Tuesday, 16 July 2019

you're still alive, she said...

Finding your voice

Sometimes a fear of making mistakes will sabotage your writing process. It may stop you from putting ideas on the page, or it can cause blocks while you’re in the middle of a project. To develop confidence, challenge yourself to write a short story in one sitting. You’re not allowed to go away from the project until you have a completed draft. It can be any length, but tell a complete story that will satisfy a reader. Don’t do too much editing while you write, just let your ideas flow and then structure them once you’ve got everything on the page.


There’s probably never been a better time to be undead.

Fibre-optic broadband, 24-hour cable TV, Netflix, every possible boxset you can imagine streaming directly to your phone or tablet or flatscreen, widescreen plasma television on demand to satisfy your every viewing whim…. There’s really no need to be bored as the rest of the world sleeps. Those days are long gone.

How can the witching hour exist when you can have Deliveroo delivering you an almost-warm burger from your favourite fast food outlet at the click of a button at any time of the day or night? And hey: I won’t judge if you don’t really fancy the look of that burger. Perhaps the courier that brings it to you will be more to your taste? The beauty of a zero-hours contract is that no one really knows enough about these guys to really miss them. My back garden is full of bikes. Every so often someone comes around with a van full of scrap metal and takes them off my hands. I like to imagine that they’re passed on to the next generation of couriers in a form of up-cycling. I like to think I do my bit for the environment, but perhaps I should include the uniforms too so that I can reduce my carbon footprint a bit more to make the whole thing even more sustainable. David Attenborough himself might approve. You have to take your hat off to the guy: he died years ago and that seems to have been absolutely no impediment to the progression of his career. In fact, I think he’s even more popular now than when he was alive, even if he does seem to have become a little self-righteous since his heart stopped beating. When you’re dead yourself, you start to recognise other people in the same position. There’s a lot more of them around than you might think.

Generally, I’m happy enough, I think. If you really twisted my arm, I’d probably say that the thing I miss the most is cricket. I was never really much of a player, but I did like to while away my days sitting in the sunshine with a nice, cold beer pretending to be absorbed in the finer details of the game as I daydreamed. An Australian summer looks absolutely gorgeous in high definition at 3am on a cold December morning, but the best television in the world and a comfy sofa isn’t quite a convincing substitute for sitting on a hard plastic seat surrounded by chanting drunks inside a cricket ground yourself. Sunblock technology has come a long way over the years, but even with the broadest of brimmed hats, factor 50 and long sleeves, I’ve never had the courage to spend more than a session or so out in broad daylight. Bursting into flames isn’t the sort of entry you want to see in the scorebook for delaying the resumption of play. Besides, I look pale enough at the best of times without adding a thick layer of suncream. I do not tan well. Never did before and definitely don’t now. Luckily, the goth look is never out of fashion. As long as Robert Smith is still a thing, I can wear all-black on the hottest of days and not raise a flicker of attention.

I suppose the biggest change in my life was when I started dating. It wasn’t something that I set out to do, but if you spend enough time on the internet, you get talking to all sorts of people and eventually, if they let you in, you get to know them really well. Over time, one thing leads to another and you find that someone on the other side of the world just, you know, really *gets* you. Not everyone is who they say they are, of course. But that’s just life, isn’t it? I’ve always been fairly direct and I’ve never lied about who or what I am. Not exactly, anyway. People claim to be all sorts of things on the internet, don’t they? Perhaps some of them really are what they say. Who are we to judge? Whatever works for you, right? I can’t really use the expression ‘live and let live’ with a straight face, but taken entirely metaphorically, it’s a great motto to live by.

I met Dorothea through blogging. Her blog mostly, not mine. I don’t really post all that much any more. Somewhere along the line, I just lost the urge. Dorothea’s blog is buzzing though, and it always has been. Where comments are now as rare as hen’s teeth on my page, below the line is where all the real action happens over there and that’s where you meet the most interesting people. Sure, some are just robots trying to direct you to some advertising site somewhere, but they’re always pretty easy to spot and to ignore. What you’re looking for are those threads where the chat really takes off and where your host is happy to give and take below the line. I can’t remember how I first found her page, but I think Dorothea really caught my attention when she posted a review of some stupid sci-fi tv show that I liked and we just got talking, initially in the comments but pretty soon swapping to messenger. One thing soon led to another, and before long we were virtually inseparable (virtually being the operative word at this point as we still hadn’t met and lived in countries on opposite sides of the world). It was nice. I know that might seem like a woefully inadequate way of describing the beginnings of a significant relationship, but that’s exactly what it was: nice. They say that love makes your heart beat faster, and in my case that obviously can’t be true, but I definitely felt a surge of warm feelings through my cold, dead heart. I liked it.

We discussed my animation status fairly early in the relationship. What would be the point of trying to keep something like that secret? She didn’t seem to mind, and actually it seemed to kick-start the relationship to the next level. Almost immediately, we were making plans to have her come over and visit, which she did a couple of months later. It’s always going to be a frightening moment meeting someone who means so much to you face-to-face for the first time. What if that spark just isn’t there? I was as nervous as I’ve ever been, but when that cab pulled up outside my door that night and I invited her in across the threshold and into the house, it just felt so right. We’ve been inseparable ever since.

It hasn’t always been easy. For starters, she’s alive and I’m dead, she eats food and I survive only by consuming the blood of living things to feed my immortal soul. But every successful relationship is built upon tolerance and compromise, isn’t it?

We’re happy together and happy that we found each other. That’s what really matters.


I don't know if I've discovered my voice or not.  When I put this story into the I Write Like page (recommended in the workbook to today's masterclass chapter), it told me that its analysis concluded that I wrote like Anne Rice ("Anne Rice (born Howard Allen Frances O'Brien; October 4, 1941) is a best-selling American author of metaphysical gothic fiction, Christian literature and erotica from New Orleans, Louisiana. Her books have sold nearly 100 million copies, making her one of the most widely read authors in modern history."

Hm. This guy is hardly Lestat, is he? Yesterday's story is like Daniel Defoe, apparently.

To be honest, I'm inclined to think that this analysis may be flawed.

Monday, 15 July 2019

call it magic...

Sources of Inspiration

Change point of view: Choose an alternate character to retell a familiar story.


Listen. Magical creature or not, everyone needs to make a living, don’t they? Spinning straw into gold isn’t as lucrative as you might think, not when you’re a homunculus like me who for some stupid, arbitrary magical reason can’t make use of the gold that I spin. I wasn’t born into money; I don’t live in a palace in a gleaming city. No, I live in a cottage on a high mountain on the edge of the forest where the fox and the hare say goodnight to each other. And a bloody racket they make of it too. There aren’t any good roads up here; there aren’t any supermarkets and you can’t find a decent latte up here no matter who you know. When I heard that crying, I didn’t have to leave my comfortable little home and travel down the crappy roads through the forest and all the way to the city, but I did. Alright, so maybe I didn’t entirely do it out of the goodness of my heart, but I went when it would have been easier to stay at home. I may move with unnatural speed, but I also like to sit in front of my fire with a good book. So I went. With all that happened, that still has to count for something, right?

Did I stop to wonder why this slip of a girl was locked in a room in the palace with a spindle and a bundle of straw? Well, to entirely truthful, not really. When you’re in my line of business, straw and spindle are really just the tools of the trade, so this was just another opportunity. The whats and the whys would have been pretty obvious to anyone, but there are certain protocols that ought to be followed in situations like these, and what are we if we don’t pay heed to these niceties? Savages? I politely asked this girl why she was weeping. The king wanted the straw spinning to gold. Of course he did. Who wouldn’t? If you heard that someone could do something magical like that and you were king, would you just shrug your shoulders on a juicy nugget of information like that and let it pass? No, of course you wouldn’t, not when this one simple thing could transform an era of austerity into an era of prosperity. You’d want a piece of that too, wouldn’t you? It’s hard to blame the guy really. Quite why the miller thought that an audience with royalty was just the moment to make that sort of ridiculous boast is another matter. What on earth was he thinking? What did he think was going to happen? Or maybe he knew all along and was just playing the long game; rolling the dice with his daughter’s life and counting upon the greed of the king. And counting on me too. Hm. Have I been manipulated all along?

Could I help this poor girl? Of course I could, but I wasn’t about to do it for nothing. That necklace felt like a fair exchange to me. She certainly wasn’t complaining when she agreed and then sat back and watched me spin that room full of straw into gold. The tears dried up pretty quickly too, as I recall.

Of course, all this wouldn’t be enough for the king, would it? So I wasn’t exactly surprised when I heard the crying again the next night. Back I went, back down the mountain, back through the forest and all the way to the palace in the city. She was in a different room this time. Bigger, of course, with more straw. We did our little dance, she offered me her ring as payment, and I spent the rest of the night doing what I do best until all that straw was spun into gold. The tears dried up pretty quickly on that evening too, and I don’t remember getting a thank you either. If that girl hadn’t known what to expect before, she was fully in on it now.

The next night? The same of course: down the mountain, through the forest and all the way up to the palace in the city. The biggest room yet, and the whole thing absolutely rammed to the ceiling with straw. There were going to be some pretty uncomfortable horses in the stables of this city come winter, that’s for sure. Naturally, the king was beside himself with joy at all this gold and thought he was onto a real winner here. Turn this last lot into gold, he said, and I’ll make you my queen! Yeah, yeah. Of course you will. After all, what kind of king doesn’t want a beautiful young maiden who can spin straw into gold in his bed? Let’s just hope he doesn’t have a straw mattress, eh?

Having already given me her necklace and her ring, the question of payment was now a touch awkward:
“I have nothing left to give you,” she wailed.
Alright then, how about your first child when you become queen?

Look, perhaps I should explain myself at this point.

I’m not some kind of pervert. It’s lonely up on that mountain and I just craved some human company. It’s as simple as that. No funny business. I'm a magical creature and we have strange and magical requirements. She didn’t have to say yes, did she? No one was twisting her arm. She could have said no and faced up to the king with a room full of straw the following morning. She agreed happily enough because she wanted to be queen and she knew the drill by now. It was an honest contract, and she got another room of gold in exchange for something that might never have happened. She certainly got her crown, didn’t she? I can only imagine the king must have found some other magical creature to get her a diamond for her engagement ring. He could certainly afford to by now. In that moment, in that room, that girl knew exactly what she was doing every bit as much as the king did when he shut her in there and made that promise to her. It was only later that she tried to back out of it.

So, a year or so later, I go back down the mountain, through the forest and up to the capital city to claim my dues. She’s had a few months to enjoy her new life as the Queen and to give birth to her beautiful, bouncing royal baby. Don’t feel bad for her: the king kept his word to marry her and she’s been living the life of Riley as the queen of a kingdom that’s suddenly swimming in riches. Meanwhile, I’m still living alone in my cottage up that mountain as everyone else is getting fat on my gold. She knew this day would be coming. As I made my way down the mountain and through the forest, I couldn’t help but wonder if the greedy king had been able to stop himself turning up in their bedroom one night with a spindle and a bag of straw, and if he did, what would she say? Not my problem, I supposed. Perhaps the king finally knew the answer to the question of how much gold was enough gold. Or he was in love. Or he’d just run out of straw and was waiting for the next harvest. Perhaps we’ll never know.

She was surprised to see me, of course. Or at least she pretended to be. She offered me all the riches of her kingdom instead of her precious child, but I wouldn’t be swayed: I can spin straw into gold, so what good are riches to me? A deal is a deal. But she cried and wailed so much that I eventually relented. After all, I'm a magical creature but that doesn't mean that I'm a monster or that I don't have feelings. If it means that much to you, I said, if you can guess my name within the next three days, then we can renegotiate, and you can keep your child. It seemed a little unlikely that she’d be able to guess, to be honest, but there you go. She had a chance now, didn’t she?

Why three days? Why make her try to guess the unguessable? I don’t know and I wasn’t really thinking straight. I sometimes wonder if there are forces in this world that drive our destinies but are beyond our understanding. Why do things always seem to come in threes? Why can’t I just use my own spindle and have a thriving business selling cheap gold that I’ve spun from straw to undercut the market and make myself as comfortable as can be? Who knows? Perhaps that’s just the way of this world.

You can imagine how this went.
Day one: down the mountain, through the wood and up to the city. Nope: Kaspar, Melchior or Balzer I ain’t.
Day two: Ribsofbeef, Muttonchops, or Lacedleg? Um. No. Seriously? Those are your guesses?
Day three: Kunz? No. Heinz? No. Rumpelstiltskin?


How on earth could she know that? Either the devil told her (possible in this world) or she sent someone out of the palace, away from the capital city, through the forest and up the mountain to hear me singing my own name in my cottage in front of the fire in my delight at the Queen’s inability to guess correctly. Hmm. Yes. Now I think of it, it might have been that. Don't look at me like that. I can't get Netflix up there. I don't know how this spy have got back down the mountain, through the forest, up to the capital city and into the palace in time to report back before I arrived to claim my prize, but get there before me he most definitely did.

Now I think about it, the whole thing just seems so preposterously unlikely.  I suppose that's a magical realm for you.

And that’s now it. She keeps her child and her king keeps all his gold and poor old Rumplestiltskin gets nothing, not even the power of the secret of his own name. It’s enough to make any self-respecting magical creature tear themselves apart in frustration and the unfairness of it all.

That girl needs to check her privilege.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

you're an embarrassment...

So, I've started doing the Neil Gaiman Masterclass on storytelling. Each chapter comes with a workbook and a writing exercise. I'm not sure if I'll be posting them all, but here's the one I wrote from the "Truth in Fiction" chapter.

A time when I was deeply embarrassed

As you write, pay attention to your inner register about what you’re writing, noting the particular things that make you uneasy. Try to be a little “more honest than you’re comfortable with.” Remember that being brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared; it means you do it anyway.

A few years ago, I went back to my old school. I would say that, on the whole, I have an uneasy relationship with my schooling. It’s not that I don’t have fond memories of much of that time, because I do. I’m just embarrassed by it: I’m embarrassed that I received a private education and I’m embarrassed that I haven’t exactly taken advantage of any of the opportunities it might have presented me. My parents both came from fairly humble backgrounds and worked hard. They wanted their children to have the best possible education and were happy to sacrifice holidays and other luxuries so that they could afford it. What this meant for me is that I spent eleven years of my life at boarding schools. At the age of seven years old, I effectively left home in pursuit of this brighter future. I learned lots of things in this time, and I’m sure that it has afforded me many advantages in life. I’m privileged. I also think that it robbed me of a closer relationship with my parents and damaged my ability to form meaningful emotional connections with other people. I once mentioned to my mother that I would not send any children of my own to a private school and she cried. She only wanted the best for me and it must have been intensely difficult to send her young, vulnerable seven year-old son away to school and it was very upsetting to hear that same son effectively rejecting those decisions and those sacrifices.

I generally avoid reunions like the plague and I’m not sure what I expected from this one. I met various teachers and old school friends, but it was the smell of the place that really took me back. All it took to throw me back in time was the smell of the place, the changing rooms, the dormitories. They smelt exactly the same, and the scent brought the memories flooding back of the seven-year-old boy teased for his crooked teeth, his glasses and his puppy fat. No matter how thin I get, somewhere inside me is that child teased for being fat. I wasn’t fat then and I’m not fat now, but the damage was done. I can still remember some of their names. They would be fifty by now, and they were only twelve years old then, but I remember them, and I remember the way their teasing made me feel. The funny thing is that, in spite of everything I never really felt homesick, even in those early weeks. I feel guilty about that too. I suppose that’s the kind of self-reliance and stiff-upper lip that the British Empire was built on. You don’t get to rule over most of the world by talking about your feelings, do you?

On the very last day of my first term, we had a carol service in the village church. It was only a short walk away from the school, and the whole school processed there, all dressed up in our Sunday best and our bright, yellow ties, neatly scrubbed and brushed to within an inch of our lives for the set piece finale to the term. It was a very traditional, church of England kind of a carol service with the traditional songs and some readings: Once in Royal David’s City, The First Noel, O Come All Ye Faithful. You know the drill. In later years, I would be a member of the choir and would play a much more active part in the service, but this year, I was just one of the smallest members of the congregation and sat on a pew in the cheap seats. I don’t imagine that the service was very long, but at some point, I remember I began to feel the urge to pee. What started as a gentle nagging thought soon grew and grew until all I could think or feel was this terrible, burning necessity. Of course, there was absolutely no question that I could get up and leave the chapel. How could I? Everyone would be watching. Even if I did, what was I supposed to do next? I couldn’t just walk back in and take my seat, could I? I’m not entirely sure I’d know what to do if this happened to me now, but I definitely didn’t know what to do as a seven-year-old, so I sat where I was and felt this quiet desperation building inside me.

Somehow, I held on and eventually, the service ended and we all made our way back towards the school to be picked up by our parents for the start of the Christmas holidays. I can remember rushing out as fast as I could and making my way down the path through the woods that led back to the school. It was a dark December evening and there was no lighting through the trees, but I could see the lights of the school twinkling a few hundred meters away. I hurried along, probably pulling on the end of my penis, as little boys do and hoping somehow to make it back before it was too late. I can still vividly remember the moment I knew that I wasn’t going to make it back: I hadn’t managed to get very far from the church when I stopped dead in my tracks and my just bladder relaxed. I experienced an immediate relief, followed at once by a spreading sense of warmth and wetness in my pants and down my legs. Of course, the shame quickly followed. No one was there to see me, but this had now happened to me and surely couldn’t be kept hidden. I was seven years old, nearly eight. I was much too old for this to happen to me and now I’d made a mess of my best school trousers. I was going to be in trouble for this. Worse, I was going to be laughed at for this. I can remember running the rest of the way back to the school and heading straight up to my dormitory. I’d travelled so fast that I was the first person back, so I quickly stripped out of my sodden clothes and changed into the clothes I would wear to travel home. Without really thinking, I dropped the soiled clothes into the laundry basket and went home for Christmas. I did not tell a single person what had happened. From that day to this, this has been my secret.

I sometimes think about that. Presumably the person processing the laundry would have found it hard to miss the piss-soaked trousers? Heavy and wet and stinking of urine as they must have been. Like all my school clothes, they were also marked with my name and my school number, so how could this secret be kept hidden? Someone must have known what I’d done. Surely they would tell someone else and the game would be up and my humiliation would be certain. And yet no one said a word. At least, not to me. At the start of the next term, those clothes were clean and dry and folded with the rest. So I kept my embarrassment silently to myself from that day onwards, never knowing if anyone else knew. Perhaps they did and they just didn’t care.

That day wasn’t even the last time that I wet myself. After my diagnosis with multiple sclerosis, I’ve experienced a few issues with my bladder and I now catheterise myself on a regular basis to make sure that it has drained properly. There’s something richly ironic about this because, amongst my friends, I’ve been famous for having a weak bladder for most of my life. I’ve always been the one amongst us who needs to go to the loo most often. I don’t know if I actually do have a particularly weak bladder, to be honest. Maybe. Actually I think it’s entirely possible that I simply developed a compulsion to take every possible opportunity to empty my bladder because of that night in the winter of 1981.

Monday, 8 July 2019

he just stares at the world, planning his vengeance....

Within my own personal social media echo-chamber, I follow a number of MS-related pages and blogs: some of the main charities, but also a few interesting individuals too (hi Steve!). At their best, they are an excellent way to keep up to speed with the latest news and developments,  but they're also a good way of getting some basic, nuts-and-bolts factual information about multiple sclerosis. Of course, as with any other form of social media, you have to wade through huge amounts of memes and other unsubstantiated nonsense from the great unwashed to get to the good stuff.  If you haven't got a finely tuned bullshit filter up and running by now, then you should probably just stay well away from the internet for your own safety.  Still, if you do have the patience and a modicum of critical appreciation, then you can pretty quickly find the nuggets of gold of helpful information and a support network of organisations and individuals ready and willing to offer you support. If you know what you're looking for, then you really don't have to go through this alone. This is one of the things that the MS Trust is fantastic at... providing unbiased information and support to people with MS or going through the process of diagnosis.

There is an awful lot of old toss out there, though.  My own personal bugbear are the pity parties, the people who use these forums as a way of wallowing in their own world of personal pain. There's one guy on the MS Trust pages who posts a different "no one understands my suffering so don't judge what you don't understand" memes every single day. Every. Single. Day.  He must have a folder on his desktop where he saves them down when he finds them from his google alerts so he can quickly publish them every morning. I suppose he's looking for validation and a bit of human engagement, and he gets it in spades.  Every post is re-shared and filled with comments from people saying "so true, so true".  Look.  I get it, I really do.  MS is one of those conditions where people can get isolated and where increasing levels of disability must make the temptation to mourn what you've lost impossible to resist. It's also easy for me to judge when I'm able to run marathons.

But that's the thing, isn't it? I can run marathons, but that doesn't mean that I haven't suffered as a result of my multiple sclerosis. I ran before my symptoms and diagnosis, but I had only done one or two half marathons. I had no idea that running was going to form such a central pillar to my life, nor that my body was going to be robust enough to stand finishing 6 marathons (to date), including one that dipped under the 4 hour mark. These things seemed impossible to me before my diagnosis, but that diagnosis somehow gave me a strength and determination to try these things and not just to lie down and be beaten.  I'd like to think that, even if I couldn't run marathons, or if something happens that means I can no longer run that far, then I'll find something else to focus on instead. 

Starting with parkrun, I've discovered a joy in volunteering. Now, as well as happily volunteering most Saturdays, I also give up my time to coach as Couch to 5k programme at my running club, and when the first batch graduated, I started coaching an Improvers group too. I've got enormous satisfaction from watching these guys go from C25k to pulling on their club vests and racing 10km races for their club.  My point is that something made these guys get up off the couch and to start running. If they're anything like me, they have a little voice in their head that is constantly questioning what the hell they think they're doing running around a track with all these excellent runners; that they don't belong and that they look ridiculous. Like me, they've faced that fear and done it anyway, and now there's no stopping them. It would have been a lot easier to stay on the sofa and say that they couldn't possibly ever do these things, but instead they've taken the harder path and faced down their fears. 

MS is similar, at least in my experience.  Sure, not everyone is going to be able to run, but there's always going to be something else you can do to stop yourself wallowing in your own suffering.  Or, even worse, projecting that suffering at other people.

The other day, someone on the MS Trust Facebook page published a link to a story on the BBC website about someone with MS who completed an Ironman triathlon.

Conor Devine - the Ironman with MS

Here's the comment she put up to accompany the link:

"This is fab for him, but makes me angry. I am just going to sit here and try really really hard to overcome optical neuritis or trigeminal neuralgia for all of us. I am so pleased he can do this, but I (we) can not go out and improve our mobility more than we can. This implies to the world that we could be well if only we tried. Pleased for all of you who can do any degree of activity to keep you fit, some can’t. If it had just said that"

Someone else felt the need to add, 'Great now the dwp will think we can all do this'

Now, the BBC could definitely have done a better job in that piece of making it clear that MS has a variety of possible outcomes, and that completing an Ironman probably puts you at one extreme end of the scale.... but I find it so difficult to stomach the wilful tunnel vision displayed by this kind of attitude, an apparent inability to share in someone else's successes and a determination to wallow in their own limitations.  I once received a comment (here or elsewhere) from someone else with MS saying something along the lines of "There's always someone like you, climbing a mountain or running a marathon when I can't even run for the bus". Why can't we just revel in these successes? Where's your generosity of spirit?  Someone else's success doesn't reflect on your own failures, does it? Why try to limit your expectations to a world of what you can't do and not think upwards towards what you might be able to achieve instead?

It's a cliche, but you really don't know what you might be able to achieve until you try. Sure, you might not be climbing a mountain or running a marathon, but who knows what you might be able to achieve instead?

I'm doing my training with Guide Dogs tomorrow, so I'm about to embark on another chapter in my volunteering. It would be a lot easier to do nothing and to stay at home instead, worrying about the progression of my MS and how no-one understands my invisible pain, but I'm trying to do something useful with my life instead.

I'm not dead yet.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

break it down...

As I mentioned the other day, I've been watching a series of lectures Brandon Sanderson* gave at BYU on creative writing. They're freely available on YouTube and they start here. I was aware of Sanderson, mostly because he finished off the Wheel of Time books after Robert Jordan died, but I haven't read any of his books myself. Given that I almost died of boredom about four or five books into the Wheel of Time, I doubt I'll get far enough to see how he managed to bring it all to a conclusion, but I'm reliably informed that he did a pretty good job of it.

I didn't really have any preconceptions going into the lectures. In theory, they are targeted towards would-be writers of fantasy and science-fiction -- there's one lecture entirely on building magic systems, for example. I enjoy reading in this genre very much, but I'm not sure that this will be a focus of my writing. Maybe a little, as I suppose there will be magical elements, but I don't think I'm likely to be attempting the sort of traditional high, epic fantasy of the type that Sanderson writes. Still, I'd heard that these lectures were supposed to be really good, and as I have time on my hands, I thought I'd give them a go.  I'm considering signing up for the Masterclass website for some more tutorials, including one by Neil Gaiman, but these lectures are free so seemed like a good place to start before I put my hand in my pocket.

They've been excellent.

Each one is roughly an hour long and deals with a nuts and bolts topic like plot, characters or world building. These are all obviously skills that apply to all authors, regardless of genre and I've been picking up useful tools and techniques to use later on.

I've always enjoyed writing, but I've never really thought all that much about the mechanics of writing and I haven't done a great deal of creative writing. These lectures are giving me loads of stuff to think about: an understanding of what makes a character interesting, why you need to make promises to readers and then fulfil them as you go along. Perhaps it all sounds obvious to you, but I'm loving picking up on the mechanics of writing from someone who has obviously made a very successful career out of it.

I still haven't written all that much yet, but I am starting (I think) to sharpen my creative judgment. When watching the second series of Killing Eve, I was quite quickly convinced that they'd blown it. I The first season was so good, and although I was interested enough to watch this one to the end, there was definitely something lacking from this one. As I continued to watch, I was working my way through Sanderson's lectures and trying to think a bit more about what makes a story work. You know what I realised? That Killing Eve was trying to advance the plot in what they hoped was interesting directions, but they had a fundamental problem that they hadn't done enough groundwork with the characters to earn the payoffs they were trying to show us; they hadn't done enough character development or foreshadowing to believably take the story in the direction they did.  I'll stay away from specifics for fear of spoiling it for anyone, but that was my interpretation of it, at least.

I suppose I should probably be cautious now. I have an analytical brain and I need to be careful that I don't get so tied up in the theory that this stops me writing at all.  Or perhaps, if that's the case, I should just become an editor.  Those that can, write. Those that can't, edit.  Or something.


Lest you think I'm spending all of my time listening to lectures in one ear with half an eye on the Cricket World Cup, I've managed to get out of the house today to represent my parkrun at a practice meeting of one of Nottingham's GP practices. They've become a "parkrun practice" and are looking to do a bit of social prescribing by pointing the appropriate patients in the direction of our regular, weekly community 5km. To do this properly, they want to make sure that their own team know what parkrun is, understand the benefits and what it actually feels like, so they wanted us to pop along to encourage their team to get involved. It was nice to escape from my writing dungeon for an hour or so.**

I'm not going to lie to you: a little over three weeks since my last day, today still seemed like a pretty good day not to be at work.


* looking at Sanderson's wiki page, it seems he's younger than me. Bastard.
** not actually a dungeon.

Friday, 28 June 2019

fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way....

"Time is relative; its only worth depends upon what we do as it is passing." (Albert Einstein)

I've been experiencing just how relative time is since my redundancy.

On the first Monday, I felt a sense of elation that I was free from the grind; that I didn't have to get up at 06:00 and I wouldn't be at my desk by 07:15; that I wouldn't spend ten or eleven hours sitting in pointless meetings or sending emails no one would ever read. By Tuesday, I was already starting to feel the weight of that sudden freedom pressing down on me. I was struggling to fill the day, even with a Cricket World Cup on to distract me with some of the games being played 5 minutes from my front door. Surely I should be doing something useful with all this time? Even though I was about to receive a pretty substantial redundancy payment, I started to worry about where the money was going to come from. I knew that I didn't want to jump straight back into another corporate job, but that afternoon I found myself tentatively looking online at what jobs might be available in the local area. I don't think I seriously wanted to apply for anything, and actually it really just confirmed my thinking that this wasn't at all what I wanted to do, but without any focus in my day I was already starting to feel itchy.

Time passed and I started to relax and find other ways to fill my day. It wasn't really until the end of the second week that I began to find a bit of purpose and direction in what I was doing.  I definitely didn't want another corporate job, so I stopped the idle, anxious looks at the job sites. I realised that I did want to find something to help fill my days constructively, but now understood that I suddenly had the freedom to do something that didn't necessarily need me to earn any money. I started looking for volunteering opportunities.

As a result, I've spent this week, the third since my redundancy, sorting out a volunteering role with Guide Dogs and lining up some other opportunities with Shift.MS. I'm going to start taking my initial steps as a My Guide volunteer next week.  I imagine that it's distinctly possible that I'll be wondering where all the time goes by the end of week 4.

As Albert Einstein also apparently said,  “When you sit with a nice girl for two hours you think it’s only a minute, but when you sit on a hot stove for a minute you think it’s two hours. That’s relativity.”

One of the things I thought I might do with all this time is to look at an MA in creative writing.  What I've decided is that I won't rush into this and won't be applying for the academic year starting this September.  Although I've done a reasonable amount of writing over the years, here and elsewhere, I haven't really done all that much creative writing proper and have a lot to learn.  I've decided instead to spend some of my time getting some actual writing practice done.  As you might expect, there's piles of advice and exercises to be found on the internet. As a starting point, I've been watching some YouTube videos of a series of lectures Brandon Sanderson gave for a writing course at BYU in Utah (they start here). Each lecture deals with a different subject like characterisation, plot, world building and the writer's toolbox. It's giving me bags of ideas and I hope will start to make me a better writer and provide some focus to my output.  Writing is something that I really enjoy, so I'm looking forward to finding out if it's something I think I can make a go of now that I have the time.

Watch this space, I suppose.  Probably literally.

Thursday, 20 June 2019


I don’t believe that I am an exceptional person. Like anybody else, I have my strengths and weaknesses, but I’m not really convinced that I’m good at anything much at all. This isn’t false modesty: I was bright enough to cruise through school on the basis of having a pretty good memory and being naturally quite good at exams, but I don’t think that’s exceptional. At that stage of your life, those two skills are enough for most people to assume that you’re pretty bright. After all, that is how we tend to measure those things, and nobody really bothers to look much more closely than that. Some of that perception has stuck to me as I’ve moved through my life, even though the magic of my exam skills was already starting to wear a little thin as I completed my degree and my tutors started to rumble that I’m not a particularly original thinker, no matter how well-constructed my essays were.

I am certainly not exceptional.

Although, to be honest, what kind of a knob goes around believing themselves to be exceptional? Is that an assessment you can ever objectively make about yourself? The comedian Daniel Kitson used to joke that having a personalised number-plate itself doesn’t necessarily make you a dickhead, but it’s a tick in the dickhead column. Perhaps thinking yourself exceptional at something is the same: it doesn’t guarantee that you’re a dickhead, but it’s a definite tick in the dickhead column.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being average. By definition, most of us are. We must be. Not that human potential is something that can be empirically measured. Where’s the top? Who’s at the bottom? Is humanity like a giant pack of Top Trumps with 7.5b cards? What would the categories even be? Strength, intelligence, speed, cunning, self-belief, humility, humour, free jazz? Who are we kidding: there’s probably already a quiz somewhere on Facebook that will tell you exactly where you rank.

The process for redundancy involves selection pools: if you’re at risk, you are placed into a pool and there is then a selection process that determines who goes and who stays. It’s a ridiculous process really. Any kind of scoring like this is an attempt to make an entirely subjective process seem objective when really it can’t be. How could it be? How can you measure something like “Leadership” in a way that enables you to compare it between individuals? And if you could measure it, is giving it a mark from 0-4 and then applying a multiple of 3 to the score really going to give you the granularity you need to make a selection between a group of people? Of course not. And yet, that is exactly what happened to me.

I had three separate meetings relating to my scoring. The first one was to present my provisional scoring (benchmarked by three different people) and to give me an opportunity to challenge. I left that first meeting feeling bang average and with an inescapable feeling that I was fatally holed below the waterline, and not only because I felt my score was making redundancy a very real possibility. I put a lot of effort into that job, I worked hard and felt like I made a difference over the last couple of years. If that’s what you really think of me, then whatever the outcome of this process, why would I want to bother? Why would I cycle to work to be at my desk for 07:15 every morning and not walk back through my front door until gone 18:00? When I was informed of my redundancy at the next meeting a week later, my boss told me that I shouldn’t take this personally. There were two ways to react to this: on the one hand, it couldn’t be more personal as you’ve lined up my scores against everyone else’s and decided that I’m bottom of the pile. On the other hand, it’s such a manifestly flawed way of making a selection, why would I think that this was anything other than a bullshit process and your inability to score my ability?

In the end, none of that mattered. They tried to find ways for me to stay, but I turned them all down and took the money. I’ve spent nearly 22 years sitting at a desk in those buildings and now they were actually going to pay me to do something else. That in itself was probably reason enough to go, but actually staying may well have been worse as the job was getting bigger and harder and I now knew for sure that they didn’t appreciate the work that I was already doing.

It’s been quite difficult over these first two weeks to adjust to the abrupt change in pace. It’s impossible to go from working 50+ hours a week to nothing without feeling a little bit dislocated… but I haven’t missed the actual work even a tiny bit. This is a golden opportunity to do something else with my life.

Now I just need to work out what that something is.

Hopefully something where I can exceed average. Failing that, something that is making a little bit of positive difference in the world. Making a billionaire a little bit richer doesn’t really cut it for me any more.

Friday, 14 June 2019

all takin' and no givin'

It's been a very strange week.

After nearly 22 years, I was made redundant last week.  I first knew that I was under threat at the end of February, but once the decision was made, it all happened very quickly: I found out that I was definitely going a couple of weeks ago, and ten days later I was gone.  It was only officially announced to most people the day before I left the building for the last time.  Typically, I was the last person to leave on my last day and I had to hand my pass and locker key and things in to the out of hours team.

The last couple of years of my career there have been by far the most satisfying. Given the way that things have turned out, I suppose that's a touch ironic.  Still, it's true.  I've been generally been getting to my desk by 07:15 most mornings and not walking back through my own front door until gone 18:00.  When you factor in out-of-hours and weekend cover, that's a pretty significant chunk of my life.

Suddenly, all that time has been returned to me.

It's quite a change of pace and I think it's going to take some getting used to.

Inevitably, I don't miss the work at all.  I worked hard because it was something that I wanted to do well, but I think I've always been pretty good at leaving it behind me when I left the office.  It's just a job.  This attitude has stood me in pretty good stead to deal with redundancy.  I'm also arrogant enough to believe that the whole selection process for redundancy has not been a reflection on my abilities so much as an indictment of my management's ability to understand my worth.

It's a cliche, but I do miss the people.  For far too long in my career, I thought that I was a self-contained island and that the only thing that mattered was the quality of my own work.  It was only latterly that I realised that the only reason I came to work at all was because of the people. I don't miss the work at all, but I am missing spending my days surrounded by many of those people who filled my days with laughter amidst all the nonsense.

So what's next? I don't know.  It would probably be easy to fall back onto my skills and experience and to go contracting or something like that.  I'm hoping I'll be able to resist that.  I've spent a long time making a billionaire slightly richer and I'd like to think I could do something more worthwhile.  The redundancy has given me the gift of time by liquidating my golden handcuffs. They're even paying 12 weeks' notice, so there's no particular rush to jump into something quickly.

Could I write?  Maybe.  Now seems like a pretty good opportunity to find out.  I'd also like to do something a bit more community based.  I'm lucky enough that we're pretty financially secure, so this has gifted me the opportunity to find something constructive to do with the next step.

This week has mostly been spent sleeping. I seem to have a lot of sleep to catch-up on.  Working those hours, perhaps that's not too surprising.  Next week? Who knows?

One thing is for sure: my brilliant career is entering a new phase.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

trip to Spa is like a trip to Mars....

I've been writing album reviews for Leftlion magazine for the best part of ten years now.  It's fun to listen to something that you have absolutely no pre-conceptions about.  The odd 150 word review also isn't all that strenuous, to be honest.  I also get a bit of a thrill throwing in ridiculously obscure references for my own entertainment, picturing baffled bands wondering what on earth I might be talking about.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I was persuaded by the editor to take a step up and take on my first interview.  Jason Williamson from Sleaford Mods probably wouldn't be my first choice of interviewee because he seems so unforgivingly ferocious.... but when I met up with him in a West Bridgford cafe a few weeks ago, he was unfailingly polite (at one point, the man who furiously sings about waking up with shit on his sock apologised to me for swearing).  To be honest, I find their music fascinating, so fairly quickly I stopped worrying about meeting him and started thinking of questions to ask and worrying about whether or not my recording would fail (it didn't).

A 1000 word interview has been published and is available in this month's Leftlion or online here.... but as the interview is about four times longer than what I whittled it down to for print, I thought it might be interesting to put the whole lot up here.  Well, here it is:

Sleaford Mods

How do you remember it all?
It just takes you a while to rehearse.  Three weeks, four weeks. I’m doing a batch of new tunes now, but because I’m obsessed with it, because it’s your thing, you listen to a recording, you listen to a demo, then when it’s mastered, you listen to that.  You just keep listening. You kind of know half the lyrics anyway by then. Then, when you go to rehearse it, I’m doing a batch of new tunes at the minute.  It takes about three or four weeks and then they’re in.  Once they’re in, as long as you gig them, they kind of stay in.  It’s pretty straightforward.

It’s been an amazing couple of years for you. How’s 2019 shaping up?
Good. It’s looking good. The single’s got a great response, Kebab Spider. The tour is about 70% sold, so it’s looking alright.

I was reading the declaration you made when you announced Eton Alive: “Here we are once again in the middle of another elitist plan being digested slowly as we wait to be turned into faeces once more….” I know you get asked this all the time, but how do you feel about Brexit?
[laughs] Like anybody else in this country. In Europe they can’t understand it. I’ve been over in Berlin doing press for two days and they just don’t get it. They don’t really get the idea of class and of the aristocracy. In Germany, although there is an elitist class, it’s a republic so they don’t get it. In France, they’re quite similar to us.  Everyone feels so sad about it, and it is quite a sad thing regardless of the plus points, and there are some intelligent points. Jeremy Corbyn believes in it and I don’t exactly know his reasons and couldn’t relay them to you now, but he’s obviously got his reasons and he’s not a stupid man…. But at the same time, it’s not right, it’s not right at the minute. With everything in the package that it was produced in, the jacket it put on when it introduced itself to the masses. It’s just not acceptable. Nationalist, patriotism. Once again the working classes were conned and fed a load of dogshit. The idea of enlightenment, class consciousness thing. It’s not happened. It’s just pretty bad.

How have you seen it impact the people around you?
It’s created a massive divide. I was reading an article the other day about how the leave/remain divide will surpass Brexit and the psychology of it will be ingrained into other things. You had the divide and rule thing with immigration, with benefit scroungers, and now you have it with this. From an elitist point of view it’s quite genius. They’ve never had it so good. It’s fantastic, it must be fantastic to be motivated by making money, paying no tax, getting away with it, which is what most of them are probably doing, without trying to sound naïve. It’s fucking horrible isn’t it?

Since the beginning, your lyrics have focused on the lives of working people, working dead-end jobs at the bottom of the pile. Do you ever feel that you saw some of this coming? The way people feel, the dissatisfaction?
Yeah, as soon as the coalition got in, I knew that was it. You just felt it. You felt this darkness came over, this mist. I remember seeing George Osbourne’s face at this dinner when they first got in. He had this tuxedo on and it was this dinner for supporters of the conservative party, potential contributors. His face said it all: right, we’re going to do a better job this time. We’re going to finish off what she started and it’s going to be worse. You could see it in his face and it was fucking horrible. Sorry to swear.  I knew then, and without being politically aware, which I’m still not really, you’ve just got to be an idiot not to see what these people represent and what their policies will mean.

A lot has changed since you first started out: you’re more settled (married, kids, West Bridgford, Ken Clarke is your MP now). Is it harder to summon up the focus and the anger?
No, no.  It just comes in different ways. Part of it is not repeating yourself, as I don’t want to do that. I’m not going to try and make out I’m the person I was 5 years ago. Physically and psychologically things change.  It’s still there, it just comes out in different ways. It’s not so much a challenge, it’s more interesting to find out where it’s going to go next.

The thing that struck me most from watching the film (2017s Bunch of Kunst) was that you  look particularly drained when you come off stage. You sit there trying to gather yourself.  I read that you stopped drinking. How do you bring yourself back? How do you decompress after that burst of intensity?
I have a cup of coffee, loads of fruit, nicotine tablets. Another coffee, more fruit, another nicotine tablet and then I’ll get back to the hotel and get to sleep about two, three o’clock. I’m loving it. I love life. It’s great now: I’m sober, I’m happy… I’m alright I’m obsessed with the band and trying to keep it looking good, it’s a competitive thing to be in, especially after five years. We’re no longer a buzz band, but we’ve managed to maintain a reputation of being interesting, an integrity. Contemporary.  I’m in a great position.

I saw you in the guardian doing a round table at the start of the year with people like Paloma Faith.
She was actually okay, to give her her dues. She annoyed me at the start. She’s nice actually. She gets a lot of shit, but all these people when you meet them in person are actually alright.

Austerity and Brexit aside, what are your other sources of inspiration for the album?
Lavinia. The absurdity of fame. I wouldn’t class myself as famous-famous, but well known. Some of these people we’ve met, it’s ridiculous. The absurdity of awards shows, scenarios from how people behave in certain situations, usually at the bottom of the spectrum. From a personal perspective, there are some pop songs on there that are more form than on English Tapas where we hinted at doing something like that, but on this one there are three songs where we make a shift away from the usual sound.

Wikipedia describes your vocal style as “Sprechgesang (dramatic vocalisation between speech and song). You described it in the film as “a way of beating people up without hitting them”. You used to do spoken word stuff at the start, but on the last two records you’ve started doing more singing proper. Is that conscious decision?
Yes, it is, but I’ve also got into a lot more soul and R&B from the 80s.  People like Chaka Khan, Alexander O’Neill, Luther Vandross and stuff like that.   Andrew’s music was suggesting that to me from as early the EP we released last year with songs like Joke Shop.  With the new batch of stuff he sent through, there was a continuation of that, so I manipulated those ideas to fit my desire to want to try and sound like that. Obviously, it took a while because I didn’t want to sound stupid, and to want to do a pop song, coupled against what we normally do was going to be a bit… but I think we did it.

After ten years, has the process for writing and recording changed much?
A little bit. Andrew sends me the songs now and I spend quite a while writing and thinking about them, cultivating them at home. Whereas before we depended a lot more on improvisation and impulse. It has changed a bit.

Johnny Marr once said he spent ages pulling together a beautiful piece of music, sent it to Morrissey and it came back as “Some Girls are Bigger than Others”
That’s what Morrissey was like wasn’t it. His lyrics are weird, aren’t they? They’re still weird.  At the time, I was like 13 or 14. I hated them. I thought they were shit. I was a big Jam fan. They were frowned upon at our school. But, in retrospect, what a brilliant band.

Eton Alive is your first release on your own label, Extreme Eating. What was the trigger to take the plunge?
We thought, because we were independent before, we thought that perhaps we didn’t need a record label.  Some of the camp felt that they were working for the Man, some of them felt that everything was just being done for us and it just wasn’t very exciting, so we decided to leave. But it’s been a bit of a struggle really. You get to a certain point as a band where you’re quite big really, and when you release stuff you need quite a lot in place because you’ve got to promote it or it will just die.  We didn’t have much in place when we left and it was quite stressful really. But we have now got it up to speed. My wife Claire has jumped in and organised it all really, together with Cargo Records the distributor and all the people we’ve got on board to help push the album and give it a good sending off.  I think we’ll be alright.

Is this how you’d imagined it would be like being a record mogul?
I knew it would be hard work, but we left Rough Trade too early. We should have waited for another year and we should have perhaps released this album on Rough Trade and then done it. But we didn’t, and it hasn’t suffered. Well, it has a little bit, but not too much. I’m not sure if we’ll get a higher chart place. We’re releasing around the time of the Brit awards, and what tends to happen is that all of those artists around the Brit Awards get a surge in sales and we’ll probably be nudged down because of that.  Not the greatest business move, but we don’t suffer too much for it.

As a band, you’ve moved from playing venues in Nottingham like the Chameleon Café through Rock City and on to the Royal Concert Hall. I notice your tour in the spring is back in slightly smaller venues, so do you have any plans to play the Ice Arena or are you taking a conscious step back?
It’s taking a conscious step back. We just thought it would be good to do a proper, classic UK tour. It’s paid off, those venues are filling up quickly and why not take it back to that? People have loved it. We did it a few years ago and people loved it then, and we thought why not.  It made a change to just doing 8 dates in the UK at big places that, to be honest, we just didn’t fill anyway. We’re not the kind of band that just sell out somewhere straight away. We thought it might be a good idea, with the decision on Brexit looming around that time, to take it back to the far corners of the country. We did two nights at the Roundhouse last year. We should have just done one. It looks good, but you don’t fill’em.  What’s the point? I just got sick of that. Who gives a fuck? We just took it back to smaller places that we did a few years back, intermingled with a few bigger places like Manchester and Birmingham. There’s a few quite big, but why not pepper it with bigger ones. We’ll be looking at Rock City at the end of the year. People didn’t like the fact that we played the Concert Hall last year. It was a weird gig.  It was good, but weird.  We shouldn’t have done it, but hey, at least we can say we’ve played it. U2 played there back in the day, apparently, so it’s not unheard of, but it felt odd.  When Rock City is full, it’s fucking fantastic!

In the past, you’ve had the Trussell Trust at your gigs. Is this something you’re looking to do again?
Yeah, we’ve had the Trussell Trust, we’ve had Shelter, we did Refuge last tour and we’re working with them again on this tour. It’s quite a lot of working out, so it’s whether it’s feasible at some gigs. We’ve asked the fan club to help out and I think that’s what we’re going to have to do.

How would you describe your relationship with Nottingham and has this changed over the years?
Good.  I’m proud of representing Nottingham and I think we do.  We’re not wankers, we haven’t turned into wankers and we’re a bona-fide band from this area. There’s not been that many.  Us, Jake Bugg, and who else? Not many.  Paper Lace! You get a bit of shit from people, especially since I moved to West Bridgford, but what can you do. You get the keyboard warriors online, but people who know the band are quite respectful.  Twitter’s an art, you have to learn to get your head around it and not take things so seriously.  These days I’m better, but I used to be quite horrible.

Iggy Pop played a 30 minute Sleaford Mods mix on his 6Music show on New Year’s Day which he described as being “Like Jive Bunny on Spice”. Iggy’s been a fan for a while, have you met him.
No.  Not yet. He came to watch us backstage but we didn’t meet him as he left before we’d finished.  I don’t know if I would, really.
How does it feel to have someone like that enthusing about you?
It’s fucking great! It’s a real honour.  Meeting him would be a bit weird. What would you say? I’d just crumble and get a bit fan boy.
There’s a great moment in the film where Iggy is looking at a copy of Grammar Wanker and this magnificent rock god pulls out a pair of reading glasses.
It’s fucking brilliant. It’s proper punk. That’s how it should be!
Is there anyone else who’s support for the band has surprised you?
Whatsisname from Eastenders. Shane?
Yeah.  He’s a big fan.  Collared me at the Brit Award [does cockney accent] ‘alwight mate!’. Yeah, he’s alright. A nice guy.
I guess being the kind of band you are, you don’t get to hear your stuff on the radio all that often.  Tarantula Deadly Cargo was used over the end credits of Channel 4’s Prison’s documentary the other day.  Do you have much involvement with that sort of stuff?
Not really. I spoke to the director a bit and he’s come to a couple of gigs.

After the album release and the supporting tour, what’s next?
Festivals, more gigs in the autumn and then figuring out next year what we’re going to do, where we going to play. Are we going to go to Australia, America? We’ll see what happens.

Glastonbury was a really big moment for you guys.
I don’t enjoy Glastonbury too much as it’s almost turned into a music industry event, but if you can get the gig it’s brilliant.  We’re not doing it this year as they won’t let us, but hopefully next year or the year after.
They won’t let you play?
You play one year and then you have a year off.  We played the year before, they had a year off and they won’t let us play this year even though we’ve got an album out. They’ve been told, quite rightly so, that they need more of a female presence on the bill, so the booker is scrambling around trying to get more women on the bill.  Fair enough, you know what I mean? To be honest, I’ve done it twice. You get that feeling when you’re there, because it’s televised, you get really nervous. You never know, they might offer it to us. Stormzy is playing this year, he’s headlining, and he played when we were there. I think the bigger you are, the more access you get.
It’s a bit depressing to see the fuss people made about Stormzy being announced as a headliner. The same fuss Kanye got, the same fuss Jay-Z got.
It's racist. Essentially they’re just saying, no we don’t want this black man playing. They don’t pipe up about anybody else. It’s just racist.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to Leftlion readers.
Thanks for the support. To anyone who likes us in Nottingham, thanks very much.
And anyone else?
Try and have a listen! Keep giving it a go.

One more question: with your 50th birthday looming on the horizon, are you planning a birthday party in a pub?
No. I think me and the wife are going to go to Paris.  She’s 40 and I’m 50, have a nice weekend in Paris.

It’s not a crap job, but it’s hard work. You’ve just got to keep going. It’s a vicious game to keep yourself up there. You’ve got to be alert, you can’t be messing about. It’s not the 70s anymore, you can’t be wasted.
I’ve now got this image of you training like Rocky, running up the steps of the town hall.
Yeah. That’s what it’s like. It’s going against this image that you have to be wasted. It’s not the done thing to say that you go to the gym. There’s this big stigma, but go against that. Smash the stereotype. That’s punk rock.  Bring it on.  I’ve not had a drink for three years.  I had to stop and the band’s got better. 

Thursday, 27 December 2018

time's winged chariot...

2018 has been a strange kind of a year.

On the one hand, I’ve run more organised events than ever before: three full marathons, four half marathons, two 20 mile races, the 15 mile Belvoir Challenge, 55km over Thunder Run weekend, the London 10 miler and well over a 1000 running miles in total. I’ve also run 25 parkruns and volunteered at parkrun on another 30 occasions. I’ve run summer and cross-country league races for my athletics club, earned an England Athletics coaching qualification, coached a couch to 5km programme and an Improvers group up at the track on a Tuesday night. I’ve helped to raise £11,000 for the MS Trust, taking our fundraising total over the last 4 years to something approaching £40,000. I’ve appeared in the national press and on television in a charity appeal on the BBC.

On the other hand, my multiple sclerosis seems to have progressed a bit this year. I’ve not had any noticeable relapses, and I actually came off any kind of disease modifying drug when I stopped injecting Avonex in January. At the same time, my left leg is much more prone to muscle spasms (which seems to be helped a bit by CBD oil) and my bladder has now become unpredictable enough that I have started self-catheterising. It’s amazing how quickly it becomes normal to push 40cm of tubing up a previously one-way passage. Does it help? Well, yes and no: I’ve had more completely uninterrupted nights since I started, which is obviously good, but I’ve also had some days where it doesn’t seem to have made any difference at all, and I frustratingly have no idea why. Still, we keep buggering on, don’t we? If you can’t laugh at these sorts of indignities, then what’s the point? Besides, when you’ve been well enough to be able to run three full marathons in a year, including one under four hours, I really don’t feel as though I have anything much to be complaining about.

I know I’ve not been blogging much. After a good run of around 15 years, I suddenly found that the itch seemed finally to have been scratched and I no longer felt the urge to get something up most days. You know what? That’s okay. I’m not going to say that I’m going to make more effort in 2019, but I am going to try to keep going. I like writing and I haven’t been doing enough of it for myself in 2018 and will try to make more time for it in 2019. If nobody reads it, that’s okay too. Although, to be honest, that’s always been true!

If there is anyone still reading this, I hope you survived 2018 as intact as possible and that you’re fit and ready to take on whatever life throws at you in 2019. You’re amazing.


If you're interested, here's my year on Strava.