London Ramblings

Musings of a London Migrant


Life Finds a Way...
hotfoot_jackson
Just went for a walk down Snake's Lane from Woodford Green and along the River Roding. This time instead of turning left and heading upstream like we did in summer, we turned right and headed downstream as we'd not been that way before. Not exactly the most picturesque walk, the M11 slip roads to one side and housing estate, giving way to industrial estate on the other. Most of the vegetation had been hacked back during the winter and, apart from the grass, all seemed bare and brown. Nevertheless as we started out there was a path of pure white snowdrops on the bank and, a little further on I spied a similarly pristine coloured bird like a small heron. An Egret actually, formerly a rarity but becoming quite common in the UK now. Unusual to see it on a small inland waterway though. The best was still to come though, as we carried on I saw a small bird skimming low over the water and suddenly flitting up to perch on an overhanging branch. Surely not, I thought, and grabbed for my binoculars. Yep, a Kingfisher! Glorious blue feathers shimmering in the pale sunlight, then a flash of orange underside as he darted further down the river.

I have seen a Kingfisher just once before, on a canal in Cardiff and The Wife has never seen one at all. I certainly never expected to see one here among the roads and concrete of the Woodford hinterlands. But perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised, I have just been reading Richard Mabey's "The Unofficial Countryside" which deals precisely with how nature colonises, or perhaps re-colonises the strips and patches of unwanted land; cleared building sites, disused canals, derelict factories and even the most unsalubrious of river banks, once man has left off and allowed things to grow back and recover a little.

I've seen a Kingfisher! What a very special treat.
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Back in Black...
hotfoot_jackson
This was the title of the programme I watched a few days ago, the last in the trilogy of Terry Pratchett documentaries about him and the Early Onset Alzheimers that was slowly destroying his mind. It was... hard to watch at times. The most brutal bit was at the beginning where he was being interviewed and was fighting to find the right word to say. They had to stop filming, Rob Wilkins, his PA stated that they'd left it six months too late to do this, Terry could hardly talk any more.

His stand in was an actor called Paul Kaye, who did a bloody good job of it. He WAS Terry, but not too close to actually being Terry to be tasteless or creepy. There was humour but also tears, hearing Terry, through Paul, say how his life was turning into a slow-motion car crash, fine at the moment but at some point you know your head is going to go through the windshield. Or how compared to some things Alzheimers was a walk in the park, but a park that was becoming more unfamiliar as time went on, trees moving, paths twisting. I must admit I lost it when Neil Gaiman stated, with tears in his eyes, that he just wanted his friend back.

A lot of our friends (some of whom were actually featured in the programme) have also confessed to having been visited by "the Onion Fairy" while they were watching it. It was sad, but I'm glad I watched it. Tied a few things up somehow, and the Fandom will march on. We'll keep the turtle moving.

On a slightly lighter note I am writing this from my little ASUS tablet, snugly slotted into a case with an integral keyboard and even with a small mouse plugged in (didn't realise Android even supported a mouse). Since the suite of apps that came with the tablet includes a version of Microsoft Word I have essentially assembled myself a small laptop and one that is considerably more capable that the old CnMBook that I bought several years ago and which turned out to be virtually useless from the moment I switched it on. This is a hell of a lot better. Very pleased with it.
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These Boots Were Made For Walking...
hotfoot_jackson
I like Doc Martens boots, been wearing them for many years now. My first pair were the proper classic full boot with the orange stitching but since then I've tended to go for the 101 unisex half boot, six eyelet, black stitching, suitable for work and just general use. They are the most comfortable, durable, long-lasting footware I've ever had, the one downside being the few weeks of hell you endure breaking them in. Had a pair of DM shoes that I simply didn't wear for 6 months 'cos they were being so damned stubborn about it. Thankfully when I went back to them they were a lot more comfortable (or my feet had hardened up somewhat).

My last pair, 101s, I've been wearing pretty much non-stop for over three or four years and they were beginning to literally fall apart on me, but they were still so comfortable! That, the thought of breaking in a new pair and the price were the things keeping them on my feet long after I should have retired them. However with my Christmas bonus in my pay packet I decided to bite the bullet and get a new pair. £100 odd quid but, if you want good boots...

Are you aware of the "Sam Vimes Boots" theory of economics? Terry Pratchett came up with it. A poor man can only afford cheap boots, which wear out quickly and leak. So he soon has to buy another pair. A richer man can afford good boots, which last for several times longer. So at the end of this time a poor man has actually spent MORE on boots than the rich man, and had wet feet for most of that. The moral is, there ain't no justice. Also if you've got the money to spare, buy the boots. So I did.

Difficulty then being getting them in size 6. I have small feet! None of the local shops could help, even the actual Doc Marten shops in Covent Garden. One of them did track down what seems to have been the only pair of black size 6 101s in London however, in Carnaby St. So one lunch hour last week I trogged the mile and a bit there, bought the damned boots and trogged the mile and a half back. Quite an interesting walk actually, bit of a rush though, and it more or less did for my poor old pair, which were dutifully thanked and binned.So I put the new ones on. Of course this was during the tube strike. Which means come going home time, with all the buses packed, muggins here has to walk from Holborn to Liverpool St. Station. In the pouring rain, with a brand new pair of Doc Marten boots on.

Ow.

I shall not state what condition my feet were in by the time I got to Higham's Park station. Let us just say that if a bus hadn't been waiting just as I got off the train I'd have seriously considered going barefoot. A few days of plasters, foot soaks and more comfortable shoes however and I was able to put them back on again and the enforced march seems to have seriously taken the edge of the whole breaking in process. It helps that these are a better fit than the last pair, lace 'em good and tight and they don't slip or slide at all. Soon they'll be as comfortable as the old ones were and I can spend another few years trogging around in them before thoughts of replacements need to be considered.

The remainder of the Christmas bonus is going to be spent on an Acer Iconia One B3-A30 10 Inch 1GB 16GB Tablet. I wanted to get a tablet last year but when the old Dell desktop went foom! we needed a good home system. Trying to kill two birds with one stone I first got a Hewlett-Packard 2-in-1 hybrid, which was useless, got returned and resulted in me getting the Acer X540S laptop I'm using now. It's a good computer but not really suitable for taking with me on the tube and browsing pdfs of RPGs. Also I want something I can lounge on the sofa with when The Wife is using this one. the Iconia seems to be a decent compromise of price, power and size, and I don't need or want a top end gaming machine, just something I can use for casual surfing, check my emails and read stuff on. Be picking it up in Argos tomorrow (if they've got any left).

And that's just about that.
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Stuff.
hotfoot_jackson
Picked up a few bits and pieces over the past few weeks. One of the most memorable, for me at least, was a 1st edition "Changeling the Dreaming". This was the first White Wolf, World of Darkness title I'd been compelled to acquire, back in 1995. I knew about Vampire, Werewolf and the others, but this is the one that appealed to me mainly due to its roots in folklore and its expansion of the whole urban fantasy genre. It is a remarkable book, although torn between the lighthearted faery changeling nature and the general bleakness of the World of Darkness itself, that juxtaposition it what made it such a poignant game in its way. The end of childhood, the fading of the magic, with only the (possibly vain) hope of spring to see you through the winter to come.

I collected pretty much all the books, and several more of the more general WoD range, the Year of the Ally, the Year of the Hunter books, a few others, more to engage mortals in the WoD that anything else. Then I sold the lot off and, when the New World of Darkness version, "Changeling the Lost" appeared grabbed that instead. It was a good book, but lacked that whimsical magic of the first version. I recently saw that there was a Kickstarter to bring out a 20th anniversary version, combining the best of the 1st and 2nd editions of that earlier game. I didn't join it but it inspired me to go hunting on Amazon to get that 1st edition back again. I'm not going to collect all the books I had before (the "Isle of the Mighty" UK sourcebook was dire), just that one core rulebook, recapture a little bit of my past. It's here now and I'm enjoying looking through it immensely. Lovely artwork.

Another thing I picked up was the Quick Start rules for "The Mutant Epoch". I do already have the core rules for this but, you know, just for completion's sake. It's got, as you might guess, a stripped down version of the rules but adds an excerpt from the huge "Crossroads Region Gazetteer" on the small town of Sandbarra, out in a ruin strewn marsh, and an adventure, "Muddy Mayhem", that brings the characters together as indentured slaves who have to band together to rescue a vitally needed technician from a pack of Elvis-crazed Skullocks (no kidding). I've been enjoying the Mutant Epoch books, they're so cheerfully bloodthirsty and bizarre, the Crossroads Region book in particular would be a useful resource for any Post Apocalypse gamer, dozens of well-mapped out settlements from small trading posts to small cities, all their their own personalities, power factions and encounters. It's the biggest book of the range to date and Will McAusland very nicely gave me a complementary pdf copy a little while back when we were corresponding about something or other, very useful for searching through to find a specific subject. The Rules Expansion is going to be the news book, which will add more wierdness to the mix; AI characters, "Abomination" class mutants, half-breeds, virtual entities, cyborg mutants, plant people, low-tech cyborgs (the "rebuilt"), brains in a jar and a whole load more bestial human templates. As if that world wasn't aready strange enough....

Also picked up the new 4th Edition "GURPS Discworld", this compiles the first two GURPS Discworld books and adds a load more material, not quite up to the last book of the main series though "Raising Steam", alas, which would have expanded the gameworld considerably. They also left out the Tiffany books, which would have been another very welcome addition. Ah well, next edition.

"Not My Best Work...."
hotfoot_jackson
Two of my favourite books when I was growing up were "The Weirdstone of Brisengamen" and "The Moon of Gomrath", the story of two children who get caught up is a mystical struggle between good and evil on Alderiey Edge in Cheshire. They were I suppose my first introduction to myths and legends of this land, rooted as they were in the folklore of the British Isles. Garner went on to write other books, "Owl Service" and "Elidor", but I never cared much for those, those first two were pure magic to me.

Garner however didn't like them. There were early work and he thought his later books had much more merit. They weren't "his best work".

I get annoyed when an artist of some description says that. It is surely up to their audience, not them, to decide if something they produce has merit. It's like they're telling you you shouldn't enjoy it because they don't think it's good enough. Alec Guinness is another one. He disliked intensely the popularity he gained from being Obi Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars films because he didn't think they were very good films and that others he was in were far more important. Not your call matey! You play the role to the best of your ability, whatever it is, you're an actor, the audience is what's important. Fact is he played the role with consumate skill and gravitas, making it believable. An archetypal fairytale, magic swords, young hero, captured princess, dark lord, loyal companions and a wise old mentor. That sort of character is often referred to nowadays as "the Obi Wan", a reference that would be understood world wide. For Pete's sake Guinness, what do you want? Blood?

As for Garner, you'd have thought any author would have been delighted to have written two such enduring children's classics, still in print today. Apparently not. He was always annoyed that people kept asking him to write more books about Colin and Susan (the two children in the novels). Eventually, in 2013, 50 years after Gomrath came out he did so with a new book, "Boneland".

But this isn't a story of two schoolchildren. Spoilers ahead so stop reading now if you don't want to know.

Ok?

Here we go then.

For starters the children are now adults. Or rather Colin is, Susan apparently drowned one night chasing after elves, to the devestation of the Cheshire couple who were looking after them. Colin is now a brilliant but borderline sociopathic astronomer who is having difficulty reconciling his memories of his childhood adventures with the real world he lives in now. There is an implication that Colin's sanity is slipping and that those memories were masking some trauma or abuse he suffered, a fantasy to escape the pain. The mystical elements in the book are abiguous and the end has Colin about to undergo Electro-Convulsive Therapy, against his consent, with the possibility that he'll die too. Thank you to TV Tropes for supplying the brief precis.

This isn't Garner providing a sequel, this is Garner KILLING OFF THE CHARACTERS, and the franchise, in a way that ensures no-one is going to ask him for another bloody book. And that is just the action of a person who is mean-spirited, spiteful and, frankly, a bit of a git. Fine, you don't like them, fine you don't want to write any more, but to try and wipe out the magic of those early books for all those who read them? Bastard.

I haven't read Boneland. I won't be reading Boneland. I will keep the memory of those two books I read as a child (and still have on my bookcase now) intact and treasured. And if Alan Garner doesn't like that then tough, he can go jump in the Wizard's Well.
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"Hope."
hotfoot_jackson
The last word Carrie Fisher left us with. A good word to believe in. Bloody hell though, it's difficult, this year seems to have been just one after another and these last few days have frankly just been taking the p*ss. George Michael, Richard Adams (he was 96 mind you) and now Carrie, the people's princess, a far more suitable title than the previous holder IMHO.

Yes I know the population of stars we grew up with is aging and the rise of mass media means that there are far more in the public awareness than at any point in the past and the next year is not likely to be any better, but still, but still...

Fuck 2016. And I mean that most sincerely. Fuck 2016.

Christmas has been a long drawn out affair this time. Meeting relatives and exchanging presents have taken place on a number of days before and after xmas and has not indeed finished, be seeing the mother in Swansea in a few days and having a follow up Xmas with her then. Even Xmas dinner got postponed to Boxing Day due to a stomach bug. A duck for us this year and very nice it was too. Just eaten the first bowl of soup made from the remains and that is equally as tasty.

Got the wife a Gamecube Legend of Zelda Heritage Disc, the first two Zelda games plus Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask. We did have this, but a badly scratched disc meant that when playing Majora's Mask the game tended to crash before you could save, so I scoured teh interwebz and found a decent copy. Been curled up on the sofa watching the wife play that a lot over the past few days. l got a great book "Curiocity", and a more beautifully eccentric way of exploring London I have yet to find, have a gander here-

http://www.curiocity.org.uk/

It puts me in mind of the old Puffin Annuals of my youth, and from me that's high praise, those two books grace my bookshelf even now.

Lastly I've seen "Rogue One". An excellent addition to the Star Wars canon and so beautifully dovetailed into the beginning of Star Wars (no, not "A New Hope, "Star Wars").

Hope.

A tall order Carrie, but we'll try and may the Force be with us all.
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A Dinosaur's Tale... No! Sorry, tail!
hotfoot_jackson
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-38224564

Take a look. That is a bit of a dinosaur trapped in amber. An actual dinosaur. Admittedly it's not anything like a T-Rex (that would have to be a smegging big bit of amber) but a tiny fluffy Coelurosaur about the size of a sparrow. They can even tell the colour and detect traces of blood where the tail pokes out of the lump. This is the first time that clear, definiitive feathers have been able to be associated with a dinosaur, it's a fantastic find.

Mind you, you do wonder what happened to the rest of the dinosaur. Did it die of starvation or predation with it's tail stuck in sticky tree sap? Or did it chew the thing off and scamper away in an extremely bad mood. Alas we shall never know.

Still, should we manage to clone it, it's unlikely to do a Jurassic Park-style rampage across the city. I'd love a cute little fluffy dinosaur....

Had a budgie once, that was close.
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Beagling on Mars.
hotfoot_jackson
Oh, bloody hell, you were so CLOSE!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-37940445

The Beagle II, the 2003 UK Mars probe that failed. We knew it had got down and at least partially deployed but some new imaging techniques have revealed that just the last solar panel failed to deploy and prevented the transmitter from operating. It might have been carrying out it's observations and experiments for years. It still might be carrying them out, but we can't hear it. All that way and just one final component refused to work.

You really do feel for the scientists involved in this. One poor guy even had the same Martian atmospheric sensor he had on Beagle put on the Schiaparelli lander, and look what happened to that.

Oh well, Mars ain't going anywhere...
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The world needs a Donald Trump Presidency like I need a hole in the head. Oh, wait....
hotfoot_jackson
As it happens I do have a hole in my head, courtesy of some delinquent goit who shot me in the back of it with an air rifle on my way back from work last tuesday evening. Less than a minute from home, half way over a zebra crossing and SMACK! My head rings like a bell, lights flash in front of my eyes and there's a sharp pain in the back of my skull. I stagger across the rest of the way, put a hand to the back of my head and oh look, blood, lots of it.

Called an ambulance and the police natch, both were actually quite dismissive at first. Paramedics calmed me down and the police had at first said call us when the hospital tells you what's happened. Then they turned up as I was getting into the ambulance. There had been another incident the previous day. Of course it was a little too much to expect the GP at the hospital to actually think "We'd better do a scan to make sure there's nothing there" wasn't it. Oh no, "Don't think it's an air rifle wound, you can go home now" was what I got. So I went home and put an ice pack on it. Quarter past two that morning however, I get a call "Err, you might actually have a pellet in there so can you come in later to have it checked?". There'd been another incident the same evening and somone was connecting the dots.

So back we go. Of course the GP hadn't actually TOLD the CT Scan people that we were coming like she'd told me she was going to do had she, so we walked miles through hospital corridors getting ourselves booked in and scheduled. Six hours later I had the scan. Yup, there's lead pablum in them thar hills. Finally got to some actual professional people in the Clinical Decisions Unit who gave me the choices of leave it in, come back later to have it taken out, or take it out now.

I. Loathe. Medical. Proceedures.

I'd like to make that quite clear. I'm 50 and have managed to get away without having a single operation in my entire life. Nevertheless I loathed the idea of this thing being in there even more, so I lay down on the bed, got shot full of local anasthetic and the rather nice young doctor (Belgian I think she was) started to look for it. Wasn't going to well at first, she just couldn't find the wretched thing. Eventually her Supervising Consultant turned up, a Professor who was actually more at home in one of London's inner city trauma units. He had the students (there were two) haul over the ultrasound scanner, located the pellet in no time and went for it with some gusto.

I will remember, for a very long time, the feeling of this quite scarily competent and jovial guy yanking my head around as he tugged at the pellet with a pair of surgical pliers, muttering imprecations such as "My word, it's being a stubborn little bugger!". When the pellet hit it had flattened against my skull and slid around under my scalp a ways, due to the oblique angle it had hit, and had sort of welded itself to the back of my head. He finally got it free though, showed it to me then, a flattened cone of silvery metal about 7-8mm across. Then the doctor stitched me back up, gave me a tetanus jab, a pack of anitbiotics and some spare dressings and The Wife's mother gave us a lift home.

So, here I sit, a day later, all bandaged up and looking like Basil Fawlty in "The Germans" episode of Fawlty Towers. The stitches will be out in a week or so. I've got the rest of the week off work (being shot in the head will get you that), The Wife is looking after me marvellously (as always) and I can take it easy for a bit. Sore though. The police, needless to say, are now somewhat interested, I've been chatting with CID Detective Constables (who now have that pellet in their possession for ballistics) and am hoping they catch the little bastard who did this and put them away.

It will be some while before I feel safe walking over that particular zebra crossing again. For me or The Wife.

At least it took our minds off the events in America, the poor, poor bastards...
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"Calling Captain Stratosphere!"
hotfoot_jackson
Been enjoying the Airship Daedalus RPG I picked up recently. Even decided to grab the radio dramas you can get via the Drivethrurpg site that accompany it. These are audio plays done in the style of a 1930s serialised radio adventure, with added hiss and static and even made up ad breaks for the "Gold Star Essentials" range of personal hygiene and cleaning products.

This is proper pulp adventure stuff, with the heroic Captain Jack "Stratosphere" McGraw leading his intepid team into danger to save the world yet again. Got all the elements- Square jawed all-American hero? Check. Femme fatale? Check. Airships? Check? Nazis for punching? Check. Occult strangeness? Check? Wierd science? Check (from Edison and Tesla no less, bonus points for referring to the long-standing feud between them).

You play members of AEGIS, the American Enterprise Group for International Security, formed by Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone after the First World War (an ersatz SHIELD as I mentioned last time). The bad guys are the Astrum Argentum, a sinister cabal led by the diabolical Aleister Crowley, intent on nothing less than world domination (and recruiting heavily from the Nazis), whose mooks dissolve into slime when captured.

There is a brief footnote here explaining that the real life Astrum Argentum were not, in fact, turned into a proto-fascist occult army under Crowley's control. It also states that it still exists today and that its members are "largely benign", which seems damning with faint praise frankly. Crowley turns up in the radio drama, shrilly declaiming that "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law!". Before his airship, the Luftpanzer, goes kaboom that is. He'll be back. Cap'n Jack gets this classic line earlier on- "The more I hear of this Crowley the more I want to deck him!"

Inspired by this I recovered my copy of "Balloons and Airships", part of the old Blandford Colour Series, by Lennart Ege, from a colleague who had it more or less on permanent loan. Been enjoying reading it again, but blimey! Makes you a bit wary of ever going up in an airship. They do have a long-standing habit of going kaboom, with the Hindenburg disaster being the ultimate example of course. I hadn't realised that the Hindenburg was supposed to have been filled with Helium but the Americans, who had a monopoly on the stuff, wouldn't sell Germany any, for fairly obvious reasons. There was some pressure to have it named the "Adolf Hitler" apparently. Part of me thinks it would be great to see the Adolf Hitler going up in flames, but the rest reminds me of the human cost of that tragedy and that fact that, despite the unsavory connotations of its nationality, it was still a beautiful ship that didn't deserve that fate.

As for the Blandford Colour Series, I do like these little books, small and a bit out of date now but packed with facts and pictures. The Kenneth Gatland spaceflight ones (there are four) are some of my favourites and are part of my core library. I have a few more back at my mother's house, more of the aviation series, and will be heading over there in the not to distant future, so I'll probably pick them up. In the meantime Amazon has provided me with Kenneth Munson's "Flying Boats and Seaplanes" and "Helecopters and Rotorcraft" to allow me to revel in even more period aviation goodness.

Dammit, now I want to go watch Porco Rosso. Miyazaki knew his stuff, I tell you...

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