Saturday, September 30, 2006

24 Goals Later

Empty streets, silence in the air broken only by faint sounds of screaming in the distance ...

Step outside the house this afternoon and you'd have been forgiven for thinking Perth had been ravaged by a plague. The reality was less viral but at least as contagious.

Today was Grand Final Day.

The city's most high-profile AFL side, the West Coast Eagles, had made the finals for the second year running and had plenty to prove. This time last year, they lost to the Sydney Swans by four points (AFL games are routinely won by margins in double-figures, twenty or thirty points). Now the Eagles were facing Sydney again in the season decider after losing to them a couple of weeks ago by just one point, and almost the whole of Perth was watching.

Well, the whole of Perth except me.

It has been scientifically proven that if I show any interest whatsoever in watching the Eagles play, they will lose. No ifs, ands or buts - just abject defeat.

My wife's been an Eagles fan since before she knew that eagles were birds too. She's passionate about the team, to the point of becoming extremely ... vocal during the games. So with everything hinging on today's match, there was only one thing I could do to preserve both her team's chances and the sanctity of my children's vocabulary.

The weekly shop.

The plague that had cleared the streets (let's call it Footy Fever, to be startlingly unoriginal) had left but a few survivors - mostly old women and surly shopworkers who'd short-strawed their shift. As a result, the kids and I got a car park first go, breezed around the supermarket without having to avoid hordes of tetchy trolley-pushers and rounded it all off with a trip to the coffee shop that didn't involve waiting or queueing of any description.

Of course, I didn't get to see the game. Shame really, because apparently it was a real thriller.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Walls Have Ears

It goes without saying that you have to be careful what you say around kids - if you don't, you can be damn sure that the most embarrassing things will be parrotted back to you under the most inappropriate circumstances.

It's a lesson I learned about two years ago. Out at the shops, I found myself in the unenviable position of having my then-three year-old daughter on one arm, desperate to go to the toilet, and my infant son in his pram, screaming his head off because he needed to get home for his nap. All we had to do was get up the only access ramp (pram, remember?) to the level of the multi-storey where we had parked the car and we would be away.

Arriving at the base of the ramp, we were confronted by a corpulent old dear stepping gingerly onto the slope at the top. And with agonising slowness, she proceeded (in a step-rest, step-rest fashion) to descend towards us. There was no room to get the pram past her and we were looking at a five minute wait before the glacially paced granny reached the bottom.

My daughter glanced up the ramp, swiftly assessed the situation and shouted out the very same words that had crossed my mind - silently - not a second before:

'Oh, for f**k's sake!'

Naturally, she did this just as my son fell silent ...

Since then I've been extremely careful about what I say around her. But it turns out that she's just as capable of picking things up when she's not even in the same room.

I've been racing through season one of Prison Break on DVD, devouring two or three episodes a night after everyone else has gone to bed. One of the things you notice from watching the show is that it's standard form for the convicts to refer to the guards as 'Boss' - the epithet is used almost every other line.

This morning I asked my little girl to do something for me and got the answer, 'Okay, Boss!'.

And she's never once been present while I've watched the show.

My immediate realisation is that she must have been lying awake half the night listening to what I'm doing in the room next door. My second reaction was to think that it's a bloody good job I've not been watching uber-sweary western show Deadwood.

So I've implemented two new measures for my late-night viewing. First, turn the sound right down and the subtitles on. Second, creep up to the door of her room and whisper, 'No, Dad, I really don't need any sweets today, thank you.'

Well, you never know.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

What A Feeling

Some of you may be aware of the Really Big beer ad that aired in Australia a little while back, becoming a minor advertising legend. Here's the latest TV spot from the Carlton Draught crowd, and it's another comedy gem.

This one's especially for Rach who needs cheering up and who's probably acted out something similar herself ...

Someone You Can Look Up To

Just back from a couple of days down the coast in Mandurah. Got hold of the paper and, after all that racing about, the article didn't make it in.


Got talking with my father-in-law about the rapid rate at which my son's growing. At just on three years old, he's almost a full year behind the other kids in his daycare class, but is as tall as most of them - taller, in a couple of cases.

This isn't a big shock, considering my wife's over six feet tall. What was slightly disconcerting was the suggestion that if you double the height of your child at the age of three, the figure will be pretty close to the height they will be when fully grown.

Sean's one metre tall exactly, so if this forumla is to be believed he'll be two metres, fully grown.

That's six foot six and a half, old money.

If someone wants to forward my number to Peter Crouch's agent, I'm free to talk all day tomorrow.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Clearing the Decks

It's taken three and a half weeks, but that magazine feature's finished at last. Soberingly, it'll be on sale on Sunday, gone forever by Monday morning.

Finally got to sit down and work through the first draft of Old Friends, including more detailed reads of
Marc and Jonathan's yarns. Glad I did for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it meant I was more able to appreciate how well the whole book hangs together. The guys have done some very fine work indeed - you're not going to be disappointed.

Secondly, it meant I was able to pick up on a couple of utter howlers in my story, moments of fumbled continuity between the three tales that would have had readers foaming at the mouth. One day, I might even tell you what they were.

Sent my amendments off to Simon and after almost a month of scrabbling I now have No Work. At least until Monday.

That ought to be a good thing, but it means I have to face up to something I normally strenuously avoid: tidying my office.

If I've got a job on, I tend to slip into Mad Professor mode with my work space. Piles of clutter accumulate, totter, fall and scatter: all, I kid myself, in a pattern that allows me to put my hands on anything I might need for the job at a second's notice.

The aftermath is never pretty. It can be, however, informative. So far, amongst the debris, I've found:

Three dead takeaway coffee cups
A hardback book about Factory Records
Three years' worth of my reviews clippings, waiting to be scanned to disc
An England shirt (2001-2003 vintage)
A double-feature DVD test disc of The Hills Have Eyes and The Ringer (a horror double-bill, then)
One square of carefully wrapped chilli chocolate
A toy lightsabre (Darth Maul)
Six dictaphone tapes (two of them unused)
My Ipod earphones (hurrah!)

I can also reveal that
this actually turned up down the side of my desk.

But Ethiopia sounded better, apparently.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

All Night Now

It's two in the morning and I'm pulling my first all-nighter since university, rewriting this magazine story from the ground up before tomorrow. A sudden rash of interviews (what have you people been doing for the last two weeks, while I chased my tail trying to get someone to go on the record?!? Huh? Huh?) has reshaped the yarn yet again, so it's back to square one. And with the kids home tomorrow, it's now or never, do or die.

Which is why, obviously, I'm choosing to write a blog entry, rather than actually work on the story.

I was a past-master at procrastination back at university, explaining the regular need for the all-nighters back then. Tutorial in the morning? Better get that essay done tonight then ... But even with a mere handful of hours to work with, I'd find something to divert me from the matter in hand. You see, the great thing about tertiary education is that no matter how late you stay up, someone else you're living with will be up too, working on their own last minute project. And they're always willing to distract you and be distracted.

Circumstances are rather different now, of course. My wife packed it in for the night hours ago, and there's no way I'm waking the kids up.

So it's down to the dog to keep me company. Deciding she was more in need of a belly-tickle than the story was of re-nosing, I chucked it in and sloped off to where she was asleep on the sofa.

It's worth mentioning that my hound's a bit lazy. Nothing else can explain the reason why, after being sick on the sofa, she was too apathetic to actually get up and move afterwards. No, why do that when you can simply plonk your head down in the vomit and go back to sleep? After all, someone's bound to come along sooner or later and clean it up, right?

Hmm. Actually, it is like having another student living with me, isn't it?

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Neverending Story

Everyone remember the bit at the end of The Terminator, where Linda Hamilton does everything possible to kill the robot formerly known as Ah-nie, only for it to keep on coming back again and again to terrorise her?

Substitute me for Linda Hamilton (you can do it - at least it's not the sequel, where she had bigger muscles than me ...) and the magazine feature I'm working on for the robot and you've got some idea of how I'm feeling at the moment.

Today it was all supposed to end. Step one was to dispatch the children to school. I couldn't get away with toe-punting them through the classroom door and waving over my shoulder as I screeched away in a cloud of burning rubber, but I still made pretty good time - every second I could spend putting the feature to bed was precious.

Step two: transcribe yesterday's interview and work it into the story. I'd just finished that when two of the many people I've been unable to pin down for interviews over the last couple of weeks called in quick succession - now I could interview them, too, apparently.

Did one on the spot, but the second isn't possible until tomorrow. Which means missing today's deadline.

The good news is that the story will be much better for it - already I've been able to fill in some of the more obvious gaps. The bad - or good, depending on your viewpoint - news is that the story's evolving in a completely new direction, one that's far more interesting than the one I started with. I'd be remiss not to pursue the new line, but that means ... more interviews. With a new bunch of people I have no chance of getting to talk to me.

I'm hoping my ed will get back to me and grant me long enough to do the job properly, but you never can tell. Plus I'm seriously over the whole thing now.

So, anyone passing my house later who sees me in the garden, tired and battered, screaming into the sky, 'Why can't you just die?!?', don't panic or call the police. It's all under control.

It's fine.


Saturday, September 16, 2006

Two Writes, One Wrong

Another couple of days of fruitlessly chasing around subjects for the story I have to file on Monday. Managed to secure one important interview for tomorrow, which is a giant step forward compared to the constant, dispiriting lack of results over the last week or so. It should allow me to get the front of the piece done at least. Shame the back end's looking so vague.

So, about 48 hours to go, and it's certain I'll be spending about 46 of them doing the headless chicken thing.

On the bright side, a very well-respected writer has said some very nice things about something I've written, which has perked me up no end. You know who you are, and since you said you pop in here every now and again, thanks again - it's always good to have someone tell you you're on the right track.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Force Feeding

I was five when I first saw Star Wars (or Episode IV: A New Hope, as it has gratingly become known), my brother even younger. And like millions of kids the world over, we were instantly in love with it.

Tampering George decided back in 1997 that he'd have a fiddle with the original Star Wars trilogy, polishing up some sequences, positively ruining others, some of the magic was lost. More so, considering that he placed an embargo on the original versions of the movie being released again on video or DVD. These new 'Special Editions' were definitive - live with it.

I promised myself that when my kids got to an age where they could watch the film for themselves, they would see the original versions, as preserved on my dusty old VHS copies. So I was ecstatic when I heard about this:

A DVD release for the original, theatrical, pre-buggering about version of the film (although Mr Lucas has refused to back down about which is the Official Version, snidely packaging the original as a special feature on the billionth re-release of the tarted-up edition. Honestly, how many people are even going to take the Special Edition disc out of the box?)

All that aside, it's the film as it was first seen, on DVD, and released to coincide almost exactly with my daughter's fifth birthday... As a tall, black-masked icon once said, 'The circle is complete'.

So this afternoon, when I was looking after the kids and therefore unable to work anyway (that's such a good excuse), in went the disc, up snuggled the daughter and away we went.

Despite initial excitement about the droids ('I wish I could go and visit them') and the mere fact that there was a princess involved, her interest started to wane rather quickly. By the time Luke Skywalker had acquired C3PO and R2D2, she was off drawing pictures of mummy and flowers.

Now that's not a reflection on my daughter at all - she demands to watch Doctor Who, loves the Daleks and does a frighteningly convincing Cyberman impersonation. She has my genes, no doubt about it - sci-fi is not a turn off for this girl.

Instead it just proves that robots wandering around in a sand pit for half an hour probably wasn't the best way to kick off the film.

Not that it bothered me, back in 1977. Then again, I was five ... And it had spaceships ...

*Sigh* She never even got to see who really shot first.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Verbose? I Would Have to Respond to That Charge in the Negative

The edit on the first draft of Old Friends arrived this morning. That's extremely exciting, not least because it's my first opportunity to read the book as a whole, with Marc and Jonathan's stories in place. The three of us (and editor Simon) spent weeks firing emails back and forth, thrashing out the plot across the three tales, so I obviously know how the other stories play out. To be able to read them in toto is a bit of a treat, though.

As far as the nuts and bolts side of things go, I've not had a chance to do more than quickly scan Simon's notes. What is immediately obvious is that there's a lot more 'red ink' on my story than on the others, meaning I've succumbed again to one of the most persistent flaws in my writing.

Regular readers won't be too surprised to learn that I'm incapable of using one word where 27 will do. Try as I might (and despite spending years cutting other people's copy) I find it impossible to edit my own work. Can't do it. It's a blind spot. As a result, my writing's always much better for a merciless slashing, which is why it's great to have someone like Simon who can chop out a paragraph and replace it with a sentence so spot on you'd never notice there was anything missing.

Incidentally, the two novellas and my short story will be out in November.

Monday, September 11, 2006

How Can You Kill a Shark With Hot Melons?

Now and again, thanks to the power of the Interweb, you find something you hadn't even realised you were missing.

I'm a regular visitor to the Doctor Who website
Outpost Gallifrey, but I rarely venture into the site's comics discussion forum. I tend to be so far behind on my reading that dropping in there would inevitably lead to me learning something that, while old news to 99% of the comic-loving population, would spoil whole as-yet-unread storylines for me.

As it happens, though, I'm up to date with my comics for the first time in months, so I swung by to see what people thought about some of the latest releases. Before I got the chance to find out, I spotted a thread about Hook Jaw.

Lovers of British comics from the 70s will already know all about Hook Jaw, and the publication in which he starred, the ill-fated Action - it's something of a cause célèbre in the industry. For anyone who missed it, Hook Jaw was a massive shark with, er, a hook through its jaw (see what they did there?), left there after an unsuccessful attempt to kill him. The creators of the strip made no apology for the fact that the strip was a blatant cash-in on the massive cinema success of Jaws, which had kept people off beaches the world over only a year before. Nor did they have any qualms about showing gory shark attacks the like of which Spielberg wouldn't have touched with forty-foot inflatable.

Hook Jaw became the most notorious tale in Action, one that attracted a hefty chunk of the moral majority's outrage when grown-ups suddenly realised that the comic had rather a lot of violence in it. The late, unlamented Mary Whitehouse (who was, coincidentally, getting stuck into Doctor Who at much the same time) was one of those sharpening the knives for Action, and the result was that the comic was temporarily banned before being relaunched with all the violent bits taken out.

Unsurprisingly, it died a death shortly afterwards.

As a result, copies of the pre-censorship Action are pretty hard to come by, which is why I was delighted to learn about this site, a tribute to the comic that not only records the history of Action's rise and fall, but also reproduces as many of the pages of the comic as are still extant. Be warned, however - if you're thinking of checking the site out, be prepared to lose several hours ...

It's strange, looking back at the stories. I was four at the time they came out and remember precisely nothing about them. Well, that's not entirely true - I must have owned a copy of the first issue of Action at the very least because I recall owning the free gift off the front. Perhaps it's that I was so young at the time, but I'm happy to say that reading Action did not turn me into an illiterate, a delinquent or a psychopath.

I've certainly never been tempted to bite any swimmers at the beach.

Hang on, there was that time with -

Oh, that's right! The answer to the question in the title! It isn't 'Choke it to death with Angelina Jolie' (stop sniggering at the back). It's this, dubious as it may seem ...

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Supermarket Sweep

Unpacking our bags after last week's supermarket shop, I noticed that we'd ended up paying for a fair bit of stuff we didn't actually want. It seems my son had made a unilateral decision to supplement our groceries with a few little essentials we'd somehow overlooked ...

This week we took two trollies down the aisles - one for the sanctioned items, one into which Sean could drop all the things that took his fancy. The idea was that when he wasn't looking, his picks would find themselves back on the shelves.

It worked perfectly - and it gave us a look at the things that are really important to him. Here's a copy of Sean's shopping list:

Twelve pack of Wiggles yoghurts
Box of Cars tissues
Picnic bar
Crunchie bar
Box of chocolate Tiny Teddy biscuits
Packet of chocolate digestives
Pack of icy poles (various fruity flavours)
Glow-in-the-dark dummy
Power Rangers toothbrush
Nine Cherry Ripe bars
Two packets of Mentos fruit-flavoured chews
One pear.

The sad thing about most of that is that it's my fault. My wife's almost unique in that she's a woman who can't stand eating chocolate. I, on the other hand, would eat a manky trainer if someone had dipped it in cocoa first. Yup, the poor little bugger's got my genes alright.

Still, he did grab that pear and a toothbrush - all those lectures about decent nutrition and dental care have paid off then.

Incidentally, we were at the car before we spotted the Hot Wheels comic book he'd lifted from the magazine stand and smuggled past the cashier ...

Friday, September 08, 2006

Living Long (and Prospering?)

Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the first appearance of Star Trek on US television, something that in all honesty passed me by completely (thanks to Paul for pointing it out - at least someone's paying attention).

For most of the nineties, Star Trek was omnipresent in my life. That's actually not quite as tragic as it sounds (and oh, it does sound tragic, doesn't it?). The Next Generation started airing on BBC2 in the early part of the decade, and by the time I got to university it was well established as essential viewing for anyone with sci-fi inclinations. That encompassed a reasonable section of the halls of residence in which I lived - it was almost a given that the one TV room in the building would be dedicated to Trek come 6pm every Wednesday evening.

By the time I was in my second year, I was dating a girl who loved the show and living in a house with four other women who'd regularly watch it (See - they do exist).

When the BBC fell behind in showing the programme, my grandad (who was the owner of a then-uncommon satellite dish, and by extension, a VCR tuned to Sky One) would spend hours taping new episodes for myself and my housemates.

Now, fifteen years on, I'm barely aware of the show's existence - come on, I missed the big four-oh.

But then a lot's changed over the years, most notably my returning to the fold of
my first sci-fi love, which is currently undergoing a well-publicised renaissance. (It also has bragging rights over Trek as the longest-running sci-fi show in the world, hitting TV screens a full three years before Captain Kirk boldly went).

But the main reason for tuning out is the dip in quality since The Next Generation gave way to numerous other spin-offs, each suffering diminishing returns compared with the last. So it can't be a bad thing that the next Star Trek movie has been handed to Lost creator and Mission:Impossible III lenser JJ Abrams - surely if anyone can breathe life back into the franchise and reignite my passion, it's him.

Which brings us to the poster for the as-yet-untitled Star Trek XI, slated for a 2008 release. has this to say about it:

A picture, even a mere image that hints at a broader picture, can instantly give you a snapshot of things to come.

The production team that now holds the creative reins for the next
Star Trek movie project has released a piece of artwork this weekend (to coincide with Comic-Con) that provides a Polaroid of an era past, as well as a vision yet to be revealed.

Can you see it? The vision? Can you? Huh? Huh?

No, me neither.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Your Right to Refuse

Every couple of months local councils perform 'Hard Rubbish Pick-Ups', collecting all the old crap they won't accept on their regular bin runs. It's a simple process: you just leave piles of stuff you no longer want by the side of the road, and on the appointed day they vanish.

In practice, very few items left by the roadside are actually still there when the council trucks make their rounds. A lot of antique businesses and second-hand furniture shops do a brisk trade in these cast-offs, trawling the streets in vans and ransacking carefully stacked piles of rubbish in the hope of finding something they can loot and sell on for a decent profit.

But it's not just money-making enterprises on the scavenge. The sheer range of unwanted items left out for collection means there's something for almost everyone, if you're willing to look. Sofas, bed frames, bicycles, surfboards, children's swing sets - you name it, sooner or later it'll turn up for pick up.

It's not unusual to see people walking down the road, laden with electrical appliances that have been abandoned by their previous owners. Now and again you'll spot sweaty men heaving fridges and washing machines onto utes, but most commonly it's people scoring VCRs that have been cast out after being replaced by DVD recorders.

You'd think no one would be interested in VHS any more, but if you don't mind being behind the technological curve a little, you can furnish yourself with not only a player but also a decent movie library, absolutely gratis.

Ordinarily you can't give away pre-recorded VHS tapes - I know, I've tried. I recently went onto an Internet board I sometimes post on and advertised a complete, five-season run of a TV series that I no longer wanted after upgrading to DVD. All someone had to do was contact me, turn up and walk off with the tapes. Not so much as a nibble. So on the next hard rubbish day I stuck the lot outside on the verge.

They lasted about seven minutes.

Why did they go so quickly, when they'd been stinking up my house for so long with no one willing to take them? Perhaps there's a thrill there, a frisson to being able to take something that's not yours without being given permission - a kind of legal stealing. That would certainly tally with the large number of people who wait until after dark to rifle through the rubbish. It's as if there's still a small amount of guilt there, even when they're doing nothing wrong by taking items. For every opportunist bold enough to operate in daylight there'll be five who won't.

Of course, as far as I'm concerned, it's all academic. Being British, I wouldn't be caught dead plundering other people's garbage.

That's why I send the wife to do it (incidentally, our new table and wrought-iron candelabra are smashing).

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Births, Deaths and Near Misses

Much as you'd expect, the media has been saturated today with reports on Steve Irwin's death. As a result it's been impossible to avoid awkward questions from my daughter about what happened ('Why's that man on the TV again?'; 'Why do they keep showing pictures of sting rays?'; 'Why are those people sad?').

Every parent has to do the 'Death Talk' at some point - it's as inevitable as the 'Stranger Danger' chat or as the 'Birds and the Bees' used to be before schools started to provide decent sex education. I'd not anticipated having to do it as early as this, however, so was put on the spot somewhat. General wisdom is that you're upfront and honest about it, while preserving tact and gentleness where possible. So that's the angle I took.

Now she's scared of dying, old age, hospitals, sting rays, sharks, going to the beach, vets and falling off her scooter.

Apart from that I think it went pretty well.

On a slightly more 'up' note, today was my son's third birthday, so this morning we were all celebrating (although that was as much for the fact that last night he slept though for the first time in months).

Somewhat surprisingly, he was more interested in breakfast than his presents (note to self: feed children more before bedtime), but once the eating was out of the way it was down to business. A brief struggle with wrapping paper ended in his selflessly surrendering the present-opening to his big sister, content to simply make off with the goodies once all that tedious ripping business was out of the way.

Smart lad.

For me, the disposal of the wrapping paper kicked off an hour of searching for batteries and struggling with obtuse instructions in the quest to build a motorised stunt-car raceway. He was very pleased with it when it was finished, although I found that the novelty of watching a Hot Wheels knock-off zipping round and round in circles wore off after, oh, a good five or six seconds.

Today's work tasks, meanwhile, left me feeling very much like the toy car - chasing my own tail. My assignment to interview a prominent local football star has been derailed by his team's preparations for the upcoming finals series, preparations for which the term 'siege mentality' barely does justice. Coming up empty after a number of calls, the only option remaining was door-stepping the interviewee, which flies in the face of the upbeat, happy article I'm supposed to be writing.

Back to thumb-twiddling then. I do like a good twiddle.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Crocodile Hunter Dies in Freak Accident

News has just broken here that Steve Irwin, better known globally as the Crocodile Hunter, has died in a freak accident off the coast of Queensland.

He was filming a documentary intended to 'demystify' the stingray when one struck him in the chest with its barb. Apparently the barb hit him in the heart and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

It's only the third ever recorded death from a stingray attack in Australia - had he been hit anywhere else in the body, chances are he would have survived.

Irwin was one of Australia's most valued ambassadors, a larger-than-life character who earned worldwide recognition as both a TV star and environmentalist.

His death is a huge loss for Australia and the cause of wildlife in general.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Hot Potato, Hot Potato

It's been around a decade since I stopped working in children's magazines, but little seems to have changed in that time.

Hang around editing the same old counting and puzzle pages for long enough and the temptation is to see what you can sneak into the comic without the higher-ups noticing. This is especially difficult if the comic is a licenced publication. Pages from magazines that promote lucrative properties such as the Disney line or anything with a Teletubby on it are examined minutely by representatives of the licence owners before they even make it to press, just to make sure the licence isn't being mishandled.

Which makes it all the more surprising that someone got away with this piece of subliminal subtlety in the latest Australian edition of The Wiggles magazine:

Then again, perhaps I've just got a grubby mind.