I’ve recently been obsessing about boats again. The internet makes it easy to obsess over things; if you have a craving to find out everything about a particular topic, you just need to do a few Google searches and suddenly you’ve got thrimity-thrum tabs open and Firefox is using up 75% of your processing power.
When I was about 18, a friend of mine took me across the channel on his parents yacht. This was an amazing experience, going from flat, closed-off and conservative Bedfordshire to the world of harbours and ocean-going types. Technically, this means I have some sailing experience, but it was so long abo, and I was such an annoyingly lazy goon at that point in my life I think the only thing that I really took away from the experience was the memory of being at sea.
Coming across the above video reminded me of that, and the narrators vision of freedom and mobility is something that I find very attractive at the minute – I’m still too ill to hold down a job (no matter what the government said), and the idea of independence and travel that Hold Fast talks about is very attractive. Indeed, it’s so attractive that I ignored my NaNoWriMo effort for a few days, alternatively playing an Elite-style game while researching boating. I now have an enormous word-debt to get through if I want to finish NaNoWriMo this year, so I want to link-dump and move on until some point later.
- To Mexico and Back – the narrator of the Hold Fast’s first trip out, which gives us some interesting views into how “Moxie Marlinspike” got into sailing in the first place
- Instructable: How to get a free yacht – similar to Hold Fast and the above piece, this long instructable is the story of somebody who found a cheap, possibly dangerous boat, and put a lot of time into it to make it seaworthy.
- Build a Dinghy – I was surprised to find that there are several sources for free boat-building plans on the internet. This links to a dinghy design that could be built if you were reasonably good at woodwork.
- Times Up Boating Association – my friend Pippa built a dinghy as part of a residency with this arts/boating group, but some of the other projects they have been involved in are much more far-out, such as the use of a caravan as a diving bell. Not that building a boat looks easy, but caravan + submerging sounds deadly.
- That man who keeps sailing around the UK with a roadmap – also see BBC coverage – is symptomatic of the split-nature of sailing. On one hand, it’s a clear set of skills and tools that keep people alive. On the other hand, there are people who are willing to throw themselves out into the sea with their hope and stupidity to keep them alive. While I am dubious of the amount of money the “proper” sailing world insists is needed, I also think it’s important not to be an idiot.
- The cautionary tale of Bas Jan Alder – Bas Jan Alder was an artist who attempted to sail across the Atlantic in a thirteen-foot boat. He died.
I should be writing my NaNoWriMo novel right now, but I’m finding it hard. Don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you about my scribblings; the reason I’m finding it hard is because it was a year ago that I went into hospital. That was the start of the trail of events that led me back to my hometown, Biggleswade, where I am forced to visit the five coffee shops.
That hospital trip a year ago saved my life, and I am eternally grateful to certain individuals who bundled me into a taxi and made me go to hospital. However, the illness itself was so severe that I have only now just come off the medications I was put on, and it will still be a long time until I am well enough to work. Because of this illness, I now live 250 miles away from nearly all of my friends.
Like I said, it’s been a year now. That year has been a long time for anybody in Newcastle; they’ve all been busy, and where I’ve been watching Star Trek: Enterprise re-runs in my pyjamas, they’ve been working hard. I have had literally nothing to fill my time this year, and anything I have done has tended to make me exhausted… leading to more time on the couch in my jimmy-jams.
Let’s just say I have high hopes of completing NaNoWriMo this year.
One of the pieces of advice that NaNoWriMo headman Chris Baty recommends working in a coffee shop, where you can pick up interesting stories about characters. This is completely not the case in Biggleswade, where there are an amazing five coffee shops within two minutes walk of each other. It’s like a vortex of coffee, but not in a good way!
The mystery of the five coffee shops is that none of them are particularly good. I cringe when I write this, because I expect my favourite shop – the one on the corner, that used to be an off-license where I used to work – to find this humble blogpost and beat me round the ear next time I pop in. However, I would like to assure them that they are much better than the rest, especially the small one on the other side of the town square, who made me a coffee so bad that I almost couldn’t finish it.
I miss my old life in Heaton when I think about this. I miss being able to bump into people I knew and liked in local coffee shops. I miss being able to have conversations with people about the things we liked, such as art. And coffee. I’ve tried to get to events ’round here, but they are too few and far between and to hard to get to – there just isn’t much to do without resorting to going into London, which is extremely tiring and quite alienating.
I’ve worked out it’s going to take me at least another year or two here before I can leave. I’ll need to work, and save up a war-chest, in a town which doesn’t value any of my skills apart from “could lift heavy boxes” (the Bedfordshire region does not need any trained gallery assistants). Maybe by the time I can leave this mangled idea of a town, I’ll have managed to solve the mystery of the five coffee shops.
Why would I want to close my paypal account? Surely it’s one of those perennially useful services that you need, once in a blue moon?
Well, not me. I really don’t use paypal a lot. This year, owing to being pretty much housebound and bored I’ve used it to buy a few different things, but there always seemed to be an alternate option. But most importantly, there was now the option to use Paypal without logging in.
So I was surprised to get an email from Paypal saying that my account had “unauthorised access” recently. I hadn’t logged into my account in years, and as far as I knew, it didn’t even have a credit card linked to it. But the email checked out as being legit, unlike so many other Paypal spam emails, and I logged in to fix whatever was up with my account.
The first thing that I saw when I logged in with my account was a dropbox that asked me to confirm my credit card details. So… there was an unauthorised access to my account and the first thing you want to do is to confirm my credit card? Hm. Not impressed. But apparently there was some sort of site-wide “security update”, and I couldn’t go any further without filling in my details.
It turns out that there hasn’t been any access to my account for almost a month, since I paid master printer Lee Turner for a shirt that he sent me – but that was hardly breaking the bank. Checking the news I see that Paypal have just announced a deal with Facebook, and I have to wonder if they sent out an email to accounts like me (people who hardly use Paypal, and have a mostly dormant account) in order to bump up their value.
I’ve just managed to close my account. I don’t ever want to use Paypal again, such is my feeling after battling their contradictory messages of “safety” and “unauthorised”. It seems he best security when dealing with Paypal is to avoid them as much as possible, because they seem to have an agenda that isn’t at all about helping their customers.
After packing up my flat in Newcastle and returning to my parents house in Bedfordshire I was exhausted. Not just slightly tired, but borderline needing-medical-attention exhausted. I spent a week watching cartoons in bed, and a further week laying on the sofa watching bad TV, just to recover from my time away. During that period, an advert for Easyjet’s sale grabbed my attention more than one of the films I was watching, and I booked two return flights to Berlin.
About six weeks later my girlfriend and I stepped off the plane. It had been a beautiful flight all the way over to Germany, with the in-flight magazine mentioning my online friend Cassandra Harrison. When we started to land the pilot mentioned it was a brisk 8ºc outside, and our first steps through the airport reminded what that meant. However, we got to our hotel and collapsed for a little while, before dashing out to meet Pippa Buchanan and her fiance (of course, we got totally lost and went to the wrong station first, but that’s par for the course during the first 24 hours in a foreign city).
I’d been to Berlin a number of times before, and so I said that aside from meeting my friend Pippa and going up the TV tower, I was fine with whatever my girlfriend wanted to do. The next day we gorged ourself at the hotel breakfast and waddled out to do some sightseeing around Oranienburg Strasse, taking in the Kunsthaus Tacheles, the Synagogue, and the Ramones Museum, before heading off to the Reichstag to meet Pippa again.
(I would totally recommend the Ramones Museum, which showed you the history of the American punk group for €3.50, and also doubled as a really nice cafe. Kunstalle Tacheles was it’s usual pee-smelling graffiti-stained sixth-form art self, but it’s worth gawking at once. I can’t say I’ve ever seen any worthwhile art there though.)
Pippa had a cunning plan to get us into the Reichstag without queuing, and as we were not standing for election that involved going to the extremely fancy restaurant on top of the building. This meant queuing in the much shorter disabled entrance and taking a lift upstairs, which was a great relief to me as I was already starting to feel tired. It was also here that my phone had a freak-out, making me think that I wouldn’t have any of the photos from the trip – this caused me much nerd-consternation, but I tried to hide it and not let geekery spoil my time away.
The next day I woke up and felt awful. Fatigue hits me like that sometimes, when even a nights sleep won’t make me feel better. It’s like I’m too tired to sleep properly. I woke up and tried to force breakfast into myself, but had to give up and rest in the morning while the other half did cultural activities without me. I recovered enough for some less strenuous activities in the afternoon, and so we took the train down to Kreuzburger and wandered around. I saw Etsy Labs (from the outside), and the fabulously named Kreuzburger (try the haloumi burger!) before heading to spend a few hours at the Hamburger Bahnhof art gallery.
We were pretty tired after all that culture, although it was great to see some of the works on show there, and availed ourself of the very Germanic market at Alexanderplatz on the way back to the hotel. We had a meal of potato pancakes and hot sugared nuts, while watching a live duo sing polka songs for the entertainment of the masses. A holiday in Germany isn’t complete without that sort of omska-omska casio beat, but I was too tired to work out how to buy beer. The civilised European method of “paying a deposit for your glass” defeated my tired self, and so we returned to our hotel room and had an early night, watching subtitled movies and adverts for German TV shows (there seemed to be a TV show about crime-fighting monks who used kung-fu and BMWs. It looked awesome, but I might have misunderstood something owing to my near complete lack of German.)
On our final day we rose sluggishly, ate our body-weight at the buffet breakfast, and then brought more hot sugared nuts at the market. I was feeling decidedly slow and we had a long day ahead of us, so we met up with Pippa again for a guided tour of Kreuzberg that ended up at a delicious Somalian felafel place. Then we staggered around the Film Museum at Potsdammer Platz before attempting to catch a train back, a process which shocked me having not one but two cancelled trains. We made it in time, however, and on my return I felt inordinately grateful to be able to understand the London Underground signage.
What I did miss from Berlin was the sense of being somewhere with wide open spaces, where transport hubs smelt of the bakeries in their basements at night, seeing young people in the streets, and discovering a whole new city (again). But at the same time it’s also taught me that I’m nowhere near fit enough to be galavanting around, and so I’ll be hibernating for the winter. By which I mean “resting up until it’s warm”, not “sleeping in a cave for four months”.
Just getting myself back together after my holiday to Berlin. I’ll post something more substantial when I’m recovered.
This comes from a set of videos on YouTube where the soundtrack has been replaced, an idea originating on the Something Awful forums. It’s a smart idea.
(Do we need to have forums to make sense of the internet? Even the most dedicated forum has an ‘off-topic’ section, which is usually five times more interesting than the on-topic stuff.)
Back at the start of 2009 I made a list of things I wanted to learn. I was hurting at that time; I remember typing out those words in my cold, dark room, almost totally heartbroken and suffering strange stomach pains that I was putting down to IBS. I posted the list onto my website and then got on with my life, which (as I couldn’t have foreseen at the time) meant meeting a great girl and discovering I had a life-threatening illness.
As you can see from my list, that wasn’t really on my agenda.
For some reason that list keeps turning up in logs as something that people are looking at. So I thought I’d update it.
Fifty Things I Want to Learn
- I want to play a song and sing it in front of people – hmm, nope.
- I want to learn to be happier – it appears the secret is to not give a toss about what other people think. Learning how to do that is hard, but I’m working on it (see comment no.2 below).
- I’d like to learn how to cook – on hiatus while I live with my parents. Not because I’m lazy, but because they have a tiny kitchen. On the other hand, I can now make rocking pancakes.
- Concentration – goes hand-in-hand with happiness and actually enjoying what you are doing
- Something that I can earn money from – not fully worked this out yet, but I’m doing ok.
- A style of writing that anyone would want to read – to dream! The impossible dream! There is nothing that everybody wants to read, and the closest answers seem to be “Jeffrey Archer” and “Dan Brown”. Uh, no thanks.
- How to smell good – this sounds stupid, right? Well these days I just shower, but I had a number of girlfriends who insisted the secret was using some horrific smelling man-perfume. These days I just try to sweat less.
- How to make cake – does pancake count?
- How to bake - hiatus
- How to use an oven – hiatus. Also, made harder by not having an oven for most of 2009.
- Normalisation – as I no longer plan to do any programming, normalisation isn’t really a concern
- Programming in Processing – programming is for teenagers and people who want things to do something very specific. That’s not me.
- Enough electronics to get me through – don’t talk to me about your fucking Arduino
- To speak another language - nein. Well, krims-krams. Auspuff. Espresso.
- Speaking another language that most people can’t, but is still useful – I put this in as I have a terrible desire to know what people talking loudly in Chinese are saying. And because a white guy who speaks Chinese is already 65% cooler than before he opened his mouth.
- To be able to identify quotes when I hear them – I already could, but I wasn’t counting “that’s not a moon” “there are four lights” and “I wouldn’t do that if I where you Dave”. Now I am counting.
- How to relate to poetry – it’s just not going to happen. Unless we are talking about Fred Voss.
- Yoga – yup, did that.
- Better awareness of my body - gosh, I wonder why I put this in? Was it the strange stomach pains that turned out to be something deadly? Yeah, probably.
- How to juggle four balls – oh snap! This one I totally nailed.
- Some bar flair; maybe not enough to get a bar job, but enough to show off – Well, I can juggle four balls. I think I can throw a glass bottle around a bit.
- How to give great presentations to groups of people – I feel pretty confident that I can do this. I already gave presentations to upwards of 200 people, and they laughed, so that’s fine.
- How to teach – teaching isn’t important to me in any way.
- I’d love to learn what I’m obsessed with, because it seems like everything – ha! Easy. Done.
- Dancing in public – not really. But then I don’t really go out in public places.
- How to make a neat wordpress theme that works for me – I brought one. Why do everything the hard way?
- The secret of having less stuff- “be poorer”.
- How to ignore it when people really hate you - essential to this was moving 250 miles away. And having a scary life-threatening disease. I find it hard to care about people who don’t care about me now.
- Read less crap – actually, reading crap is very important. Reading crap makes you think “damn it, I could do better than that!”. So scrap no. 29.
- An awareness of literary genre’s outside of SF – I’ve read a lot more stuff recently.
- The best things to do with my damaged knee – wait. It’s over 18 months and it’s a lot better now
- How to have a stable life – what is “a stable life”? At the minute I spend nearly all of my time at my parents house, drinking coffee and generally being slack while I recover. That’s pretty stable, but not what I was going for.
- Writing long form – I have written a few long forms since I made this list, yes.
- Drive a car – absolutely no forward motion on this at all.
- Be tidier – see above
- Personal presentation – I think I can be somewhat truthful here and say that this is a thing we all understand to some extent.
- How to be less attached to physical gadgets – I just ordered an iPhone the other day, so perhaps this is a big fat fail
- Understand what draws me to a person romantically – well, if I understood that, what would be the fun in it?
- How to learn in a structured manner that suits me – again with the learning. Probably something to do with the project I was working on at the time
- Be less self-critical – everybody should do this
- Think of projects that can be completed - I’m probably starting to work on this
- Do more things that I think of – I think I will have some marmalade on toast after writing this. Success!
- Work harder – faster, stronger, fitter? More than ever hour after, our work is never over?
- Learn to sail a boat – I’ve moved to one of the most inland places in the country. Anything boat-related not going to happen
- Swearing with maximum effect – fucking complete.
- Remembering to say sounds like ‘th’ instead of ‘f’ and the ‘r’ in brought – or, “try to say things in the way that previous girlfriends had corrected me”. Insomuch as it helps me to make myself understood yes. In the way that it had been used to make me feel bad about talking? Screw yourself.
- To take ‘away time’ from computers – Back when I was really sick, but I didn’t know, whole days could go past with me stuck to the screen, too tired to move away. These days I get out more and do other, non-computer related things.
- Better mark-making skills – my handwriting is looking pretty neat these days
- Refresh my drawing skills - I’m not sure that I want to draw anymore. It seems somewhat of a distraction to me and my goals.
- Learn how to keep plants alive – hmmmm, nope.
So, I think I did pretty well out of that list. Moreover, I think that making a list isn’t so important to me these days. I’m content to let things develop. But it was nice to look back at that list, that once seemed so intimidating, and note how much of it that I had got done.
Back when I was in therapy, I remember my therapist saying to me “all of the young people I talk to are scared silly they’ll never meet anybody, because they don’t go to nightclubs”.
Now I’m slightly older, I think that means people who go to nightclubs just have more sex.
I’ve been trying to write a blog post about my illness, specifically about the night that I nearly died, for a while now. It’s a story I’ve told to my friends over and over again, and despite it’s grim subject it’s something I can rely upon to have people laughing out loud.
Trying to make that story come alive in writing is something completely different. I don’t know why – maybe I’m just not good enough with written words. But whatever the reason, I just can’t make the story really ‘pop’ when I need it to. Parts of it that are hilarious when spoken out loud come across flat and dull when in a written form, and after a few separate attempts to squeeze it onto a page I’ve given up.
One of the reasons it’s such a fantastic story is that I’ve told it so many times. I now live far away from my friends, and aside from a small number of people I keep in touch with via email and phone calls, I don’t see a lot of people. When I do get back to Newcastle, I usually go on a socialising splurge, trying to fit in seeing as many people as possible. This usually means updating people on why I’ve been away, and/or what’s wrong with me, and why I get so tired now, and to help me do this I fall into a shpeel which rattles through various points of my health failure until I reach the present.
But this shpeel, this story, isn’t really being told in my usual conversational voice. It’s a tale that I tell people, something I share with them, and when it’s finished I stop being a storyteller and talk with them. I like to find out what they’ve been up to in the months that I’ve been away. The storytelling “voice” I use when relating my tale is similar to the written style I use here on my blog – which, again, is not the real me.
The best blogs are blogs that have a focus, like Lee’s printmaking blog, or Mike’s blog about his trip to the birthplace of Russian Anarchy, or Brenda’s blog on her photography practice. Currently, when I blog I have no real focus but to tell an amusing story, and in doing so I’ve let the story-tellers voice become confused with my own when working (and writing) online. I actually get a lot of compliments about my blog, and the style of writing that I’ve used on it, which is really lovely. But I need to try new things.
I’m not sure what those new things are, but I have to stretch myself. Writing in this semi-voice, this tonal range that sounds like me but isn’t quite, is starting to impose limits on the things I can say – and the things I can’t. So it’s time to change.