It's over here:

https://wordpress.com/post/wittering2017.wordpress.com/19

I don't actually believe that LJ is going to sell all our credit card details to, er, the Russians, but it might. And anyway, I wanted somewhere to put ransom witterings up that I can link to from here, Twitter and from Facebook.

Let's see how it goes. 
  Part of me is very proud that we have another chance to decide what sort of country we want to be, in a calm and considered way. That part is crying small tears and listening to this (and please, do listen to it - it says more about Scotland's, or at least MY Scotland's attitude to race and nationalism than any 12 Guardian articles, and it's only a couple of minutes long):



That part of me is going to be calm, and rational, and answer fear and hate (and there will be a lot of both) with information, for those who are afraid, and an attempt to understand those who hate, and why.

But part of me, of course, is dancing up and down and singing this...

Arghhhhhhh!

What the hell is getting up at 6.15 all about then? Totally uncalled for.

I have a busy week, though, since I need to prepare for a week's work visit to Japan. I'm reluctant to write too much about it before my flights get approved, but if it comes off I'll be flying out on Saturday, back the following weekend.

Given that visiting Tokyo has been on my wish-list since I was about 10 (thank you, Gigantor) I'm really looking forward to this.

Christmas and New Year didn't really give me much of a rest, since we got the keys to the new place on the 16th, and I had to move tons of stuff from the flat I was renting in Edinburgh out there. Project two was getting my place up in Ardrishaig ready to put on Air B'n'B. It's up now, despite needing some work to be finally ready to rent.

So lots of travelling, lots of lifting stuff, and I'm actually 2 and a bit pounds lighter now than I was in December.

No New Year's resolutions, beyond getting my tangled finances sorted out.
So, lots of stuff...

I seem to have come into the possession of two new cats - bought to keep Maya happy, though she seems largely indifferent to them.

Sorya and Yuki are ragdolls. Apart from their disquieting habbit of turning into puddles of fur when they feel like it, I kinda like them.



Oh, and also a house. A cottage, to be exact. Well, two cottages made into one to be absolutely precise. Someone had the idea back in the 1970s of knocking two semi-detached cottges into one detached house. They then proceded to live in it for 40 odd years, and now we have something that's decorated in the weirdest ways, but has amazing possibilities. It's a mile or two from the village of Temple, which was founded, of course, by the Knights Templar.

So that's what I did to finish up the year...

Actually, it goes pretty damn well.

Interesting stuff lately included going off to see David Greig's first production as the new creative head at The Lyceum theatre in Edinburgh. If The Suppliant Women is anything to go by, we're in for some intereresting times. I liked this review, but it did seem to get positive judgements just about everywhere.

Other stuff. I have a new car, a BMW 3 series touring this time, since I've decided I need extra space for property moving (more below) but the sensible aspect of it is balanced by having some nice toys, like 4 wheel drive and adaptive cruise control.

I've now bid on three properties in Edinburgh, and not closed on any of them, for various reasons. Currently looking at another two, one of which is conventional, the other one... isn't. More anon, maybe.

I'm also trying to get my place in Argyll in rentable shape, as part of the restoration of my frankly shonky finances.

Said finances not being helped by a long weekend in Paris I've just booked.

Work this month will be interesting - I'm spending a week in Switzerland and Germany, and there may be a week in Japan in the new year. Oh, and my Japanese Overlords are laying off 1,800 people in the UK, so there's something for me to worry about.

But time to go, as I'm cueing up Young Frankensein for a pre-halloween watch.

Be excellent to each other....
I'm keeping to my once a month update, and this one has been busier than most. Though it seems I've said that most months this year...

Highlight of weirdness as the book launch for "Thirty Years of Rain". It's an anthology of stories to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Glasgow Science Fiction Writers' Circle. Or the GSFWC, as it's called in most places, or The Circle, as past and present members tend to call it.

I found out about the anthology the day before submissions closed, tossed off a quick 2,500 words or so, and was gratified when it was accepted. For one thing, it put me in the same book as some lovely people, including, for the first time, Bill King, who's been my best friend since the early 90s.

I went slightly meta-fictional, setting the story in the Bon Accord (a popular haunt of the Circle) in the late 80s, at the time I first thought I'd try my hand at submitting to the Glasgow Herald Short Story competition. It was my take on what those days felt like, and if I have been supremely upstaged by the final story in the collection (a superb long tale called "The Circle" a fiction on writers' circles and on friendship and on soap opera) then there's no shame in that.  It's no small thing to say that joining the Circle changed my life - as well as the aforementioned best friend, I met my future ex-wife through the group, as well as the best boss I've ever had and some people who still hate me, or love me, or couldn't give a damn one way or another.

It was the time of William Gibson books, of mirror-shades and 72 hour drunks in off-season hotels, of loving well if not wisely, of turkey shoots and combat Twister, of growing up, eventually. In 1993 I left Glasgow for Newcastle to get married, trailing clouds of something behind me, and for a long while I took a certain pride in being the black sheep of the family.

Fast-forward 23 years, and I was in the same room as Barry, Al, Mike, Jims S and C, Craig and Elsie, and we were talking again about stories. There were many others there, some of whom I've met since 93 (Neil and Brian and Elaine for a start, and Neil, who apparently I met outside an Amanda Palmer gig, long ago) and a long list of absent friends, Bill and Gary, Phil, Veronica and Irene, and, most of all, Duncan, who started the ball rolling.

We looked, I think, much the same. Well, some of us have acquired gravitas (or, at least, gravity) but some really have mastered the art of stepping outside the timestream - I'm looking at Elsie Donald, Craig Marnock, and Hal Duncan. Hal looks elegantly wasted, of course, but he's looked that was since he was 17.

I signed books. I drank a little wine. I let the years drop away, and I reassured a somewhat bewlidered girlfriend that these were my tribe. And that most of them didn't bite.

Don't look back, the laureate says, but I did, and I didn't turn to salt.

I'd say goodbye to them, the jokers and the thieves, the heroes and villains, the happy and the sad, but they aten't dead, they haven't gone. There are new members now, bright eyed, bushy tails, flourishing their barbed tongues and sharp eyes like unrusted weapons. I salute them, pass on the baton, and reflect that it there's one thing you can say about a Circle it's that it keeps on rolling.
August was busy, September isn't being any quieter.

Last weekend I headed off to Lollapalooza in Berlin. There was almost a sensible reason for this - Radiohead tickets in London were going for about £150 a head, and the other headliners were Kings of Leon, who aren't touring in Europe this year as far as I know.

In the end, though, it was a thoroughly impractical idea which worked out very well (give or take an annoying blister I picked up on Saturday).

Berlin is a fascinating city, and I need to head back some time for a proper visit. Three days just didn't cut it. However, I did scratch the surface enough to see it as a haunted city, haunted by the War and the Wall. Every now and then I was reminded that almost none of the buildings around me were more than 70 years old, and the boundaries between the East and West are still stark, even if they were supposedly erased 25 years ago.

(Oh, the festival was great: good humoured, well organised, great sound. But I still prefer small gigs).

A lot of the last two months was spent trying to buy a flat. Long story short, I found a place, offered on it, the offer was accepted, surveys got done, mortgages arranged, and the seller pulled out at the last minute. I guess the best thing to say was that it was a learing experience, but it's a learing experience that's left me three or four grand out of pocket, and with a remortgage that I don't need anymore. It also meant I spent a weekend sorting the fall out, which I had better plans for.

And since three things make a post, today, I should mention that the latest iOS upgrade has left my iPad sulking and refusing to connect to the Interwebs - so I guess I'll go and try to sort that out now. 
I've left out comics, mostly. They deserve their own meme.


1. What fiction book are you reading now?

Flashman and the Tiger, Dune, Swann's Way, The Private Memories and Confessions of a Justified Sinner,

2. What non-fiction book are you reading now?

The Crime of our Lives, by Lawrence Block, Orwell's Essays (I'm on his essay on Dickens right now) The Invention of Nature: The  Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt (my doppleganger) and The Wild Places by Robert MacFarlane

3. What were your favourite books as a child?

Jennings, and anything written by Andre Norton

4. What’s the earliest book you remember reading?

Topsy and Tim on Holiday. I read them all, but something in the plot of this one grabbed me and didn't let me go.

5. Were you given annuals at Christmas as a child?

Yup. The Valiant until about 1973, and then various Marvel annuals.

6. What do (or did) you enjoy reading to your kids?

The Hobbit was a big project with Mikey. But I still have fond memories of Jolly Tall, My Cat Likes To Hide In Boxes, and Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean's "The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish".

7. What was the last book you got from the library?

To quote Jack Vincennes, in the same tone of sad wonder "You know, I can't remember."

8. Have you ever found something left behind in a library book? What was it?

Naked Polaroids of the last reader's girlfriend. Or the last reader, if she was a Sven Hassel fan.

9. Can you remember the first book you ever bought?

I think it was "Second Stage Lensman" by E.E.Doc Smith, in about 1974, bought in the airport on my way to a family holiday .

10. Can you remember what it cost?

Probably around £1.

11. Have you ever bought or read a book on the basis of its cover alone?
Yes, see above. The cover was painted by Chris Foss, and showed a burning spaceship crashlanding on a futuristic landscape, while loose planets colided above in a flaming orange sky. It seriously undersold the action, btw.

12. Have you ever refused to buy or read a book on the basis of its cover alone?

I don't think so.

13. Do you have a favourite cover artist or designer?

Chris Foss has to be one, for those childhood Space Operas, but Alisdair Grey excells in book design.

14. What is the most recent graphic novel you’ve read?

The last comic I read was X-Force 115, and it was tosh.

15. E-books or dead tree books?

It's not either/or, it's both/and.

16. Do you read on the way to or from work?

Yes, though I really shouldn't because I drive there.

17. What’s the worst thing that’s happened to one of your books?

Various copies dropped in the bath, various books lost, various stolen.

18. Do you buy second hand books?

Yes, though not as much as I used to.

19. Do you keep all the books you buy?

Almost invariably. The ebook has been my saviour, as I have two houses full of books and I was working on a third.

20. Do you loan your books to friends or family?

Yes, but not often.

21. Have you ever loaned a book and not got it back?

There's a lovely line in "The Guns of Avalon" where Corwin revisits his abandoned home and finds it totally ransacked, except for his library, which is intact. "Only your friends steal your books" he remarks. So yes.

22. Spine – broken or unbroken?

I've never knowingly broken a spine.

23. Hardback, paperback or trade?

Horses for courses. Trade if I'm travelling, and hardbacks to treasure.

24. Is there a bookshop in your town?

I've never lived in a town without a bookshop.

25. Is there a second-hand bookshop in your town?
Ditto.

26. Do you remember when charity shops used to sell paperback books with the covers ripped off?

No, becuase it's an American thing - I do remember the warnings inside paperbacks, saying that if it didn't have a cover, the writer didn't get paid.

27. Have you ever queued outside a bookshop to get a newly released book as soon as the shop opens?

Not for myself.

28. Do you own any books signed by the author?

More than I realised. My favourite is the inscription to me from Lawrence Block in "A Drop Of The Hard Stuff" - 'To Michael, a day late and a dollar short.' (a story goes with it).

29. Do you own any books signed by the cover artist?
Not just the cover, the rest of the pages too. I was browsing in a Glasgow comic shop, reading a copy of "Batman and Robin" by Morrison and Quitely, when Frank came in and started signing things. It seemed rude not to ask him to sign my copy. Also, serveral volumes of Cerebus.

30. Have you ever met the author/s of your favourite books?

Some - Terry Pratchett and Iain Banks, Dave Sim and, very nearly, Lawrence Block (I was a day late). Oh, and I've met Mike Cobley, and Hal Duncan, and Bill King, but they don't count.

31. Have you ever been to a book launch event?

Many. A perk of knowing many authors.

32. In normal circumstances, how long would it take you to read a 500 page book?

Anything between one night and a year.

33. This book is 1000 pages long. How many volumes should it be published in?

6. 150 pages is the optimal size for a paperback. Or one, with illustrations.

34. Use a bookmark or fold down the corner of the page?

I used to have an unerring talent for opening a book to my page. I haven't checked it lately.

35. Do you underline or highlight passages in your books?

I've started doing it in Kindle.

36. What book are you most eagerly awaiting?

The next Harry Dresden.

37. What book really needs to be written?

Rebus and Scudder: The Drinking Years.

38. Were there any set books at school you particularly liked?

I only read books when they weren't set - when I was in first year I found a copy of 1984 in the fifth year English class, and loved it.

39. Were there any set books at school you particularly loathed?

All of them.

40. Do you always finish the books you read?

I used to, but then I started to take Groucho's advice: "The is not a book to be set aside lightly - it should be thrown with some force." Life is too short to read books you don't enjoy.

41. How many books (including e-books, textbooks and graphic novels) do you read at any one time?

Not counting comics, which get read at a sitting, about half a dozen.

42. Do you give books as presents?

I do.

43. Genre fiction, mainstream fiction or poetry?

Yes thank you.

44. Non-fiction books – arts, sciences or humanities?

Any and all.

45. Do you read in the bath?

I used to. I used to have a wrought iron bath rack with a candlestick, a wine glass holder and a book rack. I used to have a lot of things.

46. You are going on a week’s holiday. How many books do you take?

I take my Kindle and a book or two in case of take offs and landings.

47. Do you read book review blogs or columns?

Not often.

48. Have you ever reviewed a book?

Yes, in the late, lamented Territories magazine.

49. If your house was on fire and you could only save one book, what would it be?

Probably that hard back of "A Drop Of The Hard Stuff".

50. What novel would you like made into a TV drama series?

I'm looking forward to the adaption of Gaiman's "American Gods".

51. What non-fiction work would you like made into a TV documentary series?

The Silk Road by Peter Frankopan.

52. Do you still have any of your childhood books?

Only two, which were school prizes.

53. Did your parents pass on any of their own childhood books to you?

Only by recommending them. They had to burn all of their books for warmth when the English stole their sheep.

54. Do you listen to audiobooks?

No, though I do like some podcasts.

55. Do you read novelisation tie-in books for movies, TV series or games?

Only when I know the author (hello Matt, hello Bill)

56. Has seeing a film ever inspired you to read the book it was based on?

I don't think so.

57. Do you read the blurb on books?

Yes.

58. What’s the most annoying spoiler you’ve read in a blurb?

"Part three of a seven part series".

59. What are your quirky reading habits?

I will read anything. At all. Including shampoo bottles.

60. Do you have any layout or design likes and hates in a book?

Not anymore - I used to be sensitive as to font, but that's been blunted by good DTP.

61. Have you ever read a self-published book?

Tons. My friend Bill does me the honour of letting me test read his books, most of which are self published.

62. What work of fiction had the biggest impact on your life?

"Lord of Light" by Roger Zelazny. It showed me that the genre I loved was capable of anything, and I chased his voice for years.

63. What work of non-fiction had the biggest impact on your life?

Hobbes' "Leviathan", and Stan Lee's "Origins of Marvel Comics".

64. What ratio of fiction to non-fiction do you read?

About five to one.

65. Do you read biographies?

Not really - the endings are all the same.

66. What’s your favourite coffee table book?

Any of the Ultimate Sandman collections. And a book called Shades of Grey, collecting the Glasgow photographs of Oscar Mazaroli..

67. Roughly how many physical books do you own?

I refuse to speculate.

68. The last few pages of the book you are currently reading are missing. What do you do?

Leave my wife.

69. What’s next in your To Read pile?

A Rebus book, and I have a fancy to reread some Chandler.

70. How many books are in your current To Read pile?

Not many, they are all on my Kindle.

71. When shopping in a bookshop, what’s the ratio of planned purchases to impulse buys/chance finds?

About one to one.

72. When shopping online, what’s the ratio of planned purchases to impulse buys/chance finds?

I usually go on line for a particular book.

73. Are you a member of a book group or reading club?

What do you think I am, some kind of a pervert?

74. Do you read the sample chapter for another book included at the end of some novels?

Not if I know I'm going to buy it.

75. Books were much better in the old days, because…

... I was younger, then. I agree with Asimov's definition of "The Golden Age" as whatever you read between the ages of 15 and 25 (or in my case 10 and 20).
I mean, I'm living in Edinburgh, but it's not the same thing at all, especially with the Festival about to kick off. More of that in a minute, but a general catch-up first.

1. Life as she is lived

I've been off on my holi-bags. Two weeks up in the Lecrin Valley, just south of Granada, in the village of Abunelas. It has Andalucian charm leaking from every white-washed wall, and is the place where the exiled Moors from the Alhambra settled as part of their long defeat and return to Africa. I was reminded of this every few hours, when the Moorish irrigation system sent hundreds of gallons of water underneath our tiny but beautiful house. The temperatures where in the 30s, with no air-conditioning, but the only thing that was in danger of overheating was my ipad, as I raced through a metric shit-ton of books. The living, my friends, was easy.

2. That's the way the money goes...

Work continues to be interesting. While we're waiting on the outcome of the bid I spent most of a year working on, I've been concentrating more on the Smart Cities side of my brief. That's taken me to Eindhoven, Madrid and, er, Cardiff (which is not to diss Cardiff - I only got about 5 minutes to walk around, but it showed up well). I'm off to Manchester and Aberdeen this week, which hopefully won't tire me out before seeing Van Morrison on Wednesday.

3. Yes, that's right, Van Morrison. He's playing the Kelvingrove Bandstand, which is a bit of a wonder. It's an open air venue, as the name suggests an old fashioned bandstand in the middle of a park, about half a mile from where I lived when I lived in Glasgow. I don't know how, but they've also got Tom Jones coming. I have tickets for Van, then a double-header of Lloyd Cole and Justin Currie on Sunday, then Primal Scream the week after that. This overlaps with the Festival kicking off, and that means a comedian this Friday (and maybe the Falsetto Sock Puppets) Dune sometime the week after that, and various other gigs. August will be busy.

4. Born to Write Wrong

And, to top things off, I wrote my first science fiction short-story in about 20 years this summer, for an anthology celebrating 30 years of the Glasgow Science Fiction Writers' Circle. It's been accepted, with a bit of a re-write, and I'm looking forward to the launch party now. I'm particularly pleased about that because the GSFWC is the Jonbar Hinge where my life changed. Through membership I met my future ex-wife, my best friend of 25 years standing, and, albeit indirectly, the wonderful person who shared my plunge-pool in the Lecrin Valley. The story started as one of the wist-ending shorts that I specialised in those days, heavily indebted to O Henry and Roger Zelazny. I think it improved in the rewrite (which I finished a couple of hours ago) and I'm really quite proud of it.

5. The road goes ever on...

I'm working on a couple of things now which are pretty exciting, but I don't want to jinx them by mentioning them yet. Hopefully all will be sorted and able to be revealed by the end of August. Change, my dears, is a constant that keeps on expanding.

Which is nice. 
From Alan Moore's introduction to the collected V For Vendetta.

I just wanted to leave this somewhere...
.
Naivete can (also) be detected in my supposition that it would take something as melodramatic as a near-miss nuclear conflict to nudge England toward fascism. Although in fairness to myself and David, there were no better or more accurate predictions of our country’s future available in comic form at that time. The simple fact that much of the historical background of the story proceeds from a predicted Conservative defeat in the 1982 General Election should tell you how reliable we were in our role as Cassandras.

It’s 1988 now. Margaret Thatcher is entering her third term of office and talking confidently of an unbroken Conservative leadership well into the next century. My youngest daughter is seven and the tabloid press are circulating the idea of concentration camps for persons with AIDS. The new riot police wear black visors, as do their horses, and their vans have rotating video cameras mounted on top. The government has expressed a desire to eradicate homosexuality, even as an abstract concept, and one can only speculate as to which minority will be the next legislated against. I’m thinking of taking my family and getting out of this country soon, sometime over the next couple of years. It’s cold and it’s mean-spirited and I don’t like it here anymore.
Goodnight England. Goodnight Home Services and V for Victory.
Hello the voice of Fate (London) and V For Vendetta.
~ Alan Moore — Northampton, March 1988

Saddle Saw

Jun. 20th, 2016 12:02 pm
I was just prompted to say what actually happened about my Loch Ness cycle ride, and how it all went.

The short answer is very well - I finished, I finished inside the time I'd set myself, and I raised almost 4 times my sponsorship target.

The longer answer is still very well, and it's maybe worth saying a little about how the event met my expectations.

First of all, it turns out that a lot of people were taking it more seriously than I was - there were 4,000 entrants, and I'd say more than three quarters of them were club cyclists, or at least had a lot of experience of road racing. They were the people who were looking for a time of 2-3 hours, and they were a LOT faster than I was, espescially on the hills. Oh yes, the hills - more on them later.

Next, the weather was not what I was expecting - dry and sunny the whole way round, with not a drop of rain, far less the snow we'd seen the week before. This meant I was overdressed - I could have done with a layer or two less.

I also took too much food with me - the snack stops had more than enough. I should have taken more water, though. I went through my own bottle quickly, and the refills had a horrible amount of chlorine in them.

I set my own pace going round, I got off and pushed when the hills got too steep, and I stopped at all three of the provided rest spots. The upshot of all of that was that I took just around 5 and a half hours for the 66 miles, never felt I wasn't going to finish, and even felt remarkably fresh at the end.

There's a lot that I could have done differently, and maybe will if I do it again next year, but they all involve changing my goals for the day. As you might remember, those were to make my sponsorship target, to finish, and to get an official time, and I met or exceeded all of them.

It turns out that maybe I set my goals around the ride too low - I did treat it as a tour, and didn't push myself to any limits. I now know that I'm fit enough to jump on my bike and do the 66 miles without much training or taking it to seriously. But I could have cut an hour off my time without doing anything particularly hard. My time for the first 30 miles was just over an hour and a half. That's because that part of the route is mostly flat, and I kept an easy 18 mph pace up. The next five miles are all up hill, and those took me more than an hour, because I was pushing all the way. The last 30 miles took me just over two and a half hours, partly because they had more hills, and partly because I had three rest stops (one just before the big hill). I could easily have skipped the last stop, which was about 10 miles from the end.

The biggest mistake I made in terms of time was taking the wrong bike - the gears on my racing bike mean that you need to be strong to keep it going up hills, and I'm just not built that way - my manly legs are strong enough to push me to sprints or lift a lot of weight, but I'm not set up to sustain that effort for 5 miles or so. Partly that's fitness, and partly it's practice. So, knowing that, I'd take my touring bike next year. I'd probably lose an mph or two on the flat, but I'd more than make it back on the hills.

Still, we live and learn - as I say, getting the best time wasn't my goal.

I finished, I raised £360 for MacMillans, and I had a good time.

I call that a win. 
A- Age: As of Saturday, 52
B- Biggest fear: Asparagus – a fear I’m fighting one spear at a time
C- Current time:  just gone two
D- Drink you last had: Coffee – helping me making bad decisions faster
E- Every day starts with: The sun coming up.
F- Favourite song: Right this minute? Hold On, by Tom Waites
G- Ghosts, are they real?: As real as you want them to be
H- Hometown: Glasgow, my Dear Green Place.
I- In love with: I Love Everybody, Especially You.
J- Jealous of: No one.
K- Killed someone?: Not on purpose.
L- Last time you cried?: The bit in “The Fast And The Furious” when Dom says “What are you doing?” and Paul says “I owe you a ten-second car.”
M- Middle name: Mathew
N- Number of siblings: Two sisters, one brother
O- One wish: World peace
P- Person you last called: Mum
Q- Question you're always asked: "But what age are you really?"
R- Reason to smile: The world.
S- Song last sang: I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself
T- Time you woke up: 12.30, 3.15, 4.45. 6.15 and 7.30 am
U- Underwear colour: I’m not going to check right now.
V- Vacation destination: Argyll
W- Worst habit: Not sweating the big stuff.
X-X-Ray's you've had: chest – a long time ago
Y- Your favourite food: scallops from the Seafood Shed on Oban peir.
Z- Zodiac sign: Scorpio. It used to be Pisces, but I had it changed by deed poll.
I've made a commitment to ride a 100km Sportif for charity.
This will be run on closed roads, some of which are a bit hilly, and to get a recognised time I need to keep up an average pace of about 15 mph.
Realising that this is a bit of a challenge for an occasional cycle tourist, who likes to keep to a leisurely 10 mph or so, I downloaded a 12 week training plan that will take me up to the right level of fitness. Unfortunately, I downloaded this eight weeks ago, and the Sportif is on April 24th, and the weather has been so bad that I only just got out on my bike this weekend.

Two sessions, 7.5 miles on Saturday, at an average speed of 10.5 mph, and 12 miles on Sunday, at 12 mph. So there's a way to go, I can see.

Road racing (which is what this is, really, despite there being no prizes) is a lot different from touring. My touring bike is a sturdy beast, with panniers, lights and mud guards, and I can comfortably trundle around on it for 6 or 8 hours a day. It has kevlar tyres, 24 gears, and, though the gears are not as generous as those on my mountain bike, I can cycle it up most things.

My racking bike weighs about half that, has 16 gears, and makes no concessions to little things like potholes, or corners, and it doesn't have Granny gears.

I enjoyed being out on it this weekend, but that was in dry if cold weather, with almost no wind. And the longest I was in the saddle for was just over an hour. Over the next few weeks I'll need to take that up to at least three hours, and rides of between 40 and 50 miles - I don't see any need to do the full distance in training. I'll need to do quite a bit of hill work, and think about what sort of food I eat before, and what I take with me.

It would also be a good idea to drop a few kilos. The scales this morning said I was 92 kilos, which is a good 15 kilos under my peak weight of a few years ago, but somewhere in the 80s is a much healthier place to be. And every kilo I lose is 1,000 grams less to drag around on the ride.

So hey, ho, and off I go. 
Warm water plays around me
Snow falls
Settling on Budha
Magpie flies.

Where's my fucking Champagne?
I bought (yet) another set of headphones at the weekend, so I’m testing them out with some old, familiar tracks. I should be surprised at the surge of emotions that come on, listening to songs that once meant the world to me, but they’re hitting me hard tonight.

First up was “My Stunning Mystery Companion”, Jackson Browne’s tale of lost love. That got a fond smile from me, and gladness that she’s so happy now. People will come and go, it seems, but there will only ever be one Stunning Mystery Companion for me.

And then “All I Want Is You” by U2. And I shake my head, that at one time it meant so much, and I move on, sadly, straight to “Stolen Car” (the Patty Griffin cover, not Springsteen’s original) and it brings back the last days (months, years) of my marriage, and I shudder. I actually shudder, and remember feeling 100 years old.

Which is probably enough of that (though Loyd Cole’s “Vin Ordinaire” reminds me always, always to laugh at myself – “She’s in love with him, I’m in love with her, here we go again, so Vin Ordinaire”.)

I’m in a better place now, in a lot of ways, and all it takes to remind me of that is a song that’s oh, 25 years or so old – so in the end I have to say, let the clouds go rain on some other sucker’s parade.

Good headphones, these. 
I finished work for the year today, and I'm having trouble getting my brain to spin down.

That's a usual problem when I go from working flat out to not working at all, but the last week has made it more tricky than ever.

Last Saturday morning I got up at 4 to catch a plane to Geneva, and then had four days of not-sking in the Alps. Chamonix, to be exact, which put me in the shadow of Mont Blanc. I'd always thought of that as a handy but trite phrase, you know: "In the shadow of the mountain". Three days there made me realise that it's a concrete metaphor. Mountains DO cast a shadow, and you can spend half the day thinking its overcast when there isn't a cloud in the sky. Very weird.

This seems as good a time as any to mention that I wasn't there on my own. Yes, I'm seeing someone, and yes, it's delightful, and no, I won't be saying much more than that. She doesn't do social media to any extent, and wouldn't be comfortable with me blogging about her. So I won't. But if you wonder why I've taken up not-skiing holidays, and following rugby, well, now you know.

I had a meeting to get to in Inverness on Wednesday, which meant I couldn't spend the whole week in the Alps. I made the best of my time there, though, taking a gondola and a cablecar about to around 3,000 metres, and fulfilling all my James Bond fantasies about mountain hideouts and duels in the snow. I also ate my bodyweight in cheese and potatoes, about which something will have to be done.

I sacrificied a direct flight back to Edinburgh for the reward of not getting up at 5 am, so I flew back via Brussels, an easy enough route, but it did mean I was on the move from 2.30 till about one a.m. as I had a three hour drive to Inverness in front of me when I arrived in Edinburgh.

The Inverness gig was fine, and I had a very low-key night out with my team on Thursday. Given the drink driving rules here, I didn't want to drive until lunchtime today, so got back to Edinburgh around 4, and collapsed on the couch.

Hopefully by tomorrow my brain will have calmed down, but there's a trip to see the Silencers tomorrow night, and then the inevitable Star Wars trip to arrange.

All in all, it's a busy time, but I have a couple of weeks to practice mindfulness. 
The transition to Edinburgh continues apace.

I've just completed my acclimatisation to the odd-shaped ball game they call rugby. Apparently this involves drinking too much, following a seemingly doomed national team, and watching them fail in heart-rending circumstances. This is close enough to following the round-ball game that I feel I've got a good handle on it already. What it doesn't seem to involve is tribal hatred between teams, so that's strange.

Since I have Holyrood park on my doorstep, and I've registered for a 100km cycling sportif in April, I thought I'd take my bike out yesterday. Yes, the day of torrential rain and Force-7 gales. Suffice to say, it wasn't an unqualified sucess. On the other hand, it can't get worse, can it?

Inclement weather did mean that I spent a lot of the weekend on a sofa watching TV. This included the end of Fargo (totally worth it for Billy Bob Thornton's turn as a diabolic hit-man), the start of The Bridge (I know, I'm late to the party, but I'm enjoying it) and both QI and Have I Got News For You, which I haven't seen in the same weekend since the year dot.

No cinema, though, since there was nothing on that I fancied. SPECTRE was a bit of a let down, and Bridge Of Spies isn't out for a couple of weeks.

OK, my typing fingers are warmed up now, I guess I better get on to one of my three jobs for today. 
When, I'd argue, it's a Movie Theatre.
I went off to see the NT Live broadcast of Hamlet last week in a cinema.

I've seen a lot of Hamlet's over the years, live and on film, and this was one of the best. I thought the Cumbersnatch was excellent, the rest of the cast universally up to scratch, and the whole damn thing was audible and well spoken. One of the things that I didn't like about the recent film version of MacBeth was that for long stretches I could only barely hear it - the dialogue was given mostly in a monotone, and quite often in a low monotone. This production was meant to be heard, not just seen, and the language was spoken with such drive that the meaning was always clear.

The set design was also pretty awesome, with the (metaphorical) fireworks at the end of Act One very well done.

And as a viewing experience, it didn't work for me at all.

This was a full blown theatrical production, and an excellent one, but I wasn't in a theatre audience. Cumberbatch did not make the same connection with me as a stage bound Hamlet that Fassbinder made with me as a (mumbling, grimey) MacBeth. Mostly, I suspect, because he wasn't trying to. As the villain in the last Star Trek movie, Cumberbatch held me from the first moment he appeared (ok, and less so as those moments accumulated). I kept expecting to feel the connection I do for actors on a stage, not a screen, and it lifted me out of the immersive nature of a performance as if it was happening behind glass.

Which it was,

So, interesting, well done, and ultimately unsatisfying (and much more expensive than a normal cinema ticket).

I know this must be a well-worn problem by now, especially for Opera fans. But it seemed worse than, say, the movie of The Wall I watched the other week, or other concert movies. And I don't know why that is.

When is a movie not a movie? 
f4f3: (Strange)
Splendid John W. Campbell Hard (not to say Mundane) SF.

Science (mathematics in particular) gets a very good write up, as does NASA.

If you like fiction that doesn't cheat, and you enjoyed the Kim Stanley Robinson's "Mars" sequence, you'll love this.

And Matt Damon is very sweet all the way through.

If I had some more time, I'd talk about how lovely it was to see hard SF done well, and cold hard numbers given their due respect.

If YOU have more time, have a read at this we gem:

http://www.spacewesterns.com/articles/105/
So where were we?

I finished the move to Edinburgh last week. Actually this means that I finished moving all of the boxes and bags. The boxes and bags are now all over the new flat, to the extent that I can't move them or even imagine where I'll move them to. Obviously this can't continue, and I'll need to spend time getting organinsed, but stuff.

Tuesday I went to see The Wall (or "Roger Waters The Wall" as it's ungrammatically billed). I;ve never been a prog fan (this said in the tone of "I've never been a fan of ritually slaughtering goats) but this was interesting on a lot of levels. Primarily, for me, the fascist imagery. I'm always put off by black and silver uniforms, great coats, and Nuremburg rallies. Apparently this is an incredibly wrong-headed reading of the show when set aside Pink Floyd's decades of anti-war material. So why wear the fecking armbands?

I managed not to raise this on Thursday, which was my seasonal dialogue night. Topics raised did include Time, age, death and senility. Despite which, it was a cheery conversation. I also managed to cycle into central Edinburgh and back without actually killing myself.

Friday I flew down to London for Dave Gilmour's gig at the Albert Hall. I'd never seen him, I'd never been to the Albert Hall. Both were very impressive, despite showing obvious signs of age. To be honest, I preferred Gilmour's versions of the Pink Floyd songs, mostly because they were songs, and not excerpts from a rock opera.

On Saturday morning I spent three hours sitting on the floor of a train from London to Newcastle. Virgin Trains (may their licence be revoked) hadn't accounted for the fact that Scotland were playing South Africa there, and that some tens of thousands of people would be going, many of them by train. Time passed. I didn't have a ticket for the game, but negotiations with a cheery chap with a limp and a wary eye out for the cops found me on the touchline for what was, apparently, a dire perfomance by Scotland. I didn't see that, personally - I thought they rested some key players, and still pegged back South Africa to seven points late in the game. Next Saturday's game against Samoa is the crunch, obviously.

I stayed in Newcastle on Saturday, and then was driven back to Edinburgh. And then decided to raid my glasgow flat for 5 bookcases I'd left behind. Because that way I might be able to shelve some of my books.

Monday I drove to Inverness, has a six hour meeting, drove back and slept.

Last night was dinner with an old friend, then off to see the new film of MacBeth. A mixed thing. Lots of stunning visuals and set pieces, but I thought it suffered from too many scenes of people standing about while the leads pose in the foreground (when I see these, I always expect to hear Spike Milligan saying "What are we going to do now?) that the emotional tone was fairly flat, and that it had a problem I've had with the last few productions of Shakespeare I've seen - one blood smeared bearded man in black warrior garb looks much the same as another blood smeared bearded man in warrior garb. Worth seeing, though. I thought there was a huge Japanese influence, but then maybe that's just me.

Today is Edinburgh in the morning, Glasgow in the afternoon, and back to Edinburgh tonight.

Oh, I've also been on national TV twice this week, on a quiz show called 15-1. I'll try and get a clip of me flirting with Sandi Toksvik, but if you want to see it it's on Channel 4s catch up site. I was much better on Tuesday's show. 

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