Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Networking Sites and a Lack of Children

One thing that occurs to me about sites like this and MySpace, fotolog, Facebook etc etc. They are meant to outgoing people. People who have lots and lots of friends, and like making connections.

I'm not one of them.

It took me a long time to start one of these sites - and yes okay I may have started one or two of them.

fotolog (a near-daily image from one Italy trip or another)
http://www.fotolog.com/ielester

MySpace (really just a copy of this blog)
http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendID=315285380

But if I look honestly at my pages on these site one thing is painfully obvious. I am not a social animal. My MySpace page has just one friend - and that is the MySpace page for a US horror magazine to which I have sold articles and reviews. There is a wonderful option on MySpace that makes me smile everytime. It says (and I'm editing it slightly to make it more accurate to my page) - "View all of my friend".

Many people might find this kind of position sad and enter despair. I'm not one of them. I do not have many friends. Okay if I am honest about it - one. Don't feel sorry for me - I have a wonderful wife and we are all the company we really need, and after fifteen years we are still blissfully happy together (stop gagging, I won't go on any more).

Most of the people I knew from days gone by (school, university) moved away, settled down and had kids.

You keep in touch for a while and still count them as friends until that last one enters the fray - kids. We have none. Neither myself nor my wife have ever wanted children. I don't like them. I've lost count of the times I've seen new parents' faces drop when I utter my response to either "Do you want to hold him/her/it?" or "Do you want to see pictures of my baby?" (I answer "Not overly" when asked by the way).

When you don't have children all your friends who do drift away - you lose anything to talk about. Most parents (rightly so) are child-obsessed. But it does mean those of us who are not parents are pushed to the outside. You encounter all kinds of things that exclude you. Even the word family seems to have a formal definition that requires a child.

None of this is a complaint. Just so you know I am not the type to moan about this. I made my decision about children and I think I made the right choice.

So these networking sites seem to be a kind of anathema to my life, but still I use them. Well I am going to admit one thing. If it wasn't for this crazy dream to be published I wouldn't.

But the blog side of it caught me. The ability to just pour words out into a blog site has grabbed me. I never would have thought I would have mentioned my father and his recent death but I did, and I received one or two friendly comments having done so.

Even the mundane - comments about TV shows and music - I find cathartic to blog. Get my thoughts together in some semi-coherent form published on the web. Even if no one ever reads them, the experience of writing them is a good one.

So, can a relatively friendless man get satisfaction from networking sites. Yes.

Oh and I do have many acquaintances, both through work contacts or internet - I have been a science fiction fan for three decades and reviewing titles for a decade or so, posting many to the net (under my real name which is deliberately hidden from this new "professional" writing persona) so I have managed to make e-contacts and enjoy these email conversations but I have met relatively few of these folk. I prefer my peace and quiet, contact at my pace, when and where I am ready.

Torchwood 2.3

A World War I soldier recuperating in St Teilo's is the key to saving the world. 1918 and 2008 are intersecting, flooding into each others time and threatening to destroy the world - yadda yadda yadda. Heard it all before?



Well in all honesty you have - there is even a Torchwood season one episode that is very similar in plot. But it is well done and that rescues it. There is some genuine tension in some of the "ghost" scenes, and the human, emotional element is handled reasonably well without feeling too cloying.



Three episodes of the season down and the best so far, but then I like time paradox stories.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Funeral Thoughts

It's been a week since my father's funeral and I am about ready to write this entry. I'm not saying I've spent the time since in tearful mourning, I'm not that type of person - neither would my father want me to do so.

But I've been reflecting on it. Thinking what it means to me - that and we've been trying to sort out all the policies and accounts that exist.

The funeral was quiet, my father did not want a eulogy or sermon. So we sat listening to music and reflecting in our own way. The choices for anyone who is interested were The Eagles' "Hotel California", music from "Once Upon a Time in America" and Dire Straits "Walk of Life", that last of which always makes me smile thinking of when my father would sing along getting the "woo-hoos" in the wrong place.

The crematorium (oh, yeah - I forgot to mention he did not want to be buried) was hardly full. We do not have a large family. My mother was there, as were my wife and her parents, and a few people from the nursing home where he'd been living for the last few months - and a representative of Waitrose supermarkets. My mother had worked for them before her retirement and they have a wonderful policy of looking after their own.

We asked for his ashes to be scattered in the garden of the crematorium but for it to be done with no ceremony. My mother did not want to attend this and take the emotional hit again so it would be done - sorry, should say was by now - a few days later.

It was a peaceful end. But now we must get one with life.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Today's writing update

Not good I am afraid...

I submitted a drabble to Necrotic Tissue last week and they rejected it today. Not too bad a reason, they said it was not dark enough for them. Now I'll have to find somewhere else to try it...

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Time Team 4

Sunday brings its regular dose of archaeology to our screens. This episode saw the team searching for the remains of a medieval nunnery in Northamptonshire.

The first thing I have to say about the episode is that I am jealous, jealous of the house that the people whose garden the team were digging up live in. All I can say is wow, that is a nice house. I would dearly love to own something like that, a great big Victorian country house.

Anyway to get back to the digging part. This episode was an easy one in many ways for the team - clear geophysics (okay relatively clear), masses of documentary evidence and great big walls popping up in the trenches following a standard plan for such religious centres. Add plenty of solid dating evidence, all relative to the time detailed in the documentation and it all added up neatly.

Okay it can be fun to occasionally see the archaeologists argue amongst themselves about what they find, but equally when they agree and are proved right you get more information delivered to the viewer about the dig itself.

Good stuff....

Saturday, 26 January 2008

New Car and Zodiac

We made a decision this week. Last year we went on holiday to Brittany in France with my wife's parents. We drove down from our home in Leicestershire, caught a ferry over to France and drove down. All this in our Vauxhall Vectra car.

Now it is a nice car, reasonable economical and comfortable to a point. That point we found out was well within the eight hours of driving from the ferry to where we were staying in France. And as we are not getting any younger (my wife and I are both forty, both her parents are sixty-five) we decided comfort was required and so headed off to buy a new car, or at least a new-ish car.

We walked in to the dealership checked out all the used MPVs they had and pretty much elimitated all of them. They were all good cars but each had something not quite right. In most of these it's due to the seven seater arrangement. In the back of these cars there are three independent seats, each of which are bucket seats that are slightly narrower than the ones in the front - and hence not all that comfortable. We tried removing the middle seat and giving it a go but they still weren't right.

The only one we liked was the Kia Sedona of 2005 as it was a six seater - three sets of two seats, all of good width. Problem was we didn't want a car that old and the following year Kia also moved to the seven seat option increasing the second rank of seats to three, making each one narrower. So the 2007 version was just as unsuitable.

Then we looked over at the Kia Carens. We had discounted it as it is in the same size range as the Citroen Xsara Picasso we also have which is likewise not quite big enough. The Carens though is wonderful, more than enough headroom and legroom and comfortable all round.

The reason for this is that although it too is a seven seat arrangement, the second rank is not bucket seats, but a more normal bench seat and so confortable in the rear also. And we chose a new car rather than a used car, as it was down a level in price. Next friday and we can pick the Carens up from the dealer - we cannot wait.

So we celebrated and headed straight from there to an Italian-American restaurant called Frankie and Benny's - the same place we headed when we bought the Vectra two and half years ago. I fear we may have set up a new tradition. Let's hope it won't take buying a new car to go there again, the food's great.

And to round of the day we decided on a movie - and picked Zodiac. Great film it was. This day is getting better and better.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Torchwood 2.2

The second episode of the second series of Torchwood has just aired. Wow! Brilliant...

This was one of the best yet. Alien sleeper agents implanted on Earth to live normal lives, to gain information ahead of an invasion, with no knowledge of what they are. They believe they are human, living perfectly normal lives - having families etc. Until that is, they are awakened...

This series has improved immensely. I liked the first series but there is a growing maturity here. Roll on next week...

Monday, 21 January 2008

Writing Update - positive too!

I have received two acceptances today - both for poetry. One to Fear and Trembling and the other to The Written Word (and it's my second poetry sale to this site).

http://www.fearandtremblingmag.com/

http://www.writtenwordmag.com/

Messiah

A few years ago I was persuaded to watch a mini-series cop show called Messiah. It didn't take all that much persuasion as it sounded rather dark in tone and a friend's sister was one of the actors. Thankfully it was brilliant and we've have watched each one since.

The fifth one aired last night with Marc Warren taking over as the lead investigator.

Well I still enjoyed it immensely although I will admit it felt a little like retreading old ground - elements of it reminded me of the very first (Ken Stott starring) Messiah back in 2001.

The second episode airs tonight, although I will have to wait an extra day or two before seeing it as I have to drive up to Lincolnshire this evening...

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Time Team 3

The third episode of the 2008 series of Time Team aired this evening and it was simply wonderful. After the somewhat frustrating special on Monday about a site dug for years by a pair of metal detectorists, getting back to normal was just what I wanted.

The team headed to Barra in the Western Isles of the Scottish coast where recent storms had uncovered a series of bronze and iron age burials - and where the weather was threaten to destroy the archaeology now it was uncovered.

The team found roundhouses, many burials, pottery and the like. Okay it didn't have all the flash of some digs they do - there were certainly no gold coins being unearthed. But that's fine by me - the dig was fascinating.

I just hope they keep doing this year after year after year - I am a total addict.

The France Show

We are all complete Francophiles. Anything to do with France and we are interested. So when we heard that the France show was on in London this weekend we simply had to be there.

Well then the question became was it any good? And the answer is it was okay - nothing more than that unfortunately. The reason for this was its focus. Fully half of the show was property sales and the associated industries - solicitors, mortgages, removals etc etc.

This is all well and good if you want to move to France in the near future. We do, but not now. Unfortunately we both have to work so we can afford to pay the mortgage. If we moved to France now we would need to find work and I simply am not fluent enough to be able to work in a French office, and my hearing difficulties do hamper my attempts to improve. So this half just served to remind us that our dream of exchanging England for France are still a long way away.

The other half though did offer us a little of what we went there for. We encountered a few stalls promoting the tourist side of France (and picked up various leaflets and brochures), wine and FOOD. French food is just so far ahead of the majority of the English fodder. We eat to live, simply as that. The French consider food an art form, they have artisan butchers and bakers and this skill shines in all they produce.

I just wish there had been more than the handful of foodie stalls there. We came away with so little. What was there was wonderful, I just wanted more - much, much more!

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Rain, rain and more rain - househunting time

The perfect time to go househunting in England is in the rain and after a long period of continuous wet weather. England is prone to flooding and each year it is only going to get worse. Today we drove all around the Dove Valley (the Dove is a river for those who do not know the Midlands of England) and large areas were underwater. This is not a problem as such as large amounts of land are left as floodplain, but it is the houses at the edges of this flooded land that we want to avoid.

So if you see a house that is high and dry at the end of two weeks such as the ones we've just had then you can have some confidence that it will not be flooded - at least not in the near future.

Most of the properties we looked at today were instantly excluded for one reason or another -too close to major trunk roads, airports, or schools, or too small etc. But we did find one. So the kind of house is out there...

Friday, 18 January 2008

Live Music

Well one of my wife's favourite bands (Def Leppard) is touring and we've bought tickets. They are not one of my top picks but their music is likeable enough - and I did like Pyromania. The bonus with the concert is the support - Whitesnake.

Now all I can say is for all that's holy I want both Bill Bruford and Blue Oyster Cult to play concerts somewhere in the Midlands of England. I want to see them live again.

Bobby Fischer

The maverick (former) American chess genius Bobby Fischer died today. Despite being a chess player - hardly the greatest spectator sport - Bobby Fischer became part of popular culture, even appearing in pop song lyrics.

I guess this was partly because of his timing. He beat a Russian and became Chess Champion at a time when the Cold War was the be all and end all of politics. So to have an American break the stranglehold of the Russians over this title. But he was also controversial - breaking a US embargo on Yugoslavia in the 90s and subsequently renouncing his American citizenship.

He was a character though and, unlike many of the "celebrities" sectors of the media seem obsessed by, he had a talent underlying his fame. The world needs stand-out characters, and I feel we lose something everytime one of these larger-than-life characters dies. Freddie Mercury left a void - as did Keith Moon, Jimi Hendrix, Luciano Pavarotti, Evel Knievel etc etc...

We don't always like them, but we have to admit they make the world a little more interesting.

An odd liking for a cookery program

I am not a fan of cookery shows. As a rule they just do not do it for me - could be in part because I do not like cooking. But there are three I rather like. The first two have something in common, and that is they include travel. These are Rick Stein shows and the Hairy Bikers.

But the third one is different, and it fits into a category I usually dislike immensely - game shows (or rather competition shows). It's called Masterchef Goes Large, and is a daily show lasting a few weeks, where people effectively have a "cook-off

Part of my watching it could be the fact that my family like the show, and it's a good chance to spend time with them - a number of the shows they watch are really not my taste, crime shows and the like.

Anyway, I have taken a liking to it and am not ashamed of it. It's a fun show.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Highlander 5 and Torchwood season 2

Decided to watch a film and some telly to get my mind off things.

First mistake was choosing Highlander 5: The Source. I am a fan of Highlander as a concept - I think it is brilliant. I've watched the first film over and over, and even like the wandering accents and occasional visible support wire. Sean Connery as an Egyptian is crazy but I love it. I enjoyed the second film despite it being pretty poor - liking the pirate copy of a different edit even more. I watched the third (more than once too), the whole of the TV series, the fourth film (TV series spin-off number 1) and have even read some of the books that came out to link in to the TV series.

So, despite the fact I had heard that the fifth film (second spinoff from the TV show) was awful, I wanted to watch it. I wish I hadn't. It's not very good - and by this I mean pretty bad really. To give you an idea I didn't manage to finish the film, I gave up after about 40 minutes, the last 30 of which were mainly spent throwing insults at the screen.

It took Highlander which, in the main is fairly upbeat and optimistic, and turned it into a dark future, one in which MacLeod has become a drunk and the Watcher's Coucil has disbanded. I wanted more of the same I am afraid, not a skewed version of it. Never mind.

TV, however, came to my rescue. Torchwood season 2 has started and it's just as fractuous as ever. This is not a team that will ever bond well, or for that matter even appear totally competent at what they do. And James Marsters turned up as another Time Agent - one even more twisted that Jack was when he first arrived on Doctor Who. And as you see in their first meeting, just as bisexual. In fact snogging is common in this show.

As for the plot, well it's the typical Torchwood fair with the typical surreal throwaway one-liners that I enjoyed so much in the first series.

It's also good to see that Jack's absence from the team is not just blown over. There are recriminations aplenty. Great stuff!!!

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Death - the Aftermath

A death brings a great deal of things to do. The funeral director handed a pack of information to my mother outlining all the people we would need to contact and inform. It was a very useful list and had one or two we hadn't considered, and one or two that were not on the UK Government's website advice pages. Informing the local library was one.

We spent yesterday calling round the various organisations - banks, insurance agents, government pensions offices etc - fetching his property from the care home where he'd lived for the last six months, returing unused medicines to the doctor's surgery for safe disposal etc etc etc. And most of all keeping my mother from seeing what was going on as much as we could, and preventing her from seeing anything that could upset her further.

Once the funeral is over (next Tuesday) then we are hoping that she will be able to get on and make a single life for herself and have some fun. We're hoping she will take our advise and book herself on a holiday or two. There is a UK company called Saga who provide services for the aging. Skimming through their brochure there are one or two rather pleasant sounding tours they do - the Romanian one I would love to do myself, it's a country I really want to visit.

My mother is tough, she's not one to sit around feeling sorry for herself or moan about her fate all that much so I have hope.

Monday, 14 January 2008

My father's death

A little over an hour ago my mother called me to let me know my father had died this morning. I have made all my arrangements and I am going up to where they lived tomorrow. Kind of leaves this afternoon as the most bizarre void. What do you do? I guess just get on with it.

I've been expecting his death for some time. His health had been failing for years and he was 76 years old - he'd lived longer than any of us had ever expected.

Also I cannot claim to have been all that close to him. My family is not one of those tightly interwoven families, it's not something we've ever done. Family get togethers just do not feature.

But he was my father. It leaves a hole...

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Writing Update (negative)

Had another rejection today - from Third Wednesay. I had tried them with a poem on the 8th January and a five day turnaround.

Can't fault them for the speed of response. Wouldn't have minded an acceptance though.

Time Team 2

The second episode of the 2008 series of Time Team has just aired. This week's excavation was on a Roman Fort site at Binchester in County Durham in northern England.

This one didn't quite goes as the archaeologists expected. They had gone there to investgation the vicus on either side of this fort, instead they found a series of mausolea and evidence of an earlier, previously unknown larger fort underneath the known site.

Splendid splendid stuff!

The British Cheese Awards

Cable/Satellite TV has brought a whole mass of special-interest channels. One I hadn't noticed before today was Horse and Country. Now despite the fact I live in the countryside I am not a native. Until four years ago I had always lived in cities. But as my wife was a country girl who missed village life we sold up in the city and moved out.

BTW - for info, I haven't regretted one minute of it - village life is much more peaceful and I am happy here. But I I haven't developed a country feel - I admit to still being an incomer. So Horse and Country is not a natural channel for me. However when I wandered into the room and found that my family had tuned into the channel and the British Cheese Awards I was astonished and very much pleased.

The idea of it gripped me oddly and I was absorbed. I know there are cheese awards, I buy cheese at farmers' markets and some of the sellers have rosettes etc. I never thought there would be a large televised dinner presentation ceremony along the lines of the Oscars.

Not something I am likely to repeat watching but...

My new kingdom

I've decided it would be best if I established my own kingdom. That way I can control what happens and what is allowed.

For a start I want to ban a few things - the word "ramekin" for one. Why on earth can't we just call them small bowls...

Secondly talking about colours - beige. Why?

Same thing with lilac, mauve and any of the invented graduation colours. What's wrong with using words like light and dark to differentiate anyway?

Beloved Tigers!

Things are not going well for the team I support - Leicester Tigers (rugby union for the uninitiated). Yesterday they lost to Edinburgh 17-12 and are now out of the Heineken (European) Cup this year. Last year they won the Guinness (English) Premiership Title, the Anglo-Welsh Cup and were the losing finalists in the Heineken Cup.

This year they are losing games far too often for my liking. Okay maybe I have had it too easy over the last few years but this doesn't feel like the Tigers of old.

Mind you it is a bit of a team in transition, the new manager has only recently arrived and so I should give him time. They are still third in the Guinness Premiership and if they stay there will make the final stages...

I am still going to support them - I'm not that fickle.

Paradise Lost (nothing to do with John Milton)

This is one of those instances when watching a film you yourself whether you were watching the same movie as those people quoted on the front of the DVD box. Paradise Lost is described on the cover as the best horror film of 2007 and many of the reviewers on Amazon seem to agree. I do not.

For a start it didn't even count as a horror film for me. Yes I will admit it has some gory moments but it's plot is more of a thriller than a horror. I know that horror films do not have to have supernatural elements, one of the best horror films I have seen of late is Saw - it has no out of the ordinary elements whatsoever but what it does is play on some fairly widespread fears - claustrophobia for one.

Paradise Lost sees a group of thrill-seeking tourist types in the middle of nowhere in Brazil discover a bar, have lots of drinks and party only to wake up having been robbed. Then it decends almost into a morality play (albeit in scary mode) about organ harvesting on poor countries.

Now as a film in itself it is okayish. There is the usual problem for me of not liking any of the group particularly - especially the two Englishmen, they are just plain annoying. So when they are in danger I do not really care who lives or dies.

But I do not find it to be horror at all. There is violence, but there is violence in many straight thrillers. The plot is too centred in reality for me - too reasonable, too rational. We are not dealing with a madman who is convinced he is enacting vengeance (as in Saw) or wanting to eat people (Hannibal Lector) or who enjoys torturing for the sake of it (Hostel) or a unkillable serial killer type (Halloween).

As I mentioned it was okay. I just don't get other people's opinions on this one.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

The First Stages of House Hunting

We're hoping to move house this year. So we decided to have a day driving around and looking at some possible locations, not to actually pick a house - after all ours is not on the market just yet so we don't want to get too attached to any particular house.


So we drove around villages all around Burton-on-Trent - it's a middle ground location between where we work so...


Repton and Rolleston-on-Dove are wonderful towns although a little too far away from where I work - shame as the second of these had a house we could have lived in.

Guess it's back to the drawing board a little - work out feasible areas and start hunting again.

Friday, 11 January 2008

The Worst Parts of Writing

Writing is a wonderful thing. Once you start you want to do it over and over. The best feeling I get is when a phrase pops into my head fully formed - it's a buzz.

However there are two parts to this that can get me down. Firstly finding where to submit the writing is laborious - it often takes longer than the writing itself. Secondly it's waiting. When you have written your piece of fiction, article or poem, found it a possible publishing home and sent it off, that's it. All you can do is wait. And it's agonising...

New Walls and Giant Otters

Two totally unrelated concepts that sum up my evening.

The first relates to the work we've been having done to the house. Just before Christmas we (and by using we I am not actually including myself - I have no aptitude for anything practical) started to remodel the en-suite bathroom. Problem was that the previous owners of our house had lived with a leak in the shower for a while and when the tiles were removed it was obvious that the wall needed to come out and be replaced.

So two days ago Jim arrived - and after a lot of work he's taken down the rotten wall and we know have a replacement.

That done and dinner eaten we sat down in the lounge and we switched on the TV. Good timing, there was a nature program on called Natural World: Raising Sancho. I rarely watch nature programs, they just do not tend to appeal. But this one was quite wonderful. The Sancho of the title was a Giant River Otter in South America, orphaned as a newborn and raised by a scientist. Watching him grow was absolute fascinating - and I have to admit he was really really cute...

PS Publishing

There are a number of small press publishers of science fiction, fantasy and horror in the UK. Many of them are very good - I'm thinking of Elastic Press and Pendragon Press as I write this.

But there is one for me that stands out far above all others when it comes to quality of releases and writing -PS Publishing. It's run by Pete Crowther up in Yorkshire (himself a very good genre author) and has published books by some of the greats of sf/f/h. On my shelves I have the vast majority of their books - I am only missing two - and the authors include Stephen Baxter, Eric Brown, Ramsey Campbell, Zoran Zivkovic, Lucius Shepard, Steven Erikson, Stephen King, Robert Charles Wilson and Brian Stableford.

And more recently reprinting classic authors - Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury and Michael Coney. It is the last of these that is my current reading fodder - a reprint of his Hello Summer, Goodbye. I've read some of this author's work before but had never opened this particular book.

I should have read this earlier - it's a wonderfully vivid novel. It's a very English book, the colony world where the action happens is only a slight exaggeration of the southern coast of England, and the characters all have a feeling of the World War 2 British class-dominated, stiff-upper-lip folk you see in early newsreels.

Splendid. Buy it - support the small press.

http://store.pspublishing.co.uk/

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Neal Morse

A few years I cam across a new generation progressive rock band called Spock's Beard and took and instant liking to them. Independently and oddly at exactly the same moment (literally the same day) I came across Transatlantic - one of the many side project bands that seem to spring up in prog circles. (Transatlantic BTW I bought because the Dream Theater drummer was also the Transatlantic drummer.)

The guiding light of both these bands was an American multi-instrumenalist called Neal Morse. I was instantly hooked and then instantly disappointed to discover he had left both . Spock's Beard decided to continue without him although diminished a great deal in my opinion although I've liked a couple of the tracks from the three albums they've released without him. Transatlantic being a side project just folded - with only two albums and a couple of live albums ever produced.

Neal is a Christian, and by that I mean mega-Christian. He felt, as is his right, that he needed to go it alone to better express his faith. I am not a Christian but I decided to give his solo stuff a go and bought Testimony. From my point of view all I can say is oh dear. Testimony was a candy-floss album to my ears - unnecesarily sweet andwith little substance. It was as though you took the last Morse Spock's Beard album (Snow), removed the edge and replaced it with syrup.

The lyrics as well were a little too God-related. Now I do not get offended by overly Christian messages - I root for the goog guys in biblical epic movies (and I rather like them) - I was raised in a Christian culture after all. But I have no easy connection to them. I cannot sing along in the car to god-worshipping songs.

So Testimony didn't do it for me. But I decided to persevere and bought One. One is also a little heavy on the worship side in the lyrics but the music is better - there's more focus in it for me. Still cannot sing it in the car though.

His third album in the series was titled ? (yes a question mark). This album was better still, he's on the way to toning the god content down whilst beefing up the music close to where it once was.

Now album four came along (Sola Scriptura) and the title put me off. I didn't buy it when it came out - I had pretty much given him up as an artist I was not going to be a fan of. Shame as I liked his voice and the way he can put somgs together but that's the way it goes.

However I decided this Christmas to give it a go after all and added it to an Amazon order (mainly to use up vouchers I have been given for Christmas). I'm glad I did. This album has taken the hard edge even further, and the mood on the lyrics has changed a little. On this album there is a still an amount of Christianity but a lot of it is told as stories and there is less of the conversation with God going on. For the non-Christian like me it makes listening to it a lot easier.

He's apparantly already recorded the fifth post-Beard album - I will be buying this one when it comes out. Hopefully it will be as good as Sola Scriptura - if not better.

fotolog

Last month I caught the fotolog bug. I'd avoided it for so long but I finally took the plunge and now I add a new photo to the site - all from Italy. It's addictive. I don't use it in the way a couple of friends do, uploading their recent images - what they did at the weekend, that sort of thing. You will certainly not find images of me on my fotolog EVER.

But I like it for one particular reason. It means I spend a few minutes each day trying to decide which image to upload and reminding myself of the various trips to Italy.

Today's choice was the Arch of Septimus Severus in Rome's ancient forum - as taken on a very hot September day in 2005. We enjoyed a week in Rome walking around its streets seeing all the typical sites and being a complete tourist. The Vatican, Trevi Fountain, Colosseum, Forum, Spanish Steps - I could go on for ever...

...and I remember the blisters.

Who knows what tomorrow will see posted, and what memories it will evoke.

Anyway should you feel like taking a look it's at
http://www.fotolog.com/ielester

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Email Hell

This evening is a complete waste. My Outlook Inbox has corrupted and it's been a few weeks since my last backup - I know, I should do this more often but it's only the second time in ten years I've had a problem with it and I get complacent.

So I have been working this evening to restore it. Golly it's an interesting and fulfilling way of spending an evening (sarcasm). I just wish one of the three friends with whom I have a game of Scrabble going were online to take their move.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Yet another book recommendation

I'm reading a splendid little set of four dark fantasy tales called Hebrew Punk by one of the most original dark fantasy writers out there - Lavie Tidhar.

The four tales concern vampires and magick. Okay you might think that this is hardly original, but Tidhar's vampire are enmeshed in Hebrew mythology and history rather than the conventional European backstory. In some ways vampires are vampires but this slight change of setting allows Tidhar to treat his vampires differently - including adding humour with their immunity to some of the traditional vampire wards. His magick is also different to western standards - here we get Tzaddiks and Golems in place of sorcerers and zombies.

The tales themselves read as dark pulp fiction, thirty style noir with added monsters done in a very tongue-in-cheek manner. Splendidly entertaining.

I've been fortunate enough to read some of his work before and each time I have been impressed by his stories. Okay there are a number of writers who are better at the actual craft of writing, creating more lyrical prose, but for ideas this guy is good.

Anyway you'll find the book on Apex Digest's site
http://www.apexdigest.com/

And you'll find Lavie himself at
http://www.lavietidhar.co.uk/

The American Political Circus - a World Removed

The US election process is underway. I know I'm not telling you anything new - it's kind of difficult to miss. But it is absolutely fascinating and completely alien to me.

Compared with this the British way of doing things is a lot more sedate. Although the party leaders do travel the country duing an election campaign, the whole campaign is done in a matter of weeks, not months. And the concept of public votes to establish the candidates is bizarre to me - but then again we don't have a President. I guess it is a lot easier when the leader of the majority party in parliament takes the Prime Minister's position.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Time Team

You have no idea how much pleasure I can get watching people dig holes in the ground. It sounds odd I know but I have become completely hooked over the last fifteen years to Time Team and other archaeology shows. So this weekend each January is a godsend for me - when the show returns to the screens. It's been nine months since my last fix.

Today saw the team not far from where I live - up at Codnor Castle in Derbyshire.

Wonderful show and they found an absolute treasure - a Gold Noble, a medieval coin dating back to Henry V in the early fifteenth century.

Here's the link to the page on the Channel 4 website if you want to know more...

http://www.channel4.com/history/microsites/T/timeteam/2008/codnor_castle/index.html

Me, I just can't wait until next Sunday for the next one.

And to add a little more to my happiness supply, there was an advert for the new series of ER in the middle of the show. Excellent.

Filmwise, a complete change of pace

Today on TV (on ITV2) they were showing the live action Thunderbirds film. It seemed like a good enough pick for watching over lunch - something to provide noise in the background for a few minutes.

I'd heard this film was a little bit naff! And to be fair it wasn't the best thing I've ever seen by far but it stayed on, we didn't switch it off. Okay neither did we pay it any particular attention from time to time. I read an article or two in a magazine whilst it was on, played a game or two of Bubblebreaker on my mobile phone and cleared away the dishes from lunch.

But the one thing that kept me watching was the people in it. I just cannot believe this film managed to get Ben Kingsley, Anthony Edwards, Bill Paxton and Sophie Myles to sign up. Incredible.

The plus points were Tracy Island and the various Thunderbird ships. They were very faithful to the original puppet show.

It wasn't as bad as I feared from what I heard but that doesn't make it a good film - not even close I am afraid.

Saw III

I remember all the news reports about Saw III when it hit cinemas - people passing out and being physically sick because of the horrific effects. I thought I should watch it, to see what all the fuss was about - that and I had enjoyed the first in the series.

Well I will give it one thing. It's the first horror film I can remember that made me flinch. And it managed to do it more than once - didn't feel nauseous though.

As for it as a film, it's not bad. In fact it's a good deal better than I thought it would be. It's not as good as the first in the series, but then this film didn't have the chance for a reveal as much - we knew from the off who the guy behind the traps is. But it did actually manage a twist or two, one of which I didn't see coming which impressed me.

Not for the faint hearted though.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

More Music, More Music, More Music

I'm just watching through the other music DVD I bought along with The Who film. This one is Dream Theater's Score. We went to see Dream Theater back in November in Wolverhampton and they were incredible - I actually think their performance was better than the Rush gig I'd seen a few days earlier, something I really wasn't expecting.

I've been a fan of DT for more than a decade now, but timings always went wrong with previous tours. They played here whilst we were on holiday in Italy, to arrive in Italy near where we had been staying a couple of days after we returned to England. They played concerts on our wedding anniversary - after we had booked a nice little romantic weekend away, and on one occasion they played here the day after I was booked in for ear surgery.

I was kind of getting the feeling I would never see them. Well we finally did, and I will move mountains to get to see them again.

In the meantime though I have the , a couple of other DVDs and now this one - Score. It's superb. These guys can really play, I mean REALLY! They are masters of their instruments. I can understand that the music might not be to everyone's taste. One of my colleagues at work cannot stand anything that "widdles", and by "widdling" she means anything that goes more than a few bars between verses or choruses. Mind you her tastes run to Nick Cave, My Bloody Valentine and punk (which I am not going to criticise) so maybe she was never going to be a fan of a progressive metal band comprising a bunch of serious musos. I am though.

They just cannot tour England again soon enough. So I am just going to restart the DVD now.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Amazing Journey

Wow!

Wow!

Sums it up. I've just bought the DVD Amazing Journey: The Story of the Who. The Who have always been a favourite band of mine, been listening to them since I was nine. I have just about everything you can get by The Who, all the albums, all the movies, DVDs etc.

So it was inevitable I guess I was going to buy this one. But what I didn't think of as inevitable was that it would be stunning. As a history of The Who I really wasn't sure I would learn all thay much or see that much new material However it is incredible. There is so much new material in this, wonderful performances - interviews , old clips etc.

Any Who fan NEEDS this.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

A degree of self-realisation

There comes a point when you realise a thing or two about yourself. I have just come to one of those.

I have always, always been a fan of science fiction and horror movies. I like Alien, Terminator, Brazil, Bladerunner, Starship Troopers etc etc etc. Never been much of a Star Wars fan - even though I was nine when the first film was .

But the realisation is that given three hours to kill whilst doing some tasks - email etc - I had two DVDs with me, both of films I rather like - Highlander and Groundhog Day. And I watched Groundhog Day twice.

In the 80s Highlander was my favourite movie - it was the first pre-recorded videocassette I ever bought and one of the first DVDs I owned. But it didn't cause me to swap the disks in the DVD player. Ah well I guess tastes change.

Might have been different if the second disk had been Back to the Future...

Another Book Recommendation

I've recently read a young adult science fiction novel that I would recommend to anyone. It's called Hybrids and the author is David Thorpe (published last year in the UK by HarperCollins Children's Books).

This is a great deal darker in tone than most adult sf I've read in recent years. Set in a future Britain infected with a virus called the "Creep" which causes humans to fuse to inanimate objects they come into contact with - most typically mobile phones - causing them to become the Hybrids of the book's title. Britain is quarantined and the government is becoming increasingly right-wing, turning the country into a fascist state, imprisoning Hybrids or denying their basic rights whilst allowing vigilante gangs to prosper.

Add into the mix two teenagers and a bit of a conspiracy plot and there you have.

This book won a writing competition to be published and I'm not surprised - it impressed me greatly.

Awash with TV Shows

I've watched virtually no television in weeks. All of the series (and there aren't many) I watch finished and I only had the XMas special of Doctor Who to keep my telefantasy addiction (and in this I include shows that have high science content). It has meant I have watched a number of films, far more than I would have otherwise which is a good thing but I miss my genre TV.

Well it's returning. Bones is about to restart having taken a XMas break, CSI & CSI New York are about to start new series on UK TV, Torchwood season 2 starts in a few days - and going out of genre there's a new series of Time Team (a UK archaeology show) this weekend. And hopefully there will be some others.

This time I will have to make sure I catch them. I have missed one or two (not noticing they were on), Charlie Jade on Sci-Fi for one, and passed on others (Jericho and Lost just never appealed) - but in general I admit it - I am hooked to telefantasy series.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Book Recommendation

I am currently reading Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, the Fiftieth Anniversary edition just about to be released by UK sf/f/h specialist press PS Publishing (http://store.pspublishing.co.uk/)

This is not one of Bradbury's science fiction or horror books and, as such, I had not read it, my younger self obviously deciding to stick to his sf/h. I have missed an absolute gem, and I am glad this edition has meant that I have been given a second chance by PS Publishing.

The book is a kind of mosaic novel, it tells many little stories all of which happen during one summer in a fictional small American town. Many of the stories feature Doug Spaulding - a twelve year old boy and his younger brother Tom - both full of the joys of life you'd expect from kids, but I have to admit I have long since lost.

In many ways you could say the Doug stories are a kind of coming of age series, Doug is beginning to understand the world and his place in it. He comes face to face with death and danger, and sees how things can pass into history - as in the town trolley bus service ending, to be replaced with an autobus.

The book features many other characters although in far lesser amounts, each of whom add their own particular flavour. You get friendship tales, real life horrors, death and aging - but all of these are told with such beauty.

It's not a cheap book. The standard edition will set you back GBP 20, USD 40. And if you are rich enough there is a signed edition at GBP 50, USD 100 and a deluxe slipcased edition with a bonus second book of stories at GBP 375, USD 750.

But it is beautiful.

The Black Dahlia

This was another of the films that I have been wanting to watch since I first heard of it. And the moment finally came last night, and thankfully I was not disappointed. This is a great movie, wonderful fun. An adult film (and I do not mean pornographic, although part of the plot did involve the murder of an actress featured in a porn film) aimed at adults with no dumbing down, no playing to the lowest common denominator.

The whole film plays in sepia tones, aimed I guess at aging the visuals - the film being set in the 1940s. The acting is good, pace is good, plot is good - you can see where I am going here.

If you haven't seen it and you like police dramas then WATCH THIS MOVIE

A thoroughly dismal grey day - thank heaven!

Back to work, and the weather has decided to be in sympathy with my mood. Looking out the window and everything is low cloud and two-dimensional flat light.

Mind you, it's exactly the kind of weather I like to see out of my window when I am sitting at my desk in the office. The worst thing I know is when I look out at a blue sky on a pleasantly warm, dry day - the kind when I would much rather be out there visiting castles, stately homes, cathedrals, ancient monuments etc etc etc

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

New Free Online Horror Magazine - Necrotic Tissue

Anyone who likes horror should pop across to Necrotic Tissue and check them out.

http://www.necrotictissue.com/

If you register there you will receive a link to a free pdf copy of their first issue. I've had a brief skim through the zine and it looks fairly well put together. I haven't read the stories yet so I cannot comment on those, but I have hopes for this mag. And the more people register (remember it's free) the better chance they have for survival.

A new year

2007 has gone. We saw it out in typically subdued style. We watched an excellent film (Fearless starring Jet Li) and then saw Channel 4's guide to the best 80s movies - another of the seemingly endless run of public vote top 50 programs TV is keen on - I guess they are cheap. I like them though when the subject appeals.

Anyway it was fun to watch, these were the movies I gre up with. Okay a couple of my favourite 80s movies didn't make the top ten (Bladerunner and Brazil) but I did agree with the top choice - Back to the Future. I loved that movie when I first saw it and have watched it a time or two (or several dozen) since.

We then saw the New Year is we usually do watching Jools Holland's Hootenanny. New Year celebrations aren't something we do, it's just a date on the calendar and the start of a month or so of trying to remember to write the correct date down.

That aside though, Happy 2008 to anyone who reads this. Buon Anno!