about this blog

This blog documents my staying at home and writing (and the subsequent whatevers to that writing). It also serves as an online journal for friends and family. It is more-or-less guaranteed to be sans intérêt to most anyone else.



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Sending news to Mum and the world since last week

2004 Reading List

Being a list of books read during the current year.
Moving Pictures
Soul Music
Faust Eric
Small Gods
Carpe Jugulum
Men At Arms
Feet of Clay
Lords and Ladies
Reaper Man
Witches Abroad
Guards! Guards!
Interesting Times
Equal Rites
The Last Continent
Wyrd Sisters
The Eighth Colour
The Light Fantastic
Dark Side of The Sun
Only You Can Save Mankind
Johnny and The Dead
The Discworld Companion (with S.Briggs)
- Terry Pratchett
A Child Across The Sky
The Wooden Sea
The Land of Laughs
From the Teeth of Angels
A Marriage of Sticks
- Jonathan Carroll
Northern Lights
The Subtle Knife
The Amber Spyglass
I was a Rat!
Count Karlstein
The Ruby in the Smoke
The Shadow in the North
The Tiger in the Well
- Philip Pullman
Charmed Life
The Lives of Christopher Chant
Witch Week
Howl’s Moving Castle
The Magicians of Caprona
- Diana Wynne Jones
What a Carve Up!
The Rotter’s Club
A Touch of Love
The Dwarves of Death
The House of Sleep
- Jonathan Coe
The Empty Sleeve
The Sound of Coaches
Blewcoat Boy
- Leon Garfield
The River Styx Runs Upstream [Le styx coule à l’envers - Nouvelles]
- Dan Simmons
The Black Book
Set In Darkness
The Hanging Garden
Hide And Seek
Black And Blue
Bleeding Hearts (Jack Harvey)
Witch Hunt (Jack Harvey)
- Ian Rankin
The Wish List
Artemis Fowl [2]
- Eoin Colfer
Smoke and Mirrors, Neil Gaiman
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K.Rowling
The Shining, Stephen King
Eastern Standard Tribe, Cory Doctorov
Free for All, Peter Wayner
Desolation Point, Dan Brown
Darwinia, Robert Charles Wilson

2003’s reads can be found here.
Ae Fond Kiss

Last night, Ludivine dragged me out to the cinema, effectively breaking my attempted record of staying in the flat a whole week without leaving. [A bit of lateral thinking, here: must call Alain.] Anyway, she took me to see Just A Kiss, a film that seemed to be called Ae Fond Kiss in English according to the titles which must have been just as obscure to English eyes [and ears] as the French title is over here… [I’m supposing that this is a reference to the poem by the ‘fornicator’ Robert Burns, that was sung in morning assembly at one point. Why then, do they not choose the translation of this poem into French? This would, I suppose, respect the authorial intent. It appears—and I have groused on this point at many times in the past—to have been slapped onto the film with no consideration of the author… small argh.]

Anyway, it was a sweet little film that very cleverly juxtaposed the rules applying to the hiring of teachers for a Catholic school in Scotland to underline what we might consider to be ‘unacceptable’ practises in the Asian family in the film, when viewed with western eyes; arranged marriages, for example, being just the tip of the iceberg.

[Aside: inevitably the following may contains spoilers. I have tried to be as vague as possible, and don’t think that I give away anymore than a decent film review.]

Ludivine said that Patricia was disappointed by the film’s lack of ‘social’ content; this is probably because—and I don’t mean this bitchily—Trotskists see social issues in economic terms, and not cultural ones. Overall it reminded me no end of My Beautiful Laundrette, [conflict with the Asian family, and a need to preserve the family at all costs, this being considered hypocrisy by the love-torn party] but I suppose that is inevitable considering the relatively large numbers of films dealing with people of Asian origin living in Britain. Or, at least, those that I have seen…

The film was constructed with great care and grace, and it was obvious that the usual very human, and very talented, fairies had been peeping into the cradle and heaping blessings on the baby’s head; all the minor parts shone beautifully as large as life as they often manage to do with Ken Loach. There was an interesting construction of ‘The Evil Priest’ and ‘The Nice Head’ playing those little devils and angels that one sees on Tintin’s shoulders in the Hergé books. With, of course, in this case the roles reversed.

The most interesting/complex person in the film was, in my opinion, the DJ’s sister, Tahara, and the film makers knew this too; she was given all the best scenes in the beginning, and she also managed to advance through the film while staying faithful to herself and to both sides in the conflict, as she saw those sides, but without giving in. [Tahara puts me in mind of a wonderful Romain Goupil film, Sa vie à elle, that I saw on arte one night; this tells the story of a girl living in a “well-integrated” french muslim family who decides, one day, to start wearing a headscarf to school, and the consequences of that action, at home, at school, with her friends; a provocative, well-done, wise, and very funny film.] Thus Tahara is very unlike Casim who wishy-washes all over the place. Perhaps if they had spent more time building him up, rather than her, we would have understood his struggle better, rather than just seeing its consequences. As it was, apart from the upcoming arranged marriage, and the final row with his father, we understood his dichotomy very little.

The scene that summed up my disappointment—I can almost hear the script-writers saying: OK, we need a conflict and a separation here, to prepare for the final scenes…—comes where Roisin wants to be consoled for losing her post [and not her job as she says; it is clearly said that she starts in a new school on Monday], while Casim must see the investors for his club. Now we can suppose at this point that they have been living together for at least a month [the extension being built on the house serving as a clever time-progression device throughout the film]. She knew how much he needed to invest in the club even before they started going out together. She knows how important all that was to him. And we are expected to believe that she, in some monstrously selfish moment, wants him to forgoe all that in order to console her for something that, while a profound disappointment, is just a setback, and will, probably and ironically, result in a better situation for her, away from the control of the ‘evil’ cigarette-smoking, blackmailing, Catholic Taliban. Sorry, I don’t buy this. I can accept, and try to understand Casim’s indecision and inability to talk, to emote even; I cannot accept this tantrum. Nor the importance that it is blown up to become.

So go see the film and make up your own mind.

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Yesterday I decided to be a good boy and tidy up my online archives and backups of my writings; I try not to keep things here at home, if I am burgled it is probable that not only the computer but also my backup hard drives would disappear. So I prefer to have my beckups elsewhere. Except I’m not very meticulous about this. Neither in the rgularity, nor in the nomenclature. So that took all yesterday to clean up and sort out archives.

Today I decided to have a look at this site and clean up the code and get things looking a little more as I wanted. So, I started by looking at the code on Kim’s site as there is less there, it should be quicker and easier to start off with… famous last words. It’s always the last ten minutes that takes four hours to do. There are some weird “undocumented features” in Pivot the system I use to do all this. Notably, if you use Pivot code, images are always centered. Not what I wanted.

I don’t have access to a Windows machine, so I can’t see whether IE chokes on this—probable. [if anyone sees any problems let me know].

I am happy that the layout uses no tables, and—patiently reading through the w3c specs I managed to do everything in CSS including a bunch of little things that I’d never managed before. I can see room for improvement, but considering the time that this took… I’m wondering if I really want to tread that path again.

Anyway, armed with the knowledge from today, I can look forward to messing up my blog tomorrow.

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Yesterday, we watched The Virgin Suicides; Ludivine had very nicely rented the video for us last Friday. In fact, the cassette was in very bad shape, showing only snow initially, but this settled down to just the occasional flurry once the film started. Having very much enjoyed Lost in Translation [and not giving a damn about the current backlash saying that it is just a minor, wishy-washy film. OK, it is, and always has been. And that was its attraction and charm; as it is a most charming film, and I am wonderfully happy to leave it at that]. Having heard quite a bit about TVS, I knew what to expect, more-or-less, and wasn’t disappointed. It was nicely made, and, like LIT, the music was excellent. I had never noticed before how much Air’s music, when heard in short sequences like here, resembled mid-period Pink Floyd [post-Syd Barrett, but pre-DSOTM] in tone and sensibility. This was most appropriate to the feeling and the moment of the film. And one fragment even sounded like the Floyd playing Imagine; highly unlikely, but appropriate considering the time.

The original music from the time was also right on. So much so, it was distracting. I was there, jumping up and down saying: “The Air That I Breathe, The Hollies. Simply Red did a cover about five years back”, “Ouch. The BeeGees?”, “Hello, It’s Me... Oooh. Tood Rundgren”, “10cc, I’m not in Love...” Ludivine, of course, rightly treated me as the extra-terrestial that I was being.

But the overall feeling that I got from the film was the author’s voice. I haven’t read the book—though I will seek it out now—but I have read Midddlesex, and the voice of both of these came over so clearly. And so similarly it was eerie…

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open-air cinema

When summer comes, Paris is not a feast, it is a picnic. Even since the corsets were taken off the lawns in the public parks; ever since we could finally stroll barefoot in the grass, and actually approach the flowered borders and shadowy bowers, the picnic baskets have come out.

Probably the most outrageous picnic that I have seen was at the Champs de Mars, just in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. The company had, not one, but two candelabras, white linen table cloth, crystal glasses, silver cutlery and hampers. They also had striped shirts and braces for the men, expensive smiles and designer clothes for the girls… Another world.

Probably the most pleasant picnics take place on the edges of the canals that criss-cross Paris. These tend to be cool and shady, and smell a little more inviting than those on the banks of the Seine.

But the place to picnic is the Parc de la Villette, at the open-air cinema.

In a not-to-distant past, Paris was deserted by its population in the summer months, leaving the city to the carloads of American and Japanese tourists who, once they had visited the museums—about the only places still open—wandered, lost and hapless, around the empty streets. However, in recent times, in order to give these tourists something to do, as well as to occupy the Parisians who stay around more and more, now that holidays have changed structure and the rigid old rule of everything-closed-in-August no longer applies; not forgetting the horrendous prices for accommodation that mean that hardly anyone has any surplus income anymore. There has been a subsequent development of summer activities; most of them free.

Like the open-air cinema.

Last year it was cancelled as the workers in the arts and entertainment industry, profoundly distressed at the changes being made to their unemployment regimen, were disrupting most of the summer activities; ironically enough, putting themselves out of work. Some summer festivals, like La Rochelle or Avignon, were cancelled outright. Others, like Les Vieilles Charrues in Brittany, only survived by having compulsory sessions and ‘debates’ organised by the strikers before and between the rock concerts.

Over about half the day, Ludivine had been finding out who was in Paris, who was available, and who wanted to meet up for the picnic. Finally, only a few of us were here, and willing. The film showing, “Three Kings”, was not the most important element of choice. Just the desire to meet up and picnic. Everything was arranged for half past eight.

We met up at the fountain in front of the Halle de la Villette, the splendidly restored old cattle markets that lives on in the logo of the area: a cow, photocopied and stretched-out [cut-up?] like an accordion. This logo was found on all the deck-chairs and blankets. Special note: while entrance is free, deck-chairs and blankets are available for hire. The rest of us sit out in the damp grass on sheets and blankets that we have brought, and shiver under pullovers and jackets.

When we arrived we set off for the compound. We had to go through metal detectors and a security guard asked if we were carrying any knifes or whatever before searching bags; even the small wallet that I carry, slung over my shoulder, was searched. I have ranted in the past about the uselessness of these searches, but was told that this wasn’t against terrorist activity, but to stop kids fighting. Even something so seemingly inoffensive as a crash helmet—in fact, a possibly useful weapon—had to be left at the lockers. Other stuff was treated case-by-case; adults with picnic baskets were allowed knives and corkscrews, kids were not.

There was no trouble. There was no threatening behaviour. There was not even any jostling or invasion of other people’s blankets. The whole thing was very jovial and good-natured, with—and I saw this at least twice—picnicking parties all round joining in with applause, cheers and song when birthday cakes, lit with candles, were plunked down in front of a surprised reveller.

In Paris, at the moment—I saw this on the back page of the paper that someone sitting opposite me in the Métro was reading—the sun sets at 9:40. The programmes indicate that the film will start at anytime after 10 o’clock. This time, things got going at about 10:25. This was stretching things as we had to grab the last Métro and allow for a change at République to get back home. In fact we left at 12:15, probably 10 minutes before the end of the film, and just managed to catch the last train on the ligne 9 to Montreuil.

As we nibbled and drank and chatted, the sun set and night arrived. The stars slowly popped out, and we could follow the UFOs in the sky; these were mostly planes, at least one was a helicopter, another was probably a satellite. And we saw a shooting star streak across the sky; a first for Paris where usually the ambient light is too strong. Ludivine made a wish and lent over and kissed me on the cheek. I guessed that she probably wished for me to shave so that my cheek didn’t prickle so.

Most appropriately for an outside cinema/picnic event, the sounds of what sounded a lot like Emir Kusturica’s No Smoking Orchestra’s excited central-european beats and discordant brass kept bursting over and through a separating row of trees, either from the nearby Zenith concert hall, or from an outside sound-system. This continued even through quiet passages in the film. At about 10:15 a voice came over the cinema’s PA system telling everyone that the film was about to start, that it lasted 1 hour and 55 minutes, and that it was preceded by a series of adverts that allowed the film to be shown for free. This last remark is becoming more and more necessary, as protesting of the now ubiquitous billboards and commercial advertising in, for example, the Métro takes on major proportions; people disfiguring the posters and ads are more and more frequently applauded by passers-by. At least in Paris, awareness of these anti-ad movements is very high. Ludivine told me that two years ago, the ads before the films were loudly booed by the public. Tonight’s lot was mostly institutional films—promoting condoms to prevent AIDS contamination; short clips for the French Public radio service [a sponsor]; a short clip condemning the upcoming Olympic Games in Pekin [strong applause], and boos for the one commercial ad.

And that was it. We watched the film—in English, if you please—the subtitles were pretty illegible. We hugged each other to keep warm, and a good time was had by all.

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a walk in the park

a portrait of nadja in the park

If all goes according to plan, just above this text should be the photo of the wonderful and lovely, post-birthday, Nadja taking a very brief pause in her study schedule to spend 10 minutes with us. A photo that I sneaked today by holding the camera quickly above her when she was lying down, relaxing in the park. We had agreed to meet near the exit to Métro station Javel and walk from there. Kim and I were only 15 minutes late, for questions that we won’t go into here, but let me just say it was Kim’s fault not mine. So there.

Once we found each other, and gave her a belated 23rd-birthday hug, we set off in the grueling sunshine to the André Citroën Park. When we first arrived there, the sprinklers were blowing full force, watering everything; so it was a pleasant, if mucky, walk through dripping vegetation in the mists from above. You just had to beware of the drips and occasional spurts as the system misfired and tried to drwon you. We found a bench in a relatively dry and shadowy place, and pic-nicked. Predicatably, we were soon assaulted by a gang of pigeons offering some protection racket in exchange for half of our lunch. We just laughed, set Kim on them, and dodged the occasional outraged tentative for revenge—oh, and the pigeons, sensing the weakest link, did come back to intimidate me when the girls went off to wash hands in the toilets. But luckily for me, the girls came back quick and scared them off. How great it is having strong adventurous daughters who aren’t at all frightened by pigeons.

Then we set off for a walk in the park. The part that we were in was very overgrown and quite pleasant, except for large greenhouses suspended over our heads at regular intervals. Then suddenly we arrived in an area that looked like La Défense if that had been a park and not a long platform/walkway surrounding by buildings. It was a long lawn/walkway surrounded by buildings and very square, regimented shrubs. Sort of Le Nôtre with a computer. It was weird and very hot, offering little in the way of shade. We wandered around the edges, skipping from shadow to shadow, seeking solace in the occasional splashing of waterfalls and fountains, and watching the enormous sponsored passenger-carrying balloon [we couldn’t decide if it was hot air or helium] going up and down its rope.

Eventually we managed to escape the park and jumped into the Métro off to the area of Nadja’s old haunting grounds [drinking grounds, she told me… My daughter drinking? What is this…] just behind the Panthéon and the Sorbonne. From there, and an incredibly overpriced coffee, we wandered around narrow, smelly streets to the Ile Saint-Louis where we feasted on deliciously sticky Italian ices. Kim insisted on a big one. I bought her the smallest pistachio I could, and even then she couldn’t finish it.

We finished up on the banks of the Seine, before going our different ways. And I came home, drank a couple of litres of water, and collapsed and slept for about three hours. Oops.

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aching feet

This evening, with aching feet, I finished typing up Chapter Six. I have a few things to verify, but it would appear that this isn’t a blocking factor, that I can consider myself happy with the work done, for the moment.

I think that I will, when the time comes, read all of this out loud, and do the final check through like that. There are passages where things can still be changed and improved; the rhythmn tightened. Overall I’m pleased with how this is going, the material that I needed to add is in there, and it fits well. I’m just hoping that I won’t need to come back at a later point and add, or change, things. And, as far as I can tell, the story holds up. Of course, I’d really have liked the events covered in these chapters to just cover about 3 chapters, but, well, you can’t have everything. I just hope that they are not considered too boring and slow-paced.

Anyway, these chapters average out at 6000 words. Which means that, first of all that is a decent length for a chapter and works with my intentions; and secondly, that I have 30,000 words all lined up and ready to have fun.

Chapter Seven will need some more consequent changes. I’m even wondering if I should completely rewrite it by hand before attacking the typing. I will reread it and try to see.

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slow progress

This is not just caused by the fact that I am not getting much time to transcribe, slipping this activity into the spaces around trying to give Kim a fun time, but now by changes that are either necessary in the story, or just impose themselves.

Chapters Two to Four were pretty straightforward. There were occasional improvements, turns of phrase and so on to include. This was done without too much trouble and typing was quite fast [well, fast for me…]. In Chapter Five, I not only needed to rewrite a scene completely, but a new one became necessary. I also discovered that I hadn’t written the last scene in the chapter, just sketched it in. Now, in Chapter Six, I am finding more ‘notes’ rather than well-written scenes; scenes that need minor changes, passages that need major changes; as well as the common and garden re-reading and corrections, and the occasional ‘What the hell could I have been thinking when I wrote that?’ and not forgetting ‘What-the-hell-can-that-word-be?’

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long time, no blog...

I have been spending time with Kim and, in the moments that I managed to shuffle off to the side, I have been typing up the ‘finished’ chapters of Pirates. This is in the morning before she gets up and the evening, once I have read her the bedtime story. I am nearly finished with Chapter Five, and Kim is at the swimming pool with Ludivine.
I typed ‘finished’ in inverted commas because I thought that they were, but this chapter definately needed a paragraph between two scenes that quickly became an additional 2000 words and took me two days to write/correct. I have also found that the last scene is just sketched out, not written at all…

Currently the number of words for each chapter stands at…
Chapter Two: 5535
Chapter Three: 5111
Chapter Four: 6321
Chapter Five: 5758 [as yet unfinished]

If you don’t know why Chapter One is missing from this list you haven’t been paying attention. Coming back and typing things up, correcting and changing, has allowed me to get a better idea of how this story is coming on.

Quite frankly, I like Chapter Two very much. It has flow and unity. It must be my favourite so far. The others, I fear, don’t have that smoothness, they are more choppy as they contain more scenes. At least this is my impression, I can’t be sure that this is true. What is true is that there are many more things going on here. It might just be that Chapter Two was very easy to write, and left a good impression because of that. And that similarly, it was a pleasure to edit, correct and type.

So far all the changes that I have needed to make have been made, and none too painfully. I have cut a couple of scenes that didn’t add anything to the story and added the material that needed to be added.

With a bit of luck I will finish Chapter Five today and then get going on the next. I’d like to finish typing everything for next Friday when Kim goes back to her mother’s for three weeks. Then I can try and finish the first draft of the other chapters…

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I have started typing up Pirates. I’m not a very fast typist, I’m afraid as I’m only halfway through Chapter Two. And I haven’t typed Chapter One, and I have been at this for two days already.

The two days is a bit of a white lie. In fact I work on this in the morning before Kim gets up, and now, at night when she is asleep. Plus this isn’t just transcribing from paper to word processor; I am working out the knots, the awkwardness, the changes that are in that notebook just behind my forehead. So far, I am amazed; this is a lot less bad than I imagined. And no, I’m not being pessimistic or modest. A lot less meant that I was prepared for purple prose, for an aftermath of adjectives and adverbs, and long, long phrases that went on forever losing all focus and purpose, so that at the end, people have completely forgotten where we started. Of course, all this is just starting days, I have plenty of time to get things wrong later, but for the moment, I feel good about this.

As to Chapter One, I have my latest set of notes, but as this chapter and the last one ‘speak’ to each other like bookends—well, that is my intention at the moment—I feel all right about leaving it that state in case I need to have to add, or change, material.

Speaking of Kim, I fear that she got a little bored today; I sought out the phone numbers of her friends and in doing so had to sort through so much mess I just got down and started making piles on the floor. Now things should be easier to find, and a list of ‘common’ phone numbers is pinned up over the pegs where we hang coats just inside the front door. But we did make a great list of all the free concerts and shows in Paris this summer, and added them to the day planner that we made. Most of the things start on the 14th, so we should be a bit more active towards the end of the week.

All we need now, is to find a good firework display tomorrow night…

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holidays with Kim

This evening while reading our night’s story [still Leon Garfield] to Kim, she turned to me and said, I really like this holiday, papa. Now I know well enough that kids’ reactions are a bit like the weather at the moment, one minute storms, the next bright sunshine, to swallow this completely, but it did feel nice. Precisely, I think, because it echoed my own feelings.

A comment in Neil Gaiman’s blog yesterday, while I’m on the subject of Kim, reminds me of our brush in with the Tooth Mouse. Yes, here in France it is a mouse who has the duty of hauling coins around, and disposing of all those wobbling small teeth. At one point we started finding dried, or worse still, sticky, bits of cheese under Kim’s pillow. She was leaving them for the Tooth Mouse. She’d taken to heart a passing remark when one day the Mouse missed a tooth and had to catch up later; we’d said that it was normal, she was probably just fed up with people taking her for granted, I mean, when do you think about her except when you have a tooth to exchange… So Kim had started setting out food and leaving thank you notes. I had to write replies—imitating French schoolchildren’s ugly school-taught joined-up writing with my left hand so that it wasn’t anything recognisable as her parents’ handwritings—thanking her, and asking her to please stop.

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(what’s so funny ’bout) adjectives?

I keep seeing advice to writers that says to steer clear of adverbs, and now adjectives. I read a review of G.P.Taylor’s Wormweed in the Guardian this morning and went looking for more information. I came across this comment on amazon.co.uk
He is still a novice writer and this shows up here:too much reliance on adjectives, and very repetitive in his use of language. How many times does Agetta ‘quickly’ go? Too many to count. Mostly characters go ‘quickly’ or ‘slowly’.

Admittedly, the ‘reviewer’ one andyfairhurst2 from London, didn’t say that ‘quickly’ is an adjective, although he implies it. Anyway, having a quick Google on this author found quite a bit of resentment, this being an example.

I wonder if it is success that breeds this, or if the book is really bad. Damn, now I shall have to read this for myself and make up my own mind.

[Just in case you don’t get the title, it’s a reference to a Nick Lowe song. This just happens to get sung in Lost In Translation ]

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more music

Of my experience with eMusic

I signed up yesterday; this entitled me to the free 50 tracks download. The signing was more painless than Apple’s and more precise about decisions and consequences. I signed up for the Basic Account; this means that I pay 9.99/month and can download up to 40 songs. I got a signing bonus of 50 downloads. There is also the possibility, at any time, of buying an additional block of downloads; 10 downloads for $4.99, 25 downloads for $9.99, 50 downloads for $14.99.
There is no limit. When you sign on you have 10 days to profit from your free downloads before the monthly subscription starts. You can—and there are no hoops—sign on, grab the fifty tracks, and sign off.

So why shouldn’t you?

Apart from that the web interface is very clunky [worse than iTunes—I’m beginning to see why iTunes, while bad, is considered best of the bunch] but just as slow. The indexing is very bad*. An example: an album that I was seeking, Harold Budd with The Cocteau Twins, The Moon and The Melodies does not appear when you search for “Budd”, “Harold Budd”, “Cocteau Twins”, and a variety of other things including ‘Tracks containing the word Moon’! Another example, I have just stumbled on the lovely Soundtrack that Tindersticks recorded for Claire Denis’ film Trouble Every Day. Of course, it is filed under Alternative and not under Soundtracks.

[* Apple’s is better, but not much. I was seeking Peacemaker’s Blues by Big Head Todd and The Monsters: iTunes proposed “Gerry and the Peacemakers”—What?!? I have stumbled on tracks that don’t appear when searched for and not in the correct categories: I found a Gerard Manset album in a category called Vocal that, apparently, doesn’t exist in the category index.]

eMusic downloading uses a separate app, and then the material needs to be imported into iTunes; while it’s annoying, I can live with it. Album art doesn’t get downloaded, and as it doesn’t appear to be of sterling quality on the site, I have, generally, found it is easier to just seek out and copy this in from Amazon.

The web site was obviously made when the graphic designer was asleep and the ergonomics consultant away on vacation. At least it’s not glitzy, just a bit rusty.

So, as I was saying, why subscribe?

Because if you like this sort of music, you can’t really get it much elsewhere. So far, I have downloaded Coma Girl, Redemption Song and Long Shadow from Joe Strummer’s posthumous album Streetcore. Also the wonderful Disturbed by Ilya that I heard on Radio Paradise, as well as Dead Can Dance and The Cocteau Twins. I have been using the sort of shopping bag feature—MyStash—to set aside disks as I find them; the Search, as I have said, being so strange that you might not be able to find them again.

The tracks seem to be ripped better than Apple’s on iTunes; so far, the bitrates vary from 141 [lowest] to 201 [highest]—Apple has 128 everywhere. And, there is no ‘This track is Album only’ like on iTunes.

Finally, there is no copy protection, no DRM software nor encoding. Thesea re vanilla mp3s. And even at entry level prices, tracks are 4 times cheaper than Apple [Reminder, as this is a dollar payment, check how much the bank will grab on transactions…]

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Operating Instructions

Parents just phoned. Discovered that this blog—set up with them as the ‘audience’, a means of keeping in touch—is ‘too difficult’. So here is a Operating Instructions entry, for my parents and any others.

A ‘blog’ is a contraction of ‘weblog’, that is a log—a journal of things as and when they happen—on the web—here. One of the particularilties of a blog is that the page starts with the most recent entry and then proceeds back in time, like an archeological dig. This can be disconcerting and annoying at first until you get the hang of things. This also encourages people to read a blog everyday, then just the top entry is read. Blogs are also sometimes available as RSS feeds. In order to use these you need a RSS reader. If you don’t know what this is, then don’t bother. If you do, then use the links on the right of the page; you will find rss or atom .

If you want to catch up, there are monthly archives. These are available on the right also. The 2003 material is old stuff that I put online when I started this in March 2004. You might like the account of the trip to Amsterdam last Summer

In this journal I blog most days, some days more than once. Most of the entries cover my attempts to write and to get published. I also not material on different subjects. For this I use categories. These are:
:: Juliet :: Died :: Pirates :: Stuff
:: Home :: Work :: Rant :: System

Entries appear automatically in their parent category. And all entries appear on the home page—Journal. Thus, an entry posted in Home will appear also in Life and on the Journal page.
While I try not to overdo this, an entry can be posted in more than one category.

Some categories have special uses.
System for example, deals with my attempts to get this blog up and working.
About , where this will be posted, concerns all the entries about using, reading, consulting this Journal.

If someone is only interested in one category of entry—say, Writing, or Home—it is perfectly possible to just connect in to that page. The links are provided above; just bookmark these.

The Search box—top right—can be used to seek out words or phrases used in the entries on this site.

Links appear as an orangey-red. If the link goes to somewhere on this site, then it will open in this window; use your back button to get back here. If the link goes to another site, it will open a new window. This is a feature and took me some time to program correctly.

Also on these pages, although this will change as I get time and the inclination, is a booklist of current reading. As I finish a book, I add it to the list. Booklists for past years are archived. I also note links to other blogs or sites. I intend to update and improve this.

I would also like to add a ‘Wishlist’ page, where I can note, generally, books that I want to get. This is most selfish, the idea being that anyone wishing to offer me a book can then look at the page and know what is currently desired. [Thank you in advance, if you do do this.]

I count that things are a little clearer now.

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There you go. It wasn’t the National but the Tate

The Martin painting that jinxed me out was this one
And The Lady of Shalott is here

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a pause in the pause

The opening chapters to Leon Garfield’s The Empty Sleeve have so far been wonderful. So full of ideas, sparse and pleasantly written, and that little sinister noise rustling at the edge. Kim stops me from time to time to ask about a word, but that’s fine, shows that she’s listening. I just hope that she’s enjoying it as much as I am.

Kim is with Emiline, who is getting quite rounded, this afternoon. I can believe that she’s pregnant seeing here like that [of course, it could be a very severe case of indigestion, but let’s not go into that]. They have gone to see Shrek2. For some reason this does not tempt me, and so I am quite happy to let them enjoy it together.

I am profiting from the peace and quiet to make the notes for the rewriting of Chapter One that I should have done three days ago. I always thought the psychology of this chapter was weak. But there again the lack of psychology is not necessarily a bad thing, I was aiming for Beowulf and that just seems more Thomas Hardyish than Henry James. Anyway, I have now found glimpses of 19th century Medieval slipping in: sort of The Lady of Shalott [which makes me think of this more precisely this ] meets Beowulf.

[complete aside on this subject. This brought to mind one of my first visits to the National Gallery when I must have been around 16. I rushed along to see the pre-raphaelites—probably getting distracted by the John Martin paintings that I discovered there; wonderful stuff for 16-yr-old boys…—and in front of, I believe that it was The Lady of Shalott, was a very beautiful girl, 18 to early twenties, a very pale pre-raphaelite style type of pretty, gazing up in awe at the paintings; she had a great plaid of thick red hair that stretched down to her bum. At the time I was utterly knocked out by the effect. About twenty years later, I realised that she probably posed in an around that section for most of the day, as it all seemed a little ‘too much’, both as an effect [affect?] and a coincidence…]

Anyway, I will continue with my Tennyson meets Beowulf and see where it leads. I wanted some Arthurian references around the place [there are others already there], so this isn’t too bad. It reads, at the moment, like something that one could have read in Arthurian stuff, but not quite able to put one’s finger on. That is, I confess, the sort of feeling that I’d like.

As I take the time to think things through in preparation for redrafting, other parts are also coming together: changes, bits that need adding. I am also realising that there are some more stories hanging around the edges of this one. I will resist until I have finished this—and, of course, then I have Died to write—but it might be interesting to explore some of these places again. We’ll see.

. . . . .

Note to myself: iTunes Precursors and Contemporaries is pretty dismal. I was wondering how hard it would be to put together a good recommendation engine. Have to think that through some time. Could be easy to do badly…

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welcome to the blogsphere

Just set up a blog for Kim at thepowerfactory.com/kim/
I haven’t been working these last few days [going crazy noting things in my head…] as I’ve been trying to spend some time with her. Thought that blogging might be an interesting summer project for her. She always seems to forget what she is doing as soon as she has done it [what did you do today/at thingy’s house/on your holidays..? Can’t remember], and her spelling is pretty rotten—there again, mine would be too if I was learning French I imagine…

So far so good. [She’s typing as I write.] She has just learnt about ‘Cut and Paste’. This allows her to correct a word in one place and then paste the good spelling over the other occurrences. Useful. I also showed her how to do emoticons, which she found funny, especially as Pivot maps them to icons.

Yesterday, we went and raided the library now that Kim has her own card for the one here. I grabbed a couple of Leon Garfield books [ ‘À l’enseigne du diable’—The Empty Sleeve, and ‘The Berceau volant’—The Sound of Coaches] to read to her at nights. I remembered him as a wonderfully evocative writer of rip-roaring historical mysteries. Let’s see if he still stands up well.

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I should not have stopped to think...

Since then I haven’t stopped. Thinking about little niggardly nagging things in the story, that is. [Should I have said, little niggardly nagging things in the narrative, or even, little niggardly nagging nuggets in the narrative, or would that have been overdoing things?]

Sorry for that interruption. As I was saying, thinking about these things that need changing. And thinking. And wondering if I shouldn’t work on the second draft of the half that is written, then I can incorporate those elements and see if it goes where I think it should [or, as I suspect, it might start heading where it thinks it should.] Whatever, this may help my waste less time [or waste it differently] when writing the second half.

Yet, all this means a radical [i.e. complete, floors-to-ceiling, and possibly beyond] rewriting of Chapter One. Who knows if the story might not profit from that to go off into new and unknown territories.

How come they never warned about this at school?

. . . .

Decision number two. Send off ‘begging letters’ to agents concerning Juliet. Ow!

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First of all, yesterday’s important news:

From Emiline: Je suis allée chez l’échographiste ce matin et elle m’a appris que j’attendais une petite cacahuète. Alors je lui ai dit vous êtes sure c’est pas un bébé plutôt. Alors elle m’a dit non, c’est une cacahuète mais c’est une cacahuète du sexe féminin.
Alors en conclusion, tu vas être grand père d’une petite cacahuète fille…

Roughly translated, this gives:
I had a sonogram this morning as was told that I was expecting a small peanut. So I asked if he wasn’t sure it was a baby. She said, no, it’s a peanut, but it’s a female peanut.
So, to sum up, you are going to be grandfather to a small female peanut…

Hugs and best wishes are in order to Mother- and Father-to-be.
I think that I need to get drunk. Quickly.

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catching up

So, for today—see the other entry for reasons why…—I will put writing on hold. I will, I think, relax a little, catch up some reading, and mail all those who contacted me recently. So if you want a mail, now’s your chance to mail me while I’m in a ‘sociable’ mood. While it lasts…

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taking stock

Today is July 6 and I’m collecting Kim tomorrow, so this is, more-or-less, my last day of ‘unfettered’ writing.

Good points. While not finished I figure that I am, as-near-as-dammit, halfway through the first draft. While I wanted to be finished at this point, things could be worse…

Neither good nor bad points. Chapter Seven just ended yesterday. I had spent two days rewriting large parts of it. There is probably room for more improvement, but at least I have got the points that I wanted to, there, ready in place. And then, wham-bam, it finished. Just felt like a good finish and the next chapter started. Now this disturbs me as the essential conflict that will feed the rest of the story was supposed to start at the end of the chapter. This is, I admit, very late… Half way through the book? Now, with the changes yesterday it will come even later. And then I realised… The Raven Girl. She is part of the material that needs to be revised in the early chapters, but suddenly I saw her a lot more clearly and realised what she was doing. [Don’t ask. I mean, Colin was supposed to be the assistant before he started taking over the story which originally belonged to McHarry. Jones was supposed to be a strong character, but it’s obvious that, if I let him, Tom would run away with the story and not give it back, and then this Bird Girl who just wanders around waving her arms suddenly makes an attempt to grab the storyline also.] If I go back and put the Raven Girl into the places where she should be, plus in one or two more where I can feel her scratching at the door, I think that this business of Chapter Seven or Eight, or even Nine—I mean, who really knows? I’m only writing this thing!—will work out OK and the story will be back on the tracks.

Bad points. See above.

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blots and splodges

I suppose that there is a myth, an idea, a desire, that a book will write itself. That it will be so possessed by the Story, that it will just flow from mind to pen to paper. And that even the first part is not always necessary. That there is some distant imperative that will cause the book to be as the story must be.

Doesn’t work like that. SInce yesterday [I must be more than 4000 words into Chapter Seven, by the way] I realised one of the problems with the way that the story was smudging itself along.

Everyone is just too nice.

Oh, there are occasional ruffles between McHarry and Colin. Stone is not above teasing from time to time, and Tom has the potential to be a real pain in the posterior if Colin doesnt work out. To go back a bit, Gramps could be as deaf as a post when he wanted to, and Super could be… well, she was Super. But fondamentally these are all nice, friendly, decent people, ar heart. And Jones has all the makings of that also.


How very boring…

I don’t want people spitting things out at each other, but how many times have you just had to work alongside an utter imbecile, idiot, wanker, etc. How many times has your boss been a raving looney, fascist, or just plain incompetent? And how many times have you not only hated someone’s guts, but it was mutual?

Life’s like that. So it should be all tweety-pie, but it rarely is. And then there are others, borderline cases, people who just persistantly work against their own interests, either because they can’t see it, or because they have a bee up their bonnet about something else.

Anyway, I think that I will have to go back and rewrite chunks of Chapter Seven. And I have a weird feeling that someone is going to fall violently ill.

Perhaps I should have just stayed in bed today and let the story write itself.

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how many roads must a man walk down..?

I bought Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks from iTunes . Again, it cost me 9.90 euros. I have noted, at last, a couple of other things that interest me there. Nothing absolutely, totally, utterly can’t-live-without-able, which is why they are currently on a waiting list. But buying Blood on the Tracks made me think about what I was really buying.

I think that this is the third time that I have bought this disk. I first got it as a vinyl, then as a CD, now as a collection of files. In each case what am I buying? Am I buying—in the case of an object, the disks—the right to possess that object, to keep it, to lend it, to resell it. I think so. I am not buying the right to hire it, nor to broadcast it. In all cases. That is pretty clear. I have also a right to make backup copies for personal use.

Here is an interesting case: when I was serious about buying vinyls I would tape the disk as soon as I bought it, and only use the disk again when I thought the tape needed renewing. What would have been the situation had my disks been stolen [or the more usual situation of a friend forgetting to return them?] Would my tapes immediately become illegal? That is, somebody else’s illegal actions would cause me a double prejudice [loss of the original documents, illegal possession of the tapes]? Or would the fact that I had bought the disks cover my continued listening to the tapes?

But it is not clear what part of the purchases is just the carrier—the vinyl and packaging, the CD and such—and what is the artist’s rights. Now it would appear to me that when I bought a CD of a disk that I already owned as a vinyl I had already paid the artist’s rights. I should be just paying for the new support. They could even had put together a trade-in from vinyl.

CDs are easier and cheaper to produce that vinyl disks. When they were first produced the record companies argued that the transition to new technology, new plants, new high standards for engineering created one-time costs that had to be passed on to the consumer. But these were only a temporary stop-gap measure. As soon as these costs had worked their way through the supply chain then we would see the CD prices drop.

I hope no one believed them.

The record companies have been riding on the more-than generous profits that the transition to CDs generated. That wave is no ending as most people have transitioned to CD. The wave is also ending for two other reasons. People are aware of the record company greed when they buy a blank CD for 1 euro and wondered where the other 19 go when they buy a disk… And the music that is currently being offered is just plain dreck. The record companies are so used to rolling in money that they need more and more, so empty ‘artists’ are being launched with mega-marketing-budgets that they must absolutely recover… And this is why you no longer listen to the radio Mr Jones…

Most of my CDs are in Gilles’ cellar. Why is not the issue here. Suffice to say that I have downloaded from P2P networks quite a few of the tracks that, for reasons I don’t wish to discuss, I don’t have here with me. I have no problems with this as I own the music, even if it is not here with me, physically so to say, at the moment.

I also download, quite often, tracks from different sites that offer bands music as mp3s in order to discover and find out. Matson Belle and Sigur Rós for example, both provide this. The Emigre Type Foundry also have a record label with free samples. Lots of free online-only record labels are available at archive.org . So I now have 4.5 Gb of music on my iBook.

S’funny that I should keep it on my iBook…

Did you know that France has a tax not only on blank media—tapes and CDs—but also on hard drive? This is designed to cover the loss to artists to illegal copying. I have burnt quite a few CDs, generally to give material to clients, or to back up my files. Hundreds of disks if you think of it… For each of those disks I paid a tax because someone decided that I could have been making illegal copies*. As far as I know, only France also taxes hard drives in this way. Now I have 3 computers here, two external drives, and the original HD that was in my G3 PowerBook as I changed that. That means I have paid taxes on 6 hard drives. I believe that the tax also applies to the flash card in my digital camera because, you know, I could just possibly keep illegal music on it.

[ * This is akin to adding a tax to petrol, for example, to cover parking offences. Because it is so much easier to tax you because, you know, you could be parking badly, rather than really look at the problem of towns clogged with cars and poluution and underfunded repressive public transport systems…]

The tax money from digital media is currently sitting in some collecting agency because people don’t know how to re-distribute it… to the artists, of course. Once the record companies agree on their cut.

I won’t even mention the tax on phone lines as that isn’t to cover possible and supposed illegal copying, but to provide Universal Access to people too poor to afford that universal lifeline that the telephone has become. So all the other telco operaters in France have to pay an annual percent of their turnover to France Telecom in order to cover the losses that France Telecom makes in providing Universal Access. Except that the Universal Access has never gone into operation. Making all of this into a disguised tax on the other operators in order to further the unfair advantages that FT enjoys… FT, of course, can’t spend this money. But it exists in its millions and millions, earning interest, improving balance sheets. Ho hum…

So, all in all, the sooner that the artists put together iTunes-like services and I can download material directly from them, and let them get my 0.99 per track directly, and let the record companies disappear altogether, the better things will be for all.

[BTW. The Record Companies argue that they need high margins in order to find, support and develop talent. Judging from their track record [no pun intended] in recent years, this is like highwayman explaining that they are an important part of the redistribution of wealth in rural areas.]

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catching up

Nadia telephoned me Wednesday asking me to call Kim’s school and say that, as she had taken Kim away on holiday, could I telephone the school and say that Kim wouldn’t be attending any more this year. She handed the phone to Kim who promptly said, “Hello Papa, I’m in Tunisia…” As Nadia was using her mobile phone the call must have cost her a pretty penny. Of course, I was not consulted on this. Probably as I would have said that having cheap holidays in other people’s miserable dictatorships is not a good thing. Especially as the Customs [who, as one would expect there, are corrupt powercrazed bastards] already gave Nadia a bad time years ago went she went before because she had an Arab-sounding surname. At least I shall have no qualms in taking Kim with me if we decide to pop off somewhere abroad this summer.

We also managed to agree—cross Mediterranean style—on my dates for Kim, so that will be July 7 to 23 and August 15 to 29. That’s that.

I also received a mail from Beatrice giving me Nadja’s exam results for her DEA in Law, which was 13,75 overall. Emiline tells me that this is wonderful as a good score at Nana’s University is about 12. We’re all inclined to say, well, yes, that’s Nadja, but it is true that she has done very well for herself so far. On the otherhand we have all seen the hard work and toil that she puts into it. She has a determination and a capacity to just keep on going that I believe many would admire. If she does become a Judge she would probably be fearsome—in all the best senses…

While chatting with Emiline she said that she must relax things a little and will be having her 5-month sonograph next week, but apart from that—and the fact that she is only two buttons from bursting her jeans—all is going well. She has got her school for next year—Creteil—and Nico will be teaching at Orléans again, which was what he seemed to be after. So that’s them too.

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Chapter Seven stands at around 3500 words. This is a very approximate count of the sort—well this looks like a 310 words page, and this one is a 200, that’s a little under; aha, a 300… Very unscientific. But it looks like I have broken that Chapter’s back before it breaks my spirit… But I’m not entirely sure on that last point.

This Chapter is hell. Somehow I seem to be saying that about all of them, no? Maybe they are wearing me down. Anyway, it feels plodding, pedestrian: no sparkle. Not only is there a lot happening, but it must cover a long time, about 2 months in all. So it will definately be a long chapter. But I can’t bear the idea of a long boring two months drag.

To further complicate matters, new secondary characters have crept in, and they all need their place. There is street urchin Tom, there is Jones’ daughter, whom I fear will be called Alice, there is Jones’ wife… and there is a small black kitten with large paws who is scratching at the door for even a little role. I never realised it before, but Colin is crying out for someone like the kitten to look after…

So judging from the quality of writing in this Chapter, all my hopes of this being draft one have just sunk underground; far, far underground. Oh well, it wasn’t reasonable anyway. So this will all be draft zero and that’s it, don’t expect much else of me in this state. There may be a couple of nicely turned phrases here and there, but if the rest of the story doesn’t hold up, what can I do?

Rewrite. Rewrite.

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