Monday, 28 December 2009

My review of the noughties

This was going to be a “We didn’t start the fire” blog, along the lines of...

Millennium bug, give a tree a hug,

Tony Blair, congestion fare,

Nine Eleven, innocents in heaven,
George Bush...

...but I really couldn’t be bothered (the effort is almost never justified). Instead, I just wanted to convey my amazement that another ten years has passed by. I do realise that periods of ten years are always passing us by, but you know what I mean.

The past decade has been entirely dominated by a Labour Government (much to my distress), the threat of Islamic nutcases, political correctness, global warming, reality television and celebrity-worship

Making money...

JK Rowling

Human Rights Lawyers


Losing money...
Estate Agents



I recall starting this decade drinking from copious bottles of champagne at the house of a very wealthy family (that I would not see again), seeing in the new decade with relish. Within a year I was in Brazil, within eighteen months I was living in London, soon to experience the aftermath of 9/11 in the streets of our capital. Another eighteen months later I graduated, visiting Australia and New Zealand before returning home to sit on the scrapheap of Tony Blair's pathetically devalued education legacy. In 2004 I completed my first novel, The Road to Inheritance, before contemplating a move to Scotland in order to find a new challenge. The challenge was, as it happens, already waiting for me, as the following year I completed the sequel, Raphael, before re-igniting my marketing career in Birmingham. As the decade moved into its second half, I began work upon the first of my historic series, The Silver Knight, with the first book being proofed and made ready for publication towards the end of 2008. I became engaged, married and sold and bought a house. Things very rarely remain stationary...

What would I like to see in the “teenies”?

England to get good at rugby again

The publication of more Silver Knight novels

A change of government

A cap on immigration

An end to terror
Spurs to win the league
The bathroom floor to stop squeaking

You get the idea. Anyway, lets hope Mr Obama and whoever else presides over the globe (Hopefully not Brown) get it right. If they do that, I’ll learn to live with the squeaking floor.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Merry Christmas... one and all

Saturday, 19 December 2009

A Christmas Message from the Official Author's Site

And Christmas greetings to you all. May the yuletide log stay locked in its gathering of embers and never stray from its perch lest it slip and burn your house down. That would be truly awful.

So, pleasantries out of the way...

I wanted to give an update on things this year. Obviously in December, the paperback was launched, with the hardback being released in January this year. The Silver Knight had taken two years to write, plus another year to edit, prepare and release – Id like to thank Steve Farmer for his work on the cover, which I’m sure you’ll agree is excellent & Lulu for their technical support and commitment to drive down prices.

Progress has been slow, but more and more people are reading the novel... in the spring I launched the blog and redesigned the website. I also got going with Twitter and was introduced to several fantastic online communities including Litarena...

So, a year for book releases and a year for technical developments and news. I’ve also been working on the next book in the Silver Knight series. In terms of my progress, this has been slow for various reasons – I only really started it properly this year and always anticipated that it would take at least two or three years to write, given my growing commitments in other areas...

However. I have made strides with the first draft and I’m certainly a fair way through the narrative and what snippets can I give you? It is roughly the same time scale as book one – around four years. Probably more political comings and goings in this one – Jack is in the pay of some fairly important people so you’ll get to meet the Earl of Warwick, the King and Queen, plus some interesting lords. He also travels further – up north, to the Midlands and also to France and Burgundy. Probably slightly faster paced, but I’m sure you will all be the judges of this! Also, a hint of the supernatural! Of course, the tile was something I promised I would reveal, so now would be a good time... this is, at present, a working title, so there is always a chance that it might later be altered, but the likelihood is that book two will be called "The Quests of the Silver Knight."

How lucky you are to have the privilege of access to this information! I can already feel the anticipation leaking through my pores...

Which simply leaves me to offer my warmest Yuletide felicitations to you all...and I hope you enjoy the video!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Will we all end up just staying at home?

I wondered this the other day, and these does seem mileage in it as a prediction. With the recession, many people are house bound as it is, either forced by redundancy, unemployment or by virtue of the fact that they have set up a temporary "cottage industry" at home (using Ebay, Amazon or something similar). The state of the traffic on the roads is shocking enough to force many people to work from home as often as possible - more people use online convenience shopping rather than travel to the shops, which in turn adds more traffic to the roads. Add to that the decline of the Royal Mail (emails and alternative suppliers being necessary), the rise in broadband and other instant technologies and you have a scary shift in behaviour.

Will everything be virtual? Will we all live in tracksuits or pants, never getting dressed, never seeing the sun? I am starting to sound like Ben Elton, I know...

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Listorious, quite glorious

This is reasonably interesting... Listorious.

Apparently, it is a dictionary of the best Twitter Lists to follow (and therefore
a flattering thing to find oneself in...)

Another useful tool for Tweeters out there to use...

Monday, 14 December 2009

This is the news

I try not to watch the news. It depresses me. In any case, I get a gist of what’s going on from the radio and internet throughout the day. Errant speculation and biased conjecture does not interest me. Nor does becoming depressed just before going to sleep. I prefer to watch comedy last thing at night. My wife, however, tends to want to know what is going on, which leads me to relaying the inevitable:

‘More people killed in Afghanistan, More bomb blasts in Pakistan. Some Islamic nutcase has built a nuclear missile in Iran. Riots and killings in Zimbabwe. Global warming is on the increase. Gordon Brown has placed another tax on cars/booze/fun & enjoyment to pay for his budget deficit. Oh, and a couple of innocuous football results.’

I often think about places that never get on the news. South America. Oceania. Antarctica. The North Pole (apart from it melting). Siberia. The Sahara desert. Wales. Let’s hear more about those places – mix it up a bit. I’d watch it then. Apart from Wales.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

The Thick of it

Does anyone watch this? If not, you are missing out on the best piece of television of the last year or two, probably since the Office and Extras finished (although this series has just ended so you might have to find an online link or buy the DVDs)

If you don't mind a good bit of swearing, then this is as good as a documentary - you can just see the influence of the New Labour spin machine in full swing.

Be interesting how they proceed after the election next year if the Tories get in... here's a link to a clip

Monday, 7 December 2009

The Richard III Society, American Branch...

Now a link to The Silver Knight on the Ricardian fiction page of the Richard III Society's American branch...

This is probably more relevant to American readers, as the link points to the website. However, this is a global globe (if you know what I mean, which I cant pretend that you do) and the World Wide Web is no respector of island. The analytics on my website suggest that there are just as many readers of this blog outside the UK as upon it, which gives me great pleasure in acknowledging a global audience and catering for them accordingly.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Royal Mail Part Two... The Return of the Numbskull Postman...

You may recall several months ago my angst at having been led to a near breakdown as a direct cause of the Royal Mail's blitheringly erratic collection times. Actually, it was the loss of a key down the side of the passenger seat in my car that caused the public display of rage, but anyway...

If you read my telling of that story with interest, you may find it enlightening to know that the curse of their incompetence has risen again. A week or two ago, I was clearing out some rubbish from my garage, when I came across a brown shape poking out from beneath the bottom of the garage door onto the driveway. It had been disturbed by the movement of a bin inside, as I had not noticed it before. On closer inspection, I found it to be an A3 envelope, addressed to me. It had clearly been there some time, as the envelope was worn, moist and warped from the damp surface of the floor. I opened it and found an old map of the area in which I live. Now, that may seem a strange thing to receive; indeed, it may even revoke memories of a "Goonies" style treasure hunt instigated by a strange prophesy or Steven Spielburg script - however, the truth was that I had been expecting a map to arrive for several weeks. Perhaps a couple of months. It was an offer from a national newspaper - a historic map of your house. Simply collect some tokens, pay a small postage fee, etc... I had completely forgotten about it, but here it was, shoved under my garage door, probably having been there for some time.

The problem was, however, that the map was ruined. Damp, warped, crinkly. Or, to put it mildly, completely fucked. Only a moron of considerable incompetence would have placed it there, out of sight but at the mercy of the elements. Only a postman would have been so lazy as to have shoved it half-heartedly under the garage door, rather than to have taken it back to the depot and instead posted a card requesting collection due to the size of the article. Call me old fashioned, but I expect post to be placed in the letter box, not left in the rain, dropped kicked into the hedge, eaten, stolen or set fire to.

Naturally, I dispatched a complaint, which is actually far harder to do than it should be. Quite clearly, the onslaught of vitriol caused by the ongoing strike row has increased sensitivities within their HQ and they have done their best to make it difficult to complain. However, I am not easily deterred and after a twenty minute search I found the form, filled it in (in great detail) and sent it off. Freepost, incidentally.

A week later I received a reply. Quite extraordinarily, it stated that, in order to process my complaint, they required four things from me. Those things may just have well been gold, frankincense, a ticket to Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory and a thimble full of Polyjuice Potion, for all the likelihood of me being able to obtain them. Dismayed, I composed my own retort. Rather than to summarise, I thought it best to post the full effort here for you to see...



I am writing regarding your response to my complaint about an item of mail that was shoved under our garage door by our postman in a fit of laziness and incompetence which as you are aware both warped and ruined the item. In your letter, dated 17th November you have requested four items from me in order to take the matter forward and that I send these within ten working days.

Clearly you cannot have read my original letter as the item that was damaged was a map SENT to me, which means I cannot reasonably be expected to produce the original certificate of posting. On the matter of point three, I am able to send the item to you, however, there must be some kind of guarantee that you are not simply going to lose that in addition to the countless other items that have been mislaid by your workers over the last few years. As for point four, why on earth do you expect me to provide two quotes showing the cost of replacing the damaged item? My estimate is that it would cost £15-£20 in a specialist shop to get hold of a similar map, but I certainly don’t have the time to gallivant across the country in search of this. The item was a newspaper offer – a one off – and my point was that you have damaged something which largely speaking is irreplaceable. For that, I demand some sort of compensation. I will not be dictated to with ridiculous demands for quotes. If you want a quote – you get one.

Which leaves us with point two – the senders full name and address. It was an offer that came from the Daily Mail back in the summer involving sending off tokens for a local historic map. Quite whether the offer was processed by The Daily Mail or by a subsidiary or associated company, I cannot say, but the address on the postage is as follows: (CENSORED). I suggest you do some detective work, seeing as one of your employees has caused this situation.

I can only assume that these four requests have been made in the hope that you make the matter so awkward for me that I simply give up and drop my complaint. Let me assure you that I have no intention of doing so and if necessary I will make this matter public online in blogs, forums, trading standards, in the local press and whatever else it takes for you to realise that this sloppy, pathetic level of service is NOT ACCEPTABLE.

I await your response, which I trust will be slightly more substantial and less arrogant than your first attempt.

Yours sincerely...


I'll keep you posted on their response - my hopes are not high...

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Advent calendars...medieval themed...

It is surprising how much one learns in the course of writing historical novels. Religion is the main topic that arises with such frequency. There are so many examples of trends, events and occasions that we now know under modern, social guises that have stemmed from religious days. Lady Day, for example, leading to what we now know as Mothering Sunday. Whitsun, Michaelmas, Trinity and All Saints (the festival not the band) being others.

And of course, the current period of Advent. A time we only now consider as being ripe for chocolate filled calendars and Christmas shopping, was an important element of the Catholic diary back in the height of the Middle Ages. It was during some research into this that I had an idea for marketing advent calendars as medieval items - perhaps with a knight coming out of a doorway for each day in the countdown to Christmas, to celebrate the origins of the period. Hey, perhaps even
a Silver Knight. Jack Templeman could appear in different outfits, finally leading to his full plate armour on the 24th of December to signify the arrival of Christmas Eve...

Buggar, I've cheapened it already. Just think, a serious author of medieval fiction descending to purveying cheap tat. I have embarrassed myself - ignore me, please...

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Football, Play station, lager, X Factor - I am now threadbare and incapable of contribution

Surprisingly, I've never watched the X Factor, so let's nip that one in the bud for a start. I used to drink lager, in fairly copious quantities as it happens, but those days have gone. I'll have the odd crisp cold one in the summer, but otherwise it's a real ale or Guinness. Or something else. I used to play football, and have always been an avid Spurs fan, but football has lost its appeal these days so I rarely watch it on television and I don't think I've been down to White Hart Lane to watch a game for a few years now. Which leaves me with the Playstation. A tool that I have very rarely used - more of a Megadrive/Nintendo/X Box man in my time, although it is ages since I have actually played on one. Just don't have the time these days. Sigh...

So, where I am going with this ostensibly aimless rambling? I just dont seem to be able to take part in these conversations anymore. It may just as well be a foreign language to me. I would seriously struggle to sit in a Wetherspoons pub, drinking Stella and talking about playing football on the Playstation these days. To be fair, rarely am I invited to do as such. But it is a slight concern all the same. Am I turning into a premature huffler? Should I book my place in a home for domino players? Should I tune my radio so that it picks up the Archers? Should I purchase a cardigan? Do I get excited by beige? No, perhaps I'm not that bad. Just yet.

In my defence, I do possess a tattoo, I do listen to loud music and will swear copiously if emotions deem fit. Having said all that, I did hear myself come out with the following line the other day and perhaps this is the most significant indictment of them all:

"If that happens, we'll be in a bit of a pickle."

Pickle. A pickle. So there we have it. At the age of twenty-nine, I have become sensible.

Right, where's the football...

Monday, 23 November 2009

Traffic in the build up to Christmas - why?

This has never made any sense, but then traffic never does. Let me give you an overview. From January, every-so-slightly, day by day, week by week, the traffic improves. By Easter, it is fractionally better, with rush-hour journeys taking five or ten minutes less. Obviously, during the school holidays the traffic is much better. Then, as the nights grow lighter, the traffic continues to improve, presumably as the number of students commuting lessens (with exams looming). Finally, by the time the school summer holidays come, the roads are nice and empty. Relatively speaking.

Throughout the course of the six week break, the only nightmare traffic is during Fridays on the motorway network as families rush for the beaches or airports - it is particularly bad during the August Bank holiday, but otherwise, during rush hour, it is fine.

Then, September comes. For obvious reasons, the traffic worsens. Children are back at school, student back at college or university and people retrn from holiday. Then, as October arrives, the nights darken and people set out earlier for their journeys. I understand all that - makes sense. However, why, for pity's sake, does the traffic worsen, day-by-day in the build up to Christmas?

Are there more people on the road? Where do these people come from? Are they flown in especially to annoy me? Don't tell me that it is due to Christmas shopping, as how would this affect early morning rush hour traffic? Every year it is the same! Literally, every day it is bad bad bad until the point at which the schools break up a few days before Christmas. It has started already...

Answers on a postcard please...

Friday, 20 November 2009

New Review of The Silver Knight...

As ever, I am to be relied upon to flaunt my wares in as aggravatingly nauseating way as possible. Still, I have made the effort to write novels, so I assume I can be forgiven for thrusting the resultant matter into your immodest gazes...

I came across another
review for The Silver Knight the other day and wanted to offer it to those still unsure as to the content matter or undecided in their purchasing decisions... here it is...

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Am I a Luddite Deep Inside?

There are times when I think technology is great. After all, I run my personal website and blog, I have published my novels online, all my music is ripped and organised to iTunes and I have a marketing career that comprises of promoting e-commerce websites.

Having said all that, when I see that books are soon to be replaced by electronic readers and that they are not too far from creating robotic humanoids that can be programmed to replicate real people for those whose relationships have ended, I start to wonder if we shouldn't just go back to the Middle Ages...

A microchip is made from silicon. It is no substitute for a heart and a soul.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Website Additions...

I have been adding some pages to the website and thought I would let you all know in case you were in the process of wandering on by...

The promotional videos to The Road to Inheritance and The Silver Knight are now embedded in the site, whilst each book now has its own page beneath the series page - it all comes down to SEO classification, but I shan't bore you with that now.

I will be doing the same with the interviews section in due course and I apologise in the meantime for any errors - do let me know!

Monday, 16 November 2009

Should I get excited by a Ford?

I am currently thinking about the prospect of changing my car. Not this year. Perhaps not even next. But at some point in the next eighteen months. Of course, what I want and what I can afford are two vastly different matters (sadly) but I am starting to formulate one or two ideas. Given the fact that I am rapidly turning into a middle-aged curmudgeonly extra from Emmerdale, I have been impressed by a number of 4 x 4s on the market, however, I have also been swayed by the improving virtues of the Ford Focus.

Some models are fairly powerful, comfortable, with all the extras you could want... and yet I cannot allow myself to feel overwhelmed with excitement. Probably a good thing really. Either that, or I'll change my name to Seth.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Christmas Hamper Lunacy

True to form, I have been in frequent receipt of the usual batch of Christmas Hamper brochures these last few weeks. From the relatively affordable "budget" options (!!!) to the palatial extravagance of John Lewis and Harrods, the choice is often tempting but always ignored.

For as much as I like the idea of a magnum of champagne, bottles of classic French wine, vintage ports, mature cheeses, boiled hams, Belgium chocolates, luxury crackers, rich pies, pots of Stilton, etc I am not entirely convinced by the idea of having to pay several hundred pounds for the privilege. Sometimes even over a grand.

Where does the cost come from? The wicker hamper? What use is that, except for taking up even more room in my house? Who buys these hampers? Surely not business anymore? Even if you had the money, surely it would be more cost-effective to buy the component parts separately?

Maybe I should start my own consumer watch.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Start your Christmas shopping early with "The Silver Knight."

Much as I detest the flagrant commercial abuse of the Yuletide period (I think I saw the first Christmas related item back in June), I am sure you will forgive my impudence when I draw your attention to the fact that we are soon to be ensconced in yet another round of Christmas shopping.

Upon that note, what a superb time to be thinking of unusual and indeed unique gifts for those around you! Which is why I must quite unashamedly plug my latest novel, The Silver Knight...

I am sure your loved ones would enjoy reading the first instalment of Jack Templeman’s Wars of the Roses as they sit before the log fire with the crackle and cheer of merriment ringing in their ears and the slight discomfort of an unripe fig lodged deep in their ever-occupied bellies. The trials and tribulations of young Templeman will, I am sure, go down a treat with the aid of a large festive tin of Roses, bottle of wine, or dare I say, even a celebratory nut.

The promotional video to The Silver Knight is available on YouTube, whilst there is a full review and discussion available on Litarena. I also talk about the themes and content of the book on my website.

So, to purchase a copy of The Silver Knight (paperback copies start at £10.98), simply visit the online Lulu store at: (Alternatively, I can arrange signed copies on request)

You know you want to!

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Mark Smith Aerials - Dudley

I have just enjoyed the most incredibly splendid service from the above company. When we moved to our present address earlier this year, we had a shockingly poor reception from our aerial. As we had Sky TV it didn't seem to matter, other than the fact that we had a perfectly adequate Free-view box for the bedroom that we were unable to use given the weakness of the signal.

Spotting an advert in the local paper, we phoned Mark Smith Aerials up and organised a visit. Within an hour, they had replaced the roof aerial with a new digital version, replaced the leads down the wall, set up free-view in both the lounge and the bedroom and tuned in both televisions. They also explained the technicalities of digital TV in terms I could understand. All for £140!

You know me - I like a moan and a complain. You also know that when I big something up, it must be good. These guys are good - if you live in the Black Country and have any aerial problems you need to contact them now!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Remember Remember the Fifth of November...

...gunpowder, treason and plot. Of course, many people will probably have come to the conclusion this year that Guy Fawkes had the right idea, when one considers the expenses scandal. Year on year, it seems, people lose respect for politicians, leaders and statesmen as a whole.

There was nothing hugely different, in principle of course, from the Catholic verses Protestant conflict that plagued northern Europe from the reign of King Henry VIII midway through the sixteenth century through to the Jacobite risings during the time of the first two Georges in the eighteenth century – to that of the current battle between the loosely Christian-based capitalist nations of the west and the fundamental Islamist states of the middle East and Africa. In both cases, each party firmly believes they are right, with horrendous violence often being their ultimate weapon of choice.

The Gunpowder plot was similar, in essence to some of the Muslim terrorist plots of the past decade. The September 11th Attacks obviously spring to mind, although reading the current list of charges against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed throws up a host of foiled plots such as the destruction of various buildings and places of significant note that leaves one feeling chilled to the bone with “what could have been.”

Had the message not been leaked back in 1605 (I haven’t go the time nor the inclination to detail the reasons as to why the plot failed here, but suffice to say that someone within the plotters spilled the beans to someone who would have been killed in the explosion in order to save them and they then informed the powers that be), and Guy Fawkes had not been found lurking in the depths of the Westminster cellars, then the outcome would have been monstrous. Everyone in the Lords Chamber, including the King would have been killed. Much of the Palace of Westminster would have been destroyed, Westminster Abbey would have been damaged, whilst nobody within a hundred metres of the blast would have survived. Death, horror and total anarchy would have reigned supreme and, whilst I’m sure the Catholics would have enjoyed the prospects (in the Name of God), the signs are that it would have done little for their cause (consider the mess that the Civil War left England in several decades later).

To those proponents of such revolutionary change, one only has to consider the true cost of human life in such acts. Perhaps, we should say “Remember, remember the bodies falling out of the World Trade Centre Towers?” Remember remember the women and children slaughtered in the planes. Remember remember the mean killed as they went about their business, trying to earn a living for their families.

I’ve actually stayed as a guest in the house in York where it is claimed that Guy Fawkes was born. Fortunately, his plot was foiled and unfortunately for him, he was arrested and rather gruesomely executed. Four hundred years later, the beds are very comfortable and the beer tastes great – I would thoroughly recommend it.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Illness & Asthma in the Lakes

I must preface this by mentioning that on the Monday of half-term, just prior to setting out for our holiday in the Lakes, I received the flu vaccination. It was purely done on the advice of my doctor, who was adamant that as an asthmatic I should definitely be protected from the seasonal flu virus.

So, with my body so clinically treated against a bout of the illness, we set off on the M6 bound for the Southern Lakes. I had estimated a leisurely journey of around three hours, including a brief rest stop, to reach Kendall, plus a further short journey through Windermere to Ambleside. Optimistic? Try doubling it. We had had no idea that this particular half term holiday would lead to such a goldrush towards the fells of Cumbria. However, it was not simply the fact that the journey took a wopping six hours that caused me a near-breakdown. When we arrived in Ambleside, we discovered that the B&B had no immediate parking and we would have to drive to their private spaces just outside of the town. In order to find this secluded "pen" we were provided with a map and informed that it would be "simple" to find. Well, a combination of the unforgiving on
e-way system, more traffic congestion than rushhour in Tokyo and the fact that the map was the most lamentable effort in the history of cartography, all conspired to send us through our final hour of hell, before finally (after the seventeenth lap of the town) we located the green gate and parked up.

Not knowing whether to laugh or cry
or simply sink to our knees in despair, we trudged back into the town to find somewhere to eat. Little did we realise that we had missed the time slot for a pub lunch by five lousy minutes...

I have to be honest and admit that we enjoyed an excellent meal at a place called the Priest Hole that evening. However, I was starting to feel tired and unwell (factors I attributed to the flu jab) which meant that with the bed as hard as concrete, I decided to take a
Beechams tablet to help subdue the symptoms and help me to sleep. What ensued was the worst night's sleep I had ever had. Or had not. For I failed to sleep a wink. My mind was buzzing, my back aching and my nose and throat sore. Finally, as the light came flooding through the curtains of our stuffy, airless room, I decided to prise myself up and abandon any faint hope of overcoming my insomnia for once and for all. It was then, as I fumbled for the packet of Beechams, that I realised the cause of my predicament - for the capsule I had taken was not the restful, nightime dose, but the caeffeine-rich daytime supplement...

Feeling by this time fairly dreadful, I topped up on painkillers and, after a token cooked breakfast, drove to the village of Coniston. The Lake of Coniston is famous for the record breaking pursuits of the late Sir Donald Campbell and was of course the location of his spectacularly tragic demise. The virtues of the painkillers must have been significant, for I was able to undertake a successful fell walk in addition to the exploration of two of the nearby lakes. Despite the autumnal drizzle, the scenery was fantastic, although it nearly finished me to complete the hike.

That evening, we took a meal at one of the restaurants featured on the "Kitchen Nightmares" program (and I can report that Gordon Ramsey has done his bit well) and from then on, things deteriorated rapidly. Feeling shockingly ill, I attempted to sleep, only to suffer a horrific asthma attack which nearly led me to hospital. The following morning we were due to visit the Beatrix Potter Museum but only ended up going home early. The journey took...that's right...six hours.

Next time we'll get it right, next time... you can stick your flu jab...

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Halloween, Helloween... the festival of the dead

I refer, of course, to the 1990’s Euro-speed metal band as much as I do the true horrors of Halloween.

There was a time when the 31st of October meant Samhain or All Saints Day... that was before the Americans took over...

Please, whether you are adult or child, do refrain from visiting my house. Trick or treat, you will be rapidly turned away!

Sunday, 25 October 2009

The 594th Anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt

As dawn rose on the morning of Friday October 25th 1415, some 594 years ago to this very day, a small number of tired, bedraggled, rain-sodden and dysentery ravaged English soldiers made their way to a clearing at the bottom of a slope in northern France, near the River Somme. They had spent the past weeks attempting to flee from the pursuing French cavalry, only to have been trapped near to the tiny village of Agincourt. There above them stood an insurmountable host, led by princes and dukes and numbering them in their tens of thousands. Most were upon horseback, their lavish armour glinting as they surveyed the rabble gathered before them. The result, it seemed, was inevitable; however, if they had known that by the end of the day their side would be decimated; captured or killed by the English army, they would have probably fled there and then.

The English victory at Agincourt (of which you can read an account in The Silver Knight) has gone down in folklore and rightly so. Of all the battles of the Hundred Years War, it is the one that really captures the imagination and was probably solely responsible for our perpetual love of an underdog. How is it, then, that we so frequently fail to acknowledge and celebrate it as part of our culture? With our scant supply of public holidays in England (are there to be no benefits from our inane membership of the EU?), I would have thought Agincourt to be a perfect opportunity to add another bank holiday to our lives. It was an English and Welsh fuelled victory, against the odds, against the French and in the midst of the Middle Ages – all the right ingredients. Furthermore, it lies almost equidistant between the August Bank Holiday and Christmas, which would break up the often grey and miserable stretch of autumn with a cause of patriotic celebration...

Of course, these thoughts are rhetorical, for I am fully aware of the reason Agincourt is never considered worthy of the purpose of celebration. Four years ago, we enjoyed a variety of entertainment as we celebrated the bi-centennial anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. One particular event comprised of a re-enactment of the naval battle at sea (I believe it took place on the Channel but I may be mistaken). However, at the last moment, our beloved leaders decided that it would be problematic if the staged event took place under the guise of “Britain verses France” as it would offend France if they lost. Never mind the fact that they lost the original battle and had actually started the conflict under the direction of Napoleon, it simply wouldn’t do. So, we were subjected to Blue verses Red...

Hotdog, as the American in Fawlty Towers would say, but never mind, I shall not grow bitter. Let me simply suggest that we lose our retrospective guilt (there is nothing to feel guilty about – it took place over half a millennia ago, we were out numbered and we won handsomely), celebrate the fact that today is Sunday, for most a day of rest, so eat, drink and be merry. Your ancestors earned it.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

England Injuries

There must be something about supporting England in any sport – you never get to see the first choice line up. Take rugby for instance. With the news that Sheridan and Vickery will be out for over three months, Martin Johnson could almost name an entire first and second choice line up of crocks! How on earth are we supposed to compete?

Too much sport, too much money, too many games.

When I started playing rugby (many years ago now), the England team would be drinking on the way to the game! Never mind Danny Cipriani being fined and dropped for being spotted outside a nightclub at 1am, if that had been fifteen years ago, he’s have been fined for not downing ten pints of brandy out of a hat...

The trouble with professionalism in sport is that you are ultimately dealing with people’s bodies – and people are not machines. There is a limit and that limit needs to be recognised.

Of course, it isn’t helped by the fact that they have to wear skin tight shirts – its interesting seeing how twenty stone props manage to grip each others shirts in the rain – no wonder so many scrums collapse, but still...

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

iTunes...why does it have to be so complicated?

I am, of course, talking about their database and the way they store files as the front end is easy enough. My problems tend to arise when I try to import something other than an album cd – the current example being one of the Harry Potter audiobooks as read by Stephen Fry. For an odd reason, some audiobooks and disks port across with little difficulty, assigning the artist, disk, track and composer with consistency and logic; whilst others have their tracks sprayed around with careless abandon, causing hours of work re-assigning their path and fields of data so that I have a fighting chance of being able to find them when using my iPod.

Since when did technology become such a burden? Apple, of course, would place the blame with Microsoft, but that doesn’t help, as I have a PC and cannot afford (nor would I wish to) transfer all my computing activity to a Mac at present.

Dread and confound it and them.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Top Tips...

I was trawling through some old copies of Viz the other day and caught sight of their “Top Tips” section. Obviously I had so share some of these with you...

1. RYANAIR passengers. These days they let ALL passengers off the planes, thus eliminating the need to all clamber to the front the second the aircraft lands.

2. STATELY home owners. Sprinkle pepper into the helmets of suits of armour so as any intruders who hide in them when being chased will give themselves away by sneezing just after you walk past.

3. BBC sport newsreaders. Save time by not reporting on the progress of Andy Murray in tennis tournaments. I have yet to meet any member of the public who likes the miserable sod.

4. BBC sports newsreaders. Actually, on second thoughts, could you report on Andy Murray when he gets knocked out of a tournament, as this cheers me up immensely, as it does most people I know.

5. MOBILE party DJs. Having trouble getting nervous guests up and dancing? Try petulantly demanding "What's wrong with you?", and calling them all "boring". That should do the trick.

6. TAME budgies and parrots easily by replacing their grit with iron filings. By holding a large magnet, they will sit happily on your hand for hours.

7. HOMEOWNERS. When selling your house, replace your furniture with children's tables and chairs, and use a dwarf estate agent. Instantly, your house will seem more roomy than it actually is.

8. OIL companies. Avoid having the general public pointing the global warming finger at you by putting some pictures of trees and flowers on your websites and adverts.

9. FLATMATES. Take a picture of yourself naked and looking surprised and pin it on your bathroom door. That way if anyone bursts in on you they won't get a shocking surprise.

10. ELDERLY drivers. Pressing the pedal on your right will make your car go a little faster. Forget all that rubbish about suffocating at speeds above 15mph, it was all a myth.

11. OBESE Radio 1 breakfast DJs. Why not discuss with your colleagues on air how you intend to spend your £600k salary? Your listener demographic of 16-25 year-old van drivers, warehouse workers and sixth-formers will really appreciate the insight..

Worthy advice!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Toffs and Commoners in Politics

So much seems to be made at present about class – specifically concerning how the Tories are “Toffs” who can’t relate to the average working man. For starters, I don’t believe that there is such as thing as an “average working man” – the days of the three tier class system are gone (see my guide to the new classes in society for more on this). I would also be interested to see if the term "toff" is any less offensive than calling the likes of John Prescott a "serf."

But the real point is that no politicians really represent the populace in the sense that the media are driving at, especially the ones who think they do - they are never likely to. For me, there is no point in David Cameron bothering to hide the fact that he drinks champagne. There are plenty of Labour politicians who drink champagne. Plenty of socialists for that matter. Also, there are plenty of politicians who drink tea. Who cares? Who cares if a politician comes from the gutters or from a stately home? Indeed, who cares if they are gay, or black, or married with children? What if they enjoy dressing up in women’s clothing at weekends? I couldn’t care less!

If Gordon Brown was revealed to enjoy lavish swingers parties in the headlines tomorrow, it would not change my opinion of his credentials as a political leader one iota. For me, politicians are there to run the country efficiently and effectively – pure and simple. To those who are trying to be something they are not - don't bother! And to those who want to castigate privileged people simply for being privileged, please just grow up...

N.B Before I get any complaints, I would like to state categorically that I am not suggesting for a moment that Mr Brown has any such tendencies...

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Anyone can now comment on my blog...

It's only fair. It's only right. So, if you absolutely love reading my thoughts and views then, even if you don't have a Google Account, you can say so - there is no need to log in.

Alternatively, if you hate and despite my every sentence, then now is your chance to tell me, without having to overcome the hurdles of bureaucracy!

I am nothing if not giving...

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Why I hate reality television

This one was always going to make the blog – it was just a question of when! Of late, I’ve a had a number of different discussions with a number of people concerning reality programmes, which has led to much ridiculing of my absolute abhorrence of any of these things...

You see, I don’t care if Z Factor clashes with Strictly Come Dancing because I hate them both. Celebrity Love Island to me is just a place to stick the dregs of society. I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here is the worst of the bunch and the less said about Big Brother, the better. The funny thing is that I have actually tuned in during a couple of series of Big Brother – the first being the year Jade Goody was in the house (not the racism one – her very first appearance) and the second the year a transsexual won it (I can’t recall the exact year).

In both cases, my reasons for watching snippets were largely attributed to a mixture of boredom and emptiness. The Jade series happened to be during my time in London, whereby I would arrive home from work and have to find suitable forms of entertainment, given the fact that I had no close friends in the vicinity (I lived in Tooting, which is really the absolute dregs of civilisation), very little money, no computer and no inclination to travel anywhere due to the horrendous traffic. Suddenly, the vacuous antics of Kate thingy, obsessive Alex and thick Jade became my chosen means of light entertainment. Bit of a damning indictment of my predicament, wasn’t it! I decided then, that I would never again wish away time or occupy myself with such pap and, with the exception of some occasional late night forays into a later series during bouts of insomnia, I have quite ably fulfilled that obligation without any difficulty.

Big Brother, however, is simply one of a plethora of such programmes and it is fair to say that I ignore them all. I shall cut to the chase and outline the reasons for this as follows:

1. The rise of the celebrity. I’ll be perfectly honest here and state categorically that I blame Tony Blair for this. Throughout the twentieth century, we enjoyed the rise of the “star.” The star was someone (male or female) who had achieved excellence in their field. Typically, in the early part of the century, they would be American and a sportsperson (baseballer, footballer or the like), singer, politician or film star. However, this became a global phenomenon and, by the seventies, shows such as Michael Parkinson’s, were full of the leading talents in a variety of areas. Mohamed Ali, Billy Connolly, Peter Ustinov and Orson Wells were amongst his most memorable guests and were true examples of what made a “star.” In other words, they were people who had achieved excellence and through their talent and dedication, had become famous. Fame was therefore of value. It was an aspirational quality and was very often linked to charisma as well as ability.
However, for all their talents, all we knew of these people was of their excellence, ability and achievements. Sometimes, we would learn of their thoughts and experiences via chat shows. But we would never be taken deep into their world – that was not only off-limits, but not of any interest to anyone... Now, skip forward to 1997 and that momentous general election in which John Major’s grey, seedy government were voted out in favour of everybody’s best mate, Tony. The problem that Blair had toiled with for a number of years, was the image of the Labour party. They were seen as devout socialists, grim, northern politicians with no grasp of the realities of modern life. He himself, suddenly became a guitar-wielding, football supporting “everyday bloke” who began to court the support of indie bands such as Oasis, Sleeper and Blur. A wave began to spread in which young people, perhaps bored by the common notion of politics, took an interest in “New Labour.” And so it was that, on entering the front hall of 10 Downing Street, Blair brought with him such political visionaries as Noel Gallagher, David Beckham and George Michael. All part of “Cool Britannia.”

Gibberish, I know. To think that the stoic British people could possibly be fooled by such a transparent stunt... oh, but they were. They bough it hook, line and sinker, so much so that they voted him in again. Twice in fact! By the time he scuttled away from Westminster as the foundations of his party began to buckle under the strain of bloated incompetence in 2007, the damage was done. Celebrity was here to stay. We were obsessed with fame. Fame over substance. Heat magazine, OK and Hello were the judges of virtue. If you were six foot, blonde and had a chest the size of a light aircraft, you were in. If you were an inarticulate footballer, with the brain the size of a pea and no charisma, so long as you were attractive, you were in. In fact, you were not only in, but you would be encouraged to promote the Labour Party itself! Suddenly, the “body” of stardom had been removed – the need to have proved oneself in a field had evaporated in favour of a quick rise to celebrity status. This was all part of Blair’s plan of course – to try and encourage more “normal” people to the upper-echelons of society. To try and ensure that amongst the rich and famous, the working class were in full abundance. Nice idea, but we already had a structure in place to achieve this. Of my earlier mentions, both Mohamed Ali and Billy Connolly were from humble origins. In fact, their mettle was fuller because of it. Because their rise had been tumultuous and hard-fought, they were right and ready for fame. Compare that with the five minute fame generated by Big Brother. Or the undignified attempts at clawing back halcyon days by the pitiful contestants in I’m A Celebrity... or worst still, those celebrities who simply appear everywhere in a desperate, feeble bid to prove that they have something to offer the world, oh really they do... Jodie Marsh anyone? Why do we need to know about a celebrity’s political affiliation? It will only ever be driven by ignorance or personal bias and let’s face it, does it make a difference to the lives of Noel Gallagher or David Beckham what party is in power?

2. The celebration of nothing. What are these people actually doing in these programmes? What are people watching them do? Nothing – that’s what! Eating bugs, bickering incessantly, moaning about being hungry, twittering on in the diary room, breaking down in tears every time their agent texts them to tell them their publishers have pulled the plug on their fifteenth biography. And so it goes on. The British public are sitting, watching absolutely nothing and enjoying it.

3. Laziness. Lazy marketing, lazy endorsements, lazy people, lazy everything. These programmes take little thought to produce, are cheap to broadcast and make shed loads of money. It is more than annoying and frankly quite insulting that television bosses think so little of us as a populace that such output is what we deserve (particularly when the licence fee is so high, but we will save that one for another day). Terrestrial television has, in my opinion, taken a huge leap backwards in the last decade due to the practice of reality tv and has plunged our propensity to be entertained into regressive development.

4. The destruction of art, culture and intelligence. This is where I really get irritated! Our minds are being filled full of trash and it is turning everyone into zombies. What happened to the BBC’s motif to inform, educate and entertain? What happened to Channel Four’s notion of alternative broadcasting? And as for ITV – it really is the dregs of a channel! The X Factor, to me, is the epitome of this malaise. To coin Hamlet, “There is something rotten in the state of entertainment.” As a lover of music, I despise Simon Cowell. I loathe his self-righteous, gibberish and quite meaningless views on music. I also loathe his fellow judges, who are usually people of absolutely no talent or ability themselves – Danni Minogue, Sharon Osbourne, Louis thingy and some footballer’s wife or other. None of them are remotely qualified to judge music. But then again, what are they judging? RUBBISH! The contestants are largely speaking, timewasters, down-and-outs, karaoke singers, or children whose grandparents have told them they can sing simply in order to give them some self-esteem so that they stop sniffing glue. The audience are worse still – encouraging this shambles of a Victorian freak show with inane applause and an appetite for premium line phone votes. They are, in essence, the same dross shifted from the Jeremy Kyle studio next door. Finally, we have (and I am not being exclusive to X Factor now), the usual suspects. Those presenters who only seem capable of hosting this junk. Ant and Dec. Davina McCall. Talentless people who have profited immeasurably from Blair’s Britain.

Can you imagine if the Beatles or the Stones had taken to the X Factor stage? What about Jimi Hendrix turning up only to be told he couldn’t sing or that his clothes were rubbish? Bono being told to lose the glasses and drop the attitude. Ian Anderson told he needed some fake tan and his teeth whitened... Heaven knows what their reaction would have been in Slash or the late, great Dimebag Darrell walked in on them... The most offensive thing, though, is the notion of “art by democracy,” and this is where I get infuriated. The idea that if enough people vote for something, it makes it the best. “The winner of X Factor is...” “And now, the 100 greatest singles ever...” Ridiculous. Art should not be democratic – it should be completely fascist! Beauty is the in eye of the beholder and the artist should only ever serve their own objectives. Did Leonardo Da Vinci paint the Mona Lisa to win a competition? Did Charles Dickens write novels to win votes? Did Led Zeppelin compose Physical Graffiti to get to number one? NO! The popularity of art is a by-product related to a variety of factors, but the essence of art is the creative process that necessitates its formulation. Let everyone put their output there for all to see. Let people offer their (own) opions, yes. Just dont create a "list" or a "winner." Winners are for sport and business, not music and film. But what does that matter when Simon Cowell has his way?

So there you have it and now you know!

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The House of Lords...

One of Gordon’s key points during his “triumphant” speech the other day (yawn), was based around the modernisation of the House of Lords and I see that he has already set the wheels in motion in order to abolish the remaining hereditary peers. Quite frankly, I think he is wrong to do so, but then I think he is wrong about almost everything...

The House of Commons is a purely elected chamber of MPs, which holds the right to debate and pass just about any motion they like. In the early part of the twentieth century, a bill was passed which curtailed the powers of the second chamber (the Lords) so that they could not oppose any finance bill and had to pass any elected motion on the third attempt. The idea was to prevent “the old guard” from simply blocking any bill in the Commons due to their own conservative values or narrow-mindedness. On the whole, it was a worthy idea and one that has been expanded throughout the years in terms of the structure and make up of the House of Lords in order to remove as much of the “privileged” seats as possible. Such measures have typically come about during periods of Labour rule and have been born partly of class prejudice towards the middle and upper classes and disguised behind the public cry of progress, fairness and democracy. What a shame, then, that this is – in practice – hot air.

Of course Gordon Brown wants only elected peers. Of course, deep down, he wants only people he rates, values or who will act in his interests – which is why he re-appointed Peter Mandelson (New Labour champion), regularly confers with JK Rowling and why he fast-tracked Sir Alan Sugar into one of the seats (both huge Labour party donators). In the same sense, he refuses to acknowledge the break up of the British Isles as, whilst ostensibly he blames the "radical factions" from Wales and Scotland for seeking independence, he actually realises that without the existing votes he enjoys from these two countries, Labour would be finished (in 2005 more people in England voted Tory than Labour). We could also use the example of his attitude to media channels in light of the Sun’s decision to abandon New Labour – he wasn’t complaining in 1997, 2001 and 2005 when they backed his party in the wake of Campbell’s spin machine, was he? And yet, now they’ve turned against them, apparently we need to observe substance over style all of a sudden...

But anyway, back to the point, which is the matter of hereditary peers. It is clear that, by removing any obstacle to him or his policies, he will buy himself more time. In my opinion, the value of having certain hereditary peers in the Lords is no different to the value of having a Monarch. Of course, the practical extent of their powers is questionable and the hand of democracy doesn’t seem to come remotely close. However, if we formed our opinion of people’s credentials based upon their birth right, we would be in a mess. Prince Harry could not help being born into royalty any more than an African child could help being born into poverty, which is why it is the reserve of the foolish, bitter socialists to criticise and oppose anyone who has had it lucky, just as much as it is the ignorance of a wealthy man not to employ someone purely because of their working class origins. But that isn’t the point. The fact that we have a Monarch, gives us something that republics don’t have – a sense of the greater good, a figurehead and a national entity that preserves the historical values of the country. For every Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown, we have had Elizabeth II. She sits there, fully adorned for every State opening of Parliament, without any real power, but with the will of a nation, representing the hopes, spirit and duty of the British people. Policies and politicians come and go – lining their pockets as they do so – but she remains steadfast in her patriotic duty. Yes, she enjoys riches far beyond the majority, but with that comes great responsibility. When did you see her fall out of a taxi drunk? When did she appear on reality TV? When did she have a drug problem and have to go to the Priory? Her homes are in the possession of the State and at least two of them are open museums to the public, generating a huge amount of revenue for the UK every year. It is clear to me who is the richer for having a Monarchy and that is Great Britain.

For this very reason, we should value the servants of and to the crown. But that alone is not reason enough to preserve a portion of life peers. There is another valid reason and that is the safeguard of conservation. There is a saying that goes “whoever is not a communist at twenty has no heart, but whoever is not a capitalist at thirty has no head.” I, of course, had no heart, but there is a truth there that correlates to something beyond just experience. It relates to a sense of conservatism (and I’m NOT talking politically here), an acknowledgement of the greater good, the historic values, ideals and principles that are often lost or misplaced over time. You can’t possibly expect to elect people who have an in-built sense of this – those who possess it are simply part of the fabric of certain factions of life. Of course, hereditary peers should not make up the majority of the chamber, but they should be there nonetheless. They need to act as a buffer to the scores of five-minute politicians, the trendy lefties, the social hypocrites, the bitter unionists and the student protesters. The further we move to a democracy (in spite of Labour’s nanny-come-police state), the more essential it is to protect the great values of Britain and especially England (I am English and would expect the Welsh and Scots to feel the same) from the scourge of ignorance-fuelled politics that Blair’s reality-based generation have come to hold.

Remember, turkeys never vote for Christmas, but if chance would have it ALWAYS vote for the goose, so bear that in mind when listening to any politician’s point of view, especially in this present government.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Rugby is back!

Cold winds, muddy fields, pints of Guinness, total commitment, not caring who wins – what a relief after the recent One-Day drubbing England received in the cricket...

(notice I’ve refrained from mentioning Quin's Dracula impersonations – we’ll move on...)

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Speculative Historical Fiction – the novelistory

I meant to add this video some time ago; however, in keeping with my recent bout of promotion towards the Litarena website, I felt “better late than never.”

Part Two to follow...

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Guitar videos - explanation and disclaimer

You may have noticed that I have recently begun adding guitar videos to the internet. In order to clear a couple of questions up, the reason for me not posting them to this blog was due to the fact that I didn't want it to seem that I was trying to emulate Dick Van Dyke as a jack of all trades and master of none. This blog is, generally speaking, a way of conveying updates on my writing and I only allow it to encompass other thoughts and issues in order to ensure variety.

Therefore, I tend to keep guitar videos on Facebook and YouTube. By doing so, at least I wont draw any more attention than is needed to what is quite often a most lamentable performance of a classic song or riff. You may well ask why I post video content at all if my playing is so sloppy these days and the answer is quite simple - so that I improve my lazy ways out of embarrassment and start practising again!

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Medieval fiction and literature

As a writer of historical fiction, I thought I would make a brief return to the principle subject of this blog and give my take on the genre, in the wake of much recent debate...

Historical fiction may centre on historical or on fictional characters, but usually represents an honest attempt based on considerable research (or at least serious reading) to tell a story set in the historical past as understood by the author's contemporaries. Of course, those historical settings may not stand up to the enhanced knowledge of later historians, given the propensity for technological advancements in research and investigation.

Of course, many early historical novels played an important role in the rise of European popular interest in the history of the Middle Ages, whilst historical fiction has also served to encourage movements of romantic nationalism. Historical fiction can serve satirical purposes, the best example being George MacDonald Fraser's excellent Flashman series, although these were set several hundred years later, during the height of the Victorian era.

It is fair to say that I have been clear in my thoughts on politics and accuracy within historical novels. However, whilst I would like to think of my Silver Knight series sharing in the same league of detail as the Flashman series, it is a very different beast. Comedy and satire, though tools endemic to my view of life, are not particularly evident within the narrative. Nor is the central character as free from piety, morals and decency, although I believe the sequel to The Silver Knight will make for interesting reading on that subject (further news in due course!)

There is quite clearly a difference between historical fiction, fiction and alternative history. The Silver Knight was aimed firmly at the first camp, but then when definitions change so frequently, one can never been truly sure!

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

It is years since I wrote a short story...

Probably well over a decade in fact. Since then, I've tended to either compose the first fragments of an idea for a novel (only to bin it), or draft a thriller plan before writing it. Short stories are fun, but ultimately (I suppose like a game of twentytwenty) they seem to fall by the wayside, giving way to their more illustrious counterparts - novels being the test matches of the book world.

Anyway, not wishing to blather on further, the point is that I have just written a short story for a Litarena short story contest. I chose the offered title of "A Rat with a Sore Ear," simply because...well, I don't know really - it just grabbed me! I must confess, having less time than ever to write at present, I was slightly dubious about spending a couple of hours thinking up something worthwhile, but once I got started the proverbial pen flowed copiously. As someone with a predilection for writing a hundred words when ten will do, it was certainly a challenge to hone my skills and make every phrase count. It is really quite refreshing - you should all try it!

In fact, better still, find a similar competition and enter it!

A Rat with a Sore Ear

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Literary Reviews

Firstly, my apologies for the lack of content being posted on here of late. There are numerous reasons for this, which I'll skirt over for now, but I would hope that normal practice will resume shortly. Anyway, whilst I am here, I wanted to quickly mention some book and author reviews that have taken place on the latest book festival at Litarena....

For my part, I have compiled reviews for Charles Dickens and Kit Marlowe that you may be interested in reading. If you are keen to contribute to a review, I'm sure it would be welcomed by Patrick at Litarena...

Friday, 4 September 2009

Customer Service – A Happy Ending

For those of you who are under the illusion that I only ever have barbed words for the service I receive from present day organisations (despite actually working in marketing myself), here’s something to warm your heart.

The other day, I received an email from Nectar – the loyalty card scheme. It stated that I had 480 points and gave me a plethora of suggestions as to where I could spend them. Recalling that I needed some petrol, I passed BP on my way back home, topped up with fuel, thus receiving 30 extra points, taking me over the 500 points threshold required for a redemption voucher. Then, also recalling that a favourite brand of real ale was on offer in the Merry Hill branch of Sainsbury’s, I headed off to recoup my “prize.”

What followed was a succession of bitter disappointments. Firstly, the ale (Butty Bach as it happens) was not on offer anymore. Secondly, I was informed that one had to have swiped one’s card at least twice in a month before points could be redeemed. Thirdly, the points from BP had not yet registered. As a somewhat vicious punch line, I was then stuck in traffic for an hour as two cars had broken down in Brierley Hill.

As you can imagine, a strongly worded email was dispatched to Nectar, asking for some tangible reasons why I should simply set fire to their miserable card and post the ashes back to their headquarters. However, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a grovelling reply, with full details of the actual policy, a full and frank apology and 500 free points as means of recompense.

So, some people do care. Incidentally, if anyone would like to hire me out to handle their written complaints, I am fully willing to quote my time on an hourly basis...

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

An Indian Summer...

...a Mancunian Autumn.

We were promised a barbecue summer and the only action my barbecue has seen is about an inch of rust. If this is summer, then what will winter hold? Ten feet of snow? Ice blizzards? Biblical tornadoes?


Thursday, 27 August 2009

Spiders – What’s the point?

Anyone who knows me will understand my fear of spiders – particularly big hairy spiders with massive legs that scuttle across house floors throughout the autumn. I therefore thought that I would make the most of one such bout of fear by documenting my subsequent inertia. I apologise for my appalling state of appearance – the bags under my eyes are due to one late night too many and the angle of the camera has made it look like I’m some sort of heroin addict with a baggy chin.. it's just a feeble phobia (stress induced - normally I have the features of a chiselled king)

Anyway, I know people prefer to see me looking ridiculous rather than scholarly, so here you are...

Masking the truth

With football it used to be Division 1, Division 2, Division 3, Division 4. Simples, as the Meerkat would say. Calling it The Premiership was purely a marketing decision, but to then promote every subsequent level (Championship, League 1, etc) was post-modern pomposity of the highest order. Doesn’t make football any better – in fact, with diving, cheating, spitting, and £150,000 per week wages, It’s clear to me that it is WORSE.

So you’ll excuse me if I don’t offer my congratulations to anyone receiving GCSE or A Level results this month, because they are, in real terms, WORTHLESS. Can anybody from this pathetic excuse for a Government, honestly tell me that the grades have improved purely on merit each and every year since they have been in power? NO! Stop patronising everyone! They are getting easier and easier and easier. It doesn’t matter if you call it an A Star, an A, or a Merit – the standards are lower and the support is ridiculous. Whatever happened to the love of learning? Of finding out how for yourself? Is everything prescribed now? Can nobody do things on their own back? Is no achievement unique?

Come on Labour – there’s a chance you might not be in power this time next year (fingers crossed), so why don’t you just go the whole hog by scrapping exams completely and giving everyone straight A Stars?

Monday, 24 August 2009

Jack Templeman

I will not attempt to reinvent the wheel here and indeed there is an interview on the subject of The Silver Knight on my website. One must consider, however, the hardship that Jack has had to endure beyond that of what would typically be expected. Firstly, both his mother and father having died in quick succession, leaving him homeless and destitute. Secondly, being unfortunate in his acquaintances (I’m thinking Katherine and, to a lesser extent, Sir William Dallingridge). Thirdly,having found himself immersed in the genesis of a conflict that would ultimately last over thirty years and almost bring the country to its knees. Pretty unfortunate for him really!

The key point on the issue of Jack, as I have already stated, is his tender age - being between eleven and fifteen during book one. I am currently writing about his exploits at the age of seventeen, so his progress of character will be closely aligned to the development in narrative. In other words, nothing is set in stone and we'll see how he fares as the books progress!

Anyway, readers are the best judge of these matters and I always look forward to receiving comments back on the book as there is always a new slant that I hadn't perhaps considered - makes it all worthwhile. Remember, you can
purchase The Silver Knight at Lulu

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Terrible Dream

I had the most disturbing dream last night. It seemed to start at a wedding over in the Caribbean area (I think) with an Irish theme. Odd combination, I know. Then, I was invited to an England football match, in which I played a part and we won 4-0, albeit with the help of some former teachers of mine. I then played golf with some old school friends, before disappearing into a room in which lots of people were being hacked up and their mutilated limbs nailed to the walls (incidentally by the teachers who had made an appearance in the football match).

Can anyone interpret this, other than the fact that I need help?

Shocking stuff...

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Video - Boring Research

I haven't been able to do as much writing as I would have otherwise hoped to have done of late. Things happen, problems arise, etc...

Part of the challenge is getting back into one's stride; however, there is also the added complexity of historical research. This is something I have been asked about on many occasions and so I thought Id upload a very brief sample of "me at work" on the sequel to The Silver Knight...

So here we are - a snippet of some intricate medieval historical research, in this case, the Battle of Blore Heath that took place during the Wars of the Roses in 1459. Surprisingly, it was a rare warm day that I filmed this, hence the sunglasses...

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Historical Romance Novels & The Silver Knight

It was only recently that I actually considered the fact that I am an author of at least one novel that falls under the category of historical romance. Despite my intentions of high art and historical accuracy that ultimately led to the first novelistory, The Silver Knight, I never once possessed the deliberate intention to create a story based around a romantic theme or classical chivalric romance. However, it would appear that such a premiss is ultimately endemic to any storyline that entrenches itself either in the middle ages or action-based drama of any genre.

Historical romance is, of course, a style of prose belonging to high culture that itself was formed during the High Middle Ages – a period that took place shortly before that in which The Silver Knight was set. The general themes of fantasy and adventure often featured a chivalrous and usually heroic knight who would be assigned a quest that conflicted or at least entwined with a tale of courtly love and romance. Perhaps the first (and best known) example to be recorded in the written form of what we now know to be a novel was Thomas Malory’s historical romance Le Morte d'Arthur. (this being a re-working of the Legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table).

For those of you who have read The Silver Knight, you will know that Malory himself features (albeit briefly and insignificantly) in The Silver Knight, during a scene at court. As I have mentioned, the primary objective of the novel was to be historically accurate and resist (as far as possible) the temptation to embellish and fictionalise fact. The fictional characters are not re-workings of actual characters – only those of whom there is precious little knowledge are fashioned into something more substantial – the best example of this being Sir John Fastolf. It is interesting, though, that the characters of Katherine and Elizabeth formed through the classical and almost typical guise of romance. Whilst Elizabeth’s position follows the template of courtly love, Katherine is a more modern femme fatale; and yet they both contribute to the element of historical romance that allows comparison with more traditional examples of the genre. Jack Templeman, on the other hand, is a real character. He does not possess super-powers or magical ability. He is flesh and blood and therefore finds the challenges and tasks his faces of great burden. Perhaps that is where The Silver Knight differs vastly from the likes of Le Morte d'Arthur.

And that, I imagine, is the very point about subjective and retrospective classifications of literature (in my case, speculative historical fiction). Whilst genres are lose and ever interweaving, the core elements of classic narratives will always remain. I can’t foresee that changing with The Silver Knight series!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Health Warnings on Alcohol

It was only a matter of time. Drunken violence in the high streets on a Friday and Saturday night, a rise in liver disease and more kids in parks sprawling around. Coupled with the latest “research” on oral based cancers and the fact that the current Labour government have done almost nothing but ban things during the past decade, it is hardly surprising that this latest measure is being touted.

Well, of course, we’re all equal now under New Labour, so it stands to reason that we should ALL suffer. Of course, Arthur and Connie having a quiet glass of Chablis with their mid-week jigsaw puzzle are just as much to blame as Jay down in Camberwell with his bottle of vodka in a brown bag. Yes, of course they are...

It’s little surprise that almost every quarter the price of beer and wine seems to increase (I don’t know about spirits as I now get prescribed whiskey on the NHS to help cope with the fact that Gordon Brown is still in power) with the constant stealth rise in taxation. Quite how this is supposed to deter the social detritus from vomiting all over each other on a weekly basis, I fail to guess, but at least we all get to share the punishment. It’s rather like being at school when someone has lost the scissors in the last lesson of the day and the teacher calls, “Now none of you are going until it turns up.” Everyone sits there, gradually melting with the sheer frustrating, indignity and injustice of being blamed for someone else’s sins.

When they started putting the labels on cigarette packets banned smoking in public, it made me want to start smoking, just to spite them. That’s the problem with this government. They can’t govern; they only ever miss the point and control. I would have thought a slightly more creative solution would be to instigate obligatory health insurance for alcoholics and put people in jail who get drunk and break the law.

I remain convinced that if this lot had been in power when Fred West was arrested, they would have banned patios. Let's have an election now, please.