Sunday, December 29, 2013

Daisy and I went to Inverness yesterday. Towards the end of the day, a little peckish and needing a snackerel  before we set off home we dived into a Costa coffee shop.  It's busy and, as per usual, the Costa staff are plodding away making the usual hard work of it.  90% of the time I go into Costa I end up bitching about the service.  Starbucks?  Great service but I don't like the coffee.  Costa's coffee is far better.  I put up with it.  After watching the pantomime of clumsy service behind the counter for some time we finally we get to the head of the queue.  We place our order.
"Is that to sit in?" asks the guy behind the counter as he starts to ring it up.
"No." I said.
"To take out then?" he says pushing buttons.
I look at him.  "Do you have a third option?"
He stops pushing buttons and stares blankly back at me.
"You could lie in the doorway," says Daisy. "With your legs in the shop...."

I love that girl.
The guy behind the counter didn't get it.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Can't Get My Mobo Working!

Our computer has died.  The opinion of nicely husky-voiced Indian sounding helpline-woman from DELL (who made me fiddle around inside the tower's casing and listen for any beeps it might, or might not, make) is that the motherboard has snuffed it.  Once we've got that fixed we'll see if the hard drive is still going.  Guess who hasn't backed anything up for the past two years...

Go on, guess...

A man turned up yesterday with a new motherboard.  It didn't fix the problem.  His opinion was that the motherboard he had bought all the way from Inverness was buggered too.  "They do that," he said.  "It's been sat on a shelf for five years."

Five years is a long time in computering.

(It's a long time to sit on a shelf too.  Not sure I'd like to try it.)

After we had hoovered all the pterodactyl shit out of the computer's fans, and made a phone call to his boss, it was decided that taking the tower up to the shelf of ageing mobos, then trying them one by one till they got one that works, was going to be more time-efficient than dragging the aged mobos, one by one, half way across the country to the computer.  Smart people computer engineers.

 UPS are collecting the machine sometime on Monday - or so the rather gorgeously sounding husky-voiced, South African accented DELL arranging-picking-up-things desk woman assures me.  (This is a hell of a good move on DELL's part; staffing their phones with efficient seductively-voiced women with a variety of interesting accents.  It's guaranteed to flatter the ego of any British male implying that there is an international team of hot totty working around the globe trying to solve his problems.  Brings out the James Bond in a man it does.  Unfortunately Dave, the bloke who turned up to do the actual fixing, didn't look a bit like Pussy Galore but we can't have everything.)

Meanwhile I'm typing this on the other even older desktop  machine (serial ports and PS2 mouse, people!) which, even  running the supposedly lightweight Linux XUbuntu, falls over if you look at it wrongly.  It just stops. Ask it to do too much too fast and.... pewwwwwwww.... reboot time!  I've rediscovered the SAVE button.

I suspect it is a result of my trying to get my daughters out of the annoying and horrible habit of using the word 'like' as punctuation* but I have become more aware of similes recently.  They seem to be jumping out at me from the page a little more often than usual.

Especially bad ones. 

Here's one that tripped me up today from The Weight of a Feather, a less than good (self published?) collection of short 'stories' by a South African author called Judy Croome.

...his head bobbing up and down like a yo-yo stretched too far on the arc of its elastic.
What!? Has this woman ever played with a yo-yo? Does she think a yo-yo is just a heavy round lump on the end of a rubber band? And why a bent one?  Who strings yo-yos with elastic? Maybe they do in South Africa.  I should have asked the Woman From DELL on the phone.

*I know it's as pointless as King Canute sticking his finger in the windmills but you have to try, don't you?

Friday, August 30, 2013

Chapter the Umpteenth

In which I Relate Possibly the Most 
Pointlessly Nerdy/Geeky Thing I Will Ever Do...

Last night, thanks to the wonderful generosity of Merriol's friend and fine children's author Barry Hutchison (go buy his books), I got to go see a hero of mine in the flesh... and talk to him.... an' everyfink!

The hero is Neil Gaiman (not, unfortunately, a friend of Merriol's*) a fine author (go buy his books too).

Barry had a couple of tickets to the last stop of Mr Gaiman's marathon book (The Ocean at the End of the Lane) promotion tour which took place in Inverness.  Barry couldn't go so Holly and I did.  On the way out of the house we picked up a few of Neil Gaiman's books with the hope that we could ask him to sign a couple: my ancient edition of the annotated script of his Babylon 5 script Day of the Dead, Merriol's copy of Stardust and Daisy's copy of Coraline.  (I planned of getting to Waterstone's in Inverness in time to buy a copy of the new book too.)

We got there very early - but long after Waterstone's had shut; damn! - and took our places.  We had insanely good seats in the second row; B6 and B7. I sat in B6. After a while both Holly and I started reading the books we had bought with us.  She read Coraline. I read the Babylon 5 script A couple of pages into it  I realised that whoever had paid for the seat next to me hadn't turned up yet.  So I bumped myself across a seat  and read the rest of the B5 script - sitting on seat B5.

It made me happy.

Daisy now has a signed copy of Coraline.

* yet.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Another Brief Snippet From the Screenplay of My Life



Okay, Eben, It's time to turn off the
television.  Will you turn it off please?


What?  ALL of it!?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

One of the nice things about having kids is the way they can constantly surprise you in new and interesting ways.  Last night for instance, climbing into bed, I was delighted/bemused to find that a lot of  Daleks were having a tea dance on my bedside table.

They were gone in the morning.  I do hope they had a nice time.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Sorting through the pictures on my phone today, between the endless number of blurry accidental shots of table tops, floors, and huge pink blobs that may well be one or more of my fingers: and the endless number of blurry photographs of my kids moments after they stopped doing that cute or interesting thing, I came across these.  A few pictures where I actually managed to record - albeit badly - the thing I wanted to record:
Blue Balls!

 I wonder why they haven't caught on... - and they're chewy too!  Yum Yum.

 Source of the Nail
I cannot conceive of any situation where I would only need five 100mm round wire nails.  (That's 4" in old money.)  In the real world nails come in big bags or buckets.  You buy them by weight; by the kilo, and you just keep using them till the job is done.  Hammer! Hammer! Hammer! "Is that going to fall down? No? Well, let's just whack in a few more just to be on the safe side..."  Hammer! Hammer! Hammer! No-one I have ever met (in or out of the building trade) who knows which end of the hammer you blow down has planned a job so meticulously that they know they'll only need five nails.

The only possible situation that comes to mind where exactly five 100mm round wire nails might be of  use is the unlikely situation that you are given (or find) a whole boxful of five different kinds of packets of shrink wrapped nails and you want somewhere to hang them on a wall.
Here's yet another attempt to sell empty cardboard boxes to numpties with no imagination:

And a couple of classic charity shop apostrophe abuse's

This one from The PDSA in Fort William:

And this from Mary's Meals in Oban:

Mind you, this is the same shop that has a shelfful (is that a real word?) of knick-nacks labled:

Sunday, July 07, 2013


I discovered how to do something today.  I love the feeling of deja-vu.  Some people hate it.  Merriol hates it.  Personally I think it's wonderful; a weird little trippy transcendental moment with no hangover, no illicit drugs, or guilt, no police pounding on the door, no waking up in the morning and hoping the snoring lump next to you isn't the person you think it is, or any of the other weird and wonderful post-trippy transcendental moment payback horrors.

Okay, a briefly fleeting moment of deja-vu isn't exactly the same as an all-night drug-fuelled orgy...  though how would I know? -  I have come to suspect lately that my brain has coloured in my post/student days with a nice bright set of felt pens and made them a lot more interesting than they really were.  When I actually try to nail down any actual sordid details about all-night drug-fuelled orgies, it gets very elusive.  It ums and ers and starts to bring up other subjects.  It's very good on library books, pubs, and the locations of second-hand book and record shops but very sketchy when it comes to naughty substances, names, dates, and faces.*  Ah well.  (Damn!)

So, anyway, deja-vu.  Nearest thing I get these middle-aged, drink, drugs, and fag free days to a mystical experience. Love it.  Today I had a self-induced moment of deja-vu.  Merriol the kids and I piled into the car to drive across country to look at its possible replacement.  The Berlingo is getting a wee bit cramped with the five of us in it.  None of us are getting any smaller (I know I'm not) and Merriol has decided we need a bigger car.  She had set her mind on a seven seater Ssangyong Rodius, a car variously described as "the ugliest car ever made"; a car "that looks like it got bottled in a pub brawl and stitched back together by a blind man", and "so cack-handed in every aesthetic department it makes the average people-mover owner feel like they are getting about in an ultra-stylish Italian sports machine", a "collapsing bus shelter on wheels".**

Not surprisingly second-hand ones are cheap.

Personally I don't care what a car looks like so long as it does all the things a car is supposed to do but it was obvious after only 20 seconds behind the wheel of this piece of heavy, lumbering Korean junk there was no way I was going to have it in my driveway.  It was like driving a Chieftain tank full of tatty plastic.  I hated it.

What I did love though was the moment of deja-vu I had on the way to the showroom.  Last night I walked through some of the junctions on the route to Perth in Google Maps' Streetview.   Just to make a note of some landmarks and see which lane I should be in before I get to any complicated roundabouts.  Today, passing the places where I had dropped my little avatar onto the map, I felt weird little moments of been-here-beforeness.  I had, I realised, discovered a way of generating deja-vu in myself.  Whether this will ever work again I don't know.  Next time I  looking on Streetview  I will now be aware as of the possibility of this happening - some kind of pre-observer effect which probably means it won't.  (Unless I get to a place that I have been to on Streetview and have the sudden feeling that I'm not having deja-vu in this strange place just as I knew I wouldn't have.  That would be odd.  Anti-deja-vu.  But now that I know that...

[Twenty pages of spiralling, recursive paranoia cut here.]

We didn't buy it.

 * It's very good on nipples though.

 ** Thank you, Mr Wikipedia.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Nostalgia Part 2:

Posted the other day about how much I hate nostalgia or at least I think I did.  I can't seem to find the post.


In bed with the lurgi yesterday I spent a lot of time propped up on pillows doing my best to look wan and interesting - and as ill as I felt. I always feel such a fraud when I'm not well.  After a while I got bored with looking as pathetic as I could so I started reading Roger Fulton's massive Encyclopedia of TV Science Fiction, and marvelling at the vast number of long forgotten television sf shows that had been made over the years.  Some I was familiar with: Baylon 5, Star Trek, Quatermasses, Doctor Who, some I had heard of but never seen: Quark Space Rangers, some I had never heard of but wished I had seen like Star Maidens (Anlgo-German SF comedy), and some I had heard of seen but wish I hadn't: Lexx, The Starlost, Jason of Star Command, Jupiter Moon etc. and then... and then... and then I came to Phoenix Five, a cheapo sixties Australian Star Trek knock-off.  And I was suddenly awash with nostalgia. Pure grade A finest-kind pure uncut nostalgia. My god! Phoenix Five!  I hadn't thought about Phoenix Five in years....  suddenly I was seven again.  Non-specific warm cuddly deja vu washed all over me.  How the hell could I have forgotten Phoenix Five?

I pulled out my phone and went searching on Youtube:

Five minutes later I'm totally baffled.  I've never seen this before in my life.  I have no recollection of this at all. Total Blank. I had never seen an episode of Phoenix Five - I was suffering from Mistaken Nostalgia.

 I came to the conclusion that I didn't need to fake it.  I was iller than I thought.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Here We Go

Here's my entry for this month's What's the Stupidist Thing you Did This Month? competition:

I went to plug in my phone to recharge it and noticed, not for the first time, that the plug on the phone end of the USB cable was broken.  The little plastic casing had just come apart.  I thought I would fix it.  So, I got some superglue and glued it back together.  Then plugged it into my phone.

An hour later...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

I know it's a bit late but I just came across this:
The bereft inhabitants of Leeds (population of 750,700, the third largest city in the United Kingdom) turn out to share their collective grief during Thatcher's funeral.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

This is horrifying. Well I find it so. Prompted by Doug Savage of Savage Chickens fame saying nice noises about my cartoons in an email to Merriol - she knows all the best people - I went and had a look at the cartoony blog. I was stunned to see that it is TWO years since I did the last cartoon there. I could have sworn it was only matter of a couple months. So I drewed a new one:

Monday, April 08, 2013

I really like the designs on Tesco's own-brand, low-budget basics 'Everyday' range. They're interesting and to me combine just the right mixture of cheapness (subtext: we're not spending a lot of money on the packages) but without being cheap (subtext: the working-class oiks most likely to buy this stuff have no design aesthetic).


Maybe the people at Tesco's have noticed that us oiks do have taste - or, more likely, they've noticed that  the middle-classes are broke too and are as likely to be found shopping at Lidl's and Aldi's these days. For whatever reason, they've put some thought into the new look.  Much better than their old designs which did look cheap and tatty.  A real design vacuum.  Hardly inspiring.

And I'm not the only one who likes the newer ones: introducing the Post Office's Everyday Dangerous Goods leaflet:

Not quite sure why you can't send snow through the post but I'm sure Lord MacPostOffice, or Amazon, or  whoever owns it these days have their reasons.
I got away from everything the other day.  Went on one of my round-Scotland, crappy-book-buying days out. (to be honest it's less of a round Scotland than an across Scotland: back and forth, from here to Inverness and back via both sides of  Loch Ness.)  Next time I go I'll have to find a new route as my main  stop, The Shed at Kingusie, is closing.   I loved The Shed.  The books used to be stacked in piles along one side tottering, sometimes mouldering, piles of books in front of a wall of crammed shelves.  For the last  few years used to visit once or twice a year and move the whole lot  - once coming away with 70 trash treasures.  This last trip I brought away a few Penguins for the old long-term obsessive pre-ISBN Penguin collection (currently at some 639 books) and a couple of old Pans for the more recent, and as yet less well defined, obsessive old Pan collection (pre-decimal edition certainly but I'm swithering about including pre-decimal ones with ISBNs...* )

Today's bookhaul

The point of this waffling is that I was reminded, on my travels, of something that happened to me last time I went walkabout like this. I meant to blog it at the time but I never did.  It was one of those moments when I really realised why it is that I love Scotland so much.  I was in a charity shop wanting to buy a couple of very cheap books. (There's a surprise!) I'd never been in the shop before and, as it turned out, I only had a ten pound note on me.  The woman behind the counter opened her till and rummaged around for a couple of moments:

"Are ye sure don't have anything smaller?" she asked. "I'm awfy short of change here."

"No," I replied. "Sorry.  That's all I've got."

She looked at her cash drawer again as if willing a few fivers to appear.

There was an awkward pause.

"Look," I said. "Why don't I just go to the Post Office down the road and get some change?"

"Oh, that would make things easier," she said.

She reached into the drawer. "While you're there you wouldn't mind getting me some change too would you?"

And handed me, a total stranger, a ten pound note.

*Christ! I miss sex.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

I love books. Tatty old paperbacks especially.  Sometimes I buy them because I like the author, sometimes because they're  'I have always meant to get round to reading it' books, but, to be honest,  I mainly but them for the lurid covers.  I mean, who wouldn't be happy knowing that their bookshelves contain masterpieces of art like these:
Duel in Nightmare Worlds 

Most of my collection of mouldering pulps are Science Fiction (or what passed for it in the good old days, ferinstance: these days no publisher (in their right minds) would read  beyond page three of the  manuscript of The Master Weed  which details the thrilling adventures of a Captain Video-like space-ranger and his identical, remote-controllable simulacrum robot. In the book they thwart the evil plans of a mad scientist whose dastardly scheme to take over the planet Mars hinges upon everyone on the planet simultaneously smoking drugged cigarettes. So cunning is his plan that they all do just that! He would have got away with his cunning plot too, if it hadn't been for our meddling hero who turned up at the fateful smoke-in event as a robot and therefore immune to the doped ciggies. Even then he had to pretend to be drugged until he could rescue the token semi-naked space bimbo which he did by skewering the villain to a control panel with a casually discarded screwdriver and then electrocuting her head.

Only in the last few years have I come to appreciate the joys of crappy books' cover art from other genres.  Here are a couple of recent buys I really like:

  Call the Toff
 Appleby Talks Again  

 I have even started looking at the 'romance' racks at the local charity shops and discovered gems like:


I love the cover of this one but the book is brilliant: a laugh-out-loud, tosh, Gothic romance, reworking of Jane Eyre set in contemporary America - in which a plain English girl becomes heir to a vast American fortune. She flies over to find a transported Irish castle, atop a 'mile high' mountain, owned by the mysteriously Byronic Benjamin Hollister, a tortured musical genius with 'long tapering fingers' and a secret, hidden in the locked tower (not a former wife, but mad cousin Gwenyth who is a werewolf), he also has a mute servants (tongue cut out by mob) with a pet wolf, and a Hungarian scientist working on 'secret experiments' in the laboratory. There's an incredibly convenient 'quicksand pit' destined, from its first appearance on the page in chapter three, to be the setting of the dramatic climax, and lots of disgruntled locals ready to form a convenient torch-wielding mob for the ending and enough tedious 'who married whom, and why, and when they didn't marry someone else' backstory (all related in mind-numbing detail) to keep the average soap opera busy for years. At one point our heroine is convinced she is not only in love with a mysteriously Byronic werewolf but that he is also her half-brother to boot! Oh the hand wringing!

I especially loved those moment where the author started paragraphs with sentences like, 'But alas! It was not to be...'

Basically there are whole new vistas of bad books opening up to me. (Though why people ever read more than two Westerns is still mystery.)  Yesterday, looking through the nasty plastic-coated, metal book spinner on which I found Gwenyth many moons ago, I found:

Swithering ensued.  It was only a quid but.... The cover didn't grab me and scream "BUY!"  It was okay but it didn't have that certain, killer something that makes me know I have to own a particular book.  (The certain something that would leave people battered and bruised if they ever came between me and a copy of this:


I'd never heard of Ruby M Ayers before.  I turned the book over to read the blurb. (This is, I guess, the way most people buy books.)  The blurb told me nothing about the book, but a lot about the author.  Born 1883, died 1955... 'wrote more than 160 novels'... 160! - my interest is piqued.  I have a current project to try books by once popular, prolific authors I have never read:  John Creasey, Erle Stanley Gardner, Sax Rohmer, Leslie Charteris,  people like that.  People I'd heard of but had never actually got round to reading.  Could I be bothered to extend my vague project to include authors I hadn't heard of just because they were prolific - and presumably once popular?  Tempting but if I followed that line  I would pile up thousands of authors before I got anywhere.  (Following the original course I have just realised would mean I would have to read a Barbara Cartland novel before very long - horrors!)

 I was swithering all the way until I read the final paragraph:
Her attitude to writing was entirely professional.  When questioned about her methods, she said "First I fix the price.  Then I fix the title.  Then I write the book."
Which I think is one of the most extraordinary things I have read on a blurb.  'Buy this book,' it was saying,  'This book was written by a solid professional cynical book writer.  None of your enthusiastic, amateur literature here just good old British workmanship!'

I had to buy it.

I may even read it some day.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Another Gag for the Stand-up Routine I Will Never Perform

Best Bela Lugosi voice:

"I am the hypnotist for the UK downhill bobsleigh team..."

(Makes mysterious hypnotic hand passes.)

"You are feeling slippy.... very slippy...."

I am NOT giving up my day job.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The book (what I wrote a bit of) is, apparently, the Number One best selling free book in the category:
#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Science Fiction > Short Stories
Woohoo!  I'm a bit of a best-selling (free) author!*   Go and not buy it now!

Two reviewers of the book on Goodreads mention my story: one found it 'a very enjoyable read', the other thought it was 'great'. This is insanely flattering.  I can feel my head swelling as I type. What I should be doing right now, instead of reading and re-reading the only five words of favourable review I'm ever going to get  is write MORE stuff.  I have a story half-cooked at the moment but unless I sit down and start typing over there and not here it'll never get finished.

The new story involves Renaissance toilet paper.  I don't think people are going to like it.

*Albeit in a small way.


Friday, January 25, 2013

As Seen on TV

You sometimes hear people say 'Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.' An aphorism which, as far as I can find out, was coined by the author Peter De Vries. (And no, I've not read any of his books either.)

 I'm not convinced. I think nostalgia IS what it used to be: there's just that there's so much more of it these days. Which is maybe the same thing. Either way, I know I am fed up with nostalgia. These days when 'retro' is cool, and pre-teen kids have a TV show in which twenty-somethings reminisce about what it was like to be twelve, you can't bloody escape it.

Remember when nostalgia was new? Something strange? Gods, I miss those days: weren't they great? 

When I was a kid the future was cool, not the past. Space exploration.  Rockets to the moon.  Going to school by autogyro.  Food in tablets.  Domed cities populated by smiling, happy, shiny people with futuristic art on every street corner.   What happened? 

Many many years ago (yes, Eben, when dinosaurs ruled the Earth), and there were only four TV channels in Britain, it was not uncommon for products in shops* to have the words 'As Seen on TV!' slapped on them as part of the packaging. As a kid (and if I'm being honest, as an adult too) this used to confuse me - what was the point in advertising the fact that your product had been advertised somewhere else? What was it about the fact that Product X had been seen on the telly made it more important, or more real, than Product Y which hadn't been advertised on the telly, had exactly the same ingredients, and was half the price? Couldn't work it out.  It just did not compute. 

Then, one day, I got it: Christmas LPs!**  Every year, back in the days before Now That's What I Call Music cornered the market, there used to be, just before Christmas, a flood of  '20 Greatest' Albums, Party Albums, Super Hits Albums etc. etc. all plugged to death on the telly by companies like Ronco and K-Tel.  Products aimed right at the wallets of people who didn't normally didn't buy records - but had relatives who did!
"Ohhhh... I dunno what to get our Doreen, she's into all this reggie punk pop stuff - She likes music.  I know!  I'll buy her a record.  I'll buy her that Ronco's Glen Campbell 20 Golden Greats that's advertised on the telly.  She'll like that."
So. Next time Gran, who never normally goes into records shops, is in Woolworths*** she sees Glen's smiling face peeking out at her from the wire spinner of twenty-seven 20 Greatest Hits LPs and wonders.... "Ooooohhh... so much choice!"  But then she spots a golden star in the top right hand corner of the disc's cover:  'As Seen on TV!'  Hurrah!  That's the one!  'As Seen on TV'.  It was there as a reassurance.  Yes, it was saying, you are buying the product you decided you wanted from the comfort of your armchair halfway through Coronation Street.
"Gee. Thanks, Gran...."
'As Seen on TV' could appear anywhere on the label though it was usually pretty prominent.  Sometimes a big exploding splash of a star sometimes a diagonal banner across one corner.

Fast forward thirty years (Make that 'forty', ed.) and 'As Seen on TV' has escaped the narrow confines of the K-Tel 20 Party Greats LPs and Ronco Chopomatics and has become an internationally recognised logo. 
...a standardized red seal in the shape of a CRT television screen with the words "AS SEEN ON TV" in white, an intentional allusion to the logo of the ubiquitous [US] TV Guide magazine

This logo is in the public domain.  Anyone can use it and anyone does:  a while back I found (and posted) this:

 As seen on TV - in some countries!  Wow!

Last week in my local garage I spotted this on a dog blanket box:

I miss K-tel albums.

*Gods! There's a concept we'll have to explain to our kids in a few years. Physical shops. Remember them? They're where you used to buy Spangles....

** 'LPs'? look it up, kids, I'm not going to explain everything. I'm an old man; I haven't got time for all this.

*** 'Woolworths'?  ---------- Ditto ----------

Missing CD? Contact vendor

Free CD
Please take care
in removing from cover.

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

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