London Ramblings

Musings of a London Migrant

First Foot on the Next Half Century...
I've just turned 51. Well, last Tuesday actually. That trip to Minami I just mentioned was my birthday present to myself. Been checking out the presents, Star Wars socks (and a nice shirt) from the Mother-in-Law (wearing a Darth Vader set now), a Llamas With Hats "CAAAARL!!" t-shirt from The Wife (which I am also wearing now), money from my Mother and the Father-in-Law, Waterstones gift card from the Brother, Amazon gift card from the Sister-in-Law. The Wife's family treat birthdays as srs bsns.

Llamas With Hats? Go google it. Like it or hate it you'll be using the catchphrase for months.

The gift cards are already spent, the Amazon one got me the David Attenborough collected "First Life" and "Rise of Animals" DVD set, saw it on TV some time ago and am looking forward to seeing it again. In Waterstones I plumped for Ian Nairn's "Nairn's London", of which I have heard many good things but never actually got around to reading and the new second expanded edition of Iain Sinclair and Marc Atkins' "Liquid London", a joint prose and photographic essay of strange little abandoned corners of the city (and the strange little abandoned people who occupy it). Atkins' bleak black-and-white images are wonderfully evocative, and Sinclair's text comes in short enough spans to avoid him getting irritating.

Don't get me wrong, I like Sinclair's work, but he has a habit of peppering his writing with references to people, places, things and events which nobody in their right mind is going to get straight off. You have to have bloody Wikipedia open on the computer next to you sometimes to understand what the hell he's going on about. It's a sort of passive aggressive intellectualism, "I'm going to talk about all this stuff and you plebs will just have to run to keep up".

The Wife thinks he's a git and gets too irritated to complete a single book he's read, and you can actually see her point.

Some of the money has been spent on picking up a few West End Games Star Wars RPG adventure modules. I see someone has already been working on putting "Rogue One" into the West End Games mechanic and that's very understandable, the whole film is more or less what players of the game would be doing, Rebels filling in the back story behind the main characters.

Take a look-

Love the fact that he's also done a "weathered" version of the pdf as if it was an old 90's sourcebook that's been scanned in by devoted fans of the old system.

Good stuff.

Catching Up...
I was at Minamicon in Southampton last weekend. It's an anime convention, generally seen as the "friendliest". Also seen as the "old farts" convention. I'd been roped in to assist one of the dealers there (Martin "Ferengi" Dudman of United Publications) who was a bit short handed. He pays the fees for the con, the hotel, the transport AND I get paid. I was hardly going to say "No" was I, so Friday evening I headed down to Keston, stayed overnight and early next morning off we headed in a loaded van.

This was the 23rd Minami. Blimey, 23 years old, older than some of the participants. I used to go to this a lot when I was in Devizes, part of the Wessex Anime Club crew. From around 2001 to 2004 we ruled the cosplay scene but slowly people drifted away, I ended up in London (and married) and I stopped attending, concentrating more on Pratchett fandom. This was a chance to catch up.

I spent most of the time in the dealers room (peddling yaoi to teenaged girls) or in the bar chatting with old friends. And a lot of them there were too, some I hadn't seen for over a decade. Virtually the entire Wessex Anime Club committee were there and it turns out there's still a lot of money in the club bank account. We decided we'd arrange a meet-up in Bath for a slap-up meal (at Mrs Miggin's probably) and donate the rest to charity.

I had determined that I wouldn't get more anime but in the end took partial payment with the Girls Und Panzer TV series and OAV collections. Back home I spent a bit more of my pay and went for the third series of Aria in the "thickpack" while it was still in print. A bit more expensive than the thinpack, but it'll match all the others on the shelf.

It was good to get back, good to see a thriving crowd of old and new faces. And quite startling to realise that United Publications is now probably the largest dealer there, the table everyone makes a bee-line to when the dealer room opens. I remember when Martin used to attend Ian Curtis' housecons with his first imported anime (and furry) goods when he first set up his company, cackling about all the latinum he was going to make (Deep Space Nine was doing the rounds, which tells you how long ago that was), hence the "Ferengi" nickname he acquired then and which has haunted him ever since.

Well, we've all passed a lot of water under the bridge since then. The Wife and I have started watching Aria again now, curled up on the sofa. I'd forgotten just how good, how heartwarming it was. Probably pick up Non Non Biyorni and Gingitsune as well over the next few months. Chicken soup for the soul, and I think I've missed it.

Life Finds a Way...
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.

Back in Black...
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.

These Boots Were Made For Walking...
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.


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.

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...."
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.


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.

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-

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").


A tall order Carrie, but we'll try and may the Force be with us all.

A Dinosaur's Tale... No! Sorry, tail!

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.

Beagling on Mars.
Oh, bloody hell, you were so CLOSE!

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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