Saturday, 30 October 2010

Wirral's MOST haunted library

I love the way the publicity for Wirral Bookfest described my branch - Wallasey Central Library - as 'Wirral's MOST haunted library'. It implies all the others are just slightly haunted, or at most averagely.

So we had famous horror author Ramsey Campbell - he's local - to give a talk and offered the added enticement of a spooky backdrop and a 'ghost' tour of the premises along with a history of the building.

I'd turned up (on my night off) because I was interested in Ramsey Campbell's writing life and tips, but the group was divided in two and one half had the tour while the other half asked questions. I'd been roped in to 'make sure everyone who started on the tour finished it' upstairs. So I missed all the questions. 

Did I mention the library I work in is haunted? There are stories of strange noises, doors opening, an exorcism that not only failed to get rid of restless spirits, but may have enticed some more out of the graveyard next door! 

The tour was given in the spookiest upstairs corridor by our rather severe reference librarian. She told us about the caretaker who hung himself there, and of another, more documented, tragedy: a live-in caretaker spent many years there but when he was widowed the powers-that-be wanted a married couple to do the job and moved him to a smaller branch. Having lost his wife, his benefits and his home, he was heart-broken. He moved in with his son and daughter-in-law. One day they found a note from him on the table. Rushing upstairs they found him lying on the floor of his room in pools of blood. He had slit his own throat.

The first floor corridor we were in - which links the main library with the junior library - was known, she said, for strange 'feelings' - a bone-numbing cold, the sense of not being alone, the committee room door that keeps opening when there are people inside, but never when there aren't.

I go along it to the staff room on a regular basis and nothing has ever tingled my spine or curdled my blood, but after hearing the sorry tales of  hangings, throat slittings, mysterious footsteps etc, I was left in the corridor on my own in the dark to wait for the next group. 

Then I heard footsteps. 

It's a rambling old building, the floor changes level, the corridors aren't straight. There's a winding stone staircase that leads up from an untrammelled part of the ground floor to the floor I was on and then up to the turret. (Yes, we have a turret.)  The footsteps were coming up the stairs. The sound stopped for a second, a pause at the top of the stairs, and then continued towards me. A slow, steady tread. I couldn't see who it was because the corridor is crooked. And we'd turned the lights out earlier for 'effect'. I felt a chill. The footsteps came closer...

... it was my colleague Jane on her way back to the ladies!

~

On the plus side, I bumped into a chap whose creative writing evening classes I used to go to in that very building, some (ahem) years ago. That isn't him in the picture - it's me getting into the 'spirit' of things.

So there you go - it is clearly Wirral's MOST haunted library - it stirred up ghosts for me!

Friday, 29 October 2010

Top 20 Lightbulb Jokes

The clocks go back this weekend here in the UK and the nights are drawing in so I thought light up your lives by sharing some of the best lightbulb jokes I know.

My favourites (of course) are the ones that subvert cliches or play with words/ideas.

If you're not familiar with the type, the (otherwise disappointing) LightbulbJokes.com gives this definition:  How many (name of group of people/persons) does it take to change a light bulb ? Answer: (A finite positive integer F) One to change the bulb, and the rest to (behave in a manner stereotypical of their group) or (say something stereotypical of their group in certain situations)

But don't go rushing off over there because these are better, starting with oldies-but-goodies:

Q: How many men does it take to change lightbulb?

A: One to do it and 9 mates to congratulate him down at the pub

 

Q: How many Blue Peter presenters does it take to change a lightbulb ?

A: Two. One to change it, and one to turn the old one into an attractive Christmas tree decoration.

 

Q: How many librarians does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: "I don't know, but I can look it up for you."

 

Q: Another topical one! How many Local Government Officials does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Fifty, one to change the light bulb and 49 to carry out a fact finding mission to Shanghai to see how they change light bulbs there.

 

Q: How many censors does it take to change a light bulb?

A: One to ---- ------- ----- and another to ---- ----- ---- while ---- ---- - - -----with a ------

 

Q: How many Orwellian thought police does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: None.... There never was any light bulb, don't you remember?

 

Q: How many Catholic Priests / C of E Vicars / Orthodox Rabbis (delete where applicable) does it take to change lightbulb?

A:  "Change? Change??”

 

Q: How many Vietnam war veterans does it take to change lightbulb?

A: "You don’t know? No you don't know - cos you weren't there, man!"

 

Q: How many modern artists? does it take to change lightbulb?

A: One to climb the giraffe and the other to fill the bath tub with brightly colored machine tools

 

Q: How many surrealists? does it take to change lightbulb?

A: A fish

 

Q: How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Whereas the party of the first part, also known as "Lawyer," and the party of the second part, also known as "Light Bulb," do hereby and forthwith agree…

 

Q: How many defence lawyers does it take to change lightbulb?

A: How many can you afford?

 

Q: How many psychoanalysts does it take to change lightbulb?...

A: Two: One to change the lightbulb and the other to hold the mother - er, penis - er, ladder!

 

Q: How many Microsoft engineers does it take to change a lightbulb? 

A: None. They just declare darkness the industry standard

 

Q: How many Zen Buddhists does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Change must come from within.

 

Q: How many mice does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

A: Two, but don’t ask me how they got in there!

 

And on that subject…

 

Q How many copy editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A “I can't tell whether you mean 'change’ a light bulb or 'have sex’ in a light bulb. Can we reword it to remove the ambiguity?”

 

Q: How many mystery writers does it take to change lightbulb?

A: One to write the majority of it and the other to give it an unexpected twist at the end

(last two from: http://darkerotica.blogspot.com/2005/01/literary-light-bulbs.html)

 

Q:  How many poets does it take to change a light bulb? 

                   swimming

A:  None, fish are          through the       of my consciousness,

           and                          edges

           I          dark.

             like the

This last from the vast vaults of : http://www.eyrie.org/~thad/strange/lightbulbs.html

There's also more here and here, but by far the biggest selection I've come across on the web is on this site


Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The Oxford Comma... and friends

I first heard of the Oxford comma on one of Dogberry's posts at Inky Fool

Punctuation named after places? Whatever next? Apparently it's the comma that you could (but may choose not to) put before the 'and' in a sentence list. 

As an example, here's what Simon Says at Writers Bureau had to say on the subject:

"I dedicate this book to my parents, Martin Amis and JK Rowling."
...it suggests that this author is the love child of Martin Amis and JK Rowling! ...To clarify the sentence, we need to insert the Oxford comma, before the word 'and', like so: "I dedicate this book to my parents, Martin Amis, and JK Rowling."

But why is it called the Oxford comma? And are there other geographically-related punctuation marks I should know about? 

The Papworth Colon - for colons which need to be removed forthwith

Stratford-upon-Avon Quotes - for extravagantly-phrased theatrical spouting

The Westward Ho! exclamation mark - to describe exclamation marks used for decorative effect (including a sub section for multiple exclamation marks at Christmas - or the Westward Ho! Ho! Ho!!!)

The St Martins Lane* Apostrophe - in response to the Grocer's Apostrophe, this is for apostrophes notable only by their absence.

The Wallasey Ellipsis - any ellipsis with the wrong number of dots, which disregard the laws of God and man (in Wallasey there are no less than three roundabouts where the usual rules do not apply)

I'm not sure who should get custody of the Question mark:

Watford? Hooton? Howarth? Wensleydale? Somewhere in the Wye Valley?... or perhaps Pendle – where the whiches come from?

*cackles*

If there are any punctuation marks associated with place names that any of you have made up know of, do tell!

* No one's too rich to need the occasional apostrophe

Related post: My 10 Punctuation Pet Hates


Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Multi-tasking

This time last year I was about to embark upon the slow boat up* the Mekong from Luang Prabang - a busy little town in Laos full of Buddhist monks and (often rather unlikely-looking) tourists.

This sign was in the window of one establishment on the main street. Talk about multi-tasking! 

I did go in and get a massage, but sadly it didn't involve any tomato paste or a sprinkling of herbs - perhaps they had run out of dough!

Of course, we'll all be having to multi-task more, what with the cut-backs and all. *Cue vaguely-related poem.*


Multi-tasking

There used to be a time the world
moved at a slower pace
and we did one thing at a time,
kept each thing in its place.

But now it’s ‘multi-tasking.’
Well, excuse me if I ask:
How can I do four things at once
when I barely uni-task?

But with a little practice
I can whistle as I work
so now I’m multi-tasking too -
I’m snoozing as I shirk!

I file my nails while watching snails
flash past – they make me dizzy.
I drink real ales whilst telling tales. 
I’m very, very busy.

I spell my words and spill my ink
(my elbows have been greased). 
I think and think, and slowly blink –
and that’s 3 things at least!

So while you work and rant and rave
I snack whilst I’m relaxing.
But I’ll always give a little wave
‘cos I’m good at multi-tasking!


* It takes two days to get to Thailand, since you ask, but if you're going to travel along the Mekong, always go up - the boats are much more crowded going down.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Taking affront at a font

I've developed an aversion to serif fonts.

It's been coming on a while. But it's getting stronger. Every so often Word seems to forget my defaults and goes back to Times New Roman. I almost can't bear it any more.

They say a serif font's easier to read, more literary.  I particularly loathe the way some people print poems out in curly serif scripts you can barely read because 'it looks more poetic'. More poetic, my arse. If the words don't do it, don't make the font do it!

Some editors require your work in New Courier, which is even worse. They have their reasons - every letter is the same width, which is useful to them in ways we can not fully understand (or should I say, I cannot be arsed to research just now?).

But don't you think a nice sans-serif is much cleaner? It's rounder and more 'with it' in ways the expression 'with it' will never fully understand. Doesn't have to be Arial. Tahoma's nice too (oh, Tahoma!) and I use Trebuchet for this blog. I did go through a phase of doing everything in cheerful Comic Sans but it's generally considered to lack seriousness. (See right)

Two interesting facts about fonts:

1. Incidentally the word 'font' is from the same source as fondue  ('something which has been melted') after the casted molten metal typesets used to be made out of. 

2. According to Wikipedia (the 'font' of all knowledge) the reason sans-serif has become the font of choice on-line is because serif fonts can show twittering on the horizontal serifs. And that has nothing to do with Twitter!

So what is your font of choice, and how strongly do you feel?

 

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Where's my Blue Peter badge?

Picture the scene: It's 1972. You've come in giddy from your space hopper, knuckles bruised from clackers and are now allowed to watch television and eat your Spangles.

The telly's a tiny, black and white affair but you know no different. You're only allowed to watch BBC (because the other channel has adverts), so you never really saw the groovier Magpie* - it was always Blue Peter.

Peter Purves has just been up in a helicopter with Petra, John Noakes is waiting in the wings with an over-excited elephant and Valeria Singleton wants you to make something. It doesn't matter what it is. She uses old toilet rolls, a washing up bottle, milk bottle tops and some sticky backed plastic to fashions a marvelous construction. You have to improvise a little - the family budget doesn't run to sticky-backed plastic, but spare bits of wallpaper should do - but you are never able to make anything recognisable.

It's distressing. You're a failure. Everything else you do for the rest of your life will tainted with memories of these sticky-fingered, paint-scented catastrophes. You know in your heart that you will never amount to anything...

Yes, I took it hard. Largely I'm over it. But on my first day at the library, six months ago, when they handed me some coloured paper and blunt-ended scissors, and told me to make some flowers, I felt the old chill of 'Here's one I made earlier' echoing in my ears.

At least it was 'cutting out'. I used to love to cut out the dolls from the back of the Bunty comics - moving on later to cutting people out of catalogues and making up stories about them. So I'd quite enjoy the cutting out if it wasn't for the beginnings of trigger thumb. But after that it was: 'Oh, can you just construct this cardboard book-display unit from a flatpack with instructions in Chinese?'

And you know what? I could. After all these years I wasn't a failure after all.

You RUINED me Biddy Baxter**! I could have been someone. I could have been BIG!


* ...and didn't meet Chris Tarrant or the Phantom Flan-Flinger from TISWAS until 2002 and 2008 respectively, but they're both other stories for other times.

** Biddy Baxter was the evil genius behind Blue Peter.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

8 Tips for Getting Published

OK, so you write and you write but how do you get your writing published?

Last week I went to an excellent 'Meet the Authors' afternoon - my favourite event of Wirral Bookfest (amidst stiff competition - I also saw Carol Ann Duffy!).


The authors were: Caroline Smailes* whose first novel was snapped up after she posted part of it online and has had a steady presence in Kindle's Top 100. Her beautiful Like Bees to Honey is out now and third novel is in the pipeline; Jon Mayhew author of gothic teen fantasy Mortlock, part of a three-book deal with Bloomsbury; and the late Nik Perring (he's not dead - he was just late) whose neat collection of short stories Not So Perfect is out now. They are all local (i.e. Wirral) authors whose first books have come out in the last few years and who are active on the net.

So I thought I'd share some of their top tips to wannabe best-selling novelists:

1. Write. Obvious as it sounds, it's were some of us fall to the ground straight away. Learn this equation: No words = no best-selling novel. You need lots of words - preferably ones that carry on from one another. 300 first pages do not a best-selling novel make either. Write and keep writing - you can mess around with it later, just get a first draft written

2. Hone your craft. Attend courses, read up, use online resources and communities for writers. Learn all you can about writing. But don't do this instead of writing (see above) - it's an easy mistake to make.

3. Blocked? Don't panic! All the authors agreed that there will be days you don't want to write. Nik mentioned 'Writer's Constipation' but the others managed to steer us away from the truly scattalogical! Don't punish yourself staring at a blank page/screen. Do something else - go for a walk or something. Just make sure you write when you can.

4. Read your own work aloud. Nik (I think it was Nik) said he records himself reading his work then plays it back. You'll be surprised what you'll pick up if you do this - odd phrasing, over-used words, clumsy sentence structure, unbelievable dialogue. As nik said - especially with the short story it has to be as perfect as you can make it before you send it off.

5. Log-on. Work to develop an online following before you approach an agent or publisher. If you want to stand out from the 'slush pile' it really helps to show your understanding of the importance of promoting your work generally. A good blog also demonstrates your writing style and discipline.

6. Engage with new technology. Many authors are more tech-savvy than traditional publishers. Caroline Smailes has generated new excitement around her 3-year old book by getting it published on Kindle - and although it is sold at a low price, 12,000 of people have brought it and authors get a better cut from electronic publishing. eBooks are especially useful to authors of specialist non-fiction as they are low-cost and can be targetted to niche audiences internationally via the net.

7. Ask the experts. Jon Mayhew's turning point was a Literary Consultancy weekend - it was pricey and, at time, brutal, but it polished his novel and gained him introductions to the literary agent that found him his future publisher.

8. Break a leg! Or an ankle. No, really. Jon Mayhew attributes part of his success to having broken his ankle and using the ensuing enforced idleness to knuckle down and finish his book. It was such a successful technique that he broke it a second time for the edits! He wasn't recommending this, just saying that you need to grab your opportunities to write when you get the chance to.

Write! I'm off to do some now... after I've just checked my emails, updated my anti-virus software, fed the cat (and I don't even have a cat!)...

What are the best tips for getting published that YOU have used, or have been given?

* I have already corresponded with Caroline via Twitter and her blog - proving that social media enables you to go up to someone and say: 'But we're already friends! You have to talk to me!'  Caroline is even nicer in person than online.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Doctor Who & Buddha

I promised to do the odd post about my travels, and this is one of them. A very odd post indeed.

This post isn't really about eastern mysticism, but stick with me for a minute. About this time in 2008 I was in Cambodia. I didn't see as much of this fascinating country as I would have liked to, but did spend a few days visiting the extraordinary Khmer temple complexes of Angkor - the most famous of which is Angkor Wat. 

Does this face ring a bell?

Gazing down from many of the temples, were huge representations of the face of Buddha - who often referred to himself as a Bodhisattva or 'one seeking enlightenment'. The faces are ancient, timeless, calm and wise. I'll call him 'Bo' for short.

But, to get to the point: as writers, inspiration is all around us, everywhere we look. Russell T Davies has been criticised for 'borrowing' plots and ideas from a wide range of sources during his tenure at the helm of Doctor Who and Torchwood. 

But where on earth did he come up with the idea for the recurring character of The Face of Boe - a huge, disembodied face, impossibly old and all-knowing?


You decide.


Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Blog Awards - Love 'em or loathe 'em?

Here's a question for you: What do you think about blogger awards?

Do you long for a Flexible Blogger Award? Or to be acclaimed as a Bubbly Blogger, a Voracious Blogger, a Bitter & Twisted Blogger? (OK, they're not real awards, but having seen plenty of them in blogs I've browsed I can't find any examples now I'm looking for them! 

I'm newish to all of this, and the lovely Ellie Garrett recently awarded me this Happy 101 Award (before she even knew this was my 101th post... spooky!) I'm really chuffed because I haven't had an award before...

...but I notice some of the blogs I follow have kindly notes saying they don't accept or display the awards they are given. Perhaps they are inundated? Perhaps they are being mysterious? Perhaps they simply prefer to keep their design 'clean' and their content specifically of their own choosing?

Or do some awards irritate with their chain-letter like instructions to list your little pecadillos and pass on the praises to ten other blogs in a sort of pyramid-selling self-perpetuation?

There are more widely-known - presumably prestigious awards - like the Bloggers Choice Awards, or the Weblog Awards (cancelled for 2010). I imagine these increase your traffic and result in offers of lucrative magazine columns, book deals and champagne soirees.

Or is it all just a band-wagon? Just scrolling randomly down this blog about blogging awards, I see half a dozen awards just for the best knitting blogs (including 'Best Overall Knitting Blog' - won by Yarn Harlot, but how many blogs can there be about knitting overalls?... don't answer that.)

What do you think? Are they the perfect way to direct people to (and be directed to)  quality blogs that rise above the average? Or are they a friendly gesture that is thanked nicely and then put on a back shelf  with the 'Young Magician of the Year, 1977' trophy and 'Liverpool's 2nd Most Glamourous Poet' sash?

p.s. I haven't responded to Ellie yet (sorry, Ellie!) as there is another quandary: the instructions on her page for the 101 Award are about my writing life but looking it up on other sites it is about what makes me happy.  So I shall respond in a hybrid sort of way in another blog... to be continued

Sunday, 17 October 2010

My 100th Post!

I thought I'd missed my 100th post. I was counting them from my 'edit posts' list, but that figure included draft notes of future posts. Doh!

So hurray for my 100th post! To celebrate, I'm going to take the 7 Link Challenge from ProBlogger.

My First Post: Where do ideas come from Mummy?  In which I suggest 'free writing' to extract weird stuff from your subconscious... hey, it works for me!  I had one comment...I was out there!

The Post I Enjoyed Writing the Most: I'm torn between two (1) Why are there so many songs about librarians? was great fun because I had put a call out on Twitter for spoof library songs and got some brilliant ones which I then did a post about, giggling all the way and (2) National Double Entendre Week for obvious reasons.

A Post With a Great Discussion: I couldn't choose one from here because I get such great comments on a regular basis, so I'm cheating a bit. I'm also one of the 'cooks' on the Fridge Soup blog and this went up there, although perhaps here is its rightful home: Dr Strangelove Actually - this was great fun because loads of people joined in. 

A Post I Wish I Had Written: 'How I made my first million'... oh, it has to be a real one from someone else! Gosh that's hard... [three hours later] This is where I wish I'd somehow bookmarked my faves as I'm sure there are ones I've forgotten... don't make me choooooooose! But I am especially envious of Fran's lists & literary rewrites in Being Me - like this one on 'cyber lit, Moptop's National Euphemism Week and #Banned lists. Oh and pretty well anything by the erudite Dogberry at The Inky Fool, a fine example of which is: Snarling Snobs and Sniggering Sneaks

A Post With a Title I'm Proud Of: This one, of course!

My Most Helpful Post: Probably Twitter - 7 Steps to Getting Started because I know a lot of people find Twitter as confusing as I did when I started out, but I do think I've got the hang of what it is and what it's for now

A Post I Wish More People Had Read: I'd have De-motivational Posters because no-one has ever commented but StatCounter it's one of my most often-viewed posts, but with random surfers not followers, because no-one had ever commented. So instead I'll say Making Headlines 

I've probably missed some cracking posts from you all, I'm keen for followers to take this challenge* or at least to leave a link in the comments to your best post or the one you wish more people had read.  Pleeeeeease... it is my 100th!

You know how to put a link in comments don't you? You just put your lips together and ... no, that was something else. Here's how: put the html code below into your normal comment - the parts between the <>brackets won't show but have to be exactly right.  Notice how I've spelled/spelt 'website' wrong deliberately to show you how easy it is to bugger this up - but have a go!:

*If you choose to do your own 7-link challenge, please do say so in the comments (and on  ProBlogger comments too!)

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Wine: it gets you drunk

If I need an excuse to talk about wine (which I don't) it is encapsulated in this quote from Robert Louis Stevenson:

“Wine is bottled poetry.”

Mmmm, wine.  They're right when they say it improves with age - the older I get, the better I like it! The picture is me sampling a little Argentinian number in Mendoza last year (funny how so many of the places visited on my 'big trip' were wine-growing regions... ahem).

So anyway... wine gets you drunk. I stole that title from Wine Anorak.com.

I like a drink generally, and have you noticed how different intoxicants affect you in different ways? Beer makes me jolly and lively. Gin, contrary to popular myth, makes me more mellow than maudlin. Tequila makes me think I'm very clever and completely sober until I do something carzy (it also makes me crazy!). Wine makes me feel grown-up, sophisticated and relaxed - which I am, of course... or do I just think that because I've just had half a bottle of wine? I have never narrowed down what different kinds of wine do.

But, of course, the French have a word for it.*

According to the wonderful Schott's Food and Drink Miscellany, the French have come up with descriptions for the kind of wine that makes you behave in certain ways:

  • wine that makes you stupid.................vin d'ane (ie ass, donkey)
  • wine that makes you maudlin, tearful .....vin de cerf (ie stag)
  • wine that makes you quarrelsome .........vin de lion
  • wine that makes you talkative .............vin de pie (ie magpie)
  • wine that makes you craft ..................vin de renard (ie fox)
  • wine that makes you troublesome, rude...vin de singe (ie monkey)
  • wine that makes you sick ....................vin de porc (ie pig)

I'm sure we could think of some more:

  • Maybe wine that makes you call wine after animals could be called vin de grenouille ?
  • And of course the wine that makes you fart is called Chateau Neuf  de Parp

Incidentally, the French word for 'intoxicated' is 'ivre' - suspiciously close to livre, which is book (insert your own verbal quip/rhyming couplet regarding the perils and pleasures of books/inebriation)

“It is well to remember that there are five reasons for drinking: the arrival of a friend, one's present or future thirst, the excellence of the wine, or any other reason.”  (Latin proverb)

* one of my favourite French expressions is: 'L'esprit de l'escalier. There is no substitute in English except to say 'thinking of a witty riposte too late too use it'

Friday, 15 October 2010

CAPITAL IDEA?

Something I learned when I worked in Public Relations (and which is also a matter of common sense) is often ignored or forgotten by graphic designers - beware of capitals!

Capitals or Upper Case if you want to be snobby - or majuscules* if you want to get all technical - help us to signify new sentences, denote proper names (as opposed to improper names e.g. 'you arse!') and attach importance or emphasis. These are some of the benefits of not having a unicase language, or being German, where random capitalisation appears to occur. 

(Of course, you can also attach importance or emphasis using other devices e.g. italic, bold, underlining or size or a big red felt pen.)

Compare:

EVEN BEFORE THE USE OF CAPITALS BECAME SYNONYMOUS WITH 'SHOUTING' IN EMAILS, TEXTS AND SOCIAL NETWORKS, THEY WERE BAD AND WRONG.

with:

Even before the use of capitals became synonymous with 'shouting' in emails, texts and social networks they were BAD and WRONG.

Why?

1. Because it is much more difficult to take in blocks of text that are all exactly the same height. We need those ascenders and descenders to speed up word recognition, which is done by shapes and patterns as much as anything else. UPPER CASE kills - don't believe me? Read Capital Offenders

2. Because IF YOU emphasize everything, you EMPHASISE NOTHING


I'll finish with a little ditty from Roger McGough:

ONCE I LIVED MY LIFE IN CAPITALS
MY LIFE INTENSELY PHALLIC
but now I'm sadly lower case
with the occasional italic

* The lower case letters are called miniscules even when they're not as small as this

Related posts: 10 Punctuation Pet Hates    and     Freeze! It's the Grammar Police


Thursday, 14 October 2010

Laureate, Larry & Lennon

I met the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy last night.

When I say 'met' - I mean I said 'hello' at the beginning and a really cheesy 'I really enjoyed your stuff' at the end. Poetry, it wasn't.

Although not naturally a shy person, I am occasionally dumb-struck when it's important not to be.  

I can, for example, accost any number of strangers to thrust evaluation forms into their unwilling hands, but something inside me recoils from going up to my poetic hero(ine) and saying: 'You have been a great inspiration. I loved your work before you were Laureate, love it still, even thought about trying to blag myself onto your creative writing course at Manchester (where at the time I would also have been tutored by my other hero, Simon Armitage), oh and we have a mutual friend who isn't here but would be introducing us right now if he wasn't in Shanghai, dammit.'

*Sigh*

Anyway, she was marvelous and well worthy seeing 'live' for her excellent comic timing and asides, especially during my favourite poems from The World's Wife.  If you aren't already familiar with this book, I earnestly recommend it.

Here's a snippet from Mrs Midas, just after she realises what her husband's done with his wish:

After we'd both calmed down, I finished the wine
on my own, hearing him out. I made him sit
on the other side of the room and keep his hands to himself.
I locked the cat in the cellar. I moved the phone.
The toilet I didn't mind...


~~~

This talk of laureates reminds me of a short poem by Liverpool Arena's official poet, Roger Cliffe-Thompson*

I am the ghost of Roger
I suffered a terrible fate
I was cannibalised by Sir Laurence Olivier
I'm the poet Larry ate.

~~~

Meanwhile, there was a poetry frenzy in Merseyside yesterday, with Carol Ann on our side, and Brian Patten over the water. Spoilt (spoiled?  Don't start that again) for choice, we were.  And as if that wasn't enough, my mate Jason T Richardson was dressed as John Lennon and sitting in bed in the Bluecoat as part of their Bed-in. You can say what you like about Lennon, it's a great idea.


* In Roger McGough's autobiography he says (of that mutual friend):  ..."he put together a band of helpers to organise events…and two ladies’ hairstylists, one of whom was tall, skinny and good looking… his name was Michael McCartney."   The other one was Roger. That's how close he was to the Mersey Sound.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Car Crash

Did I mention I crashed my car last week?

My Missionary Uncle, who knows about these things (ahem) tells me that the traditional gift for those who have recently evaded death is a chicken. I'm spitting feathers.

OK, it was my own fault. I'm trying for the Doctor Who defence: 'He came out of nowhere' but the fact is I was supposed to give way and I pulled out.

I'm fine. I was on my way to my poetry gig and I'd taken two Kalms, so nothing seemed quite so important as it might have when it happened. The other guy was fine too.

Anyway, they might have to write off my car, even though the damage isn't massive and I can still drive it. What a conniving and wasteful world we live in when mechanics want to get four times what I earn an hour because 'it's an insurance job' and it's perfectly okay to chuck away working vehicles with all the concomitant waste of resources. I'm working on a solution. I won't bore you.

But, anway, I was wondering about advertisers: surely they're missing a trick not having more varieties of car shampoo.

'Oilberto Balsam' - for greasy cars

'Johnsons Baby Car Shampoo' - for sensitive cars

'Cylinder Head & Hard Shoulders'

'Dove' (with wings) - for fine, flyaway cars

and

'Fucthis' - for dry, damaged cars.

Maybe this is how I make my fortune...

Write around the world

This is me with the whole world in my hands.

On this day two years ago today me and my best friend set off on our Big Adventure - to backpack around the world for 9 months -a trip that began in Bangkok, took us on a whistle-stop spin through SE Asia, campervan tour of Australia, motoring around New Zealand, a (slightly traumatic) stop in Fiji, then on to Chile (which I'm watching on the news as I write - such moving pictures from the San Jose mine), Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.

I haven't mentioned it much here because (a) it souns a bit like gloating) and (b) this isn't a travel blog - if it was I'd have a lot more to say on the subject. I'm even considering starting an additional travel blog like my new chum L'Aussie... but how could I fit it all in?

As I always used to say: 'It's a small world - but I wouldn't like to hoover it.'  

But I was wrong. It's effing ENORMOUS!

So from time to time over the next 9 months I may drop a little travel tidbit into the mix here, just to share some amazing pictures and experiences - hope regular readers are ok with that?

Meanwhile, here's a taster...


Saturday, 9 October 2010

5 Top Money-Saving Tips Online

I'm veering away from my usual subject-matter for this post because I was talking to someone about making ends meet and it occurred to me I should share this list. Don't worry - I'm not going to turn into that kind of blog:

1. Martin's Money Tips - Doesn't give you money but is top of the list because it's... well... just brilliant. Sign up for Martin Lewis' (telly's consumer champion) weekly email from Moneysaving Expert for links to all kinds of current offers, best deals on banks, loans, flights, utilities etc. Best thing : Alerts you to stuff you wouldn't spot  Downside : I always end up spending too long on the site

2. Cashback sites - Ever buy insurance, utilities or goods online?  Of course! These free-to-register websites give money back when you buy online from sellers they promote. The main ones, like TopCashback * (which I use, having tried a couple) have hundreds of offers e.g. 3% off M&S online, 5% off iTunes and wodges of cash off car insurance (I got £50), phones, utilities. I got a year's RAC membership for £7 and, in a strange quirk of logic, was paid more for buying business cards than I spent on them!  Best thing : It's money off purchases you are making anyway.  Downside : You have to wait a while to get your money.

3. Freecycle - This international network of groups helps find local homes for unwanted items. Set up on sturdy green principles, it links people who have things they don't want with people who want things they don't have - anything from televisions to garden tools to... well, anything. (currently on offer in Wirral: washing machine, bag of chicklit books and lateral thigh trainer (I think that's a machine, not a person!). Currently wanted: Gorilla costume. That's Birkenhead for you. Best thing : Free stuff!  Downside : You have to keep on your toes and get in there quick!

4. Groupon  - This is a new one to me but was recommended by Martin's Money (see 1) - which I trust.  They use people-power to negotiate good deals where everyone benefits from their bulk purchasing power. It's free to register *and they might have just what you're looking for - I just got 3 month's Cinema Paraiso DVD's by post for £6. They have regional offers, too e.g. a Liverpool Restaurant offering 3 course meal for £6.80 instead of £18. Best thing : Again, if it's things you would buy anyway...  Downside : tbc

5. Get 'em clicking - Get your friends to click on your links and register for some of the above. Yes, yes - I'm supposed to get a small commission if anyone signs up as a result of my recommendation to the one's I've put the * next to - but I only recommend ones I have used and trust unless otherwise stated. Best thing : Your friends get to enjoy the benefits you do  Downside : you feel like some horrible salesperson just telling them

Please feel free to join any of the above, offer your own best tips, or ignore completely - normal service will be resumed imminently...


Bigger than Jesus (but not as cuddly as Buddah)

It's John Lennon's 70th birthday today.

There was a competition in Liverpool to write a poem about him and various other artsy things going on just now - my friend Jason will be doing 4hrs of poetry at the John Lennon Bed-In at the Bluecoat next week. (talking of art - sorry I don't remember where I got this pic from a while ago)

I'm going to get into trouble for this, but I could never take to the guy. I never knew much about him, but when I did some research I didn't like what I read. He sounds like a lout, a troublemaker and a hooligan. That's generally considered okay if you're an art student - and you're not going to change the world by being a 'yes-man.'  No. Man. But it sounds like he treated people close to him very badly. He was a self-confessed wife-beater, is widely reported as mocking Epstein for being a homosexual and a Jew, he had little contact with Julian for years, and May Pang - the woman he was living with during a break from Yoko who talked him into reconnecting with his first son - was dumped without a word.

Okay, we're all human, and he was no worse than lots of other people. I just found it hard to latch on to anything positive enough about him to warrant the 'sainthood' he seems to have acquired. I blame Wikipedia.

So I'm not getting very excited about the celebrations, and my poem probably wouldn't be appreciated by The Beatles Story museum (who sponsored the competition) or the fans. Look away now if you are amongst their number. And feel free to tell me why I'm wrong - if I am.

Bigger than Jesus

He may have been bigger than Jesus
but he wasn't as cuddly as Buddah.
He left those who loved him in pieces
while saying to 'love one another'

He may have been madder than Allah
but not quite as pretty as Isis.
His music's great, he's a local fella
but you cannot deny he had vices

He preached Love, against Vietnam
then led his own family to battle.
And how could he champion working men
when he had his own jewelry to rattle?

He may have been thinner than Thor
but he not as prestigious as Zeus.
He did whatever he wanted, what's more
with people he played fast and loose.

He may have been taller than Yoda
but not as old as Zarathustra
They say he's a legend, a martyr
but I can't disguise my mistrust.

He may have been funnier than Jupiter
but I think he sounds like a hooilgan.
Sean may well have been beautiful
but where was his duty to Julian?

He was certainly scouser than Gaia,
not saying he's nasty as Satan.
But I'd think better of him if he'd tried
more real love and less masturbation.