Friday, 25 January 2013

Still don't get it...

I have been fascinated by my "Stats" ever since I discovered them; how interesting to learn that at the moment I have more readers in the US than in the UK, yet last month it was Russians who topped the leader board.  All of them looking up Ludmila Monastirska, presumably...  Yet I remain baffled by the fact that this remains my most-viewed blog post. 

It seems to glean another twenty or thirty clicks per day sometimes. Why?  It isn't interesting at all.  Or is it?  Please will someone elucidate?

Masses more typing done last night.  Happy Imogen.  And this morning I had to go right round the Gardens, putting up posters at the gates.  It was bitterly cold, but so good to be out, and see leaf buds turning pink, and snowdrops everywhere, wintersweet and witch-hazels in bloom, and bulb noses peeping through the grass.  The snow (almost all melted now) seems to have spurred all the trees and plants on.

Almost all melted, did I say?  All bar the snowmen.  I think we must have had getting on for a hundred at Kew, and they are, as is their wont, melting very slowly and in very odd shapes. It's as if a whole second exhibition of abstract sculpture had opened, running alongside the David Nash show, just for these few winter days.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Fabulous Frank!

Frankentop arrived yesterday; I think he enjoyed the piano recital (I did, anyway) and when I got home I sat him on the desk and turned him on. 

Perhaps I should drop the anthropomorphism; the above sounds a heck of a lot livelier than it really was. 

Frank is a larger, younger laptop than the previous one, and considerably handsomer, and he has some nice new gadgets (like an entry system for something called a "drop box cloud", which also sounds a bit lively, now I'm thinking that way).  He's not the fastest computer I've met but he works hard, and I will be very happy learning to live with him (aargh, anthropomorphising again. Sorry). 

I also acquired a very lovely new woolly hat; yay.

And this blog is, incredibly, on its 19,999th hit.  Good grief, what?  That's so crazy.  People are actually reading my ramblings - or at least, opening them and then saying "No, that's not what I wanted, that's some rambling Englishwoman with a bum-fetish, Renner-fetish, ballet-fetish dirty mind, I wanted real porn..."

So, anyway, if anyone reads this, I'll go over twenty thousand.  Toot toot!!

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Time is of the essence

The Frankenlaptop is due to arrive some time this afternoon.

Being me, I will then take it to hear Freddy Kempf playing Chopin at the Queen Elizabeth Hall this evening.  This is probably the computer equivalent of buying special tummy-phones to play Mozart to your baby in utero, but is due simply to the fact that I need to go straight from work to the Southbank Centre if I'm to have time for some supper before the recital.

Very embarrassed, though, to learn that the poor Dipgeek has got the idea that Time is Of The Essence re delivering the Frankentop.  Time is, of course, but only in my self-absorbed little (or rather, rather large) head.  I really do want to get on with the revising of "Gold Hawk" and now that the new opening scene for Chapter 4 is completed I have nothing else to dawdle over.  But I realise that, in the bigger scheme of things, my writing is about as unimportant as things get.

It's important to me, anyway.  That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.  If I were to be told I had only six months to live I would quit my job in the blink of an eye, dearly though I love Kew Gardens, and focus on writing.  If money were no object and I could do whatever I wished for the rest of my life, I might not quit work, since I like the place and the people I work with (most of the time - there have been occasions when I have Wanted To Yell at Someone!! - I'm only human after all [and so is the someone]).  But I would cut my hours down even so, and focus on writing.

Oh well, it's not to be, I fear.  Not that I want to be told I have only six months, dear gods forbid; but "money is no object" would be rather nice...

Looking forward to Freddy Kempf's recital; and looking forward to "Onegin" at the Royal Ballet next week - have just discovered that as well as Laura Morera's for-me-perfect Tatiana I should also be getting the wonderful Gary Avis as Prince Gremin (the noble, decent chap Tatiana marries) which is a definite plus as he does a lovely line in noble decency!

But looking forward too to getting the Frankentop home and starting to learn how to animate it.  Even as a "brain in a jar" cannibalised computer it's still going to be a heck of a lot more up-to-date than the Old Lady.  I may find I simply turn it on and go aargh..

Monday, 21 January 2013

Possibly no more snow?

It snowed all day yesterday and for at least a chunk of the night (it was still coming down when I went to bed at 11.30).  But so far today there has been no more snowfall, and I think the temperature may have gone just a fraction above freezing this afternoon.  The BBC are promising no more for now, so I hope they're right.  I'm sorry, but I have reached the age where my first thought on seeing snow is "sprained ankle!" rather than "snowfight!". 

If I had someone to have a snowfight with, I might feel differently, of course.  Or time off to go trekking through it properly, somewhere rural, with good solid warm clothes and boots on, and hot chocolate at the end.  Preferably hot choc with maple syrup in...

I've been struggling - really struggling, to an embarrassing degree - with a small extra scene needed for chapter four of "Gold Hawk".  Four minor characters are talking, so it's nothing very serious, but I need to get across their different feelings about their situation, and I'm simply battling with it, and I don't know why...  Grr, the creative juices are odd things at times.  Maybe the Muse also doesn't like the snow.

So I ended up, on Sunday, doing a whole bunch of useful procrastination jobs; cleaning, washing machine, tidying stuff, re-threading beads, cooking risotto; and finishing a very peculiar novel by Sheri S Tepper, which I had previously almost made my mind up not to bother finishing.  That should tell you just how peculiar it was, since normally Tepper, even at her most sky-high loony, keeps me caught with her narrative drive.  She only gets things really right about one book in ten, for my money, but since that has led to "Grass", "The Family Tree", "The Gate to Women's Country" and "Gibbons Decline and Fall", all of which are terrific, I feel I have to keep giving her a chance.  But the book I've been reading, "The Waters Rising" is a frightful mess, to be honest.

Came in to work this morning to discover the Dipgeek is hoping to give me the "new" hot-rodded Frankenstein-laptop on Wednesday.  Hurrah; I should not doubt my friends. 

Saturday, 19 January 2013


It snowed, as we were promised, all of Friday, but today we've had relatively little, though the forecast was for more all day.  London being London, the roads and most of the pavements have mostly been gritted and salted, and are largely clear now, and as a result it's gone from being the pretty, white, crisp, fun kind of snow to being the grey, sludgey kind that is neither beautiful nor enjoyable.  Still, at least I've managed to get some grocery shopping done, and get to an internet café to buy some ballet and opera tickets (Covent Garden are doing Britten's "Gloriana" in the summer, yippee!).  If it had gone on snowing solidly all day today as well, I doubt if I would have left the house.

I'm struggling a bit, writing-wise; the Dipgeek, being as she is Ein Engel, has promised to set me up with one of her speciality cannibalised/rebuilt laptops, to replace the Old Lady, who has pretty much conked out.  She even knows how to keep the Old Lady's hard drive useable, through some bizarre shenanigans involving the computer equivalent of putting a brain in a jar (I am tempted to rename The Dipgeek Dr Hhffuurfhurr - except that I can't spell it, what a surprise!). 

But I don't know if there's any point in going on writing on the Old Lady, in case the brain-in-a-jar system doesn't work after all.  It would be madly frustrating to have voluntarily increased the amount of material I couldn't access.

I shouldn't doubt my friends, should I?  However, in the meantime, the sequel possibilities for "Gold Hawk" are simmering away nicely.  Maybe it's best if they simmer until done.  I've bought some more A5 notebooks in the hope of getting started on Volume 2, potentially to be called "The Midwinter Sacrifice", soon.  Then Vol 3 will be called "Lyonesse". How strange the simmerings of the creative juices are; I know the plots and which characters are going to come back, and when, and who is going to appear for the first time.  On top of this, the three little bits of fanfic I was palying with have all gone rather well; two are finished and a longish one is almost done. 

I wish there were more hours in the day; or that I could do without sleep altogether; or that I didn't need to work at all (which would be best!).  Something like that, anyway.  I wish I could write full-time.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Nutcracker, Firebird, Hobbit, laptop...

Excellent idea.  Now all I need is for someone to do the same thing for SF writers!!

Work is getting busier, which is no bad thing.  On the good side, Great-British-winter-wise, once or twice lately we have had some watery wintry sunshine.  On the bad side, we’ve also had snow – and not nice crisp snow that settles and makes kids happy, but the sloppy wet kind that doesn’t settle but gets everywhere, and still makes going out miserable.  

 January is probably my least-favourite month – there simply isn’t enough daylight.  At least here, with all of Kew Gardens to mooch in during my lunch break, I can smell the sweet scents of winter-flowering plants, and watch for snowdrops and the rose-pink buds of limes and maples, to remind me of spring.

What have I been up to?  Writing, quelle blague; what a surprise.  I’m relieving the work of typing up and revising “Gold Hawk” by also indulging myself with a little fanfiction on the side.  It does feel a bit like having something on the side, too; a really sinful indulgence, like a box of good posh chocs (think Booja Booja quality) or a bottle of 20-year-old Laphroaig.  Or a fling, obviously (only I get all screwed up over those, whereas with chocolate or liquor, or fanfic, I can relax and enjoy myself).  Not sure what I’ll do with it, beyond using it for relaxation purposes (ooh, now that does sound dirty!), but it’s giving me some much-needed light relief in this dark month.   

I gather that some people consider writing fanfic to be a dreadful and unforgiveable sin.  Obviously I’d be a stinking hypocrite if I pretended to agree with them!  I guess in their book I’m hell-bound and that’s all there is to it. 

From what I’ve read (not very much, I should add) some of it is drivel and some of it is porn, or at least porny.  But plenty of mainstream legitimate fiction is drivel and/or porny.  Surely anything that gets us consumers to wake up and doing something creative, instead of just sitting on our backsides all day consuming, can’t be all bad?  Whether it’s taking a camera out to photograph the texture of leaves, or taking a sketchbook when you go on holiday, or keeping a journal, or singing in a choir, or going outdoors to reconnect with nature and discover some natural history, or writing a short story about your favourite fictional characters, just for fun; it’s creative, it’s self-expression, and it’s engaging with the world and responding to it instead of simply being spoon-fed the mental equivalent of junk food.  It’s co-creating, in a small way; and that, if you’ll forgive my going all religious on you for a sec, is blessed; it’s lending a hand in the Goddess’ work.

However, to come back from these heights to my present reality; the big problem at the moment with my writing, of all kinds (serious, frivolous and even perhaps drivel) is that my laptop is sick, and getting steadily sicker.  It now gets conniptions every time I try to save what I’m writing onto disk.  Since it’s far too old for me to be able to save onto a USB stick (they may not even have existed when it was manufactured – at any rate it lacks the necessary scart/port/whatever), floppies are my only option if I want something saved in a portable format.  And I can only get my work onto ICW, or into a friend’s mailbox, if I can get it off the machine in the first place.  Lately, I can have been peacefully typing all evening, and then the laptop will suddenly turn up its toes and refuse to do anything more.  Instead, I get a frozen screen, and it refuses to switch off, either, and sits buzzing for hours until it runs its battery right down.  By this point it has generally kept me awake for several hours, which is not good.  I feel about ninety this morning, after having this happen again last night.

Around the edges of a lot of typing, I’m having a busy old time of it culturally-speaking; a good dose of high culture, and a healthy fillip of somewhat-lower-culture.   A Nutcracker, a triple bill and a Hobbit, to be precise.

I love the Royal ballet’s “Nutcracker”; it is very, very traditional, with snowflakes and glittery costumes and wicked mice and a gorgeous transformation scene.  I’ve seen it about six times, so this trip was a complete indulgence.  Mainly I went to see Akane Takada in action as the Sugar Plum Fairy.  She’s one of their up-and-comings, just starting to get some bigger roles.  It’s one of the joys of going to see a particular ballet company regularly; getting to spot young talent and see them progress rapidly (or, frustratingly, not so rapidly) up the ranks and into the larger parts.   She wasn’t a flawless Sugar Plum, but rather a lovely one nonetheless; she doesn’t over-extend, which loks right to me in this kind of pure classical stuff; she has a delicious finish, right down to her fingertips, and that trick of coming down off pointe very smoothly (which probably has a technical name) so that every balance seems to flow into the next move without the tiniest transition.  She also looks like a Japanese Googie Withers, which can’t hurt. 

The triple bill was “The Firebird”, “In the Night”, and “Raymonda Act 3”.  Two utter marvels, and a dollop of glittery idiocy and Mittel-european flouncing in character shoes.   

Mara Galeazzi’s Firebird was extraordinary.  She is a dancer who is immensely good at conveying powerful human emotions, but here she genuinely seemed to be touching the non-human – instinctive, reactive, self-preserving, utterly wild – so that the creature’s reappearance to honour her pledge with Ivan Tsarevich became not just the working-out of the plot, but a moment of real awe and power.  This is what fairy tales do, when you’re a child and the stories are new; hit you in the eyes with their archetypal potency.  It’s good to see it can still happen, and raise the hairs on the back of my neck.  It’s also a joy to see Ms Galeazzi back in action again, let alone in such blazing (almost literally!) good form.  
The Jerome Robbins was utterly wonderful, too.   Why don’t they do a Robbins triple bill?  “In the Night”, “Afternoon of a Faun” and “Dances at a Gathering” are all in the RB rep now; and wouldn’t that be a simply dreamy evening?  I suppose they fear that it wouldn’t put bums on seats.  It would get my bum there; but that’s only one bum on one seat (or technically two if I went twice, which is always a temptation with mixed bills as there’s usually more than one cast).   “In the Night”, anyway, has grace and charm and delicacy and romance and humour, and an indefinable overarching quality of mystery; it is far more than the sum of its parts, as all the best short works are.  I saw Emma Maguire and Alexander Campbell as Couple One, luxurious Zenaida Yanowsky and big Mr Kish as Couple Two, and Roberta Marquez and the great Carlos Acosta as Couple Three.   Gorgeous casting in a gorgeous, haunting ballet.

“Raymonda” does nothing profound for me, but it was great fun, and looked gorgeous, and everyone was dancing their socks off.  ‘Nuff said.

“The Hobbit; An Unexpected Journey” is a muddle.  I wish it weren’t.  I loved Peter Jackson’s three “Lord of the Rings” movies, although they aren’t perfect (the bits that grate with me, the unnecessary tweaking of the plot in particular, grate more each time I see them).  This looks just as good and for a change some of the tweaks actually work better.  If one is going to present the story of “The Hobbit” as part of the same canon, and not as a lighter, more child-orientated work (which the book certainly is), then one has got to stress the seriousness of what is going on, and set it firmly in the same continuum.  I can accept that; much of it has been lifted and shoe-horned in from the appendices of the “Lord of the Rings”, and I think from the “Silmarillion” too; and I think in the main it’s fairly well done.

 But there are also some completely extraneous additions; notably a prolonged battle in the Orc halls that looks as if it was lifted wholesale from a computer game.  And all the way through, one is aware that here, things could be taken with leisure, spreading the story over three films when it fills one pretty short book.  Compared to the taut, compact story-telling in the three LOTR films, this looks relaxed to a startling degree.  The dwarves get to do both their musical numbers, for goodness’ sakes.  I didn’t really need either.

But what works, really works.  The “Riddles in the Dark” section is like something from a different movie altogether, tight and powerful and genuinely scary.  The designs are glorious (though I’ve always felt the Peter Jackson Shire looked too untamed – it has the appearance of a landscape that was first settled and farmed perhaps two or three generations ago at most, not countless centuries.  It should look like rural Kent or Devon).   Little things like the moon-runes and the sword Sting glowing are spot-on.  Above all, the cast is excellent, and I honestly don’t think that if they had instigated a world-wide hunt for Bilbo Baggins, à la “the search for Scarlett O’Hara”, they could have found a more perfect lead than Martin Freeman.  He is simply wonderful.

Well, anyway; I’ve been writing this in my lunch breaks since the end of last week, so now I am finally going to post it, and then try to keep a bit more up-to-date.  But here’s to more cultural fun, both high and low, for the rest of this year.  And here’s to the blinking laptop behaving itself tonight.  Please?

Thursday, 10 January 2013

A trifle worrying..

I find it worrying that in my "stats" section, under the list of criteria people were searching for when they found my blog, number five is "isolation and self absorption".

Oh sh*t... 

That does kind of say it all, mind you; but it's sobering to see it spelled out so bluntly.  I am indeed isolated (~ish) and self-absorbed (decidedly).

I didn't think I'd used either word much, though, and that's what is puzzling me a bit about this.  Holy creepin' jeebus, has blogger developed some kind of meta-analysis tool that enables it to direct people looking for cases of isolation and self-absorption to isolated, self-absorbed bloggers, just like that?

Surely most bloggers are isolated and self-absorbed, to a certain degree at least?  isn't blogging kind of like solipsism to the power of ten?

Or - eee - even worse, has Blogger developed i*n*t*e*l*l*i*g*e*n*c*e?

(Cue voice fading as she is dragged away by the Selenites) Help... 

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

I wish you happiness...

I wish you joy
And see it coming your way;
And it is easy to let go
One who will be happy.
Your hope, your shape
Of the world
Once would have matched
So well with mine. Still,
No matter. You stand now
Grim with embarrassment
Admitting it – yes, you have
Enough to have enough
And contentment
Has caught your sleeve
While you were working hard;
Fixing this house,
Planting this garden.
Soon may there be
Enough and more,
And no more lonely days.
I can step back
Releasing my daydreams,
Letting you go.
It is better so.

A birthday poem, only one day late.

Happy belated returns of the day, beau p'tit chou...

Friday, 4 January 2013

In which I discover "The Unusuals" and prove that I am putty (in certain hands...)

It’s odd, the things having a crush makes one do (oh yes, they make me.  Honest.  I can’t resist, I’m putty in the hands of my urges.  Ahem). 

So, anyway - I bought a Dvd boxed set.  Not a big one - all of two discs.  Just ten episodes; that’s so sad.  But at least now I understand what the fuss was about, and why someone described this to me as the police procedural equivalent of “Firefly”.  It’s a good analogy.  Not only because both were shot down in flames after just one series, but in terms of quality as well.

When the Dipgeek introduced me to “Firefly”, also on Dvd, it took about fifteen minutes for me to be hooked, whereas this took the whole of episode 1.  This makes sense; I adore science fiction, I’m mostly neutral towards police procedurals.  In “Firefly”, the opening battle looked good; then the titles were terrific, the dialogue was great, the ship’s engineer was not a brawny bloke but a lass, yay! - and with the brilliant sequence on Persephone the “grab Im” process was complete.  I became a devoted Browncoat and have not deviated since.

With this, the key moments were the fact that at the first introduction of the character played by Crush Of The Moment, he’s cooking – that’s a big yay! for me, unrepentant foodie that I am (plus it creates the need for regular close-ups of his gorgeous hands, which is definitely a Good Thing - I would happily be putty in those hands).  Then, there’s the presence of the ever-excellent Harold Perrineau; the fact that our heroine is a jolie-laide rather than a tv-style beauty – i.e. she looks like a human being, not a shop-window dummy; and the way that the touches of humour are so lightly-handled and kept character-based.  But it wasn’t until the end of the first episode that I realised that, ever so quietly, I had been hooked and landed.  I was looking forward to some more, and thinking grumpily “Why are there only ten episodes?  What berk made that decision?” – and then I knew that this wasn’t simply going to be a piece of Renner-Porn but a real find.

Honestly, there a must be some very silly people working in executive-decision-making posts in television.    Why would anyone intelligent choose to keep churning out some of the drivel that clogs tele screens all over the developed world (naming no names – after all, tastes in drivel vary), and yet scrap “Firefly” and “The Unusuals”??  Can no-one ever take a well-worn trope and do with it something just a wee bit fresh and different?  Why can’t a television series be primarily character-driven, rather than ever-more-hysterically plot-contrivance-driven?  What are they so scared of? – actually entertaining us?


Thursday, 3 January 2013

A girl can dream...

I had another vivid dream last night.  I can only suppose that the damp, chilly weather and general wintry darkness and dimness have some kind of stimulating effect on the bit of the brain that initiates dreaming - the hypothalamus, is it?  This one started odd (i.e. normal for a dream), turned very nasty indeed for a bit, and then, as if to compensate, went completely overboard on the happy ending. 

I was crossing Kew Bridge on my way home, and I looked down and  saw someone in a bobble hat riding my bicycle along the mud banks beside the Thames, heading in the direction of the railway bridge.  In the dreaming world, my bike normally lived on a clothes-horse in the foyer of the block of flats I live in (in the waking world it has a different home!) & I hadn't lent it to anyone.  So I ran in pursuit, down the steps onto the river bank.  But by the time I got there the tide had come in, and I found myself falling, as if sucked inexorably, into the river.

People drown in the Thames every year; it's not a good river to fall into, and I'm not a particularly strong swimmer.  Clearly my subconscious knows this.  I thrashed and yelled and struggled, and went under, and was carried away upriver, shrieking my head off each time I surfaced and holding my breath desperately each time I went underwater.  I shot the bridge and was heading out into the middle of the main channel.  It was dark and cold, and I went under again and thought "I'm going to bloody drown, what a farce". I shut my eyes and accepted it, since there wasn't anything else to do.

Suddenly a pair of very strong arms grabbed me and pulled at me; and I grabbed back and held on.  The rushing din in my ears stopped and a voice said to me "You can stop holding your breath now, you're out of the water."  So I opened my eyes and found I had been dragged from the river, and imminent death, onto the banks of Brentford Eyot, by the Crush Of The Moment.  Good man. 

Since I was soaking wet and muddy, and had swallowed a fair amount of the Thames, which I was frantically trying to spit out, I was about as unappealing as a plump middle-aged woman can be.  Nonetheless my Hero smiled at me - swoon! - and then he said "I'm Aaron, by the way."  I gobbed up some more filthy water and replied "No you're not, you're an actor, don't quote your own lines at me."  Then I woke up, with my pulse thundering, though whether from the near-drowning bit of the dream or the >swoon!< part I can't say. Either way, I couldn't get back to sleep again.

Luckily at work today I have been doing filing and data entry.  Both of which can be done when tired. 

My grandmother always insisted that bad dreams are caused by indigestion. I have no idea of this is true, but I certainly did eat too much yesterday, so maybe in this case it was.  But today was a fast day - I've been very happy so far with the five-two diet, and have just switched back on to it after the Christmas break.  So I'm typing this in the large part of my lunch hour left after eating three rice cakes and a satsuma.  Supper is due to be salad; and then I will have a peaceful evening typing up some more "Gold Hawk" (I'm partway through revising chapter three now) and get an early night.  Hopefully, one in which my dreams will not involve near-drowning.