Thursday, February 28, 2008

Private Dick

Frank was in danger of lapsing back into Catholicism. It was that last glass of Campari which had just been one too many, and now sinister and subversive thoughts were stealing across his cerebellum with willful and wily alliterative intent. Transubstantiation might not just be a poor excuse for bad sleight of hand (seven years in seminary - surely enough for even the dullest seminarian to master a bit of simple palming!); confessionals needn't just be to save the pounds that pervy old Irishmen would otherwise fritter away on premium rate wank lines; and the whole shebang might not just be an outlet by which the closet cases of the world could have their camp cake and eat it.

He shrugged his shoulder and got to his foot. A passing sign told him that you're only ever half a man without Jesus. He grimaced, remembering the cute bit of Mexican trade who had stolen his wallet in return for what was probably the best blow-job the little shit had ever had.

A furtive man was glancing at him from the opposite side of the street, making a conspicuous effort to appear shifty. Frank saw through him like he was yesterday's countdown conundrum (washboard). He held no mystery, just a small dick and a tight throat. Why he was holding a throat will remain unknown. It was his own, as was the dick. Or at least until the hire-purchase people caught up with him.

A yellow net curtain hung in the shop window, and as he stared through it at the antique sweets within, he thought he saw the pattern in the net rearrange itself into an autostereogram of William Burroughs shooting up with heroin. Billow. It was gone. The tampax dummy in the window went on drying her hair as the fan restarted. Frank moved on before toxic shock set in. Serried ranks of solemn shops sailed past, echoing an earlier alliterative allusion and adding assonance as an alternative angle.

It was turning into one of those days. The initial bad sign had been when someone has almost discovered his secret identity. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a piece of foam shaped round a metal prong? Is it a rip-off? Yes and no, it's Thigh Master. With a final steamy whistle, that train of thought vanished into the distance. Even the favoured trick of sticking his head out of a high rise to admire the vertical horizon had failed, although he did succeed in donating a satisfyingly thick gobbet of phlegm to the sparse covering of a passer-by's head.

Perhaps it was time to become a lesbian.

A blush added brief fire to his cheeks for no other reason than that his corpuscles needed the exercise. Someone was playing Fur Elise badly on a piano with a flat A. Who was dealing these cards, anyway?

His apartment eventually made its ponderous way to his demanding feet, and with a sigh he headed for the cool comfort of the lift. There was only one letter waiting for him. The rest had been too impatient. It was an invitation to a party at 'The Gobbling Nun'. He didn't recognise the name of the sender. It was nobody he knew. He knew a lot of nobodys.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Lion, The Witch & The TURDIS Of Oz In Wonderland.

I decided this morning that I really ought to see if I can do anything to retrieve my juvenalia, with a view to publishing it on here, or on my website.

Towards the end of my school years* I wrote a lot, much of it humorous in varying degrees. Along with a very dear friend, MF (whose initials are quite unintentionally amusing), I was heavily involved in creating a school magazine. MF was great at coming up with ideas for characters and so on. I wasn't so good at that, but I did seem to flourish when it came to taking those ideas and really pushing them. It was a great collaborative effort, the likes of which I have only found once or twice in my life.

Amongst the other characters that sprang from the fertile soil of MF's mind were Elsie & Tom. Elsie Senga Mince was often described as housewife, superhero and all-round good egg. She was the companion to Tom Baker, who travelled around the universe in a battered blue police box. Basically, we were both big Doctor Who fans, the show wasn't being made any more, and Tom Baker was "our" doctor, i.e. the one who had been on all the shows we watched as children. So, although he was called Tom Baker, he was still The Doctor, or at least had all the props, characteristics and mannerisms that he had brought to his portrayal of that character.

We both read lots of the Doctor Who books (many of which were little more than the scripts from the TV show with "he said", or "she exclaimed" tacked on at the end of each line of dialogue). Being British, the best way we knew of showing our love for something was by taking the piss out of it mercilessly. This included paraphrasing and mocking all of the clich├ęs that occurred in the books, and the standard plot lines. We also pilfered freely from much greater writers, too. The end result meant that whereas the books would (almost invariably) say this:
With a wheezing, groaning sound, a dark blue box slowly appeared on the forbidding alien landscape
our stories would have something like this:
With a wheeze, a groan and a hey nonny-nonny, a TURDIS suddenly appeared out of nowhere, exactly the way that bricks don't.
After we finished school, and stopped doing the magazine, MF poured his remaining creative juices into a full-size novel about some of his other characters, the Boys Of The Filofax. It was a great story, reminiscent of Douglas Adams, particularly during his Dirk Gently phase, with hints of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I read a draft, and loved it, but somewhere along the line MF gave up on it and, I believe, threw it away.

Meanwhile, I was writing longer stories than I had for the magazine, but still way short of an actual novel. And whereas MF had made the transition to proper novel-appropriate thinking, I was still messing around in pastiche land. To that end, my proudest achievement was Elsie & Tom in Snow White & The Seven Cybermen. It featured a Snow White who was anything but, some cybermen who had been unaccountably shrunk to midget-like proportions, making them much less menacing, and a brief but important trip back to ancient Greece during the race between Atlanta and Hippomenes. I also started work on what was to be my masterwork: Elsie & Tom in The Lion, The Witch & The TURDIS Of Oz In Wonderland. My intention was to take the characters through a butchered version of all three of those stories, mostly for my own amusement.

There were a few other things that I wrote during that period. Lots, actually, including deliberately funny letters to various friends. I really enjoyed writing, and for a few years afterwards, I would come across something or other I had written earlier and marvel because I had forgotten how funny it was.

Alas, some years ago, during a period of separation between my parents, disaster struck. Most of this writing was in a garage at my mum's place. Unfortunately, the local kids were a seriously nasty lot, and had a habit of torching the garages. Everything was lost to the flames.

I did have some old floppy disks with some of the material on it, but they were created on at Atari ST, and even using an ST emulator on my PC, I couldn't get anything from most of them. I did manage to salvage some bits and pieces of few years ago, but nothing from the longer stories, alas. Man, I would love to get my hands on those.

As chance would have it, a bit of digging around on the way back machine has given me a couple of smaller pieces. I'll put them up here as separate articles and see if anyone likes them.

* US readers might like to note that "school years" for me doesn't include my time at university. School is school, university is university - that's why we have different words for those things :-)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Chilli Fecundity

Last summer we treated ourselves to a chilli pepper plant and a capsicum plant. The former yielded quite a few chillies, the latter only one or two capsicums (or peppers, or bell peppers, if you'd rather).

Around October, new fruit started to appear on the chilli plant. It took a while to develop, and quite a long time to go from green to red (via that odd blackish colour that they turn to make you think that they're about to rot and fall off). But now they're sitting on the vine, ready to be harvested. So the plant has kicked off another round, and we now have at least half a dozen new peppers starting to appear.

I've never known a plant to be so keen on producing fruit, and especially when it's a plant that is probably more used to warmer climes than those provided in England. In winter. Amazing.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The future of hacking

I was reading a piece this morning on CNET about the Storm BotNet, a vast array of computers that, unbeknownst to their owners, have been quietly taken over for use in acts of cyber-terrorism, cyber-vandalism, and various other cyber-otherisms.

Over the last few years, as the number of little programs running on my PC has climbed inexorably upwards, and as the behaviour of various pieces of technology have clashed, the performance of my machine has been, at times, flaky. In the early days of botnets, mass-distributed viruses, trojan horses and the rest of that paraphernalia, you could tell when your machine was "infected" because the performance usually suffered. That's no longer necessarily the case, especially when the people who control the botnet don't want you to realise that your computer has been co-opted onto it.

Now that serious, well-organised, well-funded criminals are involved, I was entertaining the thought that in the future, the well-structured botnet program might do everything it can to improve your system's performance - secretly downloading bits of software to analyse and adjust the internals. That way, you might not mind being part of a botnet so much, because in return, you get a machine that's more reliable, without having to spend hours and hours running diagnostics and patching things up yourself.

Sorry. Bit geeky. Happens sometimes.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Election Earing

The way things are going, it looks like the next president of the US will be the Irish-American gay porn star, Bareback O'Bama.

Personally, I think Hillary Clinton would be the more radical choice.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Not quite dancing in the streets

Earlier this week, I was walking along Oxford Street shortly before 09:00, on my way from the gym to the office. I passed someone lying in a doorway wrapped up in a sleeping bag. I would have said sleeping in a doorway, but I think the person in question was awake, because there was steady, rhythmic movement taking place about half-way down the sleeping bag.

Now he (or possibly she) could just have been rubbing their hands together to keep warm. It really didn't look like that, though. It really did look like he was about to make a Big Issue appear out of nowhere.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Letting Go

It's now three weeks since I started my new contract, having rushed out to buy a laptop for it, because I was asked at the interview whether I could supply my own.

I've had misgivings since the very first day. There seemed to be a lack of clarity about exactly what I was meant to be doing. I've struggled to get enough information to allow me to be productive. There doesn't seem to be any obvious place for me to go for information. And the people that I could go to are really busy, and so haven't been able to give me a good steer that has allowed me to get under way properly. I've not found it easy to get proper network access, and consequently have been at arms length from some useful intranet-based resources that might have helped. I'm all for being self-motivated and not needing hand-holding, but it does help not to be left completely at sea.

So it didn't come as a great surprise to me yesterday when my project manager took me aside to tell me that they had decided to let me go. The client that I was meant to be working for has put the work on hold, and revealed that he initiated it without actually having the budget to pay for it anyway. The company that I am working through don't have anything else for me to do in the meantime, and they can't afford to have me not doing billable work. So, it's adios.

I've never been "let go" before. I've been made redundant once. That was great - they gave me lots of money. This isn't so good, not least because I have been turning down offers of work for the last few weeks, and had one really interesting offer yesterday morning, before I knew that the decision about my future had been made. I can't find the details of the agent in question, so I can't get in touch with him, annoyingly.

Still, it might mean that I've been busy for a few weeks and making a bit of money, just tiding myself over until a really good contract comes in. I'll tell myself that anyway to ease the affront.

And now - back to trawling JobServe!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Line That Isn't

I am now working again in London, and facing the daily nightmare that is a rush-hour commute. I have noticed that announcements being made about the fate of the East London Line, and they struck me as a bit puzzling. The announcements go something like this:
The East London Line is closed until 2010, when it will re-open as part of the London Overground network.
The East London Line is currently part of the London Underground network, and when the line re-opens, I venture to suggest that it won't be called the East London Line, since that would invite confusion with the lines on the underground network. This leads me to conclude that in fact, the East London Line isn't closed, rather it no longer exists. Sure, the track is still there, and doubtless the rolling stock is stashed away somewhere. But that entity which we called the East London Line has ceased to exist.

The situation is similar, I think, to that which now exists at the Edinburgh Festival when it comes to comedy awards. For years we knew that if you did really well, you could win a Perrier Award. The awards are still given, except now they are not sponsored by Perrier, so they are called the IF Comedy AWards. A lot of people still think of them as the Perrier Awards, because they recognise it's a same shit, different brand thing, but technically, they are the IF Awards.

I think this is the flip side of the classic problem of the Philosopher's Axe (not to be confused with the Philosopher's Axe Wound, which I won't be going into). The classic problem presents the problem of identity very elegantly. I have an axe. Over time, I replace the handle (or haft, if you'd rather). Later, I need to replace the head. At this point, it's still my axe, even though it no longer contains any of its original constituent parts. Is it really still the axe I started with? At what point is it not my axe, or not the same axe? In the case of the East London Line, and the Perrier/IF Awards, the opposite is happening - the label changes even though the thing itself remains the same.

Actually, the East London Line is a bit different, because the label is likely to change, the context is going to change (from the LU network to the LO network), and the thing itself is going to change. Really, the line has ceased to exist.

So, to conclude, I would be much happier if the announcements on the tube went like this:
Please be aware that the East London Line has ceased to exist. Passengers are advised to seek alternative routes.

Blackpool or bust

Only a few weeks from now, I'll be treating myself to a long weekend in the urbane and stylish grandeur of Blackpool. Every year, that jewel of the north plays host to the world's biggest magic convention, and this will be my second year in attendance. Last year, as a newbie, I didn't get there early enough, and I didn't stay long enough. This time around, I know better. I've booked the Friday and Monday off work, and I'm heading up relatively early on the Friday. Things kick off properly on the Friday afternoon with the first lecture of the convention.

To add to my delight, a fellow I recently became friends with will be travelling over from the US to attend. I met him and his wife when they were over here late last year for the International Magic Convention. He came second in the close-up competition with a very funny, magical, and beautifully structured act. Sadly, not all of my magical chums will be able to make it. One in particular who was very lovely to me last year, and with whom I shared the experience of a traditional Blackpool landlady, directly descended from the Lambeth Wyrm, or some other dragon of yore.

I am particularly looking forward to a lecture by J C Wagner, arguably the best bar magician the world has ever seen - although it's a tough call between him and Doc Eason.

There might be a blog soon about the new job. At the moment, I'm a bit too busy getting my feet under the table to write about it. Or indeed to write about much at all.