Welcome to my adventures and experiments in creativity. Where writing is like running: sometimes I know where I'm going, and sometimes I see where the mood takes me.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Movember update #4

As Movember draws to a close, it's time for one last update.

I know the end of November is tomorrow (Saturday), but I'm off to Germany so I won't be able to post a picture.

Over the weekend I plan to introduce myself to people (though probably not passprt control...!) as Herr E. Lipp, and try to get myself photographed with someone with better facial hair than mine. Someone like this:

It goes without saying that the Herr E. Lipp joke is not mine. I've no idea where or when I heard it, but it isn't mine. Anyway, if you can see past the shininess of my forehead, here's the final photo. The hair was starting to curl over my lip, so I've had it trimmed back a bit in an effort to smarten myself up!

I think it'll be a while, however, before I can enter the World Beard & Moustache Championship...

As part of a team with my work colleagues, we've managed to raise getting on for £400 which seems like a respectable effort. Nevertheless, any further donations made here would be gratefully received!

Friday, 22 November 2013

Movember Update #3

Growing a moustache has significantly affected my appearance...

Of course not! Bet you were fooled for a moment though...

Here's the proper update photo; told you I'd try and look the other way.

Definitely thickening out a little now. Don't forget, if you're going bananas for these Movember updates then you can donate here to support men's health charities.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

How Are You Today?

This was only going to be a quick two paragraph blog post – a snatch of observation that, when I started writing, blossomed into a lot more…
The Wonder Of Youth
You know the advice that exists about child-like wonder? About how we should recapture the creative freedom that we lose in the transition to adulthood?
Well, it’s good advice! I wrote about it in We Will WriteThem On The Pitches, after all, but it sure can be difficult to enact. When my fingertips are hovering over the computer keyboard, itching to add another chapter to the next book, sometimes I pile pressure on myself.
Pressure to write a certain way, or to meet a self-imposed standard that is tantalisingly out of reach. Always just out of reach!
So much pressure … rather than relaxing and letting the words flow. Maybe you do similar with the art you create? In those moments, the idea of embracing the freedom of youth is the last thing on your mind.
Learning When To Spot It
Yet when you see it happen in other people, it’s a delight to behold. It makes you realise that maturity and world-weariness can be abandoned – even if just for a while – and life can be experienced with the joy that a child should possess.
It happened recently at work when a colleague hit one of those ‘silly’ moods; all light-heartedness, jokes and random comments. That person doesn’t aspire to produce art so didn’t recognise it as anything creative, but it was. It lifted the mood, made life seem more fun, and was exactly what the rest of us should aspire to more of the time.
And do you know what another colleague said to them? Do you know what they contributed to the improved atmosphere? If I tell you it made my heart sink then you might be able to guess, for the question they asked was:
‘What's wrong with you today?’
Why Does Something Have To Be Wrong?
It’s a sad indictment of society (or my office, at least!) that Colleague 1 could have sat at their desk in a bad mood and nobody would have said a thing. Part of that would have been the rest of us giving them some space, but part of it would also have been the acceptance of such a mood as normal.
Then they exhibit positive behaviour and Colleague 2 immediately questions it. That might say more about Colleague 2 than anything else, but I’ve been dwelling on this little episode because I think it’s emblematic of people’s reactions to each other’s moods.
One of the benefits of maturity and adulthood is the ability to better control our emotions. It’s not appropriate – or healthy! – to break down at the drop of a hat, but there seems to be an increasing unwillingness for people to appear vulnerable at all – even to close friends.
With social media and the inherent distractions of “being busy”, it’s easy to become disconnected from the people nearest and dearest to us. Ironically, something like Twitter makes it easier to embrace randomness: a quick, funny response to someone’s tweet can blossom into a rapid exchange of creativity that enlivens an otherwise humdrum day. The biggest shame is that those exchanges seem to be absent in existing relationships.
Or Is That Just Me?
I’m concerned at this trend, albeit not sure whether it’s a general one or specific only to my own life! I’ve tried to be more open with people of late and ask genuine, meaningful, ‘How are you?’ questions. Sometimes I get no answer, so perhaps I’m picking the wrong time to ask, or asking in the wrong way.
But when I do get an answer (and sometimes when I don’t), I’m sensing feelings of resignation; that “being busy” is the default setting and disconnectedness is simply inevitable. There’s nothing wrong with busy as long as it’s for the right reasons, but if it starts to impact on your mood and relationships then alarm bells should ring – unless, of course, letting relationships slip is a compromise worth accepting.
Writing, Listening, Observing
It’s not a compromise I’m willing to make, which is why I need to understand this apparent inhibition of our inner child. The most recent round-up e-mail from the website Brain Pickings featured Ernest Hemingway’s advice to writers, and one particular quote stood out:
“As a writer you should not judge. You should understand. When people talk, listen completely. Don’t be thinking what you’re going to say. Most people never listen. Nor do they observe.”
Maybe through writing more I’ve unconsciously developed some of these traits. Not that I’m comparing myself to Hemingway – far from it! – but it could explain why I’m feeling what I’m feeling, and why that concern is not reciprocated as fully as I sometimes wish.
By coincidence, in today’s One Thing Today podcast, Michael Nobbs mentioned how leading a somewhat introverted existence can skew your view of things, and finding out the opinions of others is important for perspective. Creating art can be a lonely business, so it’s hardly surprising when we feel the need to connect with people on a more meaningful level.
That doesn’t have to be true only of writers or artists – we can all listen and observe better. We encourage children to do so, and as adults we are capable of much greater empathy. Asking, “How are you today?” shouldn’t be a platitude or something we say out of routine. It’s time we asked it like we really meant it, so that we might encourage each other to rediscover our sense of joy.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Movember update #2

We're half way there; shaving on a prayer...

15 days into Movember now!

Comments received so far include "coming along nicely", "immense", and comparisons with pirates, French inspectors and 1920s cads.

Maybe I'll look to the right on the next photo... In the meantime, any donations towards men's health charities are gratefully received here. Thanks!

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Movember update #1

After the post I wrote the other day, it's lunchtime at the quarter-way stage of Movember and I've just about got 25% of a moustache...

"There's a moustache there somewhere, right?"

If this rather tragic cultivation of facial hair makes you feel inclined to donate a few quid in sympathy (and in a good cause!), you can do so here:

Monday, 4 November 2013

A Fresh New Look

The time to start things anew and make a fresh start is usually the New Year. Two  months is a long time to wait though (even if 2014 will probably arrive in the metaphorical blink of an eye), and there's no time like the present of course, so it's time to make this website a better reflection of who I've become during 2013.

Today I've started freshening it up, including featuring some of the projects I've got in the pipeline. They might not materialise for a while, but I think it's important to at least show what I'm working towards.

Time Takes Time, You Know

The biggest obstacle to being a 'part-time creative' - to balancing creative projects with a a regular day job - is using time wisely. I can't write hundreds and hundreds of words each day, so ebooks take time to produce. Blogging takes time too - a long post can take a week to write, which means a week doing nothing on the next book - so I need to reassess.

I want to blog more often, but with shorter posts and more photographs. Little tidbits to keep things interesting while the longer pieces of work take shape. That's the plan, at least!

Things Are Getting Hairy...

My other plan for November is to change my own appearance! Along with a few work colleagues, I'm taking part in Movember for the first time. My top lip doesn't have much to show for its first four days of hair-sprouting, but there's still the best part of four weeks to go and - like writing! - these things take time.

I didn't raise funds for my recent efforts scampering between Newcastle and South Shields, because completing the Great North Run was a very personal achievement. Growing a mo, however, is a fun thing to join in with to raise awareness of men's health, and I'd be really grateful if you felt willing to support my 'tache-growing efforts.

Paul's donation page

Paul's team's profile page

The new look for the website will hopefully last well beyond the end of November; I very much doubt whatever excuse for a moustache I cultivate will do the same! I like to think, however, that I'm doing both for the right reasons.

To everyone who reads this, and particularly to anyone who donates a few quid: thanks for your support.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Time Waits For No Man (Especially In South Shields)

Where is this year going?

Let’s face it: we all ask that question.

In fact, more people seem to ask it more often. Whether we’re 25, 45 or 65, time is slipping through all our grasps at ever-faster rates. Like we’re standing with our hands cupped under a running tap trying to keep hold of as much water as possible, and someone just upped the flow rate.

We’ve turned our calendars to September now. Dusk is encroaching on our evening leisure time with increasing intent. Whispers about Christmas have started. Soon the clocks will go back and, even though it happens every year, we’ll all be shocked at how early it gets dark.

Lamenting the onset of winter is understandable. It’s what we’re programmed to do; a DNA legacy of our forebears. Summer can’t ever have lasted long enough for our hunter-gatherer ancestors. I mean, I’m sure early humans were grateful not to have to alter their sun dials twice a year, I just wonder if their perception of time ever changed?

It Only Seems Like Five Minutes Ago

Maybe they said things like: “OMG! This winter has come around totes quickly!” (in whatever passed for Neanderthal language). Or maybe the rush of time actually is a modern phenomenon, a symptom of our ‘always-connected’ world, as is often suggested.

After all, Earth has had plenty of practice at perfecting its rotation. The passing of time, the changing of seasons; nothing fundamentally new is happening. No one is turning the tap on further. And yet I’m looking at this new September on the calendar, I’m watching night assert its authority over day, and I’m joining the chorus of, “Where’s the year going?”

Why? Because memories of February and March are still fresh. There I was, shivering through the prolonged winter, facing down the self-doubt of getting my first book finished and self-published. There I was, gamely clutching my running shoes waiting for the snowdrifts to clear, getting accepted for the Great North Run and facing up to six months of preparation.

Those days were only half a year ago. But those days: boy, they sure were heady!

Now I'm Here

I say that only partly in jest. 2013 has been exciting so far, with distinct aims rather than the usual blundering uncertainty. In balancing those aims with one another – and with my day job as well – I’ve changed how I use my time. It makes me a hermit occasionally, but I’m working differently and, more importantly, consistently.

Writing nearly every day. Running every other day. Poor diet and poor sleep occasionally skew the balance, that wonderful equilibrium, but I’m learning not to get too upset when they do. Instead, I reset the balance: acknowledge what’s gone wrong, re-focus on the aims, try not to let it happen again (or not to the same extent, at least).

I’ll never be perfect; none of us will. But we can get better. Whether it’s how often we write, or how far we run, that much I’ve learnt. We can get better.

On-going aims and consistent work means one day easily seems to blend into the next. The result is a feeling that less time has passed than actually has. In other words, how the hell did it get to be September already?!

That first book, We Will Write Them On The Pitches, has been available for nearly three months now. The blog has been quiet because: (a) I’ve been working on the next book, and (b) I’ve been reassessing my online presence. And while (a) takes a lot of application, I simply haven’t reached any firm conclusions about (b) yet!

September 15th 2013

Within the next two weeks, one aim will be complete. The running that has improved my health and happiness, and helped me direct more energy at writing, culminates in the Great North Run. I’ve never been so excited to journey 13 miles along a dual carriageway, and I’m hopeful of dipping a few minutes below a two-hour finishing time.

Of course, ‘culminates’ is the wrong word. The finish at South Shields will be the finish of the event, nothing more. I enjoy running, and the benefits of running, too much to outright give it up again. But with one of February’s aims gone it might be too easy to focus more time on writing and less on running.

So I’m interested to find out if I’ll need a new aim, something to make sure the balance doesn’t suffer. A better half marathon time might be enough, because there are plenty of local events I could run in 2014. Whatever the aim might be, as long everything remains balanced then time can go as quickly as it likes.

Because, ironically, time going quickly means I’m pacing myself correctly – even taking things slowly when necessary – to help build the future I want. Even if, like this blog, I’m still not quite sure exactly what that future should look like…


I was fortunate to get drawn in the ballot for the Great North Run, meaning I didn’t have to apply for a charity place. Which means I’ve been able to prepare without the pressure of raising a specific amount of money. Selfish as it might be, I want to run the event for the personal satisfaction of running it. Whatever writing talent I have, the best I can sum it up for now is: it’ll be one hell of a personal triumph.

Maybe a more considered explanation is something to aim for after the event…

My friend Milo McLaughlin is also running, in aid of Bowel Cancer UK. It’s a cause that means something to me and my family too, so I want to help Milo reach his target. If you would like to support an excellent cause, you can visit Milo’s Just Giving page.


In light of the positive nature of this post, and to mark just how quickly those first three months have gone, I am making We Will Write Them On The Pitches free over the entire Great North Run weekend.

If you’re in need of some inspiration and want to read about creative lessons that ANYONE can learn from soccer – whether you like the sport or not! – but don’t yet have a copy, search the Kindle store of your regional Amazon site from Friday 13th September to Sunday 15th September.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

In This Time And In This Place

Last weekend, I conquered a 10,000-foot mountain.

It’s only fair to make clear that such a feat required no special effort on my part. Except for enduring the coach-load swarms of iPad-wielding tourists, all the hard work was done by a series of three cable cars. From the small Swiss town of Engelberg on the valley floor, they carried me to the top of Mount Titlis.

(If you just sniggered at the word ‘Titlis’, don’t worry. I spent my whole time there suppressing a stupid grin every time I said it. I can be childish like that, sorry to admit…)

The five floors of the summit complex featured, among other things: a pizzeria; a restaurant; an ice cream bar; an outdoor snack bar; a chair lift ride over the glacier (£8 extra); and a watch shop (naturally! Europe’s highest, selling only premium brands). All of it was a remarkable and effective means of securing more money from the endless stream of visitors; the perfect illustration of society’s commercial progress.

Nevertheless, after twenty minutes crammed into a cable car with 79 other people and their electronic eyes, I craved fresh air rather than a new Breitling.

Ascending such heights brought a refreshing drop in temperature compared to the 32-degree heatwave gripping the streets of Luzern. Under the dazzling full beam of the sun the summit still felt warm, and I never expected to see so many people in t-shirts and casual shoes playing in the snow at that sort of altitude.

Man vs Nature

The most impressive man-made feature on offer was the Titlis cliff walk – a suspension bridge (again, Europe’s highest) with breathtaking views over the famous Switzerland landscape. Standing at its centre put me in the path of a cool breeze caressing its way through the maze of jagged peaks.

Guidebooks – those trusty old travelling companions – made reference to the purity of mountain air. I’m not going to pretend I suddenly felt previously unknown levels of cleanliness in my lungs, the toxins of urban living flushed from my system by the superior non-EU air.

I did, though, simply want to savour the moment.

I tried to see rather than just look; tried to take in every rock formation and every pattern in the snow. Like eating cheap (non-Swiss) chocolate, I wanted to avoid getting only the temporary hit of pleasure, the fleeting instantaneous ‘wow’ that is so quickly forgotten again.

The frightening permanence and unforgiving challenge of what stood before me deserved better than a mere glance. I was determined to pay it due respect and try to gain a better understanding of my place in the world relative to the magnificent powerful beauty of nature stretching before me, touching the endless sky.

Some children ran up and down the bridge, seeing how much they could make it sway. Well, I couldn’t have expected a moment of perfect tranquillity, could I?


I persevered and felt the mountain air rush into my mouth, but only as a function of the unconscious act of breathing. I regret not taking in a deep and deliberate lungful of the stuff, to taste and remember its crispness.

However long I tried to savour the views Switzerland granted, it never felt enough. I was afraid of too easily forgetting them, of casting them aside and then glumly wondering why I struggled to recall them. How long should I have spent imbibing the experience? What length of time did I need to spend?

Perhaps I tried too hard, the enlightenment I apparently sought never likely to be possible. At what stage does one graduate from ‘travelling’ and ‘being on holiday’ to ‘climbing the mountain every day at dawn to meditate and gain greater spiritual understanding’?

The latter was certainly not my goal! I paid knowingly and willingly for the privilege of seeing the Titlis summit, no less of a tourist than any of my fellow camera-clutching sheep.

But that didn’t stop me wanting to embrace mindfulness for a change. I wanted to feel in tune with where I stood. More importantly, I didn’t want to rush onto the next place and the next place and the place after that, led around by the lens of a camera.

The Next Step

‘Savouring the experience’ was not about nostalgia and holding on to more vivid memories than normal.

It was about understanding me – my thoughts, feelings and sense of place. Every day I learn more about how I want to live and what I consider important. Every day I learn more about how I want to act as a person, even if I don’t always succeed in making a positive step towards it.

Kath and I joked about moving to the area and living among the farmers who work the lower slopes of the mountains. We are not the sort of people who believe that sort of move is a realistic proposition – for us, Switzerland will always exist basking in a hot summer (we gave little consideration to the harsh realities of a long winter!). Even so, I looked out over the land of William Tell and considered what it would take to make such a bold step.

I imagined leading the life of a writer and photographer, for I have never felt so strong a desire to capture portraits of the people around me. I saw greater and richer detail in the lives running parallel to my own; so many more nuances of being both a native and a visitor.

The thoughts were nothing more than broad, vague strokes. They lacked serious intent, and mainly I just wondered if it was possible to get bored of the scenery. That was enough though, for in trying to understand that much about myself, I began making a mental transition: toward a freer way of living, no longer another member of the herd.

Thursday, 18 July 2013


Another photo, which I've been meaning to post for weeks.

I liked the red, I liked the man sitting alone in the courtyard beyond. I also liked the ludicrously oversized letters. It all added up to a photo that, unsurprisingly, I quite like! And I hope you see some merit in it as well.

Friday, 21 June 2013

The Part-Time Creative

During the long winter that enveloped the UK until about the end of spring this year, any small beacon of light and warmth was welcomed with an open heart. In January, Fabian Kruse (of the Friendly Anarchist) contacted his mailing list and asked for thoughts on making time for creativity without compromising creative integrity.

In terms of a career change, he rightly pointed out that simply quitting a day job might not be as simple as it sounds. Particularly when lack of income is a highly likely possibility!

As Fabian saw it, there were four options. One involved lucking in to a big windfall, while another relied on compromise and frugal living. The other focussed on ‘strategic quitting’, but the most interesting for me was the first:

1. Stay in your job and somehow hack your energy to work on personal stuff during your free time. Hard to do, but possible.

Running On Empty?

Even in a humble office setting, there are days at work that are simply exhausting. Getting home and cooking tea is about as much as my brain can comprehend.

It’s also true that running, and trying to look after myself as best I can, has brought benefits like more energy and greater drive to do creative work for a couple of hours in the evening.

This is good because, for the most part, I like my day job and the people I work with. Working in the technical department of an insulation manufacturer might not hold much relevance to my creative endeavours, but it is part of me.

Indeed, if you’d ever seen the cartoon I drew on the office whiteboard every day for several months – and the simple, beautiful joy it often gave my colleagues – you’d have seen how creativity can bloom in unexpected places.

“You’re wasted in here,” people occasionally said. But I didn’t see that as a bad thing; more a vindication that I was right to keep pursuing my creative path simultaneously.

Comfort In Routine

However much I might one day wish to pursue something different, it will take a compelling set of circumstances for me to confidently leave behind the knowledge and experience I’ve built up in the construction industry.

Even though I lack the means to determine the exact direction of my day job, it doesn’t mean I’m actively seeking to abandon the corporate environment at the first opportunity. Doubtless, much of its appeal is in the regular salary, and a lot of the rest is down to comfort and familiarity.

But a big part of my soul is unwilling to let a decade of hard work and personal development go to waste.


Fabian’s e-mail helped me realise just how much I cared about making these distinct parts of my life work together (at least to the point that one day a creative career could take over as my main source of income).

It stirred the fires of defiance inside me: if the perception is that it can’t work, I want to show that it can. From that point forward, I decided it would forever be known simply as ‘Option 1’ – like some military codeword from the script of a cliché-ridden movie (“Sir, we have no choice. We need to enact Option One!”).

As a result, self-publishing my first ebook last week gave me enormous satisfaction.

Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc?

The book was certainly a while in coming. I wrote the bulk of it in a single week during December and have sat on it since (sometimes literally, as a test of the manuscript’s orthopaedic qualities). I’m not sure why I waited, but it felt like the work was missing a certain ‘something’.

Yes, I often thought about changes I wanted to make to the draft, but I also thought I needed some indefinable inspiration to complete it to the standard I wanted and expected.

In an effort to find that mythical inspiration, I instead worked on tweaking the balance between the competing commitments in my life. And it worked, in the sense that when I did start working on it again, I could do so consistently and to completion.

Ultimately though, that ‘something’ was me simply sitting down and getting back to work on it.

Needing Another Fix

Thanks to some assistance from others, as well as the tools provided by Amazon, the book is finally available for sale. I felt a huge sense of pride in seeing it go live, and now I know there are no barriers to getting more work listed in the Amazon store.

Thankfully, I have several (hopefully good) ideas for what that work could be!

What I’m Missing

A couple of days after publication I got an e-mail from Milo McLaughlin, who has continued to be a huge inspiration and source of help. Amongst other things, he said: “I hope the launch went well.” And it’s true that I did manage some sort of launch.

Friends and acquaintances showed a lot of goodwill, retweeting my Twitter announcement and sharing the link to the book on Amazon. But the truth remains that I don’t have an audience to speak of, so during the build-up I was only ever telling the same people about the book’s impending arrival. In other words, I certainly had no expectation of achieving massive sales!

Time Takes Time, You Know

I’ve only had an over-arching theme for this blog since Christmas and, as the recent post about pies(!) demonstrated, I haven’t fully explored its true potential. I’m working on it, but have to balance writing new posts with the pursuit of my larger projects, and all in the context of still wanting to do my day job.

What that doesn’t leave much time for is the business and marketing side of my writing.

But what is the use in continuing to produce work that doesn’t reach many eyes? Where is the right balance between writing and marketing? This Blogger platform works for me, but is it part of what is holding me back? Should it look more professional?

Should I be encouraging people to use the e-mail sign-up? Or is the problem more fundamental: do I have a mistaken view of the quality and usefulness of my work?

Six months is not a long time, and there are people who have worked on their creative identity full time for two, three, five years, or even more. I didn’t expect to be a renowned writer and blogger by now, but I thought I might have seen a few more results.

Take A Chance

Perhaps I need to experiment more, but I fear becoming irritating to the few people who do take notice of me. I don’t have the available time to consistently read and comment on more blogs and more websites – I would end up consuming all the time rather than creating! – but how do I otherwise attempt to forge meaningful connections with other people?

I want to get the other book ideas written and published. I want to have a catalogue of work available on Amazon, to give me the best chance of being taken seriously as the writer I aspire to be. I know I can continue doing that purely in my spare time.

‘Option 1’ can work in that sense. But if my ‘marketing’ is ineffective, do I need to consider turning part-time into full-time? What are my Options when it comes to getting my work read and noticed?

Sunday, 9 June 2013

The Pie’s The Limit

As this blog continues taking steps on its creative journey, I’ve come to realise that it’s lacking something.

Well, it’s probably lacking several things – some maybe more fundamental than others – but hopefully things I can change or fix as I learn more. But the immediate ‘thing’ I’ve realised it lacks is some actual fruitless work!

Thanks to limited time and a focus on bigger projects, I’ve neglected the recording of some of the random creative moments that were the original motivation behind the FruitlessWork theme. And in an effort to start rectifying that, I have something truly random to share.

Steak and Ale

Thanks to a conversation with a few friends about pies – involving some dubious pie-themed punnage – I was inspired (sorry, ins-pie-ered) to write the following:

I once met a certain Mr. Winton of televisual fame. He was trying to train his dog, but wasn't having much luck and was a bit down about it.
"He just won't do as he's told," Winton said to me.
I got him to give me a demonstration, and sure enough, when he asked the dog to wait, it wouldn't listen.
"I think it's the commands," said Dale. "I don't think 'stay' is good enough, he doesn't seem to like it. 'Stay' can't be used."
"Don't stress, fella," I replied. "I might know someone who can help you out. Don't use words like 'can't'. When it comes to commands that work, 'Stay' can, Dale."
I walked away, having an unexplained urge to go and buy a pie.

Perfectly silly, I’m sure you’ll agree. Needless to say, I immediately shared it with my friends and got to work thinking of another.

Chicken and Mushroom

I was reminded of the time I got stuck in a lift with a certain Mr. Dodd. It was a tiny lift, and we were in there for hours with only a few bottles of whisky to sustain us throughout the ordeal.
Alas, my temper could not survive the experience, and about 90 minutes in - when we were both very merry - I began to find the invasion on my personal space too much to bear. Slurring badly, I could contain my frustration no longer.
"Gee, Ken, ain' mush room," I attempted to say, before slumping in a corner and falling asleep through stress. For some reason, I dreamt of pies...

Feeling unjustifiably smug with the day’s work, I gave little further thought to other common pie flavours. They all seemed too much like hard work, and I expected my friends’ patience to wear as thin as a good shortcrust pastry.

Chicken Tikka

The next day, as if to somehow prove that ideas will spread if you show them to the right people, Martin (my team mate when we appeared on the quiz show Pointless) got in touch with his own e-mail.

I was once perusing the wares in a local antique store, looking for a specific item. I got in to a long and arduous argument with the proprietor as to whether the item I was looking for existed, and so we started going through catalogues and eventually the net to look at various dealer websites.
“So you’re looking for a tropical hardwood piece, with a particular pattern?” the proprietor confirmed.
“Yes,” I replied, “preferably something to do with young farmyard animals, in particular I’m a fan of roosting birds.”
“I really don’t think we’ll find anything, sir!” said the owner, exasperated. So I made a bet that if we found it he’d give me half price, and if we didn’t, I’d pay him anyway for his time.
Hours later:
“Wait!!” I exclaimed, happy to finally be able to win the bet and rub it in a bit, “look at that listing there! ...  Chick on Teak! Aaaah!” For some reason I went away dreaming of pies...

Chicken and Asparagus

All was quiet for a few hours, until the third participant in this conversation replied to us both. It took the whole pie ‘thing’ in an unexpected direction. Why?

Because he had a request.

Unbeknownst to Martin and me, he forwarded the previous e-mails to a few of his colleagues. And they apparently wanted to set a challenge or two… ‘Meat and potato’ was duly despatched with a slightly clumsy effort. ‘Fish pie’ was politely glossed over: there’s not much pun potential in those two words, and trying to come up with a punnable combination of any or all of cod, haddock, salmon, prawns and cheesy sauce proved to be a task beyond my wits.

Then somebody said they like chicken and asparagus...

Ken and Emma from the waterfowl farm sat in the car. Two of their birds were on the back seat, languid, as if they somehow knew their ultimate fate.
"I thought he was very rude," said Ken. "Never in all my years of selling to fast food restaurants have I been talked to like that."
"Okay, well, he was a she, for a start," said Emma, remaining rational. "At least you sold one of the geese to the other place. There's clearly a market for these chains to use better ingredients, so don't give up just yet."
"He didn't have to question the quality of what we were offering though!"
"Ken, it was a woman we were talking to. And it doesn't matter, I can still spin the story the right way in the press release."
"I think you should threaten a bad media story. What headline are you thinking of? He'd soon change his opinion if it meant good press..."
Emma sighed. "How many times? SHE, Ken! Nandos spare a goose?"
Ken grunted, refusing to say anything. He started the car and set off, for some reason thinking about pies.

I shouldn’t really have learnt anything from this entirely pointless and frivolous exercise. Yet, the unavoidable conclusion was that – possibly for the first time in my creative life – I had found a genuine audience for something I'd built from nothing.

It was a small audience, and the whole thing fizzled out after the adventures of Ken and Emma. Arguably, we simply knew when to stop! Regardless, it was wholly satisfying to have strangers reading something I’d written and (on some level at least) find it entertaining enough to want more. It was enough of an experience to make me believe it can happen again, and hopefully on a larger scale.

Half-Baked Fantasy

Once upon a time, I wanted to write a novel. When I look back on my efforts now, I am truly ashamed at the lack of imagination and technical ability on display. Non-fiction is definitely my preferred form of written expression.

Another result of crafting these silly tales, however, was to reignite the dormant passion for imagining stories. There was definitely something to be learnt from having an end point – the pie name in pun form – and then incorporating all the elements necessary for it to make some sort of sense (relatively speaking!).

In truth, it was probably closer to joke writing than fiction writing, but I always try to write with a sense of humour (even though honesty and earnestness sometimes mean that humour isn’t much in evidence…) and so I couldn't help but focus on the storytelling element.

I still doubt that I possess the ability to upscale the technique to novella or novel length fiction, but maybe one day I’ll consider trying to write a short story or two. Just to see what comes of it, of course.

After all, anything to help earn a crust…

Friday, 24 May 2013

Brighton's Royal Pavilion

On the same day that I effectively launch my first self-published project, I also wanted to share a photograph I took while in Brighton last weekend.

Someone on Twitter (I forget who, though I could probably narrow it down to two or three people I follow!) shared a link to this article about getting better results from a smartphone's camera. The tips are all simple and easy to enact, but not necessarily things you'd think of yourself - which hopefully explains why I spent a bit of time trying to put them into practice while admiring Brighton's sights.

If I manage to maintain this effort to improve my photos and find better light in which to take them, I might post more of them on here. If you like this picture - or can see how I could have done better - let me know what you think!

Monday, 22 April 2013

Building Bridges

There is a bridge.

It is a perfectly normal bridge: a few hefty steel beams, upon which sit a couple of brick walls, which themselves contain a substantial mound of earth. And all this spans an insignificant stretch of water, barely twelve feet wide, that you would hesitate to describe as a river.

Neither is the bridge architecturally significant, or particularly eye-catching. You wouldn’t say it is beautiful. And yet … it is beautiful – in its own way – for the simple fact that it does precisely what it was designed to do.

All that earth remains exactly where it was put. Even more impressively, the earth cradles fragments of memory of the railway that once passed across it. The sleepers are no longer there, but the path carved through the trees remains. Here, in this small corner of one of North Staffordshire’s many fields, sits a bridge over which a branch line once thundered.

Each morning I walk the dog past this bridge, I find myself drawn to gaze at it. Were it not for the public footpath across the field, I wouldn’t even know the bridge exists. It sits in the middle of privately owned land, unburdened by what it once proudly carried.

That bridge is someone’s work, I say to Chloe the Springer Spaniel. She ignores me and chases rabbits. She – like most people, I suspect – doesn’t care that the entire length of the branch line was only 4 miles, mainly used to transport coal to the line connecting Stoke and Derby. She doesn’t care for what is essentially a relic of a bygone age.

Oddly, however, I find myself caring.

I find myself wondering whether the person who designed it went on to achieve greater things. Was this bridge a mere stepping stone to some grander project? Or does it stand as a monument to the pinnacle of an unfulfilled career?

The wheels of industry relied on the skill and engineering nous that went into the design. I wonder if the designer revelled in the responsibility and took pride in their job, or whether they did their calculations while drunk? Most likely the truth is somewhere in the middle: there is some water and a train needs to cross it. All in a day’s work.

A means exists, probably, to find out at least something about who drew up the design. But I don’t want to find out, for it is better fun to wonder and imagine. However important and useful the bridge was when built, now it is simply a piece of the landscape, under-utilised and shorn of its true purpose by the relentless march of Progress.

Whatever the truth may be, I look at that bridge and see a metaphor for my work on this blog. I see a strange physical representation of this Fruitless Work. These sentences that I craft from our noble language: what will their legacy be? Are they destined to propel me to greater things, or might they exist only as a whisper of the heights I could have reached? Will they remain rooted in this corner of the internet, forever destined to be a part of the overgrown digital landscape?

Am I drunk as I write this?

Perhaps I am! Perhaps that is why I am foolish enough to believe I can control the fate of my work. I pour my heart into these sentences, and maybe I care too much (if such a thing is possible). And yet that engineer might have poured his heart into his drawing, and out of his control the bridge now stands as nothing more than an under-appreciated physical permanence.

In that context, would it be so bad – would it be so fruitless – if this writing achieves nothing other than inspiring a person who randomly happens across it in 50 years time? The very possibility is strangely intoxicating…

Monday, 8 April 2013

Mistakes, Massages and Miserable Weather (Part 3/3)

I want to run faster.

It’s not a new feeling, and is hopefully a natural reaction to what essentially becomes ‘plodding’ once the body gets used to regularly covering a few miles. Around October 2012, what little technique I possessed was nothing more than low-cadence, lumbering pace, absent of urgency.

Worse, boredom was starting to set in

Something Had To Be Done

I bought a book called The Art Of Running Faster and, to cut a long story short, completely changed that technique. Started all over again essentially, with the biggest change being to run on my toes rather than striking down with my heel. Then winter set in, restricting the time I could spend putting those exciting changes into practice.

That goes some way to explaining my eagerness once February arrived. I believed the changes in style could produce positive results. I wanted to see some evidence too, so I decided spring started on the 32nd day of the year and was the time to kick back in.

Low Pressure, Cold Easterly

No sooner had the visit to the physio got everything back on track (or tarmac, if you want to be pedantic) than the Gods visited upon us a great dumping of snow. Drifts taller than a tall man, ice-crusted pavements, and temperatures forgetting how to be positive – all enough to halt progress having only just got going again.

Although I spent some of the enforced lay-off metaphorically climbing the walls, it also offered an opportunity for reflection. This was not a Bad Thing by any stretch of the imagination, particularly where the advice of the book was concerned.

Wanting to run faster, it’s tempting to think the pace should be flat out all the time, aiming for tiny incremental improvements with each run. Of course, the body can’t sustain that. Unintentionally, however, most of my runs ended up along these lines. If I wanted to go quicker…

Time To Slow Things Down

As the snow has cleared, so I’ve been doing the miles again. And my focus has been on learning to run slower. Keeping my feet moving quickly but with shorter steps. It’s all very well being able to run two miles reasonably quickly, but I’m supposed to be running 13-and-a-bit in September and need to build stamina.

It seems to me that humans are very good at reading a piece of advice, recognising its potential usefulness, and then forgetting all about it. Why else is Twitter littered with motivational quotes?

And I’m every bit as guilty. I took a lot from The Art Of Running Faster, but I read it once and basically assumed that all the tools were suddenly available to me. Only when I forced myself to reflect on what I was actually doing compared to what I thought I was doing did I realise that certain suggestions weren’t being enacted.

With the benefit of that reflection, I set out this morning (7th April) to do a longer run without pushing myself to an unsustainable limit. The result was 5.8 miles in 54 minutes, which is a good step towards the 10K I’ll be running in just five weeks time.

All Areas Of Life

I want to run faster.

I also want to write more, read more books, travel to more places, and be the person I want to be for my family and friends. In the words of Queen: “I want it all … and I want it now.”

Hopefully I manage not to be selfish about it. Certainly, I try not to be.

I’m conscious of making the most of this one shot at life, but in trying to do that I ignore sensible advice every day. Impulse wins out far too often in the name of trying to do as much as possible. Now I’m writing this post because I’ve learnt something, even though there was nothing really to learn. I just curbed the impulse for a change.

Daily, I receive a podcast from the artist Michael Nobbs emphasising the importance of making one small step toward a creative project. It’s advice born of a particular circumstance, and every day I read blogs and tweets by other people – some who are part of Michael’s Sustainably Creative community, some who aren’t – who have learnt similar lessons.

Acknowledging Fortune

Like Michael, many have been diagnosed with illnesses such as CFS/ME; conditions that often leave them exhausted and in physical pain, consigned to hoping that tomorrow will provide sufficient energy to pursue their ambitions. But pursue them they do, even though there are frequent days when all they can do is rest.

In that context, what right do I have to get frustrated? Why feel like I haven’t achieved enough on days when I at least achieve something?

Life is about balance, and I’m fortunate to be in control of mine. I aim not to be selfish, but part of me feels like I am because I don’t acknowledge my fortune often enough. Which is why I offer the following advice, and hope you’ll be pleased with the results if you can enact it, or some version of it, in your own life:

If you want to run faster, start by learning to run slower.