Thursday, 24 July 2008

Home truths

The author Michael Kimball has granted me the honour of writing my life story.  He's a bit short of time though, so he did it on the back of a postcard.  Actually it's part of his Postcard Life Stories project which may eventually be turned into a book.  You can read everything there is to know about me here.


In other news, I have started reading again.  I cycle endlessly between reading and not reading, each period lasting about three months.  Whenever I fall out of the habit, I instantly seem to forget just how beneficial it is.  When I first started reading aged fifteen, I devoured nothing but classics; Thomas Hardy, the Bront√ęs, Jane Austen.  Then I bridged the gap with Graham Greene, who remains my favourite novelist, before moving on to contemporary fiction.  More recently it has been biographies that tickle my fancy, but my latest love is for science.  Not science fiction, but real science.  Suddenly I feel like that Paul Whitehouse character - "Int science brilliant!  There's all this stuff, right, that people prove by trying to disprove it.  If they can't disprove it, it's like a proper fact.  Brilliant!"  I have a moderate obsession with Richard Dawkins right now.  He gets pigeon-holed as a militant atheist, but he knows other stuff too!  I'm just a sucker for things that make you lose yourself in wonder.  Such as, if it were possible to fold a sheet of newspaper over on itself 100 times, how thick would the resultant wad of paper be?  I thought maybe a metre or two, but the answer is that it would be as wide as the known universe (about 12 billion light years).  Wow!  Geeks like me are really impressed with stuff like that.  We can't help sharing it.  I'm also developing a healthy scepticism for all things supernatural and learning to accept that even the wildest coincidences have no significance whatsoever.  It's amazing how much bullshit we swallow from people who convince us that perfectly ordinary things have deep spiritual meanings.  The most remarkable thing about thinking scientifically is that far from robbing life of mystery, it makes it ten times more amazing.  Believing in the paranormal used to intrigue me, but casting it aside and revelling in what's around us is immeasurably more satisfying.  Every night I can't wait to read more, learn something new about this world we live in.  The truth isn't just stranger than fiction, it kicks fiction's imaginary arse.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

'Meanwhile' is an acceptable segue when you're tired

When I heard that Margaret Thatcher had been granted a state funeral, I couldn’t believe that I’d missed the news of her death. Radio 1’s Newsbeat hadn’t even given it a passing mention. How embarrassing! It was a good fifteen minutes and three online articles later before I realised that she was, in fact, still with us. I know she’s lost her marbles and everything, but isn’t the whole thing a bit cruel? Hey Thatch! Yes, Margaret, that’s you. We’ve been talking and stuff and we reckon, since you’re probably not gonna last much longer, that we should start planning your funeral. Don’t worry, leave it all to us. It’s gonna be huge! We’ll leave your coffin open and let everyone come and have a look if they want to. Isn’t that nice? I’m sure everyone will be really respectful and no one will gob on you. Do you understand all that? You remember who I am, right?

Meanwhile I have quite a feeble pet hate, but it rears its head quite often. When you’re driving, and there’s a gap that may be too small for two cars to fit in, it’s common courtesy, if not necessity, for one of the drivers to move over and let the other pass. Why doesn’t this apply to pedestrians? I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve been forced into the path of a speeding juggernaut (or perhaps an ambling Fiesta, but nonetheless into the road) by two people who appear incapable of adopting a single file formation for the three seconds necessary to allow me to pass without leaving the pavement. It’s so rude. Mostly they seem oblivious to their actions which just makes it worse. Older people are the worst offenders. My disapproval doesn’t manifest itself very forcefully I’m afraid, but I do like to tut loudly or mutter ‘thank you’ under my breath. I’m working my way up to a Richard Ashcroft style shoulder barge as I stride forcefully ahead. I vote that everyone should apply ‘How Am I Walking?’ stickers, complete with freefone number and reference code, to their backs before setting out. Or perhaps I should apply them myself, without their knowledge or consent, like those ‘kick me’ notes you used to see in school. I think if I did that, I’d also have some stickers printed up to keep in my car that say LEARN TO PARK PROPERLY YOU MORON for application to the windscreens of those infuriating idiots who park across two spaces.

Back to the subject of walking, I had one of those ‘trip and try to maintain composure’ moments yesterday. It wasn’t just a mild stumble though, I almost went arse over tit. The people walking towards me did a pretty good job of not displaying signs of amusement, which must have been harder in light of my absurd ‘in total denial’ facial expression than for the trip itself.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

From census to senseless

Have you ever been stopped for an in-car census? I hadn't, until today. I didn't even know such a thing existed, but I was driving into Ipswich when the traffic started to slow and I noticed a police presence. Then the signs - 'Slow: Census'. They appeared to be stopping cars at random so I tried to look uninteresting and hoped I'd be spared, but a petite woman in a dayglo jacket waved her clipboard at me and performed the universal 'please wind your window down' action (which is a little redundant in the age of electric windows, but I suppose the 'pressing the down button' mime is a little ambiguous. In fact I'd have to be monumentally thick to try talking to her through the glass, so no mime of any description was really necessary). I should say at this point that I hadn't been pulled over into a layby or anything - they were stopping people in the middle of the single lane road, which meant that by the time I was finished there were approximately 30 cars behind me. Our conversation went something like this:

Her: Good afternoon sir.
Me: Hello.
Her: I'd just like to ask you a few quick questions. Can you tell me where you've just come from?
Me: Rendlesham.
Her: And was your car parked there overnight?
Me: Yes. I live there.
Her: And where are you heading now, sir?
Me: I'm going to the cinema.
Her: In Ipswich?
Me: That's the one.
Her: And what will you be doing in Ipswich?
Me: (slightly incredulous) I'll be... watching a film.
Her: And how would you have travelled today if not by car?
Me: Rollerblades.

Oh, all right, I said 'bus' but I suspect that she'd have dutifully scribbled down whatever form of transport I could come up with. Perhaps when you've been asking the same stupid questions all day you lose your powers of reasoning. Anyway, she seemed content with my responses and waved me on but I had to say where I was for another minute or so because the car in front of me had also been stopped and the driver obviously had more to say for himself. The only purpose I can think of for the census is to gauge traffic usage with a view to easing congestion, which is slightly ironic given the tailbacks they were causing.

The film I went to see was Wanted. I can only assume that the full title is Wanted: Something Resembling a Decent Script because it was quite absurd. I spent the first three quarters of the film trying my hardest to like it and the remainder sat shrivelled in sad resignation. The basic premise is that there's a group of super skilled assassins who can do cool things like bending bullets round obstacles and healing quickly in waxy baths. So who do they kill? Do they advertise in Yellow Pages for new clients? Oh no, they take their orders from a piece of old rag. A mystical tea towel. No really, I'm not joking. The ancient loom weaves a piece of cloth and the anomalies in the threads spell out the name of the next victim in binary code. I'm not even going the mention the exploding rats. Utter nonsense. I can't remember exactly the dialogue that closed the film, but it was something along the lines of "I used to be a nobody, now I'm a super cool killing machine. So what are you doing with your life?" Well, since you ask, I've just wasted the last two hours of it watching your ridiculous film. Ta very much.

On the way home they were still doing the census but not in my direction. I was half hoping that petite dayglo woman would ask me how the film was in order to give Suffolk County Council a more rounded view of my Ipswich experience, but never mind.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Q&A

It's late, I'm tired, I have to be up early to assist my mother with some decorating tomorrow but hey, I'm putting you guys first again. The reason being that it's quite rare for me to have a social event to blog about so it just couldn't wait any longer. On Saturday, you see, I breached the capital and delved into darkest Islington (which was actually very sunny) for Ariane's birthday party. She has one every year and they are always enjoyable affairs because her friends tend to be very interesting, sociable people. Despite being neither of these things myself, I'm a keen observer nonetheless and I don't think I embarrassed myself too much apart from when someone politely enquired how I knew Ariane. I told them, quite casually, that she'd answered an advert I had placed in a contact magazine. What I'd meant to say was that I'd placed a contact ad in a magazine. I did have a designated role in the proceedings though, which was to host a 1990s based quiz. I should be getting a dab hand at this; last year I was called upon to host an 1980s quiz. Having learned from my somewhat over-complicated Madonna v Michael Jackson tug-of-war format last July, I kept it simple this time. Questions, answers, scores, winner. It's enduring, isn't it? Still, when you're calling out questions to a room full of people you do rather hope that your voice will slip into a calming, authoritative Radio Four type of tone but of course I could only manage an annoying nasal whine. It seemed to go okay though, and the team who solved a nagging mystery by calling themselves The McCanns Ate Her were duly crowned winners. I had to then make a sharp exit in order to catch the last train home, where I read a copy of the surprisingly literary When Saturday Comes and remained oblivious, until I got home, to the fact that the cheap Sainsbury's ball point pen I had misplaced earlier had been in my pocket all the time and leaked thick black ink everywhere. I now have about five pounds in loose change that is legal tender only in Gloopville. Thankfully I was wearing black jeans, but still have a red mark on my leg from where it was necessary to scrub at my skin in order to avoid having the world's lamest tattoo. Next year I'm taking a pencil.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Er, sorry.

So I've been thinking -again - and after all the kind messages of support it appears that I may have been a little hasty in pulling the plug on Doormat Picnic.  The comment that got to me most was Thom's: You always quit too soon in your projects.  Sadly, he's right.  And the reason I usually quit is because I believe that there's something else I may be better at.  Perhaps it's time to concentrate on being good at just one thing, however long it takes.

BUT:

There's still a big time issue with producing three strips per week, so if I'm to continue I will have to reduce the quota to two, probably on Tuesdays and Fridays.  Is that fair?  Another problem is that story three was originally going to be a rather surreal affair where all the characters went on strike and stopped doing what I told them.  Yes, that's what desperation does to my brain.  Thankfully I have now seen sense and scrapped the idea, but that also means that I have to scrap the three strips I had done for it.  That reduces my buffer to a single strip!  So you may have to bear with me if I fall behind again.

It's decided then: the comic will continue for the time being.  I realise this whole quitting thing now seems like a 'publicity stunt' - the equivalent of handing in my notice purely to solicit an improved pay offer - but it really wasn't.  I just didn't think anyone would miss it that much.  So thank you, especially to Thom, and I hope you'll be there for the start of story three on Wednesday.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Paaaaarrrrp!

Today is my friend Ariane's birthday.  Although she still looks like a sprightly teenager, she is in fact 28 years old.  She is great!  This is because:

  • She is tremendously supportive of whatever harebrained project I've got on the go and offers lots of helpful advice and encouragement
  • She calls me all the time and never seems put off by my monosyllabic, incoherent grunting
  • She is always optimistic and picks me up when I'm down
  • She is very funny
  • She isn't afraid to tell me things I need to hear
  • She buys thoughtful gifts and always writes lovely things in greetings cards
  • She offers compliments without prompting
  • She is very grounded and knows what's important in life
  • She doesn't take up much room
  • She has put up with me for over eleven years!

I am very lucky to have her as a friend... have a great day, Ariane!

(Oh, and it was Thom's birthday last Sunday but I forgot to mention that.  Sorry mate.  You're great too.  And stuff.  *Quick awkward man hug*) 

Wipe your feet on the way out

I haven't posted lately because I've been deep in thought, contemplating all sorts of things.  Do hamsters care that their lives are completely shit?  Was that £6 car wash a waste of money?  Why did I eat an orange last night that had clearly gone off?  Chiefly, though, I have been considering the future of my webcomic; it appears, despite reasonable efforts at promotion, that almost nobody is reading it which wasn't the plan at all.  I'm not an egomaniac, but since I was hoping for at least a modest following I have taken the decision to cease production.  The arguments go something like this:

Pros:

  • You never know, things might pick up.  Chin up, pip pip, give us a grin.

Cons:

  • Nobody is reading.  95% of those who look at it never return.
  • The six week buffer has almost been eroded, necessitating rushed artwork and corner cutting.  Quality is meant to improve as time goes on, not diminish.
  • I'm not enjoying it anymore.
  • I can't plot storylines to save my life.  There's more drama in an episode of Bingo Night Live.
  • It doesn't have a genre, or niche.
  • It was never as good as I wanted it to be.
  • Nobody is reading.

Yeah, I'm a quitter, whatever.  The truth is that I've invested almost every spare moment since January in the project and it has run its course.  I truly admire those who have kept their comics running for years and years, but clearly I'm not cut out for it.  There are other artistic avenues that I want to take without the pressure of weekly quotas.  More on that as and when.

So thanks if you were one of the handful of regular readers, I appreciate your support.  The comic will complete its run on Monday July 14th.