Sunday, November 30, 2008

Dr Grump Branches Out

I have been nagging my esteemed colleague, Dr Grump, to start her own blog for some time now, and today she rushed into our office in a state of great excitement.

'I've done it!' she said.
'Done what?'
'Gone back to Nature.'
I blinked. I had no idea that Dr Grump had interests in that area, although she has several times expressed a longing for an 'all-over tan.'
'No, not that sort of nature,' she said, 'Nature with a capital N. In fact two of them: Nature Network. They've let me have my own blog.'
'Why did you say 'back' then, have you been there before?'
'No, I just thought it funny.'
'You've got lipstick on your teeth.' I said.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Roman Soldier and the Conveyor Belt Miracle

'See that?' the man sitting next to me last night said, rolling up a trouser leg. Fortunately the light in the bar was dim and I could only just make out the scars.

'The bone went through there. I was pointing one way, my leg the other. I heard it snap. They were talking about taking it off, but this bone specialist came long and felt a pulse in my little toe and told them he could save it.'

Gaius Lucius Cadaras (not his real name) was explaining to me how he came to be a Roman soldier. 'I'm a hygienist. My job is to go in to a place, with my team, and clean it out. So I was in this place, with my lance, and it got trapped under the conveyor belt with one leg here, and the other here, and the conveyor belt still going, and, like I say, I heard the snap.'

'Anyway, after that, it was just the four walls of my living room for month after month, until, one day, I saw an advert in the paper for Roman soldiers...'

Gaius named himself after a real Roman soldier. He passes his stone every time he goes into the Museum, and Gauis (II) has researched his history. The original Gaius came from south west Spain and joined the Roman army aged 14. He died in Chester aged 28, and Gaius II believes that by taking his name he is paying homage to him.

'One day I'll meet him,' he says. 'One day, when it's my turn...'

I first encountered Gaius II as one of the bearers of my friend Mike's coffin. All the bearers were dressed in the gear they wear when they march, in formation, around Chester: sandals, short toga, armour, I can't really remember the details, my mind was elsewhere, but I was aware of them there. It could have been blackly comic, but in fact it was the opposite - very dignified.

Becoming a Roman soldier, for Gaius, has been a spiritual experience. He has adopted the faith, at least in part. On December 18th is the feast of Saturn - a pagan festival which predates Christianity. On that day, according to Gaius, the slaves were free, and to celebrate Gaius and the other soldiers are going to march with lanterns through the streets before feasting and dancing at the Groves.

On other days, he and the other Roman soldiers have visited Roman temples and Gaius has baptised himself in an underground font. Once, he recalls, seven of them were visiting a temple on a pilgrimage together and as they walked through a field seven bullocks made way for them and bowed their heads, while overhead an out-of-season flock of Canada Geese called out as they flew.

'They shouldn't have been there, then,' says Gaius, 'Canadian Geese are winter birds and this was August - it was all a sign.' Then, later, when they came out of the temple, there was a double rainbow, and they knew they'd been blessed.

'Everyone was healed,' Gaius said. 'there were several friends that we knew that were ill just then, and they all pulled through, not at once, but within the week.'

Gaius Lucius Cadarus (II) is well-built, almost burly. There are tattoos over both arms, and the role of Roman soldier suits him. Since becoming a soldier he has researched Roman history and seems to be hungry for information about the period. His life has clearly been transformed and enriched by an incident that, for a few hours, had looked like it was about to destroy it. I spent a fascinating half hour talking to him.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Sebald Treat

The English Pen newsletter has come in with an interesting article by Will Self on W G Sebald. The Rings of Saturn is something I am saving for myself as a treat when I have eventually finished this editing.

I have gone back through the book modifying one of my characters and am now wondering about the depth of another. It is a bit like shaving the legs of a chair - a little off one, set it down, and still it wobbles - so that means a little off another... and around and around until, eventually, the chair has no legs at all, and all I am left with is a blank page.

I am on page 255 now, and think I might proceed now to the end before going back to the beginning again.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Liverpool: A Literary Celebration.

Liverpool, 6pm on a winter's night. Already it is night - and that deep blackness of sky pitted with stars - and in front of me St George's Hall, the Christmas lights all in place, but unlit, and a light somewhere going off

and on.

So up the steps, such a grand entrance, and I come across several polite bouncers in suits, and several more inside. 'Is this St George's Hall, I've come for a book launch...' and I am directed to the side where things are a little more modest, but only just.

So into the geode-like splendours of the inside - all marbles and brasses, and smooth shiny surfaces,

and up some steps, where there are people milling around in frocks and suits, and the intricacies of name-badge and cloakroom and dispelled with, and so into a hall...where I see a few people I know - the crime-writer Margaret Murphy and the wonderful Murph (who only remembers me when Margaret reminds him about halos around the moon), and the equally wonderful Ray - husband of my writer-friend Jan Bengree.

And it turns out that this is not just a book launch but also a short story competition and Jan has been invited because tonight they are announcing the winners - one of which is Jan! So here she is on stage of St George's Hall (where Charles Dickens used to read)

being presented with her prize from Phil Redmond (TV writer and producer) and Martin Edwards, the crime -writer (and lawyer) who was launching his latest book - Dancing For the Hangman which is a fictional recreation of the dark deeds of Dr Crippen...which sounds of great interest to this Hodmandod.

It is all part of the Liverpool 2008 year of culture, so a very auspicious occasion and many congratulations to Jan! She is amassing a goodly selection of awards for her lovely writing.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sky merging.

I've decided to update my website (prompted into this by a phone call from Dipika at Pedalo - my web-designers) and thought I'd put something about the research for my Patagonia book on it.

About five happy hours later I found the photo I was looking for - and also this one. It was taken outside the hostel I stayed in the Andes, at a place called Esquel. If you look closely you can see the tops of the mountains - they are are so high they seem to merge with the sky.

The editing has stalled for a few days, and I fear I won't get much done today since I am going out tonight (which necessitates much primping and preening because, as a hermit, I have obviously got out of practise).

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Monday, November 24, 2008

A blogging connection.

Jonathan and Anne both have interesting stories about horse-racing and betting - on different sides of the world.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday Salon 23 November 2008

It is strange how just a slight change in emphasis gives an entirely different impression. To my great surprise I liked 'How to Win Friends and Influence People' very much. I went through it quickly, but quite thoroughly, making notes after each chapter.

Because I have been on this planet quite a long time now I felt I had discovered some of these rules for myself already, but still it does no harm to have them reinforced, and also be reassured that these are the 'right' thing to do - and why exactly they are 'right'. Of course there are other rules which are new to me, and so feel I have learnt a lot too.

The main conceit of the older book was that if you please people, and make them feel happy and important - then both parties benefit. The more modern version said the same thing but in a more bullish and manipulative way. For instance it advocated paying compliments to people whose job is to provide a service, hinting that if they kept it up their boss would be informed - and have the requisite letter at the ready. Everything was constructed around this sort of rather calculating attitude.

As far as the research for my novel is concerned, I think I shall find both books of great use, and can think of ways of incorporating their ideas already. The older 'How to Win Friends...' has general guiding principles; whereas the 'How to Talk...' book has more specific examples. The 'How to Talk...' book is easier to read with modern examples; but the 'How to Win Friends...' is perhaps more witty and has a kinder overall philosophy.

Basically, I think, the message is that if you can somehow manage to make other people feel important, valued and respected then they will come to like you and respect you. These books go into the detail of how to accomplish this in everyday life.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

The first print run of this book, in 1937, was a mere 5 000 copies but edition after edition was printed, and on the back it proclaims that more than 15 millions copies have been sold. I suppose it is the granddaddy of the Lowndes book I read yesterday, and I notice that part four is called 'Be A Leader' so it may be more even more useful to me.

There are instructions at the front: I am to read each chapter twice; I am to stop frequently and ask myself questions; I am to underscore each important idea; review the book each month(!); and apply what I learn at every opportunity. However this, and the rest of the instructions, are not really applicable to a virtual hermit such as myself.

I am little apprehensive about starting this book - but here goes...

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Natural Leader

I have spent the day reading and making notes from this (slightly amoral - in my view) book.

One of my characters is a leader and I have been trying to think of how he could be charismatic. I had looked up papers on charismatic leaders (e.g Max Weber's Theory of Social and Economic Organisation) but found these were written more from a sociological stance, rather than a psychological one. I needed details - and then it occurred to me to try a popular self-help book like this.

Charisma can be either natural or learnt - and there can be several motives. My character wants to lead, and has some natural charisma, but it is only when his motivation is honourable - i.e. he is led by love, rather than is driven by revenge - that he is truly successful. Half way through my novel he is changed by something that happens to him to help him to see this, hence my need for this book.

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A question of emphasis

I woke up this morning realising that one of my minor characters isn't, in fact, terribly minor after all, and therefore am going to have to go back, almost to the beginning, emphasising him a little more. And his wife...dammit. I am hoping this will just require a little tweaking.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Circadian Progress

10.00. Page 181
11.00. Page 188. (7 pages an hour)
13.00 Page 192. (2 pages an hour)
14.00 Page 196. ( 4 pages an hour)
15.00 Page 202. (6 pages an hour)
16.15 Page 215. (13 pages an hour)
17.00 Page 238. (18 pages an hour)
18.00 page 253. (15 pages an hour)

I am not a morning person.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

In which Silas makes a journey of discovery.

A day of mainly lopping out words. I have had to be ruthless...and shall have to be ruthless again tomorrow. The chapter I am working on at the moment needs to be very much pruned. I don't think I could see that a year or so ago - but I can now.

Page 181 (now of 388).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

In which there is a flood...

...and the leader of the colony, Edwyn Owen, is deposed by peaceful coup.

On page 172 out of 392.

Over two thousand words painfully excised from manuscript.

Monday, November 17, 2008

In which Silas contemplates the great brown sea lions.

Today I have been back to Patagonia. Once again it is May, and therefore late Autumn, and I have been looking down on these great brown sea lions

amassed and bellowing on

platforms of volcanic tuff.

It is a bleak place of plains (the trees are a recent introduction)

and narrow, shallow valleys

with dry soils and strange animals like these guanaco.

I am now on page 139, and happy with my progress.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

In which Silas crosses the desert.

No laundry done today, no clearing up, no housework, no reading, and no exercise...

...but I have got to page 98 in my editing of my Patagonia novel. I feel have 'got into' the book again now - and consequently am enjoying myself very much. My hero, Silas, has just managed to cross thirty miles of cold wind-swept desert.

I am mainly taking superfluous parts out, as my editor advised. Even though I have scarcely moved from this chair I am oddly exhausted.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Character thumbnails

The character thumbnails of my Patagonia book have been re-instated above my desk. I have a duplicate set in the shed for when I work in there.

In clockwise order from the top left are:
Megan James with children Myfanwy and Gwyneth
Silas James, her husband
Jacob Davies (Megan's brother)
The Jones family (including Miriam, the eldest daughter)
Selwyn Williams
Cecilia Owen
Edwyn Owen (Cecilia's husband).

I am trying to finish the editing before Christmas but it is going very slowly. So, in order to motivate myself, I am going to record my progress on this blog.

At the moment I am on chapter 7,
p 35 of 397

Nature Meme

Martin Fenner, of Gobbledygook on the Nature Network has started science blogging meme - and although this blog is not strictly as science blog, I have decided to have a go.

1. What is your blog about?
My life as a writer - which means anything goes, I guess - but includes snippets from my research, reviews of books I've read, interviews with authors and other people from the publishing business, the odd poem and very short story, and generally my thoughts on the world around me. Also, a character called Dr Grump sometimes makes a guest post when I let her, but I have told her to start her own blog on Nature Network, and she says she will, when she gets a chance.

2. What will you never write about?

Other people (excluding interviews and reviews of their work). I also tend to avoid politics.

3. Have you ever considered leaving science?

Yes, and have - though often I miss it (most days I also consider leaving the world of writing - not because I want to, but because it seems so hopeless at the moment).

4. What would you do instead?
I have no idea - I can't imagine not writing, which is why I stay.

5. What do you think will science blogging be like in 5 years?
More people will be doing it, there will be more 'gadgets' and might be more interactive.

6. What is the most extraordinary thing that happened to you because of blogging?
Well, a Nobel prize winner once commented on something I'd written, but the best thing has been meeting a lot of interesting people, including some that have become friends.

7. Did you write a blog post or comment you later regretted?
Yes, sometimes I've felt I've exposed myself too much - but that, I think is part of the nature of blogging, and makes it more interesting.

8. When did you first learn about science blogging?
Around 2006, I'd say - through Maxine.

9. What do your colleagues at work say about your blogging?
I have no colleagues - as a writer I work alone.

10. Extra credit (from Henry Gee): are you able to write an entry to your blog that takes the form of a poem about your research?
Not sure, but will have a go...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

An Interview with Daniel Everett - author of DON'T SLEEP THERE ARE SNAKES

A week or so ago I had the great privilege of reading DON'T SLEEP THERE ARE SNAKES by Daniel Everett.

Daniel Everett, a young missionary, goes to live with a small remote tribe of Piraha Indians in the Amazonian jungle. He is there to learn their language in order to translate the New Testament. But he doesn't go alone, and this, really, is one of the more remarkable features of the story: he goes with his three young children and wife. Within weeks the wife and eldest child are seriously ill - and his story of how he manages to find somewhere for them to be treated is extraordinary. They almost die - and yet as soon as they are recovered they all return to complete their mission.

There are lots of fascinating insights into the unique Piraha Society. They live exclusively in the present and their language reflects this. Daniel Everett finds that they have no words for number, and their words for colour are not abstract terms like ours, but similes. They view death with a nonchalance that can be chilling: when a young mother goes into labour, and her baby is breech, she is left to die alone; and when intoxicated with liquor by a conniving Brazilian trader they seem to consider carrying out his suggestion to kill the family without much of a qualm. But there is a positive side to their life too, and it turns out to be a very important one: the Piraha are generally happy. One anthropologist says they are the happiest people he has ever seen - because they live for today they have no word for worry.

Eventually, Daniel Everett completes his task, and returns to the Pirahas with his version of the New Testament in Piraha recorded onto tape.

However, the only person this seems to convert is Daniel.

Usually I ask just two sets of seven questions - but Daniel Everett's book fascinated me so much that I'm afraid I gave into my curiosity and asked many more - and he very kindly and generously answered them all.

General Questions.

CD: Do you have any connection with snails?
DE: One of my initial friends among the Pirahas was a man called ‘Tiosepoi’. I didn’t know what that meant until one day a Piraha boy came into the village with an enormous snail just taken from the river. ‘What is that?’ I asked. ‘Tiosepoi’ he responded. So my friend’s name was snail. (They eat them.)

CD: What is your proudest moment?
DE: Three of them: when each of my children were born.

CD: Have you ever had a life-changing event - if so what was it?
DE: In 1968 I gave up doing drugs to become a Christian and train to be a missionary (I was 17). That has led me down the path of turns and switchbacks that has transformed my life in unexpected ways, by bringing me to the Pirahas.

CD: What is the saddest thing you’ve ever heard of or seen?
DE: Personally it was the death of my mother when I was 11. Less self-centeredly it is anytime I hear of the death of children in wars.

CD: If there was one thing you’d change about yourself what would it be?
DE: To learn faster.

CD: What is happiness?
DE: Waking up pleased to be alive.

CD: What is the first thing you do when you get up?
DE: Read email.

(Many) questions about DON'T SLEEP THERE ARE SNAKES.

CD: Do the Piraha know how many children they have? When they share out their food, if they have discrete numbers, are they able to do that?
DE: They do not know how many children they have, but they know them all by name and know if they are present or not. They share food by giving out generous portions until they run out. Some people don’t get any that way, but they go to those who did get some and ask for some of theirs.

CD: What is their sense of time? You describe something that happened a moon or so ago so they are aware of months - how about years...or days or hours?
DE: They have a word ‘water’ which can refer to water or to a rainy season cycle – so I will come back next water means I will come back when the river has fallen and risen once, though no numbers are involved. A month is a moon. A day is a “fire” (one night and day about the camp fire is understood). No words for hours.

CD: I was intrigued by Otavio - the Piraha who married into the Apurinas. Did he learn their language? How did he fit in with this (presumably) numerate and literate tribe?
DE: He never learned more than a few words of their language. His wife learned to understand a lot of Piraha (though she spoke very, very little of it). He fit in because literacy, even for the one of the family that could read and do some numbers, these things had little to do with their day-to-day lives.

CD: Why have the Piraha kept their culture whereas other Indians have integrated?
DE: That is the first thing that made me realize that they are ‘special’ in some way. I believe it is because of (i) their own ethnocentricism and feelings of superiority and (ii) their value of immediacy of experience is violated by other languages, such as Portuguese.

CD: Do you, or have you ever, felt tempted to just go and live amongst the Piraha permanently?
DE: I have thought about that in the past. But then I realized that I would be a burden to them in the long run – I am a terrible fisherman and hunter. And I require more audio-visual stimulation – lights, drinks, books… So I am not as independent and self-sufficient as they are.

CD: What do you like the most about the Piraha?
DE: Their tranquillity and acceptance of life, their ability to bear pain and happiness equally.

CD: What do you like the least?
DE: Farting. This is not a social taboo for them and there are times after some meals that they pass more gas than the Alaska pipeline.

CD: Whenever I've written about your book on my blog, I have immediately had people write to me referring to polemic papers. There seems to have been some controversy. Were you prepared for this?
DE: Yes, I expected it. I knew that when I made my claims there would be others who wanted to deny them and who felt that I couldn’t possibly be right (about the scientific claims). But more and more studies are supporting what I have claimed and I will have a paper in the number one journal of linguistics, Language, in which I attempt to rebut all of these criticisms.

(American Edition of DON'T SLEEP THERE ARE SNAKES).

CD: I have a nephew who is so badly autistic that he cannot speak, and until I read your book I'd explained his condition to myself as lacking what I've thought of as Chomsky's 'language centre'. Have you any views on how autism might fit in your new framework?

DE: I think that there are connections. But I think that the problem of autism may have more to do with a problem with the social aspects of language than the grammatical aspects.

CD: Is it possible for a non-Piraha to become fully-integrated in the Piraha's way of life?
DE: Certainly not for me. And I have never seen anyone who has. It requires tremendous knowledge of the jungle and its flora and fauna, as well as toughness that one rarely finds among outsiders.

CD: Is it possible for a Piraha to become fully westernised?
DE: Yes. I know a woman kidnapped as a young child and raised among Brazilians who is now indistinguishable from those she lives with.

CD: When I read the part that described how the Pirahas view the world as consisting of layers it brought to mind the shamanic view of the world - which seems to me to have some spiritual aspects. Do they have an idea of an underworld? Have they any ideas of where their spirits live when they can't see them?
DE: When they cannot see the spirits they say that they can be anywhere – under the river, in the trees, in the sky. They let us see them when they choose.

CD: What do they say about the stars and the moon?
DE: They know a good deal about these. Once a Piraha man pointed to a moving object high in the night sky, a satellite (!), and asked what that was. I said it was a thing like a radio.

CD: Have the Pirahas changed in the time you have known them?

DE: Nothing significant, except that they are being contacted much more now by some Catholic missionaries who think that they need more material goods.
CD: Do you think global warming or environmental damage will impact on them?
DE: No. Highly unlikely.

CD: What do they make of the Trans-Amazonian highway?
DE: It is an invasion of their land, but the settlers along it have nice fields that the Pirahas can get things from at night.

CD: Is there any other language that you have encountered that comes close to the strangeness of the Pirahas?
DE: I have worked on nearly 24 other Amazonian groups and they all seem very, very different from the Pirahas. The world’s leading phonetician (Peter Ladefoged) had just visited the ‘Bushmen’ in Africa before visiting the Pirahas and thought that the Pirahas were much less like anything he’d ever heard of in his career (visiting and researching tribal groups around the world).

CD: What converted you to Christianity in the first place? Was it your wife? Or the suicide of your stepmother?
DE: It was my wife to be. And back in the 60s it was cool to be very different. Becoming religious made me very different from my hippy friends. But it was genuine and sincere and I did believe that Jesus loved me and had a plan for my life.

CD: Do you regret losing your faith in God? Does it make things easier or harder?
DE: I regret some of the social aspects of church – good times with nice people who share your world view – available anywhere in the world that you find yourself. I don’t have that now. But I do not regret anything about my views of God. They were unsustainable. I am happier now. But I never want my decision on religion to be seen as another form of evangelism. I am not out to convert people to atheism. These are hard personal choices.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Three years ago today. The eleventh day of the eleventh month. I know I should be thinking about fallen men in fields, and poppies, and the horrors of war. But instead I think of Huw, and how many other battles we all have to fight.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Sunday Salon 9 November 2008

A short post - because I am reading (heh). This week Hodmandod Senior realised that we haven't had a holiday for the last couple of years and decided to take the week off. Consequently we have been gadding about in the car and on trains, and one day had to endure an exhibition of Pre-Rapahelite art (Hodmandod Senior loves the stuff). There was one sketch which I liked, but generally I can't see how Pre-Raphaelite art is that much different from other (sentimental) Victorian art, although Hodmandod Senior has tried to explain...

Anyway, food at the art gallery (which shall remain nameless) was very bad: dried up bread rolls, unbearably (and mysteriously) hot spicy soup which made our eyes water and noses run, even drier cakes and it took so long to pay for our tea that by the time we took it to our table it was cold. Null points - as they say in all the best Eurovision Song Contests.

However, I did read a book: FRED AND EDIE by Jill Dawson, which I loved - a mainly epistolary tale about a woman on trial for murdering her husband ... and not because he'd made her go and see questionable artworks in unfavourable conditions. At the end of it I briefly considered whether I preferred this book (which was short-listed for the Orange Prize and the Whitbread (now the Costa)) over another of her great books, WILD BOY, and decided I did not. Although both books are excellent, WILD BOY haunts me still - it is very clever, moving and made me reconsider few things I thought I knew.

Ah well, back to Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You: I am, of course, learning a lot. It is the Salavador Dali of science. Nothing is what it seems. Concepts seem to flow and distort like semi-liquid clocks...and I have just read an explanation of why quantum mechanics only applies to the microscopic world, and why a photon can be at two places at once. Marcus Chown made this all seem like prefect sense when I was reading it, but unfortunately, now I try to recall it, it doesn't. It was something to do with a photon having the properties of both a particle and a wave ... and that if you take a single photon, since it is a wave it can have two components, so one component can go through a glass window while the other component is reflected back and so - voilá - two places at once.

Then, again, looking at it from the point of view of Everett's multiple universes, one component is in one universe and another is in another, and when they finish travelling, in order to see them they must come together in a sort of constructive (or destructive) interference ... but these interferences are vulnerable, delicate things - easily degraded by the environment, even the act of looking at them can extinguish them ... which is why, in the macroscopic world, where everything is necessarily observed, the interferences are destroyed, and so nothing, in quantum mechanical terms, can be measured ...argh...back to Marcus, who makes much more sense.

Added later: For another take on 'this sort of thing' see Gordon McCabe's hilarious review of the film 'Quantum of Solace'.

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Friday, November 07, 2008

A Little (En)Light(ening) Reading for the Weekend.

A couple of new acquisitions landed somewhat unexpectedly on the Hodmandod doormat this week. How Pathogenic Viruses Work by Lauren Sompayrac and Quantum by Manjit Kumar. I've dipped in and they both look good. In fact I've read Sompayrac before, and know that I really like his style.

But tonight I am going to retire with Marcus Chown's Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You, again. I've read the first few chapters (which were excellent) then been diverted, but it is time to indulge myself again now.

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Prestatyn in November

Prestatyn, it turns out, is a town of contrasts: a sheltered avenue of trees

and then a mill-pond (the mill, alas, tucked away behind 'No Admittance' notices) with dirty-looking ducks.

Then another walk down another lane and a school - peering through the windows I saw children with their hands up and I had the odd feeling I was truanting from life, doing nothing, just walking, or maybe trespassing

through a hushed estate of houses which added to my sense that I really shouldn't be here, that I should have something else I should be doing

then into town and its interesting vernacular architecture of old-time inns

and public houses, and chapels

converted so easily into curry houses; the arches above windows conveniently close to the curves of an Indian temple, and the listing of evening service and morning Sunday School quickly replaced - with the flick of a sign-painter's wrist - to the prices of a good tandoori.

Ah, Prestatyn dreams of being hot

with palm trees and lidos and beach huts which seem sadder still under grey skies and the cold damp air of November.

But still, there is the soul-soaring loneliness of the beach,

a glorious emptiness of pale sand

with the impressions of waves set hard enough to turn my ankle. And as I limped from them I thought again of all the ripples I have seen preserved in sandstone, and that moment: the one when something catastrophic happens, when everything changes - a sudden shift of the tide - and these tiny undulations are fixed, like these could be now.

Ha, back to the end of the world...

Which takes me, quite neatly to this.


It is a shock to come upon it and a shock to see how far it stretches behind its prison-like perimeter. Its resemblance to secure accommodation is striking. Are the bars to keep people out - or in? I imagined a few months from now: the noise, the enforced jollity, the group entertainments and the organisers with their determined grins.

But for more than half the year Prestatyn lives without it. Half the year the parks are empty

and life can continue unguarded.

Back in the town there is the bustle and cheer of a thriving and affluent place. The shops are full. The faces smile. Maybe it is a little like blanking out pain or grief. It is there - but there is no need to dwell on it.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Threshold

4.20am. I went outside. The air was still and cold. It took a long time to seep in beneath the warmth of sleep that enveloped me still. Nothing moved. The only sound was a distant hum of cars along a motorway I can only hear when the rest of the world sleeps. A single lit window. No fireworks. No shouting in the streets. What now? I made some instant coffee and took it back to my desk and looked again at the map with its new swathes of blue. I listened for a while to hoarse voices and strained smiles, and then I wondered if Barak Obama was thinking of his grandmother.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Snail Picking

Many thanks to Dave Lull (who used to blog by proxy, here, and whom I really meant to mention yesterday, but got caught up in 'stuff') for this wonderful piece on snails by Donovan Hohn.

Happy Belated Birthday, Dave!

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Hodmandod Senior's Little Puzzle

How to turn the word 'Clare' into the word 'sense' changing one letter at a time.

Ha - it can be done...although it is a long and tedious business, and has taken Hodmandod Senior 10 moves.

(Answer in comments).

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Back to the trackerball...

Despite assiduously attending aerobics, spinning and other fitness sessions at the gym, the RSI has returned again from three years ago - I have no idea I have replaced the mouse with the trackerball, and have found COPING SUCCESSFULLY WITH RSI again and shall start on the exercises....

Writing a needless blogpost about this is the ultimate in irony, really, isn't it?

And I did so much want to write a review about a fascinating book I've just finished reading: DON'T SLEEP THERE ARE SNAKES by Daniel Everett. I know the linguistic conclusions are in dispute - but it is fascinating for all sorts of other reasons too. I am going to try and write about it on my lap top which I think might be easier.

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