I’ve just been going through the 2000 or so channels available on European satelite tv.
So much available and so little to watch. Every few stations appear to be earnest folk calling on us all to repent and turn to whatever branch of religion they are selling.
They split into two types. The lean and hungry, with swivelling, guilty eyes. They must have done something terrible in their own eyes at sometime and now feel qualified to demand we all join them and help them atone for their pasts.
The other sort look fat and prosperous. These are the religious businessmen who are in it for the career prospects and the self-glorification of being on tv.
The one thing that unites these two types is that they are voices in the wilderness of dubbed baywatch repeats, shopping channels and recycled pop videos.
This may have been heightened by my attending boarding school which, in the grand scheme of things, wasn’t too bad when it wasn’t my turn to take the crap.
We didn’t go on holiday. Going home was special enough. Summer holidays were endless days of making and building and cycling and grubbing around in hedgerows, studying wildlife and generally hanging out and remembering what family life should be about.
Then the signs went up in shops and the countdown would begin.
So why do W H Smiths now put their “back to school” signs up the moment the summer holidays have begun – before most people have even left for Spain or the damp caravan in Porthcawl? Don’t they know the torture they are inflicting on the children of the nation, or do children who live at home not feel the same way as I did then?
My holidays were never the same as the local kids. I’d always have a few days when I’d be hanging around on my own while the rest of the world seemed to have gone back to a school routine. It could sometimes feel like I was special, allowed out when others weren’t, but then I’d see the “back to school” signs in the shops and I’d shrink into myself, wondering if some truancy officer might catch me and not believe my story and lock me up in some awful place for children that don’t go back to school when they’re told to.
It is quite extra ordinary how someone can have that effect on people. I was surprised that the secruity people referred to her as Katie Price – I thought she had reverted back to her old persona of Jordan.
She had so brilliantly reinvented herself as Katie Price and had a whole new future set up for her and Peter and the kids. Then she went and blew it. Took her top of and danced on the tables again, metaphorically speaking… well, and practically speaking too.
And here I am writing about her, so she got what she wanted. If everyone stopped taking pictures and writing articles about her, would she just shrivel up like a old balloon, or do you think there’s a real person in there trying to get out?
A noise woke me in the night. I thought it was one of our cats, who frequently scratches the airing cupboard door, in the hope that someone will let him in. Fuzzy-headed, I crept out of bed too sort him out. But he was not there. In fact the house was totally silent. Had I imagined it?
I waited – maybe it was an intruder? Maybe they were waiting for me to make the first move?
My head began to clear. In the gloom I saw that my son’s bedroom door was closed. Quietly, I opened it and the said cat danced out on the landing as if to say, ‘You took your time!”
Did I get back to sleep? Not immediately, but that fuzzy dozing state is quite a good time to review creative ideas. I’m planning my new series, called Axel Storm, at the moment. I’m trying to find the way in. A series really needs to tell you the back story, make you familiar with the set up and get going with the story in as short a time as possible. So getting that comfortable, simple introductory sequence is very important. Once that is right the rest follows.
Well, and I don’t know where the idea came from as I nodded off to sleep again, the image of my hero stuffed inside a huge advertising sausage on top of a hot dog van came to mind. This morning it seems like a really good idea and I’m going to run with it.
Lying awake at night meant that I woke up an hour later, but hey, when you’ve been working through the night, it’s okay. And anyway, the only reason I ever started this job was so that I could get up when ever I liked in the morning. I wonder whatever happened to all those lovely, lazy lie-ins?
I came across the tomb of Lionel Lockyer in Southwark Cathedral last weekend.
He invented a cure-all pill, which, it appears was basically antimony. I’m indebted to an article, by Dr David Haycroft, for letting me know that the pills were called Pilula, Radiis solis extracta — pills extracted from the rays of the Sun! Lokyer printed 200,000 pamphlets proclaiming the wonders of his PILLS, and made himself a tidy fortune. In 1665 William Johnson, chemist to the College of Physicians, took Lockyer to task, pointing out the pills were a 64 times markup on the basic ingredients.
Death did not slow him down. Wanting to carry on the family business, his memorial reads as an adverting billboard. I’m sure his children were pleased that the old boy was thinking of them as they carried on the very lucrative Family business. Living proof of the power of advertising – even in the afterlife.
Anyway, here is the verse:
Here Lockyer lies interred enough; his name
Speakes one hath few competitors in fame:
A Name soe Great soe Generally may scorne
Inscriptions which doe vulgar tombs adorne:
A diminutioon tis to write in verse
His eulogies, which most men’s mouths rehearse.
His virtues & his PILLS are soe well known,
That envy can’t confine them under stone.
But they’ll survive his dust and not expire
Till all things else at th’universal fire.
This verse is lost, his PILL Embalmes him safe
To future times without an Epitaph:
I have a story to write. I went to sleep thinking about it. Actually, I’ve been thinking about it all week. I knew that I had to sketch out the physical environment of the story to make it flow properly. I went to sleep last night confident that I could draw it out quickly.
This morning I woke fresh from a great night’s sleep and lay in bed awhile, planning the story a little more.
By the time I got to my desk, ready to get to work, life had intruded. Emails to answer. My diary needed checking against my son’s University visiting days. It’s half-year end for tax payments. That took up most of the morning. Working out how I’m going to pay it, involved forward financial projections, followed by a bit of invoice chasing on the phone.
Then I thought I might as well get a couple of online forms filled in, otherwise they too will hang over me. Then I filled in a festival appraisal form.
It’s now just gone two in the afternoon and I’ve finally got my five minutes to draw my little plan. I feel I can get down to the writing now, except that I need to got to the bank and the bookshop, which reminds me of something else I have to do online.
If I worked for someone else, they would have departments to handle all these things. I’m often asked if writers and illustrators write or draw all day – they would like to, but unfortunately the business of life gets in the way.
In Ireland, creative people don’t pay tax. The amount of income tax Creatives pay is minimal compared to the amount of work and tax their brains creates for other people. Tax and general interaction with authority is something that creative people don’t really get. We would create so much more if we didn’t have to waste all our time sorting out all the bloody paperwork, and forward planning to try and have some money available for when the tax comes due. Payments never coincide with tax due dates!
It’s too much hassle to move to Ireland, and any way, I hear they are giving up that scheme soon. They need every penny they can squeeze out of the system. It’s a fool’s economy, but what do the economist know? They created all the mess in the first place.
If you read my entry about School Stacking Chairs on Monday, you may wonder about the game of Pirates that I mentioned. I don’t know if everyone played it or if it was peculiar to my school, which was a boarding prep school in Surrey.
It was Mr Turner, the new PE teacher, fresh from Loughborough College, Who spiced the game up and made us take more risks.
The Wall bars were swung out and all the gym equipment was strewn around the floor. These were islands and were places of safety. If you “fell in the water” by putting your foot on the ground, you were drownded and out of the game.
One boy was chosen to be the Pirate and he had to tag someone else. That person then became a pirate too. The winner was the last boy to be tagged – who then went on to be the pirate for the next game.
Each time we played it, we became a bit more adventurous. Soon the we found it was possible to cling onto the window frame and inch your way around the room. The stacked chairs became a very dangerous haven. Too much rapid movement could bring them all crashing down on the floor.
The favoured starting place was on the low beam that connected the two sets of wall bars. Here you were safe for ages, holding onto the ropes that dangled from the connecting bar at the top of the wall bars.
Mt Turner was a great Teacher and soon soon turned us into fearless gymnasts. One day One of the Pirates just walked across the beam tagging everyone on the way. He’d learned to balance in Gym Club. The ropes were no longer safe. We took to shaking the beams and wall bars, to try and knock them off, but Mr Turner had trained us well. The best gymnasts could walk across a beam even though it was being shaken violently from side to side.
The high beam then became the new reserve, but not for long. It must have been two meters high, but still one foolhardy boy decided to walk across it. I remember the room going silent. Everyone held their breath. The Pirate inched out along the beam. His quarry, was paralysed. He couldn’t believe his place of safety was being compromised. When the Pirate got his man, there was huge cheer. We knew the game had moved onto something more serious.
The last hiding place was at the top of the ropes. The bravest would shin up to the top and hang on to the steel bar. A pirate, gaining control of the ropes, would fling the ropes around in the hope of dislodging his quarry. If the pirate climbed up the rope, the boy at the top would try to knock him off. It had become quite a serious game by now.
It was when the ambulance came and got the third child with broken bones that the rules were changed, and the game petered out. It wasn’t fun anymore!
Were we tougher? Probably not. Put today’s children in the same conditions and they would do exactly the same. Its our nature to push the boundaries until we get hurt. We used to have to learn by our mistakes. Now, Health and Safety make sure we can’t make the mistakes to learn the lessons from. All our risk taking is done in the safety of computer simulated environments these days.
That’s probably why the banks crashed. All those bankers never played pirates when they were young. They’ve never learned that some mistakes have very real and painful outcomes. Playing with other people’s money on computer screens is not real life. It’s pretty much the same game as the guys who are playing games on the net to try and get your pin numbers. They are all playing to win your money.
A bit more Rufty-tufty child’s play is what we need! Oh I haven’t mentioned British Bulldog 123! Maybe another time.
What a great day at the auction! We’ve been wanting to change our dining room table for years. We inherited my Mother-in-law’s Ercol dining room set, which may well be a design classic, but isn’t very functional. When we have friends or family round, we have to put an old fire door on top, which makes it a bit too high for comfort and seems too big and yet somehow not big enough at the same time.
I saw a perfect table at the auction rooms yesterday, took a photo and convinced Mrs Rayner that I should have a go for it. Okay, so it’s repro, but I’m not proud. It’s a very good quality repro in perfect showroom condidtion. The original catalogue came with it telling me it was made in 1983 of solid wood and veneer, no chipboard in sight and originally cost £350! How much would it cost now?
I knew that similar things might come up in 7harity shops for £75-100 and set my limit at £100. There’s 12.5% buyer’s premium plus VAT on top of that, which comes to about £130. The old pine table, the lot before, went for £150 so I wondered if I should set my level a bit higher.
I waited to see where the other bidders came in. “Come, on!” said the auctioneer. “Someone start me at £5.” I flashed my card. Some one else flashed theirs for £8. I flashed mine again for £10… and that was it! £10 for perfect regency mahogany repro – I couldn’t believe it.
I was so pleased that I bought the lovely little pine writing desk that I had admired too. It sat in a dusty corner and was referred to as a school desk. It’s much posher than that. I got it for £12 brought it home, cleaned it up and gave it a dose of beeswax. Now it’s looking beautiful.
My friend, Andy came with me in his estate car to fetch it home. He’d not been to the auction before and was fascinated by the way the worlds of agriculture and home furnishings collide in such a place. We turned it into a day out by having a fry-up in the canteen – chips and all.
So why so cheap? For one thing, no one sits down to eat anymore. People eat standing up or from a tray on their lap. We sit down as a family every night and have a roast on Sundays. How do you get the family gossip if everyone is watching the telly? So who needs a dining table? And who needs a repro? The pine kitchen table was obviously going to a old house, to traditional, farmhouse-kitchen kind of people – so there is a demand for tables like that. But not for repro dining room tables. That’s why they usually end up being given to charity shops.
As for the writing desk. Well, who writes anymore? Who needs a sloped desk? We all take the supper trays off our laps and replace them with laptop computers now. That’s why so cheap. Supply and demand. There just ain’t no demand anymore.
Incidentally, my best bargain was the sideboard behind the table in the photo. It cost me £20. When I got home I found an envelope hidden under a drawer that contained 2 £10 notes. I got it for free!
There, for us to sit on, dragged out of the back of the barn were my old school stacking chairs, that Chris said he’d rescued from a village hall when the chairs were being thrown out.
Architects love chairs. We mostly sit on what is there and do not think about the design. This chair probably has a name and is probably very famous within chair loving circles, but I couldn’t find it through Google. It was a perfect design for an austerity Britain.
We had lots of coal and steel and strong unions looking after coal and steel workers interests, so the frame is made from tubular steel, which is easy to manipulate and gives a good weight/strength ratio. We also had Cotton mills ramped up to make canvas for the wartime military that was no longer needed. The two materials came together perfectly in this chair.
I remember as a child, we would have competitions to see how high we could stack the chairs. There was a tipping point at which the wobbling tower of chairs would overbalance and come crashing down, with a very satisfactory effect, leaving chairs strewn across the gymnasium floor.
I vaguely remember the stacks of chairs up against the wall being used by intrepid children in games of Pirate, a game that was eventually banned. The stack would provide a wonderful hiding place from the marauding pirates until it came time to escape, that’s when the stack would come tumbling down, usually resulting in a broken leg or arm. Were we tougher in those days or more stupid?
The seat canvas would eventually fray at the front. This would lead to a small tear which grew, almost as if the canvas was being unzipped down the middle. Every now and then during assemblies, a small boy would slowly sink towards the floor as the canvas finally ripped in two. He would be completely trapped within the cage of steel, surrounded by a gaggle of boys, rendered unable to help by fits of giggles.
Angry looking teachers would then wade into the melée, extract the child and make them stand outside and wait to be punished for the inherent design faults of a post-war classic.
I do remember the old days – before we went to the new churches of shopping, namely the malls and garden centres. I actually remember going to real Churches as a child. Then Sundays would drag on forever. Nothing to do but wait for the Top Twenty on the radio. When that was over the evening would drag on interminably until bedtime and the new week ahead.
Today, Caledonian McBrain were due to start their Sunday ferry services to the islands of Lewis and Harris, upsetting the old Calvanist order of boring Sundays, where even the playground swings used to be chained up for fear of some small child enjoying themselves on the Sabbath.
But are we any better off in our 24/7 world? Do we need a moment of rest – of peaceful contemplation? I think Sunday should at least be a day free from daytime cash-in-the-attic-flog-my-auction programmes. But then, when I think about it, the grandaddy of them all, namely Antiques Roadshow, was a Sunday Programme. So maybe there is no hope for us at all. No peace for the wicked, eh?