Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Get bugging!

This post is later than I intended but is still just in time to let you know about Big Over-hearing Day tomorrow.

Promoted by Bugged, it is a mass 'happening' for writers in the UK. On July 1st they are asking you to eavesdrop, wherever you are - on the train, in the pub, at the checkout. What you overhear becomes the starting point for your writing. 

It's a great exercise in observation for writers - which of us can say we haven't caught snippets of real gems in passing from random strangers? When coming up with characters it's so important to give them different voices, and what better way to get a feel for different ways of expressing yourself than listening - really listening - to other people.

I shall be positioning myself in one or more likely locations and will post again about it if I come up with something juicy - hope you join me! The intention is to build a piece of writing based on these 'eavesdroppings' but they're often beauties in themselves:

Stressed mother to small child on Merseyrail near Bootle: 'You do tha' again an' Bob the Builder's goin' in the bin!' 

Bugged is also on here on Facebook and is organised by Glastonbury Poet-in-Residence Jo Bell.

p.s. does anyone like my new broken biro? I broke it myself.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Call for Random Facts


This is just a quickie - but do pass the idea on if you enjoy it.

Maria Zanini (currently stranded in Texas and in need of entertainment) asked her followers to post in the comments one random thing about themselves... and then carry the torch to our own blogs, list six more about themselves, and invite their own followers to do the same. The weirder the better. 

(Karen has something similar in Get on With It having been served with some kind of 'Honesty award'... some kind of ASBO I understand)

So here goes:

  1. I can recite Hamlet's soliloquy from memory (for no good reason) - which is why I am so rarely invited to parties
  2. I was once 'second reserve' on Who Wants to be a Millionaire... but nobody died
  3. I was a virgin bride in 1985 (used to be Catholic but alright now... well, I say 'alright...')
  4. I have never been arrested, but I have arrested someone ... that's another story for another time
  5. I was filing my books, CDs, DVDs, poems, herbs and spices into alphabetical order LONG before I started the library job (but not the clothes - that would be silly. They go in colour order of course!)
  6. I'm chronically indecisive, often paralyzed by indecision - I can also see both sides of every coin/ argument. 
  7. I'm a born-again gardener - grow loads of veggies, fruit and pretty stuff - but I've never successfully grown a gazebo from seed.

There we go - I've shown you mine, now show me yours on your own blogs - and drop a note in the comments box when you have!


Tuesday, 22 June 2010

World Cupcake

You will be as surprised as I am to hear I'm quite enjoying the World Cup. It really helps if you have more than one team to root for – especially if your national team can be, erm, variable.

Two reasons I'm enjoying it:

1. During June and July last year I visited Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil on my way back from Australia and New Zealand. Being able to picture these countries and knwoing people there gives an emotional attachment. (I know - Argentina shouldn't be on that list, but it snuck onto it.) And a lot of them are so much better than the English. The Brazilians positively dance.

2. I am livening up the proceedings with themed nosh and/or apparel. At a party for the USA v England match, the hosts were a married couple – he English, she American. We had bagels, muffins and tortilla chips in one room, and sausages on sticks, cucumber sandwiches etc in the other - any party with 2 buffets can't go wrong - it even ended in a draw, thereby preventing a divorce. For the Aussie match I got to wear my koala ears – you see, I SAID they'd come in useful! The appalling, yet strangely moreish Wasabi Pringles for the Japan match, pizza watching Italy, and nuts for the next Brazil match.

Of course, what I really want to talk about is buffets. If you're invited to a buffet in England you can be confident only of receiving faded egg sandwiches, one limp lettuce leaf (not like these ) and a lack-lustre sausage roll.

(Incidentally, Mayors subsist entirely on buffets - which is why they always finish the job fatter than when they started. )

The buffets of the US, and Las Vegas are the stuff of dreams: a cornucopia of snacks, salads, steaks and sweets galore. I wasn;t even put off by an unfortunate experience in  the Bellagio when I mistook the green gunge next to the chips for guacamole and it turned out to be wasabi. AAAAAAARGH!!!  Not an accidental placement, I'll wager. 

Warning: Vegetarians may want to quit while they're ahead at this point...

South America is the home of some unusual variations – in Argentina they have the Tenedor Libre (literally ‘free fork’) of succulent barbecued meats – whole spreadeagled lambs roasting in restaurant windows and a small buffet on the side. There and in neighbouring Uruguay are the ubiquitous ‘parrilladas’ or grills - banks of glowing coals where entrails are lovingly tended (tendered). But Brazil goes even better – along with the standard all-you-can-eat buffet they have the above mentioned  Churrascaria where waiters circulate bearing skewers of succulence... with a buffet on the side.

'But what about meeeee?' I hear those of you with lesser appetites complain. Why should I fork out for a whole buffet when I can't eat that much?' Or: 'They just bring out the worst in me - I feel I have to eat as much as I possibly can if it's all included.' (Or is that just me?) Brazil has the answer in the Kilograma restaurants - where you help yourself from the buffet, get your plate-full weighed and pay by the kilo! All the benefits of buffet with none of the disbenefits. Hurrah.

And that is why Brazil deserves to win the world cup! Or indeed the cupcake - as you will see from these pics there are a few of them around. 

How are you all getting through the football? Love it / hate it/ sucked in by accident?

Monday, 21 June 2010

Wombles of Wimbledon

As if the World Cup wasn't enough excitement, it may be Wimbledon Fortnight. But tennis is not the first thing I think of when you say 'Wimbledon' to me. 

I grew up with Wombles. I don't mean I lived in a burrow under Wimbledon Common, but – you know – they were always there in the corner of the room. No, on the telly, you fools! (My imaginary friend was far less fluffy.)

I love the way the author, Elizabeth Beresford named the characters after places significant to her family, and the way she had young Wombles choosing a name from Great Uncle Bulgaria's atlas as a rite of passage. We had Tobermoray, Orinoco, Tomsk and Wellington... there was even a scary cousin: Cairngorm McWomble the Terrible. For a comprehensive list of known Wombles click here. Or go the whole Womble and treat yourself to the Wombles Complete - Deluxe Set [DVD] 

All of this poses the question - if you were a Womble and Great Uncle Bulgaria was there with his atlas - what place name would you call yourself?

I'm still thinking how I might answer this question. I used to think Timbuctoo and Kuala Lumpur sounded impossibly exotic, but I've been to KL since and it's a shiny modern city. There are lots of great place names in Australia: Manjimup, Mudgee, and I have a friend who lives in Mooloolaba - which is lovely to say. I wish they had a big thoroughfare called Mooloolaba Boulevard. Say it out loud. They don't.

(All this reminds me of a chap I used to work with who always described moods in terms of U.S. places. e.g. "You're completely Pittsburgh!" "I'm feeling Chattanooga this morning!"... ooh, Chattanooga Womble... That's another good one.)

For more 1970's telly try: Where's my Blue Peter Badge?

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Getting noticed

Since starting work in a library, I'm paying a lot more attention to which books and titles grab the eye.

I've learned that an interesting title goes a long way. Who could resist An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England for example? 

But I have to say - nothing attracts the attention like a fanny flag.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Dogs, (no) Dinners and the Dead

Have a look at this picture: a romantic scene of young(ish) love? 

It's in the local tourism brochure - but who are the people pictured? In this case J and J - the council's graphic designers, forced to pose for the latest publicity-fest. And they REALLY don't get on! 

She's probably piercing his foot with her stilletto and he probably had something VERY garlicky for dinner to make it doubly unpleasant if they insist on a snogging shot. (They wouldn't dare).

The picture IS taken in Wirral - but I've eaten on the patio of Sheldrakes Restaurant, overlooking the Dee Estuary, so I KNOW they are freezing their tits off too. And they won't have got their dinner. That's water in the glasses.

When I worked for the council's PR team we discontinued using filed shots of the public after I inadvertently put some dead people on the front of the Council Tax demand. I don't mean they were dead in the picture (in a 'pay up or you're next' sort of way). That would have just been wrong. But they had popped their clogs since the picture was taken and the family were upset when it arrived in the post. That was when we started only using staff. They were on tap and they didn't cost anything.

I was on the Wirral Events Guide in 2009 and they wouldn't even let us pop the champagne... we had to look like we were just about to pop it.  

I'm just getting involved in Wirral Bookfest again, this time fighting in the libraries' corner and not PR's.

Here are some of the silly wittily ironic pics referencing great books that we did for the first one in 2008.



...these are all people I worked with and begged, bribed or threatened to take part... 






The beer, on this occasion was real beer on account of the fact that (a) it is difficult to replicate and (b) see 'bribe' above.




The boy with the guitar was the 'face of recycling' for years because of a picture his mum (you guessed - another PR person) took at a bottle bank when he was 5! 


J was left to his own devices while I was away last year and tried to convince everyone that a picture of someone on the loo reading 'Gone With the Wind' was a great idea! *sighs*



The hardest one was getting the dog (Fizz!) to look like she was reading. There was another dog - Goober - but he wanted his own trailer and hairdresser.

So look again at publicity shots and ask yourselves: is one arm twisted behind their back? Is that cute kid now a stroppy teen? Are they even still alive?

p.s. What do you think about the new header / layout?  I've been tinkering and I'm not so sure.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Austerity Measures

Times of austerity are here, they tell us – a reigning in (of wild horses?), the tightening of belts, the empty larder, the gathering clouds, the doom, the gloom.

But which of us can say, hand on heart, that we don't have too much stuff, that we could get by without the lava lamp, the novelty egg timer or the impulse-bought 'must-have' espadrilles crafted by the tiny grubby fingers of child labourers? (insert your own foibles here)

The aesthete would say that a life of simplicity is the ideal - just enough to eat, no worldly distractions, self-sufficiency. A loaf of bread, a cup of wine, and thou...sands of books at your local library - for now (though they wouldn't dare trying to close Wirral Libraries after what happened last time.)

If Osbourne wants a list of which services to cut back on, here are 10 suggestions of what should be first up against the wall:

  • Public sector award dinners
  • 50% of all meetings
  • Bankers' bonuses
  • 'Think-tanks'
  • Tank tanks
  • 75% of public sector PR and marketing
  • Local authorities sponsoring football teams
  • Subsidies to farmers not to grow stuff
  • The space programme
  • ...oh, and the war, the weapons, the bombs, the missiles

But don't panic! There are plenty of things we can all do to 'pull in our horns' (that's one for the Inky Fool), save money and make our own lives more sustainable: 

  • Re-use and repair old jokes
  • Shop around for cut-price air – it's just as good as full-fat
  • Only eat second hand food
  • Get rid of the dog and buy a bargain-basement budgie... some of them really go cheap!
  • Sell your soul on eBay - top prices paid
  • Use your library - spend your days sitting near the thrillers smelling of wee
  • Save water costs! Share a bath with a neighbour
  • Turn off your brain at the mains when you're not using it
  • Repair any broken promises or hearts (you might need a 'handy man' to do this)
  • Become a 'friend of the preserving pan' (pictured)

Next week:  How to grow your own gazebo from seed  


Related post: Time of the Signs - more amusing political posters

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Men in Capes - creating the perfect (anti)hero

What is is about bad guys? What's the appeal of the cloaked figure? I promised in an earlier blog to expound on my fondness for a man in a cape and here it is.

I only noticed relatively recently my predilection for a certain kind type of hero (I'm talking books and movies here).  

What did some of my favourite characters have in common: Darth Vader, Zorro, Phantom of the Opera*, even Snape and that bloke from V For Vendetta [DVD]...? At first I thought: It's the capes isn't it? But not just the capes. It's:

  • black clothes (tight's good - but not too tight - not keen on the underpants-on-the-outside look, so Batman isn't on the list even though he stopped doing it in later films)

  • a menacing air
  • supreme self confidence
  • physical strength, 'special' powers perhaps 
  • mystery
  • an unhappy back story, hinting at the possibility of redemption
I was thinking about all this whilst reading Wolf Hall, intrigued how Hilary Mantel turns Thomas Cromwell - not the cuddliest of historical figures - into an almost romantic figure. She portrays him as rather attractive - strong, confident, mysterious, slightly menacing, unhappy back story. I'm sure he must have worn capes - anoraks weren't invented then. He's basically your quintessential Mills & Boon/Austen/Bronte brooding hero. This is largely achieved through little tricks like making him fond of small dogs, kind to waifs and strays, and secretly tormented by memories of his abusive father, the loss of his wife and daughters.

I'm sure this isn't just me. Many women (and probably quite a few men) want to be whisked off their feet by a mysterious and powerful caped figure. Perhaps it's because they are written without the flaws of real life men?  

They don't fart deliberately, pee in their own sock drawer when they're drunk and half asleep, or waggle their bits about for their own entertainment. In short, they maintain a certain level of dignity. They are men as we might wish them to be.

So what can writers learn from this? Even the darkest characters, if equipped with a cape, shown to perform the occasional small, kindly act and exhibiting a hint of suffering, can be appealing and sympathetic. Is that just to weirdos like me? I think not - what do you think?

Of course, none of this is real. If you try bringing me a real man in a cape - dignified, aloof and slightly menacing - I'll almost certainly run away.

Related posts:

* The Phantom of the Opera could be one of my favourite stories but hardly anyone ever does it the way I would have. I've just read what I assume is the novel version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's new sequel. It's by Frederick Forsyth no less, it's called The Phantom of Manhattan and it's absolute BILGE.