Jottings for August

Image of Yorkshire Rose

It’s August

Image of a Yorkshire Rose.
Yorkshire Rose – original creator unknown.

Firstly why the Yorkshire rose? 1st August was Yorkshire day, a day when we can all celebrate the best of the county and our heritage.

I was going to head up this up as August jottings, however, that would perhaps have suggested a gravitas for the post far greater than justified. The problem being positioning of the capital letter, would it get read as August (the month) or august (the word)? Conversely, the revision immediately suggests the blindingly obvious retaliation of “no s**t Sherlock”, although, when placed in the listing of blog posts sorted by title, it will be logical.

Why add this jotted note? July, for me, had been one with a high output of writing, 5000 words of academic prose for a Conference, interspersed with fiction pieces at two writer’s groups plus some work on the first draft of an ongoing work of my own. Together those generated around another 5-6000 words. The style swapping was an interesting challenge.

Today’s blog post therefore just a few observations on writing, publicity and the related software used.

Heat

Indoors, or outdoors, where to write in a heatwave? The dilemma of going outdoors is that whilst the concept is ideal, the practicality of working with a laptop screen in the outdoors not so. Indoors though is hot and stuffy unless all the windows are open; opening the windows attracts in the flies. Not only that but the very Mediterranean nature of the weather is a distraction to aid procrastination. How did those writers who deliberately based themselves in the Med’ cope?

Facebook changes – adding complications

This appears to be a company, for whatever reason, trying its hardest to shoot itself in the foot. They have decided that blog posts can no longer be linked to a Profile but have to go to a Page. (See quote below from my ISP)

“Facebook no longer supports Publicize connections to Facebook Profiles, but you can still connect Facebook Pages. Please select a Facebook Page to publish updates to.”

That doubles the hassle and faff for the content provider. I do not currently have a separate author page; for the SLS where I manage the FB content, we have that split and there are some issues, for example people Friend one or the other – not both, and content often shows up twice in the main FB feed. That experience is why I have, to date, neither needed, nor wanted, a second FB page; my serious stuff is on my website.

(Updated) It initially it appeared the back-door cheat for a blog link still worked, that a twitter post forwards onto a FB page, as it appeared to work when first tested. It appears that is not the case for blog posts – out to Twitter – then on to FB does not work. Only Twitter posts started on Twitter hold the FB link.

FB are also, allegedly, messing about with their filtering algorithms, probably forced on them by the fake news scandals, although the cynic in me suggests this is entirely from a need to boost income via paid for content promotion. I will await this outcome with interest. FB generally is a poorer service than it was (personal opinion obviously) with many posts from people I am friends with on FB never showing up: either they have moved on to other social media providers or the filters stop me seeing their posts.

That generates the last observation – social media was a great  invention when there were only a few providers. Now that there is a wide spread I find there are too many to monitor or push content into all, it therefore decreases the usefulness of social media to both content providers and readers.

Software changes generally

More changes on the way, this time in the WordPress editor. I don’t mind changes where it adds functionality, although relearning can be annoying when they move items from one menu to another (needlessly from a customer perspective), or even worse removal in the new release of a useful piece of functionality that was in the older version. The latter something done over the years by both Adobe and Microsoft.

NB Post subsequently updated regarding Facebook.

A short Harry Potter fan-fic

Harry Potter

A slight change from recent blog posts as, although the content mentioned previously still justifies being written, I have not had time to add it. Therefore for this month’s post a short piece of Harry Potter fan fiction written from an idea and title sparked by the recent Weymouth Writing Matters group take-away prompt of Absent Friends. The date is the usual start date for Surrey schools and has been verified*(1).

Absent friends

Wednesday, 4th September 1991, was proving a worrisome day for one small, now insignificant, boy. Gordon Harrison’s two best friends from the last few years, Dudley Dursley and Piers Polkiss, had both left, going off together to Smeltings, their new private school but Gordon’s parents had not felt the expense was value for money. With its annual fees well over the cost of a new car the Harrisons felt that, however much Gordon nagged, whined and badgered about it, Smeltings just wasn’t worth the effort or expense.

It wasn’t that his parents were anti private education, oh no, they just couldn’t afford to enrol him into the few private schools where the nation’s true elite sent their sons and daughters and therefore considered, perhaps rightly, that anywhere less showed a loss of face. Smeltings was definitely a non-U sort of school to the Harrison’s social circle. Also, if truths were to be shared, which in the Harrisons circle of suburban cronies of course it rarely was, neither parent felt Gordon was bright enough to justify the cost. No, the cover story of wanting to support the local education system was good enough and far more socially acceptable all round.

Had they felt inclined to do so finding school fees for Gordon would have meant dropping too many other social activities and niceties; their motor cruiser on the Solent and the villa in the Dordogne brought with them just that necessary veneer of social respectability that funding a second-rate school for the boy couldn’t match. Albert and Jennifer Harrison understood the social niceties of commuter belt Surrey in the way that neither the fawning Vernon Dursley, nor his shrew like wife Petunia, had ever quite grasped.

The outcome of the long months of one-sided family arguments had led to this morning and Gordon standing waiting for a number 442 bus into Stanwell by himself. Technically he wasn’t alone at the bus stop at the end of Privet Drive; but he was undoubtedly there on his own. The other children with him, also off to Stonewall High the local comprehensive, were a mix of ages, laughing, joking, sharing, brothers, sisters, friends, a mix of school years, but all noticeably shunning Gordon. He was going to have to face the new big school for the first time on his own.

Without his two mates there was no one to bully and the gang’s former school morning target, Dudley’s cousin Harry, had also gone off to a school up-country somewhere. So here he stood, surrounded by the kids who had been his classmates at the Little Whinging Primary for the last six years, and they were not interested in him.

From the smallest bedroom window of number 4 Privet Drive Petunia Dursley had earlier caught a glimpse of Dudley’s friend walking past on his way to the bus stop and wondered how her own boy was settling in at Smeltings. To her nephew, Harry Potter, who’s bed she had been stripping for the weekly wash, she gave hardly a thought.

When the bus arrived Gordon was jostled and pushed, an elbow caught him hard in the ribs, and he was sure young Deidre Fortescue had stood on his toes on purpose. Last on board he was forced to stand as the other youngsters took the seats reserved for them by their friends. It was going to be a long, long term for Gordon Harrison.

Notes

  1. As with the Hogwarts term dates UK Independent and State schools do not, of necessity, have matching term dates. Whether or not Dudley and Piers would have left for Smeltings to commence their term before the start of the term at Stonewall High is unknown. All canon suggests in Philosophers Stone is that Dudley was going off to have his tail removed after Harry had been dropped at Kings Cross on 1st September.
  2. Incidentally Wednesday 4th is the correct day/date; 1st September 1991 was a Sunday. Some divergences exit between actual and written calendars as documented here.
  3. Gordon [Surname unspecified] is a member of Dudley’s bullying gang as mentioned in Chap 3 of Philosophers Stone.
  4. COPYRIGHT  – All references to the Harry Potter characters and locations mentioned above are fully recognised as the intellectual property of J K Rowling and her publishers.

A literary month

Picture of the new books and SLS Journals

A literary month

Two connected, but disparate, sections to this blog post describing my literary month. The first a completed task and introduction to a new role as Editor of The Stephenson Locomotive Society Journal; the second related to local theatre productions.

Stella, my wife, stage managed Me and My Girl so a lot of work in the household went into that both in the months leading up to the show and in show week itself. To add to that drama connection the local Royal Manor Theatre here on Portland recently ran a production of Old actors never Die and as a consequence we got that title at Weymouth Writing Matters as one of our a prompts. Given it will soon be time to assist as a volunteer with the Weymouth Pavilion Panto prep’ time it seemed appropriate to also add my own small tribute to the thespian’s craft below.

A teaching day

The other generator of workload was an invitation to give a talk on the history of railways to a group of Polish exchange students staying over at Clevedon in Somerset. The students had come over to the UK to get experience of a range of topics and issues prior to selecting a career: one of those careers being the option of working on the railway back in Poland, hence this talk. Initially envisioning the usual hour to an hour and half of talking (as for a local club/society evening) it eventually turned out to be a four hour, full day. My recent BACOM experience and training at Bournemouth in presentation skills certainly came to the fore; it went well. A day’s teaching, a first for me, and an experience I found surprisingly satisfying.

Photo from the history talk.
An image used in the presentation. 150 years of progress in one picture. Left – The gas turbine APT – 175 mph in 1975. Centre – Iron Duke (Replica) 60 mph – 1840s. Right – Rocket (Replica) 32 mph in 1830. Image (C) John New

Editing time

Picture of the new books and SLS Journals
The final proofs for the two new SLS books. The final editions are perfect bound NOT wire bound. Images (C) John New.

Since coming back from summer holiday life has been hectic with book editing for The Stephenson Locomotive Society. A deep end start to the role I’ve also just taken on of Editor for the bi-monthly Journal; first edition will be January/February. But back to the books – launching at the Warley Model Railway Show at the NEC on 25/26 November the first two volumes of material from the SLS Archives.

  • Narrow Gauge & Miniature (From The Stephenson Locomotive Society Archives Vol 1)
  • Eclectic Electrics (From The Stephenson Locomotive Society Archives Vol 2)

On launch weekend they will be available on our stand (Hall 5, Stand D44) at £9.50 each (£7.50 to Society members). Postal sales will be available post-Show once the P&P situation is finalised. (When available generally it will be announced on my Twitter and Facebook feeds, the SLS Twitter feed and the SLS Publications page)

Old actors never die

They say old actors never die; like the ancient pagan gods they remain alive as long as they are adored, worshiped, remembered. Their old posters and fading photographs line the walls of musty corridors and theatre bars, slowly fading as the plays they starred in pass from living memory.

The ephemera of a craft, the passing of time, each show a snapshot, unlike cinema, where time remains frozen. The youthful face of the craggy old star shambling from Hollywood café to occasional TV studio appearance, their old movies endlessly repeating on obscure channels; a cruel reminder of past glories. The long legs dancing the kick line, the piercing smile of the male lead, forever captured, reality the decline, the baton passed to the new replacement.

Times change, tastes change, the star of yesterday’s western unnoticed in Wallmart, the silent queens of the silver screen, glorious in mono, passed over in colour. No more repeats of the Keystone Cops to entertain the kids at the Saturday flicks: 633 Squadron flies to face the deadly Hun no longer, the Eagles Dared but the Empire Struck back.

The house lights dim, the curtain rises, the new crop take the stage; from the wings the old look on, coaching, training, remembering. The words they spoke last the ages; for some their memory will be immortal, names spoken in reverent tones, their routines rehashed and recast, even perhaps immortalised as a new sweet desert, fruity, tangy, was Dame Nellie like that in life?

As they say in showbiz, another opening of another show. As the door closes for one for another it opens. For some, the very best, it will stay revolving, but sadly, for most, like a child’s spinning top the hum and buzz will gently fade away.

Copyright on all the above remains with the author – not released into the public domain.

Does an exhibition have to inspire directly?

Art exhibition observations

At last week’s Writers Group Meeting the day’s writing challenge was to look at the adjacent art exhibition and write about one of the pictures. However, faced with a selection of paintings that didn’t particularly inspire me to write based on their subject content, I pondered on the work by the first artist who’s name was displayed, thinking; who is she, who is it behind the name? The work displayed, two views of what looked like images of the Lake District and one of a walled garden in sunlight, form a character shape in the mind: a liker of the pastoral, a creative person, a holiday traveler, or is it deeper?

For obvious reasons I have left out the name here. It doesn’t really matter of course, her work as presented is what should count, but on some days the creative in me wanders. the abstract and obtuse taking off in a direction of its own and often on a tangential flight of fancy. Is the name a cover, a pseudonym? At a local charity art exhibition probably not, but then, is the artist actually proud of her work or somehow feeling the displayed pieces could be better, that hiding behind the anonymity of a name change, protects her, or even his, true identity.

Is there a deeper meaning?

Martyrs memorial, Tolpuddle, Dorset. Image: John New

What do the chosen works say about their inner character? Was the juxtaposition for this exhibition of the three images deliberately chosen to create the contrast? The first a bright summer day in the cosseted world of the grand household, the land of the gardener and servants placed as a contrast alongside a gently pastoral version of the rugged upland world of the isolated hill shepherd and harsh mountain winters, is the choice making a statement about society or was it merely accidental? Her soft portrayal of bleak northern fells, the home of massive estates and the life of the privileged built on the backs of working men and women toiling in poverty in mill and mine, was it picked to contrast or compliment the garden scene? The garden may be Athelhampton House and if it is Athelhampton was it chosen because of its’ siting adjacent to Tolpuddle, another representation of grandeur built on the exploitation of humble farm labourers thus another subliminal dimension based on the Georgian struggle for workers rights?

Coincidence?

Alternatively, is the selection mere coincidence, the observation of a casual tourist artist, the pick of the perceived best from the artists portfolio and,  if it wasn’t the day after the feverishly politically charged atmosphere of a general election, would I have even taken this line of thought?  Regarding the choice I suspect the latter, the portrayal of societal angst through art, too much part of the semi-closed London set; the Hampstead inner circle, the chattering classes beloved of Radio Four. This is local, unpretentious, random sampling. The evening class and art group not the coffee house bespoke studio, nor even the local Art Week offerings so often given titling and write ups pretentiously adding little to the selected works.

Who ever you are you’ve put your work out there for all to see, and hopefully, purchase for a good cause and for that we can only offer thanks.

Girl book titles

Picture close up girl title book

Girl used in literary titles

Book picture girl in title
Just some of the girl title books Image: John New

The word girl is appearing everywhere in titles of literary works, including this observational piece of my own from 2014. Why did I use “girl” is perhaps the question I need to ask myself? I could easily have used woman in the title instead, from my memory of her age that might even have been more appropriate, but it didn’t feel right when I wrote it originally and still doesn’t now in revisiting the work, making a few minor edits and posting it here. Was it then, and still is, a subconscious decision based on the commonality of the word in titles since the popularity of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or any of the variations of The Girl on the Train titlesHowever, the origins of girl and train titles dates back over a century to operatic works written in German and performed in Vienna therefore there is clearly more to it than just the recent works. Girl is an odd word, even my mother at 93 still refers, when going out in a group with female companions, as “out with the girls” so it isn’t just a sexist, male, view of the feminine ideal. In reality I’m guessing that as a word it feels friendlier in usage than woman in the same way that the, now ubiquitous, guy(s) and the earlier chap sound warmer than man or bloke when describing the male.

With regard to the item itself, included, below just a random observation from one day on a bus ride.

The girl on the 902

A random chance meeting
on the Bristol Park and Ride.
She, sitting opposite, a few rows down.
Stunning redhead, powerful looking
but so tired, the stress lines,
forming dark shadows
spoiling her demeanour
A haunted, frightened look;
you could read that fright
see it in her eyes.
Outbound, park bound,
homeward bound
but can we assume;
and even if homeward
to what, to whom?

We didn’t speak.
So no way to know,
the story left unlearned.
T’was just random chance
That meeting of strangers
on the Park and Ride.
But what could she tell,
what would she tell,
that girl on the 902?

From an observation on the Bristol P&R service 902 – 7 August 2014.
(As revised 26 Feb 2017)

The image is by John New. No copyright is claimed for the photographed works.

Weymouth

Beach scene

Perspectives on our coastal towns.

Beach scene
A packed Weymouth Beach

The English town of Weymouth is currently courting controversy as a result of a local photographer’s twitter post and his remarks of the shabby state of some areas. As a resident of the area I can concur with some of the views but this is a malaise of the British coastal town in general. Several recent news stories highlighted the problems of widespread seaside poverty, and problems with educational standards in seaside towns are even admitted to by central government so there is an issue at a national level for coastal communities.

Long gone the royal visitations that gave Bognor its’ Regis name tag, and locally to the village of Wkye Regis and the Borough of Melcombe Regis, favourite of George III; both subsumed into greater Weymouth.

The mirror of time – Weymouth’s maritime imagery.

You can’t get away from the sea. Some might say that’s a problem if you live at the seaside, others would say it’s a gift. It dominates, drawing like a magnet, inspiring and angering in equal measures. Constraining yet, at the same time, offering the open vistas of hope and opportunity. The big skies, the far off horizon an apparent chance to escape, to flee, but economically a millstone of low wages and part-time, seasonal employment. The history of the British seaside, our great maritime naval traditions, our culinary delight of fried fish and chips, of ship building, scientific exploration, changing with time and, like the tide, subject to its’ never ending ebb and flow.

A glorious past captured by the camera, the bathing beauties, golden sands, charabancs and Mr Punch, mirrored by war and destruction. The bombs that rained down on those same golden sands taking the lives, snuffing out the dreams. The plumes of smoke and flame as The Rex burnt down, the rebuilding of shattered dreams, hope and expectation. Yet, behind it lies the sea, ever present but changeable, shaping our fortunes, forging our destiny, framing our outlook. So moody, blue or grey, cold yet inviting, calm one day angry the next.

The days of the coaster with its’ salt-caked smokestack, the sleek grey of the warship, have been and gone, and the fishing nets lie abandoned. Even the ferry, the twice daily lifeline, gone. But not the sails, they remain, some large, some small, that link with a pre-mechanised past, the time of the engravings, the leather bound volumes, the smell of the salt sea air. Intermingled the Tupperware cruisers, chrome and shiny, whirling radar, and flapping aerials. But the sea, she lies, waiting to pounce, the orange of the lifeboat ever present, another linking thread back through the cameras lens, back to the black and white, the rowing boats and rescues; the breeches buoy, and the rocket apparatus. The ever present sea, at times angry, surrounding, enveloping, shaping, changing inspiring the artist and giving work for the news reporter.

You can’t get away from the sea.

Photo of big waves, Chiswell, Dorset.
Big waves, Chiswell, Dorset.

All images used are by, and remain the copyright of, John New.

NB: The above piece was inspired by an exhibition of Weymouth and South Dorset history in photographs. Weymouth Library, January 2017.

Why do we read?

Picture of books

Why do we pick who/what we read?

This is not the obvious read/not read question but why do we select the books we read? I have recently been reading a lot of books for the first time that my wife had previously bought. These books are still in the crime fiction genre I frequently read but by Val McDermid, not my usual author choices. The reason holiday boredom for the first one and they were available on the shelf/in i-books already bought. Importantly because I enjoyed the first, I finished that series and started on her other books too.

Picture of books
A random selection from our book shelves.

The point is the key character, or hero figure, is often pro-lesbian with the books having a feminist plot line, and as a man I’d not previously looked at them until after reading the first. No real reason to avoid, I have no problem with either lesbians or feminist perspectives, but for some sub-conscious reason I had avoided them. It wasn’t even a case of avoiding female crime writers, I’ve read plenty of those over the years, but something perhaps in the blurbs, possibly (probably?) societal conditioning had put me off, made me think of them as books aimed at women readers.

The media has made books and films a sexist issue

The spark for writing this post, reading another book (follow me follow you) which I would not normally have given more than a passing glance to. I would have superficially dismissed it as a chick-lit, relationship novel, a genre I rarely read if it wasn’t for another, one-off, hook factor. That hook, it was by a local author (Laura James), someone I occasionally meet at local writers events and set in the local area so I gave it a go and read it straight through. The point is though because it was a sort of chick-lit story, and very clear as such even down to the the impress name on the cover, I would have dismissed it in other circumstances. I did read it and I enjoyed it.

Book and film choice shouldn’t be a sexist issue, but it undoubtedly has become so. If it had not become so would there be a need for the  TV Channel Movies4Men or would a Google Scholar search on the genre label Chick Lit return over 28,000 hits?

Screen grab
Screen grab from Google Scholar 28,900 results!

As this is not the first time a book (or short story) I’d not normally pick to read has unexpectedly satisfied, the key question is why do we irrationally avoid some genres? Equally importantly is why do we pick the authors and titles we do buy, or even just borrow and read for free, and why do we drop some unfinished? It isn’t even whether it is a book regarded as a current hit, staple or classic. I bought Birdsong (Faulks),which was, at the time, an acclaimed hit title  and found it pointlessly boring and I’ve never finished it. That book is, as far as I got with it anyway, arguably a relationship genre story about love in Amiens and supporting the suggestion that books in this genre are not for me. Conversely though I have read other books in the genre which I’ve actually enjoyed. It all seems very random.

An answer?

At present I haven’t an answer to the questions I’ve posed but as an author it is something I need to evaluate; my output will also be subjectively selected, what needs to be added to raise the %, even marginally, of those who read rather than dismiss my own output.

 

 

 

Happy New Year / Delville Woods

Detail from the commemorative frieze in the museum.

2017 – Happy New Year

This first blog post of 2017 was to have begun, as it does in the heading, by wishing readers a Happy New Year for 2017 and then continuing solely with this content about my writing. However, as you will see later, computing issues continue to aggravate hence the additional material below.

Delville Woods, Longueval, Somme, France.

View of the woods on 8 July 2003.
Delville Woods. The white cairns on the horizon marked the front line positions. The worst fighting here was between 14 & 20 July 1916. John New 2003.

Spring morning – Delville Woods

It’s quiet now in Delville Woods
No smoke, no guns, no flame

It’s quiet now in Delville Woods
No blood, no gore, no pain

It’s quiet now in Delville Woods
Where white stones mark the slain

It’s quiet now in Delville Woods
Just tranquil thoughts remain

It’s quiet now in Delville Woods
No smoke, no guns, no flame.

John New 2003 (as revised 2004)

The above is a poem first drafted in the adjacent coach park immediately after visiting the the Delville Woods battlefield and South African First World War memorial museum (Link 1) (Link 2) at Longueval, Somme, France on a still and quiet day in 2003. At the time one of the many Iraq wars was in progress, the whole idea that as a society we have learnt nothing since the fighting here in 1916 struck a chord, hence the poem’s first draft. It was recently adapted as a song by my eldest daughter, Eleanor. (See Ellie’s Facebook for original of the video).

This, much shortened, final, version of the poem came from what was originally a considerably longer piece, which was I quickly felt was so unsatisfactory that I doubt it will ever surface. It greatly benefited from one of the heaviest edits I have ever done on a piece of my own writing and if there is a tip to pass on from that it is don’t simply throw a work away, the kernel of the idea may have been sound. The red pencil can at times also be your friend and not just your enemy.

The museum
View of the museum.

 

Detail from the commemorative frieze in the museum.
Detail from the commemorative frieze in the museum.
Detail from main entrance arch. (NB Has had digital adjustment)
Detail from main entrance arch. (NB Has had digital adjustment)
Photograph. The cemetery, adjacent Delville Woods.
The cemetery, adjacent Delville Woods. John New 2003.

Computing issues

Microsoft continue to aggravate with their continued way of making unnecessary changes to parts of their software that worked better before the upgrade!  Not that Apple are free from criticism either, looking at the new phones for a potential upgrade and the iPhone7 (the logical choice) I noted as being sized too big to fit in a man’s shirt front pocket. Oh well I can live with the existing one for the time being.  On the positive side, however, my mother is at last trying to use her first computer, a donated laptop.

Microsoft Word – letter templates

Screen grab - Word template editing options
Screen grab – Word template editing options

The first time waster to be reported is the way Word deals with document templates. Nothing actually wrong with the process except that there is no mention that for setting headers there is an Option A and Option B. The fact that if you want a different page one header in multiple page documents the tick box to set that function is not too difficult to find; unfortunately the back-up description of what it does when ticked/unticked is not! (I think in fact it is missing completely) I am sure the help file writers very carefully proofread the help file, but whilst the spelling and grammar may be OK they failed to notice the glaring omission that what Word actually does varies according to when you FIRST save the document in relation to that tick box being ticked or unticked. This tutorial supplies the answers (see 4th entry from shereens dated 29 November 2015 for full text) and I wasted several hours during December before finding this out.

Microsoft – two steps forward – three steps backwards!

Whilst writing about Microsoft regrettably also more time wasting as a result of the Windows 10 upgrade. The move function when reorganising files used to a simple one, highlight the necessary file(s) right click, drag and drop. Although that principle is broadly the same in Explorer (Win 10 version) it seems to result in a lot more clicks, swearing at the machine and accidental programme opening than previously. Definitely a case of two steps forward and three backwards for me.

Copyright

All images and text on this page are by, and remain in copyright to, John New. Video and music remains copyright Eleanor Grady. They are not released under Creative Commons.