Sunday, 12 October 2008

New Music Thoughts

I've bought a few albums over the last three or four weeks - nothing surprising there with me being a big music fan I guess. Been listening through the new ones and have mixed feelings.

I bought the new Queen+Paul Rogers album. It's nice enough but I just don't get why they did it - beyond the cynical let's make some more money reason. It just doesn't do much for me at all. It has Queen touches but no real Queen soul. It has bluesy Paul Rogers bits but not enough to really satisfy. It's a bit of a mish-mash and I can't see much point.

Bought the new Metallica album too. After weeks of hearing commentaries about how this could be Metallica's last chance to show they can be the band that made Master of Puppets and the Black Album the CD finally arrived. I've played it - several times. I've considered it and then I read some reviews of it. I tried not to read all that many before hearing it myself. Well I'm not so sure. There are a couple of good tracks on it and one absolute belter (All Nightmare Long) but I am afraid I think The Unforgiven III is weak and cringeworthy lyric wise. I have nothing against lyrics being personal but these - sheesh!

I think it is an album that shows they could still have it but it doesn't quite make it for me.

I bought Kid Rock's Rock n Roll Jesus too. I have to admit . It was mainly for my wife I hasten to add but I have listened to it myself a couple of times. I mention this because I also bought the Nickelback album for my wife but claim that one is totally hers as I have not listened to it at all - beyond what I've caught on the radio and TV. Like a lot of people I did think the video for Rockstar was amusing.

Anyway back to Kid Rock. I find it catchy without being earth-shattering. I don't hate it and I wouldn't rush to turn it off if it was playing. Not saying it's not good, it's just not quite my usual listening so I'm possibly not the best person to comment on it in depth. The title track is good enough and the use of Sweet Home Alabama is handled well on All Summer Long.

Next thing down is the new Dream Theater live DVD/CD set. Well I am a massive Dream Theater fan so this purchase was inevitable. And the playing is as superb as you would expect from DT. They are stunningly good musicians. And they're not afraid to show their influences as seen by John Petrucci's guitar workout using the theme from Marillion's Sugar Mice.

It's not a perfect set. As is often the case with DT live stuff James LaBrie's vocals are not always on the money - but at least they are honest. You do get the feeling that nothing is messed about with too much, this isn't a live (mainly in the studio) album. The mixing in of interview segments and shots of back-stage pissing-about breaks up the flow of the music. And most annoyingly although it is a region 2 release the DVDs are NTSC and the TV in my office doesn't play NTSC disks. Still music's good.

Changing the mood entirely I finally picked up the last Suzanne Vega album Beauty and Crime and it is wonderful, lyrical and beautiful. Wow!
Enjoyable as always.

As for the future I am awaiting the new Neal Morse album Lifeline. I've listened to the coupld of tracks he's popped onto his website and think they sound great. His solo stuff started out a bit wussy for my taste. Lots of good prog bits but too much religion and too much syrup in the arrangements and production. Since then each release has gotten better for me. The religious lyrics have sharpened become less of the too obvious "I love God" and more of the spiritual and storytelling. And the music has grown heavier, more serious and more rocky. Sola Scriptura being nothing less than sheer brilliance.

Well the couple of samples show a lighter flavour than Sola Scriptura but still good progressive rock. Can't wait

Friday, 26 September 2008

Friday Blues

I feel like crap! Sorry to be blunt and sorry to foist this upon you. Mind you, saying that, I am under no illusions that people actually read these blog entries. I write them for little more than cathartic purposes - a way to get things off my chest.

Okay maybe I am being a bit of aman complaining about a little cold, but to be honest it's not the cold that's getting to me. I'm just tired. I'm working too much. I need to do it and I want to do it. I enjoy the job I have now and I believe in it. But I am hoping that the long hours are only short term.

It feels too long since I've had a serious break, a chance to recharge.

I know things just went this way. My wife lost her job and so the summer holiday had to be cancelled. Plain and simple - happens to a lot of people.

So I worked long hours in the last weeks at my previous job - including weekends to make some extra money. And then I cashed in my holiday days remaining to help the family finances. End result by year's end I will have worked more weekend days than I've taken weekday holidays. Scary and a tad depressing.

At least there is some rugby on the TV as I type. Not the best game but one of the teams is Leicester - the team I support.

I guess I will feel better tomorrow. Sleep does wonders.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Thank you Desmond Carrington (I Never Thought I'd Say That)

My musical tastes are a little diverse. However I never thought I would ever find something on Desmond Carrington's show on BBC Radio 2. He plays oldies usually - fifties crooners and show tunes. I don't even listen to his show normally.

Today though I did by mistake. I left work late (go live - different story) and switch on the radio. I listen to BBC Radio 4 a great deal. When I left work today I was listening to Front Row - the station's nightly culture show. Well I was briefly, as I switch on it finished and it was about to go into the nightly serial. That didn't sound interesting so I switched to Radio 2 wondering if tonight was the night they have a Blues show - that's usually quite good.

It wasn't - I missed that by a day. It's on Mondays. However when I clicked over I heard some very pleasing Irish folk music with female vocals. I'm a long time Clannad and Maddy Prior fan so it instanly appealed. What he was playing was a song by American folkies Cherish the Ladies. Well I got home, logged on and found a few samples of their music - just to check whether this one track was the aberation and most of their music wouldn't interest me.

That wasn't the case. Every single song sounded good and after listening to samples of maybe four or five I have placed my order. Chose three including a Christmas CD - we like having a new Christmas CD each year so it seemed appropriate.

They should be turning up in about a week or so - looking forward to that.

Of course this doesn't mean I am going to stop listening to Metallica or Dream Theater - or the Rush that is playing as I type. But it will give me a pleasant change from time to time. And it will be one the whole family might enjoy.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Lincolnshire Plum Bread

This weekend I went to visit my mother. She lives in Lincolshire - about half way between Skegness and Grimsby. We popped over to Alford whilst we were up there with the intention of picking up some lavender oil - my mother likes scenting her house with lavender. Unfortunately the shop where we used to buy it is closed and seems to have been closed for a long, long time. It had been a while - last time we bought her a large bottle of the stuff and it lasted over two years.

Fortunately though just around the corner from where the oil shop used to be is a deli, one that sells some of the most wonderful things - cheeses, pastes, oils, james, meats (the in-laws are carnivorous after all) and breads. And oh, the breads. Wow! Lincolnshire Plum Bread is absolutely heavenly. If you ever in that part of the world try to find some. You won't regret it.

What's the point of blogs?

They're odd things. I guess a lot of people just use them like diaries, or maybe to keep family members up to date with events and the like. Some people use them to put forward outlandish thoughts - conspiracy theorists and the like.

(As a side thought I never overly get conspiracies. Not that I don't believe that conspiracies never happen, just the at the popular ones seem unbelievable to me - Marilyn Monroe, President Kennedy, Diana, Princess of Wales, the "fake" moon landings and Roswell. I just can't fathom them. There are times when the obvious reason to me is the right one. Just because you don't like the official version of things don't mean they are wrong. I digess anyway - back to blogs.)

Others use blogs to highlight their point of view. And they are becoming increasingly listened to.

I mean the US political parties are allowing some bloggers access to their candidates during this election campaign. This new media is becoming very important.

So should I do something like this with mine? Should I use it as a platform. I have beliefs -and no I am not talking religious beliefs here, I think I will keep this kind of belief out of this post and this blog (at least for now). I have political views and principals. I vote. I listen to the politicians. I have things and ideas that are important to me. I've even mentioned some of them on this blog - packaging comes to mind.

But is this my intention here? Well no, not really. I guess I might from time to time rant and rave about some things that seem important. I've been a bit of a greenie for years - I've recycled since long before it became trendy (not looking for kudos points here, just explaining who I am). I don't like buying food that has racked up large numbers of miles before finding its way into my shopping trolley. I am a vegetarian. I am teetotal. I am a dedicated reader and would like to see more people read but I am not going to try to force my views on anyone.

I am also as contradictory as anyone else. I find my environmental bias doesn't prevent my holidaying in Italy (and yes I fly there). It does give me feelings of guilt but I love Italy so much and it relaxes me so greatly this wins over my guilt. Sitting in a boat slowly making it's way along Venice's Grand Canal is so marvellous, so miraculous I need to experience it time and time again. I hope I never bore of it.

So I find I can't overly sermonise on these matters - although I will tell you and everyone else I meet that you should avoid buying things that are unnecessarily overpackaged. I might mention it's a good idea to sort your waste and re-use or recycle as much as is possible - cut down the amount that goes into landfill as well as the obvious energy/resource savings of the recycling of glass, metals, plastics etc. I might even mention the need to improve the lives of those born in less rich countries than mine.

But I realise to make this blog a soapbox without mentioning my own failings would be very hypocritical. So I won't, at least not exclusively. And when I do I promise to be completely p[en and honest. But for the most part I will just type whatever comes into my head - comments on music, books, films, TV shows, events and more. Basically whatever I feel like. And if anyone ever reads it well they are likely to find this a completely disorganise mess. It might be madness but it is my own personal madness. And I like it.

Age Darkens

I know tastes change as you age. I accept this - in many ways I look forward to it. I have always enjoyed new things - okay new to me might be a little more accurate, this can involve discovering musical artists I'd previously overlooked, old films, re-runs, classic novels and the like.

But one thing I have noticed recently is that my tastes have edged darker and heavier. In many ways they've gone back to the type of things I used to watch and listen to when I was a kid. Musically my favourite bands at the moment are Metallica, Rush, Iron Maiden and Dream Theater. I still like The Who, Yes, Pink Floyd, Suzanne Vega and the like. It's just I prefer something a little heavier these days. When I feel like some music I'm more likely to put on Nick Cave, Disturbed or Stonesour than REM or U2.

My reading tastes have darkened too - I'm reading horror as the norm, rather than sf. I'm watching horror films and crime and horror TV shows like Dexter and Bones and my old faves Stargate, Star Trek and others are notably absent from my viewing.

Life's odd. It throws curveballs at you. I'm enjoying these recent ones. Hell, I'm actually enjoying life.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Bernard Hamandcheesetoastie

This is cathartic. It's a chance to remind myself that I want to be a writer. I've done. I've sold eighty pieces - heavily weighted though that number is in the direction of reviews. But I've not done any real writing for a little while. I've tried. I've half started a number of reviews - for Kevin Anderson's The Ashes of Worlds, for Thomas Disch's The Word of God, for Mike Resnick's Stalking the Vampire, for Nigel Suckling's The Book of the Vampire and for Tim Lebbon's The Reach of Children. I guess I can add Brian Keene's Ghost Walk to the list too as I finished reading it last night.

They are all good. I need to get them all reviewed. It's just my mind's been out of sorts. When I finally came to the conclusion I had to leave my last job it was a jolt. It threw me off balance. When I received the job offer (from my now employer) I bucked up a little. I began writing again - polishing off a couple more comic horror tales (which have gone the way of the others and are unsold) and some reviews - one of which has just sold to nossa morte, yahey - an article on Witchhunting -which is still being considered, promising though as the editor has told me he liked it. It's just he's not sure whether he wants to include any non-fiction in his mag. His call. I'll wait, I am a patient man.

It was the move that launched the latest schism in my head. I had been at my last employer for nine and half years. For most of that time I liked it there. I never really wanted to leave but events went in a direction I didn't want so...

There's been a little bit of guilt. Add to that an edginess, a desire to impress that I suppose is natural in the first weeks of a new job. End result my writing muscles are cramped. I half start things, re-read them, delete all and close the file. Repeat this endlessly and you have another wasted night.

So I decided to leave it. Wait, concentrate on the day job - after all it pays the mortgage and buys me nice things (mainly books). And this is the mindset I find myself in, sitting here at my desk, on a reasonably comfortable chair typing, listening to Paul Weller's album 22 Dreams, and relaxing.

I may not have typed a single word of review, of non-fiction, poetry or fiction. But I am happy. I think everything is good. And the CERN project hasn't got us yet.

There's always time.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Happy-slapping Eeyore

It's Tuesday - day two of my wife's new job. Good thing too - money is always helpful. Only problem is it's in Peterborough. Nothing wrong with Peterborough - except if you live in Ashby de la Zouch. It's a good two hours drive there and back so it means she is staying in a B&B nearby and is away between Monday morning and Thursday evening.

It has lead to odd conversations. We have them at times - most often when we are driving and just passing the time. So we have a new medium for them - the nightly telephone calls.

Tonight's conversation lead to one of the bizarrest concepts yet - hence the title. And all because of the need to buy a coffee cup. Her new employer has a coffe machine - nothing unusual so far. It dispenses plastic cups and my wife prefers real mugs and cups. So a quick visit to a supermarket and (apparantly - I wasn't there) the choice was between two - Tigger and Eeyore.

It came down to one thing - the fact that my wife always found Eeyore to be annoying and in need of a (metaphorical) slap - pretty much a wake-up call, "come on get real". And onto happy-slapping Eeyore. It's a bizarre world.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

100 Things to Do Before You Die

I am a sucker for lists - and UK newspaper The Independent has posted a list (with pictures) of 100 Things to Do Before You Die. Here's the link

http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/100-things-to-do-before-you-die-912856.html

And for the record - I've not done any of them - although I have been in Venice whilst the Biennale was on - but we didn't go anywhere near it as we wanted to see the town itself.
And we've not been there during the Carnivale either.

Detached from Reality

I've never been a fan of football (soccer to any Americans reading this). When it comes to sports I like rugby and cricket - and I will admit American Football. But for some reason soccer never got me. When I was a kid I never minded it all that much - although any attraction I had for it melted away as my childhood ended.

But in recent years I've grown in despair more and more about it as a sport. And the reason for this is nothing to do with it as a sport. It's the fact that football seems to have become a glamour sport. From the outside it gives the appearance of being more about hairdos, tattoos and image. Oh, and money.

And today I saw something that appalled me - and before anyone criticises what I am about to type I realise that the following is just a rumour. The BBC website is reporting that Manchester City's new owner will make an offer for their neighbour Manchester United's star player Cristiano Ronaldo said to be in the region of GBP 135 MILLION.

This is obscene in my opinion. Even if it is not true it is the fact that people are talking about this kind of sum as a transfer fee that makes it obscene. Never mind any mention of the number of people in countries around the world who are starving, have inadequate health care, no access to clean, safe water etc etc etc. In the UK there are thousands, if not millions, of people who are struggling in these days of high fuel and food prices, so the talk of paying over one hundred million pounds for a single player devalues the whole sport (for me).

Now I am not saying soccer is alone in this. Cricket is starting to see a massive influx of money. The Indian Permier League offers players hundreds of thousands of pounds for a few short weeks of work. And this autumn sees the Stanford matches in the Carribean with a ten million dollar winner takes all set up. I can see the sense in the argument that top players must be rewarded for what they do. I get it that sportsmen's careers being short and that they need to make a lifetime's worth of money. But top footballer can earn five, six or seven times the average UK yearly salary in a single week. And this is before any consideration of sponsorship deals - or publishing deals.

And it's not just sport that worries me with money. Art is another area. I like art - I have a large collection of books on art. I like the Old Masters, I like Impressionism, the Surrealists, Modern Art etc etc. However every time another painting goes up for auction I grimace. When the headlines hit saying tens of millions have been paid for a Monet, a Turner, a Jackson Pollack, Klimt, Picasso, Rubens etc.

It just seems mad.

Good Food - in Derby

Yesterday we went into Derby to take of the regular stuff - banking, picking up magazines etc. What we found there was a wonderful surprise. All through the middle of Derby was a market - lots of French/Italian/Greek/German food stalls (with some smattering of craft stuff).

Being a family full of avid foodies (or greedy types if you want us to be honest) this was something we simply had to indulge in. And the reason is simple. When it comes to it our European friends do the basics of food so much better than the English. That and there is not quite the culture of fast food over on mainland Europe. I've seen Burger joints in France and Italy but they don't seem to be as much in the mainstream of culture as in the UK.

I'm not saying saying that the English cannot produce great food, quite the opposite. The best of English food can be up there with the best in the world. The problem is that it is not all that good if you are a vegetarian (and I am).

However if you talk Mediterranean food then there is so much stuff available. Every time we head over to Italy we find so much regular food that we can eat. We're not talking of a made up meat-replacement meal - the reason we usually choose an Italian or Chinese restaurant when we go for a meal in England.

All of our favourite tastes and ingredients are European - Olive Oil, Pesto, Balsamic and so on. So stall after stall selling wonderful ingredients, pastries, olives, breads, jams etc was an idea of heaven. We raided every French or Italian stall they had - a given really with our tastes.

But the real joys for us were two stalls from other countries. The first of these was a Greek stall from where we bought a pesto bread and a number of Spanakopita - savoury tarts made with filo pastry. Together with some olives, feta cheese, cheese stuffed sweet peppers (which were simply heavenly) it made the four of us very very happy - wonderful. My mouth is watering just thinking about them.

The second of the best stalls was a Portuguese stall selling cured meats (we bought one for my wife's parents - they are carnivores but we don't hold it against them), wonderful strong cheeses and jams. Now I am not a big fan of jams. I rarely eat them. But when I do I like good jams and the description of these was irresistable. 60% fruit and half the added sugar of a UK jam. That sounded good. Add to that the flavours were different, no blackcurrant or raspberry here. I chose two pots Pumpkin and Gourd.

Well I've tried one of them now - I had some of the Pumpkin jam on toast for breakfast this morning. And wow! These jams are superb. And from the looks and oohing of my in-laws at lunch today when they were trying the Portuguese cured ham I guess there is a new country to add to the list of food-heavens. France, Italy, Greece and Portugal. All I can say is wow.

And all I can say is we are now more determined that ever to buy good food, proper food.And I will be keeping an eye out for similar markets in the future.

We collectively made a decision yesterday. Even given these difficult times when food prices are increasingly almost daily we are not going to economise, not going to scrimp at the expense of quality. Okay it might mean we have to make economies elsewhere but food is one we are determined these economies will never, ever again happen.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

One last though - Black Sheep

Before I head off to read my book I though I'd better just mention a truly wonderful (or awful, not quite sure which) movie. It's a spoof horror film from New Zealand called Black Sheep. It is the first film that has had me, my wife and both of her parents laughing out loud at. A truly rare thing.

It combines a bit of moralising (against genetic engineering in farming and various environmental issues) with a boy-comes-home tale, totally wonderful scenery, a love story and the most ridiculous horror imaginable. Great stuff - well worth a laugh.

Underneath it all

I am an intelligent and educated man. I studied astrophysics at University so I feel this boast is backed up by some evidence. I can speak Italian (reasonably well) and some French. I like theatre (although not musicals), I visit castles, cathedrals and country houses for fun - even venture into the middle of nowhere to see stone circles and other prehistoric sites. I have a fondness for cairns, dolmens and other stone age structures. I read science books, history books, archaeology, mythology, politics, art etc etc etc.

I consider myself a cultured fellow.

So why is it then that I have just watched, and thoroughly enjooyed, bull-riding on the TV. What gets me especially is that, on top of everything mentioned above, I'm English. I've never been to Texas (I know, I am implying this is a purely Texan sport - let me off on this one, I'm on a rant).

So bull-riding, hmmh! I might pretend to being all high-brow and superior (remember ranting, I'm honestly not too bad - I hope not anyway) I guess I am just like many people - low-brow works. Give me a man being trampled by a bull, sports accidents, outtake shows etc and I'm a sucker for them.

In my defence though I don't think I could ever be a regular viewer of any of these shows. I'd get restless, and want to do something else. I get this way in front of TV even if it is one of my favourite shows anyway. I'm not one for vegging all night in front of the box. I like reading too much.

Talking off which I'm going to head off and finish that Kevin Anderson book. It's getting near it's conclusion - after seven thick volumes. I need to know how it's all going to end...

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Wonderful pedantry

I am a pedant. Many of my friends would say it is one of my defining characteristics. I cannot help being pedantic. Most often I see it as an intolerance on my part to growing incorrectness.

It's a debate I have with myself from time to time - mostly when it concerns the English Language. I make mistakes in it, but I try not to do so. I know which is the correct version of its/it's to use. I know their vs. they're vs. there. I can differentiate between two, to and too.

I also have dislikes apart from simple misspellings (and I am not talking typos here - this editor doesn't spell check so some may get passed me).

My main bugbear is "try and". To me that suggests you are going to try AND you are going to do it. Surely it should be "try to". I am going to "try to" write grammatically correct English. Second in my pet-hates list comes "should of". I know it sounds like that but it's quite simply wrong. "Should have", "could have" - it's not difficult.

So tonight when a friend emails me a link to a page on the BBC website with twenty examples of grammar it brought a smile to my face. She obviously knows me well.

Here's the link...

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7595509.stm

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

And talking of music

Back in the 1908s I watched, like many others, the mini-series "V". One of the characters (Robin) was played by a young actress called Blair Tefkin. That was that, so I thought.

Well Tefkin is also a musician. Or rather these days she is mainly a musician -I don't think she has acted in years. And I have a copy of her CD Shocked and Devastated. I love it, reminds me a lot of The Throwing Muses - another of those bands I liked back in the 1908s. S+D sounds a little out of its time when you consider it was released in 2000.

To me elements of it sound like 1960s early psychedelia era stuff, all jangly and upbeat. But more than this it sounds like the US-Indie stuff of the 1980s - hence the Throwing Muses reference.

All the same I think it's great and I wish she would release a second album.

Que Te Quiero

Talk about missing the boat (musically here).

I have always been a passionate fan of music - and not afraid to pick my tastes purely on the grounds that I like things. In fact I will always consider any person's musical taste to be equally valid compared to mine. That is, if they have a defined musical taste and don't just sheepishly follow a trend. I accept some people like the current club-scene dance music stuff. I don't but if they have a passion then that's all to the good. It's not having musical taste that I don't get.

Mine results in a core set of likes (NWOBHM, Prog-Metal, Prog-Rock, Folk, some rock - Springsteen end, etc) but it does mean I have odd bits thrown in to the mix.

Most of this comes from my formative years being at the very end of the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s. As a result I quite like some bits of 1980s pop. I like Ultravox, The Jam, The Style Council, U2, Simple Minds, Suzanne Vega etc. Nothing to gain me odd looks at all. But there are also odd ones that just stuck in my mind and I just like, no apologies given.

Amongst these less "honourable" choices would be T'Pau's China in Your Hand and Nik Kershaw's Wouldn't It Be Good. Now I see no reason why I shouldn't like these songs. They are good and they make me smile. I'm not looking for approval, I'm not treating this page as a confessional. There's no bearing of guilty secrets in the hope my shame will "cure" me of such dodgy musical taste. I like these songs and I intend to continue liking them.

So recently when I was spending my way through the Amazon voucher my, now ex-, colleagues bought me as a leaving present from my last job, I had a few pounds at the end of it and added in a Katrina and the Waves greatest hits. It was only about 3 quid so I figured what the hell. I didn't have a copy of Walking on Sunshine and I felt I might need a new brand of cheer-up.

The CD arrived and I played the desired track. It had the effect I wanted. My foot started to tap. I smiled. So I thought I'd try some more of the collection out. I knew Do You Want Crying - a good 1980s style pop-rock bombast. Good, more than one track I like on the CD. Going Down to Liverpool made it three. So CD worthwhile.

Then I played a song I didn't know called Que Te Quiero - and it has just stuck with me. I think it's great. Good funm great catchy sing-a-long chorus, upbeat - makes me happy. Okay it's your typical love song, but it's a feelgood thing. I need these in my life.

I can't listen to King Crimson and Tom Waits all night after all - I would go mad. But it's the fact that the song was recorded 23 years ago and I completely missed it. I really should've bought the Katrina and the Waves album back then - I would have been able to have many, many repeated listens, each producing a smile, over the years.

Then again I would not have had my recent wonderful revelationary moment. Perhaps it's just as well I didn't buy it in 1985.

Monday, 1 September 2008

One of those books

Every now and again a book clicks. It hits me at just the right moment. Often these are books I wold consider amongst the best ever written (Clifford Simak's City, Asimov's Foundation Trilogy, Ward Moore's Bring the Jubliee, Frnak Herbert's Dune etc etc etc). But as often it's just because the book is the right one for the frame of mind I find myself in.

This is where I am now. Although I would say the book is superb, there is more of the right timing about it than it being in the list of ultimates.

Anyway, enough procrastinating, the book in question is Kevin J. Anderson's The Ashes of Worlds.

This series started six years ago with Hidden Empire and right from the get-go I was completely and utterly hooked. It's odd in one respect. My normal tastes are for single volume short novels or preferably novellas. (And yes I realise Frank Herbert's Dune is not particularly short at 600+ pages and Asimov's Foundation Trilogy is, well, a trilogy.)

But Anderson's series just got me. It is epic in scale beyond anything I have ever read (even including Dune and Foundation). There are at least eight different races all in various states of war with each other (and often themselves) all at the same time. And action takes place all over the galaxy. It's difficult to sum up (which I will prove when I try to review this seventh and final volume).

But it is superb. And I will miss it when there are no more tales in the series left (in about 200 pages).

It's Groundhog Day...Again!

I have a number of favourite films, one I can watch over and over. They usually fit into two categories.

The first type comprise the action films, the science fiction and horror films - the ones everyone would expect from me - Highlander, Terminator, Die Hard, Scream, Starship Troopers, Robocop, Star Treks and so on.

The second type seems to surprise a lot of people when they find out. I like sentimental and feelgood movies - It's a Wonderful Life, Love Actually, The Fabulous Baker Boys and Fried Green Tomatoes being typical examples.

But above all other films there is one I can watch over and over, and you could say it spans both areas. The film is Groundhog Day. It is simply wonderful, and always guaranteed to make me smile.

And yes I am watching it again right now!!!!

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Writing Rethink

About a year and a half back I decided to start writing. I'd been a reader for many, many years and wanted to give it a go. I started in easy, writing reviews for various magazines, then added articles. Went well at first. I sold most of what I submitted.

But I wanted more. I have been a fanatical reader of science fiction and horror. So like most people in that position I wanted to write it. So I have tried. I have written about 20 stories - mostly horror, mostly what I would consider comedic. Seems I'm alone though.

I have submitted these tales to various magazines and websites out there and have the grand total of NO SALES. Bugger!

Well okay maybe I am not being totally honest here. I have sold one drabble (100 word short story). Wasn't connected to these though. I write an article on Jack the Ripper a little while back and had an idea for a twisted little meander. So I scrawled it down, sent it off and, much to my surprise, they took it.

So that was nice - a good warm feeling. And $25 to the good, not bad for 100 words. So I have spent most of the time I have been writing over the last few weeks (months really) writing fiction. And every single submission has received the same kind of response. All negative of course and, when feedback given, all saying something like "While we definitely enjoyed some..." but ending in a 'we are not going to use it' type statement.

I've heard people say the two things writers need are thick skin and determination. And I suppose a hunger. I might not have enough of these. Do I have a thick skin, well not really. I need positive reinforcement. I have a need to be successful. And I will admit to having a tendency to give up on things I do not instantly do well at. (I have catalogued this before, and recently for that.)

So I am going to give the writing thing a bit of a redirect. I am going to concentrate on articles and reviews again. It will not make me famous, but I'm not after fame. But it will give me satisfaction. And I guess that is what I want.

Wish me luck.

If Only Someone Will Buy My House

We went out today - myself, my wife and her parents. We went to Market Harborough in Leicestershire. I've always liked this town - I find it friendly, welcoming and homely. So much so I would like to live in the area.

We popped into a couple of estate agents in town to see what the housing stock nearby is like. We picked up details on a couple and went driving - just to have a look round, find which villages we like.

Well we found a couple. And one in particular. A wonderful, wonderful seventeenth century house with a courtyard garden. And it's within the price range. It would be absolutely ideal. Only problem is we haven't manage to sell our house. And at the moment that doesn't look all that likely...

Such is life. I suppose the good news is that with the housing market the way it is there is a good chance that it will still be available when we are in a position to buy. Fingers crossed.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Goya's Ghosts

Wow! I sat down this evening with the family. Just to relax, wind down after the week at work. We clicked onto the movie channels and found Goya's Ghosts. All I can say is wow! This has to be one of the finest films I have seen in a long, long time - maybe years.

Francisco Goya, the Spanish Inquisition, Napoleon Bonaparte, heartbreak - strong emotions and occasional brutality, but all done well. Superb.

Odd Socks

The human race is an odd animal. We're not that far removed from pack animals. We like to follow. We set things up to allow us to follow - fashion, pop charts etc etc...

Facebook seems to be one of these things. I have a few friends on my Facebook profile, 89 at the time of writing - not bad for a anti-social so-and-so like me. The one thing I keep noticing, and falling for, on Facebook is groups and fan pages.

These notices pop up every time I log onto Facebook telling me the various things my friends have signed up for. And invariably I join one or two or swear my allegiance to someone or something - announcing myself to the world as a "fan".

I believe anything could get fans on Facebook - any actor, writer, singer, object or activity - The Toxic Avenger, Vampires, Backgammon, CDs, DVDs, BluRay, Lawnmowers, Baseball Caps or even Odd Socks...

We are sheep - baaa!!!

Thursday, 28 August 2008

America Watching - From Afar

The American election gets a lot of coverage on the media over here. A lot. Just as well I like politics and current affairs. I guess a lot of people don't. I've heard a number of people here complain about it's level of coverage. The old thing about why do we care about the US election over here in England...

I guess it's the fact that the US is the world's greatest power. Still is, although no idea for how long they will remain on top. So they are important - and this process will determine how the course of the US for the next four years (at least until the next round of elections come around. Nothing major seems to happen during the election rigmarole).

But it's also a great circus. Bright lights, bold colours, bouncy music - everything over the top. In comparison election campaigns over here in the UK are dull.

I enjoy the circus. Odd really. I never liked the real circus.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Bloody Packaging

I've been a bit of an eco-hippy in some ways for years. I've recycled glass and paper as long as I can remember. I drive a small engined car, and don't make too many unnecessary journeys. Etc etc etc.

I could go on - many would. I'm not trying to preach though. I'm just trying to set the scene (so to say). After all I like Italy and fly there every now and again to recharge my batteries.

But packaging irritates the hell out me. Okay I can recycle a good deal of it, but why is there so much of it. I try to avoid much of it - not buying items that are overly packaged, but it is annoying.

I prefer to buy fresh produce - ideally from a market stall. So one of my gripes is easily avoidable - that of individual shrink-wrapped vegetables and fruit. These really are baffling to me. Why plastic wrap fruit and veg? I can just about cope with supermarkets attaching little sticky labels to apples telling me they are apples - okay, I am being flippant, they do say which type of apples they are.

But one of the worst I have seen was a cooking sauce. I'm not saying which one, partly because I am a coward and don't want to risk any comeback, and also because for the life of me I cannot remember. I didn't buy any so I can't go check. But - here goes...

Talk one jar of sauce. Simple glass jar with a lid, sealed. Surely that's enough. However these jars were then partly enclosed in a cut-away cardboard box (one with a hole in the front to allow you to see the jar I guess. Little bit of overkill - well, yes. But that's not all. Two of these boxed-jars were sellophaned together with a buy-one-get-one-free message.

Now I like bargains. I especially like something that is free. But I can count, I possess good reasoning skills. Just putting a sign on the shelf would have let me know of the offer. Then I could rely on my inbuilt ability to count to TWO, or some multiple of two. It's not a difficult task.

These is not unusual though. I have seen so many bits of unnecessary bits of wrapping applied to items on supermarket shelves. Toothpaste and puree tubes (with seals) encased on cardboard boxes. Surely the tube is enough. DVDs and CDs shrink-wrapped in plastic (these things do come with cases and part of the bargain).

This list could be endless. I'm guessing just about everyone who's ever walked into a supermarket in England (or any other western country I'd guess) will have seen hundreds of these. We don't need this stuff.

We can brush our teeth even if we have to buy the toothpaste without a box. We can still make stir-fries and casseroles if the sauce doesn't have three layer wrapped round it. We can still cook peppers that have not had to be freed from a plastic outer skin (okay we might have to wash them a little, but ooh - that's tough).

Okay, rant over. You can come out of the shadows now. No need to hide behind the sofa as though Doctor Who was on and the monsters were scary. I'll let you get back to normality.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Addendum

I've skimmed back through the post I just completed. Made me sound like a right depressive. I'm not. I'm generally a happy person.

It also made me sound like a self-conscious person with little confidence. I'm not. See me at work, at the day job, and I'm anything but. I know what I'm doing there though. I'm in my comfort zone - even this early into my current position. I might not know the system, but I do know how to design software. I can program - and well.

Writing though, that's out there. I never took any subjects beyond sixteen that required essay answers. In Mathematics, Computing and Astrophysics things are right or wrong. No real middle ground...

Well, back to it.

Keeping your spirits up - it's hard

For years and years I skirted on the edge of writing. I read a lot - and I mean a LOT. I read about books, about authors and about writing. I wrote many, many reviews - for various fan sites all over. Then last year I took the plunge - gave it a go and started to submit.

But I still played it safe. The majority of what I wrote were still reviews - although with articles thrown in here and there. For the most part they sold. Not too bad.

However I started to get story ideas. I should have resisted. Since then I have written a dozen or so short stories - mostly horror-lite with comedy (or at least I think they are comedic, I might be biased). And of these I have sold none.

Well to be fair I did sell a 100 word drabble to Necrotic Tissue - so I have sold something and you should have seen the grin on my face for the few days after that.

But of my short stories - nothing. And I have had a number of rejections, none of them too bad in themselves, but they do tend to get to you. Especially when, like today, you receive a rejection for the third day in a row - and to cap it off, today delivered two of them...nice!

The problem with this is twofold. For one thing the confidence levels have decreased. I have confidence issues, always have had - not much I can do to change my basic personality. If I do something I have to be good at it or I tend to give it up. My wife if she ever reads this will agree with that statement. My life is littered with things I would like to have been good at but wasn't.

And they are diverse. Calligraphy - I was crap at that. Can't draw, don't try anymore - to be fair I have no artistic ability at all. I like art but I can't do it. Tried playing guitar, then bass, then drums - guess how well they went. Fortunately I never tried keyboards - mind you that would have just made this list one longer.

I played golf for about six months, then stopped. Mind you this could be partly due to something else. I have tendon troubles in my forearms - and don't think filthy thoughts from this. I am a software designer. I type for a living. I type quickly, but have never managed touch-typing. I make do. I am prone to working long, long hours. I am also over forty - so aging tendons plus overuse is a recipe for disaster.

When I saw the doctor and discussed this with him he suggested I give up anything that could make a bad situation worse, and improve anything that I simply had to continue doing. The mouse changed - to a thumb roller. The keyboard changed - to a split. The guitar went, the golf experiement was ended (I was getting an odd pulling feeling as I finished the swing - and the vibrations from hitting the turf were unpleasant to say the least).

But these are just examples. I've tried lots of things. I know the basics. I know a few words of Japanese, of Greek and German. I got further with French and Italian (posso parlare un po' Italiano), but that's largely because I like visiting the countries a great deal.

I play few games - when I do I tend to play puzzles and mental acuity games. Facebook has me locked in for hours. I play Word Twist - I've been beaten once ever. Pathwords likewise. Scramble I have a perfect record. I loaded up "Who Has The Biggest Brain?" That one is deadly. I wanted to get a higher and higher score - I'm verging on obsessed. I admit it. I like to start off any computing session (and I admit this is nearing "need") with a good score. A high score would be best but they are not common.

Anyway I digress. I often meander, go off on tangents - did I ever mention...no stop!!!

So back to the problem of writing, and receiving rejections for, fiction. The first problem is that writing fiction takes time. I have a day job so spending hours trying to write a short story, then more hours trying to find the market from which to receive the rejection. So that's less time to write the non-fiction, the articles and reviews I seem to be able to sell.

Then there is the fact that the rejections are demoralising. So much that I feel less like writing the other stuff and want to get a fiction sale. I want to be good at this. I've spent over thirty years as an avid reader.

I often quote my first read, the hook that secured me, as Isaac Asimov's Through a Glass Clearly. The story I tell is true. I did find the book when I was 9 years old. It was the cover that attracted my attention, and the contents that made me a science fiction fan. But the deeper truth is I have always been reading. I have always had books in my life. I can remember when I was a kid going to the local library (in Acocks Green in Birmingham should anyone really want to know) with my library cards and borrowing books. The first passion I remember, like many kids I'd guess, was Dr Seuss. I was hooked - the weirdness got me.

Roald Dahl and Asterix were there too - as were comics. Lots and lots of comics.

So my whole life I have read books. My heroes are authors and scientists, your basic intellectuals. My fantasy dinner party would involve no one who hadn't written a book (not a deliberate criterion, just that the choices all do).

I want to be one of them. I want to hold a book in my hand and see my name on the cover. Well rather, not MY name. almost everything I have written has appeared under this I.E. Lester pseudonym. But I would like to hold a book I was resposible for. It's a dream I guess - and a common one.

So I don't want this to go the way of calligraphy (which was a really poor choice as anyone who has seen my handwriting would agree) or guitar-playing or golf or, or, or....

I know writing means you need a thick skin. But it also needs to have a success once in a while. Let's hope my next one isn't too far away...

...wish me luck!

Monday, 25 August 2008

Trying to relax - not successfully though...

I started this day on this blog...

I decided to get back into the typing thing by blogging. I've not been all that much in the write frame of mind of late. Work pressures got to me. I admit it.

I left my old job a week ago. The last few week's were fraught - after nine years it really became a wrench to the system. That and the last week I have been concerned about making a good impression at my new employers - hopefully not too obviously whilst I am actually there though. The evenings and this long weekend being the fraught time.

So I have not been the most relaxed when trying to scrawl. I've been working on a short story - featuring demons and ghosts, zombies and werewolves. After a little over a week it is not half finished, and only about 800 words long. I've tried an article - got a great idea for a piece for Raving Dove, hoping lightning can strike twice - and I've tried reviews. Nothing doing.

So I've watched an episode or two (Torchwood and Pushing Daisies) and popped back and forward to the book I'm reading for a chapter here and there to get away from the screen.

I've listened to some music - Suzanne Vega and Nick Cave mainly although I have popped on some other tracks amongst them. Might try some Tom Waits in a little while - that usually relaxes me.

So I thought I'd type in some book thoughts - I've read a few over the last week or so - so here goes.

Current choice is Mike Resnick's Stalking the Vampire. Not Resnick best by any means - I am much more a fan of his straight sf over this comedic dark fantasy.

Before that I was reading Thomas M. Disch's The Word of God. Now if ever a book was written that is going to offend people then this is it. It's an odd book - bit of a mix of many things, memoirs, commentary, diatribe, retrospective, spiritual how-to guide and many other things. Mostly it's compelling, but I realise that not many people won't agree with me.

Another one read was Askin Ozcan's The Second Venice. Yes I know it's a book about Venice - big shock I bought it. But this is a weird one, bit of a satire, edging on sf although only edging. Basically to cope with the demands of tourism they build a second Venice, next to the real one - but a much more accessible one.

Have lots more on the plate. Need to get back to horror soon, have to get some reviews out there.

More music, more music, more music, Part 3

Okay, moving on.

Choice nine is an album that has been in the 6-CD rack in my car for the past four years - Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run. It's title track aside (stunning though it is) the album is just packed with wonderful, wonderful songs. The opening track Thunder Road is one of my favourite songs - although I do believe I never mentioned it when listing favourite songs - and includes one of the greatest lyrics I've ever heard in "You ain't a beauty, but hey you're alright" - Bruce certainly knows how to woo the women.

Each of the tracks on this album is a classic. They'd be stand out tracks on most other artists albums .Thunder Road, Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, Night, Backstreets, Born to Run, She's the One, Meeting across the River and Jungeland. They are all truly great.

I have to admit I love Springsteen's music (no sorry, most of Springsteen's music - The ghost of Tom Joad went a little too country for me, and the Seeger Sessions stuff I found difficult to connect to) so one of his albums had to be included. Born in the USA was a contender, as for me is his debut Greetings from Asbury Park but born to Run is head and shoulders above these for me. It's his best set - even if it doesn't include Candy's Room.

And onto the last choice - oh God what am I going to leave out. Could I have a top twelve, a top fifteen, twenty-three or maybe eighty-seven? No, I must keep this list down.

So that means no Pink (I simply couldn't find one album, even Dark side of the Moon didn't quite get there), no Genesis (although I love The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Selling England by the Pound), no Tom Waits (one of my favourite solo artists), no Suzanne Vega, no Rolling Stones, no Beatles (might shock a few people I know), no Led Zeppelin (sacrilege I know), no Iron Maiden, no Guns and Roses (Appetite for Destruction being the one album I REALLY, REALLY want to make this a top eleven for), no Van Morrison, no Black Sabbath or Ozzy, no Deep Purple, no ELP, no...I could go on.

The last choice is AC/DC with Back in Black. Until my wife bought me a copy of this album on CD I had worn my way through three or four vinyl copies of this album. From the opening bell chimes through to the last guitar chord I find this an absolute masterpiece. I love Back in Black (the title track), You Shook Me All Night Long, Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution, Shoot To Thrill - heck all of them.

There is such a power on this album, it is simply incredible. Now I think I must go off an listen to it.

More music, more music, more music Part 2

Okay two down (Metallica's Master of Puppets and U2's The Joshua Tree) down - guess that means I need to find another eight albums for my list.

I have to move onto one of my favourite bands - King Crimson. I pondered this one for a while. I like this band immensely but which album above all others. I know I never said I was only going to pick one album per band but somehow it seems right to. Listing ten albums by the same band (say Dream Theater, more on them later) wouldn't really say much about me - except look at the sad Dream Theater fan.

So I thought about their debut album - In the Court of the Crimson King. It's an absolute classic, but is it their best? To be honest it is a bit floaty at times. The opening track - 21st Century Schizoid Man is inspired. I have no idea what effect this would have had in 1969 when the album was originally released. It was good and fresh sounding when I first heard it more than a decade later, but in 1969 that track must have been truly scary.

So onto their other albums. The second and third albums (In the Wake of Poseidon and Lizard) sound very much like a band in transition, one trying to find out what it should be (which it was with it's ever changing line-up). So they're out. I'll come back to their other 1970s albums later.

Their 1980s reformation albums (Discipline, Beat and Three of a Perfect Pair) I found okay - but the production sounds odd to me so, even though Tony Levin was on them, I simply couldn't pick one of them.

The 1990s sextet incarnation produced their most extreme albums - most noticeably Thrakattak and the ProjecKt albums. But picking one of these, enjoyable though I found them (yes I am weird), might be considered a little pretentious. The ConstrucKtion of Light was pleasant enough listening but not exactly full of new ideas - something KC are renowned for.

So it has to be one of their best 1970s albums. And I've chosen the last of their 1970s studio albums - Red. Starless and Bible Black is wonderful but I find Red stunning so there - now we are three.

Well I've waited long enough - I must include a Rush album. Now I am not going to go off on one here. No way am I going to start debating the relative merits of each album, and how the band change over the thiry plus years since their first album. I'm able to, but who'd read it. No, let's get straight to the point - it's Moving Picture hands down. Permanent Waves came close but the decision was never in doubt.

Album 5, band 5. Band is easy. The first band I ever listened to was The Who so there MUST be a Who album on my list. Again like Rush there is no question, no debate. It's Who's Next. This album has the greatest ever rock song (in my opinion) in Won't Get Fooled Again. Add to that Baba O'Riley, My Wife and Behind Blue Eyes. So for those I can even forgive the line "I'm just a hippie gypsy" that Townshend came out with in Going Mobile.

My progressive rock instincts come to the fore for album 6. It's Yes's Fragile, released in 1971. Rick Wakeman joined to band for this album and it's where it all came together for me. Okay Close to the Edge is brilliant, and often considered their best, but an album that contains Roundabout, Long Distance Runaround and Heart of the Sunrise. Together with Starship Trooper and I've Seen All Good People on The Yes Album - incredibly also released in 1971, these songs are what Yes are in a nutshell. Absolutely brilliant.

Album 7 is Dream Theater's Metropolis Part II: Scenes from a Memory. I'd been vaguely aware of Dream Theater prior to this, but never a diehard fan. This album though I found to be the clincher. It's truly great. Metallica crossed with Pink Floyd - not a mix I would have thought could be successful but I was wrong. This is the business.

Away from progressive rock and heavy metal I have to include an album by a band of the generation that seemed intent on ridding the world of all the dinosaurs - the punk era. Not a punk band though, much as they may have been lumped together with them in their early days, The Jam certainly played a simpler version of music than the Pink Floyds, the Emerson, Lake and Palmers and long-caped excess-driven acts of the mid 1970s.

But strangely enough it is when they, themselves became more complex in their arrangements that they reached their best. Their final studio album The Gift is brilliant. It retained much of the aggression and energy of their earlier albums but took the 1960s influenced mod-revival to its greatest height. It comes complete with horn sections, funk rhythms and truly great songs. What more could you want?

Two to go...

More music, more music, more music

A little while ago I listened in to a conversation about the best albums ever made. Annoying thing is I cannot remember where it took place. It could have been on TV, on the radio (but I only listen to Radio 4 so that's not all that likely) , in the pub, on a train or pretty much anywhere. I blame an aging brain for not remembering the exact details of when and where...

However my half-formed memory did leave me pondering the idea. Not original I know. I guess just about eveyone has done this over the years but it has bugged me. I have listened and relistened to a number of albums trying to work out which I considered best. I've been trying to leave aside personal feelings towards certain albums for associative reasons. I like Rush's 2112 (the first of their albums I listened to) and Hold Your Fire (as it was the album that confirmed me in 1987 as a die-hard Rush fan - guess it came along at the right moment) but I wouldn't put either down as their best - even if 2112 is stunning, the power in the performance on the side-long title track is incredible. (Oh God, describing it as side-long dates me a little doesn't it.)

Likewise with Yes and 90125 - it came out when I knew a couple of Yes songs but hadn't bought much. In fact at that time the only Yes album I'd bought was Tormato - not exactly the best introduction to their 1970s output.

I also needed to remove all compilations from my thoughts. The first album I ever bought (with saved up pocket money) was a European compilation - The Best of the Last Ten Years '64 - '74 - The Who. That's the one that really hooked me onto rock music thirty years ago or so. So that had to be pushed . As did a wonderful Beach Boys compilation I bought not long after - and yes I did originally check out the Beach Boys because I'd read Keith Moon (Who drummer) was a big fan.

Next thought was Live Albums - should they count? Most live albums contain no new songs - okay there are some exceptions to this, but general it's just old material in a new form. Should they count? This one was simple - YES! I love live music. I don't get to see all that much of it these days as many of the bands I like simply don't play anymore, or it they do it's not regularly. So they only way to hear them "play" is via live albums or concert DVDs. So they're in.

Okay, rules set - then came the tricky moments. If I limit myself to 10 albums, what should I include? I want the list to sum up me - and I want it to be honest. I don't want to lie and try to make it seem as though I have great music taste. I have my music taste, pure and simple. good or not is merely a matter of personal opinion.

I will admit I do get a bit snobby when it comes to music. But this isn't in the form of my taste is better than yours - I just don't get when people don't have a defined music taste. When I talk to people who say they like music but just listen to what is on the radio at any given moment I cannot fathom it. Surely they MUST have a favourite? If not, it does not compute with me. But it's their lives...

Anyway back to mine and the matter of subjective taste. I'll give you one quick example which will become a little more in context the more I type. I like Billy Joel's Songs From the Attic live album. Don't ask why - I just do. I'm not overly a fan of Billy Joel. I've bought his early albums from where the tracks on this 1981 live album originate and they haven't quite clicked. But live is different. It's not good enough to make my list though.

So, enough preamble - time to make a choice. The first one is easy for me. One of the albums I've loved since I first heard it - Metallica's Master of Puppets. Now I was never an out and out thrash fan back in the 1980s. I'm still not. If we exclude the Metallica albums I own (all of them of course) you might find half a dozen Thrash albums in my entire collection - ten at the most. But this one album I find stunning. The Black Album, Load and Reload all come close, but none for me match this one superb set of songs.

The second choice was also easy. And unfortunately it's an album my wife does not like (not the only one to appear on this list I have to say). Unlike the ones we'll get to this has nothing to do with the music. U2 were one of the most popular bands to hear around University campuses when we were both students. And The Joshua Tree was played to death. I'll admit I may have been one of those who did play it - although not as regularly as some.

For the same reason my wife has a dislike of The Smiths, so if I ever want to listen to anything by them I have to wait until she is out of the house. The only track of theirs she can listen to - and likes a great deal in fact - is How Soon is Now, good news for me as it's one of my favourite tracks...

...Part Two to follow.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Je suis un philistin??? And an Olympic hope.

I admit it. It's true. I am. I must be.

I've just sat down to watch the closing ceremony of the Olympics. The fireworks were nice - pretty even. Then the dancers came in, the drummers and the men riding large wheels. I lost it when that happened.

The commentators started talking symbolism. That's the usual point when I leave the room - and I'm not talking metaphorically - I actually leave. I have to. If I stay beyond that moment my natural sarcastic self has nothing stopping it surfacing and my family would probably kill me (and yes I mean this is figuratively).

It's like ballet and interpretive dance. My brain simply isn't wired that way. Abstract art I can do - and like greatly. Whacked out weirdo music also good. But choreography? Not for me.

Thankfully my family called me down to see the London bit. For eight minutes there was a presentation of what London will be like. And it had Jimmy Page and Leona Lewis playing "Whole Lotta Love".

I am so hopefull this is a sign of what London will be like. The Olympics are going to be in Britain - let's have a party. Let's have fun.

We're not going to match the organisation and spectacle of the Chinese ceremonies (I admit they were good even if I am not a fan of the format) so let's not try.

Britain has such an enormous diversity of music and culture. So rock music can go up against Bollywood, Bangra, Calypso, Reggae, Gospel, Welsh Choirs, Scottish Pipe Bands and on and on...

It could be good....

...Let's hope

Saturday, 23 August 2008

What a week the world has had.

Well, whilst I've been through my own personal change - the world has also been having a weird old time.

Just when we have ten used to one pretty worrying thing, another comes along to rattle us a little further.

Musharraf has resigned in Pakistan. Okay he came to power in a coup and overthrew a democratic government but Pakistan has been pretty stable these last few . Given its location in the world - bordering Afghanistan one side and India on the other - this is one country we all want to remain stable. Two suicide bombings in Wah haven't helped the government's cause there.

The world economy is spiralling downwards, energy prices high, food prices high, credit crunches etc etc - scary times.

Russia and Georgia fighting over South Ossetia and Abkhazia. A plane crash in Madrid. Safari deaths in Africa, insurgents fighting in Somali, bombings in Algiers, etc

The world seems to be going to hell.

However I found some bits of news to make me smile (apart from GB/NI winning 19 Golds at the Beijing Olympics) and I thought I should share.

The Air Guitar World Championships took place in Oulu, Finland - go find a link to it on the web, it's hilarious.
A dog in Argentina saved an abandoned baby by putting him alongside her own puppies
A mayor in Australia, of mining town Mount Isa, called for "beauty-disadvantaged women" to move to his town as his town has a very high male population. Only in Australia...
Classic Children's TV show The Banana Splits is being remade - okay not so much a good news story as they usually make an absolute pig's ear of these things, but it made me smile to remember the inanity of the show
Claims or "proof" of the existance of bigfoot have proven to be a rubber gorilla suit encased in a block of ice...

Proves to me there is a funny side to this otherwise shitty world...

One week down

Sitting here typing late on a Saturday afternoon I have survived week one in my new job.

I have to admit to being very nervous on Monday morning as I drove in to the new office. After all it had been nine years three months and eight days since I last drove to a new job (and yes I realise knowing this kind of thing to the day is kind of sad - but I have always been able to remember this kind of rubbish).

New people to meet, to get to know, to work with. New systems to learn, understand and improve. New industry to get used to. It ain't advertising anymore.

So one week down I have to say it's been good. It's going to be hard work, it's going to be stressful at times I am sure. But I think I'm up to it.

Wish me luck...

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Writing Update

I have writing news. It's been a while - pressures of work have meant I've not been writing much these past few weeks.

But I have had some feedback/updates on earlier writings. A couple more rejections - one review, one drabble. You can't win them all.

On the good side though my copy of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #36 arrived today - containing my review of Paul Collins and Danny Willis's Allira's Gift - book on of a young adult fantasy series that is quite enchanting. And I received notice that a poem I write way, way, way back at the turn of the year has gone live at Fear and Trembling - the link in case you are interested is below

http://fearandtremblingmag.com/item.php?sub_id=3682

Monday, 18 August 2008

New Beginnings - Strangely the Same

Today I started my new day job. Everything is different except my drive to work.

The new company is directly over the road from the old one. At least for a week, next weekend my new company moves into its new offices - so just four more days before I move and things get a little better. I won't look out and see the old office.

It's going to be a hell of a learning curve. After nine years programming the same way, for the same company, the same industry and the same clients, I have a new system to learn - a new mindset to adopt.

Wish me luck - it's going to be fun.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Endings - New Starts - Odd Thoughts

Life is in transition...

I've been working for the same company for nine years. Until yesterday that is.

Nine years doing the same job, seeing the same people every day - and it's over.

I resigned a month ago, and yesterday was my final day. It's still sinking in.

In many ways I regret having left, but I had to. Things had changed.

The company had grown in the last year, new people had joined.

I had reached the point I did not see my future being there - but still I didn't want to leave.

I start afresh on Monday - new company, new job, new industry, new office, new set of people.

I'm apprehensive. I'm excited. I'm edgy. I'm optimistic. I'm determined to succeed.

I feel this will be good.

Stranger Than Fiction

I've never seen a film with Will Ferrell in a starring role before. In fact the only things I've ever seen him in have been two Austin Powers movies and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and trailers to numerous movies I have no interest in ever seeing - Anchorman, Blades of Glory and films like this hold no interest for me.

I don't tend to get along with many American comedy films. American Pie and all similar films usually leave me cold.

But Stranger Than Fiction had a few things that grabbed my attention. For one thing Emma Thompson - I've been a huge fan of hers for years. I consider her a great actress and, importantly for me, intelligent. And this isn't me attributing positive characteristics to someone I like - this woman has won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. That's not something you get unless you can string a few words together.

Secondly Dustin Hoffman - a great, great actor who has starred in some of my favourite movies - and I'm thinking Wag the Dog not Meet the Fockers here.

And finally the plot. I like plots in books and films that mess with the medium. Yeah - I know I'm a horror and science fiction fan but I can have levels can't I? I like postmodernism. Show me a novel when the author steps into the pages and interacts with the characters and you'll probably have a book I like. Add in wild disjunction and I'll go with it - basically break the norm and do it well and I'll be a fan.

This film does it. Having a truly boring lead character is a good start - a man who counts his brushstrokes when cleaning his teeth for heaven's sake, how much duller can you get?

But when he starts hearing a narration of his life told in the third person I was hooked. Then have this narration as an ongoing novel being written by Emma Thompson character - getting better. And to make it even better have them meet and see what happens. Brilliant. With films like this I might start watching more American mainstream fare - well more than just the horror and science fiction stuff.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Facebook - The Bane of Writing

I have to admit an addiction to Facebook. Not so much for the making of friends - although it's very nicely re-introduced me to a couple of old University friends I'd thought long in my past. No the thing I like (and dislike) about it is that it has puzzle games likes Scramble, Word Twist and Pathwords - all of which allow you to play against friends.

And there's nothing I like more than word games.

The result - I've spent another lunchtime playing games on Facebook when I really intended to do some research for a history article. Darn! Good fun though.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Old SF films

I've spent today working. I know a Sunday and I've been working - the day job really does get in the way. Well one more week and that will be a thing of the past (new job aug 18 - but that's another story).

I've been keeping going with cricket (which will surprise no one) and old science fiction movies - makes a change from old horror movies.

Just watching the end scences of Wedlock (with Rutger Hauer and Mimi Rogers) after having watched Trancers & Trancers 2 earlier. It's been a blast. The only problem is trying to find copies of Trancers 3 to 6. I can get the first five in a box set but it feels a little bit wrong to do so as I already have the first two.

Maybe I should just get it and list my copies on eBay - you never know they might sell.

Next time I have some work to do like this I might go for Terminator and Terminator 2. That or dig out my copy of Highlander and Salute of the Jugger.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Cricket and Francesco

Kevin Pietersen made his debut as England Cricket captain in a match which really doesn't matter.

Ah well, it was good to see England on top for once - and Steve Harmison back bowling well - even if the result doesn't really matter with south Africa 2-0 to the good with just this match left.

We've been enjoyed the latest Francesco da Mosto series - a voyage across the Mediterranean following the old Venetian trading routes. I've just watched last 's two episodes - a day late because I'd gone to a now-ex-colleague's leaving do. Wonderful show as always - Francesco is very charismatic and enthusiastic. He brings real feeling to his shows. I just wish he did one every year rather than one every other year.

Mind you perhaps the wait contributes to my enjoyment...

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Catching up with Films

Okay, now I know no one can ever accuse me of being up to date with movies, but I have to admit being particularly behind with regards Spiderman films. I watched the first in the series a while back but had never managed to find time for numbers two and three.

I figured as number four is going to be made I'd better catch up...

So this evening I made time and sat down, with the family, to watch Spiderman 2. My, that was a waste of time. Not exactly a brilliant film. Okay, there are some decent enough moments in the film, but generally it's not all that brilliant.

And yes, I will be watching the third soon.

English Cricket

England lost the third test against South Africa - and with it the series. Not exactly news I know. I spent yesterday watching England work pretty hard at rescuing the match, but in the end South Africa proved themselves the better team.

And today Michael Vaughan has resigned as England captain. Well, all I can say is well done. Well done Michael for all the service put in over the years, for all the good you have done for English cricket and for the dignified way in which you brought your time as captain to a close. Under your leadership England became a force in world cricket again - no longer a whipping boy.

I also have to say "Well done" to Paul Collingwood. Like many, many others I was moaning about his recall to the England team for the Third Test. He'd done nothing whatsoever in months and I thought Ravi Bopara should have been picked ahead of him. But he came to the wicket on Friday, still looking hopeless but battled - and battled harder than just about anyone I have ever seen battle on a cricket pitch. And the resulting 135 was superb. It didn't save the match but it made sure there was a match and not just a slaughter.

Well done both.

Friday, 1 August 2008

nossa morte

The latest issue of nossa morte - complete with three of my reviews went live last night.

Here's the link...

http://www.nossamorte.com/

Sunday, 27 July 2008

The most depressing part of writing

Before you start thinking I am going to mention rejections, stop! I am not. Rejections are par for the course. You come into this game knowing you will get rejections.

The most depressing part for me is finding the markets. I often spend more time trying to find where to submit a piece than I did writing it. And I have to say it is just plain annoying.

I have found many places to submit stories, reviews and articles over the months I've been doing this. And I am grateful to them all for being so accepting, helpful and kind to me (and for the acceptances I've received of course). but I don't want to overload them with submissions - for one thing many of these sites limit the amount you can send for an issue.

So having a newly written review in hand I set out to find a possible market for it. That was two hours ago and I am still looking...

Saturday, 26 July 2008

fotolog

After a period of pretty much ignoring my fotolog page - through pressures of work then job hunting and prioritising my writing over this kind - I have decided to start posting to it again. And hopefully I will get back to some kind of regularity.

to this end, yesterday and today I have added two new photographs - of Rome's Pantheon and a terracotta-tiled roof in Turin (as seen from the Mole)

If you want to go over and see my fotolog - all images are places in Italy, you won't get any cutesy family shots on my blog - you can find it by clicking the link below

http://www.fotolog.com/ielester

Hope there's something there you'll enjoy.

IE

nossa morte update

I've just received an update from nossa . They have decided to run another of my reviews in the August issue - that of Graham Masterton's The 5th Witch.

So all three book reviews they are featuring in this next issue were written by yours truly.

Kinda cool.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

More review sales

I have two new reviews appearing in Issue 4 of nossa morte. The first is a review of Tim Lebbon and Christopher Golden's Mind the Gap, the other of Nate Kenyon's Bloodstone.

Should be available early next month.

you can find them at http://www.nossamorte.com/

Monday, 14 July 2008

Thomas M. Disch

A little over a week ago an author I particularly enjoy reading committed suicide. I tried writing this a few days ago but the words just wouldn't come.

If you asked me to list my favourite authors at any single point over the last few years Thomas M. Disch is unlikely to have ever featured on my list. Isaac Asimov, Edmund Cooper, Mike Resnick, Robert Charles Wilson, Arthur C. Clarke, Michael Moorcock, Orson Scott Card, Paul di Filippo, Robert Heinlein, Stephen King and Zoran Zivkovic would all have been mentioned at one time or another - depending upon my mood. But not Disch.

Thinking of that now I find it odd. I have found his writing consistent. Every book entertained me. He was a great writer and I am saddened that once I have read all that currently exist, then there will be no more. There will be no new books in the future.

But equally I am saddened by the details I read - of his depression, of his mourning his partner, of his fears over eviction.

His life he obviously felt not worth continuing, but to me (and many others) it was a life worth a great deal. I never knew him except through his writing, but I will miss him.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Book stuff - a miracle

The miracle of miracles happened this week. A book exists that I have read and enjoyed, my wife has read and , and both her parents have also read and enjoyed.

And the miracle title is Alan Bennett's The Uncommon Reader - a delightful short novel with Her Majesty The Queen as central character. It is a little irreverent, although in a very gentle way. And an absolute pleasure to read.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

How can you tell when it's summer in England?

The rain's warmer.

Okay, it's an old joke, but this supposed to be July. It's cold, it's raining all the time.

Ah well, it does make it easier to be at the keyboard.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Concerts

I like music - a great deal. I like live music a great deal and over the years I have been to a number of concerts.

More recently though the regularity has diminished somewhat. Most of the bands I like either no longer exist, are dead or just far below their best.

Recently though the chance to see a couple of concerts did come up - although for bands that are more my wife's taste than mine, so...

Last week we went to see Whitesnake / Def Leppard at the Birmingham N.E.C. Arena, and last night was Bon Jovi at Coventry's Ricoh Arena.

(I can't complain, I have dragged her to see Dream Theater and Yes over the years. And although she doesn't mind either band I believe her opinion of them is akin to mine of the bands we have seen in the last week.)

Well they were good, enjoyable even for a non-fan. Whitesnake are not the same band they were once. Literally! Only Coverdale remains from the classic line-ups of the 1980s. But they were pretty good, even superb on "Here I Go Again". Def Leppard though took the performance level up a few notches in every regard...but one.

Their playing is near flawless and the songs have an energy, problem is Joe Elliot's voice is not really up to the earlier songs anymore. Fine on the new stuff, pretty good on the Hysteria songs but "Rock of Ages" suffered a bit. Enjoyable night though.

Last night was different though. The concert got off to a bad start. Getting to the arena was a nightmare. Traffic queues everywhere. By the time we got parked and in the support act had come and gone.

Then the Bon Jovi set didn't exactly get off to a flyer. The sound was appalling for the first handful of songs - muddy, varying widely in volume and I think there were lyrics in there somewhere. But they fixed it and for the majority of the gig it was spot on.

The band's performance was wonderful - and, remember, I am not a fan. They played a couple of new songs (not overdoing the new album as Ruch did on the last tour) and loads of old stuff. Throw in a couple of party favourite cover-versions ("Twist and Shout", "Back in the USSR" and "Shout") and it was a superb performance. Even including the smaltzy bit when he got an eight-year-old kid on stage to do some vocals.

And the best bit of all - Jon Bon Jovi's voice is flawless. He can still hit all the notes and, if anything, the power is greater than it's ever been.

Despite the problems at the start this was a great night.

And to top it off the tour programme had a certain quality to it.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Another sale, another rejection - sounds about even

Oddlands magazine has accepted my review of Rhys Hughes's novella Crystal Cosmos, The Drabblecast rejected a sf short story. Ah well, the story got a tweak and is out there again at another market.

Fingers crossed.

Now back to writing...

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Like a Banana

I can't believe two months have passed since I last visited this blog.

It's unbelievable.

I can only blame it on work pressures. Sorry!

I've been coming home from the office late a lot this year. Hopefully not for too much longer though. And in having less time, and less energy, what I have had I have dedicated to writing pieces for sale.

Well, on that front I've not been doing too bad. I've had a bunch more reviews accepted at Shroud Magazine, and a puzzle and article in each of the first three issues. I am hoping to get enough time tomorrow to finish the article I want to submit for issue 4 - hope the editor likes it.

I've had reviews in Andromeda Spaceways (print) and nossa morte (web), and the biggest fun for me - a flash fiction tale accepted by Necrotic Tissue - should be in their July issue.

I've had a fair few rejections too I'm afraid, but I guess that's part of the game.

Anyway - hopefully the next blog post will not be too far off.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

A Torrid Few Weeks

This last few weeks have been crazy. They've seen me working days often longer than 12 hours and weekends. And by this I mean the day . The result of this is that I have written almost nothing.

To compound my gloom most of the pieces I had sent out in the weeks before the MADNESS started were coming back during this period with rejections, or in one or two cases kind passes (book reviews where the book was not considered what they wanted to cover, although they did say the review itself was fine on both occasions).

Add to this spending great deals of time emptying the house so it looks more appealing to anyone coming to view it - we are hoping to sell it and move a little further north - somewhere up near the Peak District would be nice. time consuming work but also depressing. My books are no longer on shelves, but all boxed up and in a storage unit about 12 miles away. I'd guess only about a tenth of them are still here and most of those will be going too.

And in the middle of all this my wife is being sent to China on a business trip for two weeks - she flew out this morning.

So I will have to admit to feel a little dejected.

Things have changed a little though. For one thing my wife's trip is likely to be her last as in the last couple of days she has been offered (and taken) a new job which involves next to no travelling - wahey!

And then just as I was determining not to try my hand at fiction any more, as all I had had were rejections - and to concentrate on non-fiction - along comes an acceptance. A short short of mine entitled "Interrupted" will appear in the July 2008 edition of Necrotic Tissue (http://www.necrotictissue.com/).

Kind of given me a great big buzz, but also confusion. I need to write about half a dozen book reviews, plus an article or two. And I was settled with the thought of confining my typing to such pieces and seeing how well I could do, but this sale has me thinking. Golly!

Despite all the crazy workloads of the last few weeks I have managed to read a few books (hence the need to write reviews) - a biography of Edgar Allan Poe, Bryson's one of Shakespeare, Charlie Huston's and Michael Laimo's latest books, etc

I've bought a few CDs - REM's Accelerate (not bad but tracks are a bit samey - maybe after another listen or two I might get a better handle on it), Van Morrison's Keep It Simple (more of the same, good if you like it), Rolling Stones new live album (the Martin Scorsese film soundtrack - typical Stones live album, a bitt sloppy but great fun), the Dream Theater collection (can only be good to me, I am a diehard DT fan) and some olf Tom Waits albums - just filling in the gaps.

I've watched the last few Torchwood season two episodes - and thought the ending was superb, seen the first couple of new Doctor Who episodes (wonderful fun as always) and the opening episode of pushing Daisies - now that's something I think I will really like. Also caught one or two episodes of Moonlight - not exactly original but okayish.

I'm just hoping things quiet down in the day job.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Sir Arthur C. Clarke

One of the authors that first attracted me to science fiction died today. Together with Isaac Asimov, Michael Moorcock and Robert Heinlein, Clarke's books grabbed me and filled me with a passion that has never left me.

These men were responsible in a large part for the man I became. I don't think that's an exaggeration. I read sf from the age of nine. It encouraged me towards science and my degree choice. It set me up for the life I've lived - in computing.

And more dear to me than just about anything these men began my love affair with books, something I pray will never end.

Thank you Sir Arthur.

Rest In Peace

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Well that's been a couple of weeks.

I'd established a rhythm with this blog. Writing an entry or two nearly every day - all seemed well. Then the last two weeks happened. Crazy time. Too much work to be done (day job wise) and downtime became recovery time. The little time I had with sufficient energy to write I decided to concentrate on writing things that might make me some money.

So sorry about that - for anyone who is reading this blog. But I am hoping that things may return to normal somewhat, and that I can keep writing these entries.

Anyway, the last two weeks! Well I have done more than just right code. Visual Basic and SQL hasn't been my entire life.

Watched some good TV - Moonlight is a bit of a favourite, Dexter is seriously good and there have been the old favourites - Ashes to Ashes, Torchwood, Stargate , ER and the CSIs. and of course Time Team for my archaeology fix. All have been good, the return of Carson Beckett in Stargate Atlantis being surprisingly good - I was expenting a contrived little story to bring back a fan favourite. What I got was pretty good stuff.

Even managed to watch a couple of movies - Number 23 and The Reaping. Both of which we enjoyed thoroughly, even if Number 23 did a bit of an Angel Heart - telegraphed twist that.

Writing has been going well - or at least I hope it has. I've written a few stories - fiction which surprised me, was never sure I would write fiction - and a review or two. All have been submitted to various magazines and I sit here just waiting to hear back. So no real news to report on that front.

Hopefully more to come.

Now, I am going back to my latest short story attempt...

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Time Team 7

The team were back in the west country, down near Bath investigating the site of Francis Popham's mansion at Hunstrete. Once more it looked like a quick and easy dig, after all they had pictures and inventories of the mansion.

But once again the truth ended up being more than was portrayed, the team uncovering a nice piece of Georgian deception with regards the house...

After more than a decade of watching this show I am still totally hooked.

Reading and watching

End of last week we received free DVDs for a couple of horror movies (reviewing has its perks). These were Furnace and The Ferryman.

Well the first of these has been watched and it was a little disappointing. Good start but it just didn't really deliver. It's also quite out of time in some ways. Since the Scream Trilogy came out with tongue-in-cheek discussions of the "rules" of horror movies, horror has changed format. The old style "it's behind you" style is gone for the most part, as are the "shapes seen in shadows" style scares of old.

This film, however, has them both in spades...

Book wise the last week has been the new Stephen King book Duma Key. King has lost none of his ability to write characters, but this didn't have the edge of his earlier work. The scares are not there, although he still knows how to write great characters.

What the hell's up with the rugby

I've watched three rugby matches in three weeks (of teams I support) - and each one has been terrible.

England in two of them were atrocious, and now Leicester Tigers have played far far below the level they are capable of, and lost to London Irish. Irish didn't play all that well themselves, it's just that Leicester made mistake after mistake after mistake.

Frustrating.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Torchwood and Ashes to Ashes 2

More nights, more TV. I know it's hardly the most inspiring thing to blog about but I don't go out every night so, okay for that matter any night really - I'm not a social animal (I may have mentioned that before).

But please don't think I sit in front of the TV all the time I'm not working. I don't. To be honest outside the shows mentioned in my blog and the occasional watching of an episode of the Book Show on Sky Arts and the odd documentary I don't tend to watch much TV.

But that's digression. The TV shows -

Torchwood is still great. The episode in question was fairly unoriginal in concept, a new team member has appeared out of nowhere, and everyone knows who he is and seems to believe he's been there for a few years. So obviously this new guy's not going to be good news.

This has been done before repeatedly and this could have been a pretty poor episode. But to be honest the plot here was incidental to playing with the backstories of the characters.

Ashes to Ashes episode two was just as good as the first. Packed with recent history and cultural references. This week it seemed there was a definite Dexy's Midnight Runners flavour.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

All Good Things...

I've been a cricket fan as long as I can remember. I have watched so many good players, never mind their team or nationality (although I would prefer more of the better ones to have been English), and always feel a pang when one of the best retires.

Shane Warne has gone, Chris Cairns, Brian Lara, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist all too. And now New Zealander Stephen Fleming has announced he will retire after the upcoming Test series against England.

It's been a pleasure to watch him over the years, a good batsman but, in my opinion, a truly great captain.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Writing - positive reinforcement works

I mentioned on Saturday I receive a print copy of Shroud Magazine - the first time I held something I'd written (excepting print outs). Well it cheered me up.

Then I get two payments in on Sunday, covering three reviews I had written last year. Then I go check out page on Nossa Morte issue two containing my review of Gossamer Hall.

http://www.nossamorte.com/feb08/gossamerhall.html

All of a sudden I want to write - above all else. So in the last couple of days I have written a Jack the Ripper article, which Tim at Shroud was very eager to read (and so it is sent to him) and a new review (which is off with Nossa Morte).

Tomorrow I hope to finish off the review of the Ray Bradbury Dandelion Wine anniversary edition and one or two other reviews.

Let's hope this continues.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Eklavya

Last August I travelled to the United States (to Minnesota) on business. On the flight there I noticed a Hindi film named Eklavya amongst the options and chose to watch it. It was superb - wonderfully filmed, well acted and a great story.

I watched it again on the flight back to England. Recently I noticed it was available on DVD from Amazon and placed my order.

It arrived today and I have spent the previous two hours watching it again with my family. It is still wonderful, and my wife and her parents also loved it. My wife intends to watch it again in the near future.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Writing Update - a physiciality

For the first time since I decided last February to write seriously I have held a print copy of my work. The first issue of Shroud Magazine arrived yesterday, complete with an article on the Bodysnatchers, five book reviews and a crossword - all created by me.

I've not been able to stop gloating about it since.

http://www.shroudmagazine.com/

Time Team 6

The latest dig sees the team investigating World War 2 defenses in south London, trying to track down all the emplacements set up to try to hamper any invasion of England that may have happened between 1940 and 1944.

Now World War 2 programmes are not amongst my favourites. I like my history to be considerably older, and I enjoy seeing the objects that were handmade that are uncovered on bronze age digs in particular.

But WW2 does have one tremendous advantage for Time Team. It is about the only type of dig they do where they actually have eye witnesses, and this week there were a number of elderly gentlemen featured who remembered exactly where all these defenses were located.

Good show

Rugby - what's up?

I'm English. I am a rugby fan. So I watched England play their latest six nations match against Italy in Rome. All I can say is what the hell is wrong with England. For the second time in two weeks I have watched England play okay in the first half, establishing a lead in the game by the half-time break, only to come out in the second half and completely forget how to play.

Last week Wales beat them, this week they barely held on against Italy. They didn't deserve to. If Italy had just managed to win a couple of line-outs at crucial times then the result would be reversed, and Italy would have won a victory no one could have denied them.

At last the Leicester Tigers won, beating Premiership leaders Gloucester away.

Death Proof

Now this is a film that was pretty much guaranteed from the outside to send my mother-in-law running for the hills (figuratively speaking). On that level it succeeded, barely ten minutes into the film she'd decided an early night and reading her book was a far better option.

This may sound like we were all being cruel to her, but I should explain. The four of us (me, my wife and her parents) like movies. But our tastes do not completely overlap. There are movies we all like, and there are movies only some of us like. The three of them frequently watch movies or TV shows whilst I am up here hitting the keys on this computer. We put on a science fiction movie and, chances are, my father-in-law will soon be asleep.

Anyway, Death Proof - the latest Quentin Tarantino film on my viewing list. Different to say the least, and quite wonderful - and also splendidly violent.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Too many places...

Why is it whenever you think you are settled on this year's holiday choices, so many other possiblities jump up and scream "Me, me, me, me!!!!"

There are simply so many places I want to visit, and life is just too damn short. And just why couldn't I have gotten myself a job as a travel writer...

So I'm looking at all these old magazines about France and Italy (part of boxing them all up in preparation for having people come look at the house) and seeing pictures of wonderful places.

Lecce, Bologna, Ancona, Assissi, Belluno, Genova, Pisa, Florence, Siena, Modena etc etc for Italy. Paris (yes I know, I've never been), Carcassonne, Nice, Avignon, Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Lyon, Aix-en-Provence, Orleans and so many more for France.

And I haven't ventured outside my two normal country choices. I want to visit Germany, specifically for Cologne Cathedral and Berlin. Tallin (Estonia) looks beautiful, as does Riga (Latvia), Prague (Czech Republic), Dubrovnik (Croatia), St. Petersburg (Russia), Bruges (Belgium), Copenhagen (Denmark), Budapest (Hungary)....

Oh choices, choices.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Ashes to Ashes

I was a passing fan of "Life on Mars", the coma / time-travel cop show on the BBC a couple of years back. I'd never describe it as one of my ultimate favourites, but it was well put together and entertaining.

I'm now watching the first episode of the follow up series "Ashes to Ashes" and I have the feeling that I may well like this show a little more. The reason for this is quite simple...

I am forty years old. In 1981 I was thirteen, and rather than the mid 1970s of the first series I remember this time. In the first few minutes we've had David Bowie references (an obvious given the title), Ultravox, Adam Ant and the like. Plus phone cards and walkmen as new technologies.

This is the time I remember. And this is a series I simply have to watch.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Last year when Pavarotti died I remarked, at the time off the cuff, that each time a person of iconic status dies the world is diminished. Pavarotti most certainly was an icon, the greatest voice of a generation (maybe longer).

But in his own way Indian Guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was also iconic. His name is forever associated with the Summer of Love, with the Beatles investigation of mysticism and with Transcendental Meditation.

He died last night, believed to be 91 years old.

One less icon.

New UK genre magazine

On Saturday I received a copy if the first issue of the new UK genre mag Polluto. It describes itself as a bit of a counter-culture rag - with issue one subtitled "Post-Natal Depression and the Mysterons". It's an odd read from what I've skimmed so far, but seems as though there will be good stuff in these pages.

Issue one was original intended to feature Michael Moorcock and Justina Robson but unfortunately for the mag circumstances (poor health and novel deadlines) caused these two to not make it. They are apparantly hoping to be in future volumes.

But there is still much good stuff in here. Authors featured include Jeff Vandermeer and Rhys Hughes, plus there's artwork, non-fiction columns on culture and poetry.

If you want to check it out - here's the link

http://www.polluto.com/

Monday, 4 February 2008

New Arrival, Book-wise

New review title arrived in today's mail, one I know my wife has been looking forward to for some time. The book is the second novel by Steve Westcott, an Isle of Man based comic fantasy author.

We will get the chance to meet him in a little over a week as he's doing a book signing in Ashbourne, Derbyshire. It's only about half an hour's drive from the house so...