Thursday, 19 December 2013

The last post...

Okay here's the big news, New Year (almost) new blog (almost).

I'm moving my blog over to Wordpress. Apparently it's got better features and it's indexed better on Google.

All the old posts can now be found on If you've commented on posts in the past you should see your comments on the new blog although they'll still point back to your Blogger account and user name that you were logged in as. It'll all become clear.

So this is the last post on this blog, if you've been sent here by a link I've not redirected please let me know so I can put it right. And if you've come via a link from another web site that's nothing to do with me please let the site know so they can change their link to the new blog.



See you on the other side.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Shock! The Black Dog of Bungay - book review

Shock! The Black Dog of Bungay by Dr David Waldron and Christopher Reeve

I read this book as research for a project I'm working on. I could tell you what it is but I'd have to kill you. Needless to say I write in various genres, fiction and non fiction, all sorts of subjects related to the paranormal, the irrational and the downright crazy so you need not be surprised that I might be interested in The Black Dog of Bungay. Also, I play a bit of African percussion, which may not seem that relevant but it does mean that I drive through the Suffolk town of Bungay every summer where, nearby, I attend a percussion camp. So when I heard of the legend of the black dog I was doubly interested.


The story is that in 1577 a large black dog appeared inside St Mary's Church in Bungay, England, during a Sunday service, while a major thunder and lightning storm took place outside. The dog was reported to have attacked members of the congregation, killing two people and leaving marks inside the church while the lightning struck and severely damaged the steeple. You can find out more by reading the book with gives a full account of the story.

The book examines the evidence and explains who said what and when. As well as looking at the basis of the legend, the book examines the historical and sociological background of the people of the time and all the developments of the legend in the centuries since. It also gives you a comprehensive background on the history of Bungay town and its place in the local landscape.


If you were making a study of Bungay, the story of the Black Dog, black dog legends in general (which it seems are found across much of Britain), or how folkloric traditions of the paranormal arise in historic towns, then this is just the book for you. The book was written by a local historian in collaboration with a historian and anthropologist so it takes a fairly academic approach to the subject. This is no bad thing though for if you are a student of history, social anthropology, Forteana, or just a collector of ideas for your own purposes, then there's plenty here for you.

Friday, 22 November 2013

A license to bill?

I've long been troubled by the movement towards licensing the software that we all need to do business and, increasingly, to function in the modern world. The rise of the smart phone is only accelerating this with use of multiple devices, cloud services and the like.

I last bought a copy of MS Office in 2003. I bought a copy of Dreamweaver in the late nineties when it was Macromedia and didn't replace it until I bought a copy of CS4 some years ago. Running a limited company I take the same approach as many corporations, in that I buy software infrequently and try to get the maximum value out of it. Frequently the improvements offered by upgrades are not sufficient for me to spend the extra cash. I've never been a consumer in that sense in the rest of my life so I'm not inclined to be so with software. I've recently bought a copy of Office 2010 and only because I was able to find a boxed copy on a CD for which I am very grateful. I simply didn't want to buy a subscription to Office 365 or the other variants that Microsoft seem to be offering today. I don't like subscription services as, being a one man band, you never know what's around the corner so I spend the money upfront and I know I've got the software for life. For the same reason I buy a new phone every four or five years, pay for it upfront, off contract, and put my existing sim-card in the new phone. It's a cautious approach but it has served me well through boom and bust.


With the massive rise of iTunes we now license music. Okay iTunes will tell us that we license it for life but how long before they decide they want to change that model? Tomorrow they could claim they are saving us money or offering us greater value or convenience, while disguising an attempt to increase revenues. I grew up with vinyl and I liked owning album sleeves, especially the fold-out artworks of the 1970s, so I like to own tangible objects. (Album art was the added value of its age.) Therefore I buy my music on CD and I'm happy to pay for that.

Software companies are rapidly turning into service companies. This has already happened in manufacturing when IBM stopped making computers and turned themselves into a company offering IT services. (Do they even exist as a company now? I've not seen their brand for some time.) A few years ago Xerox sold their manufacturing operations to a company in India and became a provider of document management services. They now run document libraries and associated operations. Chester Carlson, the inventor of Xerography, will be turning in his grave. (There's a joke there about rollers in paper feeders but I just can't seem to think of it.)


Naturally these companies will take the view that they are returning shareholder value by this strategy but are they? Today I read an extensive forum thread of Adobe users (subscribers) who don't feel they are being properly served by the fact that the details of 38 million Adobe accounts are now on the web. They are talking of a class action arguing that their personal data hasn't been properly secured.

Much of this seems to be motivated by companies wanting to harvest personal data as this is now seen as the major commodity of the future. Does this mean that there is now something happening to the concept of ownership and should we be concerned? Will we soon have to license the food we eat and what happens when we've finished with it?

Monday, 28 October 2013

The secret life of Robert Peston, super hero crime fighter extraordinaire

I was talking to a friend recently about characters in comic books and it struck me how Robert Peston is really just like Batman.

We were discussing how comic heroes often have sidekicks as a device to help the author establish the detail of a story. It's particularly important for comic book stories as there often isn't enough space for narrative, what with mere speech bubbles, to get the subtleties across. I particularly remember watching an arts programme, probably late night on BBC2, where a member of the panel of pundits who held a particular political perspective suggested that there was a latent gay undercurrent with the presence of Robin in the Batman comics. At this the pundit who really was an expert on comic books laughed out loud and explained that the reason Batman has Robin is so that Robin can ask all the stupid questions that might be in the mind of the audience and so explain the plot. The same thing is true of Inspector Morse with Lewis where they will have a pint in the pub and Morse will explain to Lewis what is really going on. Holmes has Watson, The Lone Ranger has Tonto, Don Quixote has Sancho Panza, etc. Of course sidekicks can perform other functions but in the case of Robert Peston this is what I'm talking about.


So when Robert Peston appears on the Radio 4 Today Programme or PM (I'm told he's also on the TV news but I don't have a TV) he is usually interviewed by the main presenter such as Evan Davis or Eddie Mair. So in this scenario Robert Peston is the guy with all the knowledge of what's going on with collateralised debt obligations, the fiscal cliff or bonkers bankers' bonuses. So Eddie Mair or Evan Davis get to ask the stupid questions that we, as listeners, might want answered. Of course Eddie or Evan probably know the answer to these questions, after all Evan Davis used to do Robert Peston's job before he decided, in 2008, that nothing interesting ever happened in economics. Clearly Evan's talent doesn't lie in predicting the future. As for Eddie's expertise I'm unsure but it may be stand-up.

So Robert Peston really is Batman, I've heard he has a cape and everything. Next week I'll be pointing out the similarities between Kirsty Wark and Cinderella.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Google have your granny in their computer

I'm a little disturbed. Those of you who have met me might suggest that's an understatement. It seems Google and others have been harvesting phone numbers and addresses of people from all over the world and the data they are harvesting is for people who do not even own computers. That might include your Granny and it probably includes you and me. If your dog has a land line then it's entirely likely that it has been harvested too.

Back in the spring, when I was preparing to go on the Travelogue Tour I bought myself a tablet computer. I didn't want an Apple so I bought a Samsung tablet that runs the Android operating system. I liked the idea of Android (developed by Google) as it's similar to Apple's operating system in that you can download loads of useful free apps. In May I went off on my trip around the country, visited the 39 historic counties of England, had a good time and realised by the end that I should have done it differently. Still that's life.


One thing I learned was that I would have been better off buying a miniature laptop to write the book while I was on the road. The typing speed on the tablet, even with an external keyboard, was so awful that it generated endless typos that were impossible to correct due to the speed of the whole thing. The other thing I realised was that I should have bought an Android phone (rather than a tablet) to use the apps, as the tablet was too bulky for the purpose. So by the time I got back, six weeks later, I was fairly convinced that one day I would buy an Android phone.

I've been using smartphones for years. I've had a Nokia Communicator many years ago and in recent years an HTC TyTnII. A week ago I bought a Samsung Galaxy, so I'm not new to the issues of owning such devices. One of those issues is that you have an address book and a calendar on the phone and another on your computer at home. Naturally you don't want to type every contact and appointment in twice so you need to be able to synchronize your calendar and address books across the two devices. (Today you might have more than two devices so the issue is more significant.) I've been doing this for years by connecting a cable between the phone and computer, with hardly a hitch so it's not difficult. The cable is secure and private.


So when I bought an Android phone recently I decided to buy one from the same manufacturer as made the tablet, that way it would be easier to sync the two calendars and address books. I soon discovered that the way this works on a Samsung product is via their Kies software which you install on all your devices, including your PC. However, the software uses the Google cloud service to store the data and make it available to your other devices. The cloud, for the uninitiated, is a nice, fluffy, inoffensive way to describe massive servers around the world which are offered as storage space for Internet users. (There is a non cloud based version of Kies but it's not very easy to use and it didn't seem to work at all when I tried it.) In a nutshell it's very difficult to sync your Samsung devices without using the cloud. I suspect it's pretty much the same whatever devices you have be they Apple, Microsoft or whoever.

Of course this isn't news. The cloud has been in existence since the nineties and people have been choosing to use it or not use it for years. If you are worried about your privacy you keep your data on your local hard disk. Some people are saying that computing is going to go away from the local storage model and that all data will eventually be on the cloud but up until now we have had some choice.


However, for name and address data it's different. Smartphones create address books with much more than phone numbers. The chances are that you are already in half a dozen of these phones, possibly including your name, address, phone number, employer, job title, perhaps your birthday, etc. It really depends how much use the person you know chooses to make of these facilities on their phone. That's the point, I'm not talking about your phone, I'm talking about the phones of people you know. If you know lots of smartphone users then you are probably on lots of them. Granted many people which such phones won't make full use of such facilities, not bothering to fill them in. However, even if a few people do this—perhaps geeks, smartphone enthusiasts or young people who are early adopters of technology—then many of the people on their phones will be recorded in this way. So if each one of us knows one person with such a phone, then you are recorded in as much personal detail as they care to type in. All it takes then, is for them to avail themselves of these could services for backup purposes or to duplicate their addresses across multiple devices and Google, Apple, whoever, has your data. You didn't give permission, you haven't been told and you may not even have been aware that this was possible.


With the growing ubiquity of theses cloud services and the with the current penetration of smartphones already in existence, it's entirely likely that large swathes of the population of the developed world have their name, address, email address, phone number and shoe size stored on servers unregulated by anybody.

I feel myself looking around and wondering when we decided to do this. For all those people you know who refuse to be on Facebook because they don't want to be recorded, it's too late, it's already happened.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Into The Woods: A Five Act Journey Into Story - book review

Into The Woods: A Five Act Journey Into Story by John Yorke

Ostensibly this is a book about story structure in film rather than books, but the lessons are the same so it’s useful to writers of any sort, be they scriptwriters or novelists.

Most writers of fiction will have come across the concept of the three act structure which is largely what this book covers, although Yorke divides the three acts into five. That is itself isn’t original. He admits that he’s collected ideas on story structure from theorists and writers both alive and dead. As such it’s a pretty good introduction to the field for someone, like me, who has not really studied story structure in detail.


If I had to make a criticism I’d make two. The first is that, having chosen most of his examples from film, he is very reliant on the reader having seen the films he talks about. If you haven’t seen Thelma & Louise then I urge you to see it (perhaps twice) before reading the book. There are probably others, perhaps three or four films that you would benefit from seeing to understand the references that he makes. (Unfortunately I can’t remember them all as it’s a while since I finished the book.) However he has drawn from so many film references that nobody will have seen all of them but most readers will have seen enough to benefit from what he says.

The second criticism is also really a recommendation. If anything there is too much in this book. I wouldn’t say it’s repetitive as he makes a point in enough ways for the reader to grasp a concept if they didn’t get the point from the first example (or they hadn’t seen the example film). However he does go into a lot of detail and as such it’s a bit much to pick all that up from a single reading. Perhaps it’s not intended as a light read as it’s really a text book. Film script students would probably refer back to it throughout a course.


Whether he is correct in his analysis is something I can’t say, but to understand the structuralist’s perspective it’s a good place to start. He suggests that even those who do not believe in structural story still write in this form without knowing it. I’ve looked at my own work and tried to identify the ‘mid-point’ and I’m not entirely convinced the séance scene is that mid-point (is being half way through enough?), but he may be right. How my acts are defined from there is anybody’s guess. What I can’t tell, having read Into the Woods, is whether my work is a load of old tosh, but I suspect that my next book will be better for having read it.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

To be philosophical or not to be philosophical

I've finally started working on the manuscript for the book of the great travelogue tour. So far I've got 39 documents of rough notes that need a lot of editing. The plan is to put another layer of thoughts over the top using ideas that developed later thus filling in the boring bits where not much happened. So far I've reviewed the first ten days and I don't seem to have had any days where not much happened. I'm wondering if I'll either have to cut stuff out or not add the extra material as I'd hoped.

As I travelled around the country I'd found myself mulling over some ideas that I'd had for some time regarding the perception of irrational ideas in the modern world and how much of the satisfaction of life comes from a contact with the irrational. These ideas include art, humour, moments of sudden self actualisation (described by Maslow as peak experiences), love, spirituality (whatever that is), etc. After stopping half way around the country and discussing the project with some pagan friends in Derbyshire I came to the conclusion that I should include these ideas in the story of the journey. Over a few days I came up with the idea of using these ideas to fill in the boring days and, perhaps, draw some parallels with things that happened on the way.

I estimated that I was writing about 1000 words a day in note form, which would give me about 40,000 words once it was tidied up. If I added another 30-40,000 words it would make a book of about the right length. Now I'm expecting I'll have about 50-60,000 words before I add the philosophical stuff. It's either going to be longer than I'd thought or I'm going to have to leave the philosophical stuff out.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

A journey through the 39 historic counties of England

Starting on May 1st 2013 I embarked on a travelogue tour of the 39 historic counties of England. The plan was (and still is) to write a book about the journey. The list below is an index of the journey and the date for each county. These are short blog posts giving an idea of what I got up. At the time of creating this post I'm still editing the full manuscript. Keep coming back for news of the trip in detail and the development of the book.

May 1st Oxfordshire 43 miles
May 2nd Buckinghamshire 73 miles
May 3rd Bedfordshire 119 miles
May 4th Huntingdonshire 161 miles
May 5th Cambridgeshire 216 miles
May 6th Suffolk 235 miles
May 7th Norfolk 298 miles
May 8th Rutland 513 miles
May 9th Lincolnshire 629 miles
May 10th Yorkshire 742 miles
May 11th County Durham 811 miles
May 12th Northumberland 953 miles
May 13th Cumberland 1113 miles
May 14th Westmorland 1174 miles
May 15th Lancashire 1238 miles
May 16th Cheshire 1315 miles
May 17th Staffordshire 1350 miles
May 18th Derbyshire 1384 miles
May 19th Nottinghamshire 1442 miles
May 20th Leicestershire 1534 miles
May 21st Northamptonshire 1580 miles
May 22nd Warwickshire 1648 miles
May 23rd Worcestershire 1699 miles
May 24th Shropshire 1776 miles
May 25th Herefordshire 1841 miles
May 26th Gloucestershire 1889 miles
May 27th Somerset 1988 miles
May 28th Devon 2090 miles
May 29th Cornwall 2248 miles
May 30th Dorset 2441 miles
May 31st Wiltshire 2553 miles
June 1st Berkshire 2629 miles
June 2nd Hampshire 2711 miles
June 3rd Sussex 2763 miles
June 4th Kent 2852 miles
June 5th Surrey 2956 miles
June 6th Middlesex 3015 miles
June 7th Essex 3083 miles
June 8th Hertfordshire 3128 miles

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

From castles to bunkers via salty sea dogs and the wastes of London

Day 35 to 39 - Kent, Surrey, Middlesex, Essex, Hertfordshire

My plans for Kent were twofold. For a few years I'd wanted to visit Dungeoness, particularly after a friend told me that it is the only place in Britain that is officially a desert (on account of its low rain fall rather than the temperature). I also imagined that it might hold some interesting landscapes. The other location that I had heard of was Bodiam Castle and it was said to be the quintessential symmetrical castle with round corner towers and all the features so beloved of schoolboy adventures of knights in shining armour. Had I thought before that I would see Bodiam then I might have seen less castles on the rest of the trip but it was a classic so perhaps it was appropriate that it should be the last.

Arriving at Bodiam at about midday it really was everything it was said to be. Not only is it the classic symmetrical design, it's also largely intact. Check out the photos on Instagram and go see it if you are interested. The only thing wrong with Bodiam Castle, is that it's not in Kent. Somehow I thought it was in Kent but it turns out to be just inside Sussex but what the hell.

To make up for the lack of my time spent in Kent I decided that I should head for Dungeoness so at about 4pm I set off. People had asked why I'd want to go there but those people clearly have no soul. (Either that or they haven't heard the song by Athlete.) It really is unlike anywhere else. The flat landscape, combined with the sea and shingle, give it a character that is almost haunting. You'd think it run down what with the shabby state of things but you soon realise that's a condition of the environment rather than an issue of prosperity.

I made my way to the Britannia Inn, as far down the bumpy road across the shingle as you can go and had a fairly mediocre fish and chips (compared to those I'd had in Dorset and Berkshire) and headed back to my tent on a surprisingly sheltered camp site (2852 total miles). It's amazing what a few earth banks can do.

I really wasn't sure what I would find to do in Surrey and, sure enough, I didn't find anything. Had I not started from Dungeoness I might have made it to Kew Gardens but I decided it wasn't worth the effort so I found my way to something described as Surrey's best kept tourist secret at a canal boat yard and tea shop. It wasn't really worth it and I can see why they keep it a secret. However, finding a camp site serendipity struck again.

I ended up camping at the Springbok Estate Merchant's Seaman's Mission or some such (2956 miles). They have a camping field and allow guests to use the bar in return for a quid to pay for temporary membership. I spent a splendid evening talking to salty old sea dogs, listening to shaggy dog stories and generally getting pissed amongst blokes with white beards not dissimilar to Captain Birdseye

What can you say about Middlesex? It's now North and West London, I camped near the Thames in West London (3015 miles), it was sunny and the whole place looked the same as I drove through it. Nothing to report.

Essex was a surprise. I had no plans of what to do, I certainly didn't want to look at any more ruins so I didn't bother with the English Heritage book. Instead I decided to head for Essex and follow the first brown sign I came across. Unfortunately the first brown sign was for a golf club so I ignored it, although it occurred to me that I could have gone for a game or a lesson or whatever if they were promoting themselves to passing tourists. The second sign was also a golf club and the third was an old church or something so I ignored those too. However, the next one couldn't be ignored.

Approaching a roundabout I saw a big white sign with the three possible directions each declaring a list of destinations. The third option indicated three or four destinations one of them against a brown background and it read "Secret Nuclear Bunker". Clearly someone in Essex has a delicious sense of irony so I followed the signs.

Kelvedon Hatch is the location of a three story nuclear bunker that was the location of a regional government headquarters in the event of the cold war becoming hot. It was a total surprise to find it as I grew up hearing about these places but never dreamed I'd get to see the inside of one. I'll not go into the details other than to say that if you lived through the cold war or are interested in this part of our history then you should really go see for yourself. The place is, to say the least, a bit shabby, being peppered with shop window dummies dressed in military uniforms to try to give it a bit of extra something. Many of the artefacts are real, as left by the government when it was decommissioned and many more artefacts have probably been added to give it flavour but that doesn't really matter. The point about the place is the architecture. Walking down the 100 metre entrance tunnel, seeing the tonne and a half blast doors, seeing the room full of tele-printers, hearing the tannoy announcements, it's all done rather well. You have to understand that this place is now back in the hands of the farmer from whom the land was originally requisitioned and as such they probably have very little in the way of funds so the fact that it is open to the public is something of a miracle. Apparently there are other bunkers open as museums but this one is privately owned and they are clearly operating on a shoestring. If you do go make sure you get the audio tour as it gives a lot of explanation and you'd miss a great deal without it (3083 miles)

Being my home county I wasn't sure if I'd bother with Hertfordshire at all. I certainly wasn't going to camp in Hertfordshire when I had a perfectly comfortable bed to sleep in. In the end I did the same trick as in Essex and headed for the first likely looking brown sign. In the end this turned out to be the de Haviland Museum just outside St Albans. They have fine collection of de Haviland aircraft ranging from WWI a Tiger Moth, through the fully restored Mosquito and a Sea Vixen fighter jet. They've got bits of comets and part restored aircraft all over the place as well as a Chipmunk, the 1950s trainer that was the first aircraft I ever flew in.

Total miles door to door Hertfordshire to Hertfordshire via Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Rutland, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, County Durham, Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmorland, Lancashire, Cheshire, Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Devon, Cornwall, Dorset, Wiltshire, Berkshire, Hampshire, Sussex, Kent, Surrey, Middlesex, Essex, 3128 miles.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Four days in the south of England

Day 31 to 34 - Wiltshire, Berkshire, Hampshire, Sussex

The day in Wiltshire was hot and sunny. I escaped Dorset s quickly as possible via Weymouth and headed to Salisbury and on to Amesbury. I've been to Stonehenge loads of times, usually for the summer solstice, so I thought I'd give that a miss this time. However I'd never been to Woodhenge so I thought I'd give that a go. Woodhenge is basically a bunch of concrete posts indicating where post holes were excavated some time ago. The posts make up a series of concentric ovals (is there such a thing as concentric ovals?) around a central space. They've gone to the trouble of colour coding the ovals so you can see how they relate to each other. I Know that they say they are not roof supports for a large hall but I can't help thinking that if you only had small spans you might need this many posts (2553 total miles).

Berkshire was a bit empty of things to do so after checking the tourist web sites and finding not much apart from things related to the royal family I checked the English Heritage book and found the only thing I could do was visit the only castle they list for Berkshire. Donnington Castle, not to be confused with Castle Donnington in Derbyshire where there's also a race track, is a medieval gatehouse, all that remains of a castle on a hill near Newbury. Interestingly the ruin is from the late 14th century, the same date as Bodiam Castle in Surrey that I visited later and apparently a similar size. Bodiam is much more complete, though, and prettier to boot. I ended up camping in Lambourne (2629 miles) where I spent the night in a stable on a previous trip some 25 years ago. Oddly I had always thought Lambourne was in Wiltshire.

After needing a jump start to get the truck started in Lambourne (details to follow in the book) it took me most of the day to get to Hampshire so my plan to visit the new Mary Rose exhibition was scuppered by lack of time. My plan to visit the Isle of Wights was scuppered by a lack of a spare 70 quid for the return fare. A friend had suggested I visit Porchester Castle so at the risk of castle overload I discovered it was ten minutes away so I headed over there.

Porchester Castle is a Roman fortress adapted into a medieval castle and then into a prison during the Napoleonic wars. The interesting thing about the place is that they have replaced some of the floors in the keep so you can see what it was really like in the great hall and other parts of the keep.

After camping within yards of the nudist beach in Southsea (2711 miles) I set off for Sussex. I'd thought to head for Hastings but it was just a bit too far and the roads along the south cost just a bit too like motorways, so at Chichester I dropped off the motorway to take a look at the cathedral. Cathedrals are always a good reserve option and I spent a fine couple of hours wandering around and looking for the entrance to the crypt. I didn't find it. Leaving Chichester I ended up on the sea front at Worthing with my ukulele slung across my back hoping to find some place on the beach where I could sit and practice my three chords. Unfortunately the sea breeze was so strong that there was nowhere suitable that would have been out of earshot of the public. Call me a romantic, I wanted to sit away from everybody, in splendid isolation away from people on the beach, not where people were walking thinking I was a bad unlicensed busker (2763 miles).

Here are the photos on Instagram

Day 35