit of discomfort in my back. It wasn't enough to make me stop yoga-ing, nor was it enough to make me howl in pain like a wounded Na'vi (OK, I caved and Googled it). I could, however, feel it throughout the rest of the class.

Upon returning home I decided that I'd do my utmost to nip this pain in the bud because I didn't want it impinging on my Saturday yoga class, nor cause me any pain during the Avatar screening (because I suspected, rightly so as it turned out, that various parts of the film would be painful enough as it was). So, I reached for the Tiger Balm, scooped a big dollop onto my fingers, and applied it to the area on my back that was twinging. Then I washed my hands - with soap - to remove all traces of it.

As it turns out, I did not remove all traces of it. And unfortunately, my next action was to, um, go number ones. For the ladies out there who may not be familiar with how sophisticated chaps such as my good self go number ones, it generally involves holding, um, a certain something so as to avoid spraying the floor, walls, and potentially the ceiling, with pee-pee.

A minute later I was curled up in the foetal position on my bed, rocking like I was on the Sunshine Bus and begging The Almighty to take the pain away. The Almighty, as it turns out, was not available to take the pain away, and I subsequently had to endure 15 minutes of penis-searing pain before I could come anywhere remotely close to unclenching my legs.

So the moral of this story, dear unidentified and curious Googler, is this: whether intentionally or not, you really don't want to be putting Tiger Balm on your cock. It hurts.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The future is here at last!

Years ago when I first became a member of the, well, cult of Apple, their keynote speeches and product unveilings didn't see to get much fanfare. In contrast, the introduction of the iPad this week seemed to be all that everyone was talking about - both online and in the real world.

Although in hindsight this could be because I spend a disproportionate amount of my time with tech heads and Star Trek fans.

Either way, the iPad, eh? This was probably the strangest product launch that Apple have mounted in recent years because everyone seemed to know in advance that a tablet computer was coming, and everyone seemed to expect it to be the most remarkable device known to man (it'll have an OLED screen, front and rear video cameras, solar panels, holographic displays, be able to make the tea, replace my wife, etc); in contrast, the reception afterwards seems to be something along the lines of … well, disappointment.

Unless you're me.

A few years back I came *this* close to buying a 12 inch Apple Powerbook, not to replace my iMac, but to give me the opportunity to do computery stuff on the move. I ultimately didn't buy one because a) they discontinued it before I had the chance, and b) I actually only really wanted a word processor, and spending 8-900 quid on a laptop just so I could tap out one of my inane little stories while sat in Starbucks at lunchtime seemed a little excessive. Since then I've often looked adoringly at the new Macbooks, but they're still a bit expensive for my needs, and I really don't want to lug a lappy around all the time, even a svelte one like the Macbook Air.

Somewhere around the time that the 12 inch Powerbook was discontinued and the first iPhone was introduced, I happened to remark that a slightly larger touchscreen device with a built-in word processor would pretty much be the answer to my prayers - not least because it would have the added bonus of looking like something off Star Trek - and lo and behold, that's exactly what Apple introduced this week.

It's like they read my mind. Wait - was that one of the functions the iPad was predicted to have?

That being the case, I'm understandably somewhat excited at the prospect of getting my grubby little mitts on one. Over the last couple of days I've spent a great deal of time reading everything I can find about the iPad, and discussing it at length with the aforementioned tech heads and Star Trek fans, and apparently I'm one of the few that desperately wants needs one in my life. Most of the complaints I've heard centre on the fact that the iPad doesn't have a camera in it. The absence of one didn't actually register with me until someone pointed it out the first time, but quite frankly I'm happy to go without. I can't imagine holding a 10 inch tablet up to take a candid snap of my chums, nor can I foresee a time when I'd want to video chat in public; quite frankly I hate using my iPhone to make calls in public (particularly when I'm using the mic on the headphones - I just look like I'm talking to myself), and the thought of gurning at an iPad while sat at a table in Starbucks horrifies me. Not to mention that the phone networks would probably collapse if we all started video chatting.

So, no camera - I'm fine with that.

Another complaint focuses on the virtual keyboard, because some old-fashioned people say they won't be able to touch-type. Didn't we have these sort of complaints when the iPhone first came out? Don't we all get along with that teeny-tiny virtual keyboard now? Why yes, yes we do. So imagine how we'll get along with a bigger version - just about fine, I'm guessing. As an aside, how long until Apple replaces their standard keyboard with some sort of multi-touch panel? It would kind of make sense … the current keyboards for iMacs have really low profile keys, much lower than the previous gen ones. It's like they're preparing us. It would make sense for Apple too - they wouldn't have to produce keyboard variations for countries like China and Japan because you'd just be able to reconfigure the touchscreen. Simple - and very Star Trek-like (WIN!).

Some people have also complained about the fact that if you watch a widescreen movie on the iPad you'll have black bars across the top and bottom of the screen. Erm, so what were you expecting? A tablet computer with a 16:9 screen? A long, thin tablet computer!? Don't be ridiculous. The shape and size of the iPad screen is the best compromise for a device intended for so many different purposes.

Finally, anyone who complains about the iPad having limited functionality, or simply being a bigger iPod Touch, just think back to the early days of the iPhone - y'know, those dark times before the app store, for example - and remember how the device has been enhanced since then. I have no doubt that Apple will continuously introduce new and improved functionality for the iPad via software updates, just as they have done for the iPhone over the last few years. Patience, young padawans.

Anyway, having dismissed those issues, and based on the knowledge that Apple have clearly designed this device JUST FOR ME, let's look at some of the things I'm really looking forward to trying out on the iPad. It's pretty much a given that all the Mail/Safari/iTunes/iPhoto/iPhone app functions have great appeal, but to be honest Pages from the iWork suite is the obvious draw for me, because I love Pages on my iMac (so much more user friendly than Word), and I love the idea of being able to write in Pages while I'm out and about. I'm particularly pleased by the fact that you'll be able to download each component of iWork separately and for a reasonable price; I honest can't think of a single time when I've used Numbers or Keynote, so it's pretty darn nice of Apple to give me the option not to purchase them.

The real surprise, however, is the iBook functionality. I think we all guessed before the unveiling that the Apple tablet would have an ebook reader (in addition to being able to wash my car, bring about world peace, and make a swell roast dinner), but I genuinely had no interest in this until I saw the keynote. If you've been unfortunate enough to engage me in conversation about eBooks you'll know - after being subjected to a lengthy rant - that I'm no fan of them (choice phrases include "well books never run out of power," "there's a reason books have lasted thousands of years," and "books smell nice"), but Apple's take on the experience has piqued my interest, both casually and professionally.

As a reader, I can honestly say I can't foresee a time when I will abandon traditional books, because I love them, not just for their content but also for the way they look and feel. I love seeing loads of books lined up on a shelf; I have no real allegiance to shiny plastic discs containing music and films, but a nicely-designed book is, to me, like a piece of art. That said, the way eBooks are presented on the iPad looks neat and probably comes as close as we're going to get to replicating the look of a book in a digital format. Basically what I'm saying is that I wouldn't be averse to reading something on the iPad. Maybe the iBookStore will become the 'go-to place' for finding long out of print gems? Given the choice between reading an out of print book in a digital version or not at all, I'll take the digital version.

Professionally, the prospect of the iBookStore has me excited for the opportunities it will present to my own cheeky little publishing venture, Spark Books (join the Facebook fanpage here). It would be arrogant of me to assume that just because I might not necessarily want to read something as an eBook that others won't too. What I've got to bear in mind is that because the iBookStore uses the ePub format it'll actually be reasonably easy to create an eBook version, and the store will also give us a nice 'n easy means of distribution. That being the case, I've decided that everything Spark Books does will also be available as an eBook on the iBookStore (we just need to get on and do something now).

So to sum it up, yes, I'm eagerly anticipating the introduction of the iPad. I'll be able to read, write, watch movies, and, yes, even compose blog posts on the go (no more excuses for my pitiful output of late). I've already decided that I want the 64gb wi-fi model (you can never have too much memory, and I don't need the 3G one - I'm pretty sure I'll always be able to hot-foot it into a wi-fi spot when I need to). Come the end of March, there's no doubt that if you want me, you'll be able to find me pitching a tent, both literally and figuratively, outside the nearest Apple store.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The porn-star moo-tache story

I teased, you demanded it, I deliver. Ladies and germs: the porn-star moo-tache!

Admittedly I did not begin this week thinking "do you know what? I really rather fancy growing a moustache that makes me look like I'm starring in a fruitily-titled straight to DVD opus," but here we are, and here I am with perhaps the most epic piece of decorative upper-lip fluff I've ever sported. Actually, it's all the fault of my beard trimmer - y'know, the one that looks like a phaser from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I was trimming my beard, y'see, and it started doing that thing where it sounds like it's straining - which inevitably means it's about to run out of power. Having only trimmed part of my face I was left with the dilemma of trimming the moustache and being left with half a trimmed beard on the righthand side of my face, or trimming the righthand side of my face and being left with a longer moustache.

I plumped for the latter because I'm all about the symmetry.

As the beard trimmer died in my hands (OK, I'm now hearing THIS as I type) I did briefly think about either a) shaving the whole lot off the old fashioned way, or b) trying to trim my moustache to the same length as the rest of my beard using my razor. I vetoed the former because I look like a 12 year old completely shaved (and my face gets chilly), and the latter because I knew I'd slip up and end up looking like I was Amish or something.

No offence if you're Amish. Hi to all my Amish readers!

Truth be told, I've always been intrigued by the concept of a handlebar moustache, so being forced to adopt this look will, if anything, satisfy that curiosity. Similarly, I've also often thought about taking part in Movember, but don't like the idea of looking ridiculous on my birthday. On the plus side, now that I think about it I'm off to see Local Natives, one of my new favourite bands, at the beginning of March, and they're evidently well into the 'tached look - maybe I'll keep it in honour of them?

And if I end up being randomly asked to partake in an adult movie production in the process, so be it.

Anyway, there you go. I'm off to see if anyone needs their photocopier 'serviced' (hubba hubba) - feel free to leave the usual round of lascivious and inappropriate comments in the, um, comments section.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


I've been *so* busy the last couple of weeks. I don't say that to sound like I'm bragging (ooo, look at me - I've got a social life!) but more as an excuse for not posting anything for a while.

Wait, I last posted Saturday.


Anyway, here's what I've been up to recently - WITH ADDED WIN/FAIL GRADES!

• Completed my 'made up lives' creative writing task: WIN!

• Missed out writing a 'made up life' on only the second day: FAIL.

• Tried to see Avatar on three occasions. It was booked out every time: FAIL.

• Booked tickets online for this Friday: WIN! (it better not be shit after all this hassle)

• Attended Bad Film Club: WIN!

• Actually quite liked the bad film (Meteor starring Sean Connery and Natalie Wood): FAIL.

• Despite constant pressure, an apparent desire, a test drive, and almost three hours in a Fiat dealership, I've yet to convince an 'unnamed friend' to buy the Fiat 500 she really wants: FAIL.

• Got the Fiat guy to admit that given the choice between a 500 and a Mini, he'd buy the Mini: WIN!

• The heating failed at yoga: FAIL.

• But we did it anyway: WIN!

• Done three pitiful runs this year: FAIL.

• Did an awesome fourth one tonight: WIN!

• Utterly addicted to Starbucks' new Flat White (it comes in a proper cup with a saucer!): WIN!

Flat White versus my regular Misto.

• Got told off by a barista in Chiswick for daring to order one to takeaway because "you can't see the all the effort that goes into making it": FAIL.

• Called her bluff by saying I'd quite happily stroll across Chiswick Green with a cup and saucer: WIN!

• Saw my second favourite movie of last year, (500) Days of Summer for the fourth time and still loved it: WIN!

• My parents hated it: FAIL.

• Got really awesome at Bejeweled 2 on Facebook: WIN!

• Unwittingly lost most of Sunday to it: FAIL.

• Appear to be on the verge of growing a pornstar-style moustache.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Made up lives day 4: Mike

• Height: 6 foot
• Glasses
• Waterproof coat
• Walking slowly

Mike hasn't told anyone, but his wife demanded a divorce last week. It came as a surprise, despite the fact that he knew she was having an affair with a work colleague. He'd thought - hoped - that eventually she'd tire of her indiscretion and things could go back to the way they were. He has the divorce papers in a crumpled envelope in his pocket, his hand brushing against it every time he reaches in.

Tomorrow is his 44th birthday.

He consols himself by thinking how lucky he is that there are no children involved; she never wanted them, and the matter was not for discussion. Mike feels as if she has robbed him of 10 years of his life and the chance for a family. He feels anger rising for the first time, pushing aside the dull ache he has felt since she told him of her intentions. He takes a deep breath and sighs loudly, feels the anger subside. He isn't an angry person. He hates that she's made him feel this way.

Mike is surprised to find his mind wandering to previous relationships, and can't help thinking how life might've been different he'd married someone else instead. The path not taken is infinitely more appealing than the abyss he finds himself facing now.

He shakes his head and presses a finger against the frame of his glasses, pushing them back up towards the bridge of his nose; fantasising about previous lovers is not something he's done before, and if he's truthful it makes him feel a little uncomfortable. He feels like he's cheating, which even he thinks sounds ridiculous.

Back at the office he finds himself surrounded by coworkers eagerly looking forward to the weekend. He doesn't share their enthusiasm, and feels the most he has to look forward to is a glass of whisky and a film on the television.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Made up lives day 3: Sandra

Physical descripion:

• Height: 5 foot
• Mid 30s
• Hood up
• Clutching a cup of coffee

Sandra is late. She was supposed to be back at work 20 minutes ago, but she had to queue in the bank, then at the coffee shop, and now she's in a foul mood. Adding to that she's cold and she thinks she might be coming down with something. The fur-lined hood of her coat is pulled up high over her head, and she knows people are looking at her and joking that she looks like an arctic explorer, but quite frankly she doesn't care.

Sandra has started this year with a resolve to make things better in her life, but so far, she concedes, it's pretty much been the same as last year, the one before that, and so on. She tells herself that she'd like to meet the man of her dreams this year. She pictures herself being happy and sharing her life with someone she loves, but then she pushes those thoughts to the back of her mind; if she's truthful, she thinks that marriage and happiness are two things that happen to other people, not her. She has few friends, and she can't remember the last time she felt truly happy with her life.

She shares little of herself with her co-workers – all of whom are at least five years younger than her and prettier - and knows that they talk about her behind her back when they've exhausted the latest celebrity gossip from their trashy magazines. They brand her intense and uptight. She tries her best to ignore them, reminding herself that, unlike them, she's focused on her work. She nevertheless can't shake the feeling that sometimes they might be right and she should loosen up a little, but truthfully she's afraid of letting her guard down in front of anyone.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Made up lives day 2: Stuart

Physical descripion:

• Height: 6 foot
• Short brown hair
• Early 30s
• Eyes focused at the ground

Stuart is on his lunchbreak, walking to Hammersmith to buy a sandwich in Pret and maybe, if he's feeling hungry, a piece of cake. Or some crisps. Thinking about it he's more in the mood for crisps.

He's taking a shorter lunchtime today because he needs to leave work early. At 5:30 he's catching a train to Suffolk where his younger sister is due to have a baby in the next few days. Stuart is looking forward to being an uncle and hopes that he'll be regarded as one of the cool ones - the sort of uncle that the kid will call and talk to just because they want to (when they're older, of course). He thinks his sister is going to have a girl.

His excitement at the impending birth is tempered by the fact that he'll be seeing his parents for the first time in three years. He anticipates some awkward conversation, particularly with his father, and hopes to avoid any protracted time with them for the duration of his stay. He can't recall any one particular moment that marked a deterioration in his relationship with his parents, just that he never had much in common with his father, and tired of his mother's ongoing desire to know when he was going to find someone to settle down with. He has never told her that he shares his flat in Fulham with a man named Daniel. His sister knows, but they have never discussed the true extent of the relationship, although Stuart is pretty certain she has a fair idea what is going on.

As he walks in the rain he keeps his eyes to the ground, wary of exchanging gazes with passing strangers. He thinks again of how he wants to be a positive influence in the baby's life, and hopes the child will accept him for who he is.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Made up lives day 1: Marie

For anyone stumbling upon this and thinking I've gone bonkers writing about some random woman, let me just remind you that this post is the first of five I intend to write every day this week where, as a creative writing exercise, I select some random person who walks past me and then write a made up backstory about them based purely on my gut reaction from looking at them. What's written below is transcribed word for word from my notebook, and is based on a lady I saw walking past Starbucks in Westfield today.


Physical descripion:

• Height: 5 foot 5" or thereabouts
• Dark hair cut in a bob style
• Olive complexion
• Wearing a dark winter coat
• Average build
• She has a warm smile on her face

Marie has come to Westfield for the first time with her friend Anna. Both have taken the day off work, timed so as to avoid the crush of the sales.

They have travelled in from nearby Ealing where Marie lives with her husband of two years. The couple have no children, something that Marie is happy to maintain despite her husband's desire for a family. She has not told him of this fact in the hope that he will eventually give up on the idea. In the meantime she continues to secretly take the pill.

Despite not having bought anything, Marie is enjoying her day out. She wishes every day could be like this, and is in fact dreading going back to her job tomorrow. She works as a receptionist at a small solicitor's office, but finds the work dull and uninteresting. She frequently doodles on her legal pads while taking the minutes during meetings, a small indication of her long-held but never acted upon desire to enroll in an art class. Every year she promises herself that she will do it, and every year she fails to go through with it.

Some days she resigns herself to the fact that her life will never rise above suburban mediocrity, but for the most part she is content.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

True stories

Following on from my last post - and preceding the potentially awesome/awful - events of next week's storytelling epic, I spent Wednesday evening listening to a bunch of other people tell some stories of their own.

Back before Christmas I found out about a monthly event called True Stories Told Live from Xfm DJ Marsha, who listed it on her mailer and described it as having the "feeling of being the beginning of a phenomenon." It sounded like the sort of thing I'd like, particularly as I'm thinking I'd like to organise something along similar lines (albeit with fiction) when I really start ramping up work on my little publishing company. That being the case, I emailed Marsha and asked if I could tag along to the next one.

There are three key criteria behind the concept of True Stories Told Live; the first is that the story told must be true; the second is that it must be told without the use of any notes; the third is that you must be alive. There are five 'anecdotalists' at each event, and one of them is always a musician, so you get a bit of a jig and some gentle head-bobbing going on halfway through. The anecdotalists at this month's event included a former husband of Ulrika Jonsson (his story did not feature her), a young lady who recounted how she realised that the job of cabin crew was not for her moments after her first flight left the ground, a singer who ended up playing without any instruments at an open mic poetry night in New York the day before Thanksgiving, a music journalist who revealed Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant's somewhat unlikely appreciation of Welsh choirs, and a chap who appeared alongside Barbra Streisand in Yentl talking about the link between the Nazis and the Austrian village where his family spent their summers.

Each story lasted at most around 10 minutes or so, and they were all wonderfully told, easily holding the attention of the audience of around 50 people, all of whom were crammed into the small upstairs room of The Compass pub in Islington. Of all the stories, it was the last one that I found particularly riveting. To cut a short story shorter, it dealt with fond childhood memories of a small village in Austria being rocked by the discovery that it was a key Nazi holdout during the war. Powerful stuff, beautifully told; the storyteller did a very good job of keeping things light and humorous at the beginning, before revealing the 'twist.' I stopped him afterwards to thank him for telling it.

So anyway, a very enjoyable evening was had, and I'll certainly be going along to the next one in February. I really think I'd like to actually tell a story at some point, too. But on the basis of what I heard on Wednesday, I really can't think of anything suitable … I've never been married to Ulrika (one of the few), never taken on a job I couldn't bear the prospect of, never sung in New York, never met Robert Plant, and certainly never had my childhood memories shattered. I'm thinking I must've written some witty anecdote from my life down in this blog somewhere … if anyone can think of anything memorable I've done that would make a good story, please let me know!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A gentle shove

I was told off by Big Bro last night for not having written anything since last week; he thought I should've been a lean, mean blogging machine while I was snowed in, and was disappointed to find out that I'd spent the vast majority of my time watching remastered episodes of the original Star Trek and reading books. I responded that quite frankly he should've been working rather than reading my blog, and some mild Family Guy-inspired name calling subsequently ensued, followed by a bit of playful jabbing to our respective ribs.

Anyway, the upshot of this is that although I am writing a new blog post a little over 24 hours after said incident, it does not constitute a victory on Big Bro's part.

So, I feel 2010 has gotten off to a bit of a good start. The whole thing of sharing my idea of starting a little publishing company that I wrote about in my previous post has actually had a very positive effect on me. I feel energised and enthusiastic about the whole endeavour, so much so that I actually set up a Facebook fan page for it at the weekend. Admittedly it's not the most auspicious of beginnings for what I hope will be something I'll eventually devote a substantial part of my life to, but, y'know, baby steps and all that. If you'd like to join it, just click here.

In addition to that, I've also been feeling a little bit inspired about writing again. One of the books I was reading last week was All and Sundry, a collection of previously uncollected work by Paul Hornschemeier that included a whole section of sketches, notes, and doodles taken from his sketchbook. This had a little bit of a profound effect on me, and made me realise that I've kind of been waiting for inspiration to strike before I started writing again rather than just exercise my writing muscles and do something - anything! In particular, Paul had included a couple of sketches of random people that he'd seen while on planes or just sitting around, effectively turning what should've been a relatively mundane moment - and indeed subject - into a remarkable burst of creativity. The result of this was that I felt inspired to write about something that should be mundane to see if, like Paul's artwork, I could make a figurative silk purse out of an equally figurative sow's ear - in my case, a walk in the snow that I did on Thursday lunchtime. The hastily written result ain't exactly Shakespeare, but as an exercise it was pretty useful.

I decided to repeat the exercise again today, this time writing about my daily trip to Secret Starbucks. The result here was, I felt, much better due in part to the fact that it felt more cohesive as a piece of writing that was completed in just 20 minutes or so; it would still be helped by a bit of rewriting, but on the whole I closed my notebook feeling a wee bit satisfied. And it was just as I was leaving Secret Starbucks that inspiration struck again.

I think I might've mentioned somewhere before that as a result of frequenting the same coffee shop day after day I often end up seeing the same people walking past on a daily basis. I don't talk to them, and I don't acknowledge them - and I certainly don't know anything about them … but I have, mainly as a result of lunching with Yazzle Dazzle, come to give some of them names (one guy looks like Michael J. Fox, for example, so I'll often interrupt her mid conversation to say "here comes Michael"). That being the case, I wondered what the outcome might be if, as a writing exercise, I spent my lunchtimes writing fictional backstories for passing strangers?

So that's exactly what I'm going to do.

Beginning next Monday and going through until Friday, I'm going to write a fictional backstory for the first random person who walks past Secret Starbucks from the moment I settle at a table. And I'm going to try to type up and post each day's effort every evening. Could be a fun little experiment, eh? At the very least Big Bro won't be able to grumble that I'm not posting anything.

Thursday, January 07, 2010


For those of you not in the UK, let me tell you that it's been snowing the last couple of days. And by 'snowing' I mean 'snowing a lot.' Because of this, I've been working from home, which is nice because the commute is shorter, but not so nice because you begin to feel a little bit isolated after a while. I didn't speak to anyone yesterday, for example; Facebook has become my sole contact with the outside world. And I miss my daily coffee, particularly so because Starbucks sent me vouchers for every day this month and at least two have gone to waste now.


Another aspect of this isolation is that I find I start thinking about things in considerable detail. This can have both positive and negative aspects, depending on what you're thinking about. Negative, for example, as in you find yourself standing in front of the mirror worrying that you might've put on a bit of weight because you've not been able to get to yoga and you've only done one pitiful run this year.

I, however, have chosen to focus on the positive, which has led me to think about my New Year's resolutions. I've decided on a three-pronged resolution attack this year, although they're all kind of linked.

Resolution the first
After reading six less books in 2009 than I did in 2008, I've decided that my first New Year's resolution is, quite simply, to read more. And it's going rather well so far, thank you for asking. I'm on book three already (although this might also have something to do with the fact that I had begun to get a little bit scared at how immense my stack of books to read had gotten).

Resolution the second
My second resolution is simply to buy more books from actual bookshops. I was absolutely horrified at the closure of Borders last year, although quite frankly I no doubt contributed to its demise by ordering most of my books from Amazon. But no more! I'm pledging, where possible, to buy my books from real shops in real streets and shopping centres. I was in Foyles in Westfield the other day buying a book for a friend's birthday present and happened to mention this resolution to the lady at the till. "I like that resolution," she said. Then we both smiled at each other.

Although Amazon do their best to try and replicate the experience of a real shop with their 'you bought this, you might also like…' thing, you really can't beat browsing the shelves of a real bookshop, can you? There's something almost magical about it, and it would be a shame to lose it - so I'm doing my little bit to fight back.

(And if any independent book shops in the West London area come across this post, please leave details of who you are and where I can find you in the comments section, or email me, so I can come and buy books from you)

Resolution the third
Heh, this is the best of them all, and I've chosen to write about it here so I actually get motivated into doing it. If by year's end I've shown no sign of fulfilling this resolution I'll invite some of you to come and hit me with sticks.

Resolution the third is quite simply that I'm going to start my own little independent publishing company specialising in fiction, but also with an eye towards anything else that might take its fancy. I say 'simply,' but there's a rather steep learning curve to do with prelims, ISBNs, distribution and whatnot. The current plan, which I've been working on for several months now, is to do something with my long-overdue novella as a test, then follow that up with an anthology of fiction and art towards the end of the year.

Groovy, huh?

This all kind of stems from the fact that I love the sort of books that come out of publishers like Fantagraphics Books in Seattle and Drawn and Quarterly in Canada. They make books that not only tell incredible stories, but are beautifully designed objects. And that's where things like ebooks will never - I SAY NEVER! - beat a traditional bound book. Plus I don't think the UK has an equivalent publisher to Fantagraphics and D&Q, and I'd like to fill that void. They also have cool bookstores (here and here), which is something I'm dreaming about in the potential longterm.

So, I've finally admitted my great plan for 2010. Time to make it happen, eh?

(Oh, and if any independent publishers out there read this and want to offer some advice, I'm quite literally ALL EARS. Unless you tell me not to do it, in which case I'll "HARUMPH" comically)

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Sparky pulls the greatest hoax of 2010 (thus far)

Act I: The opening salvo

I arrived round Sparky Ma and Pa's house on Christmas Eve to find one of Big Bro's friends - we shall call him B-rye - sitting on the sofa. I've known B-rye for quite a few years, and we share something of a warmly antagonistic relationship in that we apparently like nothing more than to wind each other up and take the piss out of one another.

Good times.

After about 20 minutes of exchanging witty banter and thinly-veiled snips, B-rye decided it was time for him to head off (score one for me, I think). As he stepped out the door, however, he let slip that he'd bought me a Christmas present. I laughed, and sarcastically replied "yeah, coooooourse you did," thinking it was just another attempt at winding me up because we've never exchanged gifts. Two minutes later he was gone, and Sparky Ma rifled through the bag he'd left only to find that he had indeed bought me a present. I'd not even given him a card, and so began to feel a little bit guilty. Touche.

Not only had he bought me a gift, but he'd also bought one for my family as a whole as well: a lottery scratchcard. Sparky Ma looked at it, and popped it on the side. "We'll do that tomorrow," she said.

The following day while we were basking in the glow of freshly opened presents, Sparky Ma remembered the scratchcard, plucked it off the dresser, and headed out to the kitchen to, well, scratch it while she kept an eye on the turkey. About 30 seconds later we heard a yelp followed by an "OHMYGOD."

The next thing we know, Sparky Ma is leaning against the kitchen doorway, one hand clutching the scratchcard, and the other clutched to her chest.

"We've won," she said. "We've WON!"

We all looked at her like she was speaking in tongues. I think it briefly went through Sparky Pa's head that he might need to gently bop her on the head with a frying pan.

"I think we've won - £5555!"

She was physically shaking, and to prevent herself from toppling over she pegged it down the living room, the scratchy held out in front of her, offering it to me.

"Check it for me, will you? I can't believe it."

I took the card and looked at it. There are so many different sorts of lottery scratchcards available, all with different rules, that I thought I'd best check them. The instructions said 'scratch off the nine boxes. If you find three 5s in a row (either horizontally, vertically, or diagonally) scratch off the prize panel to find out how much you've won.'

The game panel did indeed show three 5s positioned diagonally across the board. And the prize panel did indeed show the figure £5555.

"You're right…" I said, already thinking about what I was going to spend my share of the winnings on.

But then I paused. Something didn't feel … quite right. The first thing that came to mind was that the stock of the card itself was a bit off. It felt quite tough, whereas the last time I bought a scratchcard (which was admittedly some time ago) I remembered it feeling rather flimsy. Then I turned it over, and there, written on the back in the small print, was all the evidence I needed.

"It's a joke," I said. Sparky Ma went from ecstatic to shocked in the blink of an eye.


"It's a joke," I said again. "Look at the address on the back."

"Why that little bugger," Sparky Ma replied, before returning to the kitchen to mutter some rather more colourful swears out of earshot of Sparky Nan. I think if B-rye had been in the room she would have throttled him or beat him to death with a half-cooked turkey.

And that's when I gritted my teeth in determination. No one puts my mum on an emotional rollercoaster like that. Or gets me thinking about what I'd spend £1388.75p on before cruelly tearing it away. I turned to Big Bro.

"No one does that to my mum," I sneered. "Let's get him."

Act II: Know thy enemy

Formulating a return offensive with an equal emotional punch proved far easier than you might expect. B-rye's birthday is January 2nd, which gave me the perfect opportunity to give him something that would a) make up for not getting him a Christmas present, and b) not arouse any suspicion. Not knowing B-rye as well as Big Bro turned out to be something of an advantage. This is basically all that I know about him:

• He has a van.
• He has children.
• He drinks.
• He likes Pearl Jam.

Short of slashing his tyres, kidnapping his children, or spiking his drink, the obvious choice here was his love of Pearl Jam. In fact, I'm well acquainted with his fondness for the band, having accompanied both him and Big Bro to see them in concert a few years back - an evening that Big Bro and I look back on with affection, not only because the gig was great, but because quite frankly we ripped the emotional shit out of B-rye on the tube journey home so much so that he slid to the floor and curled up in a ball. Good times.

Now, Pearl Jam are playing Hyde Park this coming summer, and our first idea was to taunt him by saying that we were going to see them and he wasn't. But we're actually not, so that would be more of a lie than a practical joke, and where's the fun in that?

And then I had the eureka moment. I turned to Big Bro with my index finger pointed, and a faraway look in my eyes. He in response briefly looked at a spot just above my head as if he might actually see a lightbulb appear there.

"What if we gave him tickets to see Pearl Jam at Wembley?"

"But Pearl Jam aren't playing Wembley," he replied.


A silence fell between us as we both imagined B-rye queuing outside Wembley Arena … ON HIS OWN!

"Do it," said Big Bro.

B-rye is going down (please insert your own 'faster than a two-bit hooker at a ____' joke).

Act III: Preparing my riposte

Above anything else in my life, I know one thing: photoshop is my friend. And, thank god I've kept the tickets to every gig I've ever been to. A few days later and one quick rifle through a drawer and I'd found my Pearl Jam ticket from 2007.

Then it was just a matter of scanning it in and manipulating a couple of small details. And the result?


Two joke tickets printed on quality paper so they feel like the real deal. The only mistake I made is that both tickets have the same seat number - I had changed it, then went back a few steps to correct something else and forgot to change them back again. Still, I need to give him some clue they're not real … don't I?

I even put small print on the back - that's how devious I am.

Big Bro even had an old ticket holder to make it look even more realistic.

And then I popped them in an unmarked envelope ready to be given to B-rye…

Act IV: The package is delivered

Big Bro popped round to see B-rye this afternoon to drop off a couple of presents and the fake tickets. It would've looked suspicious if I'd gone with him, so what I know is taken from Big Bro's recollection of events. Basically, B-rye totally fell for it. He actually did notice the seat number error, but thought it was just that - a printing error. He couldn't believe I'd bought him such a nice present. And then he invited Big Bro to go to the fake concert with him. Apparently doing a marvellous job of stifling his laughter, Big Bro agreed.

Notice that B-rye invited my brother, not me who'd actually given him the (admittedly fake) tickets. Bastard.

Anyway, as far as B-rye is concerned he's toddling off to see Pearl Jam this summer at Wembley Arena. But as you, I, and Senator Vreenak know…

I am evil.


I received a message from B-rye on Facebook about an hour later thanking me for the tickets. I replied:

My pleasure. It was the least I could do after you gave mum that winning lottery ticket.

Ah, happy days.