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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.
Sourcery
Hogfather
Moving Pictures
Pyramids
Soul Music
Mort
Faust Eric
Small Gods
Carpe Jugulum
Jingo
Men At Arms
Feet of Clay
Maskerade
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
Strata
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!
Clockwork
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
Smith
The Sound of Coaches
Blewcoat Boy
- Leon Garfield
The River Styx Runs Upstream [Le styx coule à l’envers - Nouvelles]
Ilium
- 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.
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just a quick mention...

...to say that Kim’s project from the last week, our graphic alphabet, is online in her blog. The rules of the game were the following: only ‘found’ objects could be used [this rule was set up after she photographed the letter ‘R’, and threatened to ransack all shopfronts in the area looking for other letters—that we can do another day…]; no arranging things, they had to be as is… an exception to this was the frying pan, posed on a sheet of paper.

In fact we probably took four times the number of images that are displayed, threw out a quarter because they were no good—out of focus was not a criteria, that the shape was not present enough [‘F’ is a borderline case…]. Then Kim chose her final 26. Perhaps we’ll also do numbers next time.

BTW, the code to display the letters is based on what I use on the photos page here. Just scrub your mouse pointer over the thumbnails and the big picture will change. That’s it.

. . . . .

On an update front, I did a few corrections to Emiline’s baby wishlist application following her trials [and my errors]. It seems nearly finished. Oh, and I started work again on Pirates—just notes and jottings—I’ll be back to it seriously once Kim goes back to her mother.

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Colour me a big Ouf!

I have just put the finishing touches to the BabyGiftList Chooser & Manager that I have been programming for Emiline and Nico. It took roughly the time that I thought it would… about two weeks. I’m hoping now that they won’t find too many problems in it. [Sound of fingers crossing].

I took the occasion, while working on this, to have a look at SubEthaEdit. This is billed as a collaborative text editing environment. It uses Apple’s Rendezvous technology to detect other users, and allows everyone to work simultaneously on the same documents. I was just interested in it as a simple text editor, and the fact that it had syntax colouring for HTML+PHP and CSS [but strangely enough, not in the same documents…].

As the makers state, SubEthaEdit was and is free for non-commercial use, so that was another point in its favour.

Downloading and launching presented no great effort nor difficulty. But the poor app would be going up against a big handicap. I have been using BBEdit for around five years; in that time its shortcuts have become hardwired; even its quirks seem normal… Would I be able to give SubEthaEdit a decent [unbiased] try-out?

As it turned out, the project for Emiline was decent-sized without being extravagent at 131500 bytes, so that is approximately the number of letters that I have typed—spread over 36 files. In all of that I probably copied a maximum of 50 lines of text from old files, and of course, some files were typed and corrected, typed and corrected, many times before I got things both right, and how I wanted. So my real typing is somewhere between 150 and 200000 keystrokes. Like I said, a decent little project.

And the verdict?

It took me some time to get SEE’s preferences set to some semblance of convenience for myself, and even then, some things remained strange; windows didn’t remember their positions, for example. I’d open a window full screen and close it. The next time I opened it, it was a third of that size and centered in the screen. I’d have—systematically—to reopen it back to how I wanted.

And there was a problem with latency.

I’m not a fast typist. I can manage bursts of 50 letters a minute, but mostly I’m pecking away very slowly and regularly. So I won’t pretend that SEE couldn’t keep up with me. However, what it couldn’t do was keep up with me on the display front… at times it felt like it was running a couple of letters behind. Spooky. That and the fact that I couldn’t personalise certain shortcuts that I depend on. CMD-ARROWLEFT to go to the beginning of a line; OPTION-ARROW to go to the end of the next word in whatever direction… Both of these kept on running off to the previous or the next line, with no good reason, causing me to lose time, bringing the cursor back where I intended it to go. I have a horrible feeling that this is an Apple thing as TextEdit seems to act in the same way…

So however attractive the syntax colouring seems, I don’t think I’ll be keeping SEE on my harddrive… Sorry.

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quickies #2

I was working on Emiline’s baby-gift manager and come across a sort of bug. A design flaw, to be exact. I’ll explain…

A design flaw is like a bug—i.e. the application doesn’t work as intended—except the cause is not in the code, it is in the way the thing is designed. You could say that it was meant to be like that. Now this isn’t the end of the world, it won’t stop this fonctionning, but for a small number of people, and possibly for emiline, it can be an annoyance. Sort of like a dancing paperclip at your elbow that doesn’t let you do anything while it’s jiggling. Nothing serious, but after it has popped up for the fifteenth time in a row, you just want to take down the double-barrel and…

So what is the problem?

I use the e-mail address as a means to generate a unique key. This allows me to identify the user, note the gift that was reserved, and the identity allow the user to come back, update and change things. All this is fine. no problems. except…

  • a small percent connecting in will not have an e-mail address. They will be people who will want to look, but aren’t very internet savvy.
  • a small number of people will make an error when they type their address, and, as it is coded on the site, and so it will not be recognised the next time when they retype. [making them type twice is no solution as they can duplicate the error, or cut/paste between fields].
  • a small number of people will have multiple e-mail addresses and will forget which one they used.
  • there is a possibility that a person will change e-mail address, and forget that she did so…

All in all, these represent probably between 1-5 people in all, but they will also represent all the work, heartaches, and problems to solve.

That is the flaw.

I need to find a way to bypass the inevitable errors that users will make, all the while keeping things simple, and needing minimal intervention.

Second-hand grail, anyone?

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quickies #1

I have put up a photo gallery of Akio’s drawings that are still on the walls from last Saturday’s dinner party. He ran them off as A2+ size photocopies, and we stuck them up with Patafix all around the flat. Enjoy.

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writing
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my pen hand is itching

I have been too long away from the scrap paper and the dictionaries and now my pen hand is itching. I want to get back to Colin and McHarry. Yes, when I’m writing, I do seem to spend my day cursing and moaning. Counting words and commas, and wondering if it is going well, how it could be done better, and why can’t it go faster, faster, faster… But at times like this, I miss writing, and knowing where the story is going, and the excitement of getting it there…

Soon.

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reading

Last night I didn’t sleep, I read The Black Book by Ian Rankin. It was that good. I finished the last chapters this morning.

I first read an Inspector Rebus story at my parent’s house in the Yonne, when they lived there. I was thumbing through the books looking for something different and came across this one with a tight Helvetica sort of titling, and grainy green-grey cover. It had something dark and no-nonsense about it.

It told the story of a Police Officer at war with his own demons, as well of those that society had sent in his way. It painted a fine, dark, ambiguous landscape that used the city of Edinburgh for the backdrop, and John Rebus’ mind for the foreground.

And it didn’t finish in a tidy fashion. Sure, quite a few of the strands were solved, but probably a third were hangovers from the past, and at least as many were left around—one imagines, for future stories.

It didn’t give the impression of a book, so much as reading a personal journal, or even living in this man’s head for a couple of months. And while it wasn’t a pleasant stay, I welcomed the next visit.

Wednesday at the Library, I suddenly thought—Hey, perhaps they’ve got some books by Ian Rankin here. So I slipped along to the shelves labelled ‘Crime’ and scanned for ‘RAN’. And found The Black Book.

I had read criticism on Amazon.com saying that this was too embroiled, too way out, not his best. Well, Amazon be confounded! Don’t believe a word. It was a terrible, dark journey through the corridors of one man’s personal hell. It was unsettling and terrible. I couldn’t put it down.

This put me in mind of another book I have started, but in this case I can’t finish it… I’ll explain. I found out about Tamara Siler Jones’ upcoming book Ghosts in the Snow when Neil Gaiman mentioned it in his blog. Dutifully I went over and and explored. The intro describes the character as a forensic procedural in a medievalist fantasy setting. I will admit that I shuddered. I can’t stand sub-Tolkienesque worlds [complete with maps]. It is something that has been so overdone, and badly, that it is—de facto—a cause for eliminiation from my reading list.

Argument after the fact, I recently read Ursula K.Le Guin’s wonderful The Left Hand of Darkness. Wonderful for many reasons, probably the first because so little happens in it, while it remains so rich; wonderful also because it could so easily have been a horrible sub-Tolkienesque world, but wasn’t. Oh, no. Far from it.

So I slipped on over to the first chapter available on Tamara’s web site. And started reading.

It immediately occurred to me that I had missed a very important point in my prejudiced [and jaundiced] speedread of the intro… The point being ‘forensic procedural’. As we entered his world and his business on this first morning, the effect was not unlike meeting Inspector Rebus: this is a man trying to make sense, not of what the world around is, but what it has become, and all the while facing off his own demons. Demons in the case of Dubric Byerly that accompany him, not only in the form of the dead that he sees most vividly, but also as something darker that we sense is lurking there, and will become bared and exposed as we get to know him, and as the story progresses. The story and the place are not as dark and claustrophobic as Rebus’ Scotland, but I have a feeling that this is just an effect of the snow, and once this melts away, what shall be revealed underneath will not be as pretty as all that…

Of course, the book isn’t released until October 26th. So now I am waiting…

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Update!

...he says, wiping his arm across his forehead, in a gesture he has seen in countless cowboy films as the hero looks up from that dirty, sweaty task, that someone has just gotta do, surveys the horizon and wonders how much time is left before the last reel. “Update… Just what has been happening back at the homestead?”

So here is an update.

The house is currently overrun with kids. There is Moïse and there is Kim. That makes two. That sure doesn’t seem like overrun. No, just wait until it happens to you.

Moïse is the twelve-year-old son of a friend of Ludivine’s. He normally lives out in the wilds, an hour’s drive from Toulouse. Ludivine proposed that he come up and spend a week in Paris. Kim, well, she’s Kim.

Individually both are wonderful. We had Moïse for two days before Kim turned up. Everything went fine, we managed to go out and about, do things, visit the Louvre [which—it should be noted—seems to have solved the queueing problem, as this is the first time that I have just turned up and walked straight in…], and generally walk around Paris.

Put them both together and they giggle, run off, and seek to beat each other at video games. Kim does her best not to listen when I ask [and then shout] that she calm down. And thereyougoagain-that’slife!

Apart from that, I have been working on an on-line gift-list generator for Emiline, so that she can put up a wishlist for things for the baby. In this way, people can connect to it, opt-in, and manage their gifts. I ran up a dummy, started coding, got the dummy working with fake data in about three days. Worked most of the kinks out. Got Mimi to check things in IE PC. All was going fine. Then I thought to look at things in IE Mac. The layout was completely off kilter. This is all HTML+CSS compliant code, and mostly CSS1 as that is the most completely implemented in most browsers. It was, as I said, all over the place.

It then took me the whole morning—4 hours, solid work—to disassemble the whole presentation, and then rebuild it in so that it worked in all, and IE Mac too.

So that’s life.

And I haven’t spoken about the Japanese food evening with Akio on Saturday night that has left us with enough food in the fridge to feed a regiment for the coming week. And blow-ups of his artworks all over the walls that I hesitate to take down.

End of update.

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Hellboy

We went to the cinema. We went with Emiline and Nico. I thought Mimi looked tired around the eyes [7 months now], but she assured me that, No, she was fine. Anyway, the outing prompted quizzing as to when we last went to the cinema together—it was A Bug’s Life, probably—but at one point we couldn’t think of any film we’d seen together since I took her to see ET, the day that it came out: she said that the film bugged her for years after. We actually found quite a few after that: The Last Boy Scout, [Do you remember that Mum was sooo mad at you? Yes, I do. I can’t think why… And you saying, but papa I understood everything they said…], Alice a very weird interpretation of Alice in Wonderland that I adored, but Emiline said, gave her nightmares, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade that we saw with Anne and, Emiline remembered—I had completely forgotten—that the film broke and started being rewinded, just in the last climatic reel…

We had all gone to see Hellboy. as I have been waiting since April in eager anticipation to see this. So I proposed a foursome, knowing that it wouldn’t come to our local cinema, which is a good, cheap Art Movie house.

Tickets for two cost nearly 19 euros. In comparaison, in our local cinema, that is the price of about 5 entries at 3,81 euros each… Ouch. The seats were OK. The local house often kills my back. This place didn’t. Although you could say, that, considering the price, not only should the seats not kill your back, but they should also massage you, and shine your shoes.

Even at that price we were treated to a barrage of ads—how come no-one has had the idea of doing a chain of ad-free cinemas?—and film trailers. Including one for M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. I have already said what I think about his films, that he is constantly doing himself a disservice in wanting to be clever-clever instead of just letting the film live. But as I haven’t seen this, I can’t say anything for the moment. But what did annoy me was the type. For some reason, even though the trailer was subtitled, all the text inserts, in faux period typography, were in French. And the problems was that they were really faux. For a start they used Caslon Antique which is an aberration. Caslon is a good fine typeface. A Caslon [it is said that the lead was used as ballast on the sailing ships at the time] was used to set both The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States of America. But Caslon Antique is not a Caslon, and has never been, and anyone who is not blind in both eyes can see that. It usurped the name probably to piggy-back itself on the good Caslon family name and reputation. It is not even a recreation of an older typeface, nor even a decent attempt to get the deformations that slipped into ‘so-called’ Colonial Fonts. It is just bad, ugly, and a mess for this job as it screams “Look, the ARt Director has no idea what he is doing, and know nothing of typography…” But the give away is the apostrophes. There aren’t any. They are all straight primes. Hey, look Aunt Virginia, typesetters using characters that they don’t even have in their cases, as we had to wait until 20th-century bastardisation of typography for this sort of thing to arrive. But that is not the issue, I insist on that, it is not feasible to have curly quotes on a keyboard. The real issue is a professional who should know that, and should have got that corrected. This is my 100% all-time spoiler in Films, when the Art Directors DON’T GET IT RIGHT.

And Hellboy? Was it worth the wait?

Is the Pope a bear [as I saw this most comically written this week…]? I loved it. It must be my alltime favourite this year. The others were happy, but not as happy as I with all of this.

Why? First of all, I can’t remember the last time I saw so many people smoking in a film… Must have been all of 1952. Second, Hellboy is a cute bad baby. In fact I loved all of the characters. Even the red-shirt Joes were lovable. I loved the set design, the costume design, the gadget design, the graveyard design. All, all, all. The Lovecraftian monsters, and their eggs. Liz’s sadness. John Myer’s awkwardness. Ron Perlman’s cats and pancakes and chili. Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a heart of gold, my family’s all daemons, I must make amends…

What I liked also was the way that the film moved in successive waves. Too many films, especially action movies, are so predictable as soon as you see the first scene [For all its qualities, as soon as you realise that Pitch Black is an Alien clone, you know that only Ripley and the kid will get out alive…]. Hellboy didn’t do this, we had successive arcs, arcs that flowed logically on, moving forward each time with the info and insight that we had gained the earlier scenes. And all the plot devices slipped nicely and logically into place. You didn’t have the idea of a plot-token generator whirring away in the background.

So, a good time was had by all.

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deed poll

I have also decided that Pirates will probably not have the name that I intended to give it. This also came to me under the shower. People close to me might say this might mean I should take showers more often. For the ideas, of course, the stink takes far longer to go away. All lies, all lies.

I thought:
The North wind doth blow and we shall have snow,
And what will poor robin do then, poor thing?
He’ll sit in a barn and keep himself warm
and hide his head under his wing, poor thing.

Yes. I thought. That’s it. Fine. Bring on the dancing horses…

. . . . .

For those who don’t know, deed poll is the old name given to changing your name. It wasn’t that, but the form of particular contract, except that form of contract has more-or-less dies out, except for name changes. And so the words “deed poll” are used familiarly to mean a change of name.

There you go.

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not working

For about two weeks now, I haven’t been working. Not that I was working before, since I am officially unemployed, but not working on writing, that sort of not working.

Again, that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t doing anything. I completely rebuilt this site, and read a [large] couple of books [The Rotter’s Club and What A Carve Up!, by Jonathan Coe, Hogfather by Terry Pratchett and Free for All, by Peter Wayner. I may have also read books by Jonathan Carroll, and Cory Doctorov…]. I started a new blog, scribbled, read hundreds of stuff online, downloaded dozens of [legal] free mp3s. What else did I do? A major clean-up on this domain, shovelling out dead sites and files, renaming a small pile of material that I don’t want to erase yet, but don’t want Google to find anymore… I configured my logs to allow me to follow that. Oh yes, and wrote a short story that I will probably abandon for reasons that are too complicated to mention here.

That’s what not working is all about, no?

Yesterday, I went back to Pirates and tried to pick up the thread. I had a look at Chapter Eight and wondered, sincerely, if I was trying to fit too much in there… I will see. I was going to print out Chapters Seven and Eight and read them through, but this morning when I was having a shower, I realised that something that should come along in Chapter Eight calls for a remark from Tom, the Smithy’s apprentice, but that Colin’s reply would be stronger if I rewrote Chapter Three to include a scene that he could reference… If you follow me. Chapter Three is probably the longest surviving text so far in this story, having been written about eight or ten years ago. The even earlier parts, in fact, all that concerns Stone, have disappeared into generalities, background and passing remarks. There is no longer anything in there that remains from that twenty-odd-years-ago version.

Now I know the danger of having these nice flowing paragraphs that have been smoothed to pretty pebbles over time. I am too attached to them. I have no clear judgement on them. Like an old rickety chair, we have lived together for so long, even though it might have faults, it fits your bum so well after all these years… And so I absolutely want to use it, even when my back says that, No, I shouldn’t. Not really. Not at all. You will regret it, believe me. So, Chapter Three currently starts with that archive file…

So, while the water pounded at my head, and I massaged my scalp [probably to stop thinking about the thinning patch that everyone—so kindly—keeps pointing out to me], I was thinking about the Changes That Must Be Made.

If, I thought, I took the beginning of Chapter Three out, and put it in the blurb, it would still be there somehow, still have its effect, still roll off my tongue in that old familiar way. But it would also free me up to do the rewrites that I need…

We shall see.

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caveat lector

I sent a mail to a soon-to-be-published writer, Tamara Siler Jones, [found through Neil Gaiman’s blog]. The letter pointed out a mild blooper on her site [since corrected] and asked a couple of question arising from my quick read of the sample chapter of her book Ghosts in the Snow. She replied, quickly and politely—I was very touched—telling me that these were not mistakes but her intention, that there had been debate and hesitations, but there were no mistakes. This is fine. These are her words, and she has obviously enough spent years on them; she should know what she wants to do with them. I appreciated the possibility of being able to just fire off a mail, ask a sincere question, and get a reply like that. Thanks.

And, this morning, as I was doing the washing up after the very nice curried noodles that Ludivine had made for us last night—her brother and Akio came over after they had all gone swimming—and trying to freshen the house up in order to survive the day, I was thinking over this, while composing the entry about the heatwave in my head.

I have read blogs that are beautifully crafted. I can imagine—not only because I’m like that, but also because I have met people like that—some of these bloggers and writers just dashing off a quick piece, and hitting the ‘publish’ button without doubt, hesitation, nor a spellcheck. And I hate those horribly talented people, most sincerely.

I sweat over each comma. And that’s not just because it’s so hot…

I determined that if I wanted to ‘write’—that is, let this be more than just a hobby—then I should do just that. Everyday. 1000 words on the current novel, or die. And the blog. Use this to practise different pieces, styles, to throw out ideas. The sandpit.

So there are two types of writing here; well, three in fact, but I’ll come to that…

So there are two types of writing here: there are the diary pieces [“Today it was hot, I only wrote 418 words. Life is rough.”]; then there are the set pieces where I try to say something, with a point of view, a bit of effort, a start-a-middle-and-an-end, perhaps a chuckle along the way. Now these may end up looking like the journal entries but being just a bit more laborious in tone… I don’t know. In fact, the set pieces are divided into two categories: the quick ones, that I dash off, generally touching on a film, an event, a happening. And then those that I write, rewrite, correct, chop and change, read out loud, and generally chew over until I find them acceptable, and I can copy them out of BBEdit and into Pivot.

But there is one thing that should be clear. This is about ‘Writing’; it is not about ‘Truth’. I’m not worried about leaving an accurate trace of my home life, my writing life, my—ahem—working life, or whatever. I am concerned about working on the rhythm and the flow, the words and the style. If, when I am writing this, I feel I need to twist the events in order to better make a point, to milk a joke, or just because I prefer it like that, then… I will. With no hesitation.

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a subject of dispute

Heatwaves in Paris are foul. They may be the same elsewhere, I don’t know, I don’t live there.

They are foul when the air is so hot, so viscous, that I can’t breathe, and just sit here panting. They are foul when the air is just a solid mess of smell: urine, exhaust fumes, dust, pollen, soot, and I don’t know what. My eyes burn. Exposed areas like arms and neck, itch and burn. Showers bring only temporary respite.

Besides leaving Paris for somewhere else [somewhere like Iceland, which has been a continuing fantasy for the last couple of years; the thought of glaciers, cold water, cold air…] the only way to sit out a heatwave is to barricade yourself indoors during the day, opening and closing windows and shutters as the day progresses, maximizing draughts, and minimizing sunlight. And then throw the windows wide open at night.

In our flat, the sun rises over the kitchen and the bathroom; by ten o’clock the heat makes even short visits to those rooms impossible. Of course, they have no shutters, not being on the street side of the building. There was a sort of blind made of wooden strips hanging outside the kitchen window when we arrived, but while the landlady was showing it to us, she pulled, and half of the arrangement fell into her hands. Her ‘handyman’ took the rest of it down and disposed of it. [Her handyman gets inverted commas as he was, as these guys tend to be, slow, bolshy, inefficient, downright dangerous at times, as well as a bare-faced liar. We left him with our second set of keys so that he could finish ‘repairs’ before we moved in, which he didn’t manage to do. Then, because Ludivine was going away for a week and wanted to be able to let herself back into her own flat when she returned, we asked him for the keys, telling that it would be nice also if he could manage to finish the work, but the keys would be fine anyway… he missed two meetings—is it really difficult to drive over from the town after next and leave a set of keys in a letterbox?—and finally I had to pull a wobbly on him and bawl out, not only him, but his poor wife too—they were preparing to go to the airport and leave for Portugal or something, and dropping off the keys here on the way would make them late, you understand; I ask you—in order to have her jump in the van and drop the keys off before picking up the kids from school. And the half-botched work here was never finished anyway…] Sound of small argh, as all of this comes back.

Anyway, this all left us without protection from the sun in the kitchen. At the time we didn’t worry, we hadn’t yet realised that Paris was about to go into heatwave mode. And stay there until the tarmac melted.

The bathroom had a peculiar white roller blind inside the window. I say ‘had’ becuase after a week that too fell down. I say ‘peculiar’ because you could either open the window, or have the blind down, but not both at the same time. So, I hear you say, it’s not to protect from the blistering morning heat, but to provide a degree of intimacy during one’s daily ablutions.

Except it wasn’t.

The windows are frosted and made of a sort of patterned glass like bathroom windows often are; the bathroom is quite big and at a such an angle to the flats opposite, which are at a distance of about 300 metres anyway, that the only part of the bathroom remotely visible is if you jumped up on top of the washing machine with the windows wide open. The only way anyone is likely to see anything through that window, supposing they are even looking in this direction, is if you climb up on a chair and rub yourself against the damn thing! And even then you would be but a vague and fuzzy form, and most people would think, ‘Hey! They’re drying a light-oche jumpsuit up against the bathroom window’, and not, ‘Hey! Those weird neighbours opposite are rubbing lithe, naked, bods up against the bathroom window.’

So yesterday I put the broken blind back up. Except I put it back to front which means that now there is sufficient room to leave the window on the catch [à l’espagnolette it is called here, where the window opens inwards, and is caught between the other window and the big knob that you have to turn to open it; this means the window can be shut firmly and not openable from outside, all the while having an opening where air—if there is any—can pass through.] This might diminuish the temperature in the bathroom by a couple of degrees, bring it from a mild 44°C down to a friendly 42…

During the morning, the shutters on the other side of the house, the side facing the road where the kids love to hold conversations by shouting at each other from opposite ends of the street, all the while riding their souped-up mopeds that screeeeam like irate sewing machines on amphetamines, not counting the singing and swearing drunks, the police-car sirens, the ambulance sirens, the fire-engine sirens, the people screaming into mobile phones, the buses, the bass boomboomboom of the ‘music’ inside the cars that makes the building vibrate, the revving trucks and all the idiots who klaxon when they are stuck behind the buses when the traffic lights change and they can’t understand why the queue isn’t advancing… That road then… And you have to remember that the shutters protect us, just as much, from the noise as from the heat and the light. So in the morning these are open, to pull in some cool air.

Starting at around one in the afternoon, the sun is overhead and windows must be closed on both sides—well, windows on the bath and kitchen side, shutters on the other—as the air is being heated equally all over and there is no shade, no temperature difference, because it is the difference that creates draughts. At this point you have either filled the flat with enough cool air to sit out the afternoon, or you will just slowly broil in your own juices.

As the afternoon progresses, the sun moves, shade gradually increases on the bath/kitchen side. It is now possible to reopen the windows there, and incite small draughts of air to flutter across the way. Enough to play over your skin a little as you lie, panting and sweating, and naked on the bed.

The only time that the house actually cools down is at night. In fact, the best thing to do is to open up all the windows and shutters as wide as possible in order to allow the night air, when it cools sufficiently around four in the morning, to come in and replace yesterday’s hot, damp, muggy, supply.

Which is why I don’t understand why, when I get up in the morning, all the windows that I opened before going to bed are closed.

It seems that this is a mixture of ‘The cool draughts during the night make my muscles ache…’, or—and this is where we move into the irrational—‘I am afraid that during the night a burglar will climb up the walls, slip in through the wide-open windows, and raid the flat while we are sleeping’.

It should be noted that we live on the second floor of a five-storey building that probably dates from around 1910; nice high ceilings… Even a ladder won’t reach up to our windows. Spiderman could probably manage it, but I think he’s busy elsewhere. There are no drainpipes to shimmy up, and cracks between bricks and stones are at a minimum. You could probably throw a grapnel up, catch it in the wrought ironwork in front of the windows, and pull yourself up; although looking at the joints around the ironwork, I’d say that you’d have a fifty-fifty chance of pulling that clean out of the wall, and down on top of you. Put mildly, our chances of being burgled in our sleep are not high.

And we haven’t got anything to steal anyway.

It is at times like that I can understand how there came to be a blind in the bathroom.

All I can say is that, in another six months, the heatwave will be over and all this will be past.

If we survive until then, of course.

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writing
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sunday morning [without Kim]

Finished revising the short story. Tightening up a few sloppy paragraphs. Found it a better title [The Housekeeper] than the previous ones [Untitled and A Smell of Beeswax, respectively]. Incorporated a scene that I had wanted in there, but hadn’t included as I wasn’t sure, but finally saw exactly where it should go.

Finished The Rotter’s Club, and continue to think that it is marvellous, one of the best books I have read this year. Laughed [and cried] over Benjamin’s Molly-Bloomish soliloquy [wondered how Jonathan Coe could have gotten into my head so much, in order to know exactly what I was thinking at 17, but just realised that kids at the time, at that age, of that type, of that background, with those tastes, had probably pretty stereotypical lives: the proof—OK, either that, or he is listening in to my brainwaves.]

Then closed the shutters and the windows against the heatwave, brewed Ludivine a tea, and wondered about rewriting Juliet and what I have of Pirates in the light of the short story. Decided that it is best to just plough on ahead with Pirates, that it is better to a finished, albeit mediocre, novel, than an unfinished, albeit brilliant, one. And that once it is finished it can be improved, changed rewritten, but it will be there. However, if I am forever going back and rewriting, it will never even get finished.

Disatisfaction, looking back, improving… all this must be part of the process of learning to write. And I was so happy with Juliet when it was finished, even if now I do see/feel/fear all the faults and problems in it. That’s life. That’s writing, I fear.

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writing
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beta readers sought

As ever, when I finish a piece of work, I have absolutely no idea of its qualities, interest, whatever…

So, I have finished the short story that I mentioned the other day. I am currently raking over the old embers, making sure that I have left no burning whatsits in the wrong places. If you want to give me your opinion —either general, or blow-by-blow, comma-on-comma; as you wish—on this [8000 words, available as PDF or RTF, mild horror] them mail me, preferably at the general.dogsbody address below, stating your preference, and I’ll make the file available.

Please note: there is a non-Night Shyamalan twist in this story [ie. if you get the twist, then it’s a bonus, not the whole story; and if you don’t get the twist, it doesn’t take anything away.] Once you’ve read, mail me with your idea on the twist and I’ll tell you if you get it or not…

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life
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The Rotter’s Club

I had to read that last paragraph once again, so that the information connected, and so that I finally understood exactly what had happened. My stomach heaved, and for a moment I thought that I was going to vomit. My ears rang. I felt blank and numb.

It was Nadja who recommended The Rotter’s Club to me. Well not exactly, she just talked about it in such an enticing way that I went straight to the library. Except they didn’t have it, so I took What A Carve Up! instead. I loved it. I don’t think that I’ve read something so good since I read Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. As Carve Up starts out it reminds me of the better books by Tom Sharpe [in my opinion, probably the Wilt ones], a good funny read, a sharp portrait of British society. But as I progressed through the book, first of all I thought that it was beautifully written. Not beautiful, but fitting: stark at moments, lyrical at others, completely crazed or deadpan… And the structure of events and characters as they slowly come round in cycles, first the sixties, then the beginning of the eighties, then the end. The end. The leitmotif [sub-text?] that it uses of this crazy, corny, seedy film—I can see Sid James and Kenneth Williams so clearly. I had completely forgotten them; with this book, suddenly they, and their voices, were so present.

And I can’t even speak about the ending.

So I went back to the library, and this time The Rotter’s Club was there. I grabbed it and started reading it probably walking in the street in the way back home.

So far, it is every bit as good as Carve Up, possibly better. That portrait of those grey—no, not grey, more a sort of acrylic brown, worn with a dull polyester orange—times. Of school, of music, of people. Of food. Oh yes, the food. So far, everything is extremely on target. And horribly so. [I left Britain in 1977, and as far as I was concerned the early 70s were a terrible black[acrylic orange and brown?]hole. Things only came alive in 1976, but that’s another story…]

I have just finished the chapter entitled Winter. I know these are fictions; that, of course, he has built this up especially for that [terrible, horrible, real] climax. But this is terrible, horrible, real. This is why we are concerned with fiction, why it is important.

Even if it is just for this chapter, read The Rotter’s Club by Jonathan Coe.

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writing
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ouch!

Yesterday, I started noting down material for a new story [more on the story itself later, that’s not the… story]. As I just wanted to get the ideas down I typed this up instead of writing it longhand. Perhaps the fact that I had been coding, and thus typing, for over a week meant that I wanted to do other than just code-code-code. As often happens in that case, the notes start to form sentences, and then paragraphs. And tonight, when I looked at it after the second day typing, I already had 2000 words just sitting there.

But because this was just beginning, and because I don’t feel [yet] particularly attached to it; and because this was typed, I could try an experiment.

I duplicated the file, then opened the copy and erased all the adjectives. Most of the adverbs too. I simplified a couple of sentences that had depended on adjectives for their meaning, and erased at least two others. Another couple of sentences needed a complete rewrite because they had a wishy-washy structure with subclauses popping up all over the place.

Then I reread the text.

To my surprise, I thought that the absence of qualifiers would weaken the writing. But all that was left was the story. And it was improved to find itself like this, leaner, tighter. This was something that I have suspected for a time: writing is not just pouring on more and more material, but making sure, first of all, that there is a good structure in place. Then finding the right places to underline, or reinforce a line, to darken a colour.

I read over these two pages from the beginning again, looking at them in this cleaner, starker light. I rewrote a sentence here and there, added a couple of adjectives, pared off a bit more. And then read through everything again.

Now it runs to 1500 words. And reads a lot better.

As I said, ouch!

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about
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come on in, make yourself at home

Nevermind the mess. Yes, just brush those off onto the floor, and sit yourself down. How you doing?

And so here’s the news. I have just finished incorporating the photo galleries. At the moment it is basically test material up there, but I hope to get an Amsterdam gallery up to accompany this old piece over in the stuff section. My next plans concern adding some more old material to this section; I’d like to integrate the poems and other stuff—currently over at Writing—as well as dig out some short stories that are cluttering up my hard drive, and make them available as downloads in .pdf format.

Please note: the photo section and stuff are not added to the front page—unlike all the other sections. This is because stuff will probably contain old material for a while and I like the home page to be up to date; and because photos can take up quite a bit of bandwidth, even though I do severely compress the pictures, and I don’t want to inflict that on slow modems. [Remember that I haven’t put in preloading for the galleries, scrub the mouse cursor over the previews, but wait for the images to load; it can take time depending on your connection.] And, for obvious reasons, neither photos not stuff appear in the RSS/ATOM feeds.

Today will probably be a clearing up day on the real plane—my desk has got very untidying during these last few days of coding. And I will be reading over Pirates to try and get a good grip on it. I started to severely lose confidence these last few days as I read some really good books and extracts, and wondered if my work was good enough.

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system
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no comment

Something that I forgot to say when, a couple of posts back, I talked about updating this blog, is that that I have removed comments. No-one used them anyway [thanks Matt], but that wasn’t the reason. I found the implementation in Pivot to be most strange—Technically, all these pages are templates, and there aren’t enough of them to cover the different instances. This means that the same template is used at different moments. And the effects can be most strange. I also spent hours redesigning inline comments and posts that used iFrames, getting it all in css instead of tables [yes, Virginia, it is possible] only to find that the code didn’t display the iFrames in Safari, using a popup window instead. Now I happen to know that the iFrame code in Safari imitates IE6 implementation, so this is obviously a leftover from a previous version of Pivot and a beta of Safari. But as that is the browser I use most of the time, it meant I wouldn’t be able to see and use my neat CSS implementation.

Instead I have added an e-mail address. In case you have something to say.

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life
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don’t let this become a habit...

alain in pre-birthday days

Yesterday was Alain’s 50th birthday. He didn’t tell me that when we all agreed to meet up at the Gare du Nord although he had let the subject drop a couple of days ago; we were speaking on the telephone when he said that he would be fifty soon. “Oh!” I’d replied in a very foot-in-mouth manner, “I always thought you were older than that… I thought you were about 52…”

So, we all met up and he told us. And we were empty-handed, and could only kiss him. And give him our best wishes.

Happy birthday Alain. And if, as they say, life begins at 40, then you’re not even a teenager yet.

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home
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night

We rented the DVD to Signs. Ludivine had already seen it and so had resisted all my previous suggestions that we book it out. We have a sort of unwritten agreement that we can’t insist on seeing films that the other has already seen. If I remember rightly, that night she was feeling tired and was headed for bed. So I grabbed the disk.

When we got home, she decided that she wasn’t that tired and so, in fact, we watched this together.

It all started off very nicely. It was a good tight screen play that read like a short story. A real economy of means and a nice series of character vignettes. (I wondered why they wanted a doctor for the dog, not a vet. I imagined that even in a small rural town there would be one. I was right. But this prepared nicely for when we met M. Night Shyamalan in a cameo role… as the vet.)

And now a short aside… I was disappointed by the build up about The Sixth Sense and all this atmosphere of ‘Don’t give away the end. This is dumb. It is obvious not only from the beginning that the character played by Bruce Willis is dead, not because we see him killed rather horribly, but the cold that surrounds him and the way that no-one talks to him. I’m sorry, I don’t need this as a twist, I saw this as a normal part of the film, and the revelation at the end of the film was overkill: If the kid has to come to terms with what he is seeing—which is not always nice—then who better that one of the ‘unhappy’ dead to help him along. To that extent, it reminds me of the Ring where it always seems that the girl in the well just needs recognition, pity and a fair burial to stop what she is doing. She’s not evil, she’s just extremely distressed…

So signs had this very small, neat, almost painterly cinematographic style, that built things up in small touches. And then suddenly we have flesh-eating aliens wandering about the place… Sorry?

It’s not that the FEA were badly done—they were. Very. They would have been better, and more scary had they stayed invisible. But of course then we couldn’t have seen the effects of the water. But did we need that? And did we need the aliens?

The subject of the film—and this was the failing of pitching it as a horror film—was the Reverend’s—well played by Mel Gibson—loss of faith. This was one of the points that was nicely sketched in right from the start. This stark, wooden, performance, did convince me that this was some hollow man. And his emptiness hurt.

So why the FEA? These were then the device to confront Reverend Graham’s faith following the death of his wife. Did we really need some worldwide FEA invasion?

Now imagine the film without the TV. Imagine that it had gone on the blink early. No Mexican episode. No Brazil video. No outside knowledge. Imagine that the creature holding the boy, Morgan, was mistily trying to connect in to his surroundings, and was not just some woman in a rubber suit.

A much better film.

Oh well. Don’t say that I didn’t warm you…

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system
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was it worth it?

I have now spent about four days, completely revising the design of this little blog. I’m still getting used to it; ‘it’ being both the design and the tool—Pivot—that I use to do all of this. We will see how things go…

Warning: these pages have been verified on my usual browsers, Safari as well as Firefox and, even though I say it myself, they show up pretty nice in both. I have just remembered that I also have a version of Camino on my drive, but as this and Firefox both use the same rendering engine, what passes in one, should also work in the other…
Please note: I have checked the pages in neither IE Mac [and even less, IE PC], nor have I seen fit to take it for a ride in such as iCab, Opera, Konqueror or even Omniweb. If you do see problems in your favourite browser, please let me know, but be warned, if the problem is in your browser, I don’t intend to break my code for non-standards compliance—Thanks, and Move ForwardTM.

So why change?

Good question, my poor tired hands and wrists also ask. There is the issue of standards compliance, but there are, in fact, two major answers:

  • the old version was flawed, the navigation didn’t always work, the code was not optimised, the search and archives haphazard, as I had just hacked into the default themes available for Pivot, without necessary understanding. [To that extent, redoing everything for Kim’s pages was a great help.]
  • and I wanted to get more of the newsprint or old-printed feeling to the place.

This version also sees the final arrival of the little power factory drawing up in the top right-hand corner. It has been hanging around for years. Sometime I might take the time to explain where it comes from.

There is also a new section called Paris. I will be reclassifying some old material on this, but my objective is to try and write around 1000-2000 words every two weeks or so on things that have been happening here in order to give those you are not—or no longer—here, the feel for the old place.

There are other changes in the pipeline; I would like to add a photogallery section, as well as bring some older material online. But for the moment, I need to sleep.

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