13 May 2006

free speech

I consider myself a classic liberal, in the 18th century sense, believing in the rights of the individual and the importance of free speech. And all sorts of other stuff that Tony Blair and George W Bush are trying to steal from the English-speaking world.

I'm also a foodie and a meat-eater.

So when I read today that the person who wrote this overlong but amusing rebuttal to vegetarianism had his university IT privileges revoked, it pissed me off. Grumpy vegetarians shouldn't be able to curb civil liberties (that's a job for presidents and prime ministers). So I'm linking to it in a sort of protest. Please have a look. It's really long though, so you don't have to read all of it.

In fact, have a look and then perpetuate rumours throughout the web that Newcastle University has a fascist and oppressive IT policy. And then mention the fact that vegetarians have no sense of humour. These are half-truths, but fun ones. I'm hoping that it won't get my Blogger priveleges suspended. It is Google, but not Google China.

yellow and black

Is it possible to develop a sense of well being through socks? And I don't mean the Red Sox this time.

Because I got three pairs of socks the other day, from the Gap, and they're cool. They're bright yellow and black, come up to the ankle, and I get a kind of Calvin-in-rocketship-underwear sort of feeling from them. Just a little boost in spirits every time I wiggle my toes.

And I'm thinking that's a bit strange.

more drunk than me

I never bring my camera when I should. This was a brilliant moment, walking to the tube to go to my friend's for dinner just after 6 and already 2 pissheads had decided the Thames was good for swimming. My phone pic just doesn't do it justice.

In other news, someone very deserving has had fantastic news. Vague? Yeah. But my small part in things makes me very happy at the result.

10 May 2006

literary cacophony

Cacophony's a great word, but I'm having difficulty with it. You see, the 'phony' part of it restricts its use to sounds, and the realm of the aural. There isn't an elegant equivelent when dealing with the written word. Or if there is, my vocabulary falls short. There are some fantastic words that come close - gallimaufry is wonderful, though its origins are culinary. And its obscurity makes its use a wee bit wanky. So if I were to say that this post is going to be a gallimaufry of subjects ranging from the loosely relevant to the downright trivial it may put people off and give the impression that I'm a terrible word snob. Which, as an aspiring writer, I suppose I am. But I don't want people to think that. What I want is to describe this post as a cacophony of stuff that's going on, but in order for that to be an accurate description I'd have to be shouting the contents of the post at innocent bystanders.

So, anyway, the Red Sox beat the Yankees last night 14-3, which was far and away the best news I had today. It had little competition. But the ritual itself, checking Boston.com and seeing how they did, perusing the highlights, that's become a morning comfort regardless of the result (well, almost regardless) and it's a good way to kick things off. I should add that while I do love the Red Sox dearly, I'm not one of those frothing fans whose moods are determined only by wins and losses.

That said, my moods would be better of late were they to match the Red Sox's wins and losses.

But they don't, so whatever.

Speaking of moods, my father accepted the offer made on our house by the pizza man. Between my mother's mood of despair and my father's mood of grim pragmatism, laced with sympathy for my mother and a bit of despair in itself, sits my own mood. This mood is new to me, shifting from anger at the sheer unfairness of it all to bleak depression and then quickly to maniacal optimism that some long lost family fortune will turn up or the lottery numbers will come up or some other such nonsense that would conveniently arrive within the last 15 minutes of a dreadful Hollywood family blockbuster.

And everytime I look around and feel at home comes the stabbing reminder that within 90 days it will not be home anymore. I remember reading once that 'home' as a concept is unique to the English language. It has no direct translation elsewhere. My linguistic abilities stretch to a passable Fife accent and I cannot confirm the legitimacy of the statement but it rings true. A 'house' is easy to explain, a 'home' is hard and English may just have been the lucky language with that one. French has a surplus of idiosyncratic words and phrases that put most languages to shame with their eloquence; it's fitting that English should have home as it seems so simple but isn't really. At the moment it's like pulling the duvet right up just above your chin and finding just the right position on your bed that requires no adjustment or turning for comfort and knowing that it's freezing cold out but that doesn't matter because your pillow, your duvet and your mattress have achieved harmony and as such so do you, and in your harmony you are at peace.

And then some utter twat pulls off your duvet and pours a bucket of ice water on you.

I view the situation a bit like the Red Sox between 1918 and 2004. Kind of hopeless but in the grand scheme, not that important. In spite of the maelstrom of emotions I described, there's a very sensible and somewhat detached part of me that knows it's all just a game and I'm not playing in it. This is an issue entirely on my parent's shoulders. My move home has merely given me front row seats. My parents, if they are looking at it as a game, are looking at it as one they've lost. And while I know that they're all grown up now and can take care of themselves, I cannot stop trying to mediate and comfort. Which is not easy and terribly distracting.

And while the insignificance of the whole situation in the grand scheme of suffering, triumph and the global stage is clear in my head, the proximity of it all and the deep affection I have for my parents makes that knowledge as comforting as hedgehog mouthwash.

I don't have any link I can use with the term hedgehog mouthwash. I'm not sure where it came from, actually.

Writing. I just wrote the term hedgehog mouthwash and I'm perpetually attempting to write a novel. There's a link. Not a very good one though.

I received a heart-warming though sharp kick in the arse the other day regarding my writing. The funny thing about kicks in the arse is that they come seconds before you come to the same conclusion. Or that's what we like to tell ourselves. I receive a kick in the arse and mumble something about thinking something along the same lines but not being quite there yet. But anyway, loads of different things seemed to click and it was as though I'd been wearing shades in the cinema.

Thing realised 1: I've been more prolific writing in my notebooks (real notebooks, not laptops) than on my computer of late. This is in spite of being far more at ease with typing than with longhand.

Thing realised 2: More ideas have been coming to me while running, walking or writing in my notebook than on my computer.

Thing realised 3: I haven't been very productive on my computer recently.

I mulled these realisations. A bad surgeon blames his scalpel. A dreadful surgeon blames his hangover. And I was beginning to blame my computer for my own lack of discipline. I'm easily distracted. It's not some bullshit ADD thing, it's just that without really disciplining myself I go all goldfish. I know that it's not clinical because I've spent literally days playing Civ3 and watched 2 Lord of the Rings Extended Editions back to back once.

Potential distractions from notebook - measuring the space between the lines, unravelling the page marker, filling in the "if lost" form on the front page, twiddle pen around thumb

Potential distractions from thinking while running - dog poo, other people, turns in the road, dead ends, fucking cyclists

Potential distractions from computer - the internet, email, video games, ichat, messenger, blog, photos, general geekery

A pretty obvious link (better than the hedgehog mouthwash one) emerged.

The thing is, I have this excuse now. This pile of legitimate distractions, familial angst, the physical reality of moving and preparing to move, the mediator role, all of that shit. If I took a month or two off to get things ready and deal with everything else, few would begrudge me (well, one would definitely begrudge me, bless 'er) and what difference would it make, really?

Never have I been so resolute to finish this book. Because all that's going on, my unwitting place in this regretable mess, the morose and miserable pall that's lingering over the house like the rain cloud that follows that truck driver in So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish would not be my problem. Yeah, I'd be sad and I'd help and I'd do what a 30 year-old son would do to help, but I'd be hell and gone from the middle of everything (well, the middle of the periphery). Moving home has meant that living my life and pursuing my goals is so closely linked with my 'rents that the line between my life and theirs gets blurred and fuck that. The line's being drawn in that awesome, smelly fat magic marker that you get with all the warnings not to sniff and not to put on anything you don't want stained forever.

My mother asked me why I wasn't pursuing the wine trade today, for Christ's sake, if she doesn't get it now the only way to drive it into her skull is to smack her in the head with a fresh-from-the-press hardcover copy of my first novel. When she's less emotionally fragile, of course.

On a different note, but still being typed (link), I've been rereading my copy of The Essays of E B White. It is battered. It was one of my texts in my senior year of high school. It's a book I used to carry with me wherever, as I never tired of it and the writing was of such incredible beauty, wisdom, clarity and simplicity that I felt almost protected by it. I cannot remember when I stopped taking it everywhere with me, nor do I remember why, but I think I'm going to start carrying it around again. You can never get enough beauty, wisdom, clarity or simplicity and a sense of protection isn't so bad either.

I considered putting lots of this up as seperate posts for the sake of coherence and reader patience. I didn't. But I did learn the word gallimaufry, which is worth both coherence and patience.

08 May 2006

4 out of 6

It looks as though my father's accepting an offer on our house.

I found an old lottery ticket, closed my eyes and wished harder than a 6 year-old on Christmas Eve. Wished harder than almost anything I'd ever wished for, ever. I checked the numbers online and I'd matched 4 out of 6.

That's more than I'd ever matched before.

But still 2 less than what I needed to pay off the mortgage and let my parents stay in their home.

I used the winnings to buy more lottery tickets.

chronology (or lack thereof)

Ok, so it works like this: I have a bunch of stuff about Scotland to post but it's not really flowing and I was still excited about the art stuff, so I posted the art stuff before most of the Scottish stuff. Then I got the Scottish stuff finished and wanted it to flow more, so I changed the posting time on the art stuff so that all the Scottish stuff was together and the art stuff came after, which is the order in which the events occurred anyway. Then it occurred to me that people checking the blog for updates may not realise the Scottish stuff had been posted because the first story they read is still tasting and art. Hence the explanatory nature of this post.

It'll be a little while yet before I realise most people don't give a shit.

07 May 2006

tasting and art

Thursday night, barely recovered from my high-speed trip down South, I rocked up to an ultra-exclusive hotel to drink my favourite champagne in the world with Pete C. It was a tasting organised by a company I don't really like and it wasn't all that well organised to be honest. Their food-wine matches weren't terribly inspired either. It was upsetting because these things can combine to overshadow truly great wines, which is exactly what happened. Then came a barrage of attempted sales. Ugh.

BUT... and this is quite cool, the hotel had this really funky modern art exhibit in the foyer. Organised on glass shelves it consisted of large and larger plastic bottles (the sort used for petrol and other industrial liquids) that had been coloured and organised into groups called families. The "French family" was a tricolour (one red, one white and one blue), there was a "white family" of all white bottles and so on and so forth. My favourite was the "hot family" where all the bottles were hot colours and some still bore their 'warning: highly flamable' labels. Oh, and the fat family, all very fat bottles. Brilliant. But Pete and I were the only ones showing any interest. Everyone else was schmoozing and being very, uh, wine-tradey. In fact, I'm pretty sure they thought we were quite strange for checking it out. But it could just have been Pete's waistcoat.

The fat family is on the bottom shelf, and I think the ones on top shelf were just called mother and father
Pete C strutting in artistic appreciation, bubbly in hand.

I took this on the walk home. Fine beers from the Fuller's Brewery, I assure you.

& the livelier moments (polo)

The University of St Andrews Charity Polo Tournament: you expect to have fun at an event like this, but it's the little things that you forget about in the lead up that bring smiles to the face. Stuff like bike polo (the funniest match in history took place last Monday), more old friends, more bbqs, hiding from the rain only to rush into the sun, stuff like that makes it greater than the sum of its parts. Or something like that.

Dave demonstrating the dangers of Bike Polo

Actual Polo - also quite dangerous

Scorekeeping - more dangerous than it looksCharlotte C - potentially dangerous

Like father, like son - mostly harmless
Rats in a bird feeder - surreal, not dangerous. Unless you're a bird.

& the livelier moments (rugby)

It had been a great holiday. Old friends, good food, horses, pretty girls, great chat and I was even getting some writing done in quiet corners when no one was looking. Then we went to the rugby on Sunday and I got grumpy. I was not alone, there were many a grump in our group that day. I've tried to work out what it was and came up with one or two possibilities.

1. Bummed that I wasn't playing. This is very possible - the previous 2 years of Ma Bell's 7s were incredible. Not having a team there or any team mates even watching could have lowered my spirits somewhat.

2. The stars. Blame astrology, why not?

3. Other people's foul moods. Grumpiness can be contagious.

4. The vast majority of other spectators. Vacuous gucci-clad, fake-tanned (or worse, real-tanned), over-priveledged students aren't the sort of people to watch rugby with. This reason has a flip side though, explained in Number 5.

5. Grumpy old man theory. This could explain all previous reasons. Well, maybe not 2, but it makes sense otherwise. I was cranky because I didn't really belong anymore. It's not my town, they're not my age and they were probably having more fun than I was because of that. It's childish and puerile on my part. It's fun to hold it against them, but not entirely fair.

So that's why I wound up running away to Kingsbarns to write a bit and take some pics. When I got back we decided to shoot off and make pheasant stew, which was pretty tasty and even converted some people who, bewilderingly, didn't like stew.

Oh, by the way, Jo's written up this whole thing on her blog a great deal better than I have. She's used some of my photos too, but you can tell the ones that are hers - they're the good ones.

The assembled cast.

Rob C, in the bottom left corner, look of agony on his face. He only played 7 minutes and wound up with a bloody nose. Shame really.

& the livelier moments (point-to-point)

There are certain points of common sense that seem to elude me. For example: last Saturday at the Fife Point-to-Point (amateur horse racing) I bumped into some old family friends whose son was running in one of the races. I said I'd put money on him and they told me not to, that it was just going to be a canter around. Not to be dissuaded, and under instructions from another old family friend to put at least a fiver on, I put down £20 at 4 to 1 odds. Now, remember, the trainer, the trainer's wife and the jockey told me not to put any money down at all.

And they were right. Gillon came in third.

The less money I have, the stupider I get with it.

It was a brilliant day though - bright sunshine but a cold wind. A pony race which was sheer childlike joy to watch - tiny kids on tiny ponies hell-bent on winning, driven by comically competitive parents. For some reason I have no pictures of it. Must rectify that.

Most people have big picnics and we were no exception, bbqing and crafting cocktails to take the edge off the wind. The cold got to us in the end and we headed home at congregated in the warm Naughton kitchen for a big batch of spag bol.

As a sort of side note, the variety of punter at the point-to-point amused me. The poshest tweed-clad of the country gentry placing bets right next to tracksuit wearing, buckfast swigging, grandkids at 30 having neds is something that has to be seen to be believed. And there's everything in between as well - including eurotrash St Andrews students clad head to ankle in Gucci and whining about getting horseshit on their Jimmy Choo's.

Picnic in the chilly wind - left to right: James, Vikki, Mairi, Charlotte & Jo
Gillon leaping well, but well in third.
There's something heartwarming about a kitchen full of banter and full stomachs.