Mad World?

MadWorld

The EU referendum is less than a week away; fighting (again) at the European Cup matches in Paris; 49 people shot dead at a nightclub in Orlando, a week ago; Donald Trump knocking on the door of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue… and 3 days ago Labour MP, Jo Cox, was killed outside a library in Birstall.

It’s tempting to think that the world is coming apart before our eyes. So, I have taken to these pages, for the first time in 18 months, in the hope of encouraging you to resist that temptation with every ounce of willpower you posses.

Yesterday, I noticed people posting and commenting on facebook statuses and memes, that the world is a dreadful place. In one instance I read that the world was “at least fifty percent terrible”. Now, it’s true that last one was in a poem of positive messages, but I still take issue with it.

Perhaps I should rephrase: There’s a tendency, at times like these, to believe that human beings are inherently bad. And, moreover, that violence is escalating; that the world is more dreadful than it has ever been.
My dear readers, this is simply not true. A look at any reliably sourced statistics on violence and war… hell, just a glance through a few history books, should be enough to convince you that this view of the world is nonsense.

Muslims are not all out to kill you… Gay people are not trying seduce your children/dog/mother/brother… Migrants are not about to take your jobs (if they have a monopoly on certain jobs, chances are they’re doing a job you would refuse to do, for pay you would refuse to get out of bed for, and consequently helping the local farmers you’re all trying to save, from having to pack it all in and work at Starbucks).

Now, it is certainly not my intention to devalue the losses we have seen in the news this week, nor to make light of genuine concerns about violence or government policy. I write because at times like these it is more important than ever to remember that, as useful an evolved mechanism as it can be in immediate life-threatening situations… spoon-fed by the media in exaggerated doses, fear is a recipe for bad decision-making.

Fear threatens to put Donald Trump in the White House. Fear threatens to break the UK away from Europe. Fear led Omar Mateen to gun down innocent patrons at an Orlando nightclub. And, fear played a large part in motivating Thomas Mair to shoot Jo Cox dead on Thursday afternoon.

I was going to go into the various reasons why I believe you should vote to stay IN the EU on Thursday, but I think common sense and a brief look through history should tell you all you need to know about that, so I’ll simply state something that has been said so many times before, and that I think anyone reading this is already aware of: The world is getting smaller every single day.

We will only make more progress by accepting that we are a global community. Breaking existing unions into smaller and smaller pieces is going in the wrong direction.

Fear, as I said before, has its uses; we would not be here without it, and sometimes it has been a helpful tool. But if you scare a man into thinking that the world might end, he is more likely to build a shelter and buy a gun to keep you out of it, than he is to try to stop it from happening.

We are not the only creatures on Earth to do damage to our environment, but we are the only ones capable of recognising that, and the only ones currently trying to reverse the damage. The English countryside is now dotted with wind turbines, almost wherever you care to look. More and more houses and office buildings have solar panels providing at least some of their power, and the number of hybrid and electric cars in showrooms increases year after year.

Violence is part of the lives of every species on Earth, but human violence has shown a steadily decreasing trend (with the exception of one or two very minor hiccups on the graph) for centuries, and humans have never been safer, or lived longer than they do at this point in history.

I am expecting another child in September, and that child is fortunate enough to have the kindest, warmest, brightest, most life-affirming woman that I have ever met, for a mother. I cannot hope to compete with that. But for my part, I will teach this child what I have tried to teach my others:

The world can be a dark and dreadful place. But closing your door and burying your head in your hands only ever makes it darker. There is hope and goodness in abundance, the world over. If you can’t find it, my guess is that you’re trying really, really hard not to.

A week ago, one man killed 49 people who were simply trying to enjoy a night out. On Thursday one man shot dead a kind-hearted young MP from West Yorkshire. In response to these dreadful incidents, the internet practically melted down as millions of people flocked to news websites, blogs and social-media sites to offer their sympathy, to share messages of love and hope, and to stand-up against bigotry and hatred.

The world is a better place than you give it credit for.

 

**If you really need convincing that humans aren’t so bad, I recommend giving this a read: “The Better Angels of Our Nature” by Steven Pinker

 

 

Loose ends

The post which was supposed to appear here this week, turned out to be yet another of those occasions when I start off thinking “Oooh! I have a great idea for a post. And it will only take me 30 minutes to write!” but the situation quickly escalates out of all control, to the point where it might have been easier to chisel it into the rock of Mt Sinai. Obviously that’s a slight exaggeration, but I find it amusing to exaggerate.

What usually holds me up on a blog post is not the writing, but the images. When I first started this blog, 3 years ago this week, I read through all the little things that WordPress recommends you do in order to increase traffic, and make your blog more interesting. Most of it was piddling insignificant stuff like “Let people know where to find it”, “write regularly” and “Make sure people know it exists”. Of course I paid no attention to those, but I did take 2 of the things they said to heart with rather more enthusiasm that the situation perhaps required. And these were…

“Visit other blogs; leave comments, and make friends.”

Which resulted in my moving to Sweden and marrying one of the bloggers that I met through doing exactly that. And…

“Try to use images to enhance the look of your blog posts”

This second one has been the main reason I don’t write more posts. I simply must include images in my blog posts, and since I cannot draw I began digging through my old CDs of clipart, and using photoshop to throw together an image which more or less approximated the one I had in my head. This takes me forever, but people soon began telling me they particularly liked the the little cartoons I made, and that cemented the deal… I simply had to put one in every week. This week, I once again got carried away with producing the images, and considering the next post will have about 30 images in it, you can see why it wasn’t ready in time.

Since I will soon be starting a new blog, on a new site, I though I might have a bit of a clear out. Sort of like moving house; you start digging through all the stuff you haven’t seen for ages.

So… this week, for your amusement, and in no particular order, are some of the posts I started but never bothered to finish. I invite you to guess what the post was going to end up being about.

Let’s Measure! – (started 10 June, 2013 @ 21:08:33)

As I write this my day began with a phone call from my computer doctor, telling me that my machine is quite old, and although he had done everything he could, perhaps the kindest thing would be to put it out of its misery. It went from bad to worse, as many of my recent days have, when I learned that I was unable to report my work hours because of a spectacular effort of combined fuck-uppyness on the part of the Swedish tax and migration services, and the administrators at my job, who have one of those systems which is clean and easy if you have all the right numbers and things… otherwise useless. Then it was a simple matter of an unexpected bill at the worse possible time, and two work assignments which I have not trained for and have absolutely no idea how to do, to push me pretty close to the edge of insanity.

Now… I’m well aware that if there are any of my original readers out there, who stuck with me through the long silence of early 2013, they may well laugh at the thought of me being pushed any closer to the edge of insanity, but I never said which side of the sanity/insanity line I was on in the first place.

I can actually remember what started me writing “Let’s Measure!”, and why it was never completed.

Limbo – (started 7 September, 2013 @ 23:33:01)

Amidst all the talk of moving to a different country; being struck down by kidney stones; breaking my wrist; getting married, and dealing with bureaucracy, it occurs to me that I may never have mentioned what my job actually is. If I have mentioned it before please accept my apologies.

I am a Stockholm Tour Guide. One of those guys who greets passengers as they get off cruise ships, counts them all onto a coach, and talks all day about interesting things that happened here, and why they should pay very careful attention to the time whilst walking around town buying fridge magnets with Vikings on them.
It’s a pretty good job, all things considered. You see the same things day after day after day, and each time you have to make them sound as interesting as they were the first time you saw them. But you do get paid for showing tourists around beautiful places, the pay is fairly good, the tips are occasionally good, the job is rarely boring, and for the first time in my life I am working at a place where I actually LIKE spending time with my colleagues.

There are irritating things about being a tour guide, like any other job I suppose: It baffles me for instance why some guests just don’t seem to understand that if I tell them to be back at the bus at a certain time, it isn’t because I’m an anally retentive freak who thinks we live and die by the clock… but because their ship will LEAVE without them if they are late. There are also places that (as a colleague of mine pointed out the other day), no matter how many times you explain what the building is, they just keep asking the same question in different ways, hoping they will get a different answer. The Nordic Museum is one of these. People just don’t seem to want to accept that it is simply a museum. Such an impressive looking building must surely be the fortress which guards the entrance to Mordor or something.

Anyway, the job is great… while it lasts. I’m sure it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Sweden does not get very many cruise tourists when it’s -15 degrees, and the harbour is a solid sheet of ice. Consequently, we must all find alternative sources of income during the winter months.

Now, I have no problem with the work drying up for 2 very important reasons:

1. In 2 years time, Amki and I will be returning to the UK permanently, and to do so smoothly and efficiently will require that we have a reliable source of income which will move when we do. So we MUST figure some way of making our living that is not tied to this city. A lack of work through the winter is a superb motivation for finding just such an idea.

2. No matter how much I enjoy a job, I really hate working for other people

If you compare the date of the post you just read with that of the next post, it becomes a little clearer what the problem was that day.

Intellectual Viagra – (started 7 September, 2013 @ 21:35:12)

I have thought long and hard about this blog post today, and all I can say is “Aaaaaaaaaaaa!!!”

Restlessness has penetrated my bones like a pixelated miner; scraping away at the insides because someone put 50p in the slot and all they know is that the points go up when they break stuff!

Somewhere deep in my brain, I just heard a voice say “This is why we should never let him out.”

Restlessness for me, is not a time when things get done. You might think that if I can’t sit still I might be able to apply that energy to something constructive. Instead, I start doing something and my legs begin to itch. I lose my patience half-way through doing something, and I simply have  to get out of the chair. I pace around for a little, maybe make some tea, return to the computer and start writing… but the things I want to say are not coming out. So I go back to making a logo in Photoshop… or I start editing video… but after 5 minutes I want to tear down the walls and smash things! I hop backwards and forwards from one task to another, giving none of them the attention they deserve, and slowly, minute by agonising minute, another day rolls toward its end with nothing having been achieved, in spectacularly unimpressive fashion.

If anyone out there wants to jump in right now and say “Wow! I know exactly what you are talking about! This is how I dealt with it….” that would be helpful.

I have the most ridiculously over-active imagination. I have a thousand ideas a day… but my brain has filled up with them until it is cracking under the strain, because I simply have neither the intelligence nor the necessary skills to implement any of them. I imagine the frustration level to be equivalent to something like crash-landing on a planet full of nymphomaniacs and discovering you have chronic erectile dysfunction.

This next post was started exactly one week before I moved to Sweden, so it isn’t difficult to surmise what it was going to be about, but it is a perfect example of why a writer of any kind should never START with a title.

The Long Road Home – (started 22 August, 2012 @ 22:01:38)

Hands up who remembers

Yep. Told ya… Never start with a title.

Misery Loves Company – (started 10 May, 2012 @ 2:45:11)

Patrick Kavanagh said “I loved too much and by such and such is happiness thrown away”, and boy did he know what he was talking about.

I’m not sure this only applies to love though. Perhaps you panic more than others, and feel even more lost when everyone else seems completely calm about that noise that just came from underneath the plane. “Whaddaya mean; LANDING GEAR? No, no, no… that was an engine falling off!” Perhaps you can’t understand why no-one else is quite as angry as you are about the gigantic new superstore that will surely reduce the sleepy village you live in to a smouldering pile of ash in the space of three years. Maybe you have a very specific fear of Sabre-toothed tigers, which, whilst irrational and slightly crazy for someone who lives in 21st century Chippenham, seems perfectly normal to you.

Whichever emotion you are cursed with an over-abundance of, surrounding yourself with people who just don’t get it always makes the problem worse in the short term. If you are scared or nervous, try relaxation techniques or take a Vallium. If you’re always raging about something, try an anger management course… If you are terrified of Sabre-toothed tigers… try to stay indoors, and as far away from the Pleistocene Epoch  as you possibly can.

We’ve all seen movies where the critically injured man has to have his gangrenous leg amputated lest the infection kill him stone dead.

I thought that one had promise… but I know exactly why I stopped writing it. Do you?

You don’t care really do you?

A Day to Remember – (started 22 April, 2012 @ 00:18:?)

I want to talk to you about paranoia, but I have to do it fast before those goddamn CIA assholes find out what I’m doing.

Did you ever give much thought to the things that affect your mood?

As I write this, dear reader, it is almost midnight, I have no internet connection (so I’m writing this in WORD), the flat is empty (for a change) and freezing cold, and I have been staring off into space in complete silence for over an hour. My better-half is presumably busy with college work, since we would normally be talking at this hour; my flatmate has retired rather early, presumably because my conversation of late has been about as stimulating as a staring competition with Lego spacemen; and I daren’t call anyone for fear that I will either wake them up or unwittingly send them into an entirely too permanent state of slumber. It isn’t easy to be miserable on your own, and it isn’t advisable to involve others, lest you encourage them to seek alternative companionship.

The weird thing is that my ups and downs seem to make no sense whatsoever. To give two closely linked examples

I have absolutely no idea what those 2 closely linked examples were, but it’s perfectly obvious (at least to me) why I stopped writing at that point.

But, Oooh! Look… I found the rest of that single sentence post, lurking in an old Word document. What I can’t figure out is why it’s dated EARLIER than the single sentence one.

Are we there yet? – (started 15 August 2012 @ 04:43:?)

Hands up who remembers being a kid, waiting for Christmas; for that moment when you could get up in the morning and find out what the jolly fat housebreaker had left underneath the 6ft tall dying plant in the middle of your living room?

OK, put your hands down for crying out loud. I can’t see you, and you look like idiots… probably. But you know what I’m talking about… right? Time seems to pass much more slowly when you’re a kid. Once you’re in your 30s, you spend all your time saying things like “What? Christmas adverts already? I only took the decorations down last week!”, while your children sit in the corner feeling as though they have lived an entire lifetime between this Christmas and the last. Well I’m here to tell you that isn’t specific to children. Time is relative depending on circumstance.

Why am I talking about this? Well… at the time of writing this, I have misplaced my phone… To clarify: I know exactly where it is, I just can’t get to it at the moment. I have another phone… but it only allows me to call 3 carefully pre-selected numbers in Sweden, and for my fiancée to call me. Now… I am currently trying to move my entire life from England to Sweden for a minimum of 3 years. As you can imagine, this takes a lot of planning. I have doctors to call… immigration services to contact… driving licences to change… Things to sell… things to put into storage… Flights to book… Jobs to find… Healthcare to arrange… Phone tariffs to re-arrange… All of this takes a lot of effort, and almost all of it, requires a phone! This may seem like nothing to most of you, but consider that I am living on someone else’s sofa, in a house with no phone, and I currently have exactly £5 to my name. I am out of contact with family members, I am unemployed until finding gainful employment across the water, and I have no transport of any kind whatsoever. So every day, I check for jobs, and apply for those I am qualified or otherwise placed to do, and then… nothing. There is nothing to do but sit and wait, and look at a computer screen, check my emails (roughly 5-6 times an hour), check facebook (roughly 11-12 times every hour) and wait… and wait… and wait.

I should explain at this point that my love is currently entertaining an old friend from the other side of the Atlantic, whom she hasn’t seen for over a year. This friend will be there from now, almost right up to the time I arrive in Sweden. Now, we both miss each-other… we are both feeling time slowing down as this big moment approaches… but she has a good friend, whom she loves, to keep her entertained for the next two weeks, whereas I keep watching the calendar to check on the remaining days, and I have now become convinced that time, in these circumstances, can not only slow down, or even stand still… but can actually appear to go backwards! Seriously… I could swear that I looked at the calendar 2 days ago and worked out that I was half-way there. Today I looked at it and saw that I would be half-way there in another 2 days! WTF, father-time? Are you taking the piss?

I could re-submit my novel for publication, if I had a printer (yes, 95% of agents and publishers still do not accept e-mail submissions). I could print the novel off at a library or stationary store, but 300 pages is a whole lot of paper and ink, and consequently a whole lot of money, which, as previously mentioned, I have in very short supply. I could write something new, but I’m finding it very hard to concentrate at the moment… this is the first flash of inspiration I’ve had in the last 5 days, and it’s hardly “A Tale of Two Cities” is it. I could sleep more, but if my nickname and title of my blog didn’t give the game away, I should point out that sleep and I have never had the most harmonious relationship, and this situation has turned me from a man who gets less sleep than he needs, to a man who gets less sleep than the average housefly. Don’t bother looking that up! If you won’t take my word for it, I refer you to the stain on my wall, which used to be a housefly until it made the mistake of dive-bombing me all night during one of the only occasions in the past week when I was actually in danger of slipping into unconsciousness. Trust me: they don’t spend a hell of a lot of time in slumberland. Christ… if you had no eyelids and a shorter lifespan than a carton of pasteurised milk, would you waste your time sleeping?

INTERMISSION – Are you bored yet? Here is a teaser from the next blog post, to break the monotony.

Ben Bond

Excited? No? Ah well… life is full of disappointment. Here’s another half finished post, which probably depressed me because of its dreadful title. Even my place-holder titles are usually better than this.

Computer Depressive – (started 11 August, 2011 @ 22:20:?)

I’m beginning to suspect that my computer might be a manic depressive. There seem to be days when it can handle large text documents, upload videos to YouTube, operate 3D animation programs, and update facebook all at the same time. Days when if one of the children comes into my office with a skinned knee, you almost expect the computer to say “Step aside! I’ll handle this!”

The next day it’s: “Open Email?? Awww… come on!! What Am I… a fucking wizard?”

Doesn’t leave you with many clues as to where it was going, does it? Still, at least the next one has a catchier title. Doesn’t mean I know where it was going.

Harry Potter and the Inevitable Reality of Adulthood – (started 11 March, 2013 @ 04:46:?)

JK Rowling’s boy-wizard famously appealed to both children and adults. The difference between these two sharply defined demographics was that kids loved imagining they too were a wizard/witch, whereas adults loved imagining they were a child, imagining they were a wizard/witch. For the taller, hairier variety of human, escape is often just that simple; we don’t need to be whisked away on a magic carpet – by our mid-thirties most of us have realised that getting out vomit stains with a tub that says VANISH on it is about as close to magic that anything carpet related is ever likely to get – we just know that things were simpler when all we had to worry about was how to tell mum that as a result of an unfortunate chewing-gum experiment, the dog would now have to be shaved.

This next one was a very recent post, which I thought I had completed and posted, but it seems not. Pity really, I thought it started out with some rather keen insights. Perhaps you disagree, but in order to tell me that you disagree, you’ll have to leave a comment, so I’ve got you either way.

Promises – (started 25 November, 2013 @ 00:26:03)

Creativity, it seems to me, is like electricity; it’s bright and exciting; it can shock and illuminate; it can power an entire office building, or turn all your hard work into a blackened, unrecognisable husk in a single blinding flash!

Some creative people learn to harness, and focus this energy; channelling it so that it can be put to good use, boiling your kettle, powering trains, or even lighting up entire cities. We will call these people: Power Stations
Others however, cannot control this energy. We will call them Thunderheads. A thunderhead is the kind of cloud in which thunderstorms are brewing. Inside a thunderhead it is noisy, dark and chaotic, with occasional bright flashes which usually do more harm than good.

You hear thunderheads in the distance. They make a lot of noise, but often there is little to show for all the rumbling. Occasionally, if you are looking in the right direction at the right moment, they produce a beautiful bright flash which connects them briefly to the earth. And the few people who have seen it will sometimes go “Ooooh! Pretty! Do it again!” but of course a thunderhead cannot. Its flashes are random, uncontrolled, unpredictable, unreliable, and utterly useless to anyone except white-haired nutters with a knowledge of the future, and enough cable to connect a car to a large, doomed clock-tower.

Regrettably, I am a thunderhead. My head is busy with creative energy. It is full of flashes of light, which keep me from sleeping, and fill notebooks… but ultimately, though they may look pretty from a distance, that rare and random flash you saw through your kitchen window probably just blew-up someone’s TV, or killed a middle-aged golfer.

Ironic then, that the very thing that led me to write this blog post, is a problem I created for myself, when I manufactured a flash of lightning in a computer program, to blow myself up in a video… which caused my newly discovered creative focus to grind to a complete, gear-shredding, ear-shattering halt.

A tiny part of this next post actually made it into a completed post from February 2012, so presumably I left my desk and didn’t like what I read when I returned a few days later. I dunno.

Rain Stops Play – (started 30 January, 2012 @ 03:58:17)

For most of my life, I have been a victim of what my sister colourfully refers to as “The luck of the seven blind bastards”. This is not the same kind of bad luck you have if you lose limbs, or are stricken with a terminal disease… It is rather, the kind of bad luck that is considered socially acceptable to laugh at. You know the kind I’m talking about.

Take today for example: Yesterday, I lost my phone. So what? You might think. Well… in 3 days from now, it will be the only way I have of communicating with anyone. Now… my back-up plan was to order one from the only company that can replace it in that amount of time. Unfortunately, they are an internet company, aaand… guess what? My internet went down and has been down for the last 2 days… so far no sign of it returning. As if that wasn’t enough, I have only 2 days left to finalise travel plans, which must be done… yep, you guessed it… over the internet! And it doesn’t end there. Over a month ago, I was given a book by my girlfriend, with several tasks in it; one for each remaining day until we can see one-another. Now… bear in mind that – at this point – she is the ONLY person I am still able to contact. So imagine my joy when I turn the pages to find that today’s task is to ignore her for 24 hours! Here in the flat where I live, we have run out of bread and milk… there is a small chance that I have enough money in my bank account to buy one of those items, but I would have to check the bank first, to ensure I don’t accidentally incur a bank charge. Well… it’s Sunday, so the only way I can do that is by internet or by phone… which brings us more or less full circle.

I’m sure you may think I’m inventing some or all of that, but I can PROMISE YOU it is all true… my luck really is just that bad.

Luck, you see… is a little like Christianity, or Reality TV: It exists, whether you subscribe to it or not, and shutting your eyes will not make it go away. This is all OK if the kind of luck you have is good, but with good luck, as with money, the kind of people who say it isn’t important are those who have plenty of it. So you can’t expect sympathy, because those with good luck will simply think you’re exaggerating, and those with bad luck are too busy trying to outrun tornadoes in cars with flat tyres to care what’s happening to you.

Well… that’s it. You can open your eyes now… I SAID YOU CAN OPEN YOUR EYES NOW!

Next week I have a very exciting post for you: lots of image type things, and even a voting form if WordPress will let me make it long enough.

Still no news about our entry into Empire’s Done in 60 seconds competition this year. We should have found out by now, whether we made the cut, but their website shows no updates on the matter that I can see.

The idea behind the new blog site is almost fully formed and polished now, I just have to start making it all very soon; which unfortunately means leaving this site behind for several weeks, but I’ll keep you updated on that.

Until next week…

Sleep tight,

Sleepless Knight

Staring at Goats

I started writing this blog as a record of my attempt to get my novel published whilst creating a successful YouTube channel at the same time. There was a very clear line of thinking behind the reasons for writing here.

  1. Writing a weekly blog will make my efforts public, and so urge me to keep my promises, and keep up with the submissions and videos.
  2. I may find some followers for the YouTube channel.
  3. It will keep me writing, even when I have nothing to write about.
  4. Prospective agents/publishers will have a wealth of my writing at their fingertips, should they wish to investigate.
  5. If, after a year or two, I have still not found a publisher… by that time I should have a sufficiently large YouTube audience to help increase sales of my book, should I opt to self-publish.

…On February 17th, it will have been 3 years since that moment.

I set up Sleepless Knight accounts on twitter, facebook and YouTube on the same day I started this blog. 3 weeks later I checked the stats… I checked them again today.

Followers

It’s fair to say that I got a little sidetracked.

As a direct result of writing here on WordPress, I met the woman of my dreams, and we are now very happily married… so it is tempting to say that this blog doesn’t owe me anything, and walk away from it. But I’m still convinced that I can make this whole thing work for me, and if there’s one thing my wife will tell you about me, it’s that I once I get an idea into my head it is impossible to shift it.

But that’s not really a good thing is it. I mean, it’s one thing to convince yourself that you can run through the wall into the next room because atoms are mostly empty space… but, as the very level-headed Dr. Ben Goldacre would no doubt have said to the poor, deluded Major General Stubblebine and his broken nose: I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.

It’s no good repeatedly saying “I’b dot givig ub!” through your mashed and bleeding hooter, as you bounce off the wall for the 30th time in a month. Sooner or later, you either have to start using the door, or accept confinement by the men in white coats, in a room where the walls can’t hurt you any more.

There are many reasons why the plan I outlined above has failed. Some of them are no doubt still a mystery to me, but the more obvious ones are:

  1. You cannot hope to gain followers on twitter if you never use it!
  2. You cannot hope to gain followers on YouTube if you never use it!
  3. You cannot hope to gain followers on WordPress if you never use it!

Once again; it’s a bit more complicated than that. The twitter thing is no more complicated than that. I simply keep forgetting it’s there. The YouTube thing is firstly a result of my monumental over-ambition when it comes to making videos; where I come up with extremely simple ideas and then over-complicate the crap out of them. And secondly because my circumstances keep changing every 5 minutes, which makes it difficult to film things. It’s tough to make and upload YouTube videos when you’re computer blows up OR you have no access to the internet OR you have no camera because you sold it in order to eat OR your crew live in another country, because you left them behind for 3 years!

So now let’s address the WordPress thing, because if you’re reading this, the chances are fairly high that you have at least a passing interest in reading blog posts.

There have been more agency submissions since those first ones, and there have been more videos since that first one… but the one glaring problem with my blogging above all others, is that I don’t find one subject and stick with it.

Without doubt, the blogs that get the most visitors (and WordPress do tell you this when you first start blogging here) are the ones which have a specific focus. If you have one subject about which you write, and you write about it regularly, then half the work is already done. So, if I know that, what’s the problem?

Well once again, the problem is me. All my life I have deeply envied people who have one passion; one area of their life which dominates all others and decides the direction of their life as a whole. My problem, as I have stated again and again, is that despite many, many efforts to narrow my focus to one specific area… Storyteller is the best I can do. That is as narrow as I can make it. I love telling stories. I want to tell my stories and there are many! I can’t put the required amount of exclamation marks after the word many, because you would think I had fallen asleep on my keyboard, and I can’t make the word big enough without writing it on something much larger than the state of Texas. I have many, many stories which I want to tell; from the things that happen in my daily life (which has been much more interesting than you might think) to the many, many hundreds of story ideas which have been filling my brain, and dozens upon dozens of notebooks and scraps of paper, since I was a very young boy, and are still doing so on a daily basis.

The problem is that storytelling covers a lot of sins: Books, Films, Short Stories, TV Series, Plays, Screenplays, Stage-acting, Screen-acting, Voice-acting, Game production, Animation, Poetry, Blogging… there’s a lot of scope to it. The other problem with telling stories, is that unless you first have people’s attention, no-one really cares what you have to say. So I need to get back on track here, and start growing my audience, because I have made a decision to keep trying to find an agent for my book until I return permanently to the UK next year. If, in that time, I have not found a representative, then I will self-publish my book and let the chips fall where they may.

So I need your help. I realise I’m probably going to make myself look really stupid here, since no-one ever comments on this blog, but I’m going to ask anyway, in the hope that one or two kind souls have suggestions for me, and actually tell me what they are in a helpful way… in the comments section [It’s easy to find – Just click the speech bubble at the top of this post and you will be directed to the comments section].

This blog needs a permanent focus. Something very specific that I can blog about on a weekly basis, and then if I want to tell you other things, I can do so in a different section.

  • Movies – I love the movies. I always have done, and I still almost always end every day with a film. (but there are too many sites doing movie reviews already. Needs to be something new, or at least something that everyone and their grannies aren’t already doing)
  • Film-making – My biggest passion by far. This is my world, and the people who do this are my people. I love everything about it, and I do every single job on a movie myself, but my main areas of interest are:- visual effects, miniatures/modelling, sound design, film scores, set/prop design.
  • Writing – I have done this for a very long time, and I don’t think I could stop if I tried – check this post, to get a brief idea of my writing career –  but I don’t think the internet needs another website about writing. Everything that can be said has been, and by better writers than myself.
  • Bad Science and the proliferation of – It has become a bit of an obsession with me to fight back against the constant stream of bullshit which is posted, and reposted as fact on social-networking sites. The internet is a wonderful thing but it does let pretty much anyone state pretty much anything as fact, because the majority of us are too stupid or lazy to check the facts. The problem with this idea is a) Ben Goldacre and others are already doing it better, and b) I fear that my lack of medical/technical knowledge might actually do harm to the kind of intelligent professional debate run by much better qualified people than myself.
  • Astronomy & Space Travel – Another passion of mine since I was a very, very small boy. I am probably one of the only people in the world sad enough to have read the entire Apollo 8 mission transcripts (that’s everything that was said in the capsule for 4 days), when they didn’t have to. I love everything about the universe outside our little planet, but once again, I fear I am not really well-read or qualified enough to contribute anything of any value to a wealth of on-line information about… the universe.

I will leave you with those for the time being, since I fully expect to get no responses whatsoever that did not come from inside this apartment.

Web Success

See you soon.

A Game of Two Halves

There used to be 4 people living in this apartment, now there are only 3. My youngest step-son is now 14 years old, and my sister is 46. One of my very best friends is now in a relationship. A young lady who was once my step-daughter is now married and living in Germany. And, the smallest of our two cats has died…

All of these things happened in the time it took me to play through a video-game.

Now, it is true that I have a tendency to lose myself entirely in whatever I am doing; a new love makes everything else simply blurred, background noise; a new hobby can take away all my time and money, and if I’m editing a film the sun will rise and set so many times without being noticed, that when borderline malnutrition finally drives me toward the kitchen, I discover that my computer chair and I have formed a symbiotic relationship and can no longer live independently of one another. Nothing that 45 minutes and some 24th century sickbay wizardry couldn’t fix, but still, not good.

However, in this case, all the changes I mentioned above happened in the space of a single month. If that still seems like a long time to you well, that is how I like my video-games… but I’ll come back to that.

The point is that the world changes very fast these days. Perhaps it always did. Perhaps the fact that I’m turning 40 in February is colouring everything in mid-life-crisis-purple and the speed at which the world turns is starting to make me feel a bit nauseous (although that could be the purple again), but I rather think the world is changing in such a haphazard, erratic manner it is often really difficult to see how fast things are happening, or how far we have come unless you stop and really look around now and again.

When I was born, for example, human beings had decided that lunar exploration was old hat. We had been to the moon and returned often enough to have become bored of it, so naturally my generation had ludicrous expectations about how space travel would evolve in our lifetimes. What has actually happened? No human being has been anywhere near that far out into space for over 40 years.

On the other hand, people watching Star Trek in the 1960s thought that personal communicators, 2-way video conversations, electronic books, and tiny plastic data discs were the stuff of outrageous science-fiction… iPads, Kindles, and Skype are now part of our daily lives, and most of us have Gigabytes of data storage in our phones, on memory cards so small you have to be careful not to breathe too heavily whilst changing them.

The future is always closer than you think. In some ways we are far behind where we expected to be by now, but in so many other ways we are far ahead of where we expected to be in 200 years from now. Occasionally we get it more or less right (Volkswagen’s newest electric car looks EXACTLY like it came out of 1990s sci-fi movie)

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…but more often than not, we are way off the mark.

Predicting the future is a risky business, and few industries are worse at it than the very industry that is responsible for most of the changes that we see: the computer industry. Over the years, some of the world’s most ingenious computer boffins have given some of the most idiotic predictions about the future…

  • “But what… is it good for?”An engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, commenting on the microchip in 1968
  • “Computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and perhaps only weigh 1 1/2 tons.”Popular Mechanics, 1949
  • “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.”Ken Olson (President of Digital Equipment Corporation) at the Convention of the World Future Society in Boston in 1977
My own prediction is that in just a few weeks from now, this cartoon will make no sense to anyone.

My own prediction is that in just a few weeks from now, this cartoon will make no sense to anyone.

We would be foolish however to completely ignore predictions from an industry so totally responsible for technological advancement… and one company knows it.

It’s no secret to those who know me that I am no fan of Apple products, but it may surprise them to discover that my reasons for this are many of the same reasons behind the company’s success.

One of the things that makes Microsoft products so mediocre is that they have their fingers in too many pies. They have tried to compete in so many areas and do so many different things, that they ended up doing none of them particularly well. Apple on the other hand have learned several important lessons… not necessarily about computers, but about PEOPLE.

Firstly, Steve Jobs knew that most people will pay 3 times as much for something, as long as it is shiny. I find this an upsetting philosophy for a computer company, but it is nonetheless true of all of us, myself included.
Secondly, and much more importantly, Apple have realised that predicting what the consumer will want/need is a mug’s game, and have decided that it is much simpler and easier simply to TELL people what they want.

Bill Gates famously said “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning” Well… luckily for Mr. Gates he has a lot of them. It would have been easier to follow Apple’s business strategy:

  1. Tell consumers what they want.
  2. Make it shiny, so that they will feel like they always wanted it and it was their idea to want it.
  3. If people are unhappy because they want your product to do something and it won’t… simply tell them that it was never supposed to do that and that they are morons for wanting it to. If the product can’t do something, it’s because human beings don’t want that thing, and if any human being does want that thing, then that human being is wrong!

“What do you mean you want your watch to tell the time? You idiot! What you really want is a watch that enhances your sex appeal… doesn’t everybody?”

Y’see? It’s hard to argue.

But finally… if there is something an Apple product is supposed to do that you can’t MAKE it do… it’s obviously because you are too stupid, and probably don’t deserve to own our shiny, sexy product in the first place.

The most telling thing for me about Apple consumers can be summed up in the following conversation, versions of which I have had with several of them in the last few years:

“Why don’t you have the new iPhone yet?” (as though asking why your head isn’t on your shoulders where they keep theirs)

“I can’t afford it, even if I wanted one.”

“But it’s better for XYZ reasons!”

“But I don’t have the money.”

(roll of the eyes) “But it’s better!”

“Yes… but I – CANNOT – AFFORD – IT!”

“Why not just try it?”

“You’re not listening are you?”

…and so on.

As an old boss of mine used to say “You can’t take a sock off a bare leg”, but I have met very few Apple consumers who understand this simple concept.

Imagining for a moment that Apple is Ferrari and Microsoft are Volvo (an idea I’m sure Apple consumers will have no trouble accepting), take this fictional scenario where a Ferrari driver asks a Volvo driver in the pub why he doesn’t drive a Ferrari instead. The Volvo driver explains that he could never possibly afford a Ferrari, to which Ferrari driver looks puzzled. Changing tack, the Volvo driver says “Anyway, where would I put the children?” to which Ferrari man calmly but seriously responds “Just don’t have any children.”

Volvo man begins to tire of this conversation after explaining that he already has children, and no he can’t just make them walk everywhere, so he changes tack once again to avoid becoming enraged. “Look” he says “Even if I didn’t have children, and could afford a Ferrari, how would it manage to get me to work in the snow?” to which Ferrari driver responds “Elementary young fellow: simply move to a warmer country. I’m beginning to think you might be a little slow, old chap!” …a fight ensues and…

Well, I don’t think I need to pursue that line of thought any further. There is a class war going on in the world of technology, and as much as I dislike Apple and their army of unwitting recruiters, I honestly believe there is room for both philosophies, just as there is room for both Volvo and Ferrari.

So my advice to Microsoft is this:

Don’t try to make Ferraris. Don’t try to follow Apple… that’s what everyone else is doing. And certainly don’t try to be like Apple, because you suck at it!

I KNOW that a lower price means your product won’t be as shiny.

I KNOW that affordability means greater margin for things to go wrong.

I KNOW that the Sony Playstation can do certain things better than the Xbox, but it’s much more expensive and their customer service is crap!

Stop trying to compete with Apple on their own ground. You will lose!

Instead, be there for us; the ones who don’t like being told what they want; the ones who would like a company that listens to what we actually need and says “Okay… we’ll do our best!” Be there for those of us who know what WE want, and are prepared to wait while you try to provide it.
I am one of those people. It is why I don’t have a SONY Playstation. It is why I don’t have an iPhone. It is why I don’t have a fucking giraffe on my facebook wall this month!

So endeth the rant. Until next time… don’t bend over for the soap.

EDIT: Thanks to my awesome brother-in-law, who shared THIS VIDEO with me, because he knew it would make me happy… it did.

Pressed together: Pt IX

 “27 Addresses”

-Everything must go-

After a long and difficult decision process, James & Amki decided that living apart was too hard. James had tried finding work in Stockholm from England, but turning up for interviews was problematic at best, so… in August 2012, he explained the situation to his children, then sold almost everything he owned, in order to have money while he looked for work, rolled his suitcases down Steep Hill for the last time, and moved to his 27th address; in Stockholm.

James visits his children in England as often as money allows, and the couple plan to move there once Amki has finished her degree at university.

Despite having been led to believe that such a move would be fairly straight-forward for an EU citizen, Amki and James have had a long-running battle with the Swedish tax and migration services.

On their way to this point they have had to bluff their way into work, deal with many unexpected expenses on top of the everyday ones; battle glandular fever, kidney stones, exploding computers and a broken wrist. They have had help all the way from friends and family who have given them places to stay during their visits to England, helped them travel to hospital, plan surprises, replace broken computers, and, of course, helped them to plan and carry out a successful wedding day (fingers crossed)

As with every other newly married couple, James and Amki hope to have a very long journey ahead of them. And, like every other journey, it is sure to be fraught with fatigue, frustration and difficulty, both expected and unexpected. But, a journey is always best when shared with someone you love, and the places you visit are always that much more magical when seen through the eyes of another. Particularly one who still views ordinary things with wonder and excitement. Anyone who expects to get through life without hardship, clearly hasn’t been paying attention, but surviving a difficult journey together makes you that much better prepared for those which lie ahead, and arriving at a place which seemed so completely impossible when you started out, makes a special thing that much more difficult to let go of when things inevitably become tough, or begin to seem ordinary.

These two travellers have known the pain of living hundreds of miles apart, and if they can keep their heads together and remember those times, when the road seems too dark or difficult to be worth the effort… who knows what they will see.

Stop 9 Final Stop

Pressed together: Pt VIII

 “The Terminal”

-Another on time flight from Ryanair-

For the larger part of 2012, James spent many nights on the hard floor of Stansted airport. On one occasion he had even enlisted the help of Amki’s friends and family to surprise her by turning up, completely unannounced, at the new home of her brother and heavily pregnant sister-in-law, while Amki helped them to move in.

James had picked that particular day because he knew that her brother’s new house was the last place Amki would ever expect him to turn up out of the blue. Tilda had provided James with a very, very thorough list of instructions to get there, and he had told Amki he would be away the next morning, visiting his children.

During the night, James had to tell Amki that he couldn’t call her on Skype because the internet was not working at the flat. In reality he was in the car-park outside Stansted airport, far enough away from the terminal that she couldn’t hear the airport announcements, but he still had to pretend he got cut-off, every time he heard a plane coming overhead. She bought the story, and was absolutely stunned when he turned up.

Amki had visited England several times, but James lived a very long way from the airport and was sleeping on someone else’s sofa at the time, so had nowhere for Amki to sleep. Consequently, it always made more sense for James to visit Sweden… and though the journey towards Stockholm was always full of anticipation and excitement, the journey back was long and lonely.

James spent so much time miserable and fed-up at Stansted airport, after leaving Amki in Sweden, that he named his suitcase Jerry, just so that he would have someone to talk to and share the journey with.

This situation looked as though it would last for another 3 years unless the couple could think of a solution…

Stop 8

Pressed together: Pt VII

 “An Interrupted Proposal”

-Midsummer Mosquitoes & Rings of Rosewood-

Fittingly perhaps, the only people besides Amki to meet James on his first visit to Stockholm were her sister, Anna (Maid of Honour), and her best friend and flat-mate, Tilda (Best Man).

By June of 2012 however, James had visited many times, met most of Amki’s nearest and dearest, and was getting ready to enjoy a Swedish midsummer festival with several of them.

It was during this visit that James had planned to ask Amki a very big question. It felt odd doing so without a ring, but visiting Stockholm every few weeks is a very expensive business, and it doesn’t leave much room for ring-buying. So… taking some elastic bands and the motor from an old Dremel power-tool, he built a very small, and dangerous-looking lathe, and used it to make an engagement ring from the rosewood fretboard of an old guitar.

After a crash-course in Swedish tradition, James asked Amki if she wanted to go into the night air for a walk. He had been online, and found out how to ask the question in Swedish, but realised the problem with reading the words on a page is that you can never be completely sure how it is pronounced. Obviously, this is one question you want to be sure to get right, so he opted for English, found the ring in his pocket, and was about to ask… when Anna came outside to see what they were doing. James motioned with his hands to Anna, when Amki turned around, but hastily improvised sign language proved difficult to understand and Amki began following Anna back inside, in an attempt to get away from the mosquito-filled night air. Thinking as quickly as his poor English brain would let him, James waited for Anna to go through the door, asked Amki to stop and turn around, got down on one knee and asked… in English… on the front porch of the house in which Amki had grown up… if she would let him be her husband.

-James later told Amki about the Swedish version… He would have pronounced it incorrectly after all.

Stop 7

Pressed together: Pt VI

 “The Girl in the Red Hat”

-A wait in the cold, a meal in the warmth-

On the morning of February 2nd, 2012, Amki put on her red hat (a further reference to the film “Elizabethtown”), and set out to meet the Englishman whose journey had begun at 7.00pm on the night before.

Having very little money meant James must find the cheapest possible fares, and that meant a long, long journey, with many changes and many hours of waiting. A walk down the cobbled streets of Lincoln’s Steep hill with a rolling suitcase; a run past the castle and through the town, between train stations at Newark; and a worried change of train at Stevenage, with only 5 minutes between arrival and departure. By the time James reached Cambridge, it was 2 degrees below freezing, and the train station then closed for 3 hours. He walked around Cambridge in the cold, trying to find a warm place with cheap coffee, which proved surprisingly difficult considering he was in one of the most famous university cities on Earth. He finally flew out of Stansted airport, towards Stockholm, at 6.05 in the morning.

James & Amki met face-to-face for the first time, in the snow outside Skavsta airport, just before noon on the morning of February 2nd, 2012.

There’s a funny thing about sitting next to someone on a bus, who you have loved for some time, and exchanged every detail of your life with, but have only just met… It takes a while for you to realise that the flesh & blood person you are sitting next to is the same person you have written to, recorded messages for, and seen on the other side of a computer screen for many months. It is a strange, and very 21st century moment, totally in keeping with the rest of their peculiar relationship, but in the end all it takes to make it real it again is a good old-fashioned first date.

Theirs was at Dolce Vita, in the middle of Stockholm, where a very enthusiastic waiter brought them a very enjoyable meal, and wished them well for the future.

Stop 6

Pressed together: Pt V

 “59 & 37”

-Bacon sandwiches, and a book full of tea-

As the end of 2011 approached, James and Amki had each become accustomed to seeing the other’s face, and, thanks to facebook, WordPress and Skype, had spent more hours talking about their likes, loves, and tales of happiness and sorrow than most couples do in a lifetime. James had written many letters (actual letters, with ink on them and everything), and would write many more over the coming months, but he and Amki were both keen to see if this thing would survive the harsh light of real-life.

James booked a flight to Stockholm and somewhere to stay, but his journey was still 59 days away. His flat-mate, Mr. James Farnsworth, suggested they make a countdown, and, on the back of a roadsign which Farnsworth had picked up on one of his late-night excursions, he wrote exactly how many days remained, as well as how many bacon sandwiches (Farnsworth & Moors’s favourite late-night snack), and cups of tea he estimated would be consumed by the date of departure.

James spent the few days over Christmas with his family, and upon returning to Mr. Farnsworth’s flat found a Christmas gift from Amki which had arrived in the post, with instructions to open it only on a certain day.

Inspired by one of James’s favourite films, in which the girl makes the guy a special road-map; full of music and tasks for his journey towards her, Amki had lovingly created an entire book with the words “37 days” written on the cover. On each of its 37 pages was a tea-bag, a different song, and a task for each day to keep his mind off the countdown. Her favourite of these daily tasks was designed to teach her one of the few things she did not yet know about the man she had come to love without ever meeting:

What does his face look like when he is truly disgusted with something?

Inside a little paper pouch, Amki had enclosed a piece of her favourite candy, along with an instruction for him to eat the contents only once she could see his face on Skype. It produced the desired expression of disgust, just as she had known Salt Liquorice would do…

Stop 5

Pressed together: Pt IV

 “A New Beginning”

-To Hell with it!-

James respected Amki’s choice to remain simply friends, but couldn’t reconcile her decision with some of the things she had said to him in their conversations. After twisting the puzzle over in his head, and discussing it with friends new and old, he came, rather uncharacteristically, to the conclusion that she may have been lying when she said she didn’t feel the same things for him.

The following week, during a friendly facebook conversation, James typed “To Hell with it!” in the conversation window. A few moments later, Amki’s phone rang… James was on the other end, and they had their first ever back-and-forth voice conversation. Amki eventually confessed that she hadn’t really wanted it to end there, and afterwards they found cheaper and cheaper ways to call one another, until Amki suggested the obvious alternative: Skype. And, late in 2011, the pair had their first face-to-face conversation, via video.

At the time… James & James (the other one was Farnsworth) were “borrowing” their internet connection from a mysterious open local router named “Eddie”. The problem with a borrowed internet connection was that you could never count on it being there, and Amki & James were often interrupted by severed internet connection. Sometimes for hours, sometimes days.

This was not the only problem. James could share his feelings and frustrations about the relationship with his friends. Amki however, had kept their relationship secret, for fear that “An older man in England, who I met on the internet” would probably not be an easy sell, where her friends and family were concerned. But, Amki eventually told her sister about James.

While Anna (maid of honour) had a fairly positive reaction to the whole thing, Tilda (best man) had understandable concerns, given that Amki had only recently returned from Canada. In light of these concerns, James decided that he must visit Sweden before Amki could visit England…

Stop 4