The Alarm Clock Returneth

Ugh. Drat that alarm was my second thought this morning. My first was actually aaagh!! wassat? Before I remembered where I was, and more importantly, who I was. I hate that moment of dislocation more and more with each passing week.

Yes, Kate was back to work this morning, and despite the fact that it’s still officially the Easter holidays for us studenty-types, it’s back to work for me. So I posted something on the Film Mumblings blog, and I’m writing this, my 500th post here.

Most of this week -I suspect- will be given over to the final MAF blog, which is worth either 6 or 12 marks (I can’t remember which — it’s bloody important, though) and trying to whip the Genre critical piece into shape.  Although some thoughts about e-books are bubbling away, prompted by a news item about their burgeoning popularity, and I have some critiquing to do.

So I’d better get on with it…Abyssinia!

• May 3rd, 2011 • Posted in General • Comments: 0

Elisabeth Sladen, 1948 – 2011

So that’s it then. The shadows have lengthened, the world seems -all of a sudden- to be a slightly shabbier place. Time to turn out the lights on another part of yesterday.

Elisabeth Sladen wasn’t really Sarah Jane Smith, of course. Lis Sladen married in 1968 at the age of 20, and had a daughter in 1985, and played other parts, although I don’t think I ever saw a single one of them. Not because I avoided anything else she was in, but because the parts were usually so fleeting, or off my radar. That was her fate, for better or for worse, to be so tied to one role. Did she feel that to be a blessing or a curse, I wonder? Maybe both, at different times.

Because to tens, even hundreds of thousands of people, maybe more than that, she was the girl who burst onto our screens in 1973 and for three years tried to do more than look cute and scream when the monsters entered. And my God, how she succeeded. I always felt that a scriptwriter with sufficient balls would have had her lean back and drop-kick the monster in the nuts. From 1973 to 1976, when she left, as far as my teenage self was concerned, she was The One.

So much so that for a year -in protest- I stopped watching Doctor Who when she went, and when I did -grudgingly- start watching it again, I suddenly noticed how rubbish the effects were, and I never forgave the girl with the loincloth, and the increasingly pretty-but-vacuous successors for usurping her. It was almost a relief when the Beeb killed the increasingly crappy series off in 1989. Maybe that lingering sense of betrayal is why I’m so damned impatient with the old guard. The BBC had already killed it for me, thirteen years earlier, and all they were doing in 1989 was applying the bullet instead of the slow death.

But of course, the truth was, the truth my teenage self couldn’t see, was that Lis Sladen had a life, wanted a family and a career. I hope she got everything she longed for. I’m sure she did.

I really expected the worst when the show came back, but RTD surprised and delighted me. And when she returned in 2006, he gave a belated rationale to why she had to go. Finally…closure. And her return was proof that sometimes –not very often– but sometimes we do get a second chance.

Then, joy of joys, a grown up SJ with kids, because it would have felt wrong for her virtual life to have been so empty, even if (as I’m sure) her real one was so rich.

I’d like to have met her, to ask if she ever resented having this strange dual life,  a virtual half-life to go with the real one, but I also know that it would have probably broken the spell.

So goodbye, Lis Sladen, who wasn’t Sarah Jane, and sympathies to her family, who are the ones who have really lost someone, and someone real at that. At least we still have the re-runs.

• April 20th, 2011 • Posted in General • Comments: 0

One Day

It was raining earlier, so deciding that we’d wait it out, I’ve just returned from a late trot round the park with Alice. Rarely have I needed a walk so badly as a result of reading a book.

I’ll come back to that in a moment, but first a quick reminder that there’s just one day left to submit to my anthology Transtories

But back to why I needed that walk.

I’d just read One Day by David Nicholls, and found myself shocked by the violence of my emotional reaction; walking Alice round the park meant that I had a chance to work out my thoughts about why I’d gotten so upset.

But first, a warning.  There is a major spoiler following, and while I’m not normally reluctant to reveal twists if they’re germane to the ending, this would actually destroy the very effect I’m trying to explain – SO FINISH READING NOW if you don’t want to know what happens.

The plot of One Day revolves around the long-term love affair between Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley, students in Edinburgh who share a one- night stand after their graduation ceremony on St. Swithin’s Day, 1988 (that’s July 15th, for those of you who don’t know the legend). The novel charts their anniversary over the next nineteen years – usually they spend it together, but sometimes just write to each other.

Because by 1989 Dexter and Emma have gone their separate ways: Emma finds her ambitions worn down by life in the late 80s and 90s; she takes up acting, in an interactive drama troupe, then gets a dead end job in a fast food chain, before training as a teacher. Dexter drifts through life on charm, before blagging his way into the media on the strength of his looks.

In the late 90s Dexter’s fall from grace as a TV presenter is as sudden as his rise, while Emma quits her teaching job after an abortive affair with her headmaster. Dexter marries while Emma lives alone, but they continue to see each other each year, and there is never any doubt that love will prevail in the end.

Are you still reading? Didn’t I tell you to stop? Okay, on your head be it…

Dexter finds that his wife is cheating on him, and the following year Emma is shocked by how gaunt he looks after his marriage implodes. Emma by this time is a successful children’s novelist living in Paris, but realizing that this may be their last chance, she leaves her boyfriend to return with Dexter, helps get him back on his feet, and they marry on St Swithin’s Day, 2003.

So far, so contemporary romance; I know exactly where this is heading, except that there are still sixty-five pages to go, and there must be another twist. Sure enough life’s not so good by 2004; Dex and Em are trying for a baby, and they quarrel, and they arrange to meet in the evening to celebrate their anniversary – it’s a working day in the shop for Dexter, while Emma tries to write, goes swimming and heads for home:

The rain became heavier, oily drops of brown city water, and Emma rode standing on the pedals with her head lowered so that she was only vaguely aware of a blur of movement in the side road to her left.

The sensation is less of flying through the air, more of being picked up and hurled…the people crouching over her seem fearful and are asking her over and over again are you alright are you alright. One of them is crying and she realizes that she is not alright….

Then she thinks of Dexter…he’ll wonder where I am, she thinks. He’ll worry….

Then Emma Mayhew dies, and everything that she thought or felt vanishes and she is gone forever. (pp.384 – 385) 
I’m a little embarrassed now at how much I mourned a fictional character. It took me several minutes to be able to pick up the book again, and continue, now in a very emotional state, reading what happens over the last fifty pages. Which is not at all what I expected — but I won’t tell you, because you’ve had enough spoilers for now.

All writers manipulate their readers, but Nicholls is extremely adept, while I had some personal hot buttons which Nicholls pressed. Dex and Em are depicted in all their beautiful and awful detail, and Emma reminded me so much of my ex, while the sheer shock of the accident only adds to its verisimilitude; if TV has one massive failing it’s (generally) telegraphing plot twists through the soundtrack.

The strength of the novel (and the point of this rather rambling post) is that you may think that you know what’s coming, but life doesn’t give you spoiler alerts.

• March 31st, 2011 • Posted in Books • Comments: 0

Missing and Still Missing

Last week James Bubear, a 1st year student at Bath Spa University, went missing after a night out at a club. Police are becoming increasingly concerned because James’s disappearance is completely out of character and he has had no contact with any friends or family since he went missing.

It is also known that James lost his mobile phone during the day on Sunday and that although it has now been picked up by somebody, it has not been handed in.

Police are urging whoever has it now to contact them and return it. They said that the person is not in trouble.

James had been on a night out with friends at Vodka Revolutions bar on George Street on Sunday night in Bath.

The 18-year-old was last seen leaving at around 10.30pm and walking off alone. James, who is originally from Llandrindod Wells in Wales, was walking back to his student flat in Waterside Court on Lower Bristol Road, and it is believed he may have followed a route along the river.

Anyone who has seen James or knows of his whereabouts is asked to call Bath police on 0845 4567000

Sadly, James is not the only person missing, and just when his profile needs to be kept elevated in the media, his story was eclipsed by that of a search being mounted in Savernake Forest for 22-year-old Sian O’Callaghan. Without wanting to dismiss the threat to her safety, it’s a shame the BBC couldn’t have spared a few moments to report on the fact that there are now two people missing — instead of granting one searcher two soundbites, and several minutes of time to the whole story.

It’s hard to escape the feeling that there are double standards at work when  it comes to missing people; young trumps old, pretty trumps plain, and girl trumps boy.

Or perhaps that’s just my imagination?

Whether or not it is, it doesn’t help find James.

Ask around; pass this on; don’t let him be forgotten.

• March 22nd, 2011 • Posted in General • Comments: 0

The Ides of March

On Friday I wrote the first part of a blog post, just before heading out to the theatre to see Alan Bennett’s The History Boys (which was terrific, by the way):  

“This will be the third blog post in as many days, and it feels as if I’ve finally got back into the swing of things. I still have to post something on the film blog, but that can wait another day or two. Meanwhile yesterday felt like one of those rare days when you can go through the ‘to do’ list, ticking stuff off.

I finished reading Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm at something of a gallop, having been struggling with it a little — I think it was the cold, fogging my brain.

I survived my six-monthly visit to the dentist yesterday, and shot into Bath to get tickets for Alan Bennett’s The History Boys at the Theatre Royal.  Tomorrow is going to be spent mostly watching televised sport, and reading subs for Transtories, my next anthology. I may post some stats tomorrow or Monday. Or even Tuesday…Tuesday sounds good, as it’s halfway through the submissions period.

Sigh. So much time. So many choices.”

Hah. I should have known better with the Ides of March just around the corner….

Instead I woke up on Saturday with the most blinding headache…every time I coughed, it felt as if my skull was literally being split with an axe. On Sunday I started to see shadows moving out of the corner of my eye, and decided that I had to go and see the doctor.

Luckily the combination of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories is starting to take effect, and I seem to be over the worst of it. With any luck, I’ll get back to work tomorrow But that’s not definite — I must remember not to make any plans in future before the Ides of March. …

• March 15th, 2011 • Posted in General • Comments: 0

February Hours

It’s 2.26 am as I write this. I have a stinking cold caught from my film group which is keeping me awake. So as it’s the beginning of March, I might as well give into insomnia and do the monthly stats, for February.

 I worked 244 hours in February, which for the mathematically challenged among you, means I worked four 61 hour weeks.  That’s 4 hours more than November, my previous busiest month, with 2 days less in the month. (In November I did also work 45 hours at the Eye Hospital, which is why I was gibbering the end of that month)

Unsurprisingly, Planning & Making A Film accounted for almost as many hours as the other three modules combined. The good news on that front is that we completed shooting, so (hurrah!) my hours should plummet on that module – I intend them to, certainly.

Cumulatively, I’ve worked 900 hours in the past 4 months (120 days) averaging 7.5 hours a day, or 52.5 hours a week.  The big single subject – bar, none, including miscellaneous reading and writing—is film; I’ve worked 138 hours on that.

However, it’s now Reading Week, so I shall devote some time to reading, which always helps me chill.

• March 2nd, 2011 • Posted in General • Comments: 0

The Casualties of Learning

There are times when everything seems to happen at once, rather like the denouement for a novel (what kind of novel I’m living in I’ll leave you to decide – it feels like horror at the moment). 

Tomorrow we start filming for our Making A Film assignment, which counts as one-sixth of my total marks for the year on the whole BA course, by far the biggest weight of any assignment. Worse, to a very large extent, it’s being determined by circumstances beyond my control.

And also tomorrow my second Feature Journalism assignment is due, so I’ll actually be handing that one in today, when I go to pick up the crew’s equipment – assuming Mike is happy with the level of documentation; so far I’ve had no response to the request for a filming permission, and what should have been a routine request to the University for a room on Monday has turned into a bureaucratic nightmare.

I spent the last hour before starting this blog post printing out reams of forms and e-mails (before that I’d had to nip to Tescos to replenish paper, and now I’m getting ‘low ink’ warnings!).

 That’s this morning. My afternoon is worse – it looks like:

                13.00 Into Bath to meet Film Group to pick up papers

                13.55 Into Uni to hand in assignment

                15.00 Home with equipment to store for tomorrow

                16.00 Head back to Uni for Plenary

                17.00 Plenary Lecture for Creative Writing

                18.00 Head to Bath for

                18.45 Launch of Genre Lecturer’s book (ends 20.00)

               20.00 Head to Toppings for Core Workshop Lecturer’s Interview with Patrick French

                21.00 Home or a late dinner in Bath….

This is quite frankly a ludicrous schedule, and assumes nothing going wrong and no last minute tacks thrown in my path by the nine (yes NINE) different bodies affecting Film.

So I’m going to take action. That Journalism article includes a piece called ‘The Joy of Study,’ in which one of my lecturers warned against the peril of over commitment.  It seems to me that I can do nothing about the first visit to Uni, but if I cut out the Plenary and the Toppings event, I can at least regain some time.

Apologies to Joe and Celia, but you are the casualties of learning today.

• February 24th, 2011 • Posted in General • Comments: 0

Lightning Strikes Twice

Yesterday I mentioned that about a month ago I lost a lot of financial and submission history to a corrupted hard drive.  Fortunately I didn’t have on-going work on there, or where I did I also had it on USB or on one or other (or both) of my laptops. I generally back up about once a week, although this slips to about once a fortnight when I’m busy, which of course is when things go wrong…

…like the power surge that we had on Thursday. No more than a momentary flicker of the lights, but the old Vaio –which has bugger all battery capacity—was plugged into the mains to recharge, and it was on, since I’d copied one file onto USB. Doubly vulnerable.

To cut a long story short, it’s showing exactly the same symptoms as the desktop.  That cost me £120 and I still lost all the data on it. After a January in which our catalytic convertor  failed (£450) I needed varifocals (£260) and the corrupted desktop  (£120) it’s a bill too far; especially if the data’s lost.

Or at least some of it is. 

 The casualties are an almost finished guest blog for Aliette de Bodard, and a review for Suite101 which was two paragraphs short of completion. That’s the biggest loss – almost 900 words completely gone into limbo.  But two other guest blogs were on the USB, as was everything else I’ve been working on, so I actually got off lightly.

So it’s the blog that’s suffered, but it’s not as bad as it could be.

What’s worse is that most of the photos Kate has taken over the last six or seven years were on the desktop, and while some of them were duplicated and appear elsewhere, having lost two-thirds of our photos, we’ve probably lost two-thirds of the remainder.

Chaz mentioned using a drop box, which is certainly an option I’ll look at — we haven’t the space physically for half the stuff we have here, and we need to find some way of storing memories that isn’t vulnerable to the whims of Western Power.

But don’t believe the old maxim that says lightning never strikes twice. It does.

• February 14th, 2011 • Posted in General • Comments: 0

Tech Fail

Those of you awake and paying attention may have noticed I’ve been quieter than usual on the bloggage front. That’s partly due to my workload in general –at the moment I’m juggling time-sensitive projects  – and partly because I suffered a tech fail earlier this week.

 What makes it worse is that it’s the second time in a month that it’s happened.

 I have three computers that I use at various times.  For financial stuff and files that need printing, I use a desktop Packard Bell that’s done me reasonable service.  Which is more than can be said for the netbook that I use when on the move and at home for some university work – many of you will have heard my swearing before when it decides to get temperamental.  The Tosh’s tendency to randomly lock up or simply go back to different screens has encouraged me to hang onto my trusty Sony Vaio laptop, despite it’s being literally held together with sellotape.

Because I switch machines, I back up about once a week onto a USB, although sometimes that lapses to once a fortnight.  (You can tell where this is going, can’t you?)

 About a month ago my desktop mysteriously failed to re-boot. Fortunately, this is the machine with least permanent files on, although it did have a decade’s worth of photos that Kate had downloaded.  Nonetheless, we asked our local PC shop to take a look at it.

Sharp intake of breath. “Looks like your hard drive’s become corrupted.”

 New hard drive installed, but the old one was a write-off – none of the data on it could be recovered.  And I’m only now realizing how much submission history and how many financial files were on that machine, and how rarely I had ever backed it up. I’ve had to re-input this year’s spreadsheet for the accountant, and I literally have no history aside from the hard-copy files sent through for previous year’s returns. 

Nor have I any idea who I’ve submitted which stories to. It’s a bit like having very limited amnesia.

 Still, I’ve sort of gotten used to that. Until three days ago…

 More tomorrow

• February 13th, 2011 • Posted in General • Comments: 0

A Life Invisible

Walking the dog this morning was surprisingly pleasant, since we managed to duck in between the showers, and in between them the morning was more like March than February. The ground was decidedly boggy underfoot, but Kate didn’t mind, I was in wellies, and Alice has four wheel drive.

Most of the rest of the morning was spent fitting a new printer – not that there was anything wrong with the old one; it was a leaving present from Unilever, and it prints like a dream. The problem with it – as I’ve found– is that replacement cartridges cost £45 each, and there are four of them.  It was actually cheaper to buy a new printer than two new cartridges. But as always it seems, fitting a new printer, which I expected would take a few minutes turned into a two hour job.

I’ve had several people observe how quiet I’ve been this week, which seemed odd, considering I’ve been working like crazy – but I realized after i’d thought about that it’s been time-consuming stuff, like this which comprises a life all but invisible to those on-line, and finishing articles and stories for submission to magazines, which I can’t talk about too much about until I can actually announce a sale. So that’s invisible too.

But I hope to have a small announcement soon.

• February 5th, 2011 • Posted in General, Uncategorized • Comments: 0