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Travel website idea

Okay so this is the dumbest thing I could possibly do, but I’m probably never going to make my millions from a web startup. So I’ll give you my idea here.

Here are the facts:
I like to go on holiday
I don’t have any children

So travel websites don’t work for me

Why not?

Because it doesn’t matter when I go on holiday at all.*

I also don’t really know where I want to go on holiday.

What I want, and there must be other people like me, is to be able to say:

“I would like to go on holiday in the next three months, I want the average temperature to be between 25 and 35, I would like to be on holiday for around a week and to have at least 9 interesting museums / art exhibitions / monuments so I can do something each day and have the illusion of choice. One of the points of interest should be a modern art gallery. We won’t go there but it’s good to know that it is there. I would like my hotel to have wifi and to be nice but not fancy. I want to have a choice of fancy restaurants but also know that there are enough at the lower end that are decent – so I can eat for the rest of the week once I’ve been to the fancy one.”

The point is I don’t want a package holiday. I don’t want you to sell me that experience. I want you to show me all of the places that fit those criteria. And then rank them by price or number of fancy restaurant choices or whatever I want to rank them by.

All of this informaion exists in guide books, and in theory a travel agent in a shop might know this. But you want me to talk to somebody? Urgh!

But I don’t know where to go on holiday and don’t mind when. Go to any travel website and look for a holiday. If you don’t know the start or end date you can’t start. What do you mean you don’t know where you are going?

You can, of course, browse but you can’t search. All of the existing travel websites fail because they work based on the easiest way to present the data out of the database. They don’t represent the way that everyone actually thinks when they decide to go on holiday.

Come on – tell me it already exists and I’ve missed it.

* As long as it’s not during the Formula 1 season, obviously.

Lets not argue about it

I think we have another language problem on our hands here everyone. I think we’ve gone and broken the word “argument”.

I think it’s happened because we’ve all decided that “debate” is too pompous. It might well be too pompous, as it goes, it sounds a bit high falutin’, doesn’t it? Would you like to enter our debate? Will we be using the Chatham House Rule?

But what’s the word for what you do with your friends, or your partner, when one of you kind of takes up one position and the other takes the opposite one? Not in a forced debatey kind of way, but in a natural conversational kind of way. Debate is probably the word really. But it isn’t what people say nowadays, oh no…

“So Susan, are you going to lay that patio?”
“Well, funnily enough, Paul and I were having an argument… well… discussion about it last night.”

That’s right, the new word for this situation is, “argument… well… discussion”.

“Discussion” isn’t the word by itself because it implies that you might well agree about it, “we were discussing it and we both think we should go for it.”

And “argument” sounds too strong. It sounds like you might have been really cross about what you were debating. “Argument” has a frisson of emotion to it. And goodness gracious me, it would certainly never do to entertain the possibility that you have an emotional depth thicker than a sheet of paper.

But isn’t there already a word for the times when an argument goes a bit too far? Yes, it’s “row”. “Row” sits nicely between “argument” and “fight”.

So it would seem we are too squeamish to use “argument” now. We don’t want to admit that we are passionate about our point of view. When we say “argument”, we think other people think we’re saying “row”, but being nice.

And I know why – it is nice and polite. I know I’d say, “bit of a debate” probably to avoid saying “argument”. But my characters, who are hopefully more realistic than I am, will probably say, “argument… well… discussion”.

What would you say?

Go to bed

“Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.”
Why do people say this? Does it make any sense to you? Really…

…no, it doesn’t, does it? First of all, why would you want to sleep tight? That sounds awful. Sleeping loose is clearly the first requirement of a good night’s sleep. You can almost imagine this person sending you to bed by saying, “sleep tight and don’t forget to grind your teeth”.

No sleeping loose is right at the top of my bedtime agenda. So that’s at least 50% of this phrase that plain doesn’t work.

Let’s look at the other half. “Don’t let the bed bugs bite.” Maybe this is why you’re sleeping tight? Because you are supposed to be keeping ever vigilant for these bed monsters who are coming to devour you.

Bed bugs – the actual things – don’t actually bite you.* So why lie? Is this just to scare children? I mean, if we’re going for that then we can surely do much better. We’re clearly just allowed to make up anything.

How about:

“Good night, oh just before you go to bed, just keep an eye out and let me know in the morning?”
“About what?”
“Well, when I was in your room earlier, I thought I could hear your duvet breathing. And I swear it finished making the bed itself. I was probably confused though. Let me know in the morning.”

I am sure you can do even better. Do let me know in the comments.

* Look, let’s be all non-squeamish about this – but don’t read the next footnote if you don’t like that kind of thing.**

** They eat the bits of skin you are no longer using.

As I was saying to Mick Jagger…

A few years ago, I was driving towards Castle Howard when Katherine started reading from the guide book. She explained that Castle Howard was built in 1712 . “Oh,” I said, “so it’s not as old as my dad’s house.”

This has become a bit of a trope. Things get mentioned as being older or younger than my dad’s house. It’s a defacto standard of measurement. I’m surprised that those crazy cats over at SI or ISO haven’t been in touch.

So the other night I was at the theatre with Mick Jagger. He was there in the row behind me, minding his own business. Afterwards we all trudged out. There’s nothing like being stuck behind people. It doesn’t matter if they are mega famous or if they have loads of people in front of them – it’s easy to become antsy.

“Excuse me, Mick,” I said.

After we were out of the theatre, Katherine and I compared notes. He was a bit short, very wiry, he looked like he was almost dancing – at all times. These were all part of his cool.

“Well I dropped out of the London School of Economics faster than he did, that must mean he is less cool.” I said.

It was Castle Howard all over again.

Maybe Mick thinks he is cooler than me. But as I said to him, “excuse me, Mick”!

Go for odd

I know what you’re thinking. Imagine if, as well as reading whatever crazy thing comes across my mind, you could also see and hear me. Sounds unreasonably excessive, doesn’t it? But you know what they say about the Internet: somewhere, out there, is an audience for everything and nobody knows that they are a dog.*

So just in case that aphorism is accurate, I have created a new site –

Go For Odd is different to Gamboling. Here I tend to talk about things that have happened to me or about writing and actual fiction and all that stuff. Go For Odd is primarily going to be about talking to interesting people about odd things in their lives and recording it. Imagine it like Panorama but with jokes.

Anyway it sort of explains itself over there on the site, so if you’re interested, head over there and subscribe.

Don’t worry – I won’t forget gamboling. [I’m not worried! – Ed.]

* I may have got that slightly wrong.

Radio GaGa

When I was a boy, one of my favourite things to do was write and produce radio shows. I would essentially be copying music from CD to tape and talking over the gaps between the songs. I would do it for hours. In fact I did it so much that eventually I stopped bothering to record the shows.

Something about it was really reassuring. I like to find music for other people and I started getting quite lackadaisical about it – spending the time when the track was playing furiously trying to find the perfect next track. I had fewer and fewer written links and more and more ad-libed from-top-of-head-thoughts about what I was playing.

All the time I would be doing this, I would have the music coming out of headphones rather than the speakers so that I didn’t have feedback. I have no idea how mad I must have sounded to anyone walking past, just speaking to myself. But when I emerged with hot ears I would feel drained but satisfied.

All of that time I knew I would one day be a radio dj just in the way that other kids know they are going to be a professional footballer or whatever their dream is. But over the years that dream slightly fell away.

And now suddenly, rather unexpectedly, it has happened. How strange life is. I find myself co-presenting an hour long zoo radio show which has music, phone-ins, competitions and features and us (the team) desperately trying to keep up with reading a comment every 10 seconds. It’s also about Formula 1, but almost tangentally.

I have to publicly thank Christine Blachford and her mysterious partner in podcasting for fulfilling one of my life’s ambitions.

The charge I get from live broadcasting is unlike anything else in life. Perhaps it’s closest comparison is like exercise. It’s hard work, but worth it, sometimes you feel clumsy, sometimes things seem to connect and everything seems to work. And at the end of a show you’re exhausted.

I don’t know how those two talents at Sidepodcast do so much of it and hold down day jobs. But I’m really glad that they do. Working with such professionals made my intro quite a bit easier.

Here is a link to the shows in case you fancy a listen. It’s designed to be live and about formula one so it may make no sense, but I’m proud of them.

Draft one complete

So it is finally done. The first draft is complete. That was a bit of a slog in the end but it was certainly worth it.

I really need to thank all the people who motivated me all the way through. But I don’t want to do it yet because this isn’t over just yet!

I started this particular novel back in 2001 and a mere eight years later the first draft is complete. I ended up writing about a third of it over the first seven years, around a third during the week Katherine was in Turkey earlier in the year, and the final third was done in the last 30 days.

And I have to say that this most recent system was by far the best. Writing five thousand words in a day is fine (kinda) but it doesn’t leave much juice in the tank for the next day. But even that strategy was better than the first one of writing about 3,000 per year. That can get quite dispiriting after the first six or seven years I can tell you.

I decided to focus on pages earlier in the year and that really worked well for me. I think that on an average work day I can crank about one and a half pages of A4 on my commute. But that’s around 750 words.

My thinking was that if I set a target of 1,000 words I would most days miss my target (weekends obviously I can write more). But using the pages method I would be ahead of my daily target every other day. I wasn’t saying I wrote in a vaccum this many words today or this many pages. If I was three lines away from the end of a page I would get my new page count really early the next day and that was very encouraging.

So it was probably a trick but it was a really handy one. On one dark day in the process I looked at where I had got to on a page and said, “that’s the end of a chapter”. Inserted a page break and wrote “Chapter X”. And that was my page complete for the day. And for people confused by this, it was the previous page now being declared finished that bumped up my count.

Have some rules and stick to them. It worked well for me, but that’s probably a conversation for another post.

Only twice in the entire process was I ahead, but I never let it get too far behind. Here’s what the 30 days looked like in detail…

The weird thing is when you break it down by weekday… I did a lot of writing on Sundays but actually because of that I did well on Mondays. I would start the morning finishing a page which encouraged me all day. Other days I didn’t have a page to donate to tomorrow. Also skewing the results Katherine went out twice on Mondays, and also there was 1 more Monday and Sunday in the 30 days than any other day. I have to wonder if I’d have been able to make it without that luck of dates!

It’s finished, and that’s all that matters.

A novel idea

Sorry for the lack of updates on here I have been working furiously on my novel. I am closing in on the end and at this point I am desperate to finish the first draft. This has, perhaps unsurprisingly, led to a bit of a gap on here. I had been planning to fill it but I don’t think I can. So I’m afraid you’ll have to put up with me talking about writing.

So how’s that going? Well a couple of weeks ago I realised that based on my structure I had about 60 A4 pages left to go (around 30 thousand words).

And I decided that 2 pages a day was about do-able. And so I decided to write 2 pages a day. Even on the first day I only managed 1 page. But the idea was to slay the monster over the thirty days – on average.

I have been posting my updates about the previous day on Twitter (@alexandronov) and if you want to check in please do. The main point though is that because I’m posting the update every morning I’m having to face up to what I have or haven’t done. It has been hugely helpful. As has my friend Kris who has been replying to a seperate e-mail with great words of encouragement (a hard line to walk because if you’re sycophantic I’d believe it wouldn’t matter what I did, but too tough and I’d give up too).

So anyway that’s the story and here’s the graph.

Apprentice Guide

If only they issued this to the candidates before they went in…