14 December 2006

science petition

Few news stories make me genuinely happy. This is one of them.

12 December 2006

Recap (in no particular order) *updated again*

I'm 30 1/2 years old. I was born in Boston but have been living in the United Kingdom for the last 17 years. I like it here. I think I'll spend the vast majority of my life here. While I feel I am an American and always will be, my fondness and frustration for my adopted home provides a personal dichotomy that lets me bounce things around in my head when I should be concentrating on other things.

At the age of twelve I became the first and only member of my family ever to beat my grandfather at chess. I've never been able to concentrate properly on the game since.

I went to university in Scotland, before it was fashionable for Americans to go to university in Scotland. This took longer than expected. I started in the Autumn of 1994 and finished in the Spring of 2001. Three days after graduating I started a job as a wine merchant in St Andrews.

I did GCSEs in London, but I decided to finish high school in the States, at a boarding school in Connecticut. These were some of the greatest times of my life. I climbed trees and got into quite a bit of trouble without generating too much ill-will from the faculty. High school in the States is, for the most part, exactly like the first American Pie movie. Honest.

I was meant to do a postgraduate: an MLitt. in mediaeval history at St Andrews. This was to lead to a Phd and a world of academia. It didn't work out. I got distracted - and a lower degree than I was predicted.

Occasionally, I do theatre. It's been awhile, but I've done my fair share of student, amateur and semi-pro. The semi-pro was twenty-two years ago. I love Shakespeare in the same way a fuddy-duddy fictional teacher loved and laughed at by his students loves theatre. It's tonic for the soul, yearning to be spoken out loud. I can improvise dialogue in blank verse. I discovered this by accident, forgetting my lines for one show or another.

My memory is selective and retains vast quantities of useless personal recollection and trivia.

Being a teenager in London was amazing.

I have two sisters, one brother, two nieces and two nephews. I don't see any of them as often as I should.

I used to breakdance.

Photography amazes me, and I try to take as many cool pictures as I can. My inexperience and lack of understanding frustrates me. This applies to all manner of things, not just photography.

For five years I did both stand-up comedy and improv comedy. I think I was better at the latter. I never prepared for the former and as such my routine could be excellent or dreadful.

I've been single since March 2003. But I pulled twice last weekend.

Loads of kids grow up wanting to be something: doctor, lawyer, astronaut, fireman. They don't necessarily become those things, but their dreams fall into some sort of career path. I wanted to be Indiana Jones. I still do.

Friendship is, to me, more important than anything in the world. And my friends are the best people in the world.

If you were to sneak up on me when I thought no one was around, I'd probably be singing along to music I loved very loudly.

I will live in Edinburgh soon. I live in the countryside outside Linlithgow at the moment.

Skiing, baseball and scuba diving are three sports I used to do but don't anymore. Sometimes, when I'm feeling a lack of self-preservation, I'll play rugby. I played shinty (gaelic hockey) at university but wasn't very good and only ever stuck around for the drinking. I ride a horse once or twice a year, remember how much I enjoy it, and then wait another year before doing it again. I run almost daily, except for the last couple of weeks - I've had a cold.

My parents are incredibly supportive, even when they drive me nuts.

I became addicted to wine. Not in the alcoholic sense, but in the craving of knowledge, tasting, discovering, making notes, selling, matching with food, learning the history and, of course, drinking vast quantities. It's under control now, the addiction, but the passion is still there and sometimes I lose myself in polite company, waffling on about vintages, varietals and biodynamic viticulture.

There's a lot I haven't said here.

At the moment I'm writing a book. It's a novel set in St Andrews. The first seeds of the idea came to me as I was crossing the City Road roundabout just up from the bus station in St Andrews. I think that was in 1999. The idea rolled around in my head for six years. In October of 2005 I retired from the wine trade, moved to London and started writing my book.

Sort of.

Becoming a novelist is not something I'd recommend. For starters, I'd rather not have the competition. But more importantly, it's really hard. I've written over two hundred pages of narrative prose now, and am nearing the end of my first draft. This isn't a whim or some one-off indulgence. Whims and one-off indulgences tend to be more fun. I will fight to get it published and know already what the next three or four books I write or going to be. I've found something, finally, to replace childhood dreams of being Indiana Jones. People who think this is some phase or whimsy outrage me, especially those who suggest I'm retired. I've never worked on anything harder, for longer and with such focus. And unlike previous employ, there's no safety net, there's no one to seek advice from, there's no one to go to, because the vast majority of people just don't know. I didn't know. I don't think I do know yet, but I've got a better idea than I used to have. The few people who help and believe and understand are gems and provide strength and nagging to keep going. The heady rush of accomplishment that comes with completing the first draft will be replaced quickly with the drudgery of rewriting.

I'm easily distracted.

11 December 2006

above the stove

Habits die hard. Bagel, the world's greatest cat, loves to sit on the hood of the Aga. It is her winter station. She lords over her domain from there, looking bored as we mill about, fixing a snack, flipping the kettle on or cooking dinner. Sometimes Bagel's not bothered by our antics and just sleeps. In her younger days, it was a two-step process. She leapt to the kitchen counter and then leapt from the kitchen counter to the hood and would stay for hours, drifting in and out of sleep, a look of serene content on her whiskered face. Now, age has caught up with her and she needs a hand. She gets to the counter without issue, but the hood is now that leap too far. Now she jumps from the counter to my shoulder and then to hood.

Friday afternoon found me in a foul mood for no particular reason. I sat down to The Simpsons, hoping for a 23 minute respite from grumpiness. My phone rang at the end of the opening credits and I cursed. The number was a mystery. The voice on the other end was not. I needed to go to St Andrews. An old friend had returned and was playing a gig. There were several pints of beer that needed drunk and quite a lot of cheering to be done, was I up for it?

So I jumped in Fifi (I have named my car Fifi - she's French), and shot north with one good omen after another. Fun Lovin' Criminals' Scooby Snacks burst from the radio just after getting onto the A92 from the M90. I bobbed up and down in the driver's seat singing along with Huey and the gang, reveling in my passenger-free environment. Someday I'll be driving and a great song will come on and I'll lose myself to it and notice far too late that there's someone sitting next to me.

My love/hate relationship with St Andrews continues apace. Students still wander into the street, seemingly invulnerable to oncoming traffic. But dear friends still reside there, and the pubs are warm, occasionally serve good beer, and boast the same comfort as an old t-shirt or tatty jumper.

Friday evening was a swirl of laughter, Guinness, sherry and whisky. With little or no cajoling, fuelled by pints and nostalgia, I joined my mates behind the microphone and belted out If I Had $1,000,000. Catching up was unnecessary. Everyone still read from the same page. It might have been 2004 or 2005 again, not the verge of 2007.

The hangover Saturday morning started off with the clinging remnants of drunkenness. Bacon rolls and an angry disgraced former First Minister and I loitered around the bottle shop for lack of anything better to do. I was in no state to drive back to Linlithgow. The shop was heaving. People sought wine advice and I dispensed, reeling unbalanced, voice hoarse, body disheveled, eyes glazed, the ideal matches for food, the best vintages and the perfect gifts - wines that I knew and loved, dismissing rubbish or those simply not good enough. Bordeaux, Burgundy and Port flew off the shelves and from the stacks. We opened a bottle of Nuits St George and I sniffed and sipped, it cut through the paste of the night before and I felt within a comfort zone I'd missed for over a year. Some lady arrived host a champagne tasting and I decided to stick around for another evening. I mentioned my heady sense of well-being to a friend and he told me to get out while I could. The hangover overcame the remains of drunkenness and after lunch I retreated from the shop for coffee and chat.

Bagel's spot above the stove is still hers, she just needs a hand to get there. We've thought of building her a cat ladder.

I don't need a ladder to get back to St Andrews, just a full tank of petrol. It's so easy, too easy, to slip back in, to forget the reasons I left, to avoid my life now by only remembering the good and the great of my life then. But then, it was only a weekend, a brilliant one at that, and there's no harm in a weekend.

Is there?