Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Not That Old Chestnut

Many years ago, more than I care to remember now, I attended a creative writing course.

I have attended about three different courses with three different tutors and generally found the same thing: mostly they are run with an agenda set by the person running the course and mostly if you fall into his/her little group of favourites then you get more time and interest per session - otherwise you might get five minutes at the end after Billy Nomates has finished his half-hour diatribe "literary" fiction on the suicidal tendencies of a rabbit (literary fiction in this case meaning an attempt to produce something high brow and utterly unreadable that will never sell, but will nonetheless be regarded as "groundbreakingly innovative" in the same way that pickling half a cow was seen as being groundbreakingly innovative when Damien Hirst did it.


On this particular course there was a chap, who I think I'm right in saying only turned up for the first "taster" session (IE the night that the fees have to be paid - after which the 40 people who show up on what is effectively a free class crashes to the regular five or six you will see for the remaining 9 weeks) and read a piece about a burglar breaking into someone's house.

And it was pretty amazing: extremely descriptive, very atmospheric - and it reminded me strongly of Peter Gabriel's song "Intruder" (from the imaginatively titled album "Peter Gabriel" - one of four albums bearing that title)

At the end of the story the teacher asked where the inspiration had come from and he said "the Peter Gabriel song - Intruder" and went on to explain that he had wanted to capture something of the atmosphere of that song in a piece of fiction

Being a big PG fan even then meant that I was the only other person there who had heard of the song - but it got me thinking: were there any other songs of his that could be taken as the starting point of a story and I, in turn turned to the album Peter Gabriel (not the same Peter Gabriel Peter Gabriel - a different Peter Gabriel...oh now even I'm confused...tell you what, I'll start assigning numbers, shall I?) and took a combination of The Rhythmn Of The Heat and San Jacinto from Peter Gabriel (4) to bring to life a short story about a coming-of-age story set in a circus.

To be honest I didn't have a lot of initial confidence in the resulting story, and when it came to reading our works aloud at the end I asked for someone else to read it for me - and was surprised at how good it sounded.  Even so - the story might well have ended there had my teacher not taken it upon herself to send the short story to the BBC on my behalf.

Nothing actually came of that submission - I got a letter back saying "thanks, but no thanks", but I think it was the first time that anyone had really shown any confidence in my writing and I'm still grateful to that teacher for taking the time and effort.

The story then sat on a computer doing nothing much for many years (nb: this eventually seems to have led to the original story being forever lost when the computer died - as there is no hard copy in existence that I am aware of) -  but eventually I came to think that maybe there could be a novel in that gem of an idea - to write something that was both lyrical and also exciting to read, using that circus setting and the original short story as the ending to which I was reaching.

And that's where the problems really started: as each time I would get started on the story I would get a couple of chapters in and then find I was unhappy with the writing and was struggling to keep the story going.

Again and again I went back to the beginning: sometimes getting further than others.  Then, even more frustratingly, one of the characters became far more interesting than my original hero and when that happened it became totally impossible to work towards the original ending.  Also there was the ongoing problem of the female character - who seemed to exist merely as a prize to be won by one side or the other.

I guess this was one of the many factors that led to the writer's block I was struggling with when I started this blog: that and the fact that everything I wrote was only ever read by well meaning relatives who wouldn't understand a word of it.

It was only as a result of trying (and succeeding) to write a novel in a month (try NaNoWriMo this November for yourself and see what I mean) that I re-discovered writing and was able to finish my first full length novel....but that story was still sitting there...unfinished...

I still think that the basic idea is a good one, and maybe now I have a way to get around the problem of the ending, and maybe the characterization of the girl as well - but it means going back to the start and doing a complete re-write again, maybe scrapping almost everything that has gone before - and I'm just not sure that I can face that

Still - today I created a file on my computer under writing titled "last try" and read through the first two chapters to try and get an idea of the size of the piece of work required.  It's pretty big and I'm still not sure whether it's a journey that is worth taking

Are some roads best left untravelled?

Monday, 17 September 2012

What Did John Tracy Do Wrong?

Let's face it: if Spectrum were looking for agents to fight The Mysterons now they'd have a much tougher time choosing code names.

Back in the days of Supermarionation, of course, it was all a lot easier.  Each agent was named after a colour - but of course the problem comes when you run out of the primaries and have to move on.

Captains White, Green, Black and Scarlett may all sound pretty impressive, but in the meantime since the 1960s the paint companies have got more creative with their tones, leaving today's secret operatives named Leutennant White-with-a-hint-of-apricot or Sergent Rich Havana - somehow having less of a decisive ring.

Even so the problems of Admiral Mango Melody fade into obscurity when compared to John Tracy, pilot of Thunderbird 5.  Based in outer-space.

There can be little or no doubt that Scott and Virgin (NB - i just realized that I typed Virgin instead of Virgil here - but was so amused by this surely Freudian slip that i kept it - i mean, surely no one believes that anyone on Tracy Island was having any form of rumpy-pumpy, with the possible exception of John who may well have been exiled for that very reason) were the favoured sons on Tracy Island.  They got to fly the coolest ships, hang around the pool with Brains and didn't have any of the having to put up with that annoying fish lady from Stingray that other rescuers had to do (you know the one, with her own song - Maaaariiiiinaaaa, aqua maaaaariiina: what is that strange, enchanting smell of fish, whenever you're neeeeeaaar...) .

Even Alan and Gordon had it better than John - which begs the question: what was it that John Tracy did that was so bad that they permanently exiled him to space?

Did he have body odor issues?  Halitosis?  Was he a fugitive from the law?

Maybe he'd had an illicit affair with Lady Penelope (strictly whilst Parker was away, you understand), or that girl who's role at Tracy Island was unclear (you know the one, hung around the island always wearing kimonos - her)

Perhaps there was some big family fall out after a rescue went wrong, or he was deeply jealous of Virgil and sabotaged Thunderbird 2

Or maybe he was just really irritating: always asking people to pull his finger, reminding people of every last thing they had ever said, refusing to stop eulogizing over obscure pieces of machinery (with accompanying slide-show)

But whatever it was: I hope that eventually the rest of the family managed to find it in their hearts to let him come back to earth before Lou Grade cancelled the series.

After all, family - and home - is the place that, no matter what you've done - they always have to let you come back...eventually.

NB: According to the record on Wikipedia the main reason that John Tracy was permanently stationed in outer-space was that even Gerry Anderson didn't like him very much...which goes to show that whatever he'd done - it must have been pretty bad.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

How That Speech SHOULD Have Ended

Last night, after nearly two years of thinking about this speech topic - I took part in our club Humorous speech competition.  Perhaps foolishly I had given myself a list of things to remember: and considering my famously poor memory this meant that I went into the speech quite stressed - managed to get through the list (despite falling over at the start of the speech), but after the list section my mind just went completely blank and I had to quit the speech.  So from the paragraph in italics/bold onwards is the bit that came back to me about 2 minutes after I got back to my seat.  Just goes to show...


As many of you will have noticed there has been rather a lot of sport on TV over the recent months and weeks. 

In total there were six weeks of running very fast, carrying something heavy, hitting other people and jumping over things: much like an average night out in my town, only without the stolen Television

Yes - Olympic Games: inspiring a generation to get involved with sport

However: the Olympics do not owe their existence to the ancient Greeks so much as to the small British town of Much Wenlock

For it was there that Dr William Penny Brookes founded the Wenlock Olympian Games.  He noticed that the local miners had a short life expectancy and decided that the reason was largely down to inactivity and, as such, he became the first person to think back to the ancient greeks and founded annual games aimed at encouraging people to take part in sport a good 60 years before the Olympic commission was founded.

But with increasing focus on winning medals meaning that only the top elite of British atheletes have a chance of making the team we here at MuCh-ASS feel that the original message of the games is in danger of being forgotten.

So who, or what, is MuCh-ASS? 

MuCh-ASS is the Musical Chairs Association of Great Britain and we feel that it is high time that the Olympics was made more fun.  Useless at sport?  Couldn’t kick a football if your life depended on it?  Well, why not train for the first MuCh-ASS Games in 2016?

We’ve already decided on several of the games to be included: Firstly there will be Musical chairs itself.  We've bought the lemonade, the party hats and the streamers and we’ve already got several teams in training at the Barrow-In-Furness Function Rooms, but are hitting some initial problems – mostly with the medal ceremony itself.   

The problem is that when the national anthems play the atheletes all jump off the podiums and start running around again. 

Secondly we have Olympic “What’s The Time, Mr Wolf?”, or “Statues” as it’s sometimes called

Then of course there is Hopscotch.  Even though we do not want to focus strongly on medals we feel that Great Britain are in with a great chance of gold in the women’s Hopscotch – as only 14 year-old British girls understand the rules.

Some other games we have under development include:
  • Olympic Jenga, although we can’t decide on octagonal shapes as favoured by the Japanese or the traditional rectangular: 
  • Monopoly, although the debate still rages hotly as to whether this should be original or Klingon, 
  • Tiddley-winks: we’ve managed to sort out the wink, but debates are ongoing as to an Olympic standard sized Tiddle – 
  • And finally  no Olympics would be complete without Olympic Buck-a-roo

 At every Olympics there is an opportunity to include a new sport.  At 2016 it has already been confirmed that Golf and Kite-Surfing are being considered as trial sports

Beach Volleyball was one such sport which was trialled in this way– this sport was extremely popular this year with the men in our office, for two very important reasons...

However, there is a dark side to the story of the Olympics, for in the run-up to the 2012 Olympic Games the Olympic Commission threatened legal action to several butchers and assorted florists – why? For reproducing the Olympic ring emblem with their produce in their shop windows. For instance: the florist had produced the ring with wreaths, the butcher with sausages.

Although we can understand the requirement for protecting copyright we feel that this is little more than petty minded bureaucracy gone mad.  Certainly if someone were producing rip-off T-shirts or underpants with the Olympic symbol on we could understand legal action - after all: no one wants Olympic sized rings on their underpants.  However, stopping people from getting into the spirit of the games by putting up a symbol in their shop window is a sign that the Olympics are taking themselves far too seriously 

This is why we feel that, now more than ever, its vital that we show them that first and foremost sport is about having fun, about having a go and getting involved.

It is this spirit of everyone having a go, as evoked by Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards and the motion picture “Cool Runnings” that we at MuCh-ASS wish to bring to the Olympics, with our motto – Bringing Games To The Games.

Stand up, be counted: and put your backs into supporting MuCh-ASS – bring games to the games in 2016.

NB: due to forgetting the last minute and a half of the speech and talking too fast I finished massively under time and was disqualified.  Ah well, there's always next year...

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Where Do Gay People Shop?

The young woman admires herself in the bathroom window.  Scantily clad in nothing but a bikini top and briefs she could be competing in the Women's Beach Volleyball if it weren't for the constant self description  as she moves from the bathroom towards the living room, announcing to the world in general how fit, tanned and generally well she is looking.

Upon throwing open the door she finds that her female flat mate is not alone as expected, but sitting having a cup of tea with her grandmother.  Grandmother gives a polite round of applause and says "you do look quite tidy dear" - cue signature tune of advert for body lotions producing company.

Now, I don't know much about women - let's face it, what man does, but I hear that they are of a type that will cheerfully show off their latest bra to a friend without any sexual overtones whatsoever.  This would never happen with blokes: we only talk about sport, beer and women and comment on clothes only if we are taking the mickey.

However, the level of description that the young lady gives as she travels does seem to go beyond a display of latest clothing and onto a call to have her for breakfast on the table next to the marmalade (or possibly with)

This then is the closest that the advertising world currently has to showing a relationship that could possibly be anything other than hetrosexual.  TV is full of promos showing couples buying beds, going shopping for food, sueing their boss after a nasty accident at work - but all of the couples/people/family being portrayed are clearly straight, only a few are of mixed or ethnic diversity and absolutely none are handicapped or gay.  Let's face it: despite the large levels of ethnic and sexual diversity that exist in the world today - the large majority of advertisers continue to show adverts largely reflecting white middle-class people, usually with families.

Which begs the question: where do advertisers think that these people shop?  Because it's clearly not at their establishment, and nor do they appear to want what could amount to 100s of people's ready-to-spend income.

The last time i saw a gay couple on TV (aside from in a drama or a sit-com, where there is always an extreme "angle" on the relationship - or stereotype) was at the Obligatory Two-Girls Kissing Protest that seems to accompany every US Presidential inauguration and I strongly suspect that despite the sponsorship of a certain supermarket chain of the Paralympics it will be a good four years before I see anyone in a wheelchair shopping for vegetables again.

Which all seems rather strange - especially after that odd period in the first decade of the 21st Century where it suddenly became massively cool and trendy to either be gay, have gay friends or have a gay following  - where were the advertisers then, milking the so-called pink pound for all it's worth?

So here's my challenge to the advertisers for the rest of the 2010s - start showing us the rest of society in a positive and non-stereotypical way, allow people from all walks of life to be shown in your adverts just as people getting on with their day to day lives.  Why not show a woman in a Hijab buying some canned peas, show a clearly gay couple buying a bed for their new home, show a disabled person in one of your interminable stop-smoking ads where only badly dubbed German executives seem to hold jobs.

In short: show the world as it is, not just fragments

Friday, 7 September 2012

The Application Process

I gather my hope in a bubble
Let it fly into the air like a dream
Through trials, tribulations and trouble
Never again to be seen

Let it fly into the air like a dream
Steadily losing control
Never again to be seen
Breaking off a piece of my soul

Steadily losing control
For whatever job role I can chase
Breaking off a piece of my soul
Each e-mail is harder to face

For whatever job role I can chase
Consider my details, amen
Each e-mail is harder to face
Could my dreams be crushed once again?

Consider my details, amen
Through trials, tribulations and trouble
Could my dreams be crushed once again?
I gather my hope in a bubble

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The Essential Cat Guide To Humans

The Human

Human purpose - used to propel humans to the food bowl or for magic portal opening duties.
Cat purpose - for pouncing on, especially when covered by a duvet or blanket

Human purpose - uncertain, linked in some form to feet
Cat purpose - ideal climbing and scratching posts

Human purpose - seems to be designed purely for benefit of cats
Cat purpose - source of heat and comfort. Ideal sleeping position

Human purpose - for feeding cats, opening the magic portal to the Garden.  Additional purpose - for entertaining cats
Cat purpose - to be avoided if any mention of the word Vet is used.  Ideally used as place to sleep at night, although humans don't seem to realize this and have a tendency to push cats off

Human purpose - making strange noises.  Only noises of interest are: noise associated with calling for food, the word "food" and the word "vet"
Cat purpose - ideal place of warmth.  Climb on top at night - poke features if no food is forthcoming

The Environment

The Magic Portal
This leads to the garden where Birds, mice, frogs etc must be gathered and returned to the humans as thanks for food.  Any noise in the vicinity of the magic portal is a sign that the humans are letting you out for a while, regardless of their actions and noises to the contrary

The Main Quarters
Where humans stare at strange images on a box.  There are interesting places to clim and sit.  Humans respond well to knocking things over and will often pick you up and show you attention if you are on specific sites of interest, such as computer keyboards, tables and infront of the image box

The Kitchen
Any activity in the vicinity of this room is a signal that humans are about to offer you food - humans may not initially realize this, so it is important to keep staring at them the entire time they are in this room.  When they return from the room with food on plates it is important to sit at their feet and continue the staring activities until they capitulate.

Sleeping Quarters
A high comfy area designed for cats to spend the dark hours asleep.  The main purpose of the space is for cats to take up as much room as possible.  Humans should be allowed some small measure of space beneath the covers as a potential additional source of heat only

The Water Room
Best avoided - especially if the word "fleas" is used

Cat Duties

Cat duties for humans are limited as the purpose of humans is as an aid to cats.  However, it is vital to ensure that they feel comfortable when they are stressed or looking busy.  If one has a phone in its hand, or a magic box on its lap then you must climb over it, sit on it and push your face into the face of the human until they desist from what they are doing and gain the vitally needed relaxation that cats can offer.  Another way to do this is to offer them food in return for the regularly filled bowl.  The more decayed the bird, mouse etc is - the better the human will respond