20 May 2006


A sub-genre of my geekery found its voice yesterday, and asserted itself among interests in computers, wine, food, photography, science, history, film, literature and comics. It came as a revelation; a book spotted in Waterstones giving a name to an interest I never really acknowledged. And no, it was not The Da Vinci Code.

It was The Cloudspotter's Guide. I like clouds. I knew that. When I was 8 or 9 I did a project on them, which was little more than naming and describing the ten main cloud types. I did illustrations as well, though I'm not sure they were good enough to serve in a cloudspotter's guide. For some reason I retained that information. I know cirrus and cumulus and cumulonimbus and the differences between them. Why I retained that and not the rules regarding the use of a semi-colon I'll never know but it haunts me.

Anyway. I saw this book and realised I was a bit of a cloudspotter. I take pictures of them sometimes and I note their beauty when they deserve it - that sort of thing. Not in obsessive way of course. I don't have a cloud notebook or anything. But I have a guidebook now, should I want to get more serious.

Most of my geeky traits are noncommital. I'm a Star Wars fan but wouldn't dream of standing in a queue for a week dressed as Yoda. My love of mediaeval history stopped short of Latin, paleography and postgrad studies. I don't develop my own pictures. While I adore cooking and being a foodie I'd never be a professional chef. Wine geekery took a back seat once it looked like a career. Comics have been outgrown for the most part. Science is awesome until I have to do math and proper research. My geeking just lacks focus. I'm sure other geeks would spurn me for not choosing a faith and sticking to it. But I'm afraid I'm a geek-of-all-trades and master of none.

As it happens, The Cloudspotter's Guide is quite fun.

Some pictures in which clouds play an important role, all from last summer, and all from my old Pentax.


This is my 251st post, or my semiquincentennial-plus-one post, and it makes me wonder what on earth I'm doing with this thing. But while pondering that, I found this old picture of me with very big hair and it distracted me.
That's a lot of hair. I think that was taken in a sushi restaurant in Key West. I also think it was taken a very long time ago, but I have no idea when.

I'm in a bit of a daze today. I'm not sure why. I did have that exciting one beer after my wine last night but refuse to think that three moderate drinks spaced over 4 hours would have that sort of effect on me.

Torrential downpours punctuate periods of glorious sunshine outside. The rain makes it easier to write, the sun more difficult. If it goes well the clicks of the keyboard and the patter of rain churn out asynchronous rhythm. If it goes poorly only the rain is heard, or nothing at all.

19 May 2006


This interested me. It's science-y, so if you don't immediately jump to the link before reading on, it's about predictability in evolution. I almost understood all of it, and what I did understand struck me as quite exciting. When I was in high school, I did a molecular biology course. I'm not sure how I got on it in the first place, but my subsequent incompetence in the lab drove me to the arts from science. It still piques my interest though.

Angry Alien
have finally adapted Casablanca. I love Angry Alien. There's no rhyme or reason to recreating films in 30 seconds with bunnies, it's just genius. I don't have some amusing or embarrassing anecdote to go with this one. It's just funny. Go see it.

Friday night and I'm updating my blog. I've had two glasses of wine. I may, if I'm feeling adventurous, have a beer. I just watched Friday Night With Jonathan Ross. I spent today taking pictures of boxes and moving vans. I wrote about a canal. I linked to a science article on CNET. I declined an invite to a 22nd birthday party tonight. It was for twins. Girl twins. Not single girl twins but that's not the point.

Am I becoming boring? Has the towering inferno of my social life become a fizzle of charred cinder?


I'm skint.

My bank isn't phoning me anymore though.

They're sending me lots of letters instead.

forgotten corners

I didn't go for my run this morning.

Instead I went to an industrial estate in North London, near Park Royal. That part of London seems to be one sprawling industrial estate. They may as well cover the whole thing with the world's largest sheet of corrugated iron. I do not begrudge them this. Most of these estates are for storage, manufacturing or some combination of the two. They don't need to be pretty to serve their purpose and the four-walls-and-a-roof (preferably corrugated iron) has worked thus far and keeps down overheads. The odd broken window doesn't concern management because the iron bars keep people out and the kettle is the only central heating. By and large the open spaces are covered with tarmac and that is covered with all manner of lorry, van, JCB and car. Litter is endemic, though none of it seems dirty; it's more untidy. Fast food vans provide lunch - and tea when the central heating's broken.

It seems quite a desolate place, utilitarian and stark. Beauty can be found though, almost accidentally, in the fossils of past industry. Running through these estates is the Regent's Canal, whose aesthetic charms mask the purpose of its origins. Before the railways, it was part of a network of canals that ran throughout Britain, feeding commerce and industry. The pleasure cruising you see these days was unheard of: it was utilitarian, designed for a single purpose and used for that.

Life is drawn to river banks, even man-made ones. And in the midst of industry and utility this lush patch of green sits sometimes unnoticed. It's, understandably, overlooked for the more pristine surroundings other sections of the canal enjoy. A few miles to the east is Little Venice. While there the canal is the focal point of the neighbourhood, the reason for its name, through much of Park Royal it is forgotten and probably resented it for drawing a line through estates.

For me it was a welcome relief. When your mission for the day is to take pictures of storage containers any distraction can turn into a few whimsical, nonsensical and nostalgic paragraphs.

Also worthy of note was the food van we got lunch - not deep fried lard, but portuguese spiced pork sandwiches. How weird and wonderful is that? Brilliant.

Lovely view, shame about the furniture. What's missing is John Cleese saying "And now for something completely different."

Is the fencing there to keep nature out or the industry in?

18 May 2006

The ***** Chronicles?

Well, I'm moving.* In fact, I'm probably moving quite a few more times. Hopefully one more stop in London and then, in the new year, back to Scotland. So I'm pondering the name of the blog. I really like the name, so I just might keep it. Who knows? I may move to another Belfry. Updates will be posted.

The willow in the wind, as opposed to the wind in the willows.

*Not until the 1st of August though. Unless I win the lottery.


If I hear one more thing about any of the following:
  • deciphering the code
  • the Real Da Vinci Code
  • the missing code
  • Dan Brown's push-ups
  • Tom Hanks's hair
  • religious protests
  • the secrets within the secrets of the Da Vinci Code
  • Mary Magdelene's lingerie
  • Scions
  • Opus Dei
  • Psycho albino priests
or any of that shit I shall not be held responsible for my actions.

And no, I'm going to go see the fucking movie. And if I were to see the movie, it would just be because of Audrey Tautou and Ian McKellan. But I'm not.

And this excerpt from the New York Times review makes me happy that I never bothered with the book:
"To their credit the director and his screenwriter, Akiva Goldsman (who collaborated with Mr. Howard on "Cinderella Man" and "A Beautiful Mind"), have streamlined Mr. Brown's story and refrained from trying to capture his, um, prose style. "Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she was now staring was clutched in the pale hand of an enormous albino with long white hair." Such language — note the exquisite "almost" and the fastidious tucking of the "which" after the preposition — can live only on the page."
But feel free to discuss Audrey Tautou ad nauseum, as she seems lovely.

discoveries, tea bags & spring photos

Discovery in the Belfry is quite restricted and usually has to do with insects & arachnids. For instance, I discovered a new daddy longlegs web behind one of my bookshelves yesterday. I only knew it was a daddly longlegs web because the owner was in residence. Occasionally a long-thought-lost book or nik-nak will turn up, demanding a moment or two's reminiscence before being put somewhere else to be forgotten. I imagine as packing becomes more pertinent these discoveries will be more frequent; arachnids, insects, books and nik-naks alike. Bin bags will be filled and charity shops will grow rich as I prioritise my belongings for the second time in a year.

There are other discoveries in the Belfry, usually made in pursuit of synonyms or other research. Today I discovered that divination through reading tea leaves actually has an official name: tasseography. This amused me. I'd looked it up because I noticed, at the end of my afternoon cuppa, that the debris was a bit larger than usual. There still wasn't very much of it. Probably not enough to divine the evening's television. And, in tea-reading terms (or tasseography terms, as those in the know would say), having come from a bag, it was some terrible state of penmanship. Maybe tea shorthand? Of course, it's all bollocks anyway, but it got me thinking that if you buy into that bollocks, where do the rules stop? If you get your tarot cards read and it's a marked deck, does that make the future they predicted invalid?

These questions puzzled me long enough to delay making a second cup of tea. This delay meant my mother was able to press my services for the good of the neighbourhood and take some pictures for the Old Chiswick Protection Society newsletter. This led to discoveries far more enlightening than that of tasseography.

This tree is wonderfully weird. It looks as though it could be used as a trebuchet or some other catapault-type-thing. How? Why? Love the mystery. The mystery of the weird tree.Mom thought that graveyard pics were somewhat sombre for a Spring newsletter. Or any newsletter, really. Unless it was Undertaker Quarterly. She's probably right. I think graveyards in the spring are quite hopeful - grass grows, flowers blossom, trees - bewinderingly - bend. The bible got it backwards, it's not in the midst of life we are in death, it's in the midst of death we are in life. Even the monuments to the dead end up draped in lichens and moss. I choose to find it hopeful, not sombre. But I understand why she didn't want any in the newsletter.
How fucking tacky is this statue? Really tacky, that's how tacky. Descended from the planet tacky. It could have been on Liberace's lawn. It's that tacky. But I like the pic.
Flower pics without ninjas. I'm sorry. Ninjas next time. Maybe.

Other discoveries today included a poem and a podcast. Cheers Jo.
(be warned, the podcast file's quite big, and I'm sure there are lots of people who won't find it as cool as I did. But they're wrong)

17 May 2006

peculiar gravity

My desk sits just less than two metres away from a queen size bed. Above the bed hangs a poster depicting Grace Kelly viewed through a giant and tempting champagne flute. Daylight falls from the skylight onto the bed, bouncing off the white pillow cases and giving the impression that the bed itself produces light. The pale cream duvet cover, adorned by classic floral prints, shares its own soft focus glow. Through physics only Einstein could explain, this combination of light, bed and Grace Kelly generates a peculiar, selective gravity. Peculiar in that it works sideways, drawing me from the desk, and selective in that it only affects me. Three books, three camera lenses, two spectacle cases and a napsack sit on the duvet. They dampen the gravitational field.

Coffee helps as well. Coffee and tea have become part of my routine now. Routine is a double-edged sword. Just having a routine is a luxury. It's comfy, even the exhausting parts of routine, such as exercise, have inherent comfort in them. The espresso I make myself after lunch (essential in defeating peculiar gravity), the afternoon cup of tea; they're like a well-loved t-shirt or a combination duvet-safety net. But comfort leads to complacency and boredom, and these must be avoided at all costs. Certain amounts of discomfort are necessary to move forward; to shift your legs when they fall asleep.

An unfinished novel is a source of discomfort, the blank pages nagging and demanding attention. Tumultuous housemates also provide discomfort and demand, sadly, a great deal more attention. They're louder and harder to ignore. But there is order to things, and by dealing with the former there is escape from the latter.

It's amazing what you work out while having a cup of tea.

16 May 2006

flower power

I'm taking pictures of our garden while it's still ours. Most of the pics are on my old pentax, so these are the few decent ones that came from the digital. They're not terribly exciting, but flowers are pretty and sometimes pretty is better than exciting. But not often. A mixture of the two would be ideal. A beautiful picture of a flower with a ninja in the background, or something like that.

call screening and silver lining

I don't know anyone named 'Witheld'. It sounds vaguely Saxon, bordering on old English. Witheld could well have been Egbert's brother. Egbert was a dark age king of England, by the way. I could imagine Witheld and Egbert drinking mead into the night, reminiscing about slaughtered vikings and goosing a few wenches.

Witheld: Dude, that was awesome how totally took Beowulf out, man - you kicked his Mercian mutha-fuckin' ass!
Egbert: Totally bro! punk didn't know what hit him. I told him, that is the way shit goes down in Wessex beeeyooootch! And now who's the Bretwalda? I'm the fuckin' Bretwalda! What the fuck is a Bretwalda? Pass the mead bro!
*Egbert makes a wild slicing motion and falls over in a drunken heap*
Witheld: Hardy couldn't have said it better bro.
Egbert (from his drunken heap): Who the fuck is Hardy?

So with this sort of mental image, it's unsurprising that I'm not keen to answer the phone when the name 'Witheld' appears on the caller ID. Remarkably, the reality of Witheld was far more terrifying than the dark age product of my imagination. It was my bank.

Part of me kind of knew it was my bank.

I'll be honest, I haven't listened to the message in full yet. Partly because I'm a coward when it comes to certain things (the dire reality of my finances being one of those certain things) but mostly because I knew what it was going to about. I mean, when was the last time your bank just phoned to say hi? Or to let you know you had buckets of cash? There's a bit of a bright side; would you want your local branch phoning for a natter? Me neither.

So I know that I should phone them back, because in phoning them back I not only show that I care about my finances but also have a slim chance of getting the substancial charges for going overdrawn reversed by pleading all sorts of mitigating circumstances. That's £70 worth of charges. I'll phone them tomorrow. Let them wait. It's only the Clydesdale after all. If I banked with a bank that I like, I'd care. But I don't, so I don't.

Of course I do care about having money, and on that front I've received some good news. From an accountant, no less, which is enough to make me look skywards for passing pigs. Anyway, you remember that National Insurance chat I posted yesterday? Well, it turns out that I paid "emergency tax" the entirety of my 4 years working at Luvians. My inherent distrust of government and bureaucracy led me to think that never would I see that money again, but no - it turns out you have SIX YEARS to claim back emergency tax. Of course, I have no idea how much I'm due. I didn't really earn very much in the first place, but a cumulative tax rebate is not something I'm going to pass up at this point.

Especially as those utter bastards at Apple have just released this, and I need one. Need in the want sense, really, but want quite a lot. The black one. Which is, of course, the most expensive one. And in this compulsive consumer society, want and need get a bit blurred, so blurred that t-shirts are required to point out the balance. That pie chart is an accurate representation of my want for a new MacBook compared to my need for a new MacBook.

It's also a pretty cool t-shirt. I kind of want that as well. As a kind of conscience/reminder of what's important in life, you know? Like cool t-shirts and new laptops.

I've a long way to go on my road to enlightenment, I know.

15 May 2006

smile in spite of it

It's been a dreadful day. But sometimes surreal humour and singing cats can sort it all out.

two pics

Took these on the way to the pub yesterday. The whole river is surrounded by green at the moment, so I thought to snap a less-green place. I was aided and abetted by the black & setting as well.

insert title here (please use BLOCK CAPITALS)

My first real job was at a local pub. I consider it real because it was for a very large company and they paid me direct into my student bank account. They didn't pay much into my student bank account and it is a testimony to my overdraft that I wound up spending far more there than I ever earned. But nevertheless, it was money over the counter, and up until then most of what I earned had been cash-in-hand. That was in 1995. It was my first opportunity to get a National Insurance number.

Today, almost 11 years later, I went up to a "jobcentre plus" to ask for one of these numbers. Two odd things happened. One, the first person I saw working there was someone I was in hall with in first year. We didn't know eachother. He was a fourth year and hung with the cool kids and I was an insignificant first year. We ran against eachother for some obscure post on the hall committee. He won. In any case, seeing this guy kind of ripped me out of queue autopilot (a sort of numb state I go into while waiting for anything that may take more than 5 minutes). I guess he was working there. He had an ID card clipped to his shirt and told the lady dealing with my queue that he was going home. It was only 1230. That actually fit perfectly with my vague memories of him from 12 years ago. No idea what his name was. His presence there was very random.

So, the second odd thing. Well, not so odd as frustrating. If you accept that there's quite a lot of beuraucracy that's very, very stupid, then realising that it's outsmarted (or in this case under-stupided) you is humbling. I just rocked up to the counter and said I wanted a National Insurance number. I had two pieces of ID and some tax document from last year that showed I'd been gainfully employed at one point.

Polite lady: Are you employed?
Me: Uh, not really, I'm writing a book at the moment.
Polite lady: Are you wanting to claim benefits?
Me: Well, uh, not really, I kind of want to avoid going on the dole.
Polite lady: In order get a National Insurance number, you need to either have a job or claim benefits.
Me: I've had jobs, and never got round to it. Uh, right. OK. I'll go. Sorry for holding up the queue.

I wasn't hungover, I suppose I had full use of my faculties and yet the two things I could have and should have done eluded me.

1 - lie. Tell her that I wanted to become yet another burden of the Welfare State and collect all the benefits to which I was rightfully entitled, simply by being too stubborn to find a job while writing a great work of literature.

2 - tell the truth. I am, for all intents and purposes, self-employed. Writing, web-design, IT flotsam. It may not be regular or paying work, but if I'm going to go around telling people I'm writing a book then writing's my job and I'm my boss. Duh.

Either would have saved me a return trip.

In other news, I went out for a pint yesterday. Well, four actually, but I hadn't been to the pub properly for ages. Well, I went for an after dinner pint on Friday but that doesn't count because it wasn't my local and it was part of an all-around evening, rather than just going to the pub for the sake of going to the pub. That may sound flimsy, but it's my story and I'm sticking to it.

14 May 2006

I am not arachnophobic.

But I'm more than curious as to where the massive spider I uncovered while cleaning my room is. It was hiding under a pair of shorts next to my bed. And now it's gone.

And I am not arachnophobic.

But that doesn't mean I want to share a bed with a spider.

I've let my room go of late. Not having to show potential buyers around the house meant I slipped a bit. Now that the house has a buyer it doesn't really need to be tidy. In my dark and distant days in property I never heard of a deal falling through because of unmade bed.

In any case, it's easy to get distracted from a messy room, especially your own messy room. The best diversion is someone else's room. In fact, I find myself tidying other people's messy rooms instead of my own. They require less introspection. Every old receipt, sock and cd in your room tells a story - in someone else's it's just junk. The problem is, while to try to help tidy someone else's room, yours just gets messier. And helping is self-defeating anyway, because it has to be your room to be able to tidy it properly. And it's hard to help tidy someone's room when your own is a mess.

Anyway. Untidy rooms and sloppy metaphors abound this evening. And a very large spider. I hope it's not in my bed.