She-Hulk Massage!

There are massages where your tired muscles are kneaded into doughy bliss, and you find yourself drifting off to sleep as the rain-forest music plays in the background.  Then there are massages where you need to maintain a tight hold on your core body strength, compressing your muscles around your spine, because if you don’t then there’s a good chance one or more limbs will be torn free from their sockets, and your spine will be cracked like a bread-stick.

I recently had one of those, the second kind.

I’m in Thailand with the family this week, enjoying a lazy beach resort holiday.  As part of our package, we have some free sessions in the hotel spa.  I used one of those sessions on around day three, an “aroma-fusion” massage, which meant the masseuse went easy on me and my moronic sunburn which I’d managed to inflict on myself after only one day in the sun.

As my tender, rare skin faded to a more acceptable medium/well-done, Nicole and I decided to give one of the beach massage services a try.  These are not part of the hotel, little shacks offering great value massages.  We picked one which was 300 baht for an hour.  For context, I’d pay that for a beer in a lot of Sydney bars.  How could we not have one of those every day?  Or two?

We couldn’t.  I soon discovered why.

The massage started well.  Nicole and I were face down on a platform built for two, and the masseuses began to work on our backs.  Firm pressure, hitting the knots, but overall not too painful.  I think my masseuse sensed my complacence, and decided to kick it up a notch.  She positioned herself so that her whole body weight was channeled down her arms, through her fingers, and directly into the back of my shoulder.  I’m pretty sure my shoulder isn’t supposed to rotate backwards, like some toy action figure.  My masseuse — let’s call her She-Hulk — disagreed, and tried to make it so.  I could hear tendons straining, muscle fibers snapping.  She must have registered my silent weeping, because she let off before she could do any permanent damage.

The worst part about a painful massage is knowing that a terrible symmetry must be achieved.  If the masseuse tries to practice some outlawed Twister moves on your limbs, and you survive it, you can’t relax because you know the whole process is about to be repeated on the other side of your body.

After attempting to destroy my other shoulder, and thereby leave me as a disappointing hole in any future Mexican waves, She-Hulk moved down my body to the buttocks area.  I thought, I can handle this.  There aren’t too many nerve clusters or tendons in my arse, are there?  She planted one knee against my right buttock, reached back to grab my foot, and then proceeded to ever so gently massage the back of my head, with my own heel.  I think it was a local technique which roughly translates to “screaming broken white man”.  What followed was a series of manipulations which must be violating some kind of humanitarian convention.

She-Hulk snap!

She-Hulk massaged the front of my legs while I was face-down, because apparently my hips can rotate 180 degrees.  Who knew?  Maybe I am an action figure.  With both feet planted in the middle of my back, she would grab different sets of limbs and then see if she could get them to swap places.  At one point I found myself reaching for Nicole’s hand, the way you might grab a fellow passenger’s hand if your plane suddenly goes into an uncontrolled nosedive and you think you’re all about to die.

Then, after the customary double-fisted blows to the back, an uncharacteristically meek voice said, ‘Finish.’  That was it, I survived.  I hobbled away from the massage table — I think She-Hulk did manage to sprain my ankle when she tried to knock me down from a size twelve to a nine — thankful to have my life, and about eighty percent use of my legs.

We leave Thailand tomorrow, and I have to admit, I am giving serious thought to another hour-long massage in the hut of pain … because it’s the cost of a freaking beer!

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The Shelf: Q4 Indies

Or, why I am only going to read indie novels for the last quarter of the year.

 

I used to have a lot of bookshelves, paperbacks and hard-covers lined up two rows deep where space allowed.  That was in London.  I used to spend my lunchtimes browsing through Waterstones, scanning the fiction shelves for covers and spines which caught my eye.  Most of the time there was no conscious pattern to my search, it was just pure browsing.  And that’s how I made some of my best discoveries.

Then two things happened: the move, and the Kindle.

We moved back to Australia.  Books went into boxes, and boxes and bookshelves went into shipping containers, and everything eventually made its way into a character-filled Queenslander in Brisbane which had exactly zero fucking wall space against which to stand a bookcase.  Walls only served one of two purposes in the house, places for windows or places for doors.  So the books stayed in boxes, boxes went into the garage.

And then there was the Kindle.  Kindle didn’t care that there was no Waterstones to browse during my lunch breaks — I could find just about anything I wanted right there on the interwebz.  And if I didn’t know what I was looking for?  Amazon was more than happy to offer suggestions, big grinning digital pimp that he is.  Problem is, I like to pretend I’m immune to advertising, so I end up reading from my list of safe authors rather than take a risk.  I think a lot of that is down to the medium. An ebook has no texture, no weight.  You can’t take in a wall of books with just a lazy glance; you have to click, tap or swipe, dive down menu structures into sub-sub-sub-genre, only do discover you’ve landed in the top ten list of hard-boiled mystery/comedies set in Scotland with female detective leads and paranormal themes.

Now I’m living with bookshelves again.  The house we’re in has a full wall of built-in shelves, and my books can finally breathe. I found myself staring at that wall of paper the other day, picking out the novels I’d forgotten about, authors whose words I can remember reading with no prior knowledge of what I was getting into and thinking to myself, fucking yes.  I haven’t felt that for while, ever since Kindle came into my life.

So, I’ve made a decision: I am going to read books exclusively by indie authors for the remainder of the year, starting October first.  Why?  Because I want to find something which doesn’t have a marketing budget, something I found purely by looking.  I expect the search will be hard, but I’m hopeful of finding some books to fill a new shelf, an e-shelf.  (Did I think of calling it iShelf?  Yes I did, but my lawyers advised me against it.)

But before I start, maybe I have time to squeeze in a quick Christopher Moore …

Therapy for a Mithril Addict

I woke up early on Sunday morning when my phone buzzed on the bedside table.  It was an incoming email.  I wish I could ignore these things, but I’m an early riser, a light sleeper, and a smartphone notification addict — so I really had no choice.  I checked it.

It was an iTunes invoice.  I opened it up, and it showed me what I expected to see: an in-app purchase against store credit.  Our seven year old son, C, had received a $20 iTunes voucher for his birthday, and I finally relented after months of pleading to let him use the credit for an in-app purchase, rather than buying an actual game.  Or an album.  Or a movie.  Or, god forbid, a book.  So I flipped the switch to allow in-app purchases, and forgot about it.

I can hear you groaning now.  Yes, I know.  This was a mistake.

I didn’t think it would be a problem, because I watched him make the purchase and play the game for at least ten minutes or more.  I knew there was a fifteen minute window where the iTunes account wouldn’t need to be re-entered for further purchases, and I was pretty sure I was clear of that.  After all, C didn’t know the password, he came to me every time he wanted a free game downloaded, so I could enter it for him.

My phone buzzed in my hand again.  Another email from iTunes.  This one, however, wasn’t against store credit, it was against my MasterCard.  $12.99 for a 168 Mithril package on Star Warfare Alien Invasion.  Was that a good deal?  How much does a Mithril normally go for in the real world?

The answer, of course, is not a fucking thing.  It’s like paying someone money for them to fart.

I was really awake now.  C was in for a bollocking.

My phone buzzed again.  Another email from iTunes. this time an invoice for a 666 Mithril package for $37.99.

Something inside me went cold and travelled from spine to stomach.  Oh no, I thought.  Oh no.  My phone buzzed again.  Another 666 Mithril for $37.99.  And again, a chest of coins for Pixel Gun 3D, $24.99.  Then another, and another, and another.  Invoices continued to trickle through, and by eleven o’clock there were fourteen of them, totaling just over $420.

I had the restriction lifted for about half a day, and he managed to clock up over $400 worth of empty crap.  It’s not that hard to do, when you look at some of these games and what their in-app purchases cost.  Q: Who would spend $50 on a box of bullets to use in an iPad game?  A: a seven year old boy.

This all came to my attention on a Sunday, which meant I had to wait until Monday to call Apple support to try and sort the mess out.  Fortunately, when I eventually did find a way through the support maze, the girl on the other end of the phone was very helpful and didn’t once call me a moron.  Can’t say I’d have had the same degree of self-control if our positions had been reversed.  C is now enjoying a lengthy (possibly permanent) ban on all forms of electronic devices, and Apple refunded all of my unplanned Mithril purchases — though we’re not telling C that, not until his 18th birthday.

You know what shook me the most about this experience?  It wasn’t the sheer gall of games creators like Alex Krasnov, Glu Games and iFreyr Games, who seem to think it’s perfectly reasonable to charge fifty bucks for shit which only exists within their games, shit which is only ever going to be purchased by the very young and the very stoned who don’t realise what they’re doing.  That pissed me off, still does, but the thing which really threw me was C pretending for all those months that he didn’t know our iTunes password.  Dad, this game is free and there’s no guns or blood.  Can you download it for me?

He was pulling a long con, and he’s only seven.  And I fell for it.  I’m both frightened and impressed.

Syncope

C in A&E

C in A&E

I fainted a few weeks ago, but I’m not a fainter. Really. Okay, so there was that one other time in Amsterdam, but I had some very good reasons for losing my grip on consciousness on that occasion:

1. I’d just moved into a new house, and that was back in the days when moving involved carting a lot of your own gear around in a rented van until you fainted, so passing out was kind of expected;
2. N was pregnant;
3. I was sitting in the Bulldog Cafe with my head in a smoke cloud thicker than honey.

I actually went down twice in the Bulldog. I got straight back to my feet after the first time, then had a very pleasant dream from which I was roughly shaken by some very concerned Amsterdammers, who gave me sweets and sent me outside. I was more than a bit spooked by the episode, but my colleague — call him Frodo — thought it was hilarious. He told everyone he knew about it. As it happened, Frodo was somehow at the nexus of all my working associations in the city, and at every job I held there was someone else who knew Frodo; and soon after that link was established, they knew about the Bulldog. So here I am, now, telling everyone who’s interested about my second fainting episode, because if I don’t do it, I know it will come out through Frodo, somehow.

Here’s what happened:

I was sitting at work, merrily doing whatever it is I do in working hours, when N calls me.

‘Can you leave work now?’ she said. ‘You need to come to the hospital. C has cracked his head open.’

My heart, at that point, stopped. I don’t believe I’m exaggerating that, it actually stopped beating for a good three or four seconds.

‘Is it … is it serious?’ I asked.

N, apparently with no interest in fucking about with careful messaging, said simply, ‘Yes.’

So there it was. My son had cracked his head open, and some or all of his brains were protruding from a fist-sized rent in his skull. I grabbed my bag and hailed a cab off the street, and I held my breath for the twenty-two minute journey to the hospital as I imagined exposed grey matter and life support and steel plates. Then I passed out.

That’s the brief version. The slightly longer version involves me waiting as the ambulance rolls up, the rear doors opening, and the worried yet sheepish expression of my son peering out as he sits on a gurney with ten metres of gauze wrapped around his head. His hair is sticky with dried blood, his face is grey. A nurse uses a squeeze bottle to wash away some of the blood and locate the wound, so naturally I lean in close to assist. Why would I be worried by a little blood? I’d attended the births of both my children, neither of which was a dry experience. C is shaking, and very visibly distressed, and this is what I find to be the most upsetting aspect of the ordeal: his distress. I soon spot the source of all the blood, and it’s not as big as everyone thought it would be.

That’s when everything starts to go a bit wobbly. My head feels heavy, and the light in the emergency room seems to dim. Breathing becomes an effort.

I thought: No. Fucking. Way. I suspect a black-out might be coming, the memory of the Bulldog waving at me from somewhere far back in my mind, so I step away from C and try to get some air. I’m not feeling any better, so I clear some space at the end of the bed he’s sitting on and push myself up onto it.

The next thing I remember is being shaken awake from a dream I instantly forget, surrounded by frowning faces in paramedic uniforms. They make me stay where I am for a while. Someone brings me a juice-box.

It took a few moments for the realisation of what had happened to make it through to my brain. I had fainted. C thought it was entertaining — it certainly took a lot of attention away from his bandaged head, which didn’t even need stitches in the end, not even glue. So N’s “C has cracked his head open” was revised to “C bumped his head and opened his scalp a tiny bit and bled like a motherfucker”.

The medical term for fainting is syncope, which I think sounds a hell of a lot cooler than fainting. It is caused by global cerebral hypoperfusion, or low blood flow to the brain. I didn’t faint, I suffered an episode of syncope. It wasn’t the litres of blood streaming from my son’s head, it was that damned global cerebral hypoperfusion. I found this out after I hit the Googleverse, because I really wanted to know why it had happened. For anyone who’s experienced this, it’s some weird and scary shit. It’s not like you get really tired and nod off to sleep. It’s not a gradual decline into a light unconsciousness. It’s a sudden and complete transition from conscious to unconscious. If falling asleep is a slow descent from cruising altitude to landing, fainting is being teleported Star Trek style from 40,000 feet to sea-level in a tenth of a second. You’re thinking: “I really want to go outside for a minute, get some air, clear my head.” Your brain says: “Sit the fuck down. Now.”

I was also hoping, in my Googling, to reassure myself that syncope wasn’t a precursor to something fatal, that I wasn’t about to die horribly. Google, as it turns out, is not a very reassuring search engine. It might have been the blood, or the stress of C being in pain, or a tumour the size of a tennis ball just letting me know it was there. I’m really hoping it was the blood.

Thirteen Fingers

I started playing basketball a few weeks ago — though my definition of “playing basketball” is probably a little loose.  After the first game, a lot of people might contest the idea that I was playing at all, but the evidence supports me:

– I was on a basketball court

– I was wearing a basketball uniform

– A basketball was present

So yeah, point Fenton.  Let me have it.  Christ knows I need whatever points I can get after that first re-entry to the game.

A friend asked me if I wanted to come along and play with a team he’d just joined in a Thursday night competition.  He emphasised how bad they were, how terrible, which frankly is what sold me on the idea.  I’d played before — at one time I played a lot — but I was under no illusion as to just how badly out of touch I was likely to be; and on that score, at least, I did not disappoint myself.  He said they were terrible, I said I was terrible, we laughed … it sounded like just my kind of sporting competition.

So I went along with him the following Thursday night, and as soon as we arrived I understood with a slowly building horror that he’d been downplaying the general quality of playing ability in the competition a lot more than I’d been downplaying my ability.  Very fit and skilled men dashed up and down the court with excellent ball control, solid accuracy and high aggression.

‘These guys are grade two,’ he said.

We were playing in grade three.  Thank God, I thought, but also, one grade below these guys is NOT far enough.

I was handed a uniform to change into, which was big enough for me and one other.  That might have been handy if I were one half of a basketball-playing set of Siamese twins, but I am not.  I am a tall lanky guy who looks clinically unwell in basketball gear approximately nine sizes too large.

As bad as the uniform was?  Least of my problems.

One of the regular guys asked me if I‘d played before.  I think he might have recognised the look of terror on my face from the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan.  I said I had, sure, and started counting on my fingers the years since I’d last played in a semi-social competition back in Sydney.  I counted off one hand, then I moved onto the second … and then it happened:

I ran out of fingers.

I stopped counting on the middle toe of my right foot.  I would have needed thirteen fingers to keep count with just my hands.  I had not played a game of basketball for thirteen years.  I had not even picked up a ball in just as long.  My time in London had been completely basketball-free, and I was about to step into a game with only a three minute warm-up to prepare me.  I am going to die, I thought.  Also: Man, I am really old!

I tried to lie to myself that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.  The body remembers things, you know?  Sense memory.  Muscle memory.  Instinct.  These were the myths I tried to fortify myself with, but when my time came to get on the court they did not help me.  Not.  One.  Bit.  The ball felt like it had been generously slathered in K-Y Jelly.  My lungs were trying to leapfrog my heart and climb their way up my throat and out of my mouth.  Supposedly simple actions like catching and passing with a modest degree of accuracy?  You might as well have asked me to produce a ball from my arse and tomahawk dunk it from the free-throw line.  And dribbling? Please.  Anyone who witnessed those few attempts at basketball 101 probably thought I was suffering from some kind of palsy, or having a stroke.  Maybe both.  And then there was positional play.  Holy shit, I felt like I’d been invited to take part in a flash mob dance, but without any idea of the song, or the routine, or a sense of rhythm … any of it.

I really could have done with those thirteen fingers.  Maybe a few more passes would have stuck.

About fifteen minutes into this display of basketball heresy, something happened to my body.  Specifically, something happened to my left calf.

(For those who know me well: yes, I’m as surprised as you are.  I have calves.  Who knew?  I’d always assumed my shins were held in place my the most rudimentary of tendons, but apparently there’s some muscle in there too.)

It felt like I’d been stabbed in the leg from the inside.  I immediately switched to a hobble to accommodate the sudden pain, which was subtly different from the dying-man shamble I’d been affecting up to that point.  I hadn’t done anything spectacular to incur the injury; it went pop, like that.  Out of nowhere.  It wasn’t until after the game that I recognised it for what it was: My own body, appalled by my performance, was trying to take me out of the game.  Honestly, it’s true.  A couple of days after the game I could still walk around, which was a much better outcome than the time I’d actually pulled the muscle as a kid, which required crutches and took me out of all sport for two or three months.  No, this was more like an act of sabotage, a warning.  Just stop it, my body was saying to me.  It’s for your own good.  It’s for everyone’s good.

The advice I received from my new team-mates during the time-outs and period breaks amounted to: be an obstacle.  I had height, at least … I should use that.

I thought my injury might have taken me out for what was left of the season, but by the middle of the next week it became clear that this wasn’t a sport-ending injury — it was my body being old and grumpy.  I’d think about playing, and my leg would tighten and zap me with a flash of pain to say, you sure about that?

I played a second game the other night, and I resolved before I started that I would do what I had the best chance of succeeding at: I would be an obstacle.  I would be the biggest, best obstacle I could be.  And for the most part, that’s what I did.  Every now and then I’d depart slightly from the script, take a shot or try and drive, and each time my body would hit me with a warning jolt.  You sure about that? it whispered to me.  Next time it might not be the calf.  Next time it might be the Achilles.  And sure enough, at the back of my heel a sharp heat flared.

People say you should listen to your body.  Okay, I’m listening now.  But why is my body mostly arsehole?

Because My Arse Demands It

There’s a nugget of conventional wisdom which I’ve heard trotted out more than a few times in my life, about shoes and beds.  You’ve probably heard it: spend a lot on shoes and beds, because you spend most of your life either on your feet or sleeping.  Now, that might be true if I were a policeman, or a postman, or a waiter … but for me there’s a significant third element to consider, one which almost certainly takes precedence over my feet: you guessed it, it’s my arse.  If I had a pie chart which split out my time between sleeping, sitting and walking, walking would look like some slim data anomaly, like eating out in Greek restaurants, or voting.  No, my arse is where it’s at, and it’s for this reason that I’m now trying to justify spending a big wedge of my weekly wage on a chair.

I’ve tried every kind of financially reasonable option at home, including sensible chairs from Ikea, replica designer chairs, old wooden dining chairs, children’s high chairs (which I’m currently using to the chagrin of my coccyx), piano stools, drum stools, Swiss balls, ergonomic kneeling chairs … they all leave me wanting to get out of them within minutes of settling in.  I sometimes think the problem is me, that there’s some undercurrent of procrastination which is the real cause of my inability to just plant it and get the job done … but there was a time when I was comfortable sitting in a chair, when I was happy to stay in that position for hours on end.  Those times were when I worked in offices fitted out with Aeron chairs.

If you don’t know what an Aeron chair is, you probably do but don’t realise it.  You might even be sitting in one right now.  The Herman Miller Aeron chair, my arse all but sighs when I think about it.  Sitting in an Aeron is like sitting in a tiny trampoline which has been sculpted to cup your seated form like a child cradling a freshly-hatched duckling.  For several years it’s all I sat in at work, until the financial world melted into an embarrassing sticky mess and companies were all of a sudden cost-conscious about things like chairs.  Sure, they could spare a few billion to buy another company or two: but the priority, the real priority, is to shave a few percent off the chair budget.

Talk about your false economies.  When I stopped sitting in Aerons, I started to spend a lot more time going out for coffee, just to get the feeling back in my legs.  One place I worked brought in chairs which were almost the equal of the Aeron in price, but in comfort terms?  These chairs appeared to do everything in their power to get you out of them.  Apparently designed to accommodate the natural balance of your body, what they would actually do is try to eject you from them.  Any pressure on the backrest cause the back to tilt and the seat itself to simultaneously slide forward, until you slipped straight off onto the scratchy carpet tiles.  Where I am now, the chairs appear to have been upholstered by the same company that does bus seats, and they possess some kind of thermal core which attempts to keep lifting the surface temperature of your back until it blisters.

My coffee consumption has gone way up.

If only they’d spring for some Aerons, they’d see how much better life could be.  I’ve decided to to take matters into my own hands and locate my own Aeron.  Then I saw how much they sell for in this country, and that gave me pause: $1200 and change, minimum, and no options on eBay that I can see.  Yikes.  So I ask myself, can I justify spending such a large proportion of my income on a chair?  A chair?  The answer of course is yes, yes I believe I can.  Why?  Because I spend most of my waking life on my arse, and my arse demands it.

 

Evidence of Spock

I was visiting my mother recently and I came across this old school photo of myself, and I thought: I look a little bit like a young Mr Spock there, don’t I?  I think it’s the haircut and the eyebrows, angling up the side of my face ever so slightly.  And even though my hair is covering the tops of my ears, I half fancy I could trace a couple of Vulcan wingnuts in there and it wouldn’t look out of place, not at all.  It doesn’t take much to become a Vulcan, just some artificial ears, a severe haircut, some creative eyebrow artistry and an unswerving deadpan logic.  That’s not too far away from a number of humans I know, myself included (though to be clear: I have normal, peakless ears).

Spock

That got me to thinking about being different.  Weird.  Odd.

My daughter, eight as I write this, said to me recently that some girl or girls in her class had called her weird.  I then out-weirded her by holding my hand up for a high-five.  She left me hanging.  She couldn’t understand why anyone would want to be considered weird.  A highly illogical response.

When I was her age, I can remember taking school trips to the nearby church grounds.   We’d make this trip as a class once a week, because the church grounds were large and grassy and fully-enclosed by these huge red brick walls, a place we could play without fear of the cement scrapes of the school-yard or the abduction threats of public parks … of course there were all the priests and Christian Brothers around, but at the time they were just funny teacher-types who liked to wear robes everywhere.  The game we played on these trips was British Bulldog.  The rules were simple.  Everyone lines up along one end of a field with one player in the middle, presumably the bulldog, and all the other players have to run to the other end of the field.  The bulldog has to grab runners as they go past and turn them into bulldogs.  And so the population of bulldogs grows while the runners dwindle.  If my children ever start playing this game at school, I’m going to suggest they call it Zombie Gauntlet.

So one day we’re there in the church grounds, playing British Bulldog, and I’m doing okay.  I was fast as a kid, probably helped by the extra length in my stride, so it wasn’t hard for me to do the logical thing and run wide and fast around the lot of them.  It got me the result I was after, but apparently I was offending some unwritten rule which stated: you must run up the middle.  I wasn’t aware of this rule.  As one, the bulldog-zombie horde descended on me, not so much like players in a game any more, more like teenage girls chasing One Direction members.  But instead of screaming,  they were shouting; and instead of ripping at my clothes, they were … well, they were ripping at my clothes, but only because the short bastards couldn’t yet reach my head.  The whole time this was happening, I wasn’t doing much in the way of fighting back beyond throwing them off me.  I wasn’t angry, I was shaken.  I couldn’t understand what was going on, and to this day I still have no idea what it was all about.  It just didn’t make sense.  I couldn’t assimilate with the zombie-bulldog horde.

That’s one of my earliest memories of feeling different.  Odd.  Weird.  Never so odd that I was routinely picked on, but always weird enough to keep me at an arm’s length from the cool kids and the top job … just like Spock.  It had almost completely slipped out of memory until I came across that old school photo at my mum’s place recently.

Take a look at it.  The haircut, the angle of the eyebrows.  If you moved some of that hair out of the way, you’d probably find some pointy ears hiding under there.  I began to think about all the ways I was Spock-like.

  • One of the biggest similarities, I think, is my ability to suppress emotion.  Except in sad films.  I bet even Spock would have cried at the end of ET.  But ask my wife, most of the time I’m like a freaking robot.

  • Also, I don’t dance.  Not can’t (though probably can’t), but don’t.  It just doesn’t make any kind of rational sense.  I’m pretty sure Spock doesn’t dance.  Can you imagine him doing the running man, or the sprinkler?  Ridiculous.  I’m in a club, music playing, several drinks in me, but my feet?  Nothing.  They’ve gone to sleep, and will wake only for walking.

  • And Spock didn’t belong with either humans or Vulcans, being half of each.  Too warm for Vulcans, too cold for humans.  I’ve been told more than once by colleagues that I “don’t belong here”.  More often than not I agree.

The evidence grows and grows.  A couple of months ago I went to a school reunion.  I fought hard to avoid that, believe me.  What’s more illogical than an evening of awkward conversations with people you haven’t made any effort to talk to for the past twenty years?  The argument in favour of having a reunion after such a long interval seems to also present the strongest case for not having a reunion.  But I went.  I was talking to one former schoolmate, and conversation naturally drifted to industrial manufacturing processes in emerging economies.  This former eighteen-year-old, he described a recent visit to a Chinese manufacturing plant.  He said, in disbelief, “There were chinks everywhere!  In suits!”  I don’t know what disturbed my rational mind more about his observation: that he should refer to Chinese people so offensively, that he was surprised by the presence of so many Chinese in China, or that he was equally surprised by their attire.  Should they have been wearing robes?  Many of the conversations that evening ran a similar course: former classmate speaking to me, me thinking what the hell is this person talking about?  It was like work, but with booze.

In light of my Spock hypothesis, I began to think in terms of genetics.  I’m weird, and so is my daughter.  My son isn’t yet displaying too many weird attributes; but the logical ones, absolutely.  In all likelihood, these are genetic traits.

But look back to that photo.

Is it possible, I wondered, that somewhere in my family’s ancestry an alien race interfered with our genetic makeup, maybe even abducted a great-great-great-grandsomething and meddled with his or her DNA?

Is it possible, I wondered, that I am part alien?  That I exhibit these Vulcan tendencies because of a grafted sequence of alien DNA which has been passed from generation to generation, a gentle alien invasion which will eventually result in a planet more alien than human?  That when the planet has reached Vulcan-saturation, our ancient genetic donors will return and take their place as inhabitants, possibly benevolent overlords, of Earth?

But then I thought: No.  That would be highly illogical.

Buy these photos or your family will hate you forever

selfie

I’m not a salesman, never have been — but I know when someone is trying to ream out my wallet in the friendliest manner possible.  I had one of these experiences last night.

My mother bought a car recently.  You might be thinking, say no more, car salesmen … but this isn’t about car salesmen.  Not really.  As part of her “great deal” on the car she also received a voucher.  This was not a voucher for a free burger at Burger King, or a two-for-one deal on putters from Golf World … no, this was a BIG MONEY voucher for a studio photography session.

Ah, I hear you say.  Ah indeed.

No, poor Mum has never experienced the kind of hard sell which comes with such vouchers.  She innocently believed the voucher she now possessed entitled her to $800-worth of professional photos — which it did, technically, but you have to consider what that $800 represents.  My mobile phone contract, for example, includes $700 of calls a month.  This is not the same as dropping $700 into a payphone and making a year’s worth of calls.  This is $700-worth of phone calls in the same way that a loaf of bread is worth a trillion dollars in Zimbabwe.  You have to consider the scale.

We discovered the scale of the pricing yesterday evening.  Myself, N, Kid A and Kid B — even the dog — all sat through an hour and a half of posing in excruciating positions while trying to look natural.  Am I smiling?  Yes Mr Photographer, I do believe I am smiling.  These are just tears of happiness streaming down my face.  This is a cramp of joy in my hamstring.

After the session came the “consultation” with the studio owner, and that’s when the real pain began.  That’s when we discovered just how far our voucher got us, and how much deeper we’d need to dig to free ourselves from the emotional blackmail which had just been hand-delivered to us.

So, here are a few questions and comments a studio “artistic director” might throw your way if he or she is trying to put the hard sell on you.

What do you do for a living?  You should interpret this as: how much of your disposable income am I likely to be able to corral?

Describe your house to me, as if I were walking into it for the first time.  Why did I get the feeling he was hoping I’d reveal the location of a hidden wall safe, along with the admission that the combination was just my date of birth because I’m hopeless at keeping track of long numbers?

I’m really pleased that you’ve decided to have this done now, with your children at this age.  I kept thinking: was there any kind of decision-making process involved?  We had a voucher.  Use it or not?  That was the extent of the decision-making process.

This is something you might only have done once or twice in your lifetime.  Oh crap, I thought, is it going to cost that much?  The answer to that unspoken question was yes, yes it is.

This photo (of N and I) is perfect.  It might not be something you would buy for yourselves.  But for your children, in the future, it will be priceless.  It will be how they remember you.  Oh, fabulous.  Thank you for reminding us that we will one day be dead, maybe soon.  Can we have the image laser printed onto our tombstones? 

For the family portrait, you really need to get it in at least the 20×24.  At least.  Anything smaller would look silly.  Because anything smaller won’t cost you an additional $650.

How much have you budgeted for this?  It was a PHOTO SESSION!  We had a VOUCHER!  You budget for holidays, groceries, car purchases and home renovations.  Sane people do not budget for a family photo session.

You can pay it all upfront, or half now and half later.  Or, we also offer a monthly payment plan.  AHHHHHHHHH!

Sorry, you can’t go away and think about it.  The moment you leave this office, if you haven’t made a purchase, we have to destroy the files.  WHY?  It’s fucking digital!  Why in the name of all unholy do you need to destroy the image files the moment we leave?  I understand that to do otherwise would undermine your pressure-selling, guilt-tripping, heartstring-fumbling, account-plundering, exploitative arseprick business model, but come on!  If you demand that I buy now, immediately, lest the opportunity be whipped out from before my eyes and cast into the fires of Mordor, then you can take your photo “art” and jam it in the same dark smelly orifice from which you’d extracted your sales pitch.

Needless to say, N and I resisted the sales pitch.  We’ve resisted worse than you Mr photo salesman — doorstep sellers in London, timeshare salesmen in the Canary Islands, gypsies in Madrid — your sales kung fu is tired and weak, and I’d rather fly the family to Thailand for a holiday and pay a Thai photographer to take shots for a week before forking out for one of your packages.  It’d probably be cheaper too.

But our piddly little free “$800” portrait is just lovely.  Thanks!

Fenton Book Scatterplot

I discovered the other day that some people think I have one or two books out on Kindle, when I actually have four.  (Maybe three-and-a-half, one’s a novella.)  Such were my poor marketing efforts.  I read yesterday that Pippa Middleton has been knocked back by Penguin for a second book deal, and one of the main reasons for this was that Pippa refused to do any promotion.  Penguin believed that her first book could have been huge, despite it being rubbish, if Pippa had only moved her arse and … moved her arse and … Sorry, what was I saying? 

Right, marketing.  I don’t want be like Pippa Middleton, a victim of my own non-promotion, so I’ve put together this graphic to help people choose between my books.  It’s arranged across two dimensions, weirdness and offensiveness, which I’ve been told are the two defining characteristics of my books.

Spanner in the works

It would probably be more accurate to say The Spanner is out of the works, or at least out of my head.  My little novella, The Spanner, is now sitting quietly in the Kindle store, not disturbing anyone or creating a fuss.
I wish it would create some kind of fuss.  Even a small fuss.
It’s not an easy story to summarise, but I’m inclined to call it an absurd comedy.  It started to form in my head one day when I was on a conference call with the IT manager for a project I was working on, and I found myself in an argument I couldn’t quite believe was taking place.  This guy, who forms the basis for the title character, Stan Ramble (so that’s how I’ll refer to him from here on), was insisting that “completed” meant something very different to “done”.  I of course decided to represent sanity in the matter and argued that in the context of the discussion they were exactly the same thing.  One just had fewer letters.
Stan wouldn’t have it.
This is just one example, one very small example, of the nonsense which came out of this guy’s mouth.  The term “stranger than fiction” had never been so apt.  I thought I could never write a book about this guy, it would be too far a stretch; but then I thought about it some more, and my colleague in pain (call him S) pushed me to get it all written up.  So I started writing about Stan Ramble, just for a bit of fun, and I ended up dropping two other projects to get it finished.
Thanks S.
It is finished now, and I like it.  I started out hating the guy, but now I’m quite fond of him.  I doubt he bears much resemblance to the real-life Ramble who started it (I hope not, for his sake), but I still can’t help feeling a gentle affection for the man who’d probably stab me in the eye with a pen if he knew what I’d done.

Terrorist Dogs

TERRORIST DOGS
A One Act Play

TWO DOGS, ONE BROWN AND ONE WHITE WITH A BLACK SPOT OVER HIS EYE LIKE A PIRATE’S PATCH, COME TOGETHER IN A SQUARE CROWDED WITH PEOPLE PREPARING FOR THEIR DAY. LONG QUEUES FORM AT ESPRESSO BARS AND PEOPLE BARELY AVOID COLLIDING WITH ONE ANOTHER AS THEY TALK AND TEXT ON THEIR PHONES.


ROCKY: Good morning Spot 721.
SPOT: Good morning Rocky 296. Today is a fine day.
ROCKY: Yes, it is a fine day for Dog. A glorious day.
SPOT: Praise Dog.
ROCKY: Have you made your final preparations?
SPOT: I, ah … Sure. Yes I have.
ROCKY: You sound uncertain 721.
SPOT: It’s just that being a martyr, the reward and all, it doesn’t seem so appealing as it did a few days ago.
ROCKY: When you volunteered.
SPOT: Yes I know I volunteered, but I was having a really bad week. I picked up a tick in behind my sack and it was really bothering me, and then when my owners couldn’t get my nose out of there they started talking neuter, you know?
ROCKY: But you volunteered.
SPOT: Yeah yeah, heard you the first time Rocky boy.
ROCKY: Don’t call me that.
SPOT: What, Rocky boy?
ROCKY: (PAUSE)
SPOT: Oh, is that what … Is that was he … I’m sorry. I didn’t think.
ROCKY: It’s fine. Don’t worry. He used to call me that, until he went on to meet Dog. He was one of the rare ones who understood the power of Dog. He even revealed the great truth to me one day, after taking exercise with me in the park. He said, Rocky boy, God is just Dog backwards.
SPOT: Adog, brother.
ROCKY: Adog. But the rest of them, look at them: they’ll never admit it, so convinced of their own superiority, and that of their false gods. They can’t even settle on one true God.
SPOT: How weak is that? At least we’re consistent. But I don’t suppose I could, like, door-knock or something instead. You know, spread the word?
ROCKY: They can’t understand you.
SPOT: I can write, I could do some signs. I can’t hold a pen, obviously, so it’d have to be with my own poo, but they could read it.
ROCKY: (sighs) You have made your choice, Spot 721, and you must abide by it.
SPOT: Okay, okay. I’ve probably only got a few good years in me anyway, it’s just that —
ROCKY: A woman approaches! It is time. Prime the device.
SPOT: Okay, okay. (begins wagging tail)
ROCKY: I must retreat to a safe distance. Dog be with you Spot 721.
SPOT: (mutters) Yeah, you need to get to a safe distance. I’d like to see you go onto your reward.
ROCKY: Pardon?
SPOT: Nothing, nothing, just priming. (wags tail faster)

AS SPOT 721 WAGS HIS TAIL, A WOMAN IN A PANTSUIT APPROACHES TO PAT HIM. SHE CALLS HIM CUTE NAMES AND HE WAGS HIS TAIL FASTER. BARELY PERCEPTIBLE WISPS OF SMOKE CURL OUT OF HIS ANUS WHILE ROCKY 296 BARKS ENCOURAGEMENT FROM THE FAR SIDE OF THE SQUARE.

ROCKY: It’s working, brother. The device is reaching critical mass. Keep priming, faster! Death to the infidels!
SPOT: My arsehole is on fire!
ROCKY: Soon you will be in paradise.
SPOT: Soon I’ll be a smoldering heap of dog. Ow! That’s it, I’m aborting.
ROCKY: No! You’re attracting attention, the infidels are gathering around. Increase speed, the time to strike is now!
SPOT: I can’t, I can’t … Oh Dog, oh Dog, I think …

A PERCUSSIVE BURST OF FLATULENCE FROM SPOT 721 CUTS SHORT THE COOING AND CUTESY NOISES OF THE HUMANS. THEY ALL RECOIL IN REVULSION AS A STREAM OF FECES FOLLOWS THE FOUL BLAST, SOME OF IT SOLID AND SOME OF IT FLUID. NONE OF THEM SEEM TO NOTICE THE SHORT WIRES CURLING OUT FROM ONE OF THE MORE SOLID CHUNKS. ROCKY APPROACHES SPOT WHEN THE LAST OF THE HUMANS HAVE DEPARTED.

SPOT: Am I dead? I feel like I’m dead.
ROCKY: No, it would seem the package aborted.
SPOT: Then where are all the infidels?
ROCKY: They all left in disgust.
SPOT: Oh. I thought they might have all been, you know, vaporised. I closed my eyes when it happened.
ROCKY: (sighs) No, no, you just dropped your load. On the plus side, there did seem to be some level of kinetic reaction within the detonator. Hipkins will be pleased.
SPOT: Hipkins designed this one? He hasn’t had a successful detonation for over seven years, has he?
ROCKY: True, but what a detonation! You should have seen it 721, the humans were picking pieces of scorched cow out of the trees for miles around.
SPOT: I heard about that, but why cows? Dogdammit, my arse is sore!
ROCKY: Here, let me get that for you. (begins licking Spot 721’s traumatised rear-end)
SPOT: Oh yeah, that’s the spot, right there.

ROCKY STEPS AWAY FROM SPOT’S REAR AND GIVES HIS OWN SOME ATTENTION BEFORE STRAIGHTENING UP.

SPOT: War wound troubling you?
ROCKY: Starts playing up every time I see a failed attempt. Mine was back in oh-six. It was Hipkins behind that one two. The technology has advanced since then, let me tell you. After my load dumped, a secondary detonator stayed lodged up my butt, gave me burning diarrhea for a week afterwards.
SPOT: Yikes. You mean Hipkins has had all this time to get it right, and we’re still failing? Maybe it wasn’t meant to be.
ROCKY: You can’t blame Hipkins, he’s one of only three canine bomb technicians in the world. It’s not easy designing those things. And it’s not just down to design … It’s the kinetic primers, the way they work. The humans have a way of triggering chemical releases in our brains that interfere with reactant mix, or with the priming rhythm … We have some of our best dogs working on a solution.
SPOT: Certain chemicals? You mean happiness?
ROCKY: Careful 721. It might seem like happiness, but to admit so is heresy. No, it is chemical warfare, nothing less, and the humans are without mercy in its use. Look at them 721, smiling as they walk along eating their egg and bacon sandwiches, drinking their coffee. One day, 721, those will be our egg and bacon sandwiches, our coffee.
SPOT: But how will we make it? How will we butcher the pigs and cure the bacon?
ROCKY: Ours is not to question how, 721. Trust in Dog.

ROCKY AND SPOT LOOK OUT AT THE SWARMING HUMAN MASSES. EVENTUALLY THEY STAND AND BEGIN THE UNPLEASANT JOB OF CLEANING UP AND RETRIEVING THE FAILED INCENDIARY DEVICE.

CURTAIN

BADD

My BADD isn’t getting any better.  (Blog Attention Deficit Disorder … duh.)  Although I’ve proven myself to be utterly useless at maintaining one blog, I’ve decided to start another: Brisbantium.  As you might be able to gather from the title, it’s about Brisbane.  If you haven’t heard of Brisbane, it’s a far-northern suburb of Sydney.  That’s Sydney, Australia.  That’s right, the place where Hugh Jackman comes from.

Brisbane is kind of odd.  I’m going to document my culture shock here, so if I inadvertently become a Queenslander in the process, my family can trace the history of the blog to discover where it happened, because by that stage I’ll be capable of little more than discussing superannuation and watching rugby league.

(Kidding.)

(I’m not kidding.)

Meanwhile,  I’ve created a small writing nook in the garage.  It’s fairly quiet in there now, but come summer it’ll no doubt become home to half the deadly creatures in the state.  If you don’t hear from me for more than a month, please send the paramedics to the garage.

Distractapalooza

I can’t focus long enough to decide whether I should:

A. Work on the “big” novel
B. Work on the “small” novel, or possibly novella, which wandered into the open field of my brain a few weeks ago, and has now parked its caravan and invited its friends and family to come join it.  Way to enable my procrastination, Shehriar Ahmed (yes, you).  I’m filing that one on the scratchpad (see the tab at the top of the page)
C. Continue my marathon viewing of Big Bang Theory (thanks again Shehriar, and Rob too)
D. Keep editing the older novel
E. Obsess about work problems
F. Resume piano lessons
G. Shop for a reasonably-priced digital piano

The older novel, Natural Selection, was high on my to-do list, until I realised how bloody unwieldy it is.  I usually try to keep chapters between two-to-four thousand words, roughly, but as I was converting the Word document into Scrivener chapters, I did a double-take on one of word-counts.  Thirteen thousand words!  For one chapter!  I’ve abandoned novels which were short of that length.  This, I saw, was going to be more work than I’d anticipated

Maybe I should just focus on finishing season 2 of Big Bang Theory. That I can do.

You Call That a Book Launch?

This is how I imagine my book launch would play out if I lived in North Korea:

ME: Is he watching?
MY WIFE: Is who watching?
ME: Glorious Leader.  Is he looking away?
MY WIFE: Well … he appears to be looking the other way, but Glorious Leader sees and knows all, so I guess you’re screwed on that.
ME: Shit.  Okay, okay, let me think.  Okay, here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to do it anyway.  I’m going to press the button.  I mean, what’s the worst that could happen?
MY WIFE: You could be executed for dissidence, I suppose.
ME: Oh, thanks for the support.
MY WIFE: You asked for the worst.  Hey, maybe they’ll just imprison you for life.
ME: Okay, I’m going to say something now which might shock you.  I don’t believe Glorious Leader is omniscient.
MY WIFE: (gasps)
ME: I mean it, I don’t think he knows everything.  Yesterday I kicked my toe on the dining table —
MY WIFE: You mean the wooden crate?
ME: Yes, the dining crate.  So I kicked my toe and I said, Glorious fucking Leader.
MY WIFE: (gasps)
ME: I know, right?  So I said that, and here I am, still walking around, free.
MY WIFE: Perhaps Glorious Leader is also merciful.
ME: No, he’s a cock.
MY WIFE: (nods)
ME: There, I’ve done it.  I pressed the button.
MY WIFE: Well done dear.  And what has that done?
ME: It has published my novel as an e-book on Amazon, that’s what!
MY WIFE: What’s Amazon?
ME: You know, the global online retailer?  Biggest bookseller in the world?
MY WIFE: Biggest bookseller in the world except in North Korea, where only Glorious Leader has true access to the internet?  You mean that Amazon?  Honestly, I have no idea where your book has gone.
ME: So what, now it’s lost, floating around somewhere in our disconnected national intranet?
MY WIFE: Unless the Secret Police set up a fake Amazon site to trap stupid dissidents.
ME: Oh, you are just a bottomless well of support, aren’t you?  You’re a pillar of strength, supporting me in my darkest hour.
MY WIFE: Don’t mix your metaphors dear.  Look, maybe Glorious Leader is secretly interested in the creative output of the collective.  Maybe he wants to read your novel.
ME: Nah, he’d never read my book.
MY WIFE: Now who’s being negative?  Why wouldn’t he?
ME: It has vampires in it.  Glorious Leader hates vampires.

That’s roughly how it went down, with two key differences: there are no vampires in my new novel, and my wife wasn’t even in the country when I hit the button.  Upload book … press “publish” … now, shhhh.

Fentonton. Population: 1

The prize for most rubbish New Year’s Eve ever goes to this one, 2011.  It’s only 2pm on the 31st, and I already know this new year “celebration” (yes, fucking air quotes) is going to suck worse than a Christmas without gifts.  Worse than dental work.  Worse than another Twilight film.

How can I know it will be so bad?  Well, I’m sitting in the kitchen of an otherwise empty house in Kent, stone sober, eating breakfast cereal.  My family, my dear beautiful wife and children, are at this moment working their way out of Brisbane airport.  That’s how I know this New Year’s will suck like a Justin Bieber/Jedward collaboration.

If it was a separation of only a few days, or even a couple of weeks, that wouldn’t be so bad; but the solitary stretch I’m looking at is stretched out four long months.  That’s so far past the horizon I can’t know where it ends.

So, boo-hoo for me.  I shall celebrate the entry into 2012 (and yes, I nearly forgot: fuck you, 2011) by having a couple of beers, eating some ribs, and trying to be productive for the last few hours of the year.  Finish as you mean to go on, and all that.  And while I’m eating my Waitrose sad bastard meal for one, I will attempt to distract myself with activity, because if I keep staring at this gaping hole where my life used to be I might fall into it.  I come across one of the kids’ toys, under the sofa or behind a door, and I feel my throat closing up.  I used to think “getting all choked-up” was just something people said, but it actually happens.  These human emotions, they also suck.

Where’s that beer?

  

Rosen Trevithick – Straight Out of University

I was recently granted an interview by the gracious Rosen Trevithick, Cornish playwright and novelist par excellence.  Rosen is currently on the e-road promoting her latest novel, Straight Out of University.  Here’s a bit about the book:

Sophie isn’t exclusively gay, but when you’re voted Ms Lesbian Oxford in your first year at university, it does put you under a certain amount of pressure.

Her university life is characterised by passionate love affairs, liberal activism and boundary-pushing theatre.

Nine years later, Sophie returns to her hometown in Cornwall, where girls are friends with girls, boys are friends with boys, and queer is an experience felt when you drink too much cider.

Sophie falls for John, a sensible, conservative male man with a fondness for cardigans, but can they overcome their cultural differences?

Interview:

Fentonton: Tell me a bit about Straight Out of University.
Rosen: It’s a story about a bisexual woman suspended in the liberal university bubble for the best part of a decade. She’s then thrown back into the real world with a jolt.
Fentonton: Any similarities between you and the MC, Sophie? You know … Were you ever voted Ms Lesbian Oxford?
Rosen: Ha ha! No, I wasn’t. I did win a worst-dressed competition once in Oxford though, which is similarly prestigious, in my opinion.
Fentonton: Do you ever write while intoxicated, or always stone-sober?
Rosen: Sometimes there is a bag of chocolate next to me when I start writing, and when I stop, it’s miraculously gone.
Fentonton: Do you think your story could be improved with the addition of vampires? Vampires still seem unreasonably popular, like goat cheese.
Rosen: Vampires are usually a vehicle for a bad-boy romance story. The leading man in my story wears a cardigan – even fangs couldn’t make him edgy.
Fentonton: Do you like goat cheese?
Rosen: Yes, especially blended with whipped cream to make a mousse, then served with a little fresh basil pesto.
Fentonton: If you could choose between Katie Price, Justin Bieber and Louie Walsh, which one would you have killed?
Rosen: Well, I’m a pacifist so I shouldn’t really kill anybody. However, Louie Walsh is on X-Factor, which is an enemy of the indie world, so he’s asking for trouble…


Straight Out of University is available as an ebook on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Self-Promotion Sucks

It’s hard work, and generally fruitless, and it agitates every humble nerve in my body.  Also, it’s massively distracting.

After a month of trying to push Punchline, I have reached the following conclusions:

1. Giving away free copies is a double-edged sword, and a sharp one at that – readers might take up the free copy offer who wouldn’t normally go within ten feet of your book.
2. Punchline is a Marmite book.  I’ve always suspected as much, and evidence observed so far seems to support that theory: two reviews from Goodreads readers, a five-star rating and a one-star rating.  The difference between not rating a book at all and giving it one star is equal to the difference between “didn’t like it” and “hated it”.
3. I have no idea where the market for Punchline hangs out, or if one exists.  I am my ideal buyer, but I don’t like to hang around in crowds.
4. People on the Amazon US boards are considerably more hostile than those on the UK boards; but also more entertaining.
5. If I spend too much time fucking about with this at work, I will probably lose my job.

What I need to do, I think, is chill out for a bit on the promotional side and get back to some writing.

Tactics for Keeping Children in Bed

1. Rewarding good behaviour, e.g. “If you stay in your bed ALL NIGHT, we’ll buy you the toy of the minute, as determined by Nick Jr.”
RESULT: Fail. Children are incredibly stubborn and self-assured liars. “So are you going to buy me the toy today?” “No, you didn’t stay in your bed.” “Yes I did.” “No you didn’t, you’re in our bed right now.” “No I’m not.”

2. Threats: “If you don’t stay in your bed all night, you won’t be going to that party tomorrow.”
RESULT: Fail. Common response is, simply: “OK.” But they don’t stay. Damn.

3. Hostage-taking: “Stay in your bed or Mr Puppykins gets it .”
RESULT: Epic fail. Results in a lot of apology and begging for the child to stop screaming, and usually a trip to the shops the next day to buy the toy of the minute, as determined by Nick Jr. Bad parents.

4. Guilt Trip: “If you keep getting into our bed, Mummy will get sick because she won’t get enough sleep to stay healthy.”
RESULT: Fail. Kids really don’t care.

5. Guilt Trip Extension: “And if Mummy gets sick, she won’t be able to go out and get you the toy of the minute, as determined by Nick Jr.”
RESULT: Fail. They still don’t care.

6. Santa is watching.
RESULT: Fail. Despite pretence to the contrary, deep down, kids know where the presents really come from.

7. I’ll tell your teacher.
RESULT: Fail. What the hell are you thinking? You know this is going to come right back to you via the teacher whose authority you’re trying to hijack.

8. Strap them to the bed.
RESULT: Untested.

9. Vodka in the bedtime milk.
RESULT: Untested.

I am WIDE OPEN to suggestions people. Wide open.

Give it away now …

So I advertised a free offer, where anyone wanting a free copy of Punchline just sent an email with “Punchline” in the subject header. So far I’ve given away twenty or so copies. I hadn’t reckoned on the spam filter though. I am getting really, really tired of checking my junk box.
Here’s my solution:
I’m just going to post the link and the coupon code. Here it is:
Coupon code: HU35T
That coupon only runs to September 20th, so I’ll need to update this with a new one after that.
I’m thinking about offering an incentive of some kind for folks to (a) pick up a free copy and (b) review it. Here’s the plan: Buzzword Bingo! You know the game, you sit in a meeting and have your bingo card of popular meeting phrases, and someone always wins. Well, this would be like that, but for book reviews, except I create the bingo card, and whichever review gets first bingo they get a hundred dollar or fifty pound Amazon voucher. (Am I being a little hard on the value of the dollar there? Maybe.) I figure I’d need to line up a few ducks for that to happen:
1. Fora in which to advertise it
2. Possibly the OK from Amazon … do I need a license to hold a contest?
3. A neutral party to “hold” the bingo card, for verification
It might seem desperate, but I’m simply trying to employ my never-used marketing major. The problem as I see it is that one feels less compelled to read a book if it was free. I myself have a few ARC’s sitting in a storage container somewhere in the arse-end of London, their spines pristine. With my buzzword bingo plan, I figure it’s a win-win situation. Participants get a free book and a shot at a prize, and I get read.
‘Any thoughts?’ he asks himself. He waits for a reply, like a religious nut-job waiting for a reply from a God who is too busy watching Jersey Shores to answer.

So much for focus

So, this thing hasn’t exactly gone as planned. I know I said this blog wasn’t going to be an unfocused ramble, a brain-dump, but … once more, I’ve taken a notion to an unnecessary extreme.

Two posts in over a year. Wow, I’ve got so much to say.
It’s not all my fault I haven’t got around to posting — there are a number of things I can blame for soaking up all my time:
1. Work
2. Family
3. The economy
4. Bit Torrent (not that I do that kind of thing)
5. My dog (every time I get on my laptop, he jumps up on my … ahh, Jesus, get down Brubeck … yes, you, you smell … well, okay, just don’t drool on the keyboard)
6. Sport on TV
7. The estate agents charged with trying to sell my house, who seem to believe everyone is perfectly cool with them trying to push down prices just so they can maintain their fucking volume, imbeciles! You’re only hurting yourselves in the long-run! Sorry, they just piss off all the concentration right out of my head.
8. Lambeth Council (they are beyond blame for NOTHING)
9. Warm, delicious alcohol
You get the idea. I could go on … Actually:
10. Justin Bieber. His whole breathing and living and walking around deal just fucks with my concentration.
There, I’m done. Sorry about that. Why am I even apologising? It’s not like anyone’s going to read this. Writing a blog is basically emotional hedging, anyway.
Position A: If I write something stupid (likely), it doesn’t matter because I’m not famous and no-one reads this thing anyway, it’s basically an online diary.
Position B: If I write something stupid, and lots of people read it because I am famous … who cares? I’m famous! Woo-hoo!
I made a New Year’s resolution back when it was an appropriate thing to do: I resolved to make January FiFuNoMo. Most people (by people I mean writers) have heard of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. FiFuNoMo is Finish the Fucking Novel Month. I tried to motivate myself. Surprisingly, it worked. Can February be SeFuNoMo (Sell the Fucking Novel Month)? I doubt it.
Maybe I’ll just try to post more on the blog.

Crapalooza 2010

I was gifted some time recently — two weeks between jobs — in which I thought I could get some of my own work done. Long-outstanding work. Important work. Naturally, I opted to fritter this time away with my new procrastination-enabler activity: groping around under my floor for junk from the 1900’s.

Some brief background: I live in a terraced house in south-west London, built in the early 1900’s. Like most houses of this design, a narrow cellar runs beneath the entrance hallway, originally used as a coal-chute. The joists for the ground floor rest on the top of the cellar wall, which leaves a series of shallow gaps where one can peer over the cellar wall to the space beneath the reception room floor, if one were so inclined. I was so inclined.

There is an ocean of crap under my floor. Not just any crap, but old crap. This is an important distinction. If it were simply half-bags of cement and copper-pipe offcuts left by builders, I’d have never bothered with it, but when I first flashed a torch in there I saw what looked to be (and what was) a very old tin of shoe polish. I had to have it. I now have approximately five thousand old tins of shoe polish which I’ve rescued from that filthy void, and if I pull out another one I’ll probably try to open a vein with its rusty rim, but that first sighting is what got me started.

Some things I’ve learned from the experience:

– You can never reach as far as you think you can
– Everything seems much bigger when viewed at eye-level
– Tetanus is almost certainly a fictional malady invented to frighten children into obedience, or at least its method of contraction is a falsehood, because if being cut by rusty metal were a genuine catalyst of the disease I’d be critically ill of not outright dead by now, which I’m clearly not, as I’m sitting here writing about it
– WW1-era Londoners were sick, violent, immoral, perverse, incredibly messy and apparently obsessed with keeping shoes at their shiniest
– Enough is enough only until you want to go back for more

The way I gain access to the trash-trove is: I kneel on the workbench or stand on a chair, reach up and over the wall with my face pressed into the brickwork, and blindly feel around for interesting things to pull out. I can’t see where I’m groping because the joists and the floorboards stop me getting my head into any kind of viewing position. I used gloves for a while, but I couldn’t feel a thing, so I now grope about barehanded, just like they did it back in the day. It’s a messy business. I mentioned about the cellar being a coal chute — apparently excess coal was dumped over the wall. I think I might have developed the black lung.

It hasn’t all been coal dust and shoe polish tins and razor blades. Did I mention there were razor blades? What don’t you want to find when you’re groping around blind with your bare hands? You guessed it: razor blades. But I have also found some pretty cool things. Here’s my top five (subjective) finds so far:

1. A time capsule in the form of an old lemonade bottle, containing a number of old tram tickets and a letter from the first owner of the house to the finder of the time capsule (me!)
2. A Colt .22 New Line revolver, in its pouch and in apparent working order (without bullets)
3. A small jar labelled “Special Black Female Corrective Pills” (with pills)
4. A very old framed picture postcard, presumably of the original owner and his wife
5. What appears to be a home-made opium pipe (without opium, dammit)

The time capsule got us all very excited. It’s dated 1908, addressed from our house, and says (paraphrased): “My name is George Herbert Cowell, the original owner of this house. I wonder when this letter will be found. Enclosed are a few Tramway tickets. We have just had our Tramways electrified.” All written in perfect cursive. I downloaded the image of the 1911 census form from the house, and loe and behold, it matched: George Herbert Cowell and family, all of them but Mrs Cowell employed by the Central Telegraph Office in Waterloo.

The gun was another high-point. When I pulled it out I had no idea what to expect as I tried to open the old zipper on the pouch with my bleeding, rust-speckled fingers. When I saw the butt of the gun shining through I thought it might be a fancy knife. When I pulled out a gun, I was stunned: it was tiny. I mean, really tiny. I later learned it was issued by Colt as competition for the Derringer, but on first sight I thought it was a cigarette lighter. The Colt New Line was made in 1877, a 7-shot rimfire revolver, and it fits very comfortably in the palm of my hand. Unfortunately, being a .22 means it falls under section 5 of the UK firearms act, which makes it a prohibited weapon. A bit of gun oil and a clean-up, you could slot some modern .22 cartridges into that puppy and, provided your hands weren’t too large, you could give someone a nasty sting. Good citizen that I am, I contacted the local chapter of the firearms squad, who are now holding it safe for me in their armory until I find someone to deactivate it. I couldn’t even sell it I wanted to, because no-one would be allowed to buy it – it falls into the same category as a Glock.

The corrective pills were, it turns out, an early form of the morning-after pill. Yes ladies, just one of these a day for about a month after your fun and games will take care of any unwanted “developments”. This may or may not be achieved by precipitating your own death, but that would probably be on account of all the lead you’ve been ingesting by taking these “special black” pills.

Corrective Pills

More details on this gripping adventure will follow, after I’ve caught some Z’s.

I want to live in Fentonton!

The first blog post, so much pressure … come on man, think …

The Oxford English Dictionary defines blog as …

Gah!

Do-over:

Welcome to Fentonton. I know what you’re thinking, and no, I did not set up this blog while drunk and misspell my own name. “Fenton.blogspot” was taken. I admit I was listening to Ben Folds while I was trying to think of a name, which must have had an influence. If you’re familiar with “Effington”, just swap the words around, hum a few bars, and before you know it it’ll be stuck in your head like a catchy Justin Timberlake track, or tinnitus, whichever you prefer.



Fentonton

Can be a wonderful Fenton place

I can see it from the highway

And I’m wondering

Is there Fenton in their yards

Fenton in their cars

Fenton in the trailers and the back roads and the parking lots

Of Fentonton …

And so on.

So why do I have a blog? Well for one thing, it’s considerably cheaper than setting up a proper website. Also, I can get by without having to learn much HTML, which is fine with me because I’m sure it would be superseded by some new vastly superior programming language about a month after I mastered it.

What makes me think anyone is interested in what I have to say? You’re here, aren’t you? Unless you were trying to get to Fenton.blogspot and you’ve had a few too many ciders. What this blog is not going to be is a brain dump of every random thought which wanders into my head. No, it’s going to be a tightly focused brain dump.

First things first:

I was prompted to set up a blog after joining a book review group called “Booksquawk”. They said, give us a photo and a link to your blog. After two hours of teaching my four-year-old daughter (heretofore referred to as “Kid A”) the principles of SLR photography, lighting, aperture settings, and where the take-the-damn-photo button was, I had my picture. And here’s the blog. It’ll look much better once Kid A finishes that HTML course.



Booksquawk is a book review site whose contributors are all writers. Some of us have even had our books published! Not me. No, I write for the (ahem) love of it. If someone would pay me to do it, however, I would love it so much more. I would love it and care for it and feed it every day, honest. If you’d like to pop over and check the site out, that would be just super. If my HTML tags above failed to work, it’s at “www.booksquawk.blogspot.com”

That’s enough from me, at least until I have something interesting to post. Interesting to me, anyway.



I want to live

In Fentonton!

I want to die

There too!

Folds, if you read this, feel free to put Fentonton on your next album. Or at least play it next time you’re in London.