Monday, December 31, 2012

Some thoughts on Changing Lifestyles

I bought this book new in 1991, read it a couple of times then lent it out to anyone who was interested. Somewhere along the line it didn’t come back and I added it on to my list to re-buy when I saw it (along with Shockwave Rider, The Dispossessed and Ender’s Game). When Amazon came along I looked for it on there. I don’t know when it had gone out of print but it wasn’t even mentioned and for a long time it wasn’t in the secondhand section either. And then, joy! Not only was it available but there were a number of copies.

It arrived a week or so ago when I was reading Sandi Toksvig’s ‘Valentine Grey’. Given the need to scramble to get work completed I was losing the plot of VG repeatedly and so I put it aside to read over Christmas and picked up Changing Lifestyles, secure in the knowledge that it wouldn’t grip me in quite the same way. It turns out to be an excellent book to read whilst struggling with a heavy workload. The chapters are short, the language is simple and the ideas are not new, but I found a piquant pleasure in reading his exhortations to the extent that I had to ration myself to just a chapter before bed.

For many years I have enjoyed the writings of those who have recently been redefined as grumpy old men/women. Lawrence D Hills and John Seymour typify the category. They were not grumpy so much as opinionated. Lawrence Hills, founder of the Henry Doubleday Research Association (now Garden Organic), seems to have all but disappeared from popular culture but John Seymour’s Self Sufficiency seems still to be around and has stopped him falling into total obscurity.

I’ve been giving some thought as to why the highly opinionated (environmental) writer appeals to me. I think it’s because, although I believe in the urgent need to change our actions, and though my work involves raising awareness of environmental issues for businesses, I am not evangelical. It’s just so lovely to read someone who says it plainly and obviously lives his ideals. And so, John Seymour.

I first recall coming across Seymour in my teens. My father, a reluctant gardener but great dreamer, had a copy of ‘The Self Sufficient Gardner’, I think from his book club. I have no idea whether he chose it in a moment of enthusiasm or whether it turned up because he didn’t cancel it. I think he passed it on to my uncle, a man interested in gardening for food production rather than simply avoiding censure. Before it disappeared I spent some time reading it, loving its downright instructions and beautiful illustrations although I felt no call to put its advice into practice at that time.

I was a teen in the 70s, a time of flared jeans, cheesecloth shirts and a dawning awareness of potential limits. Limits to Growth was published in 1972. There had been electricity blackouts during the 1972 miners’ strike and again in 1974. The oil price shock of 1973 meant that the school cruise I went on didn’t go to Dubrovnik because the cruising speed was lowered to save fuel. A further oil shock happened in 1979. None of these issues were caused by real shortages but we became aware, for the first time in the post-war UK, that our modern systems were not invulnerable. Then, of course, there was the Good Life and Jimmy Carter’s ‘cardigan’ speech. At my first election I voted Ecology Party. In other words, I was environmentally aware and not averse to the whole idea of living more lightly.

Changing Lifestyles was published in 1991, when my son was just walking and I was expecting my daughter. It didn't change my life. I was already the breastfeeding mother with my babies in terry nappies, cooking wholefoods and heading towards educating otherwise. It wasn’t life changing but it was lifestyle affirming. He wrote about energy, transport, work and homes, rubbish and recycling, the land, farming and food. Twenty years on and there is nothing that he was saying that couldn’t be said right now, although he thought that by 2012 we would be safely post-petroleum. 

Reading it now it is really difficult to find something surprising to say about it. We should turn down the thermostat, we should drive less, we should find meaningful work that supports our communities, we should grow much of our own food and buy what we can’t grow locally, we should eschew processed ‘dead’ food, we should step back from the precipice and save ourselves. There have been twenty years worth of books saying the same thing since Changing Lifestyles, although a great deal of what we come across these days is so based on emotional manipulation that it wearies me to even begin to read it, and much is a call to action for everyone else, whilst making no effort to reduce the author’s own impact. Al Gore is the quintessential example. This book was written by a man living his beliefs and, as he notes,  ‘this book is about quality of life.‘  

I determined some time ago thatI wasn’t very happy with my own quality of life. I needed some sort of meaning. God does not really provide that for me. Shopping doesn’t do it either. John Seymour’s vision of a life lived to the full, a life of hard but meaningful work, of food made with natural, local ingredients, of making a difference, speaks to me in a way that so much of the modern lifestyle and the recent calls to action do not. 

At the end of his book Seymour looked at where we were and what options were open to us. He delineated a continuous growth scenario, a palliative scenario and a radical change scenario. He concluded that the only possible choice was radical change. I would suggest that, since 1991 we have attempted to paper over the cracks of continuous growth with a little bit of palliative action. I’m no different. Maybe a bit more palliative than continuous growth but not by much. And not anywhere near radical change. 

We are still discussing what, if anything, we should do to pull back from the brink of disaster, as the edge crumbles under our feet. As Seymour says, ‘in the end each one of us has got to take responsibility for what we do, and what we don’t do. There is only one person in the universe over whose actions I have complete control and that is myself.’ And yet. I am so weak. I know what I could do and I don’t, because I’m trying desperately to pass for normal. I think perhaps I should spend some time returning to this book where the issues are clear, and remind myself that I have control over my own actions. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

42 Procrastinations

Jim Mowatt asked me to write a short piece for the special ZZ9 zine to be distributed at Novacon. Unfortunately I have a report to write. Urgently. While considering the dilemma I contemplated my procrastination options:
1.     I must just check my work email
2.     I need a mug of tea
3.     Did I clean my teeth? I’ll just pop up and do that now
4.     Look at the state of the carpet – I’ll feel more comfortable if I vac it (I know I don’t usually care but…)
5.     Perhaps I should set the training days for next year
6.     Before I do that I need to put bank holidays in my diary
7.     And school holidays – mustn’t clash with those
8.     I’d better call Gareth to check he’s happy with the dates
9.     Now I’ve got Safari open I’ll just check my Yahoo! Account
10.  Hurricane in Jamaica, selling virginity for $780,000 – I’ll have a quick look. It might come up in conversation
11.  It won’t take long to check my demon account
12.  And my gmail
13.  Both of them
14.  And perhaps I’d better check my demon account on line – odd things haven’t been coming through
15.  I’d better finish the Humber Energy audit report and send it now it’s been proofed
16.  I’ll just do the purl row of my knitting so I’m ready to increase on the next row
17.  But what if I forget it’s an increase row? I’ll do the increase knit row
18.  Time for another mug of tea
19.  I’ll do the dishes while I’m in the kitchen
20.  I’d better set an alarm for my meeting with Jess this afternoon
21.  I’ll sort my expenses for September
22.  And check the thesaurus for synonyms for procrastinate
23.  Is ‘synonym’ the right word? I’ll check my dictionary
24.  I’ll have a quick look at my ‘To Do’ list. Maybe spend ten minutes tweaking the order.
25.  I’ll just give Darren a quick call – doesn’t do to forget the marketing
26.  And email Edward James about Novacon
27.  And Dave Hicks
28.  Oops. Time for a pee. All that tea
29.  I’ll clean the sink while I’m here
30.  I should move the books from the chair back onto the shelves
31.  And at least put the ‘A’s in order
32.  And the ‘B’s
33.  Whilst I’m up I’d best put the wine bottle in the recycling bin
34.  And put the bin out – I know the collection’s not until Monday but I don’t want to miss it
35.  There’s a helicoptor!
36.  I haven’t watered this plant for ages, poor thing
37.  Time to pop down to see Jess
38.  Whilst I’m here I’ll wander down Sharrow Vale and pick up a loaf of bread
39.  I wonder whether they’ve got any nice fruit at Sharrow Marrow
40.  Just before I start the report I must make a mug of tea
41.  Maybe I’ll write Jim’s piece
42.  I’ll check his email again
Cripes! It’s only supposed to be a hundred words. It could take me days to edit it down. And bloody hell! The deadline was three days ago…
I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Season Changes

This week Jeph Jacques, he of the wonderful Questionable Content, found that he couldn’t draw his usual Thursday cartoon because of a deep and debilitating depression. He notes that this often happens to him at the changing of the seasons. I find myself wondering at this. I find season change deeply delightful.

The change from autumn to winter brings the anticipation of lighting the woodburner, drinking the raspberry vodka, the return of the stars (even in Sheffield), lights, decorations and christmas. From the end of December there’s the wonderful moment when the days start getting longer again and there’s the new chances provided by the new year.

By the beginning of spring I’ve usually had quite enough of those things, except the days drawing out. The first brave snowdrops, the expectation of warmer days, the promise of seedlings growing in the window, the return of colour to a grey world fill me with hope.

The transition from late spring to summer is probably my least favourite. I love late spring; fresh mornings, the darling buds of May, English asparagus, nettle soup, long warm days. 
Summer comes anyway. The garden (such as it is) is growing and I can move into sleeveless t-shirts and lose the quilt. And the lovely soft grey rains of summer are simply delicious. Not this year of course. Long term dreary deluge gets wearing after a while. And the swifts! Shrieking and diving through the deep canyons of our terrace-lined streets, amazingly distant crescents skimming the high sky.

The change of summer to autumn, though, is glorious, even as the swifts desert us for warmer climes. There’s a refreshing chill in the air. There’s a return to school feeling, the other new year, and I love it. English grown winter squash start to appear. The leaves begin to turn; a bounty of gaudy beauty. For me it feels that autumn begins after Sally’s birthday on 10th September. 

This year she was 21 and I begin to have to admit that my own transition from summer to autumn has pretty much gone. Over the last few years I’ve lost suppleness, strength and the elasticity in my skin seems to be fading. The things I’ve gained don’t seem to be that positive, mainly weight. I am loving my increasing invisibility however. Never having been backwards at coming forwards I can overcome young men’s inability to notice me if necessary, but there is something deeply peaceful about merging into the background. The hurly burly of the chaise lounge has been gone for some years now and I do occasionally look back with a certain wistfulness at the excitement, but only occasionally. I’m finding work increasingly rewarding, friendships of greater importance and I wake up far too early looking forward to each new day. Of course, getting out of bed takes longer and it takes a good few minutes for my feet and knees to loosen up. But then the lure of the early morning mug of tea encourages me to stumble down two Sheffield-steep flights of stairs to the kitchen. I’m currently mainly avoiding intimations of mortality and enjoying the days.

This week, leaning out of the Velux way before dawn I saw Orion above the horizon, faithfully accompanied by his hound, or at least I could see Sirius shining above the brightening horizon. Taurus and the Pleiades hung above him. There is not a glory of stars in Sheffield, and I miss that, but it makes the old favourite constellations easy to see. I guess the winter sky is so lovely to me because as an amateur astronomer of eleven it was the only one I got to know well. I was packed off to bed before the summer stars could be seen. It has the comfortable familiarity of many things known and loved in childhood. It’s been a gorgeously bright and blustery week. On my way to work this week I saw the local hot air balloon rising above the Botanical Gardens and some young guy, possibly not entirely sober, greeted me with the words, ‘Hiya darling. Have a blessed Wednesday!’ Of such things are happiness made. 

On a much, much darker note, this week the Hillsborough report was finally released. So many lives cut off horribly in the flower of their youth. So many lost so early, so many parents, lovers, friends with their lives blighted. I’ve always thought the lines, ‘They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.’  was poppycock; a brave attempt at comfort. The end result of growing old may be weariness but it is a privilege to have the opportunity. It would be churlish to whine.  

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Things have been busy...

So I’ve been working long hours and trying to fit life in around it. I’m just mildly concerned that I’m forgetting everything that has happened because I haven’t had time to reflect. A wander though my work diary reminds me of all sorts of wonderful things that we have done. 

In March I had almost a week of work in the south, delivering two Waste Awareness courses to a construction company (Vinci plc) in London, doing a legal audit for Canon UK in Reigate and fitting in a sales meeting in Harrow. As these things spanned a weekend we took the opportunity to visit the wonderful Reeds. Ian, who is a very generous chap, introduced me to his friend Jilly Reed a long time ago. We’d love to see more of her but as she no longer comes to conventions and as Moat’s Tye is a long way for us the meetings are rare, and treasured all the more for that. Jilly puts me in mind of a splendid head girl from any of the books I read as a young teen; the terrifically enthusiastic and effortlessly ethical girl that we all tried to emulate and had tremendously passionate crushes on. Sigh. Chris, Ian points out, would have been an ideal District Commissioner from the days of empire, sitting on the veranda dispensing justice and gin. I adore them both. Through the haze of days passed I remember being mercilessly pampered, wined and dined, and long periods relaxing on the sofa in front of the fire chatting late into the evening. I’d like to live like this more often.

The next journey away from home was much less relaxing, the trip to Eastercon. Ian had found us a deal with the Sheraton, two hotels away from the Radisson, where we were on the club floor. Sally had a sofa bed and so the cost was lower than I feared especially as it was possible to get by on the food from the Club Lounge and the two hours worth of free drinks in the evening. The wine was surprisingly palatable for the price. 
As Christina Lake and Doug Bell were running the fan programme all three of us were on prog. I enjoyed this part of the con immensely. We were also performing in one of Ian’s fannish musicals, ‘Oliver with a Twist’. As always with these things, the month leading up to the show was saturated with oliver. We wandered over to Julia and Doug’s to read through and pick up suggestions, Ian iterated and reiterated songs and jokes, rewriting feverishly, we prowled the aisles of Poundland looking for props and costumes, Ian dealt with Tech and marshalled cast, averting disaster and, at the con itself, publicised the thing relentlessly. 
Much of the rewriting was caused by the change of venue. We were expecting to put on a little show in the fanroom and found we were actually scheduled for the main hall on the Sunday evening. Horrors! Ian’s little fannish production would have meant nothing to the wider con attendees and so a whole new show had to be constructed with minimal in-jokes but the same number of bad puns. 
Something like this certainly gives a focus to a weekend, looming terrifyingly, rushing towards one like a juggernaut, performed in a complete funk and then gone, leaving us slightly deflated and relieved that things had not been worse. The usual post show examination of reviews and tweets was rather overshadowed by John Meaney’s performance at the BSFA awards and the gender parity row (of which more in the next Journey Planet). I hadn’t realised that the whole thing was going out live on UStream. I’d have gone on a diet. Well, no, I wouldn’t, but I’d have held my belly in more.

The very next weekend we had Julia’s hen party. She refused to wear the L-plates and silly veil and none of us were allowed to wear ‘Hen Party on Tour’ tshirts. What we did was go to Brown’s for cocktails and then to the Showroom where Julia had hired a cinema to show Ladyhawk. Oh the wonder! Whilst we were doing this in a very civilised manner Doug was crawling around the many pubs of Sheffield, tweeting his progress. Ian, not a beer drinker, became on honourary hen for the film. Of course he’s as lovely as Rutger Hauer. Ian and I abandoned the party as they trooped off for a curry and then for late night drinks at Julia’s.

We had a prior appointment with the Everly Pregnant Brothers at the City Hall.
I’m fairly new to the Everlys. My introduction was at last year’s street party where a bit of them performed for us. Richard lived on our road at the time and had his arm twisted mercilessly until he agreed to perform. There are lots of examples of their fine work on YouTube. You should look at it. They are a very localised phenomenon, selling out in Sheffield almost as soon as tickets go on sale. We had failed to get tickets to a concert earlier in the year and had arranged to go with my sister Sue and her chap, Robin, to see them in Leeds but the gig was cancelled due to lack of sales. This evening, in Sheffield, they had sold out the Irwin Mitchell Hall, a 2000 seat venue. The show was amazing, electric and at the end we wandered away dazed, singing ‘No Oven No Pie!’ 

Lots of work followed, nights away in Travelodges and Premier Inns, so unlike my stay in Harrow at the Grim’s Dyke Hotel, former home of WS Gilbert, but other than a picture of the satyr holding up the marble fireplace in the main hall I’m not going to mention this fine place again (though if you are in the area you should definitely stay there). 

The next big event was, of course, the wedding of Julia Daly to Douglas Spencer at the Hilton Hotel, Sheffield. What can I say? Unlike one of Ian’s plays this day had been powering towards us for years, it seems. Julia looked fabulous in her lovely red dress, the setting was good and the cakes were amazing. It was very like a one day SF convention with a single programme stream, a number of normal people wondering what was going on and the same old fans in the bar. A huge thank you to Julia, Doug and, of course, Julia’s Dad, for a day to remember. Many photos were taken. Ian's are here (see parrot). Fran Dowd's are here (see cake). I’ve since asked the happy couple what they are going to do now the event is in the past and they haven’t given me a totally believable answer. Doug says he’s cleaning the house.
My last big event was our holiday in France. A Pete Atkin concert was organised in St Germain En Laye and, of course, we had to attend. As I say, Ian is very generous and one of the things he has shared with me is his musical enthusiasms. I’m not sure whether I am most grateful for Pete Atkin or Justin Currie. Justin has a sublime voice, good tunes and excellent lyrics, Pete has a fairly average voice, amazing tunes and Clive James lyrics. 
The concert was performed in a room in the lovely chateau but before that we had to get there (East Midlands Trains, Eurostar & RER), book into our very pleasant hotel and go to a garden party at Oliver’s jolly nice house. It was sunny and hot and quite delightful because of the surrounding greenery and fresh breeze. And the rather nice wine. There was a quiz which I utterly failed at. I have no idea what songs are on what albums and the singles were way before my time. Everything is on iTunes and plays randomly. I couldn’t tell you what the B side of Beware of the Beautiful Stranger is. Never mind. There were enough people sitting in the shade under the trees who could so embarrassment was avoided, not that Pete could answer all the questions when asked to give a final judgement. 
The concert was, as always, great, worth the distance travelled and in a delightful setting. The room was rather hot and Pete struggled to keep the guitar in tune but the songs never fail to inspire and there were some new ones to make us hope for a further CD release in the not too far distant future. Ian put a set list up but it will mean little to most people reading this. You should just go listen to at least one song. He’s on YouTube. And then buy all his CDs.

The day after the gig we packed up and headed for Le Bourg Dun and the Harveys. These fine people picked us up from Dieppe station, fed us and put me to bed. I’d developed a sore throat and lost my voice for a few days the week before the holiday so we also spent some time tracking down French pharmacies over the week. Again, a lot of the holiday was spent with me sleeping. I’m hoping that sooner or later I will have enough time and energy to do justice to a holiday with John and Eve. Eve cooked wonderful meals, we drank beer sitting in the garden in the afternoons in the shade of the peach tree (I was allowed to hang up washing - a nice little job that kept me from feeling completely useless) and wine in the evenings over dinner and later in the sitting room as we chatted until I headed for an early bed. John and Ian talked computers and played with Garageband. Poor Eve! 
Having recently sold their house in England they are finally able to look for another house in Normandy, maybe off the main road, and most mornings Eve spent some time looking at what was available. Both John and Eve had work to do so we had plenty of time to laze around, something for which I was very grateful.

They packed us up in the car on Friday and we all headed back for the ferry to Dover so that John could play a Jubilee gig and we could have the bank holiday weekend at my house, see Ruddigore at the Lyceum (not one of the standout operettas - and we were probably the youngest couple there) and Prometheus (goodish), Moonrise Kingdom (excellent) and Men in Black III (surprisingly good).

Ian went home on Wednesday morning and I managed to break a bone in my foot the same morning. I’ve got crutches!

And this weekend I, and my crutches, came up to visit Ian, mainly because we had tickets to see the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show in Glasgow. This was a delight with most of the original radio cast, a splendid band and Billy Boyd as The Book. This latter did not work so well. We wondered if he had ever heard the show and whether he had done a read though of the script. This was particularly jarring for Ian who knows the show by heart and, like a religious experience gone wrong, was jerked out of his blissful state with each mispronounced word. For me it was less problematic. I’ve listened to the show a fair number of times, watched it on TV and read the books but I don’t remember things. The guy playing Slartibartfast was excellent, an aging Arthur Dent was actually better, Trillian and Ford were the proper radio characters and Phil Pope was simply wonderful. However the star of the show, as always, was Marvin and his diodes. Oh Marvin! This is still such a wonderful show, undulled by time and repetition and at the end, when Douglas Adam’s picture was projected on the screen above the actors I felt tears in my eyes. Oh Douglas!  

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Incoherent bookish thoughts

I don’t read books as much as I used to. I think I might have mentioned this before. Ian and Julian have infected me with the need to read the internet until I’ve finished it. Ian knows he’s read it all when he resorts to DefenceTech. I’ve never reached the end.

This compulsion to finish things has affected me for years. In a strange way. Years ago, when I was a graduate trainee, they did a psych test on me which came up with the stunningly accurate insight that I do an excellent job until I have completed 95% of a project and then I abandon it and move on to the next new and interesting thing. That’s why I treasured my ex-colleague Catherine, a completer/finisher. Given that the very last thing I do on a project is send out the invoice, this could be a very bad thing for an independent consultant. These days I have a little spreadsheet whose boxes are coloured green when I have completed a project, when I have invoiced and, much more rarely at the moment, when I have been paid. Requiring enough money to live focuses one’s mind remarkably. Of course, being paid in advance short circuits this useful mechanism and, as I write this, the one outstanding project for April is one I was paid for in advance. Must finish that this weekend. Still, those don’t happen very often.

Anyway, I’ve meandered away from my point, which is that I like to finish reading a book. When I first went to a convention I shared a room with a German woman who stated that she always finished any book she started even if it was awful. I’m not that driven, but I feel a mild sense of failure when I don’t get to the end.

There are, of course, some books that I want to fling away rather than put down and just neglect to pick up again. Angel of Death was one of these. It came free in a convention bag some time ago. It was the only book I took when I spent three days in Coventry last year. The blurb was good; the book itself was not. Something about an angel of death who used a mass murderer to effect the required deaths. The murderer cut off the hands and head of his victims and masturbated into the head. The angel fell in love with the woman detective investigating the murders. Blech! I felt no urge to finish this book even though the writing style was engaging. It’s somewhere in the bedroom awaiting disposal.

In these apocalyptic days, when Julian Headlong has stopped buying books (an obvious sign of the end times) I have decided that I can attempt to change my habits. This whole line of thought crystallised when I was reading the comments on a Suzanne Moore article about hoarding. The comments generally agreed that hoarding, whilst many of us have a tendency towards it, is not a good thing. Until, some way down the comments thread, Mrs Moose chimed in with, ‘But having lots of books is okay. Isn't it? I mean most of them (not all) are on shelves. And I don't have two copies of that many things. The children's books might come in useful if there are grandchildren. I'm sure I could make myself stop. I gave a book away to a charity shop once. I think. Yes, I'm sure I did....’ My thoughts exactly! But is this right? It made me think. I have some books that could be categorised as trashy that I’m almost certainly never going to get rid of. Ring of Fear by Anne McCaffrey comes to mind. I have some classics, lit and SF, which could certainly go; I’m never going to read them again. They might be landmark works of the genre but they’re just not that good and, with no interest in academia, why give them shelf space?

I hesitate though. I’ve regretted disposing of the Chalet School books, I’d quite like to have all my Cadfaels back. It seems that every time I get rid of something I need it the next day. Samuel Delaney’s Tides of Lust is a case in point. I was never going to finish reading it. The writing is gorgeous, the subject boring in both senses. I hid it among some less salacious books and took it to Oxfam. And then I found I wanted to quote from it in a fanzine article. I mentioned this and within days a new copy arrived from a friend in America. Sigh. I guess it’s a keeper, or at least, a returner. Maybe one day I’ll attempt to read it again.

Anyway, coming back to the point, I’m giving up the guilt. If I don’t finish a book I’m going to get rid of it. Sometimes. There are those that don’t get finished, not because of any flaw in the book but because of circumstances. I forget to take my current book when I go away and have to buy a new one that sets me off on a different train. Or a new Gail Carriger, Mike Carey or Tanya Huff book comes out and all other books fall by the wayside.

Recently I was reading Windhaven by George RR Martin and Lisa Tuttle. It’s a perfectly good SF with ‘hang gliders’ book and the characters are mildly interesting however I have premonitions of disaster and I don’t want to read about it. The characters are doing things that will lead to hurt and loneliness. I don’t want to follow them on that journey. John Dowd passed the opinion that if you are not going to read books because bad things happen to the characters you’ll miss many great reads. That’s as maybe. I’ve got enough where that isn’t going to happen. To read Windhaven I would have to spread it out over weeks, maybe months, picking it up again only when I have ceased to care about the characters and putting it down when I start to worry about them again. It might take years. It doesn’t even matter when the characters are vile. I worried about the angel of death in just the same way. I sometimes wonder if I embraced golden age SF because the characters were so cardboard that it didn’t set off my worry reaction. This may be linked with my distaste for the comedy of embarrassment and for watching people do stupid things. Whatever. There are so many books in the world and I have so little time to read them why struggle with something that is not worth it in the end.

It has occurred to me that there is a nuance here. Felix Castor does stupid things resulting in harm for himself and those he loves, and yet I read these books avidly. I think it is because I care deeply about Felix. The people in Windhaven, names already forgotten, and the angel, are not sufficiently large characters for me to need to know what happens to them. And I don’t want to know.

Anyway, back to the point. White Mars is going, despite being signed by Brian Aldiss, because there is too much of it that is dull. Windhaven is going. The Angel of Death is certainly going. It may even be that Gladiator at Law is going. I’ve reread it recently and I’m fairly sure I’ll never read it again. I will make the commitment to at least attempt to read the books before ditching them. Physical Metallurgy and the Design of Steels by Brian Pickering will probably be kept for sentimental reasons. And it’s a cracking good read. Oh yes, and it cost me £27 in 1981.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


This weekend was Satellite 3 in the Grand Central in Glasgow. It was extreme fun in a slightly debilitating way. I’ve mentioned this before. Going to a convention is like having a planned illness. There is too much to drink, too much to eat, a non-congenial venue and late nights.
When I say a non-congenial venue, the Central has had a lovely face-lift. It looks fab, especially if you remember the tired and grubby visage it had towards the end of its former life. But the lighting is always conducive to SAD, the air is filled with the pollution inherent in refurbishment, it’s either too hot or it’s drafty, and there is never anywhere really comfortable to sit. 
The rest is very much self induced. Too much to drink? Just say no! Both Saturday and Sunday the first glass of beer was welcome and delicious. After that, well with nasty tea at £1.80, no tap water available and wine at £16 a bottle (red or white), I end up drinking beer that I don’t really want and don’t enjoy. 
I almost always walk away from conventions feeling mildly to extremely grotty so why keep turning up? It’s more than just turning up to the family dos that have the nearest similar pull. It’s that you see people you wouldn’t see all together anywhere else, that you have conversations and think about ideas that just aren’t sparked anywhere else and occasionally you spend some time preparing (sort of) for a panel item and are reminded of why you read that stuff in the first place.
I only got about half  way through ‘White Mars’ ready for the Literary Mars panel I was supposed to contribute to. It was dull. Mark Meenan says you have to have read Kim Stanley Robinson’s coloured Mars books and I never even finished Red Mars. I’m not convinced I will finish White Mars. I raced through CS Lewis’s ‘Out of the Silent Planet’ and though, as it did when I was fourteen, the religious stuff left me cold, the planet and the ‘people’ were as much fun as I remembered, especially the Hrossa; fishers, boaters, poets. Arthur C Clarke’s ‘The Sands of Mars’ was not poetic in any way, a bit of an old pot boiler to be honest, but still, readable and with a more realistic Mars. The book that I didn’t finish before the panel was Ray Bradbury’s ‘The Silver Locusts’, my copy of which seems to have been ‘borrowed’ from Lawnswood School in 1974 and never returned. Oops. Bradbury wrote believably monstrous people and beautiful crystal cities built on the shores of empty seas. This is the Mars I long to visit, respectfully, reverently. Alas.
Why has Mars been portrayed as it has? It’s conceivably reachable, it’s potentially terraformable  but mainly, I think, it’s a longing for a new frontier, a new beginning. If we found a planet populated by exquisite people with a wise and humane culture I suspect we would treat it as Bradbury’s characters did. I doubt people will walk on Mars anytime soon, but when we do we will use the fragile towers and crystal windows for target practice, metaphorically, as we try to turn our ancient neighbour into a meagre copy of the amazing world we are currently vandalising. 
And speaking of target practice. I know it is sad and niggardly of me to complain about a frothy science talk which was great fun, but there must be a different gas for Jon Davies to use to sound like Darth Vader or just drop it. I’m guessing a dense gas is what he needs. Sulphur hexafluoride has a few disadvantages though. It is 22,800 time worse as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and has been banned for all applications except high-voltage switchgear under the F-Gas Directive. The balloon full that he used today to sound like Darth Vader will have a long term effect on the atmosphere for something between the next 800 - 3200 years. The mild amusement is not worth the long term effect. Colour me not amused but appalled!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Where I am

Oh, so long since I wrote anything. In fact, I’m only finding the time now because I’m on a train to Maidenhead and I didn’t download work documents from the cloud to my computer.  Connectivity on this particular train line is rubbish for Orange. Of course, I could be reading a book about Mars in preparation for Satellite 3 or thinking up jokes for the show at Eastercon. Or knitting. Or just sleeping.
Things are a bit anxiety inducing at the moment. For a few months in the lead up to Christmas we knew, in my lovely team at work, that work was too scarce to support three people. The directors wanted to make one of us redundant. We weren’t keen. As you may imagine. We had a number of out of hours meetings and thrashed our options out. Our strategy was to continue to work hard to find more work, for us each to apply for jobs so that one of us could move to a secure company and, in the meantime, for us all to go down to a three and a half day week. As I was only working four days anyway it wasn’t a huge hit for me but Catherine and Alison would take a fairly hefty pay cut. 
I applied for a job. So did my colleagues. After my interview the very nice man noted that I didn’t seem to have had much recent experience with interviews. Nope, not for five years. I consoled myself with the thought that no-one gets a job from their first interview. Then both Catherine and Alison did. Excellent! From the end of January we went down from three people doing work sufficient for two people to one person doing work sufficient for two people. Actually maybe a little less than two as there always tends to be a tailing off of work as the end of the financial year approaches. Still, quite a lot of work. I’m around 155% utilised and only the fact that it takes a while for the security check to be done for one of our contracts saves it from being higher. 
One of the suggestions I had made when we were looking at our options was to go independent. As a three person consultancy our overhead costs would be very much lower, it would be easier to find work at a lower day rate and we would be able to work on our own terms. Lovely idea, my colleagues thought, if Alison’s husband’s business had been launched already and was bringing in lots of money and Catherine wasn’t still paying off a student loan and planning a (v. expensive) holiday of a lifetime in Japan. Once they’d both captured lucrative jobs and heartlessly abandoned me I thought about it for a bit and decided that the possibility of independence as a sole trader might still be worth thinking about.
I didn’t want to cut all ties (and my throat) with my current company. I’d have to build a client base from nothing, contractually I’m not allowed to poach my clients, and it would leave them with no-one to fulfill the contracts on the books. I spoke to the MD and we agreed that we would recruit a senior consultant and I would work, with a one year contract, as a sub-contractor for the company. A number of people within the company have wondered why, given that most of my work will continue to be with the company, branded as theirs, why I want to make this move. Mostly it’s to find a bit of freedom. The idea is that, on the days when I have no scheduled work, I can spend the day on the allotment or wander into town or whatever I fancy. If I end up doing the amount of work that I’m doing at the moment I will earn lots more money, if I don’t bring in enough work I live on potatoes and kale and turn the heating off. The risks are higher but so are the payoffs. And some days I can just goof off without guilt. I can work when I’m at my best, afternoon and early evening, and I can spend the time I think is necessary to prepare for a course without being told to 'leave it now, it's good enough'.
Of course, whilst all this is going on I have become treasurer of the Sheffield Allotment Federation, I’ve agreed to work with Dave Hicks on programme for Novacon, I’m supposed to be reading about Mars for a programme item at Satellite and I really need to maintain some relationships outside of work. Occasionally I need to sleep and at least once a week I need to cook. Oh yes, and if I don’t have at least 75% of my allotment under cultivation they will take it off me.
Hence the lack of blog postings. I haven’t even written up the three books I’ve read over the last four months. I’ll have to turn in my Bookworm Badge. And yet, through the exhaustion, I feel the tingling of a mild excitement at the freedom. And the insecurity.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

How rude!

I took a phone call on Thursday evening. It was to the house phone, which is unusual, but my sister calls me on that so I always answer. I’d just dished up dinner which was a melange of pasta, sprouts, broccoli and haloumi in fresh pesto. I mention this because it is a meal that is best eaten hot.
I answered the phone. ‘Is that Mrs Rose?’ she asked. 
Obviously not and an instant indicator that this was a sales call. 
‘Yes it is,’ I replied, because even though she did not know how to pronounce my name I am the person she wanted to speak to. 
‘Have you got a minute?’ she asked. 
‘No, actually, I’ve just put out dinner.’ 
‘I understand you still have wooden fascia boards.’ 
‘I don’t want to buy anything thank you.’ 
‘This isn’t a sales call.’ 
‘You know,’ I said, handing Sally her bowl, ‘I’ve just served out our dinner and I’d like to eat it while it’s hot. Goodbye.’ 
As I put the phone down I heard her complain, ‘That’s a bit rude isn’t it!’
This must be the fourth call I’ve had from these people. I am not going to buy their product.    I’ve told them that three times. I sympathise with anyone who has to make a living cold-calling people. It’s a thankless task, but I have always been of the opinion that if I want a service or a product I will research my options and call the people I choose, to ask for a quote. I don’t appreciate companies calling me and refusing to take a polite ‘no’. 
I signed up to the mailing preference service some time ago when I got tired of unsolicited junk mail. I vaguely thought I’d done the telephone version (TPS) at the same time but I haven’t been sure. I’ve just checked and my number has been registered. 
This is what it says on the TPS website;
‘The Telephone Preference Service (TPS) is a central opt out register whereby individuals can register their wish not to receive unsolicited sales and marketing telephone calls. It is a legal requirement that companies do not make such calls to numbers registered on the TPS.’

According to the regulator of this legislation, the Information Commissioner’s Office:
Telesales calls
If you have received a live telesales call, and you are registered on the TPS, you can complain directly to the TPS in the first instance.
If you continue to receive telesales calls despite complaining to the TPS you should complain to us.
We may be able to help if:
  • you have received a marketing call;
  • you can identify the caller;
  • the caller is based in the UK; and
  • you have a record showing you had previously informed the caller that you did not wish to receive its marketing calls. 
So the next time this company is rude enough to call me, despite me registering not to receive marketing calls, I will tell the that I will report them, and then I will report them. I’m almost looking forward to it.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Disappointment pending...

2012. I’m living in the future and it’s not at all what I had hoped for. Despite the lack of rocket pants, however, and the fairly constant low level anxiety, I remain relatively content. 
We’ve had a lovely holiday. Christmas was a family day (without my kids but with Mum, my sister Sue, Robin and Callum and, of course, Ian & the Queen). On the 29th we drove up to Scotland for Ian’s niece, Kirsty’s, wedding. This was jolly fun although I wasn’t convinced by the symbolism. They each lit a candle and once the words had been said, together lit a big central candle. How lovely! And then they, together, snuffed their individual candles. I’m beginning to think I’m spending far too much time worrying about symbolism. At a talk some time ago I suggested that the speaker stopped ‘arming’ their audience with information and began sharing information. These ideas do not endear me. I should shut up. 
Fran, John, Laura & Lady Godiva
New year’s eve was with Julia and Doug and a host of lovely fans. To describe it as a feast rather undersells the whole thing. The food was amazing (who would have thought that beetroot mousse would be so yummy) and the presentation was fabulous, both the food and the lovely handpainted 'tapestries' courtesy of Julia and Sally. The only problem now is that of finding anyone brave enough to try to host next year’s celebration. We can comfortably seat eight but there is no way I could find the money, time and kitchen space to produce such a banquet. Wow! Sheffield fandom will be subsisting on the leftovers for some time to come. Of course there will be a follow-on extravaganza in May when the wedding of the century takes place in the Daly-Spencer household.
Over the holidays I spent two mornings on the allotment disinterring large quantities of junk, watched three TV progs (the Big Fat Quiz of the Year (tick good), Dr Who (tick vg) and Sherlock Holmes (tick excellent)) and listened to a number of radio programmes. I failed to finish a book (any book) and bemoaned the dearth of blogs and cartoons although  I did spend an inordinate amount of time reading postings on ‘Do the Math’. More on this sometime soon. I ate too much of too rich food and drank far too much. And all the time that vague low level anxiety hovered. Maybe more on this sometime soonish too.
So, it is the evening of new year’s day. Despite my best intentions I did not clear and clean the house - we entertained instead. I did, however, put my resolutions into play. I didn’t, despite the temptations still hanging round the house, ingest any refined sugar and I only had a share of one bottle of really quite splendid Amarone whilst eating my frugal dinner. There have been rather more photos taken of me than usual, given the additional festivities, and it was difficult to ignore the somewhat ample girth displayed. So, sigh, the following resolutions:
I will not drink alcohol on my own and I’ll limit myself to a share of one bottle of wine
I will not eat or drink refined sugar (goodbye hot chocolate with cointreau)
I will live within my means (because I so haven’t this month)
Yeah, I know. Every new year I intend to do the same old things. Get thin, get rich, get organised. I’m still ample, poorish and messy. It’s a tradition. I’ll see if I can get to February before I give up this year.