Monday, 9 November 2020

Harmless Lollygagging

I saw this on the Federation of Writers (Scotland) Facebook page and made the unwise joke that it would be clever if someone were to use all of these words in one sentence, and it backfired on me. So I did! Below is the result. Kerfuffle and rigamarole are repeated in the list. Did I get them all?

Well officer, I was gallivanting around in my new banger wearing my bright yellow britches – yes these are the ones – when I witnessed something which made me veritably gobsmacked – completely confuzzled I was – and I pulled up cattywumpus and skewiff to this decrepid old codger’s jalopy to find him lollygagging, doing his usual rigmarole, that’s right, his milarky of trying to hoodwink ragamuffins with his customary fiddle-faddle and humbug-like skullduggery, flogging his ‘home-baked authentic pumpernickle’, which I decided right then and there to put the kibosh on, just to scare the bejeebers out of him, the old flibberty-jibbit, and oh, what a hullabaloo it was, after I shouted, “Thunderation, skedaddle you old Numb-skull, you old nucklehead, you, or I’ll be forced to inform the whosemegadget, you know, the old fuddyduddy (no offence officer) that works at the watchamcallit and inform him of your bogus ‘authentic pumpernickle’ poppycock, when you clearly got it at M&S,” and as soon as I said it the whole thingamebob escalated into a full-blown kerfuffle, because not only was he entirely bamboozled, and flabbergasted by the brouhaha with which I had lambasted him, but it was also clear he had had enough of my ‘wishywashy caterwauling’ (which to be fair I had considered rather bodacious camaraderie) but what else could I do, I was so flummoxed and halfway berserk with his shenanigans, his flim-flam, his baloney, that I kicked him right in the thingamijig, his whatsit, you know, right in the periwinkle, and he was not happy the old nincompoop, in fact I would go so far as to say he was most discombobulated, not only by my audacity that I had deigned to kick him willy-nilly right in the doohicky, but also that I would be persnickety enough to come up with such a ‘balderdash concoction’ (his words) as to accuse him of peddling pukka pumpernickle, and I should not have been goggle-eyed when I heard him retort, “Egads, Mr Tiddly-Smythe, I am fed up to the back teeth with your fiddle-dee-dee, your tomfoolery and your fiddlesticks and I wish you would just accept that you are not the only one in this village who knows how to make delicious, home-made authentic pumpernickle!”

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Fall Garden

"If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need." - Cicero
Our apple tree had a great load of full, sweet, zesty apples this year.

This morning I decided to spend a leisurely forty minutes tidying up the garden. I just wanted to de-clutter the place in preparation for the winter months when everything gets blown about. 

The chicken-wire cane triangles were useful for bean support and apple-catching but just for show now

Last night I built a makeshift fire pit with the mono-blocks we got from the next-door neighbour. I just went ahead and did it, placing the blocks in the time honoured tradition of ‘This looks about right,’ as I could not be bothered getting out a tape measure, digging up turf and putting sand down to make it level. But now I can see the dimensions I know what size it should be and can go ahead and do it properly the next time (if there is a next time).

By sheer coincidence (or just because it 'looks about right') the lid is the exact size of the fire pit. Reminds me a bit of the tunnel entrances of the Morlocks in HG Wells' Time Machine

My son came home and helped me fill it with old cut-offs of wood and he seemed to like the idea of having an autumn and winter fire pit where we can roast marshmallows and sit around telling ghost stories and drinking hot chocolate. Well, that’s the plan. Alternatively we might burn down the shed and the fence erected by ‘the neighbour who shall not be named’ and that would be bad. 

With the lid on it means I can store damp wood in here to dry out ready for burning.

I guess the fire would heat up the monobocks beneath, dry out the grass, possibly scorch the ground, but I can’t see it setting it on fire. This is Scotland, not the Australian bush. I’ll keep a bucket of water handy just in case. Maybe should move it a couple of feet away from said wooden structures just to reduce concerns. Ideally I should dig up the turf beneath and fill it with sand, an area a block’s width all around. Then make sure it's level. It might also help to have one of the BBQ trays inside to catch the ash in order to ferry it to the veg plots afterwards. Because ash is good for the soil, or so I heard …

Drying the wood. Maybe marshmallows tonight

This autumn my son and I planted 12 tree seeds, compared with the 23 last year, of which only one grew into a sapling (4.3% success rate) - this horse chestnut, looking a little ragged today but has shot up to 30cm in since the spring!

1 of the 23 seeds we planted last year grew into a strapping horse chestnut sapling

I once read it takes seven trees to produce enough oxygen for one human being. If you don't have a garden or space to grow trees there are lots of other ways of giving back to the planet. I recommend using Ecosia search engine, which uses profits to plant trees around the world, or even better, as I know them personally, contact Simon & Tracey West of For a donation of just £2.50 a tree can be panted in Kenya which will not only remove a quarter of a tonne of CO2 from the air in a handful of years, but will also provide food and building materials for the locals. For four trees or more you also receive a certificate.

Ten tree seeds, comprising acorn, chestnut and sycamore

I travelled a lot in my younger years, especially to and from Japan, so I want to do something to pay back that carbon debt to the planet. Trees are solar-powered, self replicating, carbon capture-storage devices. And we find the blueprints just scattered around at our feet.

Two fir cones in moist soil. Fingers crossed!

Doing something as simple as putting fallen tree seeds in soil is one of the best things we can do for the planet. Just give them a chance, that's all they ask. Think of them as plants with potential. Grow them in pots for a few years and then plant them in a forest, give them to a friend as a present, sell them online or to a local council for £50. There are a lot of options. Apparently horse chestnut seeds need to feel the cold before germinating, so best to keep them outside.

My second vegetable plot (right) to double yield next year

I added more cardboard to the soil to discourage weeds from sucking up all the nutrients from the recently added compost. According to "How To Garden" a great book by Alan Titchmarsh.

The back hedge I planted a few years ago doing well

I think the back hedge, if I remember rightly, is 'Golden Crest'. It should grow pretty high. The top of the far left one was broken off by a falling child when he climbed over the fence to retrieve a football. I tried to help it re-root next to its body, but my efforts were in vain. Hopefully the rest of the tree will continue to grow without it. Could have been worse. It could have been the boy who got decapitated.

The front hedge I planted this summer starting to fill out

The 'bee tree' near our front door kept producing saplings of its own which my wife replanted in different parts of the garden. So I thought we could move them all to the front and make a hedge out of them to discourage pets from doing their business on our front lawn.

Red berries on green

I really believe in the health benefits of gardening. As well as being able to consume your own organic vegetables, the muscular effort involved in digging the earth, combined with the fresh air and feel-good aspect of nurturing living things, must have a beneficial effect on the soul. 

Now all I need is a library.

Thursday, 22 October 2020

'Coffee Cup Killer' Launch Delayed

Unfortunately, due to last minute editing adjustments and unexpected printing times, the official launch of novella 2 of the Jake Jones Sleuth-Hound series 'The Coffee Cup Killer' will be pushed back to Monday 26th October. I'm very sorry about this.

But if you haven't already, now is the perfect time to read novella 1 'The Old Mice Killer', which has been updated as a new edition, to get into the zone. You can snap it up as a paperback (£3.99) or ebook (£1.77).

I'm hoping to go live on Facebook on Monday and answer your questions about the new chapter in Jake Jones' adventure, so if you have anything you'd like to ask, please leave them in the comments. 

Thanks, and see you then!

Sunday, 18 October 2020

The Coffee Cup Killer

I’m very happy to announce that my new novella ‘The Coffee Cup Killer’, the next episode in the Jake Jones Sleuth-Hound saga since ‘The Old Mice Killer’(2017), will be published by Raptor Filmz on Friday 23rd October! It will be available as an ebook on Amazon and Kobo (£2.99/$3.99) and a paperback from and myself (£5.99/ $7.75).

Jake Jones is a sleuth-hound in a city full of femme fatales, drug cartels, corrupt cops, dirty politicians and dangerous power-lords. He has a nose for trouble and he follows it always. But what starts out as a simple stalker case spirals into something much worse, as Jake finds himself embroiled in the latest spate of bloody murders to plague the city - those of the Coffee Cup Killer...

Many thanks to everyone who has offered insight, advice and encouragement to help Jake Jones on his journey.

Saturday, 3 October 2020

The Karate Kid

Last night my son and I watched The Karate Kid on Amazon and I'm not ashamed to say that I wept. 

Why? Because I only just realised how much Noriyuki “Pat” Morita and Ralph Macchio (now 58) moulded my childhood, even though I never learned Karate or was bullied by a group of high school seniors in skeleton costumes. 

It was their relationship, their spirit, their philosophy and defiance against the odds to overcome and finally prevail, which possibly inspired me to be such the non-conformist pain in the ass that I am today. Only now in my later years do I note that it was probably more thanks to the writer Robert Mark Kamen, who Wikipedia now informs me wrote the screenplay combining elements of his real life with those of a newspaper article optioned by producer Jerry Weintraub.

Sadly Pat Morita (who tested five times for the role of Mr Miyagi before producer Weintraub agreed to cast him, not originally wanting a comic actor to play the role) passed away in 2005, but Mr Kamen is still alive and well at 72 and growing grapes in California.

I just want to thank Mr Kamen for writing the screenplay, Mr Weintraub for producing the film, John G Avildsen for directing, and Mr Macchio and Mr Morita for pouring their heart and souls into such an iconic film providing staple viewing for kids growing up in the 80s, and answering the question "whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them."

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

A Watched Kettle ...

 Waiting for a response from agents and/or publishers for a month or even two, is hard.

Checking your inbox and finding nothing but nothing each morning can really be quite disheartening. But people in the publishing industry are overwhelmed with manuscripts in their in-tray and it takes time; I understand that. There’s nothing else for it but to wait patiently, or even begin some new project.

Being a firm believer of the power of positive visualisation, however, I have decided to imagine the letter that I hope to receive from an agent or publisher in the next few days.

Dear Mr Young,

I would like to apologise wholeheartedly for keeping you waiting but I would like to thank you sincerely for sending us the synopsis and first three chapters of your hilarious and original work, ‘The Coffee Cup Killer.’ We at the office were falling about in gales of laughter and awe. Somehow you have captured the angst of the whole world by harnessing the absurdity of the current situation by using the seldom double-swung double-edged sword of double sarcasm. Wonderful. Poetic. A Chandleresque dog detective in a spoof-noir world of talking animals? Never since Homer’s Iliad in dactylic hexameter has any literary work fully captured the imagination of the planet. May we be the first to congratulate you on such an epic novella and inform you that we shall encourage the Nobel Prize Committee that they need look no further in selecting their next winner. Congratulations in advance. Suffice it to say that we would like nothing more than to have our names associated with yours from now on, in fact we’d like to pay you for the honour, your reverence. Please accept this advance of £15,000 which we trust will cover you and your family comfortably so you can focus on the much anticipated sequels The Puppy Master, The Red Herring and Jeers of Derision, in order to deliver them to the best of your comedic genius and at your earliest convenience to your billions of fans-to-be worldwide.

Ha! I can dream I suppose...

Sunday, 13 September 2020

The 2020 SSFF Awards Ceremony

Which ancient philosopher said, "It's times like these we need film more than ever"? Plato? Confucius? Probably neither, if like me you believe the first film ever made was 'Le Voyage Dans La Lune' by Georges Méliès in 1902.

   But there were many points when the Scottish Short Film Festival 2020 might not have happened at all.

   The first was just after SSFF2019 at the Glasgow Art School when then festival director (me) had his I-phone stolen and was almost stranded in Glasgow City Centre at 11:30pm on a Saturday night. Stressed, dehydrated, suffering from a lingering back pain and not quite turning a profit (even from a sold out event on the Saturday) and after seven years, I turned to festival manager at the time Gina Vereker said, "I'm sorry, that was the last one for me. If you want to carry the torch as festival director, it's yours."

   Gina, who is a freelance events manager, took a while to think it over, and thankfully said yes.

   What followed was a total revamp of the format, website, and entries re-opened for another year in November 2019. Gina deftly breathed new passion into the project and carried things forward, building momentum and anticipation throughout the whole marketing process, and despite being unable to secure funding from sponsors, plowed onwards undeterred.

Gina Vereker & William Samson. Photo by me on Gina's phone

   Then, around March 2020, the Covid-19 coronavirus reared its ugly head and decided to ruin everything for everyone, everywhere. The venue Gina had been pursuing at the CCA Glasgow, due to government's guidelines, had to shut its doors to events, and Gina and I were forced to sit down and rethink the festival. With patience and understanding from the filmmakers, we considered moving the whole thing online, only then realising the huge opportunities this opened up:

   1: We could show more films over the course of a week, as people would have time to spread things out and watch them in a relaxed manner.

   2: We could show films to people overseas, possibly putting names and faces in front of important people in Hollywood.

   Thus encouraged, we looked into various ways of doing this, considering pay-per-view or something similar, but decided in the end on embedding password-protected films on the website.

   Meanwhile we had received an amazing 64-strong submission total via Film Freeway, for which we were extremely grateful. The films, as ever, exhibited a huge amount of energy, creativity and imagination and were a joy to watch. However, it wasn't all a case of sitting back and letting the films wash over us; each judge was tasked with assigning a score to each film over the following 12 categories : Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Editing, Best Costume/Make Up, Best Music, Best Sound, Best Director, Best Script, Best Documentary, Best Cinematography, Most Creative/Original and finally all round Best Film. We also strived (strove?) to give back encouraging and helpful advice to each and every entry received.

   As this was going on, progress was being made towards presentation of the chosen films. Thought was also being put into the Awards Ceremony and how that would work, while keeping everyone safe and staying in compliance with government guidelines. I figured we could at least conduct it from my office using the green screen and suggested selling tickets to a large scale Zoom event. Gina on the other hand was tempted by the opportunities offered by a public Facebook live-stream, which would increase publicity for the film-makers, actors, and everyone else nominated for an award.

   I, who had adorned the tech hat for this year's Awards ceremony, wasn't exactly sure how that would work, but decided to rise to the challenge and find out. 

Gina and me. Photo by William

   A judges' meeting was held on Zoom to thrash out the shortlist, the nominations and winners. What came next was a gathering of Q&A videos, because one of the highlights of any film festival, we're sure you'll agree, is the connection with the filmmakers - the glimpse behind the magic curtain to find out how the film came about and what challenges were overcome. Again, I suggested password-protecting the Q&As as they were golden content and should add value to, and therefor move, more tickets, but Gina opted to keep them public so the filmmakers could use them to promote themselves.

   Everything was coming together. The humorous and dependable William Samson was re-recruited as host. All that was left was how to do the live-stream Awards ceremony.

   First of all, armed with the list of nominations and winners, 12 nomination videos ('Nom Vids') in a kind of Oscars style were put together. These were automatic and William had to familiarise himself  to get the timing right, as there would be no pausing or going back. Hence the 5 second countdown in each corner.

   From previous experience I knew we needed an encoder, so with limited budget I downloaded the free OBS for Mac. This was sometimes temperamental but had a lot of great features and resembled VLC Player in terms of playlists. You could use chroma key with images in the background, fade to video clips, and have intro and outro credit sequences queued up ready to go. The most useful was the 'Your Livestream Will Start Soon' video loop, which a) gives you those ever precious seconds to get yourself together, and b) adds anticipation.

   Warning : Deep Tech Ahead! Feel free to skip the next few paragraphs.

   Problem: How to connect the Zoom audio into the OBS livestream? Ordinarily I might have tried to connect an audio jack from the speaker output to the mic input of my MacBook with a Y splitter cable connected to my headphones. But new MacBook pros don't have mic input jacks.

   Solution: Download and install a free virtual cable called VB. Tell Zoom to output to this, and tell OBS this is where you want the Zoom input to come from.

Gina, William and me sticking to the two metre rule. Photo by Richard Vereker

   What transpired next was a fortnight-long experimental foray into the unfamiliar territory of live-streaming with green screens, video clips and Zoom call integration. It began with William and I messing about live on the Raptor Newz facebook page, progressed to a half decent but laggy Raptor Newz episode, took another step up with the Judges' Discussion livestream, and culminated in the Awards Ceremony. 

   The hardest part was the Zoom calls. Why? Should be easy, right? Wrong.

   a) There was echo as the voice of the person on the other end would come through the mac's speakers and go into the mic. Hence the use of headsets. We looked into such things as Apple earbuds, but the prices were too prohibitive.

   b) The audio and video were out of synch by 160ms, or four frames at 25 fps. This was because the captured Zoom video took 160 ms longer to reach the live stream than the audio. To fix this, you have to add an offset of 160 ms to the headset mic and the ZOOM audio input (via the VB cable) to slow them down slightly, so they arrive at the livestream at the same time as the video.

   c) There was an occasional nasty flicker. This was alleviated by ensuring Zoom and OBS were operating at the same frame rate (25 fps).

   So far so good, then. Famous last words etc.

   On the morning of Friday 11th September, the day before the Awards Ceremony, while I was walking a group of neighbourhood kids to the local school, one of them, while listening to music on his phone, decided just to walk out into the middle of a busy road at a green light. Every morning up to this incident I'd kept telling the child, "Put away your phone, don't walk while using your phone." Fortunately no cars were coming and the kid was fine, but following this I experienced chest pains making it difficult to breathe. No cough, fever or loss of sense of taste or smell, just chest pains, which I'd experienced at times before of high pressure. I went to bed hoping to sleep it off, missing concerned phone calls from both William and Gina.

  The next day and feeling much improved, I got to work on the intro and credits video clips, as well as the Audience Choice Award video, which had been decided by vote the night before. Everything was moving towards completion and the day flew by.

   Due to a desire for staff safety and adherence to government guidelines of using hand sanitiser, masks, open windows and a minimum interpersonal space of two metres, it was decided that we use Gina's kitchen, which was bigger than my office, despite the slower internet connection. A zoom chat with 'Ghillie' film-makers Mike Marriage and Jamie Cooper was tentatively arranged. The most important part was delivery of the awards, but if possible I wanted to pick up the gauntlet of having some kind of live interaction with filmmakers within the livestream.

   We met at Gina's at 6pm in the pouring rain, with plenty of time (or so we thought) before the 8pm kick off. Set up the green screen and lights, hooked up the Mac to a second monitor and using a wireless keyboard and mouse, I was able to run the tech while William and Gina were able to present the show with the open MacBook screen to guide them and record them using the 720p FaceTime camera. 

   We were all good to go, doing a couple of rehearsals, when another problem presented itself: I needed my headset to monitor everything. William could do the nominations 'deaf' as it were, but he needed a headset to talk to Mike and Jamie. Gina's husband Richard had a spare headset. Much time was wasted trying to get the MacBook to play continuously through two headsets before I realised I could just wipe down my headset before giving it to William. I'd be 'deaf' to the Zoom call, which made me nervous, but during our set up check at 7:30 with Mike and Jamie the levels seemed to look okay. Mike and Jamie popped out of the Zoom Room with a view to popping back nearer the time.

   Ideally we would have had twenty minutes here to stand around outside, chilling and having a smoke in the cool evening air (had we been smokers) gathering our thoughts in preparation. But no, it was one final visit to the loo and then on with the show!

   Shortly after 8pm we went live. 

William and me warming up

   "Okay, I'll switch on the mics now!" said I, only to state loudly a few minutes later, "After this is the short intro." But luckily I don't think I was heard over the trailer audio.

   We had about a ten second lag, but everything seemed to be going fine. People could see us, people could hear us. All good.

   William and Gina did an admirable job and the first half went swimmingly. So much so that I made the fatal error of thinking, "This is going to be a breeze."

   Then for some reason OBS chose that moment to play up. Remember I said it was temperamental? The Best Sound clip had vanished from the Scene List. 

   Blackness. Dead air. 

   I took a breath and told myself not to panic. Instead I gestured to William to keep talking while I tried to figure out the problem, of which he did an excellent job.

   Skipping ahead to Best Editing seemed the best option, but that didn't work either. I gestured again to William and he in turn gestured to Gina to come on stage and continue the stall tactics. How they both managed to stay cool, calm and collected in front of the camera was beyond me, but they did great, in fact their improv was highly entertaining. So much so, I kept it in the edit.

   I realised I had to re-import the clips afresh. This seemed to work. In fact to be on the safe side I re-imported everything one step ahead of the segment William was at. Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Film, Audience Choice Award. This meant each one started with a burst of loud volume I had to turn down as quickly as possible.

   Anyway, we'd refound our stride, and again I made the mistake of thinking, "We've done it! Just the credits to go! I've reimported them haven't I?" I saw the scene labeled RN Credits at the very bottom of the scene list. "Ah yes, this must be it." I queued it up, Gina and William signed off and I faded it in and sat back with a huge sigh of relief.

   But wait. Gina was saying something. Her lips were moving but I couldn't hear her. I'd gone temporarily deaf for real. Something about "Wrong credits." 

   I was like, "No, this is totally fine, look, white words on black screen going up, it's credits all right!" That's when I noticed the name 'Phil Hole.'

   It was the Raptor Newz Credits. 'Donuts by Phil Hole. Sound by Mike St And. Wardrobe by Ikea. All rights reserved and some left.'

   I knew I should have deleted all the extraneous scenes from the Scene List but hadn't had time to do it.

   I faded in the right credits hoping against hope I wouldn't have to re-import them and they played fine.

   And that was it. Made sure all the mics were off. Disconnected the livestream. Scanned the comments for something about the wrong credits, saw nothing and finally relaxed.

   William, Gina, Richard and I spent the next half hour decompressing and laughing with relief. It hadn't been perfect, but we'd given it our best shot and people seemed happy. Awards were delivered, and the Zoom livestream was perfect. 160 ms, baby!

From top left going clockwise: Mike Marriage (director), William Samson, Jamie Cooper (Producer)

   Looking back over the video to edit it for Vimeo and re-share I found there wasn't much to do, except trimming, cutting out a few moments of dead air and the wrong credits. In retrospect I should have realised the MacBook mic would not be good enough for two people standing apart and perhaps should have tried to connect my H2 recorder via USB. But again, with all that was going on, I'm just glad we got something out there. It might have taken another day to convince the MacBook to recognise yet another audio input.

   A day later and the livestream had a reach of 1,623, with 594 engagements, 128 comments, 5 shares and 765 views, which is none too shabby for an event.

   The 2020 SSFF wasn't without its challenges, but on the whole, if people look at the creativity, imagination and skill of the modern day film-force of and about Scotland that we were able to deliver and recognise, we hope you'll agree it is a worthwhile cause. In fact personally I would count the whole experience as by far my favourite distraction of 2020.

   With Gina at the helm the good ship SSFF has successfully completed another voyage, and long may she continue on her travels!

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

The Coffee Cup Killer : Chapter One

For the sheer heck of it, to find out how it sounds and to celebrate finishing the first round of editing, I read out the first chapter of The Coffee Cup Killer, The Second Jake Jones Mystery, on video. Then I added noir jazz music and black and white old film effects. Because why not?

The Coffee Cup Killer A Jake Jones Mystery Prequel to The Old Mice Killer Coming Soon ... © Chris R Young 2020 Music : MrSnooze

Sunday, 2 August 2020

Virtual World Trip Day 4 : Cyprus

Well, today finds us in Cyprus, a large island in the east Mediterranean Sea, owned by both Greece and Turkey, which I had absolutely no idea of. It seems the whole island would have been a paradise on earth, with 340 days of sunshine per year, if it hadn't been for some political unrest back in the 70s causing Greek Cypriots in the north to be uprooted from the homes and swapped with Turkish Cypriots in the south. Then there was established a border with a no-mans land of abandoned homes in the middle.

We haven't done much today except go clubbing and laze about on the beach getting attacked by Scottish midges! Aargh! How did they follow us here!?

Damn, this is almost as exhausting as a real holiday! Home tomorrow.

Saturday, 1 August 2020

World Trip Day 3 : Greece

At Meteora
It was great to be back in Greece again after all these years! This was actually my first English teaching destination back in 1999, when I went to teach near Meteora at Kalabaka in central Greece, actually mentioned in the below video. Amazing place to wake up to every morning.

And now some things to NOT do in Greece!

I don't remember ever getting into trouble for waving my hand at anyone, but I do recall almost getting in a fight because my friend flicked a peanut at someone's back in a bar...

Once a week my boss, Spiros, used to drive me to the neighbouring village to teach there and then drive me back. One day on our return journey we almost ran over a few chickens in the road and Spiros joked, "I don't feel like chicken tonight," which was a lot funnier than I think he meant. I had to explain.

At The Oracle Of Delphi

This is a good video about some amazing traditional Greek food in Athens:

Feta cheese pies are just what the doctor ordered for a drunken walk home at night.

Kalabaka was my first experience with the amnesiac effects of tequila. I woke up one morning with cigarette burns on my hand and sand in my socks and no idea how I got home the night before. And lemon juice on crisps! Mmm!

And now can I remember some words in Greek?

Kalimera - Good morning
Kalispera - Good afternoon
Kalenoche - Good night
Ti kanis - How are you? /What are you doing?
Kala - Good / Fine
Then perazzi - It doesn't matter
Efharisto - Thank you
Parakalo - You're welcome
Skase skooliki - Shut up, worm!

Funny thing about the twin meanings of 'Ti kanis,' is if a kid is being naughty in class and the teacher shouts, "What are you doing!?", the kid can innocently reply, "I'm fine, thank you." One of the kids in my class tried this with me in English, which I thought was hilarious. 

At the Parthenon
Three of my university pals came to visit me to see in the New Year, century and millennium, and apparently they'd been discussing whether I'd learnt any Greek on the drive up. So when after getting all their orders for coffee in a cafe bar one morning I just relayed the information to the young Greek waitress in English without even bothering to translate a word of it, they all cracked up.

My plan to take them all to a nightclub for the bells backfired as when we arrived there shortly before midnight we found the whole place locked. So we actually saw in the new millennium walking along a country track in the middle of a bunch of fields. A memorable experience no doubt!

Greece was an exceptional place to begin my English teaching career and I dreamt of Meteora often after.

Tomorrow, Cyprus!

Friday, 31 July 2020

Virtual World Trip Day 2 : Sweden

Turning Torso Skyscraper, Malmo

We woke up early and after a delicious breakfast of even more Danish pastries and bacon we hired an old beat up Volkswagon bus and drove across the Oresbund Bridge into Sweden. 
   Wow! What a country. So much hotter than Denmark. Hard to imagine since they're so close together, but phew!
   As soon as we left the hotel for our morning walk we bumped into a friend of my son's and I said, "Oh, Hi, I didn't expect to see you in Sweden!" He replied, "Coming out?" And I said, "Naw mate, we're going for a walk round Sweden. Maybe later :)"
   Had a great walk around Sweden. Saw a bunch of butterflies just like the kind you see in Scotland, and a grey squirrel real up close like.

Some useful words and phrases in Swedish:

Hello : Hallå   /Halloa/
Goodbye : adjö   /Adieu/
Please : snälla du /Snella doo/
Thank you : Tak

one : ett 
two : två   /tvaw/
three : tre 
four : fyra 
five : fem

I didn't expect to see you in Sweden : Jag förväntade mig inte att träffa dig i Sverige

   Today on a friend's advice we went to visit Skansen, which is a huge ethnographic museum on one of the many islands smack bang in the middle of Stockholm.


Amazing place - you need a map to make sure you don't get lost!
   As Sweden is such a long country, you can experience the warmth of the south and the coolness of the north.
   Check out the national anthem!

In Sweden of course they still use the Swedish Krona and with a population of just 10.3 million, there's plenty of space to go around.
   Sweden at the moment is having a bit of a problem with the Corona Virus, but that doesn't bother us because we're only there virtually.
   Have a look at this great video of 13 things to see and do in Sweden:

Looks pretty great, eh? Can't wait to go there for real someday!

At Vasa Museum

In Stockholm's Old Town of Gamla Stan

But the main reason we chose Sweden is because it is of course the home of Minecraft and our son wanted to visit Mojang HQ since seeing Grian's visit there:

Sweden was awesome! But after all that walking we were exhausted and fell asleep as soon as we got back to our very homely home from home hotel, even before I wrote this blog post. 
   Tomorrow : Greece!

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Virtual World Trip Day 1 : Denmark

Well, today was very exciting as at last we began our 2020 virtual family world trip! We 'flew' from Edinburgh to Copenhagen (on our sofa) with very little luggage and the flight seemed to take almost no time at all. They even have X-box on planes now! Bit disappointed to find that the weather in Denmark is almost exactly the same as in Scotland, but whatcha gonna do, eh?

Our son chose Denmark is it's the home of Lego, his favourite creative toy. We’ve been to Legoland at Windsor before but never to Lego House, which is defo one of the planned stops on our world tour this year :) I personally am looking forward to Danish pastries and Danish Bacon. We actually have already been to Copenhagen – I believe it was eight or nine years ago but it was just a whistle stop.

In Denmark of course, they use Krone rather than Euros, and some interesting facts about the Scandinavian country is that it’s an archipelago of some 443 named islands, one of which is called Zealand (perhaps the namesake of New Zealand), and Greenland and the Faroe Islands are actually autonomous Danish territories. The Denmark national anthem can be viewed here.

Life in Denmark is a bit more expensive than in Scotland, and the public transport all runs punctually, so don’t hope to catch that bus you were running a bit late for! Denmark joined the EEC in 1973, and there’s a five mile long bridge connecting Copenhagen to Malmo in Sweden called the Oresund Bridge, which is quite an amazing feat of engineering in itself! We thought about walking across the Oresund Bridge into Sweden, but decided against it. Perhaps we’ll cross it tomorrow on our way to Sweden.

Before arriving in Denmark we studied up on a few basic words and phrases:

Hi – Hej (Hi)

Goodbye – farvel (farewell)

Please – Varvenlig

Thank you – Tak skal du have

Virtual Denmark is nice – Virtual Denmark er rart

Bacon is delicious – Bacon er lakkert

1 – en

2 – to

3 – tre

4 – fire (fear)

5 – fem

But we were pleasantly surprised to find that most people here speak English!

Today we visited the famous Mermaid Statue, which was built in 1913 to commemorate a performance of The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen by Hans Christian Anderson. She has lost her head a few times over the years, but who wouldn’t, being stuck to a rock in the harbour day in day out?

We also enjoyed the amazing Tivoli Gardens, which had fantastic rides, games, shops and restaurants.

Next we went to Frederiksborg Castle which is home to the National Museum and a great maze. It was constructed in the early 1700s, when it was the home to King Christian IV. Now it houses many great treasures and works of art.

Finally we arrived at Lego House which, apart from being a popular song by Ed Sheeran released on 11/11/11, has a tonne of great stuff to do in and around the man building, without even having to buy a ticket!

At last, after a long day, our feet were killing us and we returned to our nice wee hotel for a long soak in the bath, another Danish pastry, some delicious Danish fare, a Danish beer and a movie on TV. Home from home! 

Oresund Bridge Photo Credit CC BY-SA 4.0

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Wacom Bamboo Touch Pen & Tablet Rant

Well, I said I would write about this on my blog, so I suppose I should.

Recently my MacBook updated itself to Mac OS 10.15.5 Catalina. It's been fine. I've had no problems.

Apart from my Wacom Bamboo Touch Pen & Tablet, which isn't working the way it should, IE at all. So I get on to the Wacom website and download myself the latest driver for it.

Now this tablet I bought in Japan in 2007 ish and it's one of the only things I've been able to care for and look after enough such that I haven't lost the pen or pulled the wire out the tablet or anything like that. I even kept them all in a bubble wrap envelope for years. To be perfectly honest, it's been great this whole time. It's helped reduce RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) in my wrist, I've used it for drawing and designing and editing. It's been brilliant for 13 years.

Until now.
The driver is like, "Dude, no can work with Catalina." 

And I'm like, "Dude, yes can work with Catalina."

And it's like, "No dude, no can work with Catalina."

And I'm like, "But dude, must can work with Catalina."

So I get on the chat support and meet a very nice chap called Luis with a beard and I immediately get off on the weak foot when my autocorrect makes me write, "Hi sis."

This is a bad start. But I press on.

I told him the problem and he told me the problem. 

Wacom no longer supports my product for Catalina. It'll work on older OSs and Windows but alas, Catalina and my Bamboo Touch are now incompatible.


I tried to not direct my frustration at Luis, who was only doing his job and very well, instead trying to make a case for corporate responsibility. I had hoped the whole chat conversation would have been sent to my email address so I could just copy and paste but probably when anyone threatens to 'write about it on their blog', they are not expressly given this option.

Anyway, I did manage to copy this rantette:

You know the world has a lot of problems right now, with the coronavirus pandemic, and a global depression. Everybody is feeling the effects, and I'm sure your company is too. But I can't afford to buy another product from Wacom at the moment because I have nothing in my business bank account. £5 or something. I don't think it's right for a company to stop supporting a product that a customer has taken care to look after, not break or lose, for 13 years, only to be recommended to buy another product, even when the first product is still in perfect working order. I can't afford to keep updating hardware like this. The planet cannot sustain such a 'throwaway' existence. Can you please forward this to your manager or decision maker regarding this as it's socially irresponsible and in my opinion poor business practice. I'll be posting about this on my blog, because quite honestly, it's heartbreaking.

I asked if it might be possible to be given a discount off a newer tablet in exchange for returning the now defunct 2007 product I have, but Luis didn't sound all that enamoured with my suggestion. He gave me a number to call in the UK which I'll try, but I won't be calling with much gusto. Anyway, as I only have £5 in may account I doubt that even with a discount I'd be able to buy a new tablet.

But wouldn't that be great though? A business that gives you money back on old models. It deals with waste and helps keep their loyal customers up to date with tech. I don't know, maybe I'm being too unrealistic since seeing the words 'Lifetime Guarantee' on my Zippo.

What am I supposed to do with a defunct but perfectly working Wacom Touch Tablet and Pen? I could use it to play ping-pong against myself. I could use it as the roof of a little hamster house. Ooh, I could use it as a cheese board. 

Anyway, I hung up the chat giving Luis five stars to try to make up for having to listen to me blowing off steam and then a cloud of dejection lowered upon me. The planet is screwed. I personally am in it now up to my eyes. This philosophy and practice is unsustainable.

I have been trying to live by the ideology of Billionism, (which I may have invented) which is to imagine what would happen if all the billions of people in the world took the same choice and made the decision as you. I use that to guide my actions. That's why I sign petitions. Plant vegetables. Plant trees. Walk instead of drive when possible. One man makes not much difference. But if Billions thought the same way and did the same thing, what a difference!

What the hell am I meant to do with a billion defunct but perfectly working order Wacom Tablets and Pens? What makes it more annoying is that it still works perfectly well. That really grates. If it was broken I wouldn't mind so much. But it's fine. I feel like the prize I get for looking after it all these years is for someone to say, "Right, get lost."

Within my cloud of dejection I didn't feel like writing a blog post. I felt like a white, male, privileged twat complaining about nothing. People are poor, hungry and dying all over the world.

Then I thought, well, what the hell.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

A Tail Of Woe

In July last year while driving around the Scottish countryside ferrying my family hither and thither to see my sister and her daughters, one of whom was performing at a Highland show, I realised that a pain had developed in my, how can I put this delicately, left butt cheek.

It wasn't a sharp pain - there hadn't been a snap or noticeable tear - just an insistent, growing twinge that I thought was mildly interesting, took note of and dismissed as something that would probably heal itself.

But it seemed to get worse the more I drove, so much so that I had to pull over even though we were late and take a break at a family restaurant in the middle of nowhere.

I couldn't figure it out. Was it my back? My leg? Had I been sitting down too much? Was it because I was driving an automatic now and barely used my lower left limb anymore to depress the clutch and such?

I didn't know. Or care. I figured it would heal itself. 

It didn't.

I slowly realised that I hadn't had a holiday in years. The last one was to Japan in Spring 2018 and had actually been quite hard work, traveling and sightseeing as well as - yes - literally working. I mean a proper holiday. Lying in a hammock on the beach drinking Malibu out of coconuts kind of holiday. For two weeks.

Also, all the chairs in our house were hard. My office chair, the dining room chairs, even the sofa was one of those dreaded straight up and downy types with no reclining option available. Gone were the days of my youth when I could lie on my old leather recliner 'neath a Velux window twixt the rafters, lost in a good book, gazing up at the clouds. No no. It was straight up and downy sofa or go to bed or nothing.

So I spent a few hundred quid on a decent office chair and hoped that would solve the problem. Alas not. I started taking the bus places instead of the car. That didn't really help either. I mean there was less actual pain which would spark up when sitting down, but the issue never went away. It was just dormant. Hiding. Waiting for its chance to pounce like a lion stalking a gazelle preparing to sink its sharp fangs into it.

I figured I'd spent too much of my life sitting down and now my body was rebelling. 40 years of pressure and trauma on the butt area and you can't expect it to be all sunshine and roses. Such the toll of being a (failed) writer.

Sometimes the pain would be less. Like when I relaxed or took a nap. I began lying down on my front for twenty minutes per day, stretching out and taking a load off. Did going to bed early help? Seemed to. Also once I noticed when I had to face something I really didn't want to, the pain flared up. Was it exacerbated by stress? Was it psychological? Another time I tried to work standing up for the whole day, and this actually lead to the worst next-morning pain ever. Was it all in my mind?

Another thing that seemed to make matters worse was the embarrassment factor. "Why ya not sitting down, Chris?" "I have a pain in my butt." "Oh, you mean you've been sitting down too much you lazy bastard?" "Could be, but I actually think I'm quite an active person." "Why ya still not sitting down, Chris?" "My butt still hurts." "Oh, you mean you still haven't figured it out yet and you're dumb as well as lazy?" "Why ya not driving over to see your mum, Chris?" "Butt hurts." "You lazy, dumb, uncaring, lying bastard."

In November I went to the doctor and told him my tale of woe. He thought it must be my back where a nerve was being trapped by two unhelpful vertebrae. I figured that could be right. My father had back problems and I've had them in the past too. So the doc gave me a bunch of back exercises and said come back in 8 weeks. I did the exercises and after a while my backbone felt absolutely wonderful - better than ever - but my butt still hurt.
Location of the Piriformis muscle
I researched online and found a word - Piriformis. It's a muscle in the glute area in very close proximity to the sciatic nerve. Sometimes pinches it. I also found a stretching exercise - the Pigeon Pose. Tried the stretch a few times and it seemed to be hitting the spot, but I didn't know if it was doing harm or good. Introduced it into my morning back stretching regime. Nonetheless, the pain persisted.

Around Christmas time I decided, right, proper holiday for me, and what the hell, a nice black faux leather recliner armchair for less dreaded up and downy sitting. It's all in the angle. Force. Trauma. When people asked me to drive somewhere I just said no. Medical condition. Sorry. 

But even that didn't solve it.

Went back to the doc and said, "Doc, my back has never felt better but my rear still hurts. Could it be the Piri something?"

"The Piriformis?"

"Yeah, that." And I showed him the Pigeon Pose and he said, 

"That looks like yoga," as if yoga had been debunked years ago as mythological, occult hogwash. He practically held up two fingers at 90 degrees, backed off and hissed.

"Begone!" he shouted. "I shall refer you to a physiotherapist! And a priest!"

So I waited for the letter instructing me to come and see a physiotherapist. I knew the waiting list would be long, so I tried to keep active to improve circulation and sprinkled it with holy water as I figured that was what a physio and priest would probably recommend.

A few weeks later I met a chap at my local community council who wanted to have a sit down chat with me about something. I said no thanks, but how about we go for a walking chat instead? While strolling through the wooded area along a river I told him I had a pain my my lower back / upper leg area, and he immediately said, "The Piriformis?" We had a jolly good discussion about life, peace, and meditation, and touched upon how stress can affect the central nervous system. I figured, damn, I need a retreat and vow of silence for two weeks to beat this thing.

Then the Coronavirus hit, and with it, lockdown. In a way this had a positive effect on my chronic pain because it meant no driving and less work. But more stress of the suspenseful Hitchcock, Rear Window kind. Pun not intended. My wife suggested I film a river for 3 hours and upload it to youtube as people want to relax but can't go out. I didn't really buy it but thought what the hell, anything to get out the house for a while.

So I packed up my camera, tripod, microphone, laptop, camping chair, some lunch and flask of coffee, and set out on the most boring yet relaxing film shoot of my life. Found a spot near a fallen tree, pointed my camera and mics more or less at the river, went and sat on my camping chair and wrote the next chapter of Jake Jones & The Coffee Cup Killer, expecting my rear to complain bitterly for an interminable while thereafter. You can watch the abridged 90 minute version here:

Everything was so green and peaceful. The trickle of meandering water. The fluttering to and fro of birds. The silent contemplation of trees. The distant hum of humanity. And Jake Jones was flowing as well as the water. The only worrisome moments were when I had to relieve myself in the bushes, but even that did not result in my getting arrested. Happy days.

About five hours later I packed up and went home in a happy, meditative stupor. To my surprise my backside was fine. My rear end was in fact feeling great. My gluteus maximus was practically singing psalms all the way home and reciting Wordsworth for the rest of the day.

It was then I realised sitting on the camping chair hadn't hurt which made sense. Rather than a hard, foam-covered unyielding surface, the camping chair kind of cupped my body, like a bra, or having my butt in a sling. And the calm, soothing effect of sitting writing near a river probably helped my central nervous system as well.

Things continued pretty much in the same vein, until, on May 25th I stumbled upon a wikipedia page about Piriformis Syndrome, and thought, Oh, this is actually a thing. 

The page recommended not just stretching once a day but every 2-3 waking hours. So this I've been doing. Today is Day 8 and it seems to be helping. Now when I Pigeon stretch I barely feel any tension. I'm still a little reticent to sit down on a hard chair or go for a drive, though, as I can feel something there lurking on the sidelines - a peckish, salivating lion stalking in the long grass. Watching me. Watching my ass. But hopefully some day the beast will get bored and wander off to leave my hindquarters alone.

So that's my Tail of Woe. May you never experience chronic pain, or if you do, you're able to solve it fast and effectively.

Piriformis Sydrome image from: