Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Geode: for Liz and Helen

A couple of weeks ago I went to a celebration of Liz and Helen's civil partnership. Liz and Helen are both talented members of Chester Poets and so, as part of the event, there were songs and readings. Although I am more of a prose writer than a poet I was delighted when they asked me to contribute too, so I wrote this...


It is not the colour of your eyes that I love, but the way they look in the morning just before they open. I say your name and something around them softens, then they open and it is as if my whole world is in there, lost in their depths.

It is not your voice that I love but the things that it says: your dreams of me and you, your promises, your memories of another land, barren and cold, before us, you say, before now.

It is not the shape of your hands that I love but the way they hold mine: soft, warm, a second skin. Never let me go, I say, and you smile and your hands tighten.

Those are the three things: your eyes, your voice, your hands. Each one unremarkable, like a rough stone a gardener could uncover in his garden. The sort he would throw to one side never knowing that inside was a little miracle: a tiny cave encrusted with crystals, each one storing light like a secret, releasing it with a glow when you enter the room.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Audacious Burgler

This morning when I got up I saw that our back gate was open, which I thought was strange, and then went to find my handbag for my purse. But it was gone. We searched every room in the house but it did not appear. I know I had my handbag at 4pm yesterday as I paid for something on-line using a credit card which I always keep in my purse in my bag, and I had not been out of the house since. The only thing I can think is that I left my handbag on the kitchen table and someone sneaked into the kitchen through our unlocked but closed back door and stole it - while we were all in other rooms absorbed in what we were doing. A horrible thought - and it's not as if the house is very large.

Hodmandod Senior has spent the afternoon changing the lock on the front door and has bought a steering column lock to go on the car. I have stopped all the credit cards and reported the loss to the police who are going to visit on Tuesday. Apparently it is all too common. It seems incredible to me that someone would dare to come into a house, albeit quite easily, which was obviously so fully occupied - but it only takes a minute and if caught I guess you can just run - fast.

I had so much in that bag - my purse with all my cards, my keys, small things that meant a lot to me, but worse of all my little filofax where I keep a lot of my notes on things that occur to me and my addresses...all gone. That filofax has been with me to Greenland, Europe and Patagonia with no mishaps, only to be stolen from under my nose in my own house. Ah well, it could be worse, I tell myself. It is unsettling though. I have done no writing at all - a very unproductive day.

Saturday, May 27, 2006


I have decided to take the plunge and finally signed up to try and learn the language of my ancestors - Welsh. From 19th - 30th June I shall be at the University of Wales, Lampeter on one of their intensive Welsh language courses. Since I am totally useless at learning new languages this is going to be a bit of a challenge. At the end of it I should be able to speak Welsh with 'a sympathetic listener' - a very sympathetic listener in my case, I think.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The All Over Tan

This made me laugh on the BBC news website today. Judging from the BBC's feedback on the feature the general consensus of the people of Great Britain was that the man making the video of the hapless nude sunbather was the one who should have been charged, not the sunbather herself.

When I was a child our neighbour was a single woman who also liked to sunbathe in the nude (also a nurse, oddly enough). For several months in the summer my brother David and I used to look forward to the sun coming out so we could spy on her through the holes in the fence. Sometimes my brother used to invite his friends around so they could take a look too. I think some money may have changed hands, but I am not entirely sure about that.

The man with the video camera claimed he was shocked for his children's sake, but I have to report that we suffered no long-lasting psychological damage. In fact it may have contributed to my brother's choice of career - not an entrepreneur or a publisher of men's magazines, as you might expect, but a doctor. I like to think that peeping though the fence that summer awakened an interest in the anatomy of the human body.

Snails Tails

Am very excited - have just found an inspiring blog all about snails just here.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Philip Naviasky

My Dutch translator, Auke Leistra, has been in touch. Today he asked me a question about my text, but a few weeks ago he kindly emailed me with the interesting news that he had found out who painted the portait of the girl for the Ambo Anthos cover of 98 REDENEN OM TE ZIJN. The artist was called Philip Naviasky (1894-1983), and he painted the portrait in 1927.

A search of the internet doesn't reveal a great deal about the man except that he was a Jewish artist based at the Leeds College of Art in Yorkshire. The most intriguing reference to him is in the Spectator; apparently one of his paintings is called 'Portrait of a Rabbi' and is 'richly textured'- this I should love to see.

Thanks to John Duncalfe who tells me that some of Philip Naviasky's work is currently on show in Leeds:
Detail from Jacob Kramer - The Jew (Meditation). By courtesy of the William Roberts Society


An exhibition forming part of the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the Leeds Jewish community.
17 April - 20 July 2013
Private View: Tuesday, 16 April 2013, 6-8pm
The exhibition is based around the major Jewish artists in the University of Leeds Art Collection (Jacob Kramer, Philip Naviasky, Willy Tirr) and loans from other public and private collections, including works by Joash Woodrow. Contemporary artists are also represented by Lydia Bauman, Gillian Singer and Judith Tucker.


If you have any information on Philip Naviasky please would you either email me (email address on profile page - click link on right hand side below my biography) or leave your email address in the comments. I won't publish it unless you want me to.


Sybil Ruth, who runs a small fine art business, has discovered more about Philip Naviasky, and has written a very interesting blog post about her research here.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

An Interview with David Evans

I am proud to know the writers and teachers David Evans and his partner Jenny Newman. Each has made, in my view at least, courageous life choices. Jenny entered and then left a convent, and David Evans went to jail for his beliefs. He used to be a journalist in South Africa during apartheid, and because he protested about what was happening around him spent five years in prison. Now they both live on the Wirral across the Mersey from Liverpool and devote their lives pretty much to writing.

Recently I went to the launch of David Evans's anthology of short stories: PORTRAIT OF A PLAYBOY AND OTHER STORIES which is published by HEADLAND Publications.

Here is David with his publisher Gladys Mary Coles who is also a poet and teacher - whose evening classes I attended fanatically for about ten years.

David was introduced by the author Ramsey Campbell, which was entertaining, and we were then treated to a couple of readings which showed the range of the anthology to good effect. I particularly liked David's reading of RACE AGAINST TIME which is the first story in the book and is set in South Africa. It is a short story - only 4 sides long - but gives a strong impression of a place where skin colour is of paramount importance and dictates everything that happens, even the degree of medical care. It is poignant, tense and gripping. The stories are set mainly in South Africa and Merseyside (although places like Florence are featured too) and having sampled David's writing in A TOUCH OF THE SUN (reviewed here) I am looking forward very much to reading it soon.

David very kindly gave a set of particularly profound and thoughtful answers to my questions.

CD: Do you have any connection with snails? (or anecdotes, memorable encounters..etc.)
DE: Slugs give me the shivers. I prefer snails – which are attractive in their slow determined way– but they threaten our attempts at gardening. I use snailmail, of course!

CD: What is your proudest moment?
DE: A dfficult question. As we grow older proud moments are diluted by mixed emotions and familiarity with other successes and failures and their cost. Probably my proudest moment was getting my first team cricket blazer at school. This was connected with the hope that it might impress an attractive student at the girls’ school nearby. It didn’t. But the blazer was nearly as pretty. A comparable moment was getting my first short story published in a South African magazine when I was 17. ‘Don’t think you’ve arrived,’ my favourite teacher said. I hadn’t.

CD: Have you ever had a life-changing event - if so what was it?
DE: Going to prison for five years.

CD: What is the saddest thing you’ve ever heard of or seen?
DE: Humans’ continued willingness to torture other humans and animals in the name of survival.

CD: If there was one thing you’d change about yourself what would it be?
DE: My temperament – for one which includes better focus and greater serenity.

CD: What is happiness?
DE: A transient by-product of good writing, good company and good sex.

CD: What is the first thing you do when you get up?
DE: Kill the alarm clock which is on the landing, clean my teeth etc then make a light breakfast to share with partner Jenny in bed.

CD: .How much of yourself is in your novels and short stories?
DE: Quite a lot, though I’m not trying to write disguised autobiography. I like to draw on what I’ve seen and heard, people I’ve met and places I’ve been to. But these elements are usually only a starting point. For instance a favourite short story is told from the viewpoint of a young Liverpool woman. Writing allows us to escape from the prison of self.

CD: How important has the experience of being in prison been in your life?
DE: :Enormously important. I learnt something of what it means to be subjugated. I also learnt the value of solidarity under oppression. Outside I couldn’t afford to go to university but in prison I was able to study for a degree through correspondence – financed by benevolent organisations. This led to a second degree from Oxford when I came into exile and a subsequent career as a lecturer. My fellow prisoners were intelligent and mainly highly educated people and very supportive. Prison wasn’t a pleasant place to be but it was a privilege to be in that company – a kind of socialist campus. Friendships formed there continue four decades on.

CD: When you visited a local prison in the UK did it help you to relate to the prisoners there, or was their situation very different?
DE: There is a difference about being imprisoned for your political convictions. And my most recent visit was a rather formal affair as I was one of the guest speakers at the opening of a new and impressive education centre. Though I spoke about what study in prison had meant to me and I talked to some of the prisoners briefly afterwards I feel I contributed more years earlier when I did a few sessions on creative writing: it was more intimate and informal and there was certainly rapport. I’ve offered to do something in that line again in future.

CD: What other experiences are important to you and your writing?
DE: The whole experience of apartheid and opposing it. Coming to Britain and working with aspirant writers in inner city areas like Scotland Road and Liverpool 8. The love of some very interesting women. Parenthood. Travel in Europe.

CD: When you have been back to South Africa how did you find it had changed?
DE: The obvious and welcome change is that the political shackles of apartheid have been removed and people of colour have at last won the right to be citizens of their own country with freedom of movement, association, organisation and the rest. Relations between white and black are changing excitingly, particularly among the young. Power relations have shifted, too, though there is still too much poverty and unemployment and I see a need for more redistributive economic policies. There are many problems – AIDS and inequality among them -but a great deal of energy and goodwill exists.

CD: Do you find there are similar injustices in this country? Is there anything you feel you need to fight for here?
DE: There is plenty to be concerned about: sometimes murderous race prejudice, widening inequality, male domestic violence and complicity in two ugly military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. I’m conscious of doing very little for causes at the moment beyond giving a little money to some.

CD: How do you write? What is your typical writing day?
DE: There isn’t one. I’m erratic. I have ‘hot’ phases when I manage 500 – 1000 words a day or even more, usually starting about mid-morning and (with breaks of course) stopping around six, though I do sometimes write at night. But I have ‘cold’ periods when I’m slow to get myself to my desk and either fritter time away in displacement activities of one kind or another or brood about an idea. Luckily, I enjoy the actual process of writing and feel unhappy, even ill, if I’m away fom it for any length of time. At present I’m working on a sequel to my debut novel and finding it challenging.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Keeper of the Leeches or Essential Leech Research

My great Uncle Jimmy was the heavyweight boxing champion of Wales. I saw him once: he had a large gingerish moustache and a cross-looking face and my grandmother and mother were silent until he had passed. Uncle Jimmy, I learnt, had had one bash on the head too many and gone peculiar. Before that he’d been a happy sort of chap, staggering into the kitchen, docilely holding his head back when the swelling got too bad, and waiting until someone got the leeches.

Someone got the leeches? Leeches? My grandmother had a taste for gore and told me in detail. They’d bite into you and suck away your blood, which was very handy for great Uncle Jimmy because sometimes his black eyes swelled up so much he couldn’t actually open them.

Swansea is still the place for leeches I found out a couple of years ago when I was researching for my last novel. The descendants of great Uncle Jimmy’s little helpers stock one of the largest suppliers of medicinal leeches in the world. They are used in plastic surgery to stop sewn-on parts becoming engorged with blood and dropping off again: although the thick-walled arteries can be joined, the thinner walled veins cannot. So until the veins re-establish themselves blood can come in but can’t come back out - hence the leeches.

However the woman at the leech farm obviously viewed my request to try one out with suspicion.
“What for?”
“I’m writing a book about a nineteenth century psychiatrist called Dr Hoffmann and there’s a very important leech scene.”
“I don’t see how we can help.”
“I want to feel one suck my blood.”
It was then that her voice changed; they didn’t do that sort of thing and no she couldn’t tell me any nearby hospitals that were customers either. After that I had the impression that the phone receiver had been replaced quite firmly.

And so the leech quest continued. Eventually, after many emails, letters and Google searches I arrived at a Burns Unit on Merseyside. An interview with a consultant there, Mr Kevin Hancock (who answered all my questions including ‘most funny leech story’), was followed by a trip to the pharmacy. Apparently leeches are ordered on prescription - two aspirins and three leeches - so the pharmacy is the logical place to keep them. And there I met Marina Jennick, a girl whose enthusiasm for our little squirmy friends is matched only by my own.

Leeches are truly remarkable creatures. They are kept on the sort of gel that is used to keep hanging baskets damp and they are kept cold and hungry. It is not a happy life. Once warm they move in the tank like molten wax in a lava lamp, transforming in water into flat strips of rippling tagliatelle, and on your hand they anchor themselves with an amazing and disturbing tenacity while their heads search for blood. For some time we admired them: the microscopically tiny three rows of teeth shaped like a Mercedes symbol to maximise blood flow; the strength of that grip; the chemical that prevents blood coagulation for at least twelve hours; and their functional elegance. They are beautiful because they are perfectly designed for what they do and apart from curing black eyes they resurrect lives that have temporarily fallen apart: the severed finger of the man at the vice, the skin graft of a child badly burned and the reconstructive surgery for a woman recovering from breast cancer. For controlled blood-letting after surgery the ancient medicinal leech is a distinctive cut above the rest.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Lablit Piece

I was invited to write this little piece for Lablit on how I changed career (from a scientist to a novelist) and how I incorporate science in my novels.

The Lablit site is a very interesting one - it sets out to explore the relationships between science and the arts. In days gone by the two went hand in hand and there are moves afoot to make it so again.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Light Fittings and Happiness

Well, I couldn't keep away for long - I watched another of the happiness programmes and immediately wanted to communicate the findings. It was mainly on the subject of consumerism.

Consumerism, apparently, is what we substitute for hunting and gathering in the modern world; we get the same 'high' from acquiring a new light fitting as a hunter-gatherer would get from a particularly impressive kill.

However this 'high' does not last long and is subject to 'the problem of comparison' - there is always someone who has a better light fitting. Because of this consumerism does not bring lasting happiness. The people in Bhutan say that it creates greed which is why they have banned advertising hoarding. We don't need Coca Cola, one of their ministers said, when we have good supplies of fresh water. But all people need 'things' to some extent and so the people of Bhutan aim to temper material growth with spiritualism.

The programme made the following suggestions to increase happiness.

Ban advertising, especially to children, and especially those advertisements that are pictorial - giving little information and suggesting that certain unnecessary goods are necessary to attain a certain lifestyle.

Increase taxation in order to equilibrate and distribute wealth.

Slow down and take breaks during the working day e.g. in order to visit an art gallery or take a walk in the park

Change work to a lower paid but more fulfilling role.

Or, if that is not possible, making the most of 'signature strengths' in the work place (signature strengths are the things a person is good at - character traits rather than skills).

Friday, May 12, 2006


...for a short while. I am feeling a bit tired and taking a rest. Thank you to everyone who has commented and read my blog.

Slugs: A Cure for Tired Eyes.

'Take the black slugs, having collected them from the dew on May Day, and roast them on a spit by a stone fire and collect the fat, and guard it dearly; then anoint the eyes with it, and they will be made clean and bright and healthy.'

From the 'A WELSH LEECH BOOK' faithfully copied from the original manuscript by Timothy Lewis, 1914.

What a shame I have just missed the essential date - I shall have to wait an entire year now for my next chance.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


According to the second installment of the happiness programme on the BBC the following makes people more happy:
a belief in God;
marriage (or civil partnership registration);
and an optimistic nature.

Belief in God, so the presenter said, gives us a sense of community and also causes us to look beyond ourselves. I can see how this might help, but unfortunately a faith is not something you can turn on or off. As far as I can tell it is something you have or do not have, it is not something you can work towards.

Similarly people may be fortunate or unfortunate when it comes to marriage - some may never find quite the right person, but human beings all need to love and be loved by someone.

Even though we can do little about faith or marriage we can do something about the third factor - our degree of optimism. It is something that can be learnt and it is something I need to learn. I blame my pessimistic nature on my upbringing. The Welsh, I think, have an especially pessimistic nature, as do the Scots, and the people living in Yorkshire and Lancashire, and those I have encountered in London... In fact the British as a whole are a pretty gloomy lot in my opinion, every silver lining has a cloud, and it is quite unusual to find anyone who is relentlessly upbeat. Sometimes I think we like it that way. We are the people who were left behind, who were too pessimistic to find a new land and emigrate - because, after all, out there things would only be worse. Optimism, it is said, was exported from the old world to the new world with those adventurous enough to seek out a new life. Yet optimism is good. Optimistic people are more creative (not really sure about that, some of my best pieces of work have been written with tears rolling down my face) - expect to do well and you will do well - that is what I've heard.

And the good news is that optimism can be learnt using positive psychology. What I have to do is quite simple:
challenge negative thoughts;
count three blessings every day;
and seek out the positive.

So to the accompaniment of REM's 'Everybody Hurts' I am happy to report that I made a start. Today I challenged the thought that I am never going to be able to clarify the motivation of the characters in my novel (as suggested by my agent). My three blessings were the cups of tea and coffee I had with my friends Irene and Jan, the unexpected early arrival home of Hodmandod Senior and the funny passages in a book I was reading (I shall review this as soon as I have finished it). The positive is that tomorrow will be better. I just wish I believed it.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

My Brother's Trees

Yesterday would have been my brother Huw's birthday so I went to visit the trees planted in his memory.

Dutton is a pretty place - there are large old brick houses called coy names like 'lodge' and 'cottage' suggesting smallness but so grand they are guarded by high walls and security gates with intercoms. It was quiet. The sun shone through haze. I followed the instructions from the Woodland Trust through a field of inquisitive young cows who came over to investigate me, then over another stile to the trees. The trees were, of course, very young, just saplings a couple of feet high: roses, hawthorn, rowan, beech and birch in rows protected by tubes of polythene. The ones dedicated to my brother are unmarked so I chose one that I have decided is Huw's tree - a silver birch. I am going to come back to it every year on his birthday to see how it is getting along. For a time I sat on another stile trying to draw all that I could see but I couldn't. It seemed too difficult. I looked at the paper with my marks in pencil and charcoal and it looked like nothing, just twigs sprouting from the ground, so I gave up.

I walked and took photos instead - through the saplings to an established wood. It is a beautiful time of year to go walking through a wood in Cheshire right now: there are banks of bluebells, quite intensely coloured to the naked eye, and then banks of white flowers, and of course there are the smells: garlic, a heavy smell of some blossom I couldn't identify, and that mouldy, peaty smell of the wood. The sun shone through the branches, lighting the ground in strips - light green, yellow, dark green, brown - and I thought no one could be unhappy on a day like this.

I walked along the canal at the side of the wood and a narrow boat went past disturbing the swans who glided away unperturbed, and a group of mallards who made more fuss.
I examined this year's ducklings, making panicked little skids along the water,

and the feathers of a nearly adult swan.

I exchanged greetings with a couple of joggers and sat on a bench and watched the water

and a gorse that looked as if it had caught fire at the water's edge.

Then I looked again at Huw's tree wondering how it would be when I come back again next year - more branches, more leaves, and the small animals using it for cover - a small world becoming larger.

Monday, May 08, 2006

An Interview with Andrew Holmes

Andrew Holmes is the author of 64 CLARKE - a book I very much recommend to anyone in search of a well-written, exciting and thoroughly entertaining piece of crime fiction (I feel happy describing it as 'crime' now - see Andrew's answers below). I reviewed it here.

Although Andrew is another Sceptre author we have never met - I have encountered him only virtually as the maestro in charge of the SANTA MIX which was so much fun. Incidentally the last Santa is now up on Andrew's 64 CLARKE BLOG - and well worth a visit if you want to find out about the musical tastes of literary luminaries such as David Mitchell, Hari Kunzru and Matt Thorne...and a lot of other cool cats (am I showing my age here, I wonder..?).

Andrew is a graduate of the Leicestershire comprehensive school system - so we have that in common. Incidentally I feel rather proud of my education - my teachers were idealistic and believed strongly that the same opportunities to learn should be available for all regardless of wealth, racial background and where they lived - or how influential their parents were. It is something that appears to have been forgotten recently by a certain socialist government.

But enough of that, back to the matter in hand. Andrew tells me his main interests are in music and film. He began his career as a reporter for his local newspaper before a move to London where he worked in consumer magazines, among them DJ Magazine, Muzik, FHM and Mondo. In order to concentrate on his novels he became a freelancer and wrote his debut novel, SLEB, which was shortlisted for the WH Smith New Talent Award. He has since written ALL FUR COAT and 64 CLARKE. He is now working on a new novel, UNLIMITED TRIPS TO THE BUFFET. He is married, and has a son.


CD: Do you have any connection with snails?
AH: No connection as such, I’m afraid, although I’ve heard that you can stop snails eating your garden by offering them beer. I, too, will not eat your garden if you offer me a drink.

CD: What is your proudest moment?
AH: The birth of my son, Dylan, although I was much prouder of my wife than of myself (and of Dylan, of course). I suppose in an all-my-own-work sort of way, the publication of (first novel) Sleb.

CD: Have you ever had a life-changing event - if so what was it?
The birth of Dylan again. Nothing prepares you, etc.

CD: If there was one thing you’d change about yourself what would it be?
AH: I’d give myself the desire to travel. I tend to live quite an internal, nerdy life – I’m most happy with music, books, comics, DVDs and stuff, so I always feel slightly resentful if I have to go anywhere. I’m missing out on things, I know.

CD: What is happiness?
AH: Not having anything to do.

CD: What is the first thing you do when you get up?
Worry about what I have to do that day.

CD: Have you always wanted to be a writer?
AH: Yes.

CD: I read about the origin of the white van and the speaker sellers on your website. Where do your other characters come from? Have you ever encountered anyone like Chick or Sophie?
AH: Chick is based on a guy I once saw taking money from homeless people at a cash machine. He’d hover nearby, wait until someone gave money to the homeless guy there, and then swoop in and demand it.

CD: 64 Clarke has a particularly strong plot - but the characters are well-portrayed as well. How do you usually write your books? Do you consider yourself to be a plot-driven author or a character-driven one? Which do you think of first - plot or character?
AH: It’s too much of a patchwork to say definitively, but I think the plot probably comes, and I then try and staff that with cool, interesting and believable characters. Although Chick (above) was an exception.

CD: Would you say that your books fit into the crime genre?
AH: I really hope so, although they never get marketed that way.

CD: You also work as a freelance journalist. Do you find that the two occupations support each other?
AH: Financially, the freelance journalism supports the writing. In terms of inspiration, definitely. As a novelist it’s really important to get out and about, as you can tend to get a closeted (as I’m sure you know). Just getting on the Tube is inspiration.

CD: What inspires you most to write?
AH: Worry.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

WORDS by Zoran Živković

On Lies and Little Deaths at the moment J Erik Lundberg is reading a strange and wonderful little story called WORDS by Zoran Živković. I found the ending especially enchanting.

Friday, May 05, 2006

ECZEMA - my story for Electric Velocipede

This week I have been writing a short story for the Electric Velocipede anthology. Each story is based on a winning word in the National Spelling Bee. The word I chose was ECZEMA because I thought the idea of a skin disease had lots of potential for a SF/fantasy story - and I am a bit sick (so my sons keep telling me).

So far it is just over 5000 words long and I am enjoying myself very much - though I wrote nothing today. Here is an excerpt - as you can see it is geological in tone.

'‘You were found near an egg - Mother told me.’ Melissa announced one day in the middle of an argument when Mother had long gone and therefore was no longer available to confirm or deny. ‘It was an old one, but very large, and you were lying beside it - whining as usual - with a shrivelled yellow thing attached to a cord going into your stomach.’

I had touched my navel through my shirt– I had always been self-conscious of it – it was much larger and deeper than any other navel I had seen and looked as if a signifigant part of my stomach had been sucked inside.

‘You were instead of me,’ she’d added cruelly. ‘I was what they really wanted – a child of their own. But they picked you up because they couldn’t leave you there. You were squawking helplessly in the middle of a quarry and they were blasting out more rock all the time, so Father picked you up and hid you in his haversack, and said you’d been born in their tent in the middle of their field trip – an unexpected side-product of a highly successful investigation.’

‘What had they been studying?’ I asked numbly. Mother and Father were both geologists.

‘Pre-Cambrian schists. They were hoping to find early evidence for life and got rather more than they bargained for.’

‘Did they think I was Pre-Cambrian then?’

Melissa had shrugged, obviously bored. ‘Maybe. I dunno.’'

RSI second update.

Although my RSI is much better now it is still not exactly right and so today went along to my first appointment with my physiotherapist. I was highly impressed (to be honest I thought I would be told to go away and stop wasting her time, there's people far worse off than me) but apparently my right shoulder blade is 'winging' a bit and I have now been given exercises to pull it back into position. I have to lie on the floor and pull my shoulder blade down using just 30% muscle capacity and hold for 10 seconds - and aim to repeat this 100 times a day. I should also try to make sure that my shoulders are down and not tensed up in my desultory attempts to lift weights in the gym. I have also been recommended to go back to pilates.

Just worked out how often I need to do this exercise assuming a 12 hour day - approximately once every 7.2 mins. But I am allowed to do repeats, so that's approximately once every 15 mins...

Thursday, May 04, 2006


A few months ago Gregory Norminton, author of the excellent GHOST PORTRAIT, was kind enough to give me a highly entertaining interview. Last summer Gregory was one of a seven-member international team of enthusiastic amateur environmentalists filmed for a series called PLANET ACTION. This is an 'eco-reality series' which looks at the crises endangering the world's wildlife and is due to be screened on the Discovery Channel starting next Tuesday.

Unfortunately, since the Hodmandods do not have SKY I will be unable to see it, but if anyone reading this does see it I would love to hear from you - and so would Gregory - as he is hoping to open a dialogue with people on his INFINITE SPACE blog. This sounds a great idea to me which I shall certainly be joining as much as I can. He has started the discussion with an interesting description of how he came to be part of the team.

It sounds like it was a wonderful and worthwhile adventure and features activities like saving endangered Leatherback Turtles in Panama and planting trees in the heart of Borneo.

It is supported by the World Wildlife Fund and they have a rather good website providing the background to the programme including an interview with Gregory (click on Gregory's photo to hear and see it) which I found inspiring. He talks about waking up at four in the morning in a tent in the tropical jungle and just listening...

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Bhutan: The State of Happiness

I learnt tonight that in Bhutan, which is a state which has an absolute monarchy, the pursuit of happiness is valued as much as anything else. Every government policy is considered for its effect on happiness as well as its effect on gross domestic product.

It is strange how often I find things coming together in my life. For instance one of the things banned in Bhutan is advertising. Banksy, whose philosophy in life I have been thinking about a lot recently, makes several statements against this - in fact much of his art is a fight against advertisements - and it turns out that Bhutan have tried to stem the effect of consumerism in the country by banning hoardings.

TV was only introduced in Bhutan in 1999 - again something I mentioned in my post yesterday - specifically the effect of soaps and the way they reflect an individual's state of mental health. Some channels such as MTV have been banned in Bhutan because it was felt they did little to promote happiness.

Tobacco is banned - I expect that this would make many people unhappy - but after a few years they would become more happy - and furthermore, like my father, ardent anti-smokers.

Plastic bags have also been banned. This, I think, is an excellent idea. They ruin the landscape, in windy places like Patagonia, they are an eyesore. We recycle them in the UK but I am going to cut down my use of them - in fact try and irradicate them from my life completely.

They do not have traffic lights in Bhutan - but use policemen to direct traffic instead. Not sure about this one - I rather like waiting at a red light in the middle of the night when there is no one else around. I think it is bizarre and it appeals to me. I wonder if there was a policeman controlling the traffic maybe I would suspect him of being unfair - whereas with automated lights I have no such suspicion.

Inner spirit improvement (ie Budhism) is put on a par with material gains. For me the spiritual is still a search - and I haven't found it yet, and wonder now if I ever shall. But I know it doesn't lie in material wealth - at least I have never confused it with that.

There are strict conservation laws and sustainable development - brilliant! I feel like emigrating. Life would be harder, but I think I would be happier.

And on that subject - happiness - there was the first of three TV programmes on the subject on the BBC tonight - an excellent website accompanies it - which is where I got all my information on Bhutan.

One way to get happy, apparently, is to volunteer or to help people as much as you can.

X by Dr Grump

I saw Ben Peek was doing this meme thing where he gives you a letter and you have to choose 10 words beginning with that letter and say why they are important, so, since I like to join in I asked him for a letter and the one he gave me is an X.

The XXXXXXX, or the XXXXXXX XXXXXXX as D H Lawrence wouldn't say....

Anyway, the task was beyond me so I've handed it on to my friend Dr Grump who has a PhD in sexual dynamics and etymology and is working at the Institute of Moral Hygiene at the University of Urm.

1. X = kiss, like the girl in the car park just below my window is giving to some guy three times her height, which is more accurately a snog I reckon, because it has been going on for at least five minutes now, not that I'm looking.

2. X = 10 if you are a Roman, and 10 out of 10 is pretty darned good (though 13 is better, apparently). Which I guess is the score for the coupling that is still going on below my window, not that I'm looking, as I say.

3. X-rated. Because explicit is best. No argument from the car park.

4. X = X-chromosome (two of these are essential in order to make the perfect human being).

5. xenophobia = fear of people from outside - very important word - has caused all sorts of trouble including every war and every battle. However since it is part of our make-up as an animal and our struggle to survive and pass on all those X-chromosomes to grateful offspring it looks like it will be with us for some time yet. Make love not war - oh you are, please do carry on, never mind me.

6. X- generation = Those people who are sceptical about traditionally held beliefs about religion and family. Needs no further explanation and exemplified beautifully by couple outside window.

7. X = The first variable yet to be ascertained in a mathematical problem as in 'If A is the amount of air in lungs and B is the amount expended per minute during average snog - what is X - the time of the snog in minutes?'.

8. X-ray = because it is good to see inside people sometimes - WITHOUT using tongues.

9. Xylophone = because it gives a sweet sound - er rather like young love.

10. Xenon = because it is a noble gas, just goes around making no trouble, interfering with no one, minding its own business. Look, would you mind stopping doing that, now. It's very distracting, I'm absolutely certain I never did that sort of thing at your age and besides - I think she's turning purple.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

It's started

A few years ago a soap star came to switch the Christmas lights on in a part of Chester. The character that actor played in the soap was having an affair with another character. So when that actor came to switch on the lights he was jeered and hissed. This was not a joke - this was for real - they meant every insult. I concluded from this that some soap watchers believe that what they see in front of them is real - for some people these faces may be the only familiar ones they can depend on seeing a few times each week. I was therefore not at all surprised to see this new confusion between reality and fiction on the BBC news website today and believe it may be the start of more to come.

I think that for some people the soap replaces real life because real life has become too painful and bleak. Perhaps that is one reason why we read novels, watch soaps, play games - unless we find something meaningful in our lives we seek an escape, reject one reality and become aborbed in one that is more enticing.

Banksy puts it like this:

"...The human race is an unfair and stupid
competition. A lot of runners don't even get
decent sneakers or clean drinking water.

Some runners are born with a massive head
start, every possible help along the way and still
the referees seem to be on their side.

It's not surprising a lot of people have given up
competing altogether and gone to sit in the
grandstand, eat junk food and shout abuse...'


Monday, May 01, 2006


You know when you're at school and there is a really naughty boy in the class who is always geting into trouble, and you know you really shouldn't laugh, but you do because you can't help it, and anyway part of you wants to be cool just like him, and swear and do all the things that he doesn't quite get away with but almost does...or was that just me?

Anyway, here is Banksy - a very naughty boy, a bit of an anarchist, a talented grafitti artist, very humorous (as long it's not my wall he's stenciling on) and now an author. Yesterday Hodmandod Senior came home with a present from Borders - a book full of Banksy art. Quite a bit of it is on his website, so I guess that by becoming a Harper Collins author he really hasn't sold out, and he won't mind at all if I reproduce one of hs photos here.

(the sign the grafitti hitch hiker is holding says 'anywhere').

It's not the most witty in the book, but it kind of summarises how I feel, and how I have always felt. I have a big chunk of wanderlust inside me and wherever I am I always feel I want to be somewhere else and one of the things that makes me really, really happy is travelling - alone. Hodmandod Senior knows this and doesn't mind - because he doesn't much like travelling at all and much prefers to stay at home. He is a happy and very contented sort of person and I wish I were more like him.