Friday, 29 April 2011

Still Alive

Amazing. The old lady above me is back in her flat, stomping around above my head and shrieking into her telephone.

I didn’t hold much hope for her after her accident a month ago, but it sounds as if she pulled through. The council have given her a new door after the police put her old one in to get her out. The housing people washed the blood off the staircase (eventually) and everything is back to relative normality.

Speaking of normality, my flat is finally decorated- 27 weeks after I got the keys- and my home is now more Patrick Bateman's abode than Mark “Rent Boy” Renton's, if you get me. It took a ridiculously long time, but- and here’s where I get myself into more shit- that’s what happens when the council give a flat to a social services client with a memory disability, then denies him any support with decorating due to it “not coming under anyone’s remit.”

But it is done. That’s the important thing.

The insurance paid up after I was robbed in Manchester and I got a replacement HTC Wildfire. Again, a little normality ebbs back into the tangled, frayed thread ball that passes for my existence. Something that I’ve struggled to get people to understand: when you have a memory disability like me, you need a system to keep yourself organised. You need a notebook for general info. You need a diary for scheduling what happens in your life. And, ideally, you need them both wherever you go. Seeing as the man bag was a total disaster, I held fire until technology caught up with my needs. Everybody fiddles with their phones in public, and no-one thinks anything of it. Try busting out a pen and notepad, and not getting dodgy looks or being compared to George McFly.
The Wildfire is now what I use to “fit in” in society, like a rifle is what a soldier uses to stay alive. Without it- shit-creeksville. When I was robbed, that’s how vulnerable I felt. Hats off to my insurance. They really rearmed me in the hostile environment I call my life.

Jon Fitz rocked Rififi on Thursday 21st to awesome effect. The DJ has now secured a residency at Manchester’s Avici White. I’ll be back at Avici soon enough. I have a very good feeling about the club.

Former sex worker / scientist / writer Brooke Magenti (Belle De Jour) is blogging about sex and contemporary attitudes towards it after a break from the blogosphere. Check out her fascinating Sexonomics.

I finished reading Teach Yourself Copywriting. I may have found my calling in life. Providing the text for booklets, adverts, infomercials etc- this is what I must do somehow. The only problem- I don’t have the qualifications to enter the work sector. Shit. Does anyone know how to actually get into copywriting?

Tough times. I’m struggling. That’s undeniable, but people surprise themselves in the face of adversity. An elderly pensioner, bleeding heavily after an accident, climbs down a flight of stairs to contact a neighbour she’s never seen in the hope that he’ll save her life- at 8am on a Sunday morning. Her neighbour does what he can. The police and ambulance workers play their part, followed by underpaid, overworked hospital staff who sew up her scars and change her bedpans and wash her. A month later, she’s back clattering in her flat, cooking and watching game shows and walking around in what sounds like clogs on a seemingly carpetless floor.

It’s time for me to surprise myself. I have no idea what I need to do, but I know what I need: more money, less fear and a good woman. One way or another, I'll do this.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Inglourious Basterds?

I finally got around to watching Inglorious Basterds. It’s a step back towards Tarantino’s heyday of making great films- well, it’s better than the utterly pointless Deathproof, at least. Here Tarantino rewrites history and gathers some quirky, dangerous Allied soldiers together to whack out the higher echelons of the Third Reich. Because it’s a QT film, the Nazis are- of course- attending a film screening. At this screening, there will be Hitler. Three will be Goebells. There will be various other important nazi war figures who would probably never risk being in the same place at the same time, for exactly the reasons Tarantino wants them there. Think The Dirty Dozen, with quirky snappy dialogue.

Thankfully, the talking doesn’t put the handbrake on the story for once- until the Nazis are playing “The Name Game”- a game bringing back fond university memories for me. Annoyingly, they took all three turns at once each, instead of asking one question per turn.

I had a few other quibbles with the movie. Even if these generals did congregate, would they do it in the middle of a WORLD WAR that they are about to LOSE AGAIN? Shouldn’t they be commanding, not dicking about watching propaganda in a fleapit cinema?

This is Tarantino’s rewriting of history. This is him twisting the past to make his own entertainment. It is entertaining, but I found myself thinking- when is it a good idea to rewrite history? Surely if you are going to show something different happen in the past, you’d want to show how it would make the alternative present / future different to how we know it now. What if Hitler had been killed before he rose to power? Didn’t people look to the Nazi party to protect them from the threats of communism from the East? What if the USSR had taken over the whole of Europe? When would they have stopped? A premise with a bit more clout could have been much more fascinating.

And why would an American soldier carry a baseball bat on a tour of duty in occupied France? JUST to bash nazi’s heads in with? Wouldn’t your rifle suffice? And why is he hiding in a tunnel at the start of the scene? How would he defend his team mates in an ambush?

I personally think it’s time for Tarantino to go full-circle. Inglourious was entertaining, but he’s made better movies- Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. He even made characters care about each other in Jackie Brown (okay, Elmore Leonard did). A good-ol’ gangster movie is what’s needed- sans inane chatter and with an original story. Impress me, Quentin.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

N-Dubz in Covert Gym Brainwash Scandal‏

I’ve gone to dark places for days when I’ve seen our music videos have dropped off the TV airplay charts.”

N-Dubz front man Dappy, to the Guardian, Sunday 20th February, 2011.

The manager of my local gym is very clever.

The TV screens have been showing a very cheesy music station which- for some ridiculous reason- occasionally shows documentaries following spoiled-brat popstars around their oh-so-important lives, watching them visit/shun parties and going to “work” in their local studio.

A recent episode followed N-Dubz around LA as Dappy, Faiser and Tulisa, the group members, attempted to break the US scene. How they have become so popular in Britain is beyond me, as the girl is the only one with any actual talent, so how they could ever make a dent in America- don’t ask me. But then, if there are morons over here who buy their records…

I looked around the gym while the TV blared Dappy’s mug and his absurd outlook on life (shunning network meetings, hiding in the recording studio, badly re-enacting dance routines from semi-famous music videos). Nobody was watching the screens. The other patrons were in their twenties or older, focussing.

Then it hit me.

Mr. Gym Manager. You genius. You have picked the most annoying TV station possible- yet one that looks like it fits in a gym environment. We, the customers, don’t like this music- and you know it. We get irritated. This irritation, throughout the many sessions at the gym, grows into full-on pop-hatred. This hatred turns to anger, and this anger causes us to smash out more effort, run faster, lift heavier weights and do more reps.

This results in a better level of fitness. At the end of each month, we’re getting our money’s worth at the gym and can see real results.

The manager knows that if we pay aurally as well as monetarily, we will end up fitter individuals. We’ll get to the year-end and think, actually, I’m doing pretty well with the gym. I’d better renew my membership. And we won’t even realise it. Or will we?

On a separate note: N-Dubz's Wikipedia page makes HILARIOUS reading. Whatever bad-boy persona Dappy may have attempted to conjure up is utterly blown out of the water.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Try This Formula To Get More Blog Traffic

I got the formula
and I'll rain on all o' ya
-Wiley, “Take That”

What brought you to this site? There’s a good chance you found it through a Google search. There’s also a fair possibility that you follow me on Twitter. These two sources of traffic make up the majority of the referrals for the hits on my site.

If you’re not on Twitter, you’re missing out. Unlike Facebook, Twitter is more focussed on giving people information through links to other sites. It’s popular with amateur hacks, bloggers (both pro and amateur) and businesses. And actual celebrities, as I’ve mentioned a few times.

I tweet about my blog posts whenever I upload to my blog. From there, the traffic trickles in for the new writing. Yet I still get hits on older posts- mostly those about celebrities- due to the writing covering subjects that people are already searching for. Am I getting these hits because the writing is good? Or am I just using key words that people are regularly using in searches?

I’ve decided to apply a formula to my social networking. I’m going to tweet a link to one blog post every day. Some will be for new uploads. Others will be for my older, most-hit posts. This won’t tell me what I’m doing right or wrong, but in theory it should multiply my blog hits. The tweets will be in the form of a question (always a good way to catch people’s attention) such as “Why do you think Danny Dyer is mad at Mark Kermode?” This particular example should be effective for a number of reasons.

1)    I have named two named celebrities
2)    I have asked a question, which is a method of catching people’s attention. Street salespeople do the same thing, you might notice
3)    The question is an opinion. Sort of. I’m asking people for their say. Their involvement.

Do you think it will work? And do social media experts have relevant advice for using Twitter to promote one’s blog? And do you see what I’m trying to do with this final paragraph?

Monday, 18 April 2011

Goodnight, Mr. Burns

North West Tonight’s anchorman and BBC Veteran Gordon Burns is to step down from the news show as of tonight.

Although I haven’t actually had a TV since I moved out in November, I still think he will be missed. News- by its very nature- is usually an unpleasant, harsh affair, but Mr. Burn’s nice-guy persona always lifted the show far above the level of “watchable”.

A few years ago, I went to an open day at BBC Manchester where Mr. Burns gave a talk about journalism and his career- he’s certainly had a fascinating ride in the world of news from the get-go.

It occurred to me recently that I actually spoke to him on the phone some years ago, when I was at uni. I was actually trying to contact his colleague, Martin Henshaw, also a news presenter, with the intention of interviewing him for a radio project. I vaguely recognised Mr. Burns' name and his voice, but for some reason I didn’t act at that moment and ask to interview Mr. Burns himself. I was an idiot. This left me still searching for an interviewee.

I didn't call him back- probably due to embarrassment. Eventually, however, I found a contributor. Euro MP for Oldham and Saddleworth Chris Davies had recently been on the other side of the news after purposefully getting himself arrested for possession of cannabis. That’s another story altogether.

I won’t be watching Northwest Tonight tonight, for the simple reason that I don’t have a TV at my place. However on behalf of the site I’d like to thank Mr. Burns for bringing local news to us north-westerners, and for making us feel like we’re part of something. I’m sure his radio work- which he’s continuing to do with BBC Radio Manchester and BBC Radio Lancashire- will continue to entertain and inform the public to his typically high standard. All the best, Mr. Burns.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Ten Awesome Quotes on Manchester

The first time I came here I knew it was a place rich in culture. Italian restaurants in the city centre, China-town, Asian restaurants in Rusholme, the Gay Village, the English pubs, the cafe bars, and then you've got the inner city in Moss Side. Manchester reminds me very much of San Francisco. Even the weather's the same. The thing is that the English don't do a good job selling England - but they do an excellent job selling Florida. There are so many people in America who need to come because they think England's full of cobbled roads. When I go back home to California, people ask me if I'm homesick. How can you be homesick in Manchester? There's so much going on here.
-Mark Delaney Robinson, 29 years old, American captain of Manchester Giants basketball team. Interviewed in the Manchester Evening News, 20th February 1997.

Manchester is large, opulent, well-built. The women are esteemed handsome. Manchester is the best regulated town in England.
-From "
General History of Europe" by Barlow, late eighteenth century.

Sarcasm is a Manchester trait.
Peter Hook, founder of Joy Division

If it stopped banging on about its football teams and its bands and its shops and its attitude, Manchester has something that it can be genuinely, enormously proud of, something that it should shout from the rooftops. Manchester changed the world’s politics: from vegetarianism to feminism to trade unionism to communism, every upstart notion that ever got ideas above its station, every snotty street-fighter of a radical philosophy, was fostered brawling in Manchester’s streets, mills, pubs, churches and debating halls.
-Stuart Maconie, Pies and Prejudice: In Search of the North

Manchester, one of the greatest, if not really the greatest mere village in England.
-Daniel Defoe

John Dalton's records, carefully preserved for a century, were destroyed during the World War II bombing of Manchester. It is not only the living who are killed in war.
-Issac Asimov

The name Manchester originates from the Ancient Roman name Mamucium, the name of the Roman fort and settlement, generally thought to be a Latinisation of an original Celtic name (possibly meaning "breast-like hill" from mamm- = "breast"), plus Old English ceaster = "town", which is derived from Latin castra = "camp". An alternative theory suggests that the origin is Brythonic mamma = "mother", where the "mother" was a river-goddess of the River Medlock which flows below the fort. Mam means "female breast" in Irish Gaelic and "mother" in Welsh.

Oh Manchester (oh Manchester),
Is wonderful (is wonderful),
Oh Manchester is wonderful,
Its full of t*ts, f*nny and United!
Oh Manchester is wonderful!
-Manchester City Football Chant

The thing about Manchester all comes from here.
-From Oasis frontman Noel Gallagher, pointing to his heart. BBC2 September 1998.

Because Mark had so graciously treated us to the lovely smoky red I decided a cheese selection would go quite nicely.  And after trying the first I said to J4, “Oh try this one.  It’s so soft and has a great buttery flavor."
To which J4 replied, “That’s because it is butter.  You’re in Manchester, Jennifer, where we put butter on our cheese.”
-Visiting screenwriter Jennifer Grace Cook

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Manchester Ritz to Close for Good?

Reliable sources tell me that two prized Manchester night-life spots are to close in May.

The BBC have reported that The Green Room, on Witworth Street, choice venue for many arts and performance events, is to close due to a lack of funding.

Government cuts now mean that poetry nights such as Dominic Berry's Freed Up, and music events like those promoted by local bar Band On the Wall, will now have to find a new home.

A source at the Green Room also suggested that The Manchester Ritz- a pre-war building and once home to the legendary 70's night Brutus Gold's Love Train- is also to shut its doors for good in May. At the time of writing, there isn't much mentioned online about the building's closure. However, HMV bosses have considered downsizing from their current Market Street spot and moving into the Ritz's basement.
Given that there are no other shops around that area, I'd say this would push HMV further down their spiral of reduced sales and increased competition.

I'm writing this wiping a tear from my eye, remembering my first ever university night out at Love Train in 2002. A whole night dedicated to 70s disco music, populated by young student girls. I thought it was awesome. The bouncy dance floor- the stage show with Brutus Gold spinning the discs and his cohorts Willis the kung-fu expert and, erm, some blonde girls in flares- there was nowhere like it. (It did end up being the same formula for years on end. It must be said. Lots of dance routines, dance competitions and mimed PAs. Fun, nonetheless.)

There are plenty of other places that play 70s music, and that have better décor to boot. The Tiger Lounge on Cooper St. jumps instantly to mind. But there won't be anywhere quite like the Ritz.

The Green Room, however, was a specialist building designed for public performance. There are other places that provide this service, like Northern and An Outlet, both in the Northern Quarter, but will they be as easy to book for events? And do they have the same acoustic quality? I don't know.

Have you hear more about The Ritz or Green Room? Fill us in...

Friday, 15 April 2011

In Case You Missed It: Salford's Naked Soldier

I'd like to congratulate you, Mike Keegan. You have written The Manchester Evening News' funniest article in a LONG time. For readers who may have missed it, here's the story of Lance Corporal Wayne O'Mahoney, who charged naked out of his house to apprehend a car thief.

What a guy. I can confirm the corporal's bravery as I used to live on that street back in '03/'04. Castle Irwell, Salford University's student digs, were right in the middle of the road. In fact, on an adjoining street, Seaford Road- that which connects the digs to the main uni campus- someone shot a firework at me from a side street. The cretin. A message to that person: you missed. Badly.

There was a lot of hatred between the locals and the students as they viewed us as the privileged ones with our own (largely useless) security guards and green space and sporting facilities and- critically- the money to go to uni in the first place. But we weren't the only ones falling victim to crime, and that still isn't the case now. It's good to see someone standing up to the scum.

The Lance Corporal clearly has a lot of balls- as I'm sure his eye-balling neighbours will confirm.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Organisation FAIL


Too much stuff to do
Skipped the gym to get things done
Did nothing all night.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The Miami Priest

For this week’s exercise, we again rotated a series of sheets around the group. On each pass of the sheets we wrote an item, creating a list on each one. The items were:

A colour
A number
A place
A type of person
An object

By the time we had written all of these, our original slip came full circle. You might need to change the number of items, depending on how many group members you have.

On my slip I had:

Puce (purple-brown)

The number, in this exercise, was supposed to relate to the object- A person in a place, with a number of objects of a certain colour. I should have written the scene with a priest in Miami with 42 brown apples.

I misinterpreted this! I’m sure you’ll do better.

Father Brian stepped out of the building and into a wall of choking heat. His black robes soaked up the rays like an endothermic sponge.

He liked to watch the people, to observe their differences and eclectic mannerisms- the blacks, the Hispanics, the rich, the poor. Miami brought everyone together in a giant melting pot. He thought the phrase appropriate- the humidity always made him feel like he was going to melt into a puddle every time he left the church. He reached into his satchel. He had no water, but he pulled out an apple that would keep him busy for an hour or so. He strolled through the blaring streets, listening to the cacophony- the stereos from convertibles blaring sweary hip-hop and other languages he didn’t understand.

A member of his congregation had lent him a book- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. An eccentric man, he’d pressed the book on him a few weeks ago, saying the priest would like it.

He bit on the apple, sucking in the vital juices and strolled over to the purple-brown bench on the edge of a little park. The corner of green space seemed to have its own dimmer switch, dulling the blare of car horns and bassy music.

He opened the book. The protagonist was talking to a very powerful computer.

The father wondered if anyone else would interpret the machine as a metaphor for God.

The computer was ready to tell the characters the meaning of life. The priest smiled.


Explanation / plot spoiler: If you haven’t read Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a) you are missing out and b) you might not have totally understood this. An alien race in the novel had designed an all-powerful computer, “Deep Thought”, to figure out the meaning of life. Deep Thought eventually confirmed that the meaning of life was “42”, and that another, more powerful computer would be needed to figure out the question to the meaning of life. It’s a very zany book. The book is far superior to the recent under-financed-and-not-particularly-funny film. Check it out.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011


As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m not a major fan of food in general. As far as I’m concerned, food is for sustenance. On the whole, it’s not for entertainment. So for a restaurant to particularly impress me, it’s got to have a twist of some kind. Teppanyaki, on Chinatown’s George Street, has more than just a twist. Redefining the restaurant experience, by bringing the chef out of the kitchen and placing him right at the table.

The word ‘Teppanyaki’,” The venue’s website explains, “is derived from ‘teppan’ which means ‘iron plate’ and ‘yaki’ which means ‘grilled’. On the battlefields of Ancient Japan, Samurai warriors would turn their body armour inside out and use this as the grill in which to cook their food.”

The grill on our long, ten-seater table was of a more modern, sleek design than your average samurai warrior’s. The table sat away from one wall so the Japanese chef/waiter could stand behind, facing us, and perform. It was like watching a culinary magician at work. With his chef-whites and branded headband, he was like a middle-aged Karate Kid demonstrating a lifetime of dedicated practice. He started the show by lighting oil in the embedded rectangular cooking surface, causing a collective gasp. From the food encased in ice at the side of the table, he would mix up egg fried rice with eastern precision and flair.

With the cooking surface then only containing eggshell halves, the chef picked one and placed it edge-down in the middle of the metal. “Man United?” He asked. “Rooney?” Taking the scraper for the fat, he then knocked the eggshell into the opening for waste at the edge of the surface. A football style cheer erupted.

He offered for one of our team to take the next penalty, placing another eggshell half on the touchline. The team member took the scraper, lined up the shot and bounced it off the edge of the opening, onto the carpet. The team gave a collective “ohhhhh”. A corner kick wasn’t allowed.

A feast of vegetables and chicken followed. The chef himself served us the moment each product was ready to eat. He even cooked steaks individually to our preference.

The food and the experience were undoubtedly excellent, but was it worth the money? We paid £35 a head. I was stuffed by the time I left, but some of our group said they could have eaten more. In contrast, Manchester’s South-American joint Bem Brasil offers an all-you-can-eat freshly-cooked meat buffet for £25 per person. I’d put BB’s taste range a notch above Teppanyaki’s.

If you’re really fired up (pun intended) about Japanese food, then by all means check it out. Whether the price is fair, is questionable.

Monday, 11 April 2011

You Say. I Do.

Do you have any idea how goddamn crazy you are?

You mean the nature of this conversation?

I mean the nature of you. 
-Middle-man Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson) squares 
up to hitman Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) in the 
Coen Brothers' award-winning 
No Country for Old Men (2007)

On 8th March I was at the Manchester Blog Meet, where the city’s most dedicated amateur hacks gathered to promote ourselves. Sponsored by boutique leather jacket company I Love to Love,  the night kicked off with a film by Ben Reed regarding the Euroculture Festival and the Factory Foundation. Reed made the film in memory of Manchester’s former godfather of nightlife, Tony Wilson (Founder of Factory Records and nightclub the Hacienda, subject of movie Twenty Four Hour Party People). While there I bumped into Josh, who’s usually at these web-orientated events. He’s been one of my blog followers for a few years now (hello Josh). He noticed that I’m positioning my website as a “sort of events blog”- which is a surprisingly accurate description, as I don’t exactly know what this is turning into myself. He said he actually preferred the older, slightly crazier posts of bizarre journeys across the country, strange job interviews and questionable behaviour. I have the feeling he's not alone. Having said that, my stats for my newer lit/event type blog entries have had more hits than the more depraved earlier entries. Hmm.

So my question to you, the reader, is: What do you want to see here? Shall I take more depraved forays into the UK’s underworld? Shall I visit more bars and write them up? Shall I attend more poetry slams? What else would you like to see adorned over these pages? Think of it as a choose-your-own-adventure blog, with your protagonist being a notepad-wielding mentalist with no short-term memory and with an uncontrollable infatuation with bursting out of obscurity and into the limelight.

Help me make this happen!

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Domi-no-s Pizza

And I don't cook, either. Not as long as they still deliver pizza.
-Tiger Woods, golf player / pimp

A new Domino’s outlet has opened on Huddersfield Road in Oldham. I went to check it out, seeing as I’m providing somewhat of a local service on this here blog. The fact that I couldn’t be arsed cooking and didn’t have any food in anyway, well, that’s by the by. But how would Domino’s compare to the other heavyweights of the pizza world- the Papa Johns? The Pizza Huts? Or to the tiny-but tasty standalone venues like Manchester’s Topkapi Palace?

Badly. That’s how. The wait was overly long. The price was overly high. The pizza was overly cooked. The only saving graces were the display screens showing my pizza’s progress, with my name and product displayed for everyone in the venue to see. The orders’ statuses updated gradually from “oven” to “ready”, and slowly edged up the screen as other customers collected their food. It’s like being in Argos, but with smell-induced hunger pangs.

I sometimes find it’s the cheaper, more obscure pizza shops that don’t get advertised that have the best food. I’d probably stick with them, but I’d much rather cook it myself. It’s probably easier to buy a pizza and jam it in the oven than it is to go out again to a takeaway and wait for them to make it. It also won’t get cold if there’s no journey home.

Taps forehead knowingly. Huh? Huh? Always thinking!

Friday, 8 April 2011

The Gay Village: a GREAT Place for Straight Men

Chef: What's the matter Stan, you seem down.

Stan: I just, I can't concentrate because my dog is gay.
Chef: Well, you know what they say. You can't teach a gay dog straight tricks.
Mr. Garrison: Oh, stop filling his head with that queer-loving propaganda.
Chef: Say what? You of all people should be sympathetic.
Mr. Garrison: What do you mean?
Chef: Well, you're gay aren't you?
Mr. Garrison: What? What the hell are you talking about? I am not gay.
Chef: Well, you sure do act like it.
Mr. Garrison: I just act that way to get chicks, dumb ass.

-An exchange from Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boat Ride, South Park Season 1

Here’s something you might not know about me: I used to work in a gay bar.

My first bar job was on the very heterosexual Deansgate Locks, an upmarket bar strip housed in the arches of a viaduct. I took the job in Baa Bar knowing the possibility that I might be moved to their Sackville Street venue in the heart of Manchester’s Gay Village, a network of watering holes for… well, you get it.

Lo and behold- within two months the management moved me. I thought about quitting. But I also knew that acting on assumptions is stupid. Yes, I might be molested by gays who cannot accept the fact that a straight man would work in a gay bar. But if you quit before you’re moved to the bar in question, you have nothing with which to back up your argument. So I gave it a shot.

What men hadn’t latched onto in 2002 was that women- straight women- go to the Village to get away from the violence and the relentless pesterings of straight men on the likes of Deansgate and Peter Street. When I moved to the Village, gay men, lesbians and straight women made up the bar's clientele. There were a few straight male employees, but most had girlfriends. So this left me- a straight, single guy- in a bar full of gay men and straight women.

Let’s just say I did better than usual.

A young black girl approached me one evening while I was picking up glasses. She asked which way I swung. I made it clear to her that I was a fan of beef curtain rather than sausage. More into walking the red carpet as opposed to the bristled dirt track.

My friend has challenged me,” she said, pointing to the guy in the skin-tight t-shirt and orange-tinted sunglasses and slicked-back hair- “to kiss ten gay men tonight. So would you mind pretending to be gay so I can kiss you?”

And that, my friend, was one of the most bizarre pull scenarios I have ever been in. And there were a few in the Village. And yes, they were definitely girls. You learn to check these things: the bulging Adam’s apple. The trap muscle under the armpit. The hair on the arms. The lack of defined hips. This girl didn’t have any of those. That said, she wasn’t anything special either.

Thankfully, her friend didn’t try it on given that I’d “proved” my sexuality to him. In retrospect, it was a risk that I took. But through those months working at Baa Bar’s gay outlet, I learned that the Village is a prime venue for birding. Baa Bar was one of the straighter venues in the area, and a good place to start if you don’t want competition. Provided you’re comfortable with the wrong sort of competition competing for you.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Ten Awesome Quotes on Writing

The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say. ~Anaïs Nin

Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. ~E.L. Doctorow

I try to leave out the parts that people skip. ~Elmore Leonard
(Really Mr. Leonard? Why, then, did you write “Be Cool”?)

A writer is someone who can make a riddle out of an answer. ~Karl Kraus

I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork. ~Peter De Vries

Do not put statements in the negative form.
And don't start sentences with a conjunction.
If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a
great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.
De-accession euphemisms.
If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.
~William Safire, "Great Rules of Writing"

If I don't write to empty my mind, I go mad. ~Lord Byron

If you want to get rich from writing, write the sort of thing that's read by persons who move their lips when they're reading to themselves. ~Don Marquis

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live. ~Henry David Thoreau, Journal, 19 August 1851

Without a pen I feel naked, but it's writing that is my exhibitionism. ~Carrie Latet

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Playing with story

I'd like to welcome new guest writer Rachel Connor to the site. Novelist, radio dramatist, all round creative and rampant foodie, Rachel is also employed by the Arvon Foundation. Her novel Sisterwives is due out late 2011.

I’m in a fertile phase of story development at the moment. With a novel just finished, I’m free to sketch out and scribble new ideas, seeing where they lead me. I’ve come to love this part of the process. It’s the writer’s equivalent of mucking about with modelling clay. I love to feel the texture of those stories, squidging them between my fingers and wondering what they might become.

The notion of story and where it might come from is preoccupying me a lot just now. I’ve blogged about it in my latest post Dreaming a story into being. So I thought it would be good to share a mind mapping process which I’ve found brilliantly helpful in building stories.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A reasonable chunk of uninterrupted time

  • A big piece of paper. Flipchart paper is great, or I sometimes use big rolly scrolls of paper that allow for continuous flow. Or 4 pieces of A4 stuck together, that also works

  • Marker pens, the more colourful the better

  • Optional: glitter glue or other materials to prettify; newspapers or magazines for cutting out pictures of possible settings and characters

Here’s what you do:

Write something in the middle of your big piece of paper. It can be anything: a word, a sentence, a concept, a name. It can be a fictional something or someone you’ve been thinking about for ages, or the first thing that pops into your head. Then, using free association, build up words and phrases around it, joining with arrows or lines. Fill the paper as much as you can with ideas. Don’t edit anything, just write down what comes – whether situations or people; events or themes. Enclose them in bubbles or love hearts. Make it pretty if you want to (use the optional glitter glue). Be creative. Write big.

If you like, flick through some magazines or newspapers and find pictures which represent your characters or settings and stick them somewhere on the paper. The idea is to create a story ‘mood board’ to help you envisage the situation you want to fictionalise.

Continue for as long as you want. Don’t, at this point, try to apply any structure or coherence to what comes up. Bizarrely, I find it sometimes helps to do this bit with my eyes half closed, almost as though I’m meditating.

The next step is about looking for connections, and this is where the events of the story might begin to take shape. Your character - let’s call her Sally - might be linked to specific words that give you an idea of where she lives, what she’s like, what she might have in her fridge, even. You might give her a home town – let’s say London. Then something tells you to cross that out and write Quimper. You’ve never been to Quimper. You’re not even sure where it is – Brittany, you think – and you’ve no idea why it pops into your head. But you write it down anyway and somehow, by shifting the action to Quimper you’ve given a new focus to the story. Now Sally, who is English, is temporarily living in France. This produces more questions – why? how long has she been there?- and it strikes you that you’ve hit on something that could be fascinating to explore: what it’s like to be an outsider, maybe; Sally’s experience of linguistic and cultural difference.

If it’s a story, something has to happen. Find another character for Sally to meet or love or clash with. Sally is working as a waitress in a café bar. In walks Harry, she takes his order. Then what? This point of action is probably where your story begins. What happens next is dictated by the kind of people the characters are, and how they interact. One thing is for sure: whatever happens next, meeting Harry must change something for Sally. Change is the fuel for stories.

But what if you want to ditch the idea? You don’t want to write about Harry and Sally at all. You can always screw up the paper and start again, repeating the whole process until you feel excited by a story’s possibilities. Chances are, though, if you’re bored or uptight or angry, it’s because you’re worrying too soon about your ability to write this down.

The key thing to remember is this: the process is all about play. It’s doodling, being open to the different routes that your story could take. At this stage, don’t get too logical; don’t close down your options too soon. Stay open minded. Be amazed by how, in a matter of less than a couple of hours, you’ve invented a whole world from scratch.

You can worry later about structure, about how you’re going to manufacture things so that event A is followed by event B and so on until the end. For now, fill that piece of paper. Work with your eyes half closed, and enjoy yourself. The hard work of writing it will begin soon enough.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Bloody Sunday

 There are many who dare not kill themselves for fear of what the neighbours will say.
Cyril Connolly

The worst thing about living in a ground floor council flat is that it’s too easy for drunk randomers to walk right up to your bedroom window at three am- centimetres from your sleeping head- and bang on it loudly, causing you to a) wake up and b) shit yourself.

John,” he said, between banging. “John, it’s Dave. John. Are you there? JOHN?!”

I looked at the clock. 3am. Witching hour. Indeed.

Most normal people would have responded with a simple “This is 62, you fucking idiot. You’ve got the wrong flat. Fuck off.” I decided to keep quiet. I regret this.

Open the door!” he shouted. “For fuck’s sake!”

There was a strange determination in his voice. What did he want from the person he thought I was?

After about fifteen bastard minutes, he left. I fell asleep.

Ding dong.

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

Ding dong.

Why won’t this guy leave me alone?

Wait a minute. The buzzer for that bell is on my flat door. That’s inside the block. Must be my dad. He’s got a fob for the block. Why’s he here at- I glanced at the clock- 8am on a Sunday morning?

Ding dong.

I hauled my ass out of bed and slammed my dressing gown on. By the time I’d got to my door, the ringing had stopped. I looked through the peephole. Nobody there. I opened the door.

I stared at the trail of bloody footprints on the floor. They led to my flat and turned around. I stepped carefully out of the doorway. The trail came from the floor above and doubled back on itself. A giant splodge half way up hinted to where the victim must have stopped, finding strength, and continued up.

I darted back in and found my phone. I told the police what I could see. It was then that I remembered the banging last night. Had I mistaken a plea for help for a misaimed threat? Had my ignorance caused this man to die? And why was he outside, when the footprints didn’t make it past the main door?

The police were on the scene within minutes. They followed the prints up to the flat directly above me. A pensioner lived there, an old woman with a very high-pitched voice (I know because I could hear her when she’s on the phone, through my ceiling). They radioed a name-check.

Doreen,” the officer called. “Doreen, open up. It’s the police.” He darted downstairs again, and returned with a battering ram. I stood in my doorway, listening.

Three loud bangs. A crunching noise. The old lady’s voice: faint, indecipherable.

Minutes later, the ambulance workers arrived with a stretcher and a rucksack full of life-or-death instruments. They manoeuvred her down the staircase past my flat, and I laid eyes on my neighbour for the first time. I’ve lived there for four months. Sign of the times.

From my window, I watched them strategically slide her into the ambulance, frail and damaged. Something told me that nobody would be bringing her back.

Ding dong.

I knew who this would be.

Just so you know,” said the officer, “Your neighbour dropped a knife. She’s bled quite heavily from her foot. She’s been taken to hospital. So thanks for calling it in.”

Anything I can do, I said, just let me know.

He left me in my doorway. I looked at the footprints that turned around at my door.

I couldn’t help thinking that if I’d have just got out of bed faster, she might have stood a better chance. She may have been very old- and much too frail to be living alone- but she was strong enough to get out and climb down a flight of stairs to find someone she’s never spoken to before. She wasn’t ready to die.

It’s the housing guys who have to clean up the blood. I’m left with only one question in my mind: Who the hell was banging on my window at stupid o’clock in the morning?