Friday, 28 September 2007

Searching for inspiration

My Writing Group are holding a short story competition and I feel duty bound to enter it. This is probably because the judging for the Bridport Prize is going on at the moment with results in Oct/Nov, so I am fully expecting to feel thoroughly rejected and unloved at that time. Much better to have another competition entry already written and submitted in order to ease the pain.

So I sat down yesterday evening to write. And the not entirely unexpected happened. I closed the window a few hours later with absolutely nothing written. OK so Carol Vorderman was busy in the background finding out about her ancestors, but since I'm not a huge fan of either 'Who do you think you are?' as a concept or of the lady concerned that wasn't too much of a distraction.

While on the subject, whoever decided she was the 'thinking man's crumpet'? I count myself as qualifying on both counts - thinking and man - but she doesn't get into the crumpet category for me. Isn't that very condescending, the thought that just because a man does his thinking between his ears instead of between his legs, that he will automatically find a certain woman attractive? Surely there would (rightly) be an outcry if Sienna Miller was the 'posh actor's crumpet', Jordan the 'poor, brainless man's crumpet', J-Lo the 'black man's crumpet' or Tanni Grey-Thomson the 'disabled bloke's crumpet'. Why is it not the same for thinking men?
And personally, I think Tanni Grey-Thomson is cute...

Back to the subject. I think inspiration has struck but thought I'd run the idea past you lot to see what you think before I start actually writing it.

The concept, not entirely original, is a backwards story.
  • It starts (at the end) with a man celebrating the laws on the DNA database being changed and him finally getting his sample destroyed and his details removed from the database
  • He campaigns to have the law changed
  • He struggles to have his DNA sample destroyed before realising it's hopeless unless the law changes
  • A different guy is convicted of the rape/murder and jailed for life
  • Our 'hero' gives his DNA sample as part of a voluntary town-wide blanket testing for the man who raped and murdered a 16-year-old girl
  • It then ends (at the start) with him raping and murdering the girl

My idea is that the story is essentially a character build up a character that the reader can identify with and feel compassion for in his predicament before destroying all of the suppositions one has made about him - ie that he is innocent. Technically I have to work out how he gets away with it...but that's a minor detail!

I also thought about adding an epilogue which skips back (forward) to the evening of the celebration where the story started (ends) and him watching another girl in exactly the same way I would describe him doing at the beginning of the rape/murder scene.

So what do you think?

Monday, 24 September 2007

Don't scratch it...

So if you've been married for 14 years, does that mean you have 2 itches?

I've often thought that the test of a good marriage is not whether you have an itch but rather whether you decide to scratch it or not.

Mrs M enjoyed her flowers, delivered to her in bed at 7.30am by the mooselets.
I have some pink bubbly stuff ready for this evening...

No elephants died in the celebration of this anniversary!

Friday, 21 September 2007

Weekend addendum

In a tiny moment of revelation, it became clear to me that giving more than taking is, paradoxically, the real route to true happiness...

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

How to be truly happy

This is the title of article in the Daily Mail this morning. Not my reading material of choice to accompany a bacon and egg bap and an Americano but the only paper still available after my morning swim.

The article is by a novelist so I immediately thought there must be something in it. All novelists make complete sense whenever they have anything to say. Did I ever tell you I was a novelist, by the way?

Anyway, it seems that the secret to being happy is to delight in the little things of life and not make your happiness dependent on your job, your friends, your marriage etc etc. This all sounds like good advice. We have all got so used to making unhelpful comparisons versus other people and versus our own high expectations - "the guy in the next office earns more than me and he's useless" and "this isn't at all what I expected my marriage to be like" - that we forget to take pleasure in the small things.

However, I have a large but. That's a large but, not a large butt (well, actually...but that's an entirely different subject...) And here it is... But, there is a danger of getting lost in the small things and using them as distraction from the large and important things in our lives. Do we really want to end up saying things like: "I hate everything about my job but everything is OK because the coffee shop nearby makes a really good cappuccino" and "my wife is cheating on me but it's all fine because the sun is shining today"? I can't believe that such self-delusion is the course to true happiness.

In the midst of our disappointment and despair with the big things in life the good little things can provide crumbs of comfort and islands of respite. We should be thankful for them. And they will help ameliorate our sadness and depression to a certain extent. Most likely just enough to get us across the invisible line between the unbearable and the bearable. But I doubt that these little things will make us truly happy if all the big things are going horribly wrong?

She did say one important thing that I can agree with wholeheartedly. And that is that feeling connected with people is important for happiness. I also agree that we need to be thankful for all the connections that we have with other people, whether in real life or virtually.

So, thank you all for being connected through here. It really helps...

When I'm thinking clearly I know that there is only one thing that is really big and really important - not just for happiness but in general. Bigger than jobs and careers. More important than money or success or friendships or marriage.

And therein lies the real reason for my malaise at the moment - the fact that I feel far from God. Now he really is big and really is important. The exquisite froth on a cappuccino, a good day at the office, a bright sunny day - let's not lose sight of what these small things are; reminders to look to God and be thankful.

How did the Daily Mail miss that one? I'm off to read the Sun...

Friday, 14 September 2007


Is it me? Or was that a very strange week?

I can't exactly put my finger on why. On the surface it's been like any other week but there has been an unnerving undercurrent of wierdness going on for me.

Am I overtraining in the gym? I don't think so, it's going incredibly well and the article accompanying it is progressing nicely in draft form.

I wasted almost a complete day on Thursday by deciding I needed to go to the beach. I picked what I thought was a suitable destination..let's just say I'd never been there before (which was important to me before I set out) and it's on the Lincolnshire coast...took 3 hours driving there only to sit on the beach with my book for about 20 minutes before becoming so irritated by the tedium of it all that I got back in the car and drove back again. I went to the gym so that at least I'd done something that day.

Some would say I wasted Wednesday as well since I played golf after my gym session. I had a mixed day, hit 15 over par in total (18 handicap so a reasonably good day) but was 11 over par on my worst 4 holes (2nd, 3rd, 16th and 17th). The run of holes from the 4th to the 15th must be the best consecutive 12 holes of golf I have ever played in my life, ending 1 over par for the lot, including 2 birdies (and plenty of chances for others).

I decided to change my routine around a bit today. I was determined to have a good gym session (the Bike/Run session) but felt not quite ready for it when I got up. Also, I've been thinking recently about how I can get some writing done first thing in the habit has been to do loads of other things first, resulting in me often not getting anything done at all, or only starting to write at 3pm). So I brought my laptop to the gym, got myself a coffee and wrote 1,200 words before the battery died. The gym session went fabulously well - I'm not sure whether fuelled by high dopamine levels generated by the inspiration of having polished off more than 1% of my novel or from the caffeine. Probably a bit of both.

I also think I need to equip myself better to work away from a power outlet. When I've posted this I'm off to PC World (other computer stores are available) to get a spare battery for my laptop.

But overall I think my strange mood is simply emotional imbalance. It's the first full week back into routine for many months and the attack of feelings of uselessness and a yawning future empty of recognition are plaguing me once more. I had managed to forget about them for a few months. What's most strange though is that this comes in a week when I have been bombarded with headhunter calls and the possible job options seem to be ever expanding. More choice doesn't make us happier.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007 do whatever...

Great news! I don't have a job yet...

Honestly, I went into it with an open mind and determined that if it was right for me I would give up my life of leisure, writing and golf - if indeed there is any discernible difference between the three - and go back to work.

But fortunately the roles they have available, while I could theoretically do all 6 of them, are all a little limited for me. I want to do all 6 at the same time, but that's the job of the guy I met with. So it's him or me and he's the incumbent.

After three sexist and two racist comments and way too much detail on his sex life since his wife divorced him - surely ANY detail is too much in a pseudo-job interview situation? - I'm not sure I'd be happy working with him anyway. Sure, lots of people end up being like that when you work with them every day, but when it's so openly thrown in your face at the first meeting, it's a little different.

So today I am at the gym, then going shopping (there were no delivery slots available when we belatedly tried to book one on Sunday night so I'm once more consigned to the drudgery of a manual shop...), then off to the office to write a bit before helping out in the after school schedule from hell (whole schedule: pick up mooselet #1 at 3.05, take both to swimming, #2 from 3.30 to 4 and #1 from 4 to 4.30, then on to Beavers for #1 for 5-6 - my part in the schedule: collect #1 from Beavers). Normal day really. I don't have access to my office for Wednesday and Thursday so I do believe I will be FORCED to spend a lot of time on the golf course...

And no dodgy jokes about Beavers, please.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Little things, little minds...

It may just be a function of not working at the moment, but I do feel obliged to celebrate successes, however small...

Today's is my latest achievements in my triathlon training schedule. I made up the schedule myself with no particular event in mind yet (the only one left in this season is in 3 weeks time and I don't feel that's quite enough time to prepare). The winter will be focussed on getting rid of more weight and on building up a bit of stamina in each of the three events, so that I can realistically enter events in the spring and not show myself up too much.

So, the plan is as follows: Think of it as a grid with 13 different levels of training on one side and 7 graded training sessions for each level (Swim only, Bike only, Run only, Bike/Swim, Bike/Run, Run/Swim and Triathlon). The entire plan and accompanying article is being constructed ready for sale to fitness please don't steal it.
The 13 levels build from Level 1: 2 minutes/lengths fast then 1 minute/length slow, repeated 7 times, up to Level 13: 50 minutes/lengths fast. For swimming the fast means front crawl and the slow means breaststroke (or froggy legs as we have to call it to avoid any unwanted discussions on the female anatomy). For the bike section fast is at 100 revolutions per minute and slow is 90 (I still have to convert this into realistic road speeds for real outside-the-gym training). For the run, fast is running at 10 kmh (OK for any serious runners out there that's more like jogging, but you try carrying 17 stones any faster!) and slow means walking at 6.5 kmh. The accompanying i-pod playlists will also be made available as part of the article for sale...cycling equates directly at 100/90 beats per minute, running is 140 bpm and walking 120. My i-pod isn't waterproof.

I'm currently on level 2: 4 minutes/lengths fast then 2 minutes/lengths slow, repeated 5 times.
Last week I did the 3 single element sessions of Swim, Bike and Run only. This morning was the turn of the first double session - Bike/Swim. After a few minutes warming up on the bike I launched into the 30 minute programme and finished it still feeling relatively fresh. In the pool I swam the 30 lengths continuously with no stopping for a sneaky breather. I think that's the farthest I've managed to swim in one go for many, many years...AND I did all 20 of the front crawl lengths.

So now I'm off to the smoke for a job interview/discussion...although with all this training to do and the article to write, I don't think I've got time to do a real job...

Friday, 7 September 2007

Mid-life crisis...

In a strange parallel with CLP (or am I just too easily influenced, including by him?) I went to a BMW motorcycle dealer this morning. I was so tempted to extract my debit card from my wallet on the spot.

I probably ought to discuss the matter with Mrs M first! The only question I should really ask her is: Blue or silver? Since I've already decided which model I want...

It was a bit reminiscent of my experience of buying my car - "I want that one." Debit card out. Done.

For Keith: F800ST. Can you recommend it?
For everyone else: Blue or silver? And should I buy the leather trousers now or should I lose another 10-15kg first?

Thursday, 6 September 2007


Although somewhat nervous of repeating myself, even at the grand young age of 40, today appears to be a day of so-called academics stating the bleedin' obvious in the news:

Additives are bad for kids and make them hyperactive. Really? So that could be why the mooselets run around like mad things after a couple of Smarties. Doh, I was wondering!

Binge-drinking is bad for everyone and leads to "social problems" later in life. Yeah? And what about the more immediate social problems of pools of sick and blood in our city and town centres, STIs and teenage pregnancies following the drinking sessions, the use of valuable NHS resources for all the fight injuries, not to mention the mere existence of Doner Kebab vans? Oh and the unavoidable and incredibly offputting sight of exposed pale flabby stomachs hanging over low slung belts, male and female...

The additives thing reminds me of a little story from our holiday. We were at the pool with our friends in LA when a group starting unloading a trailer full of "goodies" for a kid's birthday party. The only drinks were carbonated 2 litre bottles of additive-infused sugar water and the cake was enormous, divided into eight sections, each of which was plastered with a different brightly coloured icing mountain, each colour bearing no relation whatsoever to anything from the natural world. We got out of their way rather quickly... I fear that the levels of hyperactivity after that lot would have been truly anti-social. Pools of some sort of nasty bodily fluids (are there any other type?) were probably apparent later in the day...

In more local and private news, Mooselet #2 started school today. He's been looking forward to it so much...the memory of him in his new school uniform standing proudly outside the front door will last a lifetime. It's really quite sad to read stories in the news relating to the stress that some kids seem to have put on them by their parents - I can't imagine how else a 4 year old would know it might be something to get stressed about - when the only stress he was suffering was having to wait two extra days after his brother went back before he could go to school too!

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

This blog entry is 98% fat free

An interesting leader in the Times this morning about reversing statistics. It was along the lines of "90% Fat Free" sounding nearly as good as "96% Fat free" even though there is more than twice as much fat in it. You need to reverse the statistic to 10% Fat and 4% Fat to really see the truth. The problem is that with 6 entries, the word "fat" now accounts for approximately 2% of the total number of words in this entry.

The guy was actually talking about kids and how the chances of ending up poor are largely determined by what your parents do. So a plumber's kid is 6 times more likely to end up poor as a lawyer's kid. But hang on a minute, reverse the stat...a lawyer's kid is only 6 times less likely to end up poor as a plumber's kid. Ending up poor when you are the offspring of a lawyer is a hard thing to do, unless you opt for addiction or decide to become a writer.

There was also, rather conveniently, an article about whether rock stars really die younger or whether they hype around famous early rock deaths, mostly but not all at age 27, distorts the apparent average while we forget the armies of ageing, fat and silent ex-rockers. Damn, that's now 8 hits for "fat" - hopefully the 2% range still applies...

Well, it seems that the statistics show that rock stars are 3 times more likely to die early than those in more normal professions. This, despite the distorting bias that fat-free (9) health freaks like Jagger and Sting (just for Lyndyloo!!!) have on the stats. Well, I suppose someone has to offset the Pete Doherty effect - who is already 28 so has missed the ideal double-whammy opportunity for rock legend status and freeing the rest of us from having to read about him all the time.

But...reverse the stat and you discover that you are only 3 times less likely to die early if you are in a boring, ordinary profession than if you are a rock star.

That seems like a chance worth taking...and a more financially rewarding career choice than being a writer. Now where did I put my guitar?

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Insomnia? Nah...

Friends of mine made my day today. They are a couple (the Zimbabweans if anyone remembers them) and they independently decided as soon as they saw me today that I have lost weight. The man said he just HAD to tell me that they both thought the I thought I just HAD to tell you.

I joined the insomniacs club last night. I'd taken 3 hours to get to sleep on Friday night after going to bed early. Last night I watched the football, experienced my usual start of season incredulity: "But I thought he played for Middlesbrough. And Koncheski was a West Ham player. What has happened to him? What do you mean Rooney is injured?". I take so little notice of anything during the off season and being away for nearly 3 weeks adds to the effect. Not even my chance meeting in a Chinese take-away in Los Angeles with a football (soccer) obsessed wine dealer who knew a darned sight more about West Ham (and English football in general) than I did, increased my awareness of what was going on in the football world back home. Back to the story, I got into bed at 12.08am. I was full of caffeine having been out for dinner, washing it down with 2 diet Cokes and a double espresso to finish. At 12.50 I decided to get up, make some peppermint tea and write down my thoughts to stop them spinning through my head.

Back in bed an hour later, I still felt overly alert but soon fell asleep having committed my random musings to paper (well, screen obviously). I have had only one cup of coffee today after lunch so I'm hoping for more sleep tonight...and the way my head keeps on aiming spontaneously for the keyboard, I don't think it'll be all that long in coming.