Category Archives: random thoughts

Saving the world one fathers day at a time

I don’t think I’ve ever saved the world before.

Well, technically it wasn’t just me, it was a group of visitors to a historical exhibition in town and the kids in the group did most of the work, but it was nice to be a part of such an Earth shattering event. Well the Earth wasn’t shattered, so actually it wasn’t an Earth shattering event but you get what I mean. No? Ok, I’ll try to explain.

It was fathers day yesterday and the daughter and I went to have a look round an exhibition called “Crash of the Elysium” which has information and artifacts from the Victorian steamer Elysium which ran aground in 1888. The daughter wasn’t too happy at being dragged into some boring old museum tour but, as it was fathers day, she put on a brave face. It didn’t help that it started with us waiting in a holding area for about 10 minutes where it was hot and a bit crowded. Due to the size of the exhibition they could only let us through in small groups and there seemed to be a lot of children around so I suppose they all had the same idea as us about fathers day. When our group was shepherded through to the first section there was a set of display cases with bits recovered from the Elysium which, despite the signs saying “do not touch”, some of the children started to poke and prod. A curator wandered out and began to give a presentation of the history of the Elysium along with photos taken while she was in production. During the presentation an alarm started to sound and a group of four army soliders burst through one of the side doors and started yelling orders, the curator was dragged out and the rest of us had to line up to be moved out to a different area which I had assumed would be due to safety reasons, but it actually turned out we had been drafted! They didn’t look like normal army types so I did wonder if they are part of UNIT and the ranking officer (who was a wee bit chummy with his corporal, much fist bumping and hugging went on) was yelling loudly about an alien spaceship crashing (I wonder if they had anything to do with that UFO over London on Christmas day back in 2005) and we had to help them out with checking the wreckage. I know there are budget cuts in the army but blimey…

Anyway, we then had to run (yes run) up stairs to a section nearby, don rather natty white paper coveralls, dust masks (it was like being back in woodworking class at college) and line up to be issued a number. The daughter got 9 and (un)lucky old me got 13. We got shouted at a fair bit by the ranking officer (I didn’t catch his rank properly) and the other three (one was called Ripley but was a man, maybe Ellen’s great great grandfather?) a lot. I did bite back the urge to ask if this was going to be a stand up fight, or another bug hunt.

We then got quickly hustled out of the mustering area and what happened next was a bit of a blur so I won’t try to give too much detail as most of it could be wrong, we were led to the crash site of the spaceship that had been mentioned. Yup, a real, live, alien spaceship. Well, the spaceship wasn’t alive but you get my drift and I don’t know which is harder to believe, a crashed spaceship or that it crashed in Ipswich.

The military team had recovered a black box from the crashed ship with a recording from what the corporal claimed was the ships doctor and, when they to played fragments of the recording, he really did look exactly like a normal doctor (bowtie, floppy hair, tweed jacket, slightly eccentric way of talking) but he didn’t look like anything I expected from an alien spaceship.

We then had to get inside the ship and for the next hour we ran through the rather dark and scary corridors (as I was number 13 and found myself at the back a few times I’m actually shocked I survived), we carried out experiments to check for signs of an object called a TARDIS and even ended up travelling back to a fairground in 1888. It was all very frantic and the kids seemed to know a lot more than the adults which just shows how well educated they are. Most of the time the adults got shunted to the back while the kids scrambled around fixing things and searching for information, they even knew something about not blinking but I think I was too scared and traumatised by that point to take it all in.

After being pursued by a shape lurking in the darkness, we got back home by all holding hands to focus some kind of energy and the daughter held onto a TARDIS key that we had discovered, there was a bright blue light and then we had to run (we did a lot of running) to a time portal where we managed to escape back to the outside and sunny Ipswich. (Ipswich? Sunny? Must have been the wrong place).

A massive thanks to the team behind the day for getting “Alpha squad” out safely in one piece and it looks like they shut down the Elysium exhibition as it was all closed up as we went by on our way home. Probably due to security fears or other kind of military mumbo jumbo.

I know all of this is pretty hard to believe (time travel, alien spaceships, shadowy army types) and I wouldn’t believe it myself if it wasn’t for the letter we each received at the end from this Doctor (Who? I didn’t get his name) chap. I’d post a photo of it but everytime I take a picture the words don’t appear on the paper so I think the camera’s broken. As we couldn’t have our phones on during the exhibition I didn’t have the chance to take any during our escapade. As well as the letter we did have our wristbands (aqua I believe) and our amazing memories of the event. It was also pretty hard to tell who was grinning more when we got home safely.

Oh and we went out for a meal that evening at Arlingtons which is a brasserie in the middle of town we hadn’t been to before and there was one strange moment when a lounge/jazz version of Soundgarden’s “Blackhole Sun” came on.

I’ve also given up pretty much on counting the days I’ve cycled into work. Lets just say I’ve not used the car yet ok?

having my bubble burst

Writing is a long, hard slog. It takes a long time and a lot of practice to get good at it, and it takes even more time and even more work to get someone to recognise that you’re any good at it.

I read that in a post this evening on Nicola Vincent-Abnett’s blog which reminded me of something from my misspent yoof, so I’m going to put down a teeny tiny tale of how I had my early attempts to be a writer was popped at an early age, but please read her blog post first.

Done? OK.

My very first Saturday job was working in a rare/second hand/antiquarian bookshop in Littleborough and I was there from age 15 to around 18 and loved it. To walk through a building stacked with huge piles of books, shelves groaning under the weight of paper and the smell… aaaah the smell of napalm in the morning may be one thing but the smell of thousands of secondhand books is truly the thing to love. I would mainly carry boxes of books around for the owner and help him with cleaning or sorting out for bookfairs and was paid about £5 for a days work along with a few paperback sci-fi books from his old stock. The stuff I was paid with was mainly in a second building that customers wouldn’t normally be allowed in, it was for his stock or for traders and there was a small corner of one room which was filled with old Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke and other pulp writers. I would grab a few and try to read as much as possible before the next weeks collection. I would be filling my mind with the vivid golden era pulp nonsense that much of todays sci-fi has lost in its attempt to be an all serious genre with its posh, no sillyness rules and it’s far too clinical nature. I think its one of the reasons I still read some 40k fiction these days (in between reading Hunter S Thompson and HP Lovecraft) because a lot of it with its ideas of genetically engineered supermen in spaceships that are huge floating cities in space and all encompassing evil aliens is the stuff that EE ‘Doc’ Smith would churn out write.

At one time I was studying my English A-Levels under the delusion that it would help my attempt to break into the film industry by being able to work with scripts better… hmmm. Mainly it taught me that babies make ‘biological noises’ when growing up and that the English language we all know and adore is a bastard language made from the raping, pillaging and invasions of the Danish, Dutch, French, Normans and other assorted Europeans out for a good time in the early 700’s. As part of my course we had to write some form of creative writing and it seemed natural that I write some form of pulp.

It was an obvious story, I know it now. Spaceship turns up in a busy park, hideously strange being gets out, army turns up (sounds like I’d watched the day the earth stood still too many times) and the big twist at the end is that its a spaceship from Earth and the pilot is a man. The story was supposed to be written from the POV of an alien (I think I gave them three eyes and tentacles in the final description just to round out the BEM element). So its a hack story, I was young and still trying to flex my writing muscles and as an attempt to get some form of creative feedback from someone other that my teachers and classmates I gave a copy to someone who came into the bookshop every Tuesday to have lunch with the owner, a Mr Trevor Hoyle. Trevor wrote sci-fi, he had written an episode of Blakes 7 (Ultraworld), several B7 novels, a series of alternative dimension books called Q and a smattering of other books so he was established. He was a curly haired, mustachioed shortish guy who would shuffle in but to me he was an item of awe mainly because he was connected with Blakes 7 and he once told me a story about how he met Philip K Dick and there was snuff all over a table. So I got a copy of the story printed off and gave it to Trevor for assessing and nervously waited.

To say I was shot down in flames would be an understatement.

Its easy to excuse it, that I was young, that I was new to all this and I had yet to find my own writing style but his comments pointed out it was all very cliché, that it was badly done and just basically said that everyone could write but not everyone should write. Sheeeeeeet… how do you counter that?

To this day I do not resent Trevor for his criticism, in many ways he helped me by making me face criticism at an early age and the maturity to deal with it rather than throw a hissy fit but I do sometimes wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t shown him. Would I have become some form of hack writer? Would I have practiced and practiced until I became the greatest pulp sci-fi schlock writer ever? Could I have been one of the people scribing one of the Horus Heresy books? No effing way as I was far too dedicated to getting into film making but by ditching writing early on I tried to focus more on story telling through other means, which was one way I enjoyed animation and film making at college so much. I own many of Trevor’s books and have enjoyed reading them. Many are signed to me and I remember enjoying a radio play that was on BBC4 (I think) that Trevor wrote and was set in the hospital that I could see from my bedroom while growing up. Ultraworld is one of the more bizarre and experiential episodes of Blakes 7 that was made and was only let down by the budget restrictions at the time. He is a good writer which is probably what made the letter he wrote me harder to digest. It sat under my bed in a place that most boys of my age would have kept porn magazines, but this one came with it’s own brand of shame burning a hole in my psyche.

The core point I’ve taken from Nicola’s blog is something I’ve tried to tell myself many times, never give up, but to this day I’ve never been able to put words to paper in any kind of story format because at the back of my head I have this teeny tiny Northern Kurt Vonnegut lookalike telling me I was crap.

Sheeesh Gary, put some clothes on

I’ve returned triumphantly from a two week stint of “doing-as-little-as-possible-but-somehow-managing-to-be-more-busy-than-if-I-had-stayed-at-home” AKA a holiday. Being on holiday is like being in a sensory depravation tank as I don’t have any music, the internet is limited, I have little TV time, no consoles, no sculpting, drawing or arty stuff. Its mainly boardgames and walking. I’m not complaining, it helps to unwind my mind as I focus too much on what I’m working on, so this disconnection from day to day working helps to refresh my creative urges but I tend to get the itch (my name for the nagging need to make something) which means I come up with plenty of mad schemes to punish myself with late hours with when I get back home.

The first week started off fairly easily, it was mainly just shuffling around a few places near to Tywyn and not doing too much, the drive from Ipswich tends to make me feel compressed so walking around the beach helps to stretch out a bit. While online trying to plan things to do around the iffy Easter weather I stumbled across a company in Aberystwyth called Mutant Caterpillar Games (I’ll admit it, I was looking for somewhere to buy boardgames to pass away the rain), we normally make a trip to Aberystwyth and I was intrigued by their claim to buy Spectrum gear. Dropping an email to them came up trumps so I dug out my old 128+2a and old games then wallowed in nostalgia while packing up the bits to take the next day. While scrounging up some YS mags I found a map of Jet Set Willy 2 and it got me thinking… (heres where plan 1 comes in) I’ve been reading up on Unity lately and after talking to Dan Higham and listening to a talk he gave about Unity I must admit to being interested. I found a tutorial on 2d games using Unity and it seems like its not too difficult to do (2d in a 3d engine, not create unity games) hmmmm….

So the first crackpot plan is an updated JSW using 3d content built in c4d, imported into Unity and built into a working game. Why this could work is that theres no shooting, no 3d wandering (just left, right and jump) and its already planned out. I can learn to code as I build each room. I create a library of content (monsters, objects etc…) and add to it as needed. Its a massive task but I honestly think it could be a massive amount of fun to work on.

After dropping off the stuff with the guys at MCG we went into Aber and naturally Waterstones was on the list. A few months ago I parted (rather sadly) with a signed copy of Anno Dracula that I had paid £75 for years ago. I say sadly because I was too damn scared to read it and didn’t want it to get damaged but once the new reprints had come out it was pointless to hang onto a copy that I would never read. I picked up a copy on the new print (with notes by Kim Newman) and read it throughout the holiday. What started as a good read started to turn into another itch I had to scratch and I kept thinking about the Francis Ford Coppola version of Dracula for some reason. While Dracula doesn’t come into it until the end, I kept imagining the characters in the book referring to the Gray Oldman Dracula with good reason. At the end of the book when Vlad is brought into the book he is nekkid. As Buck nekkid (Texas Ranger) as they come. Yup, it even describes his erm… fleshy manbits in great detail. As much as I try I can’t imagine either the Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee version of the Count allowing his old chap to waft around in the breeze in the way Mr Newman allows this giant Dracula to behave. Somehow its Oldman’s oldman that fits. I should say at this point I have read the book before so sort of knew this was coming which is partly why the image of Gary slips in (can I get much more innuendo in?) also the rest of the book describes the vampires that are at Dracula’s court as being savage beast of men who had been with him for centuries. All the other versions of Dracula seem like loners from a dinner party but Coppola’s Dracula is more of a feral charmer so suits the scene. Now what didn’t help is the day before getting to the end of the book, the daughter had been watching “Home on the Range” a rather strange film that marked the end of Disneys 2D films until the glorious return to form with “the Princess and the Frog”. One of the characters is voiced by the ever popular Steve Buscemi and I managed to get his voice lodged into my internal monologue for the next few days. Cue the rather strange bit in my mind when the rather dramatic entry into the court of the Prince Consort and the description of Draculas naked form when Steve Buscemi pops into my head and says “Sheeesh Gary, put some clothes on.” At this point I had to stop reading for a few minutes to tell Steve off.

So in a roundabout way I’m getting to the next project I want to tackle. I’ve been told I’m getting a train set for my birthday so I’m going to come up with a theme to base the scenery on and I’m currently leaning towards an Anno Dracula themed trainset. The Count has a fondness for trains and I like the idea of a graveyard, a castle and some 18th century buildings that I could build. I’m marking out a place in the cellar to put it and how much wood I’ll need to make the base with. Its either horror, steampunk or post apocalypse at the moment. I’d like to go western but its possibly a bit old hat… maybe western steampunk like Deadlands.

A couple of ideas formed and got squirted out before fully forming and of course in the meantime I need to finish off lil Cthulhu and the Babylon 5 scene I’ve been working on for far too long, but both of these projects are very loooooong term. The train set was originally for my retirement as I was going to sit in a room and paint trees until I die but I think i can live with starting it sooner. The JSW one will be a ‘learn as you go’ jobbie but thats the best way for me in terms of learning, i can’t do it any other way as I forget what I have done with tutorials. I can’t guarantee this one will come to much but at least it will be something to kick around.

Days cycled to work: 62
Days driven all the way to work: 0
Days driven half way to drop the car off at the garage to have a service: 1
Days tramped along in snow and ice: 2