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Sunday, 30 September 2012

English Heritage experiments and the IASPR and the Black Cock. And if that comes up on your search engine, you should be ashamed of yourself...

Somewhere, round the back, English Heritage has a unit to rival anything dreamed up by a Bond villain.  A laboratory so supreme in its ability to juggle plant genes that it makes DEFRA looks like a bunch of nine year olds making a collage out of pine cones.

For yesterday, people, I discovered their secret!  Well, not their secret, actually, more the fact that they have a secret.  Yesterday I discovered English Heritage Grass.

All casually I suggested a visit to Kirkham Abbey, you see.  It's a picturesque little priory in a nice little valley with a bridge and a river and a very good pub, and we fancied a bit of a potter out, what with me having been confined to barracks recently, writing notes for my talk to the IASPR (which I shall tell you about after I've finished breaking the news about the grass...).  So, in my quest for fresh air, we took ourselves off to the Abbey for a poke among some ancient brickwork, which is always therapeutic, and I come back feeling that my falling-down house isn't quite so bad after all because at least it's still got a roof, and bits of the windows still close, and everything.  And whilst there...well.  Just take a look.

Do you see that grass?  Not the spiky brown stuff, that clearly hasn't been anywhere near any kind of genetic technology, but the green stuff in the background?  That, by the way, is part of Kirkham Abbey, it's not my house, despite bearing certain resemblances in the 'falling down' department.  But look at the green stuff!  And it's not just green, oh no.  It's all kind of cushioney and bouncy!  When you walk on it, it's like walking on the grass you were always told you weren't allowed to walk on when you were a child!  Like a cross between bowling green and municipal gardens!  The kind of grass that you want to tear your clothes off and roll around on stark naked going 'numnumnumnum' and making a sort of purring noise....oh.  Just me then.

So how, if they don't have vast experimental laboratories somewhere in the heart of a mountain, do they manage to get such grassy grass? That's what I want to know.  Here, for example, is some normal grass...

Do you see the way it's all sort of greyish and brownish?  No, it's not moving, that's the water in the background.  The grass is the big bit in the front. Tufty and a bit yellow round the edges.  Now look up again, paying specific attention to the bright greenness.

Genetic experimentation. Got to be.  Would never have thought it of English Heritage, what with them having to upkeep all those ruins and things but..well. Next thing you'll be telling me that the National Trust have worked out a way to breed humans that are born aged 65 and come out with a picnic rug under one arm and a photograph of their grandchildren under the other.....

And, in other news, I spoke to the IASPR in York.  The International Association for the Study of Popular Romance who were having their Annual Conference in the city.  I'm not entirely sure what I said, but I know that people laughed a lot, and I told the story about the Jehova's Witnesses and the Big Black Cock (which was a thing that actually happened to me, but isn't nearly as exciting as the title makes it sound). I also pontificated (which, contrary to my initial beliefs, is nothing to do with either bridges or popes) about being a romantic comedy novelist.  And, because several of those there present were American  (or presumably still are, hearing me talk not being enough to make anyone want to change nationality, apart from some people who instantly want to become Australian or Greek or anything that I'm not, in an attempt to dissociate themselves from me), I found out that romantic novelists are treated a lot better in the States.  There, they are feted!  Or it might be fated, I forgot to ask... Or even foetid.  Either way they have a better time of it than us over here where romantic comedy is like the Bottom Table of novels and we're only allowed to talk to the Sci Fi writers and romance is a bit of a second-class citizen all round.

Ah well.  Since I am British I am stoic and therefore completely used to being asked what I do for a real job, or being told that anybody can write a book if they've got enough time, and all that stuff.  So I shall just grit my teeth and get on with writing and, on my days off, going to the English Heritage headquarters to find out what it is they do to their grass and if they'd like to experiment on some people of my acquaintance....

Sunday, 23 September 2012

I know a song that will get on your nerves... The 'Bibitty Bobbity Boo Incident', and Busted, Evil Of...

Today I wish to address the awful, awful subject of earworms.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, this is not some kind of parasitic life-form that lives inside the auditory canal.  Do they even exist?  Is there a parasite which infects ears? Oh no, now I've started to think about things that might live in ears - imagine talking to someone and seeing the tip of something nasty poking out of their ear and having to raise the subject of, maybe, rinsing out the ears with Paraquat or similar...

Just imagine... go on....

Urgh.  No.  On this occasion I am talking about those insidious little chants that get stuck on 'repeat play' inside your head. Usually unpleasant (memorably, an entire Science Department spent nearly an entire Christmas term singing the 'Bibbitty Bobbity Boo' song from Cinderella, we were physically unable to stop. Every time someone uttered the immortal words 'Bibbitty Bobbity'...which are not uncommon among those who deal in eyeballs and complicated circuitry, like underfunded Doctor Frankensteins ... there would be a chorus of groans and a communal moan of 'now I'm going to start singing it, again...), usually very, very simple to the point of being almost 'novelty record' ('Shaddupayou Face' was another one), and totally evil.

Somewhere in this world exists a Stock-Aiken-Waterman entity, probably made entirely of ears and tentacles, whose sole purpose in life is to come up with tunes and lyrics which will lodge in the head of unwitting listeners, only to come back tenfold stronger and with the words slightly twisted, in the middle of a dark night.  Who among us has not woken up with their lips moving to a Rick Astley number, previously heard and then forgotten about and yet somehow with the power to render you sleepless, muttering 'never gonna give you up...' into the darkness of another insomniacal night?  Who, triggered by the almost subconscious reading of the word 'capacitor', is not compelled to spend the next forty-eight hours stuck in a loop of singing 'I've been to the Year Three Thousand...', despite not even knowing what a flux capacitor actually is?

Now do you feel ashamed?  Come on, they're, like, twelve or something...

 Now I know, due to what will forever be known as the 'Bibbitty Bobbity Boo Incident', that this isn't just peculiar to me. Others suffer too.  There is even, somewhere, a website dedicated to the Earworm.  No, go and find it for yourselves, I'm not going there, I'll probably end up singing nothing but pre-teen chants for the next ten years....


Sunday, 16 September 2012

Oh my little chucklebunnies, I cannot begin to tell you of the things I have seen!  So, since I cannot begin, I shall continue - thusly.

...and then, suddenly, there wasn't a motorway there at all!  And I found myself half-way to Leeds.

...because I had a panda on my lap, and I didn't want to cover him in icing.
...three people and no biro.
...'cake is the only research that exists', and he put it on Facebook.  The picture is terrible.

I am recently returned from the Festival that is BooQfest in Northampton.  Northampton is very nice, surprisingly.  Well, probably not surprisingly to the people who live there, although people rarely think the place where they live is nice, so more likely, not the people who live there but the people who visit every so often.  Anyway.  Nice.  The BooQfest opened with a launch party - which differs from a lunch party in two, very important respects, one being that extra 'a', which makes all the difference.  Consider these two sentences for a moment, if you will. "I met Tony Robinson the other day" versus "I met a Tony Robinson the other day".  One of these is merely a passing statement, the other is a case for Breaking an Injunction and possible police intervention.  That is how important an 'a' is.  Also it was in the evening.  So, launch party.  There was welcoming, and drinks of all kinds, and readings (which were terrific, Will Davis and Jeremy Seabrook) and everything was launched very nicely.  And there were cupcakes...ohh, such cupcakes as dreams are made of!  The kind where they are too nice to do the normal thing of licking all the icing off and then 'losing' the actual cake part.

And then there was The Bar, where my daughter (who had accompanied me to BooQfest, for an author should never go unaccompanied to events.  Authors spend far too much time writing, therefore alone, and when released into the wild, show a distressing tendency to talk with their mouths full and gossip and other such evils of society) and I found ourselves.  More drink was taken. Things happened.  Look.
I honestly have no idea what was going on here.  But I've got a glass in my hand and am obviously happy.

Me, Paul Magrs, and Colin, who was one of the volunteers who worked so hard behind the event.

Er, yes.  Quite. Looks like I'm about to blow out candles on a non-existant cake.

Me, Paul, Colin, Iain - who was my Minder for the day and managed to get me to my reading and signing and other things without actually having to resort to the pigboards and cattle prod, plus Joe Lidster. Iain made the cupcakes - his company is called Cinstyx cupcakes (follow them on Twitter @BakesWithBite).  Go on, I'll wait...

And I did a reading or two, and I did a signing in Waterstones, and it was all absolutely fantastic.  Met so many lovely new people (and some quite old ones), and a Panda, and Morgen Bailey, who was one of the helpy-organise people, and they're going to do it all again next year and I want to go again NOW!  When the call goes out, people, I want you all to sign up!

I shall leave you with some more pictures. This one -  

where I am almost sure that I am NOT sniffing Paul's sleeve.  Or wiping my nose on it.  No, I don't know what I actually am doing, but I'm fairly sure it's not that.

My daughter, Vienna, with Joe Lidster.  And a glass.  He looks a bit worried... and his tee-shirt is from Primark.

And, finally - the Sci Fi panel boys - Mark Michalowski, Joe Lidster, Paul Magrs and Gary Russell, talking about Doctor Who and stuff.

I'm only sorry that we couldn't get to see and listen to everyone - Alan Moore was there talking, and there were creative writing workshops and all sorts of stuff!  But, I think you can see that there was much enjoyment partaken of.  Also drink.  And cake.  Which, apparently, is the only research that exists...

No, me neither.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

BooQfest, where I shall be Appearing. It's all right, they're expecting me, it's not like I'm going to loom up or anything

This week...well, no, not this week, because that was this week and it was mostly full of lying down and fanning myself, but this coming week which, now I come to think of it is probably next week, I shall be attending a most exciting event, which is Northampton's BooQfest.  Here I shall be doing a reading and a signing and also hopefully meeting some lovely people.  I say 'hopefully', because there is often a distressing tendency for people to see me coming and run away and, since I do not have a very immediate turn of speed, although I can reach quite a velocity if someone holds up a HobNob on the horizon and makes dunking motions, sometimes they get away. 

I'm doing some readings, there are workshops and all sorts of things and a lot of the Sci Fi community will be there, (Paul Magrs is someone I am hoping won't accelerate away too fast because I'd really like to hear what he has to say about things, particularly his cat, although I don't suppose that will be the main topic of his speakings).  It all looks fantastically exciting and I can't wait to get there although I do have a fairly nebulous idea of where Northampton actually is.  Apparently it is quite a big place but, as we all know, I have trouble navigating around my own house, and am noted for the time I once lost an entire supermarket, so don't get your hopes up about me arriving early or anything, I shall probably run, panting, into the Royal and Derngate two minutes before I am due to read, with the car parked outside on double yellow lines and the engine still running.  Although, thinking about it, that will be ideal for the quick getaway I might need after I've done the whole 'fan' thing which I have planned for such luminaries as Joe Lidster and Gary Russell.  I don't want to give too much away (they might be reading this, you never know, although I suspect not as no-one has ever heard of me and I shall probably draw an audience of one at these sessions, and that will be a small hedgehog who has wandered in out of the rain and has no intentions of buying a book) but it involves begging them to sign things for me.

Anyway.  If you are anywhere near Northampton (or environs, as I am sure there are roads and things down there that you can travel to Northampton on, although I have yet to have this confirmed), you may wish to come along.  It's free!  Look, it's not just me speaking there, there are lots of wonderful, and far more interesting ones! Aw, go on....

Northampton.  Apparently easy to get to

In other news, I recently visited a mast.  It was on the top of the moor, and when I say 'the top' I mean a sheer vertical climb up which I had to scramble.  There was panting, people, and sweat!  There were also views, like this...

although I hate to disappoint you, Steve and Dog are not there all the time.... and also this

which is another picture of my attempt to do the Hokey Cokey at selected scenic locations throughout the UK.  Oh, and if you're interested, the mast itself looks like this

But you're probably not.

Right, so.  See you in Northampton! (she said, cheerfully still expecting only the hedgehog).

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Yo Yo - why?

Y'see, now I'm cheating.  The title of this post is designed to entrance you, to draw you in... to persuade you that there is some intrinsic question about yo-yos of which you were previously unaware.

They go up.  They go down.  that's pretty much it.

No.  I am sniggering behind my hand at my own cleverness, for this week's post should really be entitled 'why oh why oh why'... do you see what I did there?  Oh, you did.  Oh well.  Anyway.  Such is the title because I have been 'tagged'.  No, it's not another one of those ankle-jewellery ones, and besides I've been absolutely stringent in not approaching either David Mitchell or Tony Robinson since the last round of injunctions, I know when I am beaten and I have reconciled myself to the fact that neither of these are going to be popping round with an unsuspected diamond and any amount of unrequited longing.  No, this is a different form of taggage, one I have been given by the lovely Catherine Miller, on her blog, which you can have a squizz at here ... where she fetchingly entitles it 'why,why,why' but that would give me a blog heading of 'YYY?' which is just odd, even for me.  And I am linking to here also, because I think this is where the idea came from, which is right and proper because we all know that 'why?' is a question most often asked by small children, even about things that they already know, because they need to check that the answer hasn't changed in the last five minutes.

Surely I cannot be the only mother in existence who has, from either boredom, shortage of time or sheer devilment, answered the 'why?' question with a variety of answers?  For example - 'why are sheep white?'
'well, dear, because they are bred to have white wool because then it's easier to dye it different colours when you're making something from the wool', becomes 'because someone washed them' and then 'because all the blue ones died horribly in a tragic accident'... oh.  It was just me... Oh well.  That probably explains quite a lot about my children.

So, in the spirit of the 'why', I shall think of some of my own...

Why, when I self-admittedly have all the sensitivity of a large carrot, do I have the ability to feel every tiny little lump in my bed at night?  Even weeny little crumbs assume enormity and wedge themselves under my buttocks, ensuring a sleepless night unless I strip the entire sheet off and remake the bed.

Why are clouds?  They hang there, in the air, and no-body thinks it is odd.  I mean, yes, I get the whole condensation thing but...doesn't anybody else think they are downright suspicious?  Especially for things you can't even touch... there will be aliens behind all this, you mark my words.

Come on, you can't tell me they're not planning something...

Toffee.  Why?  Delicious and everything but, really, just advanced self-dentistry in a block.

Why are weekends so short, compared to any other two days of the week?  Take, say, Tuesday and Wednesday.  They positively creep past, sixty minute hours and everything, and yet Saturday evening is gone in a flash and two crates of Guinness.  Oh. Feel I may have answered my own question there.

And finally.  Why, when I buy something and get it home and it isn't what I thought it was going to be, don't I just take it back to the shop?  Why do I make excuses for it and fiddle with it and eventually find it a use as something that it patently isn't and isn't even any good at, but keep using it as anyway?  I refer you to the lampshade tea-pot cosy, the cordless-drill coat hanger and the treadmill cat-bed.

And now, apparently, I have to tag some other, innocent bloggers, who are probably sitting there all innocently at this moment, staring out over the lovely landscape just outside their windows and thinking of...well, knowing my friends, nothing very much.  And I must press them to think of unanswered 'why's' of their own?  Just one question there - why?

So, if you are tagged, please feel free to have a tantrum and moan and throw things and never speak to me again...  because, here you are...

Margaret James 

Kate Johnson 

Talli Roland

Sue Jackson

Chris Stovell

Please feel free to ignore me, chaps, but if you want to think of some 'why's' - now is the time to vent your spleen!  And, if you can only think of Y-fronts, then come join me in the increasingly feverish attempts to remove the leg-tags!

I'm coming, boys!  I'm coming!  Just wait for me to get this tag off....