Thursday, 31 March 2011

Pass it around

Writing exercise.

Everyone at the table needs a full sheet of paper. Write a character’s name. Pass it to the right. Or left. Up to you, but keep it the same direction.

On your new sheet, write an age for the character. Pass it on.

With the next sheet, write an occupation. Rotate.

Next, write a place. Get your next slip.

Write a time. Pass it around.

Finally, write an object. Pass it one last time.

In our group, this brought our original sheet back to us. You might need to include an additional story element- perhaps a colour, an animal, or an emotion, perhaps- to return to your original slip.

With 15 minutes on the clock, write a scene that incorporates all of these elements.

My sheet read like this:

Name: Bart Quinn
Age: 40
Occupation: Professional hired killer
Place: Amazon Rainforest
Time: Dawn (5am)
Object: Barbie Doll

My scene read like this:

They don’t tell him why she’s got to die. If he wants the cash, he goes to wherever they send him. That’s why he’s slumped against a giant ancient oak tree, waiting for the sun to come up. Under the vast Amazon canopy, the air is still cold, the half-light still straining his vision. Above tree level, it would be light by now. The parrots have already started to shriek.

Bart Quinn wiped his brow and took another sip of water. He looked at his client’s picture. Shame she’s good-looking, he thought. He tried to think of her as a Barbie doll, plastic and inanimate. With his eyes straining, she didn’t look far off.

Her camp was a few miles away. If he kept his pace up, he’d arrive just in time to blow her brains out over her breakfast. His Beretta was loaded up to the hilt. Bart was twice the size of his client. Even without the gun, she wouldn’t stand a chance-

He slapped his neck, swatting a mosquito. Then he screamed. No mosquito was that big. The legs clung to him like fingers, with one nail dug into his flesh. The scorpion sat on his hand, jamming the tail into him. He shook, but the creature clung like a koala to his flesh. Bart breathed in hoarsely, letting the photograph fall to the floor. He slumped on top of it.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Tesco Value: Challenged

Forget about being world famous, it's hard enough just getting the automatic doors at the supermarket to acknowledge our existence.
Doug Coupland, Author of Generation X

Three weeks ago, I found myself in a penny-pinching predicament. Typically, I had no money. I had a choice: blame everyone around me other than myself for my downfall, then starve to death, or shop on a serious budget. I then came up with a genius idea: the Tesco Value Challenge.

One full food shop. Task: buy only from the budget “Tesco Value” range.

I spent less than £20 on a full shop, which was impressive. But would the budget range allow me to live a full life, or would I degenerate into a withered Senator Palpatine-esque character?

Thankfully, I have retained my Adonis-like figure, although if I’d shopped like this every week I doubt I’d stay that way. Here’s what I strangely enjoyed eating:

The fruit was fine. Kiwis/pineapple: no complaints. The yoghurts were nice, although full of added sugars and stablisers. There was hardly any real fruit in them.

The jam tasted better than the ridiculously expensive Bon Mamon stuff that my mum buys (which is full of lumps and, once, in on holiday in France, contained a dead beetle. Mum has continued buying this brand.)

The pizzas were stingy, with minimal toppings on. I freestyled with value tuna and ham. Suited me. I enjoyed being forced into a bit of culinary creativity through the Challenge's restrictions.

There was nothing different about Value orange juice, as far as I could tell. But who knows. I can’t imagine the benefit of paying more. Fruit juice is fruit juice, right? The Spicy Noodle Snack seemed no different to a Pot Noodle, not that I’ve had many of them. I had to freeze half the loaf (encased in Value Wrap film) to stop it from going off. Tasted like normal bread, though. And for the most part, the baked beans, curry sauce, pasta sauce, chicken, peanut butter, orange juice ad nausea were all fine. I had no complaints over taste, but then, I’m not a big food fan. I eat because I need to. I eat protein because I work out. I drink hot chocolate when I can’t sleep. I eat cereal for breakfast because it stops me from feeling hungry. Taste isn’t something I get worked up over (except flapjack, which I normally love. Value flapjack being tasteless was a real let-down).

Not having milk was hard. I decided I’d rather go without than buy Value powdered, so not being able to have cereal forced me into eating the random snacks that I would normally have left in my cupboard for weeks.

As the days went on, the challenge got harder and harder. The remaining pre-Challenge milk ran out. The cereal sat on the shelf. I ate all the bread. I ate peaches for breakfast and tried strange mixtures of meats and sauces for evening meals. I ate more, as I was eating low-carb foods and feeling hungry sooner. Then I went to London for the weekend, with only a few fish fingers and cans left over. If I’d have got up earlier on each of these days, I could have cooked stuff and put off shopping for longer…

My opinions on Value products changed the next time I went shopping, when I actually bothered to check the ingredients of these items. In each item, the ingredients listed a good chunk of hydrogenated fats, sugars and stablisers. There were hardly any actual nutrients in products like sandwich ham and some canned foods.

The Tesco Value Challenge is not a lifestyle you’d particularly want to stick by. I think the food range is probably just for a quick dirty treat- Oh, okay, I’ll go cheap this one time with this one product- rather than anything sustainable. So I’ve gone back to spending more money on food, goddamn it, in the hope that I’ll be healthier and do better at the gym. I might even have missed the taste of good food.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

March Bad Language

Manchester’s premier fiction reading slam Bad Language took place on the 23rd. This time, Organiser Dan Carpenter gave me a slot slap-bang in the middle of the readings.

Nici took the mic first, reading some funny haikus including “Dog” and “Darylin”.

Clare Conlon plugged Flashmob flash fiction writing competition- which you SHOULD submit to-  before reading her story “Posterbill.”

Guy Garrud put a new slant on toilet humour with his hilarious monologue story, “Interview”.

Nija Dalal’s story used a building as a metaphor for life, and for turning thirty.

Claire Simmons read her story “Stephanie”.

Before the break, Bad Language organiser Tom informed us that Monday was World Poetry Day. I didn’t know about this!

Monday was also, Dan said, National Truancy Day. To mark this, he read his poem “Skiving”. It left me feeling like I wish I’d not tried so hard and bunked off school once in a while, like most normal kids. I related to “This Night”, about the end of a night out. Good work.

Dave Hartley followed this with a series of six-sentence stories, including “Unicorn Linguistics”, “Finger Thief” and of course, a funny rabbit poem. No Dave Hartley collection is complete without the inclusion of a rabbit.

Socrates (did I hear that right?) read his poem “Wide and Deep”, which he told us was about killing organiser Dan. I’m assuming that was a red herring, as I interpreted it as being more about life in general. I didn’t pick up any homicidal references at all!

Whaddayaknow? Next, we had Matt Tuckey.

My story “Stakeout” seemed well-received. I enjoyed reading it out. I also plugged Stray Branch, who have promised to publish the story later this year. 

Callum Kerr jumped on the mic after me. “Most of what I wrote about was about death,” he said. Then he read out “Tommy”, a violent story about ripping off dementia sufferers. All in good humour, of course.

Organiser Tom had some info for certain niche writers in the room- Manchester Speculative Fiction is a writer’s group looking for more contributors. Ask @Craigthegeek or @Benjaminjudge, on Twitter, for more info. Tom read out his poem “Little Lies of Tall Girls”, before the concluding third began.

Benjamin Judge gave us “Twelve Haiku Found in Sock Drawer of Roy Keane”. It was popular, although with it being football-orientated I didn’t understand a word.

The highlight of the night was Fat Roland’s choose-your-own-adventure story. He called it “Sometimes in Life, It Seems Like You Have A Choice”. It started off as an office-based scenario featuring the filling in of a spreadsheet pertaining to paperclips. Through cacophonous audience participation, we picked the direction of the bizarre story, which took us through a depraved world of buffalo, paperclips, rabbits and scatology. Hilarious. Gross.

Anna Percy settled our stomachs by plugging “Stirred”, for women who write. If you’re female and want to perform fiction or poetry, why not check out the night at Sandbar on Grovesnor St. Everyone is welcome to the event, which runs on the first Monday of every month. .

And it’s only a quid to get in! You cannae complain.

(On a side point, if anyone fancies attending and writing it up, I’d be happy to post your review here. Get seen. Get involved. You know it makes sense.)

Anna read her poem. She used a collage that she made for inspiration.

Aaron Gowman follows with a story.

Gerry Potter read last and had memorised a very long poem called “Wind”, about the myth of himself. He followed this with “Blue Eye”, about unrequited love, and “A Midsummer Night’s Daydreaming”, re Liverpool’s gay scene. He gave the audience a trademark “camp scouse wink” before rounding off with “The Imagination is God”.

The next Bad Language night will be 27th April, with a guest performance from local poet Rod Tame.

Although Bad Language may live up to its name with the occasional controversial story, In Manchester’s creative writing scene it is a headlining event. If you like good creative writing, you need to hear some Bad Language.


If I've missed any links, please feel free to comment.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Hollywood Star's Libyan Connection Shock

Libya did not pose a threat to the U.S. before President Barack Obama gave the go-ahead for an American military campaign against the North African country, Robert Gates has admitted.”

This is in accordance to the Daily Nazi- cough, I mean, the Daily Mail, referring to the US Secretary of Defence's comments. The Libyan uprising has been at the forefront of worldwide new for over a month now, the issue only being quietened by the tragic Japan Tsunami.

However, there is one vital side-subject that the world has seemingly overlooked. Here's delusional Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi:

Here's veteran Hollywood actor, Tommy Lee Jones:

Related much?

Saturday, 26 March 2011

My Herbert the Pervert Impression

Here's my worryingly good impression of Family Guy's resident paedo, Herbert. At this point, I'd like to remind you all that I am attracted to adult women, unlike the “real” Herbert.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Show Us Your Objects

Writing exercise.

Everybody at the table writes down one object.

Next, we all read out our objects. We write these objects under our own.

We now have a list of objects. On our list, we had:

Whisky glass
Table lamp

You have 15 minutes to bring all these objects together in a story.

I had to go off at a tangent to make this “work”, and the result is nothing short of horrendous. But I’m still going to subject you to it. No really! Read on. I insist.

He’s doing it all wrong,” said the whisky glass to the key. “Every time he plonks ice into me, I feel dirty and violated.”

The key, with all its potential locked inside it, lay on the cabinet baking under the heat of the table lamp. “I’d do anything,” he said, breathless, “to trade… places… with you…”

It wouldn’t be so bad if I was in the light from the windoooowwww…” The whisky glass’ voice lurched and faded as the man launched him towards his mouth. “Well- it’s a little warmer up here,” he shouted down from the man’s mouth. “The sun’s quite warm, you know.”

You are an ARSE,” shouted the key. “I am MELTING down here.”

The man lurched drunkenly, gripping the cabinet. The glass, drained now, caught a glimpse of the apartment’s wall thermometer. 21 degrees C. He began to wonder if he could float right where the thermometer was, on the wall. Maybe he could even take the key with him, and they could float inexplicably in the medium heat of the man’s grand apartment.

Monday, 21 March 2011

British Pie Week

All my fans tell me what a glamorous life I have, but I tell them how hard I work and how many nights I spend alone with my dogs, eating chicken pot pie in my bedroom.
-Shannen Doherty, US Actress

7-13th March was British Pie Week. Shamefully, I did not take advantage of this occasion and use it as an excuse to eat pies all week. I regret this.

Instead, I spent most of the week reading Teach Yourself Marketing. The Teach Yourself range provides your bread-and-butter (pie?) knowledge on over 500 subjects, ranging from Accounting to Zulu. If you want to know the ins-and-outs of an area of work or a hobby, this range is as good as any you’ll get. Marketing was a HARD book to read: very corporate, very heavy. Needfully so, of course. The most interesting section of this book details the meanings behind the names of the world’s most popular brands. Did you know that sports brand Adidas takes its name from the company's founder, Adolf “Adi” Dassler? Can you guess which drink was originally made with cola nuts and (now illegal) coca leaves? The Danish “Leg Got” means “play well”, which- in the 1930s- became a favourite childhood toy- Lego. Richard Branson almost called his company “Slipped Disc”, but decided “Virgin” sounded better. Not sure myself. Bit of a toss-up. (Pun?)

I’ve been working in marketing for a couple of years now, with no formal qualifications in the subject as such, so I figured it was time to get the info into my head. Not that it will stay there.

Still, a meaty read, forming the crust of my marketing knowledge.

Well, I had to tie them together somehow.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Women: How To Get Into Shape FAST Without Spending a Fortune

The majority of the women I know are throwing their money down the toilet. You might be doing the same as them.

Are you one of the thousands of women in the UK who are a member of a gym? Are you, like some girls I know, paying upward of £50 a month to keep fit? Why are you doing this?

The Greek “Gymnasium” means “place to be naked”. The meaning had changed somewhat by the time gyms became popular across the US in the 1970s, particularly after the documentary Pumping Iron, that which shot this young man to fame:

This documentary inspired a generation of men to hit the weights and get huge. In the 70s and 80s, gyms sprung up all over the country. The UK, like the US, went gym-mad. With the introduction of cardio equipment in the 80s, women started to work out too.

Most men pay money to go to the gym to build muscles. The cardio equipment in the gym I use to warm up, to stop my muscles from being damaged when I start lifting weights. I do test my cardio alongside my strength, but I mostly go to the gym to get strong.

If all I wanted to do was stay slim and trim, I’d use a skipping rope. A while back, I performed an exercise experiment. I went skipping for sixty minutes. My weight dropped from 64.4kg to 64.0kg. That equates to 100g every fifteen minutes.

If you skip for fifteen minutes every day, you can lose a kilo in a week and a half. You’ll tone up all the muscle sets in your whole body. It won’t turn you huge, but it will develop a fair amount of natural, balanced strength. It’s also the easiest way of lifting your heart rate above normal, meaning a healthier heart. Skipping is also the token warm-up exercise for most combat sports, including boxing, Muay Thai boxing and Mixed Martial Arts. In these sports, competitors must make a certain weight in order to fight. If they are above that weight, they are given a rope and are to skip until the weight comes off. If it works for heavyweight fighting types, it can work for anyone.

The thrust of my argument: Why do women spend so much money just trying to “get into shape”, when they can buy a skipping rope for £10 in most sports shops and do this at home?

Here’s a video for those who’ve not done it since they were ten.

The fact that this would free up a lot of space on the machines for men like me, well… that’s by the by…

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Would You Like to Write for Power is a State of Mind? REDUX

"Anthony Wilson says that for a big city, Manchester is just small enough. It's true. People know each other, collaborate, cross-pollinate. Ideas can mix and match. It's easy to get things moving. But Manchester's size also makes the social processes more visible. Things can't be contained. Even as you stroll round the new urban pleasure zones you can see the collapsed excluded communities. You can see how things are developing. Where they might end up is another matter. ..Will everything keep spinning and never actually fall down?....Who knows. But Manchester, as Mancs love to tell you, has been ahead of the game. Perhaps it'll be the first place to show us whether our new cities work."

-From "Manchester Divided" by Jim McClellan, Esquire Magazine, June 1997. 
Over the last few months, this here blog has morphed. It has been sculpted from a misshapen lump of html-clay to a- well, slightly different shaped… thing.

I’ve tweaked it from a self-obsessed platter of bad sex, bizarre job interviews, and nightmarishly paranoid journeys across the UK- into “some kind of arts-and culture blog”, as one reader put it- but one like none other.

The question is: is this how I want my blog to look?

Seeing as my page views are climbing, I’d say yes. To help my page views climb further- and to help YOUR page views climb further- I decided to recruit guest bloggers. I want you to show your great writing, right here, and provide a link back to your own blog.

The next question is: what do I want from guest posts?

1)      Creative writing exercises.
Perhaps you are a member of a writer’s group. You may do warm-up exercises at this group, to develop the ability to put thoughts into words as quickly as possible and to refine your storytelling skills. I’ve detailed a few ideas, showing how to perform the exercise and what I produced as a result. If you have ideas like this, I’d love to see them.

2)    Literature event reviews.
Manchester is a creative hub, a bubbling boiling-pot of fiction readings, book signings, poetry slams, workshops and other word-based happenings. I’ve covered quite a few, but I need time to put pen to paper myself. If you’ve been to one of these nights, your write-up could be seen right here.

3)    Tell me something surprising about Manchester.
One way of gauging what I mean by this would be to read Fugitives and Refugees by Chuck Palahniuk. F&R is an exploration of Chuck’s home-town of Portland, Oregon. In it he finds the most unusual, bizarre subjects right under his nose- he visits the town’s sewers, interviews the workers there, goes to the zoo where the keepers tell him of the animal’s strange habits (including skunk courtship) and regales tales of underground parties and, most memorably, the Santa Rampage- a festival for Father Christmases. It’s a fascinating account of what you would imagine to be an ordinary city- but isn’t.

Manchester is far from ordinary. There’s an underground tunnel in the city originally designed for use if a war breaks out. There are ghosts haunting Peter Street, and many other ageing areas of the city. There’s a Clockwork Orange-inspired bar. There’s a vegan Buddhist café. There are countless stories that transpire out of this cocktail of possibilities. Tell them to me, and we’ll tell the world.

A few more things- keep it under 1000 words. Ooze enthusiasm. Write good. Let's do this!
Email putting "PIASOM Submission" in the subject field.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

How to Catch a Pickpocket


We must annex those people. We can afflict them with our wise and beneficent government. We can introduce the novelty of thieves, all the way up from street-car pickpockets to municipal robbers and Government defaulters, and show them how amusing it is to arrest them and try them and then turn them loose- some for cash and some for ''political influence.'' We can make them ashamed of their simple and primitive justice. We can make that little bunch of sleepy islands the hottest corner on earth, and array it in the moral splendour of our high and holy civilization. Annexation is what the poor islanders need. ''Shall we to men benighted, the lamp of life deny?''”

Mark Twain, US writer

5th March. Saturday night. We’re in Manchester’s Gay Village, the perfect venue for pickpocketing scum bags: close-knit, narrow streets, all intersecting each other. It would be impossible to monitor a community like this on CCTV.

Certain members of Manchester’s Latin community target the village for this reason- also, of course, because there are lots of drunk people carrying smartphones.

It’s 2am, and we’re looking for a taxi rank. A rich-looking Latino guy approaches my friend R while we’re distracted in the middle of our conversation. He puts his arm around R and dances with him in a salsa style. Then he skips off.

I tell R to check his pockets.

The Latino took his phone.

R and I chase the culprit down the dodgy narrow alley.

Phone,” demands R. “Now.”

The Latino hands R his phone back. We let him go, which probably isn't the best idea.

R tells me he would never have guessed what had just happened. The only reason I know, I tell him, is because it happened to me. When I reported it to the police, they told me someone else had reported a similar incident. It's obviously happening all over the city, every weekend. The majority of victims will be too drunk to realise what's happened.

A few days later, I contact the Manchester Evening News. I contact Key 103. I link up my first pickpocketing blog post to news websites for Manchester. Yet STILL, I am the only person publicising what is happening. I have had no notice that the media has printed or broadcasted anything regarding this. Why? Why don’t the press publish these stories? Why art there no police warning posters in bars? And more to the point, Why haven’t the police investigated the hubs of Manchester’s Latin culture like The Copacabana club in the Northern Quarter? This bar in particular is known as the top venue for salsa dancing in Manchester. It wouldn’t surprise me if the heart of Manchester’s pickpocketing operations congregated there regularly to brush up on skills.

If the police and the media won’t publicise this, I have no choice but to do it myself. I will bring this operation down.

Monday, 14 March 2011

The Tesco Value Challenge


Ever consider what pets must think of us? I mean, here we come back from a grocery store with the most amazing haul - chicken, pork, half a cow. They must think we're the greatest hunters on earth!
Anne Tyler, U.S. Novelist.

On Saturday I set myself a task: Go to Tesco. Get a full food shop in. Only buy from the Value range. Nothing else.

I realise that buying the lowest-priced version of everything might be a weekly occurrence for millions, and they are doing it out of necessity than quirky curiosity. Having said that, maybe I've been a bit frivolous in my food shopping previously, by buying independent brand names and middle-of-the-range Tesco goods. But I figured, why spend more than you need to on what is essentially the same product? Why Heinz beans as opposed to Tesco's budget counterpart? Either will result in Blazing Saddles-style flatulence, you'd have thought. Why shell out more for something with the same, er, function?

Because it tastes nicer, I hear you say.

You might be right there, in a lot of cases. But considering how surprisingly awesome ASDA's Smartprice (budget) canned stewed steak is, I'd say not everything cheap is shit.

And with this mentality, I rolled into Oldham's Huddersfield Road Tesco with the plan to but nothing but Value products.

I learned two things.

1) Half the things you want, you can't have as there are no Value alternatives. Milk is out, unless you want it powdered. I couldn't bring myself to buy it. Certain types of meat are out. Liver from the counter- the cheapest meat Tesco offers- is off the cards.

2) In place of the things you can't have, you notice things that you'd never have thought of buying and end up trying anyway. When have I ever bought noodles? Naan bread? Fish Fingers! I've not had them since I was... oh, 23! Hmm. A plate-sized apple pie! Oh, go on then. Seeing as I'm allowed.

Thankfully, the value range encompasses fresh fruit, so the Challenge has not opened the door to scurvy. I stocked up on pears and a pineapple.

The eggs were from caged hens. Yes, this is snide. Yes, parliament should outlaw battery farming. No, I cannot afford to buy free range. Yes, I would vote against battery-farming, even though this would cost me more money that I don't have. The same goes for things like chocolate- fair-trade goods should be widespread and the fairtrade ethic should be what is legally required for food businesses. I'd vote for it, but if you give me a cheaper option when I'm walking the isles of my local supermarket, I'll always go for what's easier on my wallet as opposed to my conscience. If you've been reading this blog for a few years, you'll know that I stand by the principle that greed- whether a good thing or a bad thing- is part of human nature. We all want as much of what we can get. It's a survival thing. Offer me cheaper eggs, and I'll take them. Then I'll fill out the petition against battery-farming.

This is part and parcel of the Tesco Value Challenge.

So now the shop is in, I spent about twenty quid, my shelves are full and I'm slowly ingesting and digesting the Value goods. Will I be hospitalised through malnutrition? Will my rectum prolapse? Will I thrive, and see no reason to spend more ever again? Will I be branded a cheapskate and shunned by society at large?

Stay tuned to find out. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need the toilet. Again.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Pick a slip...

Writer's group exercise.

The organiser has a series of slips of paper in her hand. We are asked to pick one.

Now we are asked, write an opening line and a closing line of a story.

Most of the paper slips are blank. One, however, has the letter B written on it. Another has the letter E.

Who has B?

What's your opening line- your beginning?

Everybody writes this down.

Who has E?

What's your closing line- your end?

Everybody writes this down.

You now have 15 minutes to link the opening and closing lines with a story.

In our group, the member who picked the B slip gave us this opening line:

She had often wondered where he came from.”

I had picked the E slip. I brought this closing line to the table.

He doubted he would ever be allowed back into that library.”

For ease, most of us changed the word “he” to “she”.

Now the whole group starts and ends the story the same, but with varying content. It's like running a cross-country race. The route is the same, but depending where you step, your experience will be vastly different. Mine certainly was.

She had often wondered where he came from. She thought maybe Germany, or eastern Europe. She didn't know much of these things. But she liked his name- Max Felching. It sounded cultured, refined.

People had warned her that she was kind of naïve, that she should keep her wits about her.

Max hadn't been very talkative. The introduction was brief but memorable, sat around the table in the university canteen. He was classically handsome, sturdily built and arrogantly quiet, which she both loathed and lusted after.

But that was a week ago, and she hadn't seen him since. Was he on Facebook? She wondered. Would it be creepy for me to see if he' on the university intranet?

She opened the library door and booked onto a computer, registering her card, and registering a sense of guilt as well. Was this kind of stalkerish?

She sat down. Opened the intranet page. Searched for “feltching”.

No result.

What about the bastion of knowledge, Google? If that didn't know him, no=-one would.

She typed in “Feltching”.

When the pictures loaded, she gasped audibly. What kind of woman, she thought, would let a man do that?

Students on the adjacent seats stopped typing. Two lads laughed, loud. She tried to click the browser button to close, but saw only a tiny egg-timer symbol- the naked man and woman were still clearly visible and, within the last five seconds, a small crowd had gathered behind her, sputtering smothered laughter down her neck.

What. Are you doing?”

Library assistants were the only people to use a voice of authority in this room.

She still had no idea about Max. Worse still, finishing her degree would be harder now. She doubted she would ever be allowed back in that library.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

How Do You Gauge Twitter Fame?

I want the money, the women, fortune and fame /
That means I'll end up burning in hell scorching in flames
-Eminem, Rock Bottom

I recently blogged about celebrity Twitter followers here and here.
There's something fascinating- shallowly so- about the ease of contacting a celebrity on Twitter. Just @ them (“at” them. It's a verb, now) in your status, and they see it in their mentions. No sending a letter by air mail. No phoning agents. No contacting official website developers. Just you, the celeb, and 140 characters to express yourself. Oh, and everyone you follow can see what you've written to them. Alas, Twitter only allows you to send private messages to tweeters who follow you back.

While writing the aforementioned blog posts, I found myself wondering- “How can you tell how famous someone is? Is Schwarzeneggar more famous than Stallone? Britney more famous than Beiber? Is it relative?”

In the real world, level of fame probably relates to two things.
  1. Media coverage, which is hard to assess
  2. Income. Who makes the most money?

In the online world- particularly Twitter- we measure fame by the amount of connections the individual has online. P Diddy, for instance, has 3,406,328 followers at the time of writing.
He's vastly overshadowed by honest-hipped she-wolf Shakira. 4,768,119 people want to know what she's doing with herself these days.
Hence, according to Twitter, Shakira is more famous than P Diddy.

Shakira has sold 60 million albums.
P Diddy has sold 12 Million Albums, according to
If I were asked to guess, I would have thought P Diddy the more famous one- but I don't live in Colombia where Shakira is HUGE. So record sales and Twitter followers might go hand-in-hand.

Anyway. Enough market analysis. The point I'm making is, the more Twitter followers someone has, the higher their profile. So, to gauge how famous your followers are, check how many followers they have themselves.

Let's play Twitter Top Trumps.

My top follower is adult actress Vicky Vette with 93,373 followers.

She's tailed by Social Media guru Denise Wakeman with 21,042 followers.
Granted, they follow people in the thousands themselves, but it's a start. They wouldn't be being followed if they weren't in demand. If you really wanted to get complicated, you'd have to look at ratios of followers to followings. And that's something my figure-retarded mind can't grasp at all.

Can anyone beat Ms Vette?

As a side point, and just to gauge my own social status against these people, I'm currently at a whopping 136 followers. Fancy making it 137?

Friday, 11 March 2011

Poets Get MASHED

Check your List of Things to Do Before You Die. On your list, do you have “Read at a poetry slam”?

I did. As of Friday, 4th March, it ain't on the list. I ticked it off in style.

The principle of Poets Get Mashed is simple: Read a poem you wrote, followed by a poem of someone else’s that you like, thus creating a mash-up of styles.

The night of the 4th was only the second time the night had been ran but already, by the start time, a fair crowd had arrived in An Outlet on Dale Street.

Compare Dominic Berry opened the night with his a capella poem / song dedicated to local poet Marvin Cheeseman, who was in the audience that night. He followed this with “Uninvited,” by poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

John Darwen followed, with “Skipper”, and “My Winter”, before introducing Max Wallis who read “Thinking Infinity” and another piece.

Dominic reminded us of another chance to read and hear poems: Freed Up is on the 3rd Thursday of every month at Manchester’s Green Room

The upcoming theme is “Excellence”, if you fancy giving it a go.

Other poems included “New York Rude” by guest artiste Rosie Garland, describing Big Apple attitudes. It’s an excerpt from her new book, Things I Did While I Was Dead
Speaking of attitudes, Rosie then advised us to BOGOF… telling us of a deal she’s doing on her books- especially for us. Rosie read a series of her works and works of other writers. Most memorably, “Kings of the Playground” by Carol Ruman, I’d assumed was about childhood memories. Uh-uh. It was a metaphor for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Once we knew this, the poem made a new, deeper impression.

(Side thought: I often wonder how to show hidden meanings in writings, and whether to explain them at all. Some poems benefit from being open to interpretation, but I doubt anyone would have guessed the undertone of Carol’s poem. Still a good piece, though. What are your thoughts on how obvious you should make a poem’s meaning?)

Rosie followed this with a series of very brave poems about her battle with cancer.

Dominic gave us a ten-minute break before the remainder of readers hit the mic. He gave us a ten-line challenge to keep us busy, though.

Cricketer Steve Davies recently came out as gay.
He’s apparently the only televised cricketer to ever do so. In the spirit of this, the challenge was to write a ten-line poem about gay cricket.

I gave it a shot, but didn’t submit my horrendous attempt for the competition. My disconnected piece consisted only of something to do with “batting for the other side” and “ball meddling.”

Starting up the second half, Dominic read “Queer Thanksgiving”. Marvin Cheeseman followed with Sandwich Love, a poem about Jeremy Beadle visiting America, and the football-inspired “What a Goal”.

Deep breath.

Next up, we were told, it’s Matt Tuckey.

Jumping on stage, I described a Facebook-based poetry slam prior to a planned night of whisky sampling. For the audience, I read out one of the pieces that came out of this. “Whisky Poems” by Mark Ferris went down well.
I followed it with my answer-back piece, “Whisky Night”.
I rounded off with Mark’s answer-back-to-answer-back poem, “Cold Whisky Nights”.

Reading out was a buzz, and the audience seemed to enjoy it.

Other local poets causing a scene were Jo Warburton, Neil Mcall (reading poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s work) and Anna Percy reading Ann Sexton.

Rod Tame followed with “Cloths of Heaven” by WB Yeats- a piece I thought I’d never heard of, until one line stood out a mile:

I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Ever seen the awesome Martial-arts-with-guns movie Equilibrium?

Sidetracking slightly, but why were both Cleric Partridge and DuPont both quoting WB Yeats?

Dominic announced Jo Warburton winner of the “gay cricket” competition, after which he rounded off with his poem, “This Knight”, taken from his new book Tomorrow I Will Go Dancing.

Poets Get Mashed is another fine example of the burgeoning talent that crackles through Manchester’s creative scene. Dominic Berry, at the forefront of the movement, is doing a fantastic job of putting Manchester firmly on the national poetry map.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Smurf Fight in View Bar

Let's start a war, start a nuclear war,
At the gay bar, gay bar, gay bar.
-Gay Bar, Electric Six

The city can be a dangerous place at night. Muggers, pickpockets, rapists, people just plain looking for a fight- they exist in Manchester like they do in any other built-up area. Manchester’s Gay Village, home to a plethora of bars with varying levels of gayness, is a popular destination for a night out as revellers of any orientation believe that they will be safer there. After all, when was the last time you saw a gay man in a fist fight?

Straight girls flock to the Village but increasingly, straight men do too. With there being a lot of girls in our group, that’s probably why we went there. They think they won’t get pestered by straight guys, and there won’t be any trouble. Unfortunately for them, that’s not really the case these days.

The Village is just off Portland Street in the city centre. One of the more straight places is View on Canal Street, a two-level bar playing middle-of-the-road moderately cheesy music to the stuffed-in crowd.

Saturday night’s most memorable moment may have been the scrap between two groups of young lads. My guess is they were all straight, but who knows. A gang of Smurfs- topless boys dipped in blue body paint and wearing white shorts- dived head-first into a messy brawl with another (more regularly-dressed) group of lads. The doormen dived in, getting blue smeared on their black overcoats, the Smurfs’ trademark white hats falling off in the scuffle.

Don’t choke him,” I shouted to no-one in particular. “He might go blu- oh.”

Smurf after Smurf got yanked out by security, plastic glasses spilling out of their paling painted hands, beer running blue over the tiled floor.

From the full-length canal-side windows, we could see the Smurfs turfed one-by-one onto the canal pathway. Back out in the cold, the boys had better run.

It’s still only March, I thought, watching, and you’re in Northern England. And you're only wearing shorts. And you’re surrounded by randy homosexuals.

Good luck.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Bad Language Manchester

An unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.
Ursula K. Le Guin, U.S. author

Writing collective Bad Language offered up a night of quality fiction and poetry readings at the Castle on Oldham St., Manchester. On 23/2, creative writers from across the city gathered in the Northern Quarter venue to offer their stories.

The pub backs onto a spacious church, connected by a doorway, and ideal for readings. The organiser introduced the night with her poem, “He Wants to Be a Superhero”.

Aaron Gowman took the first slot of the night with a heartfelt story of unrequited love.

Fat Roland dished out some freebies to the audience- including some Tesco Value toothpaste- before reading his macabre tale “The People Vs. The Tooth Fairies”.

Mercedes Fonseca read a morose tale called “Cheapest Dream Machine”.

Tom Mason- celebrating his birthday, in fact- read out his bizarre and funny story, “Dream Girlfriend”.

Guy Garrud coincidentally made a recurring theme with “Don’t Believe in Faries”, blowing a whistle prop half way through his story to mix things up.

Claire Simmons read her unnerving scary-bird story, “I See Magpies Everywhere”.

During the break, we were reminded that Bad Language is developing an anthology of poems and stories. The latest edition is in the editing stage now, but will soon have details of their next venture into print.

We fired back up with the story “Manchester Rain”. Who read this? Apologies.

Benjamin Judge gave us “Brains”, where the undead literary elite stalk the town for their favourite food. A fine slice of gore horror comedy.

Steve Garside read a poem.

Sarah-Clare Conlon’s “Dress Down Friday” had a funny end twist. Well received.

Joely Black’s “Gavin One” was the first in a series of stories about a sexless introvert who accidentally creates a mini universe with his chemistry set, thus becoming a god.

Following on nicely from this, Dave Hartley’s original and surreal “The Dust Station” featured a prison world inside a sneeze.

Rod Tame told us of the Manchester Steampunk Consortium on 1st May. If steam-powered SF is your bag, check out Matt and Phred's Jazz Club, Oldham Street, 19:30. Rod performed a poem that fits the sci-fi-in-Victorian-era sub-genre. He’ll be reading the same poem, “Victoria, Queen of Steam”, at the MSC, which Rod says will be full of drunken geeks. Apparently, we were a perfect test audience. Charming!

Bad Language editor Joe read out a love letter to former Blue Peter presenter Katie Hill. Funny stuff! But I concur, Joe. She was pretty fit.

Jo Bell took over at the end of the evening. The local poet impressed with “Worst Date,” before telling us of her new website, Something Every Day. As the title suggests, the e-zine features new poetry daily, and a different team of writers curates the site every month. This May, the Bad Language collective will take it over. Expect good things.

Jo rounded off by dishing out slips of paper to various members of the audience. Each slip featured the title of one of her poems, and each table of people had a selection of slips. She asked the audience to pick out titles from their selection, which she read out to us. An energetic and original performance.

An engaging evening, and more proof of the creativity bursting out of Manchester. It was my intention to read on the night, but I found out about the event a little late. I’m on the waiting list for next time- 30th March- so if you fancy hearing me read, get down and show some love.

Apologies for misspelled names / any other errors. Feel free to correct me/add your blog links.