Monthly Archives: February 2010



Photo by me, Photo in photo by Kat Hall

Liar liar pants on fire

So Thursdays on Gamboling are generally archive days, but today we have a very special one. I have been writing Gamboling since 2003 and in that time I am sure the same themes have come up time and time again. But the other day, when casting about for an article to write, I settled on the idea of writing an article about the strange time I got recognised at the Waterstone’s after having bought a book 18 months earlier. It was published yesterday: A beautiful mind

All the time that I was writing the article, I had a very strange sense of deja-vu and so after I was finished, I searched for it on my site and, sure enough, I had already written the story back in 2004. I decided that the best, most interesting, option would be for me to not read the old article until after I had published this new one. So I have only just this morning read the old article from 2004. Both were written some time after the event which I guess was around 1997 and then “some time later” as my two articles argue about how much later it was. This time 18 months, last time 3 years!!! There are quite a few differences in the two stories, so which one is right? Well, we’ll have to get local historian Nick Ollivere to tell us the answer to that one.

So am I a liar? I don’t think so. But you can easily see in this instance how much the fiction writer in me influences even the articles. Both times, I am completely assured of the facts and the dialogue is very precise reported speech. I don’t assume that people really think it’s word for word accurate, but how will you feel to find that it could be this inaccurate?

Check out the original article: Mathematical Biography and let me know what you think.

A Beautiful Mind

These days, a lot more people have heard of John Nash than had back when I was learning about game theory. John Nash is the Nobel prize winning economist whose life story is told in the film ‘A Beautiful Mind’.

At the time I was learning about him, I had discovered that a biography of him had been written. I was suddenly far more interested in him. Now I just needed to lay my hands on the book. At this stage buying books on the internet wasn’t a common event. So I had to roam around central London to purchase it.

The reason I had found out about the biography was that I had seen in the movie press that Ron Howard had optioned the book. For some reason, I expected to see this book available in “all good bookshops”. In fact, nowhere had it. Finally, in a random Waterstone’s, I gave up looking and asked if they had a copy anywhere in London. They directed me to a different shop across town and told me that I would find this book in the “mathematical biography” section.

Off I went to this book shop at the top end of the Charing Cross Road*. Once in the shop it was hard enough to find the mathematical biography section, but suddenly there it was… And the book was there. There was only one copy and I grabbed it.

I took it back to the counter and I was confronted by one of the ladies that had helped me find the mathematical biography section.

“So did you find your ‘book’ then?”

There was something about the way that she asked the question which made me start. I was about 17 and male and she was about 17 and female. I didn’t want her to think I was the kind of guy who was into ‘mathematical biography’. But I didn’t really have a good way of making that point, considering I had a mathematical biography in my hand, so I just said, “yes, thanks”.

As the till mechanics were getting underway, I decided to have another stab. “It’s amazing that you don’t have more copies of this in stock.”

“Of a mathematical biography?”
“Well, it’s more than just that.”
“Is it?,” she sounded decidedly unconvinced.
“Yes. I bet you that one day you’ll have this downstairs in the best seller category and maybe then you’ll remember this.”
“Books don’t normally leap down there just because one person bought them.”
“Oh I know that, but you see Ron Howard just optioned this book this morning. It’s going to be a big film with people, you know, stars in it.”
“Really?,” she still seemed utterly unconvinced.

We finished the transaction and I left the shop and pretty much forgot all about it. I read the book, I saw the film; the book’s a lot better.

Then, one day, I was walking through the very same bookshop when I suddenly hear, “Oi! Beautiful mind”. I turn, thinking that perhaps the deodorant adverts are more accurate than I previously thought, and somebody has mistaken me for Russell Crowe. But no, it was the girl from a year and a half before. And with a jerk of her head, she revealed that indeed ‘A Beautiful Mind’ had made it downstairs.

*It was that strange Waterstones that was about five different shops that they hadn’t bothered combining into one.

What’s the strangest thing you are allergic to?

This is the continuing series of questions for you in the comments, here’s how it works. I’ll ask you a question, and you either answer in the comments or on your own blog and drop a link to the post.


What’s the strangest thing you (or somebody you know) is allergic to?

These days people seem to be allergic to all kinds of things. What’s the strangest one?

Here’s my answer:

My brother’s fiancĂ©e is allergic to lemons. Lemons? That seems really crazy to me. Why that seems stranger than being allergic to nuts, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just because it’s rarer.

So what’s the strangest thing you (or somebody you know) is allergic to?


Imagine that you had a burning desire to have an exhibition of your photos in a gallery, or you would like to write an episode of the Archers, or you would like to write a weekly ascerbic, comedic, sports column in a national newspaper. Or imagine your own thing that you want to achieve.

Now stop. Whoah. Stop.

Too many people who would like to be creative get hung up on the destination. They jump right to the end. It is as though they imagine themselves simply waking up at the end of the story and finding that everything has worked out for the best. Because in reality, getting there is too hard and would probably never happen.

So what do you do? You work backwards. First of all, to get your gallery opening, column published or script selected, the selector would need to know you, they would need to know your body of work. Well, having a published body of work still sounds hard and unlikely. But as you get further and farther back, you get to small enough chunks that are pretty easy to deal with.

Practice, publish your practices, tell people, practice, publish, tell people.

I lie to myself all the time. I know vaguely what my big future dream is. But I know for certain that being a practised writer is a pretty big part of it. So I do that bit. Because that bit is fun and easy. Pretend the dream is to have a cool website with a regular stream of content. Why? Because that’s the first step of the other dream anyway.

One super tip here. Do remember to concentrate on the thing itself. The modern equivalent of your overly complex beautiful revision timetable is your domain name, your blog design, your whatever. It’s good to do these things but remember to create that content as well.

As Bruce Springsteen would have it, you’re “working on a dream”. Nobody is going to turn up and give it to you. You better start heading towards it. So start. Start now.


Kelly stands among the regular commuters. Steam pouring out of their bored mouths. They are all suits and trouser suits. Kelly isn’t, Kelly is different. She is wearing her school uniform. She goes to school by train. It seemed very grown up when she started, now it’s just normal.

The train pulls in. Everyone gets on and fights for a seat, even though there are enough. They all want the seat without anyone sitting next to them. Kelly doesn’t fight for a seat. She is only going two stops, so she just stands. She doesn’t want to get involved.

At her stop, she steps off the train first while people seem to take an age to make it to the door from their seats. By the time they get to the door people are already trying to get on.

Kelly walks down the platform. Normally, she doesn’t stop, she has her purpose. Normally, there isn’t anything particularly interesting on the platform. But this morning she stops.

She sees a man, a father, with his son. His son is about five, and dressed in school uniform. His son is bawling his eyes out. He doesn’t want to go to school, his father is trying to reason with him, telling him all his friends want to go to school.

Kelly doesn’t quite understand why she does it, but she wanders over to the two of them.

She bends down to talk to the boy.

“I’m going to school. Do you want to come with me?”
“Yes,” the boy says.

Kelly puts out her hand.

“What’s your name?”

Michael put his hand out to meet Kelly’s. Michael’s father mouths, “Thank you” at Kelly and then he turns back slightly towards the trains to check when his next train is. As he does this, it seems to Kelly, that he has left her world and he’s back to being a regular suit.

Kelly turns towards school, Michael turns with her and they walk towards the exit.

Junk in your trunk

Popular musician and social commentator Sir Mix-A-Lot*, likes rotund posteriors and he is clinically unable to deny said facts. In fact when pushed on the issue, he will happy sing you a song on the subject.

And who am I to comment on the peccadillos of another? He’s free to like them and ignore, as I believe he refers to them, iddie-bittie things. The only problem is with the phrase, “having junk in your trunk”.

First I would like to say, on the record, that I am very happy for popular slang to reverse the usual sentiment of a phrase. To turn the negative sounding reality of having a large quantity of brick-a-brac in your boot, into a positive sentiment is one that I am down with. Wickid.

The problem comes, for me, in the confusion of the word trunk. We already have trunks on mammals. They are the noses of elephants. Now, admittedly, this is because elephants’ noses look not unlike tree trunks, but that’s how the 20th century turned out. No point in complaining about it now.

But because elephants have trunks where they could have noses, people have had their noses referred to as trunks. Having junk in your trunk should really refer to having a bad cold. That’s just the way I see it. Fo sho.

*I have, as yet, been unable to determine the year that Sir Mix was knighted for services to music. I am certain that this is due, simply, to poor record keeping at central office.

Don’t wait

Modern life is such relentless progress that it’s hard to know that we aren’t leaving some simple pleasures behind. I’m always on the look out for things we may have left behind, and I think I have found one.

In old movies and books, I am pretty sure that if you went to a restaurant and you didn’t have enough money to pay for your meal, then you would be forced to do the washing up. And of course now that we have modern dishwashers,this noble practice has died out.

I however have some questions:

1) What was the exchange rate?

What I want to know is, say you went in and had a simple bowl of soup, maybe you had some bread which was on the table anyway, surely you don’t have to do as much washing up as the guy who had the Chateauxbriand to himself? And what about washing or drying, is one more valuable than the other? I think we should be told.

2) Could you keep doing it?

So say you don’t have any money, no job, you’re hungry, can you just go back each day and wash up for food?

3) What about the people who were supposed to be doing this job?

What are they doing while you do it for them? You are doing their job, you might be back again tomorrow. Sure, they get the afternoon off, but if you keep turning up and working for food instead of money, the restaurant manager is going to start getting ideas.

4) Most importantly, what is the modern equivelent?

What would you do now? You could work as a waiter or a cook but I would say that both of those jobs are a bit too client facing (if you don’t cook the food properly then you really will be facing the client soon).

So what about the restaurant’s VAT return? Probably not. I suppose that now they’ll turn you over to the police. It’s just a bit less gentle than the old ways.

What’s the strangest title of a book you own?

This is the continuing series of questions for you in the comments, here’s how it works. I’ll ask you a question, and you either answer in the comments or on your own blog and drop a link to the post.


What’s the strangest title of a book you own?

Here’s my answer:

There is a recent book that Katherine owns that’s called “Salmon Fishing in Yemen” and I own one called “10 bad dates with DeNiro”. But that seems like cheating a bit, because it’s almost deliberately strange. This is a hard question to answer then, I’ll go for three which sound slightly over the top in their scope: “Understanding Society”, “The Complete Self Educator” and “The Good Old Index”. Perhaps the strangest is “The Enlightened Bracketologist”.

So what’s the strangest title of a book you own?

Ten Step Stories

What do you do when you really liked those ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ stories, but nobody seems to be doing them any more? Well, if you are Christine Blachford, then you make a modern version of the same thing. In Christine’s version, you get to read a part of the story and vote on what is going to happen next. Then Christine goes and writes the next part, based on the voting.

The first story is based on F1 and is here. Check it out fiction fans.

Christine and I seem to be on some kind of cultural exchange program. She’s been teaching me the way of the podcast and she blames me for the publishing of her story. To see her side of the story, check out her article on the subject here.

For my part, I am glad to see another writer writing out in the open and I am really loving the interactive nature of the choices. The interesting thing is that I like it despite never agreeing with the popular vote. I wonder what that says about my writing choices?