Monthly Archives: February 2007

Five things…

I have been blog tagged by Adrian. This has proved tricky for somebody who has been blogging so much as I have but I’ve managed to dredge up a few things:

1 I was a muse for some of the most popular bands of all time. Although I was never mentioned in the sleeve notes, I have appeared in several pieces of album art:

Sergeant Peppers

Joshua Tree

And Nevermind

2 I’m a trained assassin. But because of my oath of professionalism I’m not allowed to talk about my successes only my failures.

Assassination of Hitler

Assassination of Judas

Assassination of Bono

There’s still time Bono.

3 as you can tell from the list of marks (see it must be true I have all of the lingo down) I am incredibly old. Here’s what I’d look like if I didn’t shave at least once a century.

4 Because I’ve been alive so long and I’ve accumulated so much knowledge I have to use multiple brains. Here’s a picture of my collection

5 see how one of the brains has a distinctive veil drawn over it? Well that’s the brain we don’t like to talk about. It was damaged in a bizarre gardening accident. And so we usually draw a distinct veil over it (although to be honest it often wears a Burka and forces us to refer to it as Jennifer).

Anyway here is a photo story of how the brain got damaged, “Damn you Bono!”

Sometimes I have recurring nightmares about that. Yeah I feel I’m stuck in a moment I can’t get out of.

You may, if you’re lucky, get some real 5 things at some point soon.

One half of a conversation

I overheard this on the bus the other day:

“Honestly girl I wanna go out with ya. But I gotta go back and see this other girl first. Listen I’m on the bus now it’ll only take an hour. I’ll get down there and bang ‘er. It’ll only be fifteen minutes. Literally in and out and then I’ll be on my way to you. Alright girl I’ll make sure I’m quick.”

The Influenza Adventure

I turned the corner and stopped. A bird on the floor. Why hadn’t they found this one? Those fools they’d been bodging this one from the start. Tapped the pigeon with the side of my boot. I could lift it of the ground easily enough. I stopped short of tipping it over, I could smell maggots. That had been all I wanted to know. It had been lying there for a while.

I walked closer and suddenly I saw what I had been expecting since I turned the corner. They looked like they had just been on a space ship with all of the suits that they were wearing or that some kind of nuclear spill. It all seemed slightly incongruous for Croydon.

One of them started bounding toward me. Actually he was moving quite quickly. But he looked like he should have been moving in slow motion. That was one of the weird things about these suits not only was it silly looking and separated you from your colleagues in a time when a close and frank exchange of ideas might be the most crucial thing you could have on your team. But amongst all of that was the disconcerting realisation that people were moving around in these suits much too quickly. Because the thing with the suits was that they put you so in mind of space that you expected people to plod forward like they had a kilo of marshmallows attached to each foot.

As he arrived near me I realised two things almost simultaneously. First that it was my good friend Geoffrey inside the suit and second that he had a second suit over his right arm.

“Hullo Citron, how’s things?”

“Things have so far been fine. Although if you do try to make me wear that suit I will kill you.”

I could see Geoffrey was looking me up and down and wondering which was the better thing in his life to be afraid of; me or his bosses. He already knew what his decision was but on some kind of whimsical off chance he thought he should ask me just in case he could avoid trouble.

“Wouldn’t it be safer to wear it?”

“Perhaps it would, but that would have required me to have not stumbled over a dead bird at the end of the street and outside of the exclusion zone. This would has already gone wrong.”

Geoffrey looked at me mournfully. He knew he would probably get in trouble for this. I saw there, loitering on his face, the understanding that he’d made the right decision. Knowing that he’d done it I couldn’t help but give him the excuse he needed.

“If it is bird ‘flu I wouldn’t need to be here. It wouldn’t be a police matter until the contamination had been dealt with.”

And with his reaction I had got my first information confirmed. I could have been called because the bird ‘flu had been purposely infected by someone and they didn’t know by who and that would in fact have happened before the contamination was completed.

But in fact something else was happening. The disease control people were starting to believe that it wasn’t actually a disease. And that’s why the bird had been left on the street. They were getting careless.

“How did you know that Citron?”
“You know I don’t play parlour games Geoffrey. Come now tell me what you know.”

Tune back next Friday for part two of the Influenza Adventure.

The Truth Hurts

Here at gamboling we’ve been monkeying around with the idea of truth for the last few weeks. And in the end we all have to ask ourselves what really is truth?

I was addressing an envelope to a firm based in Milton Keynes. And I asked Katherine how to spell it and she said “Keynes like the economist, blimey I never thought of that. The city is named after two economists.”

Of course you may have known this already but until that moment of striking thought Katherine had been clueless about the whole situation.

Milton Keynes is a planned city, the largest in Europe, and when they were building the city the planners still hadn’t come up with a name for it. The call went out to the civil service and an economist in Whitehall came up with using the names of Milton Freeman and John Maynard Keynes because he thought somebody might see the irony of using the names of people who were against planned economies as the namesakes of a planned city. By the time the irony was realised it was too late and the name had been made public.

Okay so none of that last paragraph was true. The true answer is that there was a small village in the town called Milton Keynes. Which means that Katherine’s story is very dangerous.

Her story which she created, which was just the short part in quotes is incredibly potent because it sounds right. And tied to which the actual true story is quite week in terms of story. These are the ideal situations for the release of a meme.

A “meme” Alex are you sure you mean one of those things where everyone answers the same question?

I am sure. A meme is an idea or snippit of thought. It was an idea created by Richard Dawkins to talk about how ideas spread and solidify in society in a rather similar way to evolution. The set of questions that spread themselves are just a subset.

One of the most powerful proofs of natural selection are those humming birds with the really long beaks. You know the ones that have to get nectar from plants with really long stalks. And we can see that each one is growing to keep up with the other. In each generation the problem gets more pronounced. This shows a lack of intelligent design because a designer would have said “right you’re both five centimetres long”. And this is the same with stories. Stories aren’t retained because of their rightness they are instead valued on their ability to propel themselves. Their quality of their story DNA if you will.

The fact seems to me that if you heard this story then you’d be quite likely to believe it. And if you weren’t sure then what would you do? Check Wikipedia probably but how do we know that what’s there is true?

An American comic called Steven Colbert has been pushing his idea of Truthiness. Truthiness is the idea that you don’t have to believe what you read in books you should believe what you feel in your heart. Things that you thing sound true. And while that idea sounds crazy now it must have been how things were decided before there was writing.

Much of what is passed down to us has been checked and doubled checked and so we feel capable of believing it. But we are so used to believing it that we no longer actually bother to check.

Just think about the number of things that you use in a day that you don’t understand. I mean I know how a phone works in principal but could I actually make one? Right now I’m writing this post on a mobile phone and I’m going to send it in a while as an e-mail which I’ll then post onto the internet. There’s a lot of technologies right there. Not even considering the way they generated the electricity, mined the metal, shaped the plastic, extracted the oil for the plastic. And so on and on.

The day that one person couldn’t know everything was the day we needed a new solution. And writing was it. But the danger has been from the start: what if what you’re reading isn’t true?

Did you hear about the one-armed waiters?

They can dish it out but they can’t take it.

Hair Today

She sat down by the river and started to comb her hair. Her hair was starting to get really long now. But she knew Bri liked it long. She was never exactly sure what it was that he liked about it but he said it from time to time.

Bri was so very organised that one time she had, after he’d complimented her on her hair getting longer, begun to wonder if he had put a reminder in his calendar to compliment her. That maybe he had been worried when they had first gone out to find a girlfriend who didn’t get her hair cut and decided to do something to compensate for the fact that he wouldn’t be able to compliment her after she had a hair cut. But then she remembered that men don’t do that. It was much more likely to be the way her hair was straight all of the way down but then at the bottom curled around her breasts when they were having sex. That sounded much more likely.

She wondered what would happen if her mother could have seen her. Her mother had always made her keep her hair short as a girl which was almost certainly why she didn’t now. Even though it was quite warm she felt a sudden slight imaginary draft as she thought about her mother and as she looked over the river everything looked suddenly like she was looking at it through sun glasses.

But she shook her head and gave a very slight breathy laugh. Her mother would have been very cross to think of her sitting there mourning on such a wonderful day. She would have been even more cross about that than the hair.

As she thought about it she realised it was her mother’s death that had made her stop needing to cut her hair the last time she had had her hair cut was for the funeral. Having your hair cut for a funeral seems such a strange thing but she had known at the time that that was what her mother would have wanted.

But since then it wasn’t just her hair that had grown. And now she knew that her mother was just rotting in a box not some angel in heaven. And the one thing that she had taught her above all else was to enjoy herself and not to sit around mopeing. And also she’d taught her to cut her hair.

And with that she got up and walked into town to get a hair cut. And you never know, she thought, maybe she’d finally find out what Bri really thought about her hair.

Gamboling on the future

I am going to make a few changes around here. Have a bit of a sweep and tidy up.
In my job which I amazingly manage to do and keep four blogs on the go part of my role is managing change. Trying to change the way that my firm goes about it’s business. And one of the most important lessons I’ve learnt working on projects like this is the concept of fail fast.

People get incredibly invested in the projects they are working on. They feel that if they just tinker a little bit more then it will suddenly come right. But it isn’t often true. You have to learn to be brutal even with the projects you love.

Now here at Gamboling we’ve added the weekend section since the beginning of the year. And I’ve personally liked the Sunday Illustrated section very much but the Saturday deafinitions have been wearing me down. They aren’t funny enough, they take ages to write and I don’t want to steal them from anywhere else.

If I were going to I would have already posted my personal favorite from Stephen Fry, for I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue’s Uxbridge round who did “Countryside – the act of killing Piers Morgan” at lunchtime on a Sunday on Radio 4 and nobody complained. Presumably because they thought it was true.

So if I’m not enjoying it I think I better retire from that particular feature. So what, you may be asking will you be getting instead?

Well I have been, as you might have noticed experimenting with some longer fiction of late. And frankly I would like to do some more. So I think what I’m going to do is add another day of Fiction into the mix. One of the fiction days will be for short little stand alone things and the other will be for longer pieces which will appear in four parts each. So a four part story will take four weeks still. And there will be some other fiction each week to keep you going.

The other fiction will likely include some recurring characters. For example in the up and coming months we can expect to see our friends from the frozen school of the future again and I will also be bringing you some short stories from Citron, my detective. Citron has been in the pipeline for a while now, he’s one of the novels that I mention in my profile. His novel has the virtue of being the only one I’ve been actively writing in 2006 and I am continuing on that tack in 2007. But some ideas simply can’t fit into the novel so they will appear here.

The only problem is that Friday and Saturday are right next to each other in the week so it might get to be a bit too much. So to solve this I’m going to have a quick re-jig of the days. So we will have:

Monday – Short Fiction to start up the week
Tuesday – A Joke
Wednesday – An Article
Thursday – A Joke
Friday – Longer Fiction
Saturday – An Article
Sunday – An Illustration or an illustrated article

Anyway that’s the plan. Obviously feel free to let me know if you don’t like it, or drop me a line for any reason.

Thanks for reading,

Alex.

Without looking

I pulled up my socks and fastened my shoes. Well I didn’t really fasten them I was just checking them again. I always did this now before every race. Just superstition really. They’d never once come undone.

I put my feet back into the blocks and crouched back down into the starting position and put my hands on the asphalt. It was almost impossible to touch. The sun had been on it for hours now. It felt sticky and I had, as I always did, a moment of panic about what would happen if some of the searing hot red goo got stuck on my hands. I looked down at them just to check and the reflected heat baked into my face. I couldn’t keep looking so I looked further back to check my feet position. The glittering of the metal was almost dazzling. The colours always seemed so much brighter at the track.

I could feel the people around me were looking up and forward and I just as though I had decided it for myself I did the same.

Bang