Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Overheard in Morrison's supermarket this afternoon:

"They've got a good deal on the Frozen DVDs.  They're twelve ninty-nine but buy one get one free.  That's two for a tenner!"

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

I officially avoided becoming old a couple of weeks ago. I can recommend it.

Many many years ago (this was well before the kids).  I was self-employed and working long hours making crap jewellery which for some reason was selling by the bucketload. My partner and I were making lots of money, we owned our own house outright (not bad for a couple in our mid twenties) and didn't spend much on anything but cat food (for the cat) and the odd crate of fizzy falling down water (for us).  At some point, in an attempt to put some of this money we had sloshing about to some use, we bought ourselves a couple of pensions.  I think the plan was we would keep adding to them and have a healthy nest egg for when we were wrinklies but I never did get round to it. Things went a bit tits up shortly after we started them and I've never really had disposable income since. My partner and I moved to Scotland, got mortgages on a couple of semi-derelict buildings, spent all our cash doing them up - and then we separated.

I pretty much forgot about the pensions - apart from the (dutifully filed) annual statements telling me that, when I retired, I would be able to buy a cup of coffee with the accumulated surplus.

This year the letters were different; they were asking how I wanted the money.  When I had sat in my accountant's office all those years ago (I used to have an accountant!) the age '55' and the year '2014' seemed as far distant as I could imagine.

It's tomorrow.

The other day, after weeks of avoiding facing up to the fact that people in multi-national investment companies were trying to turn me into a pensioner I rang them up.  Rather timidly I asked if it would it be possible for them not to pay me the pension for a few years?  They looked at me down the phone like I was some sort of an idiot.  If you translate what I was saying into multi-national investment company terms I can see why:  "Please, take my money away for a few more years.  Don't pay me...."

Yes, they said, wondering what the catch was.  There isn't one.  I'm no longer going to be a pensioner tomorrow; I'm happy.  They've got my minuscule amount of pension fund to play poker with for another few years; they're happy. 

If they win a few hands I might be able to afford a packet of biscuits to go with the coffee.

The day after my Birthday we all vote in the Independence Referendum.  If you haven't bought me anything you could just vote YES.  It would make an old man very happy if we won.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Another Brief snippet From the Screenplay of my Life:


Various members of the family (and a family friend) are returning from Fort William after the usual Thursday kids' drama and adults' shopping session.   Daddy has the car up to 60mph on the only decently fast bit of road. It is a fine day; bright and sunny and, unusually, the windows of the car are open. Holly, sitting in a back seat sticks her face out of the window and lets the rushing air batter her about the head.  (Like the way that dogs do when they get the chance.)  After a couple of minutes she  flops back into her seat, flushed and exultant.


That was the best thing EVER!
 - I can't feel my face!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

There's a thread over at the sffchronicles forum entitled 'The 5 Most Influential Books in My Life'.  Here's my list.  As you would expect from a group of SF and Fantasy enthusiasts there are a lot of SF and Fantasy books in people's lists and a lot of 'this book changed the way I looked at the world' titles.  Here's mine:

The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard - a 1957 book about media manipulation and advertising techniques that turned my 12 year-old self into a hardened cynic and really really difficult to sell things to. Reading that book has saved me a lot of grief and money over the decades.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by neurologist Oliver Sacks - confirmed my belief (which is obviously true) that my subjective reality is as weird as yours and no one can prove anything from their own subjective experience and that God is therefore unprovable and obviously therefore does not exist.

Tokyo Style by Kyochi Tsuzuki - a thick, small format book containing hundreds of pictures of Japanese house interiors. Not nice, elegant, classically traditional, Zenny interiors but cluttered, everyday, untidied messes. Unmade beds, and piles of unwashed pots. When I get depressed, fed up with the state my kids leave this house, I go read it for a bit and cheer myself up. All the text is in Japanese. I have no idea what 99.9% of the words mean - but wanting to know is one of the reasons I'm trying to teach myself the language.

{Turns out there is an English language edition.  Same pictures.}

The House at Pooh Corner by AA Milne - the first book which made me cry like a baby at the end of it. And then I turned back to the first page and the characters were still there and it hadn't ended. I could repeat the experience! It was a revelation!! I was in my mid-twenties; I think I must have been stoned out of my box. (It was still a revelation though.)

Have Space Suit Will Travel by R A Heinlein. The Golden Age of SF is 12. I read all Heinlein's 'Juvenile's when I was 10/11/12. The Sense of Wonder those books generated in me is something I will never recapture - partially because I went and read The Hidden Persuaders so it's my own fault - but I miss it. Been looking for it ever since.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Another Brief Snippet From the Screenplay of my Life


A cosy domestic interior.  DADDY is heading towards the washing machine carrying a basket of almost dirty clothes discarded in various locations around the house by the female members of the family.  Some of them nearly need washing. 

EBEN is sat on the sofa calmly and contentedly staring into space.

What are you doing?

Waiting for my sixth birthday....


Monday, June 16, 2014

I Bought a Plant Today - Oh Boy!

Holly and I are turning Japanese.

Her obsession with all thing Japonical is catching - not that its flame needed much fanning in me.  I have always had a mild fascination with Japanese Art and Culture (me, you, and the rest of the Western World) but, recently  with Holly singing insane Hatsune Miku songs all day: 

and watching Anime and reading Manga and eating ramen and sushi and onigiri and... and... and...

I've become sucked in too.

My contributions to the Japanification of my life - apart from buying Number One Daughter a couple of Kimonos - is to convince myself I can learn the language.  I have no idea why.  I'm pretty pants at languages and from what I've read Japanese is not the easiest. But any language that has four different alphabets: Katakana, Hiragana, Romaji, and Kanji (which has 10,000+ characters!); and can be written in two different directions: in vertical columns read top to bottom, right to left across the page, or left to right top to bottom like western script has to be worth exploring.  It's a bafflingly fascinating puzzle.

Today we were in Morrisons supermarket buying ingredients for a Japanese food taster session Holly is preparing for her classmates. (Chicken yakatori: salmon maki, a potato based salad, and a fruit yakatori with strawberry dipping sauce.) As we were leaving, Holly in her usual blissful unawareness of anything not right in front of her eyes way, managed to nearly run our shopping into a middle-aged couple's trolley.

A Japanese middle-aged couple.

I yanked Holly into a less dangerous direction and managed to get out a couple of  "sumimasen"s ('So-sorry's すみません) in their direction and hurtled off after Holly before she ran into anyone else.  They smiled and bowed in reply.  I think I made their day.  It made mine.  I'd used my very very limited conversational Japanese in a minorly stressful situation and not been run through with a katana. Woohoo!  My contribution to world peace and global understanding for the week.

The plant came a little earlier.  On the way to the checkouts we passed a display of garden plants containing several very small acers.  I like acers.  I love the red of the leaves in autumn.  Very Japanese too.  The treelets were on offer.  Reduced form a paltry £3 to a even paltrier £2.50  but what reall sold me,  what really made this my spindly wee tree a must buy item was the label stuck on the pot:

 Garden plants are not for human consumption

Apart, obviously, from those that are, like: runner beans and strawberries and apples and pears and blackcurrents just to name the first few that came to mind.  I'm really struggling to work out how anyone - even some working in a supermarket's legal department with not enough work to do on a wet Thursday would thing it necessary to stick a label on a pot which, in essence, says: Do Not Eat This Tree!

If someone has the intelligence and  experience to be able to read and understand the label 'Garden plants are not for human consumption' (I mean there's a twelve letter word in there!  Intellectual stuff!) they must surely have the intelligence and experience to know that eating trees is probably not going to do them a lot of good.

I am not going to eat the tree. 

Though it does look tasty....

Monday, June 02, 2014

Time Travel

I'm reading old magazines again.  At the moment I'm working my way through a pile of 1977 Photoplay film mags.  A lot of it is dreadfully gushy tosh.  There are a lot of articles that look like studio press releases reworked to fit the available space.  One of the joys for me is the regular 'Please Tell Us' page in which Betty Jennings answers 'your queries about the stars'.  In the days before the internet and wall to wall mass celebrity culture infotainment, finding out about  film actors must have been a laborious process.  These days it's three clicks and you can read their entire CV on IMDb and a couple more to find close-up shots of them in their underpants at underwearexpert.com.

Back in the 70s, British housewives, weak at the knees at the thought of Patrick Mower or Melvyn Hayes, had to write to hacks at monthly magazines to help fuel their stalking habits. In February's magazine (de Laurentiis's King Kong on the cover) Betty Jennings describes Jodie Foster as a 'fast-rising young star' and answers the following question from a Carolyn Warburton from Stalybridge, Cheshire:

Could you answer the following questions on Tim Matheson and Kurt Russell of  [TV show] The Quest please?  What age are they, how long have they been acting, where do they live and are they married?
To each other?  (In those clothes it wouldn't surprise me) but back then it would be almost inconceivable that anyone would have thought that.  But back then, Jodie Foster was a 'rising young star' and not the out, proud, and still successful gay icon she is today. The present is a strange country, we do things differently here.  Hurrah!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Phone Emptying

I'm really going off mobile phones.  Time was I used to think they were amazing toys (this was back when they were the size of leather-clad housebricks and about as heavy) then I came to see them as useful tools - this was when they looked like they were created by Volvo's racier designers nipping across to Finland on their lunch-breaks. (I think my Nokia 3210 was the favourite of all the phones I have owned).  Nowadays I just hate the fucking things.  I'm sure in twenty years time there is going to be a known medical condition caused by the excessive amount of time people walk around with the things pressed to their ear.  I'm not talking about people microwaving half their brains but something more physical. I can't work out whether it is going to be some form of lop-sided arthritic thing in the shoulders or some weird squinty sight thing as people deform their eyes by walking around with an elbow stuck out in front of them thus blocking half their field of vision.

These days I try to use mine as little as possible.  Nothing I do is that urgent. Or important.

What I really hate about the fuckers these days is the cameras.  All phones have cameras in them.  Sometimes more than one.  One facing one way, one the other - so you can take pictures of yourself taking pictures of someone else.  And people do take pictures. Christ do they take pictures. Lots and lots of pictures.  Pictures of everything.  Themselves, themselves hugging a mate holding a camera taking a picture of themselves being hugged, what they're about to eat, what their kid did a couple of minutes ago that was really cute and is now looking less that cute as the kid is getting pissed off with trying to recreate it as someone tries to get their camera to work properly.  "No, it's really cute, just keep doing it while I clear some memory..."  (ie deleting the last-but-one cute thing you did that didn't turn out to be so cute after five minutes fannying around with the phone).   Last year, at number one son's nursery Christmas concert, nearly all the mums and dads were filming the little darlings - and watching the screens of their cameras.  Their sprogs were 'Away in a Mangering', and 'Little Baby Jesusing', and 'Santa Got Stuck up the Chimneying' fit to bust and most of their parents were watching them on little screens held up over the heads of the parents holding their phones up in the row in front.  It was surreal.  I felt I was the only one in the audience and everyone else was watching it on the telly.

Sometimes I do use my phone's camera. Sometimes I use it on purpose but mostly I take pictures of my thumb, a chunk of floor, or the side of whatever it is I've dropped the phone behind. A great deal of my prolonged hatred of phone cameras (like all digital cameras) is that I have no idea what I'm doing with the things.  There are too many options.  When I do intentionally take pictures it's of shit like this, one of the more baffling pieces of apostrophe abuse I have seen recently. (It's in a shop window in Fort William if anyone is mapping this sort of thing.):

Or this, spotted in Morrison's supermarket.

Stout Chicken Thigh.

I hate skinny chicken thighs.  'Wow!'  I though, 'These must be really big chickens if they sell the drumsticks individually! No wonder they sold out!'  Turns out that they were cooked in Guinness.

And for years I've been puzzling why Tesco's stock their cat litter on the shelves next to the muesli and porridge.  They've been doing it for years.  Tesco's aren't stupid;  there must be some reason for this.  Some subtle, exploitable, association in the average consumer's mind between crunchy, fruity Alpen and absorbent, odour-neutralising  kitty litter.  I wonder what it is.  Do other shops do this? 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Another Brief Snippet of the Screenplay of my Life

Which, amongst other things, demonstrates that my kids do listen to me.


HOLLY is trying to describe to DAISY the plot of 'Killers From Space', the bloody dreadful  film that she'd watched earlier in the day with her DAD.


...and all they did to make them
 look like aliens was make them wear
 black and stick ping pong balls on
 their eyes and they they were in
 this underground tunnel thing only
 it wasn't really a tunnel it was
filmed in Bronson Canyon...

(The penny finally dropping.)
Aaah!  A Bronson Canyon movie...

Nice to know they do listen to me sometimes - even if it is only when I'm prattling on about shite movie locations.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Blog, Son of Blog

In a rare outbreak of adventurousness (prompted by Flickr's newly improved totally fucked-up interface) I have been exploring other places on the web to shove miscellaneous photos.  (And redefining the word 'adventurousness' to mean: 'adding a few new bookmarks'.) 

In an un-rare outbreak of semi-obsessional faddism I am filling this one up with scans from a huge pile of 1980s Photoplay magazines before I bind them into sturdy hardback volumes -  a process which makes them difficult to get flat enough to scan, reduces their value to nothing,  but makes them a sod of a lot easier to store (and read) - and it's fun.  

Bookbinding is fun?  Christ, I'm getting old....

For some reason I find the explosion of video advertising that exploded onto the pages in 1980/81 fascinating.

I've also found a home to post one of my slightly longer-term, pointlessly, time wasting projects: 

A Thousand to One in Film Stills

I'm slightly stuck on 12 but once I've got that one sorted I have a whole pile ready to go...

I have also updated my Every Film I Have Watched list for the first time in several months.  Ye Gods! I watch some awful drivel.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Here's a story I wrote a wee while ago that has just been published in the latest edition of Mythaxis webzine.


Don't worry, it's very short.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

For a while now, after I fiddled with something it turns out I shouldn't have fiddled with, my scanner thinks it's Italian.  (Or my computer thinks I'm Italian, I'm not sure.) Either way I do know that when I scan anything I have no idea what half of the options I have available to me actually are any more.  The help files are in Italian too so I can't work out how to set  it back to English. 

Here's what I see when I scan anything: (click to bigger up the image)

Some of the options I can figure out.  'Scansione' is pretty obvious (in context) and 'Zoom' is pretty self-evident but what the hell is 'Ritaglio multiplo'?  I have no idea and I'm too scared to fiddle with anything else in case I really bugger things up and the computer decides I'm Finnish or Arabic and I really loose contact with it.

I'll tell you what 'Ritaglio multiplo' sounds like to me.  It sounds like a really nice interesting pasta dish - some sort of complex ravioli thing with a rich sauce.  Most Italian words sound like foods to me: 'Selezione Larghezza'  is obviously a really posh pizza, 'Impostazioni' sounds like a plate with a selection of cheeses and sliced salamis, and 'Dimensioni foglio' are really fat, tagliatelli-like noodles in a creamy, butter-heavy, spiced sauce. (The fact that the pull down box next to it offers 'Platina completa' as the first option suggests to me that smaller portions are available if I wanted them.)

Scanning makes me hungry.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Monday, March 31, 2014

One For Me Ninteen For You

I think I came across a bit of government frugality the other day.

Every year the Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs people send me a nice letter telling me how much, as a self employed person, my monthly National Insurance contributions will be for the coming year.  This is the back of the envelope containing this year's letter for the 2014/15 tax year:

"HMRC changed banks in April 2009.
  The old accounts will be closing in 2010"

Does this mean this envelope is over four years old and the HMRC are diligently not wasting taxpayers money by using up out of date stationary?   I like to think so. Mind you...  they must send this letter out every year to every self employed person in the country.  There are millions of us. It does make you wonder just how many decimal places were slipped when they first placed the order.

Bloke behind the counter at Prontoprint: "You sure about this?  That's a LOT of envelopes..."

There must be warehouses full of the things. And how much has it cost to keep them all dry for all these years? 

Monday, March 17, 2014

I love films.  Old films, new films, good films crappy films - I also really like film magazines.  Recently I bought a huge pile of 1970s and 80s Photoplay Film Monthlies from eBay for peanuts (well, okay not quite peanuts - pistachios).

It's getting dangerously near nostalgia reading them,  though most of the articles in them (like most articles in most mainstream film magazines ever published) look very much like publicity people's handouts and press releases reworked to fit the space on the page and are pretty bland.  The letters columns, filtered through 35 years of 20/20 rose-tinted hindsight, are a hoot:

Here's one from January 1976
    What's The Attraction of Jaws?

    I cannot for the life of me understand why the public are going in droves to see Jaws in America. What is the attraction of sitting for two hours watching a shark attack people?  A reflection perhaps of the sort of society we live in today, though I must confess out of curiosity I went to see it to see what all the fuss is about. But then this is why everyone probably wants to see it.

    I recently went to see Gone With the Wind for the 21st time and it remains a beautiful, moving film in the very best traditions of film-making.

    Here is a great film that will always be remembered

    Will Jaws live as long as Gone With the Wind - so far 35 years? I doubt it very much. because Jaws will be swallowed up by the obvious number of imitations that are sure to follow.

    I don't remember there being a flood of civil war love stories following in the footsteps of Gone With the Wind.

    T. H. Gaymor, Kingston Road, Staines, Middlesex
I really wonder who the magazine was aimed at. It's all very British and a weird mixture stories about new, big-budget films (Logan's Run, The Man Who Would be King, Rollerball etc.), good old family values (with wholesome good old Hollywood stars like Bogart, Gable and Garland featuring in the '1976 Souvenir Calendar'), and slacious photo-features on wannabee starlets heaving their naked tits at the camera (not that I am complaining).  I'd forgotten just how weird the 70s were.

Another letter on the letter page starts:
    As President of the Alice Faye Appreciation Society, may I request...
Now that's a polite stalker!

Saturday, January 04, 2014


One of the things people come to Scotland to do is explore the coastline by boat.  There's hundreds of miles of it: all rugged and splendid, loads of islands, deserted beaches, isolated communities way out in the middle of nowhere, castles on the shoreline.... 

One thing about living in Scotland has taught me is that tourists are weird.  A lot of them have odd ideas about the history of the place, can't drive for toffee when they get here, and then do just about everything they can to get themselves hospitalised as soon as they get out of their cars.   I suspect this is due to the quality of the tourist we are attracting.  Take a look at this.  It's the cover of Sailscotland's brochure for this year.

 Sail Scotland:

"When you dream of sailing,
Scotland should be part of that dream...."

Sailing.  You know the thing you do in a boat.  With sails.  On the water.  Not on a beach holding a two part wooden cut-out of a boat jammed into the rocks - and oars... and why are they all wearing life-jackets on dry land?

We're getting the tourists we deserve.


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Copyright (c) 2004-2007 by me, Liam Baldwin. That's real copyright, not any 'creative commons' internet hippy type thing.

(this copyright notice stolen from http://jonnybillericay.blogspot.com/)

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