Thursday, 30 May 2013

Great Insight from Gary Gibson

Now I don't normally link to the someone else's blog, but I'm going to make an exception in this case because I think what Gary Gibson has written in this blog for Tor Books is worth sharing.

One of the things you often hear people say these days is that science fiction is in danger of being overtaken by the sheer pace of advancements in science and technology. It’s an understandable refrain, particularly when the news is filled with reports about downloadable blueprints for building guns with those same 3D printers. The feeling that you’re living in a world co-scripted by John Varley and John Brunner tends to grow when you take a quick scan through any number of online news sites and discover front-page features on exoplanets, life extension, and NASA research into Alcubierre drives. It might seem that in the face of such remarkable advances, science fiction might no longer be as relevant as it once was, reality having in many respects caught up with it. You might think that, but you would be wrong.

In many ways, it could be argued that the great pace of technological change in our world throws down a gauntlet to the imagination of sci-fi writers, challenging them to look at what is happening now and then extrapolate that out to where it could go in the future.
That has to be exciting for all concerned.

Monday, 27 May 2013

The Horror of Fang Rock

I used to own about 100 Doctor Who books - this was my favourite.

What can I say about The Horror of Fang Rock - even the title is bloody brilliant!!
It had Tom Baker as Doctor Who (how cool was Tom?); it featured Leela (scantily clad warrior girl companion - yummy); it had tension and isolation (it's set in a lighthouse); and there's a glowing alien that wants to kill everyone (it simply doesn't get better than that!).

Shame it went downhill after Tom - Peter Davison was okay, but the story-lines were crap; never liked Colin Baker and as for Sylvester McCoy...the less said about that the better (because they were utter shite!)

Now, with the Chris Eccleston, Dave Tennant, Matt Smith era, well...they're just so good (if you ignore the interminable Melody Pond storyline which just seem to go on forever). And we've had John Simm as the Master!
And now they've got JOHN HURT!!!!

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Going for a dip in Rydal Water

Now there are some people who think it's inappropriate to use a blog as a means of poking fun at someone who has found themselves in an embarrassing situation.
Fortunately, I'm not one of those people, which means that I am able to take great delight in re-telling the story of a friend of mine (perhaps former friend after this) who ended up taking an unintentional dip in Rydal Water in the Lake District.
However, to save the unfortunate soul from too much ridicule, names have been changed to protect their identity, so Sue Jamieson will be known as Ethel.

It's a simple enough tale (what bits I can remember anyway...I was rather busy sniggering when the tale was being related to me) - mountain biking along a track beside Rydal Water, Ethel and her two companions approach a section where walkers can take a high path but bikers need to enter the water and make their way through it. Whilst Ethel's two companions have local knowledge of how to get through this stretch, Ethel does not and, alas, her front wheel hits a rock and she slowly (and comically) topples over into the deeper water of the lake...much to the amusement of the 30+ people who happen to be in the vicinity.
Now, in my mind's eye, in the moment when Ethel hits the rock and realises she is toppling over, there will be an expression on her face similar to that in Wallace & Gromit's 'The Wrong Trousers' when the toaster pops but no toast comes out, and Gromit realises where the jam is going to end up.(if you haven't seen 'The Wrong Trousers', watch!)

Ethel ended up wet through from the waist down. She had to stoically endure the jolly comments of passers-by. She left a small (amusing) trail of water on the path as she rode away. She also had to drive home still wearing damp cycling shorts (yes, the ones with the shammy gusset).

Still, Ethel can at least console herself with the knowledge that she was able to bring a smile to the face of those 30 people who saw her go 'splash-down', and to all the people those 30 people told about the time they saw a female mountain-biker fall over into Rydal Water that day in May ('It was hilarious!'), and to all the people whom those people have told who have put it on a blog so that potentially everyone in the world can read about it, have a laugh, thank the Lord that it wasn't them and bemoan the fact that no-one caught it on video so we could watch it again and again on YouTube.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Happy Towel Day

Yes, my friends, it is Towel Day, when all fans of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and the incomparable Douglas Adams show their appreciation of the sadly-missed genius by carrying a towel with them.
I've got mine (it's a rather colourful one with a dolphin on it - somewhat apt, I'm sure you'll agree).

And if you are wondering why a towel, this extract from the great book may help:

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have "lost." What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.
Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in "Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There's a frood who really knows where his towel is." (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)
—Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Friday, 24 May 2013

Really, Jake, do you think I give a rat's arse?

Jake Berry, my local MP, sent me this invite today:

Really, Jake, do you think I give a rat's arse about the opinions of this vain, self-serving egotist?
Instead of such ridiculous money-making events, shouldn't Mrs Dorries (and Jake, for that matter) be spending their time addressing the problems and concerns of their constituents?

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Hey, whiney pussy? Get the f**k out of here...!

Another thousand words of 'The Peculiar Case of God vs Pratt' written this morning...oh, it's good to be writing again.

Yes, my friends, the ultra-positive Andy is back!!
I faced up to my whiney, impatient, ungrateful alter ego, visiously tweaked his right nipple, gave him a Chinese burn on his arm, pulled seven nasal hairs from out of his right nostril (which I'm sure really hurt), poked him in the left eye, beat him to the ground with a poster of Natalie Portman, stripped him naked, pointed at his genitalia and laughed, then sent him on his way.
He won't be back in a hurry, I can tell you, the pathetic little shit!

So, let's just go back to all the things I was moaning about yesterday and re-assess those comments:
  • Rejection of my children's poetry work by a literary agent - I'm okay with my poetry being rejected by an agent; it goes with the territory. If I believe my poetry's good, I need to keep sending it out and not even contemplate being a quitter...and I, I know it's good.
  • The absence of any sales of my books for the last couple of weeks - So there's been no sales for a couple of weeks; what of it? Let's be realistic here. If my book's going to take off, it will be a slow-burn as word gets out about it. There was never going to be some kind of Dan Brown-esque surge of massive sales. Realism, man! And I always said that I wanted it to be a 'cult classic'. There'ssomething uber-cool about being known as the author of a 'cult classic'.
  • So it's hard work promoting it...that's the nature of the beast, kiddo. No promote-y, nobody read-y. Comprende?
  • Recent criticism of my book - What the fuck did I expect? Universal adoration? Wall-to-wall 5* reviews? Everybody's different and they like different things. It's a fact - deal with it. In fact, I need to be really thankful that someone has been kind enough not only to spend time reading my book, but to explain to me why it's not working for them. Come on, Andy, be a man and accept what they say, after all, it's there opinion, and didn't I write something a while ago on my blog about opinions...? What was it? Something about TripAdvisor and a git called Mr Unhappy Bunny. Man up!
  • Bizarrely unco-operative people - Well, I'll give myself that one; he was just being a bit of a knob.
  • The delay in producing an article about my book for the Bolton Evening News - Again, realism. It's an article about someone who's had an e-book published. It's not an article about finding a cure for cancer. It's likely to be of limited interest, but at least it's getting your name and your book mentioned. Be thankful Miranda didn't turn around and say: 'Sorry, Andy, but you are boring and your book sounds boring and we're going to publish an article about a man catching a fish in his garden pond instead.'
  • No-one responding to requests to review my book - Give it time; these are busy people doing this in their spare time, so give them a break and be thankful that such people exist. And if they choose not to respond (which they are perfectly entitled to do, my friend), then just move on to the next one on the list instead of whining about it - by the way, if any reviewers out there are reading this, I love you all; you are the best!!!
  • Hearing that Dan Brown's Inferno has already sold 228,000 copies in hardback alone - This is simple. He's an internationally renowned best-selling author. I'm not.
So, apologies to everyone who read that pile of introspective, self-bemoaning shit that I blogged yesterday.
I promise that that guy, now that he's had his nipples tweaked, his nasal hairs pulled and his manhood belittled, will not be back any time soon.

And, just for the record, my manhood would not be laughed at...


Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Dark places and a whiney pussy called Andy

I have awoken in one of the darker places of my universe this morning, a place of negativity, a place of frustration, a place where I find myself questioning whether I can be bothered doing some of those things that I am doing...namely writing.
So what has contributed to finding myself in this place?
Well, it's a number of things, each of them fairly petty, childish even, but which, collectively, have transported me to that place where I wonder if it wouldn't be easier to just forget about novels and poetry and publishing and all of that shit, and instead spend my free time becoming uber-good at blasting aliens on Halo or beating the crap out of zombies on Dead Island.
So what, my faithful blog-readers may be wondering, has contributed to this veil of shadow?
  • Rejection of my children's poetry work by a literary agent - it was a nice rejection letter, but it was a rejection all the same, and I'm not sure I can be arsed sending the poetry off to other publishers and agents when the chances of anyone taking an interest are so small.
  • The absence of any sales of my books for the last couple of weeks - there are only so many friends a person can cajol into buying their book, and there are only so many attempts to promote your book that you can have fail before you start to wonder whether it is really worth the effort.
  • Recent criticism of my book - yes, I know it was meant constructively and yes, I know I shouldn't take it too personally, but the fact is that I simply don't respond well to criticism and I do take it personally, and I find myself wanting to shout at people and say 'But it's a fucking's written like a fucking's not meant to read like a work of elegant prose...'; but that would be so grossly unfair of me because the criticism was offered in good faith and should (no...must) be accepted as such...but that doesn't stop a part of me from feeling peeved about it (that's the childish part of me, by the way)
  • Bizarrely unco-operative people - I saw a photo yesterday on flickr which would have been ideal for inclusion in the videoblurb of my book, so I contacted the man who took it to ask permission to use it. He said no, but gave no reason. I mean, come on, it's just a photo of a bus on a street in Manchester. It's not going to win awards. What the fuck is the problem?!?
  • The delay in producing an article about my book for the Bolton Evening News - I shouldn't be letting this get me down, after all, it's only been a week since the phone interview with the lovely Miranda, but for some reason I had an expectation...and maybe it was a hope that people would read it and be intrigued enough to download Part 1 and then there'd be more sales...? But then, realistically, will that happen, are people really going to read an article then rush out and download my book to their Kindles?
  • No-one responding to requests to review my book (even though I've followed their submission guidelines to the letter) - again, it's unfair of me to criticise people who are doing me a favour, but I've contacted half a dozen 'book reviewers' in the last couple of weeks and not heard a peep from anyone. Again, I find myself asking what the point is.
  • Hearing that Dan Brown's Inferno has already sold 228,000 copies in hardback alone - yes, I know that he is an established international bestseller who writes cracking books that are published by a massive publishing house with enough marketing power to ensure my wife's shopping list is made into a bestseller...but that doesn't stop me thinking (in a grossly deluded fashion) that given the time and the support I could do that (Yosser Hughes, eat your heart out!)
I know what you're thinking, because I'm thinking it as well.
That Andy Ritchie should pull himself together, get a grip, stop being such a whiney pussy, accept that things are not always going to run as he wants them to run, that people's opinions will not always match what he wants them to match, and he should get it into his thick head that if he wants success he's going to have to work for it because no-one is going to hand it to him on a plate...and if hr hadn't spent half an hour over breakfast this morning, typing this tiresome, maudlin, self-indulgent and, let's face it, pretty wimpy moan-fest, then he could have written another couple of pages of 'The Peculiar Case of God vs Pratt'
He's clearly a dick!

Well...thanks for that...

So should I now hit the delete button and get rid of all his crap?
After all, do I really want people to read about how ungrateful I am, how impatient I am, how envious I am and how fragile, pathetic and insecure I can be about my writing when the dark moods overtake me?

Why not?
After all, isn't that what this blog is all about?
  • Oh, that's another thing...not as many people reading my blog...

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Maybe Blighty ain't so bad...

A few weeks ago, I commented on how awe-inspiring the sight of a fertiliser plant exploding in Texas was (how many of us had forgotten about that, I wonder?)
Today, I feel the same sense of awe as I watch TV images of that massive tornado rumbling its way across Oklahoma.
But it's awe mixed with deep sadness, not only for those many, many people who have tragically lost their lives, but for the countless people who have lost everything else.
Those images of whole neighbourhoods simply obliterated, of nothing but concrete pads where homes once stood, send a cold shiver down my spine.

It's a times like this that I feel (somewhat selfishly, I admit) how grateful I am that I live in a place where we rarely get tornados or hurricanes or tsunamis, and where we don't have to worry about a volcano erupting or an earthquake shaking our homes to bits.
Yes, it rains a lot here in Blighty and it's rarely very warm but, to be honest, a lot of shitty weather is a small price to pay for the peace of mind that it's going to be very unlikely that Nature is going to take your home or your life.

My thoughts and prayers go out to those poor souls who have died, and to those who are left to pick up the pieces of this tragedy, both physical and mental.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness - with a Trekkie soundtrack...

Now, I don't know about you, but normally, when there are two people sat behind me at the cinema guffawing at things in the movie which aren't really funny, getting overly-excited about plot revelations and generally providing some additional audio accompaniment that the film's director did not originally intend, I tend to get a little hot under the collar, huff and puff and few times, cast a few angry and (hopefully) withering glances in their direction and, if all that fails, politely ask them to shut the fuck up!
That exact thing should have happened yesterday when we went to watch 'Star Trek Into Darkness' and found ourselves sat just in front of two men, both probably in their late thirties/early forties, who throughout the film provided precisely those additional sound effects that are guaranteed to get my blood boiling.
So did I huff and puff?
A little, at the start.
Did I cast angry and withering glances in their direction?
Once or twice.
Did I politely ask them to shut the fuck up?
Er...actually no.
But why not, I hear my blog-readers from around the globe cry out in amazement (by the way, it's beautiful to know that this blog has also been read by people (okay, maybe that is just one person) in Vietnam, Thailand, Italy, China, Argentina and Ecuador, as well as the fantastic faithful in the UK, USA, Russia, Germany, etc - you are all brilliant!)
Anyway, where was I...?
Oh yeah - why had I not allowed my blood to top 100 degress Celsius and turn on the noisy gits behind me, beating them to death with a spare popcorn bucket.
Simple, really.
These two guys were bona fide, dyed-in-the-wool, I've-got-a-Shatner-shrine-at-home Trekkies.
How could I tell?
Well, if the inordinately wide-eyed-ness of them as the Star Trek music started and their barely contained, overly-excited-schoolgirl chortelling as the opening chase sequence involving Kirk and McCoy unfolded wasn't enough to suggest that this was, to these guys, more than just another movie, well, the following definitely confirmed it:
  • the knowing giggles when it was revealed that the plot involved Kronos
  • the gasps of reverential awe and wonder when Leonard Nimoy appeared on screen
  • the self-congratulatory harrumphs which accompanied the revelation of who Benedict Cumberbatch's character's true identity was; and, most spectacularly
  • the hoots of delight that accompanied Spock's attempts to do that Vulcan-shoulder-grip-thing on Benedict's character
Let's face it - these guys were having a really great time and, clearly, watching the crew of the Enterprise in all manner of peril was, for them, as satisfying as a really good orgasm is to the rest of humanity!
Heaven knows what these chaps might get up to in the privacy of their own homes when Star Trek Into Darkness becomes available on Blu-Ray...I guess it is better not to think about that.

Okay, so maybe it is a bit harsh to take the piss out of these guys so wantonly and, to be honest, that piss-taking is all meant in good fun.
Yes, it was just a little irritating to have an additional soundtrack to the movie and, yes, I'd prefer to have my fellow audience-members watch a film in mesmerised silence; but on this one occasion, I was willing to let this go because here was an example of people genuinely enjoying what they were watching and expressing that every now and again, and there's not really anything wrong with that...

...unlike those pillocks who talked all the way through the first half of Roger Waters' 'The Wall' at the MEN Arena when I went to watch it a year or two back - now they were just ignorant bastards and equally ignorant bitches and if there hadn't been so many of them and they hadn't all been bigger than me (women included, especially the ones with moustaches) then I'd have happily beaten their minisule brains out with one of the hammers from the video for 'Another Brick in the Wall'!!

By the way, Star Trek Into Darkness is the best film I've seen this year (better than Iron Man 3) and is actually just a bit better than the original Star Trek film of the J.J.Abrams franchise because it is just a bit darker...and Benedict is fantastic as the villain of the piece!
And there didn't seem to be as much lens flare (that's for you, Dan!)

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Muzza a drama queen? I think not!

Andy 'Muzza' Murray recently retired from a match at the Rome Masters, with the score poised at one-set-all, stating that he was suffering from a hip injury.
This brought to mind the events of last season's French Open when Virginia Wade labelled Muzza a 'drama queen' after he suffered a back spasm during his second round match with Jarkko Nieminen, when he had the temerity to actually allow himself to express his pain and discomfort whilst on court.
Drama queen, my arse.
No-one who has watched Muzza over the last couple of years, witnessed his commitment and dedication to achieving his aim of being a Grand Slam winner, seen him deal with the monstrous weight of expectation amongst the Great British public, and most importantly watched him carry on playing against Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open final this year with blisters the size of scotch pancakes on his feet, can doubt for a moment his pain threshold, both physical and emotional.
Contrast that with the pathetic footballers who complain about too many matches in a season and who feign injury at the slightest provocation.
And one last thing - I think Virginia should have a look at the video of her winning the 1977 Wimbledon final and contrast the speed, effort and physical demands of each rally against what Muzza produced in his stunning US Open and Olympic Gold Medal victories over Djoko and Fed. Let's face it, tennis today (and that includes female tennis) is an entirely different sport from what was played 40 years ago, and requires a different type of athlete. Virginia would do well to remember that,when she starts criticising Muzza for daring to show that what he's doing may actually be hurting!
I hope he can get himself fit for Wimbledon.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Need to be rescued...Part 3

As many of you will know, I have been in communication with Jake Berry, my local Member of Parliament, regarding the issue of the contracting out to Bristows of the Search and Rescue services for the mountains of this great nation.
In my previous blog on the subject (Part 2) I indicated that Jake had raised this issue with Stephen Hammond, Parliamentary Under Secretary (though which secretary he is under and exactly what he's doing there is anyone's guess) of State - below is a copy of the response received (which came with another nice response from Jake on 'House of Commons' letter-headed paper).

It's a bit of a disappointment that the response seems to have answered all my questions and that there is a clear and unequivocal commitment for the Search and Rescue service to remain free at the point of need (i.e. on top of a mountain).
However, can I suggest that you take note of the words 'there are no current plans to charge those rescued' - it's that word 'current' which worries me a little because the definition of 'current' is:

cur·rent  (kûrnt, kr-)
1.  Belonging to the present time

What that really means is 'we don't have any plans today to charge those rescued, but you can bet your arse that we will do so if we: a) need more money to pay Bristows; b) can get a directorship at Bristows if we get legislation through Parliament before we are voted out of office which makes them more money, or: c) can get a backhander from the insurance industry by forcing hillwalkers et al to have compulsory insurance.

I remain to be convinced that, by the end of this decade, the status quo will not have changed.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

When a week is a month...

A bit of a mixed bag today, the result of reading the Daily Mail (font of all knowledge) yesterday and today whilst eating my disappointing breakfast at my non-usual hotel here in Coventry.

First up - Vicky Pryce, the uber-vindictive former wife of Chris 'Take My Points, Bitch' Huhne, is to write a book about her time in prison (now there's a surprise!). Of course, it's likely to be a pretty short book, seeing as she only spent eight weeks of her eight month sentence behind bars...and how the hell does that work? A quarter of their sentence, that's all they served!
My view, for what it's worth, is that whatever sentence a criminal receives in court should be the absolute minimum that they serve and, should they misbehave, they should have time added to their sentences.

Secondly - a man has been trampled to death by cows in a field in Wiltshire, which is really tragic. I've never really liked cows, not since I read James Herberts' 'The Fog' - they have a slightly psychotic, 'I'm-just-clinging-on' sort of look about them...and they are really, really big!

Thirdly - the rather bizarre tale of tourists at Disneyland in the US paying disabled people £80 an hour to pretend to be a member of their family so they can avoid queueing for rides.On the face of it, a nice little earner, but can I suggest that there are only a certain number of times that you can listen to 'It's A Small World After All' before you go completely and utterly bonkers!!

Finally - isn't it refreshing when a child-murderer/pervert/real sicko like Stuart Hazell gets the sort of sentence that these freaks and weirdos should get...and interestingly, it's 38 years minimum, not the Huhne/Pryce tariff of years sentenced divided by 4.
It's just a shame that that other fucking freak, Mick Philpott, didn't get a similar sentence for each of the children he murdered - now that would have been some semblance of justice!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Still traumatised by the sight of Arse-Crack Man

There are some things in this world that are just too hideous to behold...and it was one of these things that Chris W and I saw whilst walking alongside the Caledonian Canal last week.
He was probably about 60 years old, was carrying a lot of extra baggage and, as he trundled past us (his wife had already ridden off into the distance, and we were soon to understand why she was taking the lead), he was pleasant enough with the obligatory greetings.
It was...I...we...
Oh God, even recalling it is making me feel like puking...a wedge of lily-white flab peeking out from between light blue tee-shirt and brown pants...and there, right in the middle...
Staring out like a hideously thin eye, looking back at us as he peddled into the distance.

And what was worse was the fact that, as we got to Gairlochy where we'd left the car, he was sat there with his wife, nodding at us like an old friend, completely oblivious of the terrible mental scarring he had inflicted upon us (and on everyone else he had passed, no doubt).
Maybe we should simply have said to him:
'Look, man, you need to make sure you've pulled your pants up before mounting because the sight of your arse-crack is just about the worse fucking thing we've ever had the misfortune to see!'
But, we didn't. We just smiled back through gritted teeth before looking quickly away, lest we catch a further glimpse of...

Still, it could have been worse, I suppose.
He could have been wearing a thong!

Monday, 13 May 2013

Sorry, but are you suggesting it's our fault...?

'...making clothes for shoppers in the West...'
This was the comment added in to the report by BBC correspondent Sanjoy Majumder (0.54-0.56) as he described the remarkable survival of Reshma the seamstress in the rubble of the collapsed building in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Dhaka survivor Reshma: 'I did not imagine I would survive'

Now maybe I'm being a little bit over-sensitive about this, but am I the only one who picked up on the rather accusatory tone of the comment by Mr Majumder? It was almost as if he is suggesting that, if we in the West were not obsessed with buying cheap clothes from shops such as Primark, then Ramesh and the 1,000 people less fortunate than her would not have been working in a building that was unsafe and would not have had their lives taken away from them when said building collapsed.
Blame, if it belongs anywhere, is with those who ignored the bloody great cracks in the structure that appeared the day before its collapse, or maybe with Bangladeshi authorities and their inability to maintain any kind of reasonable building standards.
Or does it...?
Perhaps, just perhaps, there is an argument to say that if we, the 'shoppers in the West' did not have the ridiculous expectation (fuelled, it has to be said, by big global brands all trying to undercut each other whilst peddling the 'throw-away' culture) that we should be able to buy 10 tee-shirts for £3, then maybe those same global brands wouldn't be outsourcing production to third-world countries where costs are so much lower because they don't have to provide the same levels of safety, health protection, working conditions, wages, etc and safe buildings that they do in the West...
Perhaps if we all took a minute to think about exactly how the likes of Primark are able to make silk three-piece suits on the other side of the world and ship them over to the UK and stock them in big High Street stores and still only charge £3.95 (with a free silk tie and cotton shirt), maybe we'd start to think twice about whether it is morally correct for us to provide, through our purchases, our tacit approval of the use of unsafe, nay deadly factories in far-off countries where lives are less important than profit.
So, maybe, just maybe, Mr Majumder has a point.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

How did we end up in Ballachulish?

Below is a copy of the recent posting I did to WalkHighlands, recounting the tale of what happened to Chris Watkin and I during our recent holiday in the Highlands.
You will note that it is free of my oft-used 'colourful metaphors' - however, I would like to add the following:
For the female bus driver, please read 'bitch'.
Wherever there are references to it being windy, please read 'really, really fucking windy!!'

As we sat at the bus stop on The Square in Ballachulish village, I posted the following entry on Facebook:
We set off to climb Mam na Gualainn from how have we ended up at Ballachulish?
Well, here is the answer.

20130508.gpxOpen map in GPS Planner NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts
Wednesday 8th May followed hot on the heels of what had turned out to be (after a somewhat uninspiring start) a particularly splendid Tuesday in the Highlands. We had used that day wisely, walking a section of the Great Glen Way, partaking of ice-cream, canoeing for a few hours on the mill-pond waters of Loch Leven, even finding time to photograph wild deer in the vicinity of our Kinlochleven chalet. It was the first good day since we had arrived (though Sunday had seen a splendid, if very wet, walk up to the spectacular Blackwater Dam).
Having chosen (unwisely,perhaps) to forsake the summits on the previous day, Wednesday saw us keen to head up into the hills and the absence of clouds atop the surrounding peaks encouraged us to forego the usual holiday cooked breakfast of haggis, Stornoway black pudding, lorne sausage, egg and fried bread and instead head off early. As we set off up the West Highland Way, sharing the path with a couple of dozen walkers who were no doubt looking forward to celebrating the end of their epic endeavours in Fort William some 15 miles away, the air was warm and humid and the clouds still high. It was a promising start.
However, by the time we reached Lairigmor, where the old 'coffin path' parts company with the West Highland Way, there was a stiff, gusting breeze blowing down the valley from the East - indeed, this wind made timing our rather spectacular leaps across the rain-swollen Allt na Lairige Moire all the more difficult, as an ill-timed jump into an unexpected gust would undoubtedly have had very damp consequences.
Still, with the river negotiated (and the coffin path committed to as the reverse leap onto a raised bank was significantly more difficult, even if it would be wind-assisted) we set off determinedly up towards our target peak, Mam na Gualainn, with the intention of then proceeding East along the ridge to Beinn na Caillich and then descending the steep zig-zags back to the West Highland Way before finally stopping off at a local hostlery for a well-earned beer.
Alas, this is where our well-laid plans began to unravel.
Firstly, the wind became stronger...and I mean stronger. As we reached that point where the ascent path forks left from the coffin path, the wind had reached the point where strong gusts were literally blowing us off our feet...and this was still some 1000 feet below the summit!
Now my philosophy on such things, having experienced this sort of wind a few years ago crossing Rannoch Moor, is that gusting winds in excess of 60 mph and mountain tops with steep drops around them do not good bedfellows make. As such, both Chris and I concluded that discretion was the better part of valour and that the mountain would be there another day whereas, should our spouses learn that we had chosen to summit in such conditions, we may not be.
The view back along the valley from the Coffin Path, just before the rain arrived!

The question was, where to head for now. Three choices lay open to us. Firstly, we could retrace our steps to Lairigmor, re-cross the river and then head back along the West Highland Way to Kinlochleven. Secondly, we could instead follow the West Highland Way to Fort William and get the bus back to Kinlochleven. Thirdly, we could continue along the coffin path and descend down to the B863 on the north side of Loch Leven, there to be faced with a choice of either a 6 mile walk back to our chalet, or a 2.5 mile walk to the A82 followed by a bus ride through Ballachulish and Glencoe.
We initially decided to head back to Lairigmor, only for fate to intervene once again in the form of icy raindrops falling from a thunderous sky that had now gathered at the East end of the valley. The prospect of walking into a continuous barrage of cold rain propelled by now ferocious winds was not one to be relished, so we decided to change plans (again) and head off along the coffin path and get down off the hills.
The descent, however, was easier said than done, for not only were rocks and grass now greasy with the steadily falling rain, but the passage of many a trials motorbike earlier in the day had left the path muddy and rutted. On more than one occasion, the embarrassment of a soiled back-side was avoided only by lightning reflexes as the ground slipped away beneath us.
At last, though, we emerged, already sodden from the incessant rain and feeling as though we had gone 15 rounds with a heavyweight as a result of the buffeting wind, to be faced with the dilemma of which direction to take along the A863. Obviously 2.5 miles of road-walking with wind behind was preferable to 6 into the teeth of a gale, provided we could be confident that there would be a bus at the end of it...and, thanks to the wonders of smartphone technology, we could be, because the 44 service from Fort William to Kinlochleven would pass through North Ballachulish a few minutes after its planned stop in Onich at 1507 - that gave us about 35 minutes.
With loins girded, we set off at pace along the road, glancing furtively at our watches as we marched on.
At 1505 we reached the outskirts of North Ballachulish and at 1508 we were only five yards from the A82 and twenty yards from the bus-stop...
It's hard to explain our emotions as we watched the single-decker 44 bus go flying past at about 50 mph.
There was anger, of course; after all, the bus was early and what's the point of having timetables if you're not going to stick to them!
But there was also a kind of resigned inevitability about it, in keeping with the events of the day.
Chris chastised himself for not having run the last few hundred yards - I joined in the chastisement (naturally), but then simply said that no matter how quickly we had walked/run/sprinted, we were always destined to be 30 seconds too late. It was just that sort of day.
So, what next?
Well, the interweb was able to tell us that the next bus would not be along for another 90 minutes or so, which gave us a choice of either sitting in that particular bus shelter for the duration, or braving the wind and rain once more to stretch our legs to Ballachulish some 3 miles distant. Rather bemusingly, we chose the latter.
I'm still not entirely sure why.

Now, I don't know about you, but when I'm driving along a main road and I see a couple of walkers trudging through the rain, I often find myself wondering why they are there and why they aren't up in the mountains, away from all the traffic.
Now I know.
They are probably like us, plans gone awry, forced to walk where they don't really want to be, enjoying the spray showers that form in the wake of speeding coaches, amusing themselves by leering at the staring faces of dumbfounded car drivers.
In the future, I will not judged such people as harshly as I once did.

Eventually, we reached Ballachulish and the sanctuary that is the bus shelter on The Square. A shared party bag of Doritos from the Co-op lifted our spirits as we waited for our ride.
Before it arrived, though, the Kinlochleven to Fort William service, a single-decker 44 bus, turned up...and the female driver seemed to be wearing on her face a wry smile.
Did she recognise the bright blue of Chris's jacket, or the vivid red of the raincover on my rucksack? Did she recall a moment an hour or so earlier when, as she motored along the A82 heading for the Ballachulish bridge, she glimpsed out of the corner of her eye two bedraggled figures half-walking, half-running those last few yards of the A863 before it reached the A82 junction?
I suspect so...but I guess I can't be sure.

Some 15 minutes later, our bus arrived, a splendid double-decker, and we were whisked through the rain-soaked village of Glencoe and along the south side of Loch Leven, able to watch the clouds hurtling across the summit of Mam na Gualainn and marvel at the way that the mill-pond surface of the loch from the previous day had been transformed into a bouncing, rippling cauldron of unpleasantness.
Finally, at about 1700 hours, we arrived back at Kinlochleven...and it was still raining!
Still, at least there was the prospect of a soak in a bath, fish & chips from the chippy, a good glass of beer and a warming whisky to end a trying day.

So, in answer to the question I posted on Facebook:
We set off to climb Mam na Gualainn from how have we ended up at Ballachulish?
the answer is simple:
Wind, rain, discretion, ill-fortune and a bit of bloody-mindedness.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Apology accepted, Captain Needa (but really not necessary...)

First off - a massive thank you, adorned with big hugs (man-hugs for the chaps, obviously) to everyone who has downloaded my books and is following my blogginess.
You are really top notch.

Secondly, a not-quite-as-big-but-still-pretty-big thank you, this time with a friendly squeeze, to everyone who has either downloaded my books or is still expressing interest in the crappy waffle that I dish up on a regular basis on this blog, but hasn't yet done both.
You are also well notched.

Thirdly...and I'd really like to emphasise this...there is simply no need for any of you to either:
  1. apologise for not having downloaded any of my books
  2. apologise for not having read a book when you have downloaded it
  3. apologise for not having read my blog
  4. apologise for not having commented on any of my blogs
There is simply no obligation on your part to justify yourslves to me...although I have to admit that it does make me feel all warm inside when someone does.
I fully understand that whilst my books and my blog are an important part of my life, they are likely to be only a small blip on the radar of your own exciting existences. As such, I am truly grateful that you continue to find the time and the inclination to retain and express your interest in my blip.

The only people who need to apologise to me are those who are not in either of the two categories outlined above i.e. those who have not bought my books and are not following my blog...
only kidding...
am not...
am not...

Note - Should anyone move from the second group to the first group in the days and weeks ahead (you know what you need to do), then please take it as read that your 'thank you' has been upgraded to massive and that the squeeze has become a hug (man-hug).

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

5* it may say...but is it the real deal?

My thoughts have turned back to ratings and comments today, this time not in relation to TripAdvisor and the fun I had with Mr Unhappy Bunny, but in relation to writing.

My question is simply this:
When it comes to books (especially ebooks), how much can I trust the rating that they have?
Maybe not as much as I should be able to, it seems.
I've downloaded quite a few ebooks recently, many of them with rating scores well above 4 and a plethora of enthusiastic 5* reviews waxing lyrical about great characters, fantastic plots, subtle unforeseen twists, etc.
Sadly, very few of them live up to the high expectations which these comments create...which is sad, because the stories are, on the whole, not bad at all. They are admirably written, engaging and well-crafted...unfortunately, they just aren't as fantastically brilliant, witty, inventive and challenging as they are made out to be.
Why is this?
Is it me?
Maybe it is.
Maybe I just expect too much...or do I?
You see, I do have a benchmark of sorts, and that benchmark is the average rating of some of the greatest books of all time...
  • 1984 (Goodreads average - 4.06)
  • Ring of Bright Water (4.27)
  • Flowers for Algernon (3.91)
  • Lord of the Rings (4.41)
  • Day of the Triffids (3.95)
  • Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (4.14)
...given these ratings, surely it is only reasonable to expect that anything with an average up around 4.00 will be fantastic...isn't it?

Monday, 6 May 2013


A bit of a change today - just thought I'd provide you with a link to a short story which I wrote a couple of years ago and placed on the Booksie web-site.

Hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, 4 May 2013

May the Fourth be with you...always

Happy Star Wars Day, people, and may the Force be with you...always!

Firstly, the bad news.
There's something in Star Wars that really winds me up:

Have a listen to  the 'toodangerous.wav' file in the above link, paying particular attention to what Obi-Wan says:
"And these blast points, too accurate for Sandpeople. Only Imperial stormtroopers are so precise."

Now, can anyone explain to me why, in every subsequent scene in Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, those same Imperial Stormtroopers that Obi-Wan was singing the praises of, suddenly aren't able to hit jack-shit. For example, when Luke, Han, Leia and Chewie are running to the Millenium Falcon to get off the Death Star (just when Obe-Wan gets done-in by Old Vader), count how many shots the Stormtroopers get at them, and not a single one of them hits!!
Who are these guys? A group of Stormtrooper trainees? A little pack of Imperial interns?
Whoever they are, they're rubbish!!

Perhaps it would have been a whole lot better if, down on Tatooine, Obi-Wan had actually said:
"And these blast points, all over the fucking place, worse than Sandpeople. Only Imperial stormtroopers are so shit."

Secondly, the good news.
There's also something in Return of the Jedi that never fails to cheer me up:

'Nuff said.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Oh Stuart, say it isn't so...

So, it turns out that Stuart Hall, whacky host of It's a Knockout and Jeux Sans Frontières (when it came to Blighty - was I the only one perpetually confused by the fact the Swiss had 'CH' on their jerseys?) is a kiddy-fiddler.
I mean, one of them was a nine-year-old girl - now that's just sick!
Hally-boy was also the host of Look North (or Look Northwest or Northwest Tonight or whatever the hell it was called back then), which meant he was a regular on TV during my early years and, as such, was something of a TV icon of the era...not a cool TV icon in the way that Lou Ferrigno and Bill Bixby were of course (The Hulk/David Banner), or Ricardo Montalban on the Love Boat for that matter, but still, an icon of sorts...a bit like, dare I say, Jimmy Savile.
Which makes me wonder...were they all perverts and paedos, the TV icons of my youth?
In one of my previous blogs, I said that I just didn't believe that Rolf Harris was a perv - after the revelations about Stuart Hall and his 20 years of predation of young girls, my convictions aren't quite as strong as they were a couple of weeks ago.
How truly depressing will it be if all those TV icons, whose shows brought a smile to the lips of so many viewers and laughter to the living rooms of homes all across the country, are ultimately proven to be monstrous abusers, not only of children and the vulnerable, but of the trust and adoration they were given by so many ordinary people.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Need to be rescued...Part 2

Just a quick update on the status of my previous blog:
which I posted on the 29th March.

In what is a worrying break with the tradition of politics, Jake Berry (MP for Rossendale and Darwen...and note that it is Rossendale and Darwen, not Rossendale with Darwen...that's for the knobs at Blackburn with Darwen Council) has sent me a letter on House of Commons-headed paper, confirming that he has:
...personally raised your concerns on your behalf with Stephen Hammond MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Transport, and as soon as I have received a response, I will be in contact with you.'

Now the cynical amongst you may say that Jake hasn't actually said whether he himself believes that the awarding of the £1.6billion contract to Bristows to operate the UK's Search and Rescue service is either a good thing or a bad thing...and, of course, you'd be absolutely right.
I suggest that if he continues to dodge awkward questions as neatly as he has done in this case, he has a good future ahead of him in politics.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Sorry...but not all men are idiots!

Can anyone explain to me why so many advertisers seem to think it's okay to portray men as idiots/wimps/morons/dicks?

Example 1:
(and believe me, friends, I am loathed to share these examples, because it provides the companies concerned with more publicity than they deserve...but the point has to be made somehow).
How much of a divvy does that guy look and sound?
By the way, he doesn't know shit about playing tennis, judging from where he's standing on court!

Example 2:
Look at this utter cock - what the hell is he doing? Why does he lift up the table?
What sort of alternative universe do the advertising people behind this crock of shit actually live in? I mean, no man acts like that in a furniture store...ever! In reality, he's almost certainly there under duress, so he will always be wearing an expression which says 'Would rather be doing something... anything else. Ergo, I'm pissed off!' If he does interact with any furniture, it is only to appear to be interested and to dutifully confirm whatever it is his wife/girlfriend/mistress/partner has just said...or to check the price.

And it's not as if this approach of showing the male of the species as useless reflects well upon the fairer sex - after all, what is it suggesting about the women in these adverts when they are clearly willing to put up with such utter dorks. Take the woman at the beginning of Example 2 and the condescending shake of the head she does - it's as if she's saying 'Yes, I know he's a complete knob, but I'm so weak/pathetic/gooey-eyed-in-love-with-him that I'm willing to put up with it.'
In reality, any woman worth her salt would just tell him in no uncertain terms to stop acting like such a bloody pillock!

My thoughts on this?
Well, if advertisers are looking for their adverts to 'empower women' (which so many of these TV turds try, but fail, to do) and yet at the same time avoid offending men (which so many of these TV turds don't even try to do), then they could do a lot worse than portray a man being cooly and clinically put in his place by a woman, either by a short, cutting remark sharpened on the stone of frequent use, or simply a disapproving glare, perfected through years of repitition; it's closer to reality, and it's something to which 'real' men can definitely relate!