Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Bring out your... bread?

The polyps did try to stage a rearguard action from the lower right quadrant beneath the kneecap, but so far haven't succeeded. Czech hydrogen peroxide is clearly good stuff.

So I'm not incapacitated, just in Italy. And these aren't necessarily the same thing. For one thing, the coffee's better, even on the trains. The little I can see of the place from the window of our glamorous 70s portakabin is quite attractive, albeit rainy.

Brief little Wednesday something-like-a-thirteen for the purposes of comparison with Cancun.
1. Blogger speaks Italian.
2. Pasta is a starter.
3. Mmmmm... coffee.
4. Less weirdness, generally.
5. Peas? Why peas?
6. Hooray for new no-smoking legislation. At last I can wear dry-clean-only trousers to restaurants.
7. One of these restaurants may have been run by a man who gave me an autographed volume of his own poetry.
8. The power of the blonde is magnified here.
9. This is a bit weird.
10. Gotta go get trained.
11. No toga.
12. No toga.
13. No toga.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Knee of the non-Vampyre

Gross coral scrape update: inflamation down about 35%, madly itchy in unlined wool trousers and surface area about 1 1/2 inches across. The world needs to know these things.

In other news, I've fallen off the wagon. Last weekend, while in the throes of the sort of giddy ecstasy that can only accompany an all-to-rare visit to my favorite bookshop, I bought another vampire book. Well actually, a few of them. I am weak. I am also an idiot. Why do I do this to myself?

Normal people would think, "No. That's it. I have vowed no more angsty wounded creatures of the night and their terminally drippy soulmates. Enough fang jokes. Enough use of the word "feeding" in any context except those which involve fresh hay and domesticated animals. Or maybe situations supervised by animal nutritionists in zoos at a pinch. But no more of this cod-gothic twaddle that makes me feel vaguely bilious. All that black leather will probably give me sweat rash. Sunshine is good. Daylight is your friend. Now settle down and glom a few nice historicals set in ancient Rome."

And I tried, I really did. But on Saturday afternoon, my pathetic excuse for a subconscious signed a pact of mutual alliance with the billions of polyps in my kneecap, took advantage of my weakened, jet-lagged state and decided to work its wicked wiles on my pocketbook. Legless and brainless, that's the goal.

"Ooohh, shiny orange cover in reasonable taste. And hey, it's okay if there are werewolves too, like in this one. Besides, lookee, this is the one that looks as if it may turn things on their head. It had good reviews. I think SmartBitches liked it. Oh, and in this one, it's not as if she's a vampire hunter. I mean, she hunts bad creatures of the night with fangs that drink blood. But they're not vampires. So that's okay. And hey, this is a book by she-who-usually-writes-about-vampires, but it looks as if this one doesn't have any of them in it at all. Must. Add. To. Pile."

Then I had to lug them back here. Only to discover that the one that isn't remotely about vampires and the one that isn't-about-creatures-called-vampires-this-time-but-they're-probably-lurking-somewhere-close-by both contain stupid mistakes about something I'm familiar with.

Polishes halo. Shows restraint.

Oh soddit. It's stupid scuba stuff.

Bites through restraints with vampire-sharp teeth

Normally if I'm enjoying a book, I tend to gloss over minor niggles. After all I'm no expert anything. There could be exceptions or variations. I might have remembered wrongly. But in the here and now of the splish-splash subaqua fun that is scuba diving, I've just finished a refresher course and buddied a novice, so all the safety stuff and basics are swirling around in my head. When clashed with a fly-by-night mistake or three, they turn me into one of those angry know-all nit-picking pedants who writes letters to newspapers in posh ink that start, "Dear Sir. Imagine my mortification and appalled intellect upon reading in line twenty-seven, page one hundred and seventy-six of the newly-published novel, "BlahBlahBlah"…" Aarrrgghh. Aarrggh. Aaarrgggh.

So I need to get a couple of things off my chest somewhere reasonably safe, where hopefully no one will ever know of my shame, or consider me a total nut job since they've given up reading this post around paragraph two due to the incomparable grossness of my knee scab.

First of all, aarrrggghhhandsignalsaaaarrggghh pleeaaase not thumbs-up for "ok" pleeeaasse. Just get one of those cards, or look it up. Pleeeaaasseee. Secondly it's air, dammit, AIR in the tanks. NEVER OXYGEN (okay, maybe for some shallow decompression stops but they were going DOWN heheh).

You thought that was bad? Incoming pedant alert

Oxygen gets toxic at depth. Even the 21% in normal air is bad for you if you go deep enough (instead people use kinds of funky stuff like trimix that I've never tried, because it's also cold down there, and I'm a wimpy-arse diver with nerves of jelly who likes being warm and looking at pretty fish). Oxygen toxicity makes you nauseous. It makes you twitch. It makes you spit out your regulator. Its effects can very easily kill you. It's a very very bad thing.

But in this book, h/h filled up their tanks with *shudder* oxygen, leapt blithely into the water (without checking their spare regulators, sigh) and immediately plunged to their horrible convulsive watery deaths. Maybe. That's when I stopped reading.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

It's like the ceti eel. But worse.

There's what you might either consider a really gross or really cool looking scrape on my knee where I bumped it against some coral last week. The offending coral was the type that resembles a brain, (and after a spot of quick googling, I have just discovered I'm not the only one to have this genius idea, because - surprise, surprise - it's actually called brain coral. Who'd a thunk it?). Consequently last week my right kneecap sported a raised red pattern that looked a bit like a clutch of alien worms doing a bit of synchronised twisting around on their way to resemble some kind of mystic celtic knot pattern.

I accepted this as my punishment for being stupidly careless, and watched it slowly fade away over the following few days (although I did take a picture, just to check that it wasn't progressing up my leg in a really creepy parasitic way). But yesterday morning, it spookily reappeared, bigger and redder than ever.

I panicked, convinced that billions of tiny coral polyps had been aggravated by my wool trousers and staged a revolt. Having marshalled their forces, I could see this but leading swiftly to virulant septicimea and the doomed march of my leg to the guillotine to liberate my patella from the rest of my body, while the little bastards knitted away, chuckling with glee. Of course, it was possible that they would have instead promoted agrarian land reform and the collectivisation of industry, but I was convinced these polyps had nefarious intent.

So off I limped last night (and scratched when it could be managed with discretion) to the nearest chemist's (pharmacy) for a bottle of industrial-strength disinfectant, armed only with a couple of scribbled phrases from one of my colleagues. Except that I got there too late. The chemist's/pharmacy/lekarna was closed. The polyps snickered. The cold wind sucked away my extremely unpoetic wails. The sleet fell in a particularly miserable way.

And then… then... a ray of hope shone through the circular series of holes in the front door. A ray of light too, which from a practical point of view was even better. A flap opened, and a woman in a white coat appeared. Before she could tell me to go away, I rattled out my new Czech phrase: "Yeeuurgh haff some dizinfektant fur skeen?"


"Furr skeeen. Skiin. Skan." I rubbed the skin of arm, and contemplated pulling up my trouser leg to show her the disgusting wormy scar on knee.

"Oh. Like Hydrogen Peroxide?" (actually, it sounded more like "Peroxided Watery" to me, but I got the drift)

"Yes. Yes." Frantic bobbing of head.

The slide shut and I strained frantically to hear any noise from the inside. Preferably fizzing.

Two minutes later, the slide opened, and the woman's head appeared, along with a hand brandishing a small brown bottle.

More nodding and frantic "Yes. Yes's", as I did my best to impersonate an adorable stray puppy begging for shelter and scraps.

The woman was unimpressed by my pathetic attempt to tug at her heartstrings. "Twenty-four fifty. There is no change."

"Oh. Okay. Wahn minutee."

I rummaged through purse and pockets frantically, scattering metro tickets, pens and old bits of paper into the puddle at my feet. Arrrghh... Arrgghhh… Panicked… Made sobbing noises…

But reader, I gave her the exact change.

Monday, March 19, 2007

On a clear day

I'm jet-lagged, sleep-deprived and mourning the loss of my flip-flop led freedom from the constraints of shoes and woolly clothes. It's also cold and sleeting back in Praha. Sniff.

Have some pictures.
Jump where?

Oh. Here:

Add a bit of colour.

I can't take credit for this bit of underwater photography - my efforts always come out as funny blurred blobs. Anyhow, I was so busy looking at the reef to try to figure out what everyone else was frantically pointing at, that I nearly sat down on this guy, and had my own Steve Irwin moment. The dog in a mansuit in a wetsuit thought it was hilarious.


Monday, March 12, 2007


The very early Monday Thirteen from Cancun.

1. It is VERY WEIRD here.
2. I'm beginning to gain an appreciation of the subtle imagery of some of the RnB that doesn't make it onto Radio2.
3. Dooff. Dooff. Dooff. Dooff. Dooff.
4. How many words can possibly rhyme with arse? Sorry. Ass.
5. Grass. Mass. Blast. Fast. Chast?
6. See 1.
7. Diving is muy bien.
8. There are very tiny ants crawling all over my laptop. Yep.
9. Blogger speaks Spanish now.
10. Fishizzle. I think.
11. Toga.
12. Toga.
13. Toga.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


The curse of the drinking classes has unexpectedly pulled a few extremely rare rabbits out of my sweat-stained and rather grimy cap this month. Like buses, the ineffable rabbits of "off-site" trips all seem to come at once. The last of these is a week in Italy at the end of March, with the opportunity to extend through the weekends either side. So hooray for a total of 5 days to visit the electronically elusive but gorgeous I. and shop for big bags of coffee and beautifully-preserved foodstuffs in glass jars.

In a slightly more peculiar but very cool vein, I'm also hot-foot off to Mexico at the end of this week. Cancun, to be precise, which is the surreal bit. Apparently there's this bizarre cultural phenomenon known as "Spring Break" going on right now which turns the whole place into a madhouse heaving with scantily-clad American college kids.

My (middle-aged, male) colleagues find this notion somewhat exhilerating. I am a tad unenthusiastic about seeing these gentleman embrace the phenomenon wholeheartedly and halfclothedly. I'm also beginning to wonder if I should be packing a toga for both trips, or just hide my shame under the world's biggest sombrero.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Extra! Exteerraa! A-Peel! Extra!

Holy publisherific, Batman! Exciting new from the world of ground-breaking, "reach-out-and-touch-a-consumer" technomarketing wizardry! They brought you DIY cover art. Now, Penguin bring you the DIY novel!


Well, perhaps less of the "now", more of the "mid-January" and a bit of a flirtation with the past tense would have made the introductory sentence more accurate. In fact, the whole project it due to close in less than a week. But the DIY comment stands. Some bright sparks at said publisher's have clubbed together with some other clever folks from De Montfort Uni and through the modern miracle of software-enabled collective authorship, have come up with a wikinovel project.

To slightly deflate the party balloons, it's not exactly the first wikinovel in the world. But it's probably the first one run by a major publisher of Serious Literary Work. Oeuvres even. Ones with classy covers featuring Art and nary a bemulleted Viking or exploding spaceship in sight.

Their site terms the whole project an "experiment" to see if such a collective adventure can really come up with the goods. It also raises a few interesting questions about the notion of collaboration in art and authorial ego and so on, which are always fun things to think about.

In a bit of a hat-tip to that well-known theory about an infinite number of animals inclined to put evil monkey paw to keyboard and churn out works of literary greatness creative genius is the more appropriate term, they've called it "A Million Penguins." *snort.* stupid flightless waterfowl. we are legion. and unopposable thumbs or not, we can type faster and better than any flipper-bound bird. so stuff that in your beak and regurgitate it.

So far, the penguins in question have been working mighty hard to duck what is it with you and the waterfowl today? the whole boring coherent narrative angle. Which makes reading a bit of a challenge. When approaching it very early in the morning without benefit of caffeine, my tiny brain heheh... many a truth spoken in jest... tends to quail Quail? QUAIL? this stops right now, you bird-brained freak. or do you actually want to be painting that big-winged toff's horn until he gets round to blowing it? in the face of what seems to be an impossible creation by the most bloody-minded of committees - the ultimate camel novel. Camels? Now camels are jumping on the writing bandwagon? Or is this some kind of weird sub-genre from one of the more "specialist" epublishers? Isn't it enough that Posh Spice has a blog? Oh. You're doing that dodgy metaphor-as-cliché thing again. That one has always been pretty dire, you know.

On good days, it feels like reading a Choose You Own Adventure novel straight through, with no brakes and a blatant disregard for the instructions to "Turn to page 67 if you disguise yourself as a shrub and follow the Wild-Eyed Chanting Monks into the Cave of Sacrifice." Just like then, you can even scribble alternate endings on the back flap if you like, as well as crossing out and replacing all the page numbers. Ahh... the heady joys of summer holidays and unlimited time at the library. The big difference in this pool of creative anarchy is that some other jolly comrade-in-flippers will probably come along and delete all your work two hours later. But at least you can then do the same to them.

Actually, there's one alternative version of the novel where someone has attempted to impose a conceptual unity by introducing a banana theme heheh. But so far I think the discussion pages have been the most interesting aspect of the project: the despair and the randomness, the frustrations and the delights, the plotting and the conspiring - it's all in there. you mean they're not just happy writing? they have to talk about it too?

The novel does seem to be settling into some kind of shape as the end of the project draws ever closer. no staying power. told you so... but at least those daft hordes of shuffling leopard-seal bait will soon get back to huddling in the snow looking cute but dumb while posing for artistically frostbitten french cameramen... Well, more of a roughly-woven mobius comic strip really, but it's been an interesting read so far, and I'm pretty glad that it seems to show we're still a long way from becoming the borg.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Away an bile yer heid

Oh, thank heavens... no way was I going to be able to edit down my week's mixed back of rants into anything digestible or even coherent. Luckily, the Wandering Scotsman sent me this, and it's made me feel all teary-eyed and nostalgic. Sniff.

Anyhow, this is dedicated to Mrs.B and D'Eath who between them and their ancestral roots taught me how to strip the willow, eat "proper" chips, read Irvine Welsh and most importantly, the correct way to incapacitate innocent bystanders with a cannily-flung shoe while reeling. And here's to Maili (hope all's well with you).

In a typically pathetic effort to shoehorn this into the blog while maintaining a purely fraudulent sense of an overall thematic arc here's a bit of blurb. (You may want to skip this and just go to the bit at the bottom.)

Some might note that the list below doesn't exactly evoke the same image of Scotland as say, Christophe(r) Lambert (a Frenchman - snerk) in a skirt, Mel Gibson (an Australian) in blue paint, Liam Neeson (an Irishman) in a swarm of midges, or Sean Connery in anything, but especially a pair of "Mr. Universe" bathing trunks. To say nothing of those millions o' Hieland lairds frolickin' bare-chested amang t'rannoch an t'yowes.

Brief rant: I wish popular Scottish history of this type delved a bit more into the very strong historical Scottish-French connections and political machinations within the Scottish royalty in general. Not only is it damned interesting, but I think it gives a greater sense of genuine history than the trope of a rabid pack of weedy and effeminate Sassenaches laying waste to mystic and ancient tribes of barely-dressed tamed calendar models.

Actually, I think this sort of silliness denigrates vast tracts of Scottish history and gives the English way too much credit. I mean, take the Scottish Enlightenment - it played a critical part in the development of modern western thought: all that lovely stuff on political economy, history, humanism, philosophy, scientific method and dancing frogs. Ideas that changed the world, she shouts, waving an invisible hand or two. And then a few hundred years later there's the whole take on Burns as a Soviet literary icon. Aarrrghhh. Must. Stop. Ranting. No. Time.

Anyhow, one of these days, I swear I'm going to write an essay on approaches to Scotland in popular culture. With a splash of amnesiac Orientalism and a post-modern secret baby.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that just like the above examples, the list below represents facets of "a" Scotland(s) rather than "the" Scotland. Neither is more "right" than the other (regardless of accuracy), but trying to believe in the absolute truth of one vision feels to me like being in a mental straitjacket. Besides, since everyone has their own vision of a place, one way to wander through that person's head (dammit, I just knew that Zadie Smith thing was going to make its presence felt) is to try to see a place as they do.

In the case of Scotland, after versions like the ones given above, or even below, it's lovely to have a dose of Alexander MacCall Smith. Or go down the gritty 'tec route via Ian Rankin to end up in darker places of the Iain Banks type. Or maybe others (open to carefully-worded suggestions at this point).

But I think this nonsense about spending evenings spent studying is showing neon-yellow at the seams. I'll try and do some rhythmic breathing at the weekend to see if I calm down a bit. Or maybe I'll dig oot the poem I posted on SB's once, for the sake of posterity. Onwards.

You know you are a true Scot if...........
1. Ye can properly pronounce McConnochie, Ecclefechan, Milngavie,Sauchiehall St, St Enoch, Auchtermuchty and Aufurfuksake.
2. Ye actually like deep fried battered pizza fae the chippie.
3. Yer used tae four seasons in wan day.
4. Ye canna pass a chip/kebab shop withoot sleverin when yer blootert.
5. Ye kin fall about pished withoot spilling yer drink.
6. Ye see people wearin shell suits with burberry accessories pure class!
7. Ye measure distance in minutes.
8. Ye kin understaun Rab C Nesbitt and know characters just like him, inyer ain family.
9. Ye go tae North Berwick cos ye think it is like gaun tae the ocean.
10. Ye kin make hael sentences jist wae sweer wurds.
11. Ye know whit haggis is made ae and stull like eating it.
12. Somedy ye know his used a fitba schedule tae plan thur wedding daydate.
13. You've been at a wedding and fitba scores are announced in theChurch/Chapel.
14. Ye urny surprised tae find curries, pizzas, kebabs, fish n chips,irn-bru, fags and nappies all in the wan shop.
15. Yer holiday home at the seaside has calor gas under it.
16. Ye know irn-bru is a hangover cure.
17. Ye learnt tae sweer afore ye learnt tae dae sums.
18. Ye actually understand this and yurr gonnae send it tae yer pals .
19. Finally, ye are 100% Scot if ye ha' e'er said/heard these words;
How's it hingin
Get it up ye
Wee beasties
Erse bandit
Away an bile yer heid
Humphey backit
Baw bag
Dubble nugget