Archive for September, 2010

Keep on coming back

Posted: September 30, 2010 in Journalism, Random wifflings

Short post, writing 3000 odd words a day, so the literary glands are dry. However I do try and put up at least something several times a week. Today, for example is this article from Death Ray 4 on how to get into journalism. It’s up there under Journalism–>Opinion, but if you can’t be bothered to move your mouse pointer all that way, click on the link in this text.

If you are interested in journalism or writing, check it out, it’s a bit harsh and tongue-in-cheek, but much of it I still hold to be true, and I’ve hired a fair few writers in my time.


Chutney and the end times

Posted: September 28, 2010 in Random wifflings

Yeah. Chutney. I’ll bet you didn’t expect to see that on an ostensibly SF blog, did you? For some reason, let’s call it… age, three out of five of us brothers in my family have developed an interest in gardening. One of them (Haley 3) has, among other things,  grown a two-foot marrow and discovered a massive, forty-foot grapevine growing up the tree at the foot of his garden in London, from which he plans to make wine (I’ve been doing beer), while all of us have become interested in cooking. We even do our own bread. There’s an intersection there, and it’s called jam. Yeah, jam. Mmmm.

It was supposed to be the wife’s job, the garden, but after I built a nice herringbone brick path, three raised beds, and a new lawn, she just popped some plants in and let me get on with it.

How green my garden groweth... Toddler included for scale.

From the harvest-festival style spread of foods cultivated therein, I have made some pickled beetroot, blackberry jam and tomato chutney. I also did some runner bean chutney, but I’m not passing the beans off as mine, they came from my bi-weekly organic veg box delivery.

It’s bad enough the wife wants to paint everything in sight that antiquey aged bronze verdigris colour I have dubbed “middle-class green”. I’ve really lost it. I have become the generic “dad”, complete with awful dance moves, worse humour and bald spot.

“I can’t believe we made runner bean chutney within a week of each other,” said Haley 2 (age 35) to me at the weekend, shaking his head sadly.  Well I can pissing can, it’s called the end of youth, my brother, the end of youth! Potting not pot now, the only scattering of seed left to us is on the pumpkin patch. (Somewhere, in time, my teenage self gets a premonition and shudders).

See, I’m not going without a fight, even as I transform into one of the privately educated agrarian types from the later episodes of the original Survivors. Real ale? Check. Gardening? Check. Beard? Check. Pig? Check. I just need the cable-knit sweater and the pipe and I’ll be well on my way to becoming  a dead ringer for Chris Foss’ pencilled hippy in the Joy of Sex. (NB, don’t you dare tell me Survivors wasn’t middle class, that it was some kind of myth. Balls. I watched it again recently, there wasn’t a kitchen without an aga in it – and there were many kitchens. One character exclaims, I think it’s Lizzie “And then Father had to send the servants away”, in a cut glass accent. Come on! It’s lucky I don’t label it toff TV).

Behold! Chutney.

Anyway, here’s the recipe for the runner bean chutney, which came from my nanny’s mum. It’s in imperial, which I frankly struggle with, having gone to a progressive school in the 70s that completely underestimated the intransigence of the British greengrocer, and thus did not teach me the old system. However, I can’t be bothered to convert it.

I cannot vouch for the chutney’s tastiness, as it requires a month’s aging and I’ve yet to crack mine open, but Charlotte, who does such a grand job of looking after Haley 1.1, says it’s a treat.

Runner Bean Chutney

2lb Beans
1 1/2lb Onions
1 1/2 pints Vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp Cornflour
1 1/2tsp Tumeric
1 tsp Dried mustard
1 tsp Salt
2lb Demerara sugar (or 1 3/4lb if you don’t want it quite so sweet)
Slice and cook beans as normal.
Boil the sliced onions in half of the vinegar for 10mins.
Add the cooked beans and remaining vinegar and boil for 15mins.

Add the dry ingredients and sugar, stir well, boil for 10 mins more (or until enough liquid has evaporated to make a nice consistency for a chutney).

In other news, I have acquired a malamute (just like Chewbacca!). More on that later. Yes, although it’s a cute puppy now I know it will grow to  be an unsuitably huge eskimo sled dog, but what the hell, you only (probably) live once, and I think they are awesome. I take him from the calming dug of his mother in three weeks’ time.

In with one animal, out with another – the Haley pig goes to slaughter as soon as the current batch of feed runs out.  I’ll be writing in detail about this soon, as I think the whole no meat without death thing is worth debate, so watch this space.

So come the apocalypse, I’ll be well in, with chutney, jam and pork to fill my belly, and a massive dog to lick my face. What will you be eating my friends, what will you be eating?

No posts for a few days, and no new archive uploads either. One of my jobs overran and now I’m racing like the clappers to finish off a novel in time for its first draft  deadline. Yikes. I’ve three weeks and around 30,000 words to go. Wish me luck.

It’s a small incompetence, perhaps. A knock of a knock on of a knock on, I’d say, and “Not my fault guv,” although in truth my frantic work rate is my fault. An hour of sneaky gaming here, a nap there… Still, sometimes things get away from us; it is not often we are entirely in control of our fate.

This is a feeling I worry may be felt more keenly by the current generation of tots when they make the final stretch into adulthood. As a father, I’ve been watching a fair bit of children’s TV. Not loads, you understand, because naturally my single, ever-so-special offspring is subjected to all manner of competitive parental hothousing (he is, after all, terribly, terribly advanced) but I have a lot of household chores to do, and I need to eat sometimes, and a glass teat is as good as a real one to small folk.

One thing that’s struck me is how massively incompetent most children’s characters are. Take  Thomas and Friends. This is a strange world where men live mouse-like lives in the cabs of steam engines, never speaking, taking no role in the direction of their machines, just, being. All except the Fat Controller, who runs the railways like some crazed Soviet commissar working to nonsensical central targets. It’s like the rats took over and appointed the King Rat to run things for their benefit, while the rat majority live ratty lives in the heads of their hosts, trying to keep warm by the firebox.

Er. Right. Anyway, the point is that The Isle of Sodor’s safety record is appalling. There’s a crash a day! Headstrong, wilful, steam-powered sentiences do as they please, rushing about, engaging in dangerous competitive behaviours, cocking up terribly in the process: coming off the rails, causing avalanches, deciding on perilous shortcuts, wrecking machinery, refusing to wash with terrible results. It’s a catalogue of disasters. If I were in charge I’d be sending Doctor Beeching to Sodor tomorrow to grub up the tracks before things get really out of hand, not that the road vehicles are any more reliable. I’d scrap them too. Bikes for everyone.

Bob the Builder, with his special school for cheeky construction vehicles, isn’t much better, but in his case, the blame lies firmly on Bob himself. Now Bob might be a god when it comes to the application of a screwdriver, yet he’s always leaving important contracts in the hands (claws? tippers? hooks?) of cranes or quad bikes with the combined mental age of four while he swans off with that builder bird and/ or his cat Kipper, and his minions always, always stuff it up. Last week they almost killed a surfer dude because Scoop used the foundation boulders for his watchtower to make sandcastles with. Luckily Bob comes back to sort it all out with a smile and a wave, but if I were employing him I’d be checking his time sheet very carefully indeed. I suspect the Labour government used him on their schools build programme, although last I heard he was in Delhi working on a sports village.

However, the prize for most incompetent child’s role model has to go to Postman Pat. In Thomas and Bob, the machines mess up (dangerously) but they learn their lessons (although not terribly well, because they mess up next episode too), thus teaching our darling children that messing up is okay. A valuable lesson. We all mess up. It’s nothing to be scared of. Well, it is, but not that much.

Pat is a little different. Pat manages to deliver ONE parcel a day. In recent years he’s been given a mobile phone, a minder, an automated sorting office, two vans, a motorbike and a helicopter in a bid to improve his efficiency, yet still: ONE parcel a day. And most of the time these parcels are late. Last minute deliveries are his forte. Frequently, they are damaged. Sometimes don’t get there at all. Often it’s his co-worker Jess the parti-coloured feline (black and white cat is doubtless discriminatory) who saves the day. Often, he’s the one that causes problems. What kind of idiot works with a cat anyway?

In one episode, Pat has to deliver the materials for a local film festival. First, handyman Ted breaks the projector, then Jess nearly wrecks the screen when it unfurls around him. Dashing as always to make it in time, Pat can’t close the back of his van. The film canister falls out. Pat arrives really late, discovers the film can has gone, has to search for it and finds it in a puddle. It’s ruined. The show is now running really late, and there’s nothing to see. But that’s okay! Because Pat’s kid Julian has been making a documentary of his day so they can watch that, can’t they? That’ll keep the audience happy won’t it? Look, no Star Wars 9, sorry about that, but here’s my kid, talking about kid stuff! That’ll do, eh?

No Pat, no it really won’t . Not at all.

I saw the Specsavers advert with Postman Pat in it and thought “That’s hilarious!” then “What a terrible advert for Postman Pat and the Royal Mail”. And then I watched the programme…

It’s okay to mess up kids, but at some point you are going to have to get it right. Real life comes with performance reviews and HR bullshit and all manner of annoying people who expect their parcels to arrive without being attacked by robots or being eaten by cows. Pat would have been given his marching orders a long time ago, unions or not.

And that’s why Benny is not allowed to have breakfast until he’s mastered a Latin verb, every day. Tough, but fair.

Sweet Apple

Posted: September 15, 2010 in Random wifflings
Tags: , ,

My iPhone broke last week, the damn home button stopped working. That’s the big round, old-fashioned, non-touch screen piece of plastic at the bottom. For all its whizzy, stroke activated loveliness, without this piece of early 20th century tech, the iPhone is a singularly useless slab of pretty glass. Googling revealed that it’s not an uncommon problem. Some websites advocate taking the phone apart (as did my brother) and fiddling with the contacts, or inserting tin foil. My advice is don’t. The cables and wires connecting front panel to back pop out in a terrifying manner, and none of the suggested fixes work. You’ve no need to botch it yourself anyway.

I made a Genius Bar appointment by phone at the local Apple Store. (I cycled down there. It was the first time I’d done that journey in six months. I didn’t die, in fact, I did it really quickly, so carrying a toddler around has obviously upped my fitness levels). Apple tried to fix my phone, couldn’t and just exchanged it, no questions asked. I said it’d be my wife coming, but they had no problems that it was me instead, and they saw me right away when I turned up early. Also, I’d rearranged the appointment online already. Nor did they ask for reams and reams of documents and warranties and other proofs. The whole thing was… painless.

I got my iPhone through o2, not direct from Apple, it was reconditioned (ie, briefly preowned, which made it free), both factors that you’d expect a company to use to deny you help. But they didn’t.

Maybe they have all my doings on some huge big database, and used their cy-powers to judge me worthy. The chaps in there were only slightly less wired into the network than your average Borg drone, after all. Every one of them had gizmos far flashier than my first generation phone, and they tappety-tapped, slippy-slid data as they sorted me out. I felt like I was in Minority Report. Thanks to the awesome power of microchipped soul-shifting, my new iPhone is EXACTLY the same as my old one, like it died to transcend its scratched screen and dodgy button to be born anew in a pristine, virgin clone-shell. Spooky. Potential for tech-fear there. Must squash it.

I remember grinding my teeth at inane US-style seminars on ‘INSANE! customer service!!!!!’ I heard about when I worked at The Big Games Company, but the consultants did have a point, if they did deliver it in a manner designed a) to offend a moron and b) get you sacked if you put all their suggestions into practice.

I am determined not to follow earlier generations into that grey, Spam sandwich-fuelled twilight of one-bar electric fires and brown carpeted pebble-dashed semis where the wireless sings only wartime hits. This awaits all of us who fail to keep up. I don’t want sugary tea and denture glue while everyone else zooms around on hoverboards outside. I am convinced this profound chrono-shock occurs when the human brain ceases to assimilate new technology. Early symptoms in the male are repeating oneself endlessly, high-waisted brown trousers, the adoption of a shed, and repeating oneself endlessly. My use of proper tech will keep me young! I am determined! Although… a shed would be nice.

So my iPhone is important, I can’t live without it in our future now, and should it fail finally I’ll be cast back into the 1970s, where I’d have to sit in my own piss and wait for Sapphire and Steel to come and rescue me, and they’ve been unreliable of late.

Thanks Apple, your shining customer service policy keeps me pinned in time.

Mantic Journal 02

Posted: September 14, 2010 in Journalism
Tags: , ,

I’m pleased to report that we have  finished the second issue of the Mantic Journal. This one’s looking really good, much more polished than our first attempt, and has a focus on Dwarfs.  If you like tiny soldiers, war and such head on over to their site. Hey, you might even want a subscription…

Dwarfs are the flavour of the month this issue...

In case you don’t know, this is a fantasy gaming quarterly I edit in a freelance capacity. You can read all about it on my Mantic Journal page here.

Benny and the wolf

Posted: September 13, 2010 in Random wifflings
Tags: ,

We’re looking for a dog at the moment, and are considering a malamute. Breeders will hate me for saying this, but the easiest way to describe them to folk not in the know  is  like a big – make that enormous – husky, only totally different. Built for freighting power rather than speed, they can haul huge loads through terrible Arctic conditions.

Obviously, living outside Bath, I really need one. How else can I haul my whale carcasses back to my igloo?

Some of them get massive. Fortunately they love people, which is good, because they could easily eat you for lunch. We went to see a sled team yesterday, owned by Terry Bogue, in South Wales. His biggest dog is called Chief, a magnificent beast who’s been to Crufts six times and weighs in at 52 kilograms. When he stands on his hind paws, he’s as tall as I am. I’m not particularly tall, but still.

What’s the point of all this? Why do you care? So I have an excuse to show you these cool pictures of my two year-old walking a dog four times his weight…

That's a big dog, but trust me, it looks even more enormous in the flesh.

Benny and the wolf.

Did you know…?

Star Wars’ Chewbacca was inspired by George Lucas’ boyhood pet, Indiana, a malamute, who Lucas saw one day sitting in the front of his truck. Malamutes ‘talk’ more often than bark, making a noise not unlike Chewie, though they are nowhere near as handy at being starship mechanics and don’t carry laser crossbows. The dog also gave its name to Indiana Jones.