Opinions. Everybody Has 'Em.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Happy Halloween, Humans!

I love Halloween. Always have. As a kid, Halloween probably outdid Christmas for me in the excitement stakes ( if only pressies were included in Halloween, I might never have given Christmas a second thought ), and even then I was a little bit obsessed with all things dark and supernatural. The darker and creepier the better. The notion that on All Hallows Eve a supernatural veil between worlds was at its thinnest, that doors or portals opened up temporarily allowing the dead to rejoin the living, was fascinating and thrilling to me. It still is. My beloved homeland Scotland is a land awash in magic and mystery, and much gory history too, all perfect Halloween fodder for anyone with a little darkness to their imagination. In Orkney, Halloween has long been refererd to as 'Devilment Night' in reference to the pranks played, often on unwary 'outsiders', including showering them in eggs, flour, and treacle! Recent years, however, have seen a clamp-down on these pranks by the ubiquitous Fun Police. The origin of the pranks lie in much darker, superstitious rituals played out to keep the bad spirits and the evil Fae away at this time of year when those veils-between-the-worlds were so thin. The eggs, flour, and treacle used now have replaced the somewhat less savory ingredients of days of yore, which were then designed to expose the Fae to human sight, or to keep the spirits "stuck" within the bounds of cemeteries.

Halloween is, of course, all about dressing up ( "guising" in Scotland ) and parties. Although I've never been one for large social gatherings and tend to give all manner of parties a wide berth, including Halloween ones, my sometimes odd and generally inventive parents made certain that I never missed out on Halloween fun growing up. One year Dad took it into his head that we should dress up and drive the 20 miles to surprise Mum's sister at home. Dad, done up in Nora Batty-style drag complete with curlers and headscarf, floral pinny, and wrinkly stockings ( a long-running UK television sitcom from the 80s, Last of The Summer Wine, produced the infamous Nora Batty character ) certainly gave the guy on duty at the toll bridge a good laugh. After that it became a family tradition on Halloween and the adults competed even more keenly than me and my cousins to outdo each other with costumes. Another year, stuck in hospital over Halloween, a group of mothers also stuck there doing dialysis training, got together an impromptu party on the ward. They raided the ward kitchen for bread and jam to make sticky jammy pieces, and made novel use of IV poles and tubing to string these dripping, sticky offerings from. We each took a turn being blindfolded - using a couple of paper surgical masks - twirled around until slightly disoriented, and then we had to grab a bite from the jammy pieces. Not as easy as it sounds, especially when you have a couple of giggling nurses continually moving the IV poles further and further away from you! And I'm pretty certain that cardboard bedpans were not intended for use in apple-dooking, but hey, when in a childrens' hospital...I daresay that in today's too often cheerless world the bean-counters who have overrun the NHS and the dreary Health & Safety Executive would all have had a fit and a bad turn at our cavalier use of supplies and scanty regard for jam-slippery floors!

I still put up Halloween decorations - sometimes I like them so much I'll leave them up year-round so that most of the rooms in my house have ended up looking a bit like a leftover Haunted House attraction with screaming skeletons and red-eyed bats hanging from the ceilings, and Grim Reapers at the windows. I don't need an excuse to eat too much candy ( or chocolate cake ) or to spike the punch bowl, but if ever you wanted a good excuse for doing so, Halloween is definitely it! Neither do I need a reason to watch hours of horror movies, but there's somethign a little extra-spookily special about watching them at Halloween...just don't expect any reassuring cuddles from me if you're the scaredy-cat sort. You'd be more likely to get a cushion thrown at your head for distracting me from the movie than an arm to cling to!

But if you absolutely insist on something a little more - bleeech! - romantic for Halloween, try this ancient Orcadian tradition...at midnight on October 31st, any young un-wed lass should go to the barn or other outbuilding, taking with you a sieve, a pair of scissors, and a knife. Whilst facing away from the door of the barn - which should be left open - you must 'winnow' the scissors and knife in the sieve, doing so three times whilst repeating the magical words "three wechts o' naitheen" ( no, I don't know what it means either ). Then you should turn around and the first person that you see passing the open barn door will be your future spouse! NB. If the first person you see pass happens to be your father or brother, I'm afraid you may be the victim of a Fae prank! Better luck next year, sweetie.

A wee Halloween greeting from The Dog...

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Family vs Future. Decisions, choices, and finding the one-size-fits-all solution.

Today I had the unsettling experience of feeling a sense of relief and a little bit bad all at once when I realized that moving away from my current island home to go back to where my mother stays, may not be as easy as everyone anticipated. I love my mother. She is one of the most courageous, resourceful, and calm-under-fire people I have ever known. She has passed some wonderful qualities to me, including the ability to see a glimmer of light in even the most hopeless and/or frightening of situations which, at various times in my life, has come in very handy indeed.

But we also remain chalk-and-cheese in many respects as far as our personalities go. This is particularly noticeable in matters of household affairs where I have inherited my Dad’s laidback approach ( “ The dust bunnies are relatively tame and so long as they only grow to a certain size, don’t worry too much about ‘em” ) and Mum is, well, Mum is a house-proud control freak. Most of the time I forget where the iron lives day-to-day: Mum can recall the day it was purchased, where it was purchased from, and often the name of the salesgirl who sold it to her. I find this trait in her bewildering but vaguely amusing. She finds my lack of household skills/care disappointing at best and little short of scandalous at worst. We can laugh about this so long as we don't have to live with the results of one another's differing household approaches. 

Mum's physical health is failing. She has carers and home helps, and a few friends who help out, but there are some matters to which she would prefer to trust a family member - and that would be moi. There are always a host of problems associated with caring for an elderly, physically frail relative, no matter how much you love and respect them, and just one of those can be the clash of ideals. For two very different people from two very different generations - the one of whom is years used to looking after the other, to being a mother to them with everything which that role entails - to suddenly switch roles can be a traumatic experience for both. Mum is clinging to what control she has left; clinging to it with a grim and strident determination which sadly and seriously is coming to more and more lack the humorously tempering input of my Dad, who is almost 20 years dead now. Where once the rougher edges of Mum’s insistence that everything be done ‘her-way-or-take-the-highway’ could be smoothed out by some gentle teasing and cajoling from Dad, those rough edges have now hardened into sharp, cutting, deadly barbs that will snag the wary and unwary alike and tear them to shreds. What was once a minor discordant note in her nature has become a major symphony of clashing, jarring noise, and I don’t think I could stand to listen to it for a prolonged period ( okay, I went a bit OTT with the similes and whathaveyous there - I’m a writer, for fuck’s sake, sometimes I take artistic license wherever I want to find it ). Well, not without taking a longing look at the sharpest knives in the kitchen. Probably whilst secretly swigging from a bottle of Captain Morgan, or maybe Grey Goose would be better since vodka has less scent and Mum has a nose like a fucking bloodhound when it comes to sniffing out alcohol on a person. It is for good reason that Mum and I get along better when we have a considerable geographical distance between our lives and homes. If I gave my space up now, I would also - very realistically - be giving up the pleasures of my life as they are. And I like my pleasures as they are. Put it this way, I don’t see myself swapping ‘em for knitting patterns and ‘Coronation Street’.

Also, there is an equally realistic business opportunity for Housemate and I right here on the island. It may take several months, perhaps a full year even, to bring to fruition, but it could well provide us both with a nice little nest-egg for our own golden years, and in the meantime it’s something which we’d thoroughly enjoy doing. If we left the island to return to the place where my mother ( and Housemate’s remaining family ) live, we could kiss that opportunity goodbye. Unfortunately, they live in a place where socio-economic deprivation has reached such a state as would’ve shocked even Charles Dickens in his day. A snowball would stand a better chance in Hades than we would of making our business fly there. Perhaps it is selfish of me to even look at it this way, but I can’t help thinking how it has taken me nearly 42 years to reach the point in my life where I could feasibly set this business up and run it successfully, and well, fuck me, but the thought of having to let that opportunity go just kills me. Even if it were for my mother. Nonetheless, when the one option which would’ve caused this to happen was effectively removed from the table today, I felt that sense of relief. Followed by feeling bad for being relieved. All of which bothers me, even though people have assured me that feeling this way is pretty damned normal and it doesn't make me a monster.

Given that I also have inherited my mother’s ability to find ways either around or out of a problem, I daresay I shall eventually come up with a solution to this dilemma which suits the needs and wants of all. Or die trying, as they say. Well, maybe not that - but I may get very drunk on Grey Goose before it’s all done and dusted!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

First Blog Tour Was Sure Fun Times!

So my first-ever blog tour came to an end yesterday, and what fun it was! My thanks to Roxanne Rhoads, Bewitching Book Tours, and all the lovely bloggers who hosted me and my book, 'Dante's Awakening ( Vampires of Hollywood #1 )'.

A little bit of thinking outside of the box brought me the idea of approaching Bewitching Book Tours to ask if they could arrange a tour for a book which is primarily lesbian fiction. Roxanne was happy to do so, having had arranged LGBT tours before with success. The experience was made not just painless but even pleasant by Roxanne who handled everything, inlcuding the giveaway. In 7 stops I got the opportunity to reach out to a whole new section of potential readers through promos, guest blogs, and some very intelligent interviews. I also got sweet reviews from The Book Maven and Butterfly-o-Meter Books. For the relatively small cost of the tour, I think it was all very worth it indeed.

I know that blog tours are just one more matter in which writers often disagree as to value, but for my money ( both literally and figuratively ) a well-organized book tour via blogs can be an invaluable resource in expanding your readership and getting your name as an author out there.

See my interviews at:

Roxanne's Realm

Books and Other Spells

The Creatively Green Write At Home Mom

And my guest posts at:

Nomi's Paranormal Palace - "Come Over To the Dark Side"

Butterfly-o-Meter Books - "The Enduring Lure of The Vampire"

Smart Mouth Texan - "My Inspiration"

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

My First Blog Tour Now Showing At A Blog Near You!

Yes, my pretties, my first blog tour is now underway. Brought to you courtesy of Bewitching Book Tours, it runs from 15th - 22nd October ( fittingly close to Halloween ), and is helping to promote both 'Dante's Awakening ( Vampires of Hollywood #1 )' and to extend my reach as an author to a new readership. There are guest blogs, starting on the 16th Oct with this piece at SMARTMOUTHTEXAN where I talk about finding my inspiration to write, some promos, reviews, and a few interviws where you can find out more about me, my writing process, and what I do when I'm not writing...oo-er, missus! The whole deal has been beautifully organized and orchestrated by Roxanne Rhoads at FANG-TASTIC BOOKS where you can visit to find the full tour schedule. There's even a giveaway of goodies that you can enter! Just go to the Home page at Fang-Tastic and scroll on down...See you all there!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Belgian Waffling...Or...Exploring The Annals Of My Accident-Prone Life

It’s all been getting a bit serious up in here lately, so to lighten the mood let’s have another rummage through the ruins of my accident-prone life…

This weekend I had a telephone conversation with my mother during which Mum was on a bluebottle safari. Apparently said bluebottle had the brazen cheek to follow her Home Help into the house and Mum hates bluebottles with a passion approaching the psychotic ( I must confess that I share this dislike of bluebottles with her - they are nasty, dirty, buzzy creatures which need to die immediately ), so that our conversation was peppered with the intermittent thwack-thwack-thwack of a rolled-up newspaper hitting walls, windows, lampshades etc. Anyway, it reminded me of the first time my parents took me abroad on holiday…

I was around 13 yrs-old, and we decided to take a coach tour which encompassed France, Holland, and Belgium - because my parents thought I’d enjoy these countries ( which I did ) and because the tour was based in Ostend where my parents spent part of their honeymoon and they thought I might find this sweet and nice ( which I didn't ). Two rooms had been booked for us by the tour company, a twin for my parents and a single for me. I was excited to have a room of my own.

Except as soon as we arrived that went out the window. Almost literally.

Our luggage had been deposited in the twin room, so we entered there first, to find a half dozen bluebottles buzzing in circles around the ceiling light. Dad and I left Mum wearing a grim expression, clutching a rolled-up Daily Express newspaper, and muttering “ Right. Come here, you dirty little bastards!” as she chased the offending insects around the room, and we fetched my luggage to what was meant to be my room.

There is no delicate way to put this so I’ll just say it…the tour company had booked a hotel smack in the middle of Ostend’s red-light district. And my room looked directly across a very narrow street into one of its licensed houses of ill-repute. Dad and I walked into the room to be greeted, via the wide open window, by the sight of a very buxom and somewhat under-attired lady of the night ( and the daytime too, it seemed ) leaning out of a window in the building opposite. She spotted Dad and his expression of I’m-horrified-but-fascinated-at-once-by-this-cultural-difference and gave him a big smile and a little finger wave, and he promptly whisked the curtains closed, turned to me and announced that I’d be sharing the twin room with my mother. No arguments ( bless him for being an overprotective father, he wasn’t quite so horrified by the thought of me seeing naked ladies as he was by their clients seeing me - and any other motive on his part I refuse to think about ).

Later, after dinner, enjoying a drink in the hotel bar, I realized I need something from the room, so off I went. Of course I got off the fucking elevator at the wrong floor and wandered down the wrong corridor…why would I not? This was also the first time I’d ever come across lights that were on a timer - you hit the switch at the start of the corridor and the light came on for a set time before going out again, necessitating that you hit the switch at the other end. All very energy-saving and noble except that I don’t think this particular hotel was thinking about being eco-friendly so much as they were struggling to pay the utilities bill. Anyway, there I was wandering down this corridor - identical to every other bloody corridor in a hotel that generally had about as much decorative feature as one of those slabs of fucking concrete in the old USSR - unable to figure out where the damned room was, and poof! out went the lights. Since the corridor was an internal one ( meaning it had no fucking windows ) I was plunged into pitch darkness and my nerves have never been exactly solid in darkness…

…five seconds later I burst out of that corridor, shrieking in panic, having dropped my room key ( of course ), and ran into a very startled French couple exiting the elevator, who tried their best in their limited English and my even more limited French to comfort me, help me find my room key, and guide me toward the right floor. By this time I was wondering what kind of weird, masochistic peoples were these bloody Belgians?

But it could still get worse. Surprise, eh?

Just before going to sleep that night, I decided it might be a good idea to mess with the radio alarm clock. I have no idea why I thought it would be a good idea to do this since my jinx with all things electrical was already in full-swing by that age. Maybe it was the Continental air or something - who knows, and who gives a rat’s ass? I tinkered with a radio alarm clock that was all written in fucking Flemish and the result was…well, it was BAD.

I panicked when I realized that I didn’t know shit about the language I was tinkering with, so I did the only sensible thing I could think of - I switched the radio alarm clock off. Honestly, all the wee LED numbers went dark, and I was pretty sure I’d switched it off completely. And so Mum and me settled down to sleep.

About an hour later we were awoken by the most unearthly screeching sound emanating from the radio alarm clock that I’d been so sure I switched off. And I mean this was a screech. This was like no normal alarm I’ve ever heard before or since. Maybe Flemish people are hard to wake in the mornings? Anyway, the LED lights were on and flashing, too, like some kind of emergency fucking Bat signal. Mum leapt up out of bed, covers all going everywhere, eyes like saucers, and she yowled “ What is it? What’s happening? What’s that bloody racket all about?” whilst I was frantically trying to trace the cord to the electrical outlet behind the bed and yank the damned thing out of the wall. I tried to reassure my panicked, half-awake mother that the hotel wasn’t really on fire, it was just some fuckwitted Flemish design of a radio alarm clock ( yeah, absolutely nothing to do with me, the Queen of Electrical Jinx, tinkering with something written in a language I had zero understanding of )...by the time I got the instrument to just shut the hell up with its unearthly screeching, Mum was looking at it like she was wondering whether she might be able to find a Belgian priest amenable to exorcising electrical equipment on short notice. I thought it prudent to deposit the offending item in a drawer, first wrapping the cord firmly around it for what purpose I’m not sure…and there it remained for the duration of our stay. Dad became our morning wake-up call. And yes, he laughed himself silly over the whole incident, and yes, he offered to “fix” the radio alarm clock…an offer which was greeted by a chorus of “ No! It’s fine! Really! Don’t touch it please!”

I’m happy to say that the rest of this holiday went relatively smoothly…well, unless you count the ‘beer incident’ in Brussels, and maybe UK HM Customs & Excise suspecting us of smuggling drugs ( that was their fucking problem, not ours ), and there was that thing with me nearly falling out of the window in the hotel room and don’t even ask me why I partially-flooded the bathroom…faucets in Belgium are different from those in Britain, okay!?!

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Get Your Knockers Signed By Me!

Got your attention, have I? Uh huh. Well, read on. You just might find mention of knockers again...

But first, look up the Urban Dictionary definition for the term ‘magic toaster’ and you will find this which describes me so perfectly that it might well have been coined with me in mind.

Hi. My name is Devon Marshall and I’m a raving technophobe.

My relationship with technology - with all things which depend upon electricity to operate - is more often than not shaky at best. Which was why I took myself by such surprise almost two years ago when I sent a manuscript to an electronic publisher. Me! Submitting to a purveyor of those e-booky thingies! It was a wonder that the world did not promptly fall off its axis.

Now I have a website ( okay, a few websites ), a blog, a Facebook and a Twitter. I’m on a bunch of other social media sites too, but time and space are still finite so I won’t list all of those. I have 3 books ( okay, 2 ½ because one of ‘em is a novella ) in e-print and I’m working on converting one of those to print through Lulu. I have business cards with QR codes and I’m working on other promo materials with the same. And I joined Kindlegraph so that I can put my precious electronic signature stamp to your copy of my e-book ( do we still call it a ‘copy’ when it’s an e-book? I don’t know that much about this electro-techno world yet ). I am, to say the least, well chuffed with myself for these small accomplishments.

However, I continue to have - shall we say - difficulties with technology and because of this I thank God everyday for booze and that no one has ever been stupid enough to call for Prohibition again. And I continue to treat these difficulties with the same short-tempered, intolerant, hand-wringing and eye-rolling attitude of why-do-I-bother-because-technology-and-the-world-hates-me? that I have always done. Because technology continues to frighten the bejeezusmaryandsweetjoseph out of me, quite frankly. Just because I finally purchased a Kindle doesn’t mean that I won’t break the fucking thing within a week. It won’t change the fact that I can’t wear a digital watch at all, or keep a vacuum cleaner for longer than it takes the sonofabitch to overheat, go on fire, and blow half the lights out in my house. Nor will it prevent me from setting the VCR all wrong and recording a field of TV snow instead of the latest episode of Rizzoli & Isles. Yes, I do still cling to my VCR, despite the fact it’s almost an antique, and no, I still haven’t figured out how to set the fucker to record properly even after 100 years.

But know this…

If a technophobe like me - who still minces around a new portable DVD player eyeing it with the same fear and suspicion that the first caveman probably eyed fire when he accidentally created it - can build herself blogs and websites and put QR codes to be read by mobile phone apps onto bits of card ( despite not having the faintest bloody notion of how any of these ‘magic toasters’ actually work ), then take heart each and all, because anyone can do it. Seriously. Anyone.

Oh, and if you want your e-booky thingy Kindlegraphed by moi, please do the necessary - which I think might involve clicking on that logo whatzit in the sidebar here. Or something. Anyway, I’ll be glad to put a wildly inappropriate message on your Kindle for you alongside my electronic paw-mark.

And because I promised you knockers...
So there ya go. Knockers. You shallow lot.

NB. Or if you are a good-looking woman with a nice pair of knockers, I’d be just as happy to come along in person and sign my moniker under a wildly inappropriate message on those! ;-) Just sayin’.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Home Improvement...D-I-My Way!

Once, when Dog was but a 3-4 month-old puppy and already possessed of a determination to become involved in everything her humans did at all costs, Housemate and I decided to redecorate. Naturally, this meant Dog stepping in the paint tray, her version of ‘involvement’. She managed to make quite a trail of fuschia pink paw prints across the hallway before we caught up to her. After that we have always tried to ensure the vicinity of wet paint is Dog-free. Not always successfully…

Recently we decided the kitchen needed livening up and that we’d go with a ‘cheesy Italian-themed restaurant’ look, red checkered tablecloth, plastic garlic strings and all. I had no idea that finding a red checkered tablecloth would be so difficult. We would’ve had better luck requesting Rumplestiltskin spin us a tablecloth of pure gold. As for red matt emulsion paint…there is a chance that a local paint store might still be able to order us some from its Mainland counterpart, although ‘might’ is often employed in these parts as a polite euphemism for “ Not a snowball’s chance in hell!” Apparently our fellow island-dwellers prefer shades of beige to anything even remotely fun or colorful. Whatever, further excavations in the Land of Kitchen have been temporarily suspended. I am so devastated by this I needed a drink to celebrate mourn.

We did manage, however, to obtain black matt emulsion for the bathroom; after a day of trooping around town, during which we did a lot of elbowing and excuse-me-ing ( the excuse-me’s becoming a little less frequent and the elbowing a little more so as the day wore on ) through the heaving horde of wide-eyed and be-sandaled tourists disgorged from the latest behemoth of a cruise ship to invade our little port. Oh deep, deep joy. Especially for someone like me who has a horror of people invading her personal space. Every time I see one of these floating luxury prisons chug its way into our little bay, I remember that there is good reason why they have so many bars and alcohol flowing 24/7: thousands of people all stuck on a boat together in the middle of the ocean - if there wasn’t alcohol they’d all be chucking themselves overboard after two days just to get the fuck away from each other. Christ, the very notion of setting foot on a cruise ship has me reaching for the rum bottle. 
Even this would be preferrable to spending time on a cruise ship...
Everything went surprisingly well with the actual painting until Dog decided it was time for her to inspect our progress. Unfortunately she chose to barge into the bathroom just as I was perched on a stepladder behind the door, brush dripping with black paint in hand…well, yes, of course the door whacked the paintbrush and the paintbrush whacked me in the forehead. According to Housemate it looked like I had “turned to Catholicism and gotten a bit crazy with the ashes.” Har har. Housemate also reminded me that since she has the balancing skills of a giraffe attempting to descend an escalator, it should be left to me to perch precariously once more, this time with one foot on either side of the bathtub, in order to paint a hard-to-access corner. Of course, we forgot about my natural klutziness, and I dropped a tray of black paint in the tub. It looked like something BP might have spilled, and was almost as difficult to clean up. At least this time I didn’t manage to trip over a faucet and knock the head off the bloody thing…You try explaining that to a plumber!

Even the simple task of picture-hanging is not without its perils in our house. I’ve been a little more careful about my hammering ever since I thrust a hammer right through a wall once…well, how was I to know that section of the wall had been shored up and re-plastered? And no, I had no idea why there was a shored-up section of wall in the living room, nor did I want to know why, considering the dubious location of that particular house. I learned another valuable lesson this time around, and that is: when hanging pictures it is always a good idea to ensure they are securely hung before retiring for the night. Being awoken in the middle of the night by the sound of said picture crashing to the floor and taking with it a lamp, some books, and a couple ornaments, is not a good for your peace of mind.

And now I'll have to brave the tourist-infested streets once more to hunt down a fucking replacement lamp. Seriously, they call it tourist season, so why can't we shoot them?!

Jane almost fell victim to a zombie tourist who tried to make her paint her kitchen in beige.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

A Day In The Glamorous Life Of A Writer...

So, this morning I was awoken by the dulcet tones of my dog announcing the arrival of a parcel. It doesn't matter how many times I try to explain it to her, Dog just cannot see the difference between an innocent mail carrier / delivery person, and a horde of ravenous vampire zombies from which Dog must protect her feeble humans, mostly by barking like a maniac and charging up and down the stairs. Presumably her defence strategy consists of rendering said vampire zombies deaf...or something.

I may have managed to ignore this rabble if it hadn't been for Dog knocking to the floor a bunch of jackets and coats in her desperate bid to fend off the horde at the door. I couldn't leave those lying around ( much as I wanted to ) because Dog is also an incurably nosy bugger and she would have been through every pocket, seeking out and chewing up anything she could find, including any stray paper money Housemate may have forgotten to remove from her pockets.


Forced to rise from my comfy, cosy bed ( it may be June, but in Northern Scotland that can equate easily with November in many other parts of the known universe ) I stumbled downstairs and restored the fallen clothing to its rightful place. Then I fetched the offending parcel, and in the process managed to get myself temporarily trapped in the front hallway because the connecting door is a total ass-clown of a thing that just loves to get stuck each time I'm home alone... Finally free, I found my way to the kitchen and there I started a pot of coffee. Whilst that brewed, I opened up the cause of all this early-morning disturbance.

Oh deep joy. My long-awaited item had a piece missing - a piece crucial to its intended fucking purporse! Re-parceling the bastard and sending it back would've cost me more than the item did, plus I'd already realized it wouldn't be appropriate for its intended purpose anyway ( the walls in this house are mainly flimsy plasterboard and this was a heavy bugger of a thing ) so I decided to keep it and set it to a different purpose. That prompted a fit of tidying away needless shit and dusting of surfaces in my bedroom, and by the time I had done with that and remembered about the pot of coffee, it was burnt beyond drinkable. Cue much swearing and stamping around as I put on a fresh pot.

Whilst I waited for my fresh coffee to brew, I cut half a grapefruit and smothered the bitter thing in sugar. I never have sugar, or salt, with anything except grapefruit. I like grapefruit, but boy, it needs some sugar! Apparently I'm not supposed to drink fresh grapefruit with my medication, but I figure that means specifically "don't take your meds with fresh grapefruit juice", and not "don't eat a fresh grapefruit an hour after your meds"...anyway, I also figure if rum, beer, and the occasional Baileys doesn't affect my meds, then what serious harm can a bit of bloody fruit do? I put the sugar bowl away in the fridge afterwards. Because that's where sugar belongs. Not.


Finally able to sit down with my coffee and some cherry yogurt, I decided to check my emails, because they say we women should be able to multitask...Yeah, that's a fucking lie. And cherry yogurt spilled on your keyboard is not a good way to start your online day.

Heading back to the kitchen to fetch some cloths and whatever else I could find to fix the cherry damage with, I stepped in Dog's water dish. Wearing slippers. And no socks. Yuck. And Dog has the brazen cheek to look at me like she's wounded by my klutziness or something! Jeez.

After cleaning my keyboard and checking my emails - the whole time determinedly ignoring my wet slippers and socks and Dog's smug laughing at me - I headed back upstairs to take a shower. For some reason I took my empty coffee cup with me. I stood at the bathroom door, looking at the coffee cup and wondering why in hell I had that with me, then I left it sat on top of a bookcase to take downstairs after my shower. It was nearly 3pm before I spied the cup still sitting on the bookcase and remembered it was me, not Housemate, who left it there.

I intended to spend the rest of the day writing and being terribly productive, but somehow the joy of browsing the jolly old inter-webs for shit that I don't need to spend money on that I don't have overtook all such noble notions, and then there were those DVDs from my birthday still needed watching...and oh, you get the point, right???

Somewhere in the midst of this day, I made the mistake of using Poly-Filla to plaster in some holes in the living room wall made where I'd changed the pictures around and that created something of a mess so I needed to vacuum ( if not, Dog would have eaten the little bits of plaster littering the carpet just like she eats everything )...but the vacuum cleaner was full so it needed emptying and I missed the bin with all that clotted dust and pet hair and assorted carpet furth and I had to clean that up...and just as I was getting done with that, Housemate returned from the store to inform me that an entire box of cola bottles on special offer ( intended for mixing purposes ) had fallen through the bottom of a crappy Lidl bag and smashed to frothy smithereens...and dear sweet Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, if I didn't I just need a goddamned drink by then!!!

Yeah. The life of a writer is really glamorous indeed!


Monday, 11 June 2012

An Apocalyptic State of Mind

During the apocalypse, groups of people gazing skyward
will be a common sight.
Having watched the uber-bleak vampire apocalypse movie Stake Land over the weekend, I was struck by humankind’s ongoing obsession with its own mass demise by apocalypse. Ever since we began to ponder our existence, it seems we have been concerned with our demise - especially the notion of being wiped out en masse by some terrible, catastrophic event or plague. Even that most celebrated of mythical cultures, Atlantis, now believed to have been based on the Minoan civilization upon the Greek island of Santorini ( or Thera, as it was then ), was itself wiped out in the most cataclysmic volcanic event ever witnessed by the ancient world. Stories of Atlantis retold down the centuries by people like Plato and Pliny, were essentially apocalyptic morality tales - warnings of how the gods would punish the hubris of any civilization grown too powerful and too arrogant by destroying it utterly.

Centuries of Western historical writings, too, are rife with the fear of religious apocalypse a la Revelation; each crop failure, each climate change, each plague has been duly heralded as a sign of the coming Apocalypse. Then we feared an angry God sending His only begotten son back to wipe out the sinners and cleanse with a “scorched- earth policy” the very world that we had polluted with our ungodliness. Jump forward again in time and we find that world wars, the rise of dictators, and nuclear armament become the heralds of apocalypse. From the 1940s to the 1980s, as the biggest and most powerful countries fell out with each other and armed themselves to the teeth with weapons of mass - and mutually assured - destruction, we feared the end would be a blinding white blast and the scorch of a nuclear wind.

According to ex-prez Ronald Reagan, the most
frightening sentence in the English language is:
" We're from the government and we're here to help."
Today our fears of apocalyptic demise are rooted in man-made disease and biological warfare; in the fear that some dreadful plague will get loose from a government laboratory and scythe its way through the world population in a matter of weeks. We distrust our government and our military, imagining them to be busy creating all manner of nasties at secret facilities, and none of them in the least capable of keeping those nasties under control forever. Sooner or later their incomptence will reduce our world to chaos, lawlessness, poisoned water supplies, and random straggling bands of survivors struggling to avoid slavering zombies and vampires, hungry for brains and blood. Often we see these as terrifying, horrifying creatures that are organized, fast, powerful, and unstoppable. Sometimes we see them as pathetic shambling wrecks of one-time humanity, but no less dangerous for all that, especially if they’re in a herd. And it isn’t just entertaining fiction such as The Walking Dead, Stake Land, or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road in which we find these modern monsters of imagination gone wild either: TV channels are constantly showing us What Could Happen in documentaries about bio-terrorism; on the internet are scores of websites devoted to scaring us into building zombie-proofed bunkers and stocking up on broad-spectrum antibiotics for the coming apocalypse.

Where does this obsession with apocalypse and mass extinction stem from, what is it in the psychological makeup of human beings causes it? Perhaps we recall the tales of ancient civilizations like Atlantis and deep down fear that the same hubris will be punished when the “gods” which we have created today i.e. nuclear arms, genetic engineering, etc. turn upon and destroy us. Or perhaps that arrogant pride itself creates a need within the collective human ego to imagine our species going out in fiery, spectacular fashion, rather than simply, quietly petering out of existence. Whatever the root cause of our apocalypse obsession, for the moment it makes for some jolly fun - if occasionally unsettling - entertainment!
Once we were afraid of nuclear warfare.
Now we fear...
... zombie clowns!

Come the apocalypse, wearing shades and baggy coats
will be de rigueur.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Pride Is...?

June is Pride Month. So what does ‘Pride’ mean to me? Honestly, I had to think about this.

Being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, heterosexual, or any of the other myriad shades along the human sexuality rainbow has just never been an issue to me, any more than a person’s skin color being black, white, or green with purple polka dots has ever been an issue. I find it difficult then to fathom why others should make my sexuality an issue. That isn’t to say I’m unaware of the existence of prejudice and hatred. A person can’t think about the quality of fairness without being aware of those who apparently don’t think any such thing need be applied in certain cases of their choosing.

What engenders such hatred? Ignorance? Fear? Self-loathing? All of the above, I should imagine. What we fear, we often do not know, and what we do not know and fear, we may come to hate. Self-loathing comes in when we know, deep down, that we have no reason to hate gay people, or black people, or transgender people, or disabled people, and that our fear is born out of the irrational prejudice engendered by ignorance.

Then again, there are just some people in this world who are born fucking evil and can’t function without having someone else to hate on.

Pride then, to me, means knowing who I am and accepting who I am, and accepting who others are - differences and all. Pride is believing that we all should be fairly treated despite any of these superficial differences of sexuality, skin color, physical ability etc. Pride is knowing that underneath these differences, we are all human beings who bleed the same stuff. And if you don’t believe me on that, go punch one of those evil haters in the mouth and see for yourself! ;-)
Just kidding...really...no, I am...

Saturday, 2 June 2012

The End of The Era of Emily

So the Era of Emily Prentiss on Criminal Minds has come to and end with something of a disappointing whimper - but at least it wasn’t with the bang of a coffin lid this time! The double episode rounding out the Era of Emily was unspectacular. Not even the addition of Tricia Helfer as an eye-rollingly crazy UNSUB could drag it all the way out of the mire of mediocrity has plagued the show’s last two seasons.

The fiery did-anyone-die-or-didn’t-they? explosion closing out Part 1 of the finale was annoyingly reminiscent of the Whose SUV Exploded? cliffhanger of Lo-Fi. And although it’s always nice to see JJ kick some ass, the resulting fisticuffs after Izzy the UNSUB took Henry hostage were too reminiscent of Hotch’s battle with The Reaper in 100 ( miraculously, JJ managed to appear at her wedding next day without a single cut or bruise, yet I’m pretty certain I saw Izzy ram an elbow into her face at least once? ). Was this all just Erica Messer’s little homage to Hotch’s Greatest Hits? We all know she wuvs him best anyway. And what was all Erica's bullshit about " Emily might be leaving the BAU but she’s still going to be seeing the team, having brunch with them etc" - that’d be a clever feat if she’s running an Interpol office in fucking London, wouldn’t it? At least Emily did get to be a little bit awesome by defusing the bomb wired up to Mumbles The Clown Will - notwithstanding the ungenerous part of me that was thinking, “ Oh hell, Emily, just do what he's telling you and leave him there to go boom!” But that wouldn’t be Emily’s way. Sadly for me and fortunately for Will. And did JJ even thank her for risking herself to save the life of the emotionally-blackmailing, passive-aggressive, mumbling father of her child? Did she hell.

As a related aside, I find it interesting that for five seasons under Ed Bernero’s guidance, JJ and Emily were written as close enough to spawn an entire online femslash industry around them, and JJ never married Captain Mumbles, yet in just one season with Erica Messer at the helm there has been a distinct cooling-off between the two ladies. After the first half dozen episodes, they barely had a meaningful scene together. And JJ finally marries Captain Mumbles. I’m just saying, I find it an odd coincidence of timing.

We won't be seeing any more of this...

...or this.
I’ve always wondered if there were more to the Season 6 hiring-firing-and-rehiring saga surrounded AJ Cook and Paget Brewster than has ever been said, and I can’t say that the latter’s decision to leave now - despite Erica Messer’s apparently begging her to re-sign her contract - has made me wonder any less about what might have been left unsaid. But it is Paget Brewster’s decision this time and we fans, bereft as we may feel, must respect that and suck up our loss. We can also keep a tiny candle of hope burning that she might yet change her mind and return…For sure, the BAU won’t be the same place without SSA Emily Prentiss. JJ is a good character but she just isn’t strong enough to balance the weight of three alpha males and genius-boy all by herself. There are mutterings about replacing Emily but given the Ashley Seaver fiasco, any replacement would need to be handled very wisely indeed, and I have little trust left in Erica Messer to do this successfully.

For now, Emily's colleague and friend Derek Morgan summed it up best:  " I think I miss you already."
Emily Prentiss. A little bit fucking awesome.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Mary had a little lamb...

Let’s be clear: I’m no lover of being in the outdoors. I simply fail to see the attraction in yomping through mud and cow shit in search of the perfect mountaintop view. The idea of getting soaked and freezing my ass off in a kayak or some other water-borne conveyance that ought to have been consigned to pioneer history, just leaves me confused. And a little scared, quite honestly.

That said, neither do I wish to see the entire countryside disappear under concrete and barbed wire. It has lately been lambing season in these parts. This has brought forth the yearly cries of  “ Foul!” from island citizens concerned about our rocky lamb mortality record. The problem is that the Northern Isles are super-exposed. There are few trees to speak of, and nothing you could actually call a hill whilst keeping a straight face. But there is wind a-plenty. In fact, if the wind ever stopped blowing here, we would all probably freak out, convinced the world had just ended. Oh, and it rains a lot, too.

Look in any direction across the islands, and you will see open fields and miles of five-strand barbed wire. You can’t help wondering - how do the lambs find shelter? The answer is, with great difficulty. Many die of exposure before the farmers can bring them inside sheds.

Right here let me just state that I’m not about to get into a discussion on the rights and wrongs of modern livestock farming, okay? That’s for another day, another blog. They've been farming in these parts for centuries, they still farm today, and that's how it is. This blog is about making better one aspect of that farming.

Every year the suggestion is made in the local paper that we replant the hedgerows to counter this death-by-exposure problem. Hedgerows attract birds and wildlife, and they give handy instant shelter to livestock. Apparently they are also good for strengthening the ground, but that’s more technical-environmental than my brain can cope with. The task of replanting could be carried out by the volunteer sector, which happens to be pretty extensive in these parts ( They have to be…they picked up most of the slack when the island council decided, in the best tradition of all out-of-touch government, that elderly and disabled services would make the best budget sacrifices ). Work training and much-needed jobs could be created through continuing care and maintenance of the hedgerows. Farmers would stop losing so much livestock and, in many cases, their livelihoods. And best of all from the point of view of the island council -? The tourists wouldn’t be traumatized by seeing poor dead little Larry The Lamb. Hedgerows make a much prettier picture to show the folks back home.

But will the island council ever get around to undertaking a project like this? Will they implement it by digging into the £90million fund they amassed through cutting vital services over two years? Will they hell.

They’ll spend the money on erecting another white elephant of a building that the tourists will never bother to use and the locals will have no use for, and then they’ll complain of being skint again. The lambs will continue to die of exposure and the farmers will continue to be out of pocket. And a landscape that could be beautified, will instead still be marred by miles and miles of rusty, stabby barbed wire.

Because heaven forbid any sensible decision should ever be made by local government. Imagine the dangerous precedent that would set?!

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Lil' Bit O' Blowing My Own Horn...

I awoke today to the happy news from Jay Hartman over at Untreed Reads that my debut novel for them, 'Vampires of Hollywood Book 1: Dante's Awakening' is PICK OF THE WEEK at DriveThruFiction

As unambitious and easygoing as I am, sometimes 'tis nice even for me to see my own work rewarded in such a way as this. So " Yay me!" and go take a look-see. Hey, why not buy a copy whilst you're there? Authors need to drink eat too!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

REJECTION...? It happens, get over that, too!

Rejection. It happens, right? That’s what all we authors all tell ourselves, anyway, and sometimes we eve do it with a careless shrug and a laugh. And then we turn away and cry. Bitterly. Because we fear rejection. Deep down, we fear it like a two year-old fears the bogeyman. 

Okay. I don’t do this often…but in this case I’m going to relate a very personal story because it connects directly to my feelings about rejection and the unnecessary agony I see some fellow authors put themselves through over it. When I was 10 yrs-old I suffered catastrophic, inexplicable, and irreversible kidney failure. Due to various factors - which I won’t get into here - I waited 7 years for a transplant, every one of those hard and on dialysis ( I won’t go into that either because it’s a novel in its own darned right! ) and when I did get that magical, life-saving transplant -? Well, it did its best to kill me.

No. Seriously, it did.

Long story short, I reacted with deadly violence against the life- and kidney-saving drugs I was being given, only one out of every ten thousand people who were unlucky enough to do so. More of the long-and-for-another-day story cut mercifully short, I recovered. Against all odds, to the amazement of my doctors, and only to find that my precious life-giving transplant kidney ( which had functioned with steady perfection throughout all the bad stuff ) was starting to REJECT. Well, hell. That sucked ass.

I was assured by one of the most competent and personable nurses whom I have ever had the pleasure of encountering that this was temporary set-back, something that was to be expected, and which could be easily reversed, and that all would be fine…But she also reminded me that even if the kidney did reject permanently, I had got to where I was once, hadn’t I? I could get there again if I was called upon to do so. The bald, simple truth of that statement struck me more than anything else had ever done before or since in my life.

Guess what? Twenty-some years ( and a lot more abuse ) later I still have the same steadily functioning transplant kidney. I’ve had one more episode of rejection - and I didn’t even know about it! My doc told me months afterward. I couldn’t give a shit either. I have always remembered that nurse’s advice: you did it once, you can do it again. Rejection is as rejection does...

And to come to my point…I’ve had a bunch of my writing stuff published in magazines, small presses, by publishers etc. I’ve also had my share of rejections. A whole motherfucking lot of ’em, actually. But has this rejection scarred me, deterred me, sent me weeping and tearing out my hair, running to a corner of a dark room, where I scheme and slobber, wild-eyed, never seeking the light of day again?…

Um, well...NO. Not at all. 

Because I don’t fear it. I stopped fearing rejection of any kind on that long, hot, agitated night I spent in hospital, because I realized something about rejection itself on that same night… … I realized that rejection itself cannot kill us. I fought the rejection of something that really was a life-and-death matter to me, and you know what I learned - ? That it doesn’t even matter that I 'won' - it matters that I fought and I did my best whilst I fought.

What more can any one of us ask of ourselves?

Oh, and if you're still feeling crappy about your book being rejected, go take a look at this:
Publishers Who Got It Embarrassingly Wrong
If that doesn't make you feel better, then you're in the wrong game, matey!

Friday, 11 May 2012

Some Vampires Are Sparkly...Get Over It.

Personally, I don’t care for the ‘Twilight’ series, neither the books nor the movies, but that doesn’t mean I think books and movies alike should be thrown on a bonfire and Stephenie Meyers run out of town. Certainly not. Lots of folks love Edward and Bella and that other bloke, whatsisface, the moody werewolf guy... And why should they not be allowed to love these characters?

What is the big crime in introducing ( pardon the pun ) new blood into the vampire genre? Whether it be blonde Viking vampires who fall in love with half-faery waitresses or teenage vampires who sparkle in sunlight, don’t tell me that there isn’t room in the market for these vampires alongside the coffin-dwelling cape-wearing counts and the grotesques who haunt a cut-off Alaskan town during the yearly 30 days of night. It’s a vast market and there most assuredly is room for everyone. I suspect that the biggest scoffers at Ms Meyers et al are those who cling desperately to what they view as ‘sacred tradition’ in which everyone should adore Tolkien and abhor Evanovich, whilst worshipping at the bloodstained altars of grindhouse and pulp fiction. The idea that tradition might be opened up to include new tenets sends them into a tailspin.

I’ll be the first to defend anyone’s right to an opinion, whether it’s popular opinion or one that chafes right against the grain. But when opinion starts to veer into self-righteous refusal to recognize anyone else’s right to hold a differing opinion, well, then I begin to chafe. If everyone’s tastes were the same, it’d be a mighty dull and dreary world. Just imagine the conversations:

“ I think ‘30 Days of Night’ was the best vampire story ever.”
“ Yes, I think that, too.”
“ Me, too.”
“ I fully concur.”
And on and on ad infinitum.

Is this the world you'd like to live in? ( If your answer to that is ‘yes’, I seriously suggest you seek therapy because having that insecure an ego just ain’t right ) Me, I’d much rather live in a world where there’s room for sparkly teenage emo vampires and the Alaskan throat-ripping grotesques. Because I believe in a world where choice and variety still should exist, even if vampires do not.

And whilst we are talking about vampires...get your copy of 'The Vampires of Hollywood Book 1: Dante's Awakening' by yours truly, Devon Marshall, from Untreed Reads and other outlets NOW! Click on the title there to visit the store and get your ebook copy.

" Ha! Admit it...you are all intimidated by my supreme sparkliness!"

Monday, 7 May 2012

Now At KDP Select...and With FREE Days!

That's right. 'The Lives and Loves of The Modern Goddess' is now enrolled in the KDP Select program. Don't ask me what that is exactly - it's kind of a Kindle owners' electronic library thingie. I think. Anyway, FREE DOWNLOAD DAYS are scheduled for May 10th, June 6th/7th, and July 4th/30th 2012 ( please be aware of UK-US time differences ) so if you want to read my first ever published novella go here to Amazon UK and here to Amazon US.

Now, there are some authors who cleave to the opinion that we should never offer our wares for free ( much less that we should ever give away the free shit that I'll be doing ;-) ), arguing that people don't value what they get for free. But I reckon that's just another example of rampant writer snobbery. We all like to get something for nowt, don't we? Well, I do, and I've yet to meet anyone who'd turn up their nose at being handed a free bookmark in the library or a free cake in the supermarket ( especially the free cakes -you can bring those on, please! ) but that may be because the kind of folks I hang out with don't tend to be rampantly snobbish. Besides, free shit tends to be promotional shit, meaning that the name of the store/business/author will be emblazoned all over whatever bookmark or pen or quirky little sticky-on thing you are given. In other words, you're advertising us for free, in return for getting something to mark your page in your book or write your grocery list with, the idea being that our name should be kept in the forefront of your mind each time you do these things. Oh, and it's always nice, too, if your family, friends, workmates, passing strangers on the street, see our names emblazoned on those quirky sticky-on things!

So, if you aren't a rampant snob and you dig getting free shit, you can do two things, or one of the two, whichever one you choose...You can download 'The Lives and Loves of The Modern Goddess' for FREE on May 10th / June 6th/7th / July 4th/30th 2012 from KDP Select ( assuming you're a member of this, or whatever you have to be to take part, a barcoded and brainwashed Amazon devotee maybe? ) and / or you can drop me an email at this DevonWrites@gmail.com to claim your FREE bookmarks, fridge magnets, and postcards! You don't have to buy the book or download it to claim the freebies, by the way. I'm a generous lil' soul that way...No, actually I'm just learning to be a promotional whore like so many of my scribbling brothers and sisters!

Oh, and by the way, Blogger...thanks a bunch for changing the dashboard layout. As if Facebook and its fucking Timeline weren't enough for we technophobes to be coping with!
" AAARRGH! Ch-ch-changes!"

Friday, 13 April 2012

It's No Longer Enough Just To Write...Bad News For The Socially - And Tech-Challenged!

I wrote about this a little while ago - being sick and tired of the extraneous shit now involved in creative writing. Well, I'm going to write about it again now. But this time I'm going to say how I really feel.

I'm sick of it.

I have always - always - enjoyed the creative process of dreaming up stories and putting them down in writing. That's what I do. Like every other person who writes, I need an editor to troubleshoot my scribblings. Hey, that's a given, and it's always been part-and-parcel of writing, one thing that I accept.

What I am not, and never will be, is a techie, or even someone who remotely enjoys computer-related stuff. It took me a fucking decade to master Microsoft Works in its simplest form. I'm not suddenly switching to Microsoft Office 2010, or whatever snazzy application is today's buzzword in writing tools...A writing tool to me is still a pen. And no, I don't care if OpenOffice is what the publisher uses and I can't access it from my Stone Age machine. So be it.

Computers scare me. There. I said it.

I don't have a handy-dandy army of tech-savvy folks surrounding me in my everyday life. And I'm not likely to be running out and making chums with any soon either. People scare me almost as much as computers do ( almost ). As for 'online assistance'... however well-intentioned it may be, it leaves me in much the same position i.e. completely baffled and scared.

So, because I'm not a bang-up-to-date whizzy-gadgety type who drools over all the latest apps, I may lose my publishing contracts, and any chance of ever being published in future. And you know what?

I don't give a flying fuck.

I never thought the day would ever come that I'd give up on publishing. I most certainly didn't think it would happen not because I stopped being able to write, but because the world has become a technology-obsessed place in which I, frankly, have no place and want no part.

It's bad enough that every writer today has to be a super-savvy social media maven, ready and willing to exploit every online hangout from Facebook to Google+, able to divide themselves and their time, their home life, work, kids, dogs, and oh yeah, their writing, between each of these. You also have to be: a cover designer; an editor, a proofreader; au fait with The Chicago Manual of Style, Strunk & White, and every other self-appointed fucking expert's "style bible". Oh yeah, and you have to be versed in how to manage Kindle, and Nook, and Createspace...oh wait, if you live in the UK, you can forget Createspace because it doesn't give a shit about anyone hasn't got either a US bank account or who doesn't live in a country where the $ is currency.

And let's not even get into the snobbery of the writing community ( and I use the term 'community' in its most fluid sense ). You thought it was bad before, when all you had was traditional publishing? Pfft! Now you have indie authors sniping at self-published authors, and authors holding out for traditional publishing sniping at indie authors, and oh yeah, this indie publisher says they're better than that indie publisher, and...crap! My head hurts. Think it's better if you're with a traditional / mainstream publisher? Oh you naive fool! I hope you've got a good supply of Chapstick in, because your lips are gonna need it after you've done ass-kissing. The price of being with the "family" of a publisher...Pucker up, kiddo! All that "support" from your publishing family comes at a price - oh, wait - what? You thought it was free? unconditional? Uh huh.

I don't want to do it anymore. Oh, I want to write. I just don't want to publish. Because the stress of publishing is ruining the joy of writing for me. And if there is no joy in it, what's the fucking point? 

Pretty much sums up how I feel about publishing these days

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Ever Feel That Somebody's Watching You?

Well, maybe they are and you aren’t as paranoid as people keep telling you!

It seems the FBI, the CIA, and Homeland Security might just be watching you, me, and all of us after all. Extensive lists of words placed on watch-lists and monitored on social networking sites have been published by bloggers. Go here to see the extensive list of words on the feds’ watch-list for terrorist activities. In all likelihood, most of us have at some point used one or more of these words in online sentences, in which case we could all be terrorism suspects in the eyes of the feds ( and you thought you were paranoid! ). It does occur to me - wouldn’t real terrorists take care to talk in coded language and not trigger these watch-words? All the same, you might want to think twice about updating your Facebook status about how much you enjoyed Grandma’s pork chops, and take care before you demand via text to your ex that you aren’t going to be the one to police your kids alone. I live in a place where “going down South” is used regularly to mean going to the mainland, so myself and my fellow islanders are probably already pinging the feds’ computers to the beat of the band!

I can easily picture hundreds of agents beavering away in little those cubicles with the upended card-table walls, in some dreary, stuffy basement office, logging thousands of hours monitoring the tens of millions of conversations conducted via social networks, text messages, and telephone calls that fly between inhabitants of the global village every day. An onerous task handed to junior agents, or maybe it has replaced the FBI’s “hardship posting” as a punishment for pissing off their superiors. Of course, in reality it’s more likely to be a giant super-computer collates all the info with just a handful of whey-faced mouth-breathing human tech geeks on hand to keep the wheels and gears oiled. But I prefer my version of reality ( I usually do ), and so if the FBI wants to send some agents to visit me regarding my Facebook activity, I can only hope they send some look like this…
In which case I'll be the one waving my arms in the air and yelling " I'm a terrorist! I'm a terrorist! Come get me! Please!" Otherwise, I hope they encounter the 12-ft seas and 90mph winds are regular features of travel to and from these islands.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Domestic Appliance Disaster Area

I have ridiculously bad luck with domestic appliances. In the past two years alone I have gone through four cell phones, two vacuum cleaners, three fridge-freezers, a DVD player, a washing machine, and a partridge in a pear tree. Okay then, not the last. But you get my drift.

It’s not just that my domestic appliances simply break down either. Oh no. They go out in flame-spewing, smoke-ridden, noisy, scary style. My last vacuum cleaner went on fire, little blue and orange flames shooting from its rear end whilst my housemate was in the middle of using it to deal with the large and plentiful dust bunnies with which we share our home. Not long before that, the washing machine roared its way to that Great Junkyard In The Sky when something broke loose beneath and ripped a huge, jagged hole in the drum during the fast spin cycle. I happened to be sitting at the kitchen table directly in front of the machine when it began its shrieking, howling death throes and I guarantee that you have never seen someone clear a room so fast in all your life. The latest casualty was the chest freezer which abruptly and inexplicably stopped, well, freezing things. Housemate and I awoke on a Saturday morning to find £200+ worth of food all congealed into one soggy, useless lump of wet cardboard and defrosted quiche Lorraine. I’ve given up even bothering to own a cell phone or a digital camera. It's just not worth the expense and the pitying looks from shop assistants when you return for the fourth time in six months.

I don’t know where I get this electrical jinx from. God knows, my mother has tended to keep all her domestic appliances in working order for eons…one vacuum cleaner served her faithfully for twenty-two years and then broke down irretrievably after just six months at my house. I even managed once to work my dark magic on my father’s brand new car…we were half a mile from the showroom and the engine caught fire. Oddly, he never took me to pick up a new car again.

Since Housemate’s luck doesn’t seem to be much better than mine, I often wonder whether I have spread my bad electrical karma to her, or whether we have always simply been two like souls drawn together in domestic appliance Hell?!

Just add flames

Internet Dating...Does it do what it says on the tin?

Well, does it? Let’s see…

My first problem with internet dating sites is how they will lure you in with promises of being FREE! only to find that what is free is very limited. To get anything substantial from the site - actual contact with people you are interested in, for example - will cost you at least an arm, and often a leg also. Rule #1 : There Is Always A Catch. No matter what enticing claims of free usage are made initially, there is no such thing as a free lunch date.

Profile pictures are my next problem. Let’s talk about all those profiles of people who are apparently “too shy” or “too privacy paranoid” to put up a picture. If you are so shy or so paranoid about your privacy, what are you doing on an internet dating site in the first place? Sorry, I’m not buying it. You’re hiding something. It may be that you are a deranged stalker, on the site to find some new victims for your obsessive attentions, but most likely it is that you have overstated your physical attributes and/or attractiveness. Remember, most of us are of a very average physical attractiveness, and only the few have been truly blessed by genetics. The picture-less profile turns up more often on lesbian dating sites than it does on gay male or straight ones. Setting aside the ‘inactive profiles’ and the “ I’m not out at work or to my family so I don’t want to risk that anyone will see me who knows me” excuse because it’s bullshit, it means either that lesbians are more prone to weird stalking behavior, or lesbians cling most stubbornly of all to the idea that we can fall in love without ever having laid eyes on the object of our heart’s desire. Well, maybe some people think they can, but that’s falling in love with at the very least a partial fantasy since you can’t think about someone without conjuring a physical body of some description to put them in. Try it, and see if it doesn’t feel weird, thinking warm and fuzzy thoughts about a faceless, shapeless entity. See if you don’t end up creeping yourself out. Better to know what the reality is straight away. Because the chances are that person you’ve been chatting to online does NOT look like this…

...or this...

...Oh hun, now you're just trippin...!

Fake profiles and profiles left visible after members have left the site are another ruse to bump up the numbers of people apparently using the site. Notice those are the ones who most often don’t respond to inquiries from other members, who rarely interact, and whose profiles sound suspiciously like they were all written by the same PR company. Think about it…if every one of these sites actually had the 2 MILLION MEMBERS AND GROWING!!! that they trumpet about, you would be bumping into a lot of the same people, wouldn’t you? Especially on the gay/lesbian dating sites because we all know how mighty small a world that is.

Another problem with internet dating is Rule #2 : People Lie. Yes, they do. All the time. Sorry, but it’s true. Sometimes we tell ourselves that we’re not lying per se, just drawing attention to what we see as our good points and sweeping the bad ones under the rug. The problem with this approach is that you’re being set up for a potentially nasty surprise if someone is only “ fun-loving, and sensual” HALF of the time. The rest of the time she’s a raving, psychotic bitch. The ease with which someone can move on to the next candidate is another downside to internet dating which is related to the profile info/questions stage. Ask a question someone doesn’t want to answer and you can find yourself dropped like you were hot for all the wrong reasons. The candy-store nature of dating sites can also bring out the ADD-afflicted child in many people. We are simply less prone to such avoidance/greedy behaviors in meat-space because it’s harder to get away with them without awkwardness abounding.

But probably the greatest drawback to internet dating is one which, surprisingly enough, it shares with meat-space dating. People really want to believe the hype. They give lip service to a desire for honesty, but behind that they want to believe in the fairytale. What they don’t want to hear is the often less attractive truth - that a person has moods, farts in bed, has a nightmare family, really doesn’t want kids at all. And when they inevitably do find out that the person they have become emotionally invested in is less than perfect after all, they react with absurd degrees of hurt and indignation. As though they had not been actively colluding in pulling the wool over their own eyes. Internet dating simply allows this to happen more often and to go on for longer, and so can heighten the negativity of the outcome.

So, in conclusion, do I think internet dating does what it says on the tin? Well, I think it depends on the individual and how they use the service, but essentially, I don’t think internet dating works any better or worse than traditional means of meeting our potential romantic partners.

NB. I haven’t included sites such as Facebook because I would consider it primarily to be a social networking site on which people sometimes happen to find romance.

Now, Be Honest...Or More likely, Not.

Maybe it's just me but I think a little more honesty in our personal relationships mightn't be such a bad thing. Yahoo ( which, admittedly, I would never consider a guru of anything ) once cobbled together some Dating Don't's with the assistance of so-called 'dating experts'. I rarely trust anyone who claims to be an 'expert' in anything any more than I consider Yahoo a guru, but hey, if it sells… Anyway, Yahoo and its experts listed 5 things which you should never talk about on a first date. Bearing in mind that these articles were written with heterosexual women in mind, nonetheless many of the points raised would apply across the gender/sexuality spectrum. The 5 Don’t Talk About subjects, in no particular order of importance, were: your ex, having children, money, politics, and religion.

Excuse me all over the place, but isn’t honesty about at least some of these five things fundamental to the success of intimate relationships???

Okay, spending the whole first date ( or any date thereafter ) yammering away about your ex, either how wonderful or how awful they were, clearly says “ Not ready for a relationship!” to most people. But at the least it can be helpful in letting someone know that you may not be fully committed to a new relationship. Of course, it screams "Obsessive maniac!" to some of us, but we won’t go there.
Of the other 4 conversational no-no's, two consistently appear in the top reasons for break-ups…money and the issue of having children. Lets face it, life is not a romantic novel/movie and love does not often conquer all of your financial debts. The desire to have children should be an integral part of your makeup as an individual, it should not be a decision taken lightly or for the appeasement of another person. Children aren’t something you "get used to” like a stain on the bathroom wall. As for politics and religion, whilst these may seem at first glance to be of less importance to relationships, in fact they do play a major part in our lives. Our political and religious views color many of our opinions and values. There is no use in trying to say that class barriers do not exist, they most certainly do, and those are interwoven with political, religious, and financial issues. A wealthy person may sigh that money doesn’t bring happiness, but seriously, have you ever heard a poor person say “ No, no thank you, please don’t give me any money, it wouldn’t make in the least bit happier to be able to pay my mortgage/feed my kids for another month and know I have some breathing space”? I'm not saying we should compare wage slips on the first date, or spend it discussing our shared uterus ambitions, but maybe a little less blatant ignoring of these issues would be in order.

I’ve always been as upfront as necessary about these issues with any women I’ve become involved with, and yes it has cost me potential relationships. Mostly the marriage/partnership and having children issue, but that’s okay, because these things are important and sometimes there really is no satisfactory compromise. I'd prefer to know that sooner rather later and spare everyone involved deep disappointment and maybe a bit of unnecessary heartache. But it does make me wonder whether the lack of longevity in relationships is a symptom of a preference for trusting everything to “ Oh, we can work that out later!” and a lack of willingness to discuss these big-ticket issues at the outset?

Monday, 27 February 2012

The Great Post-40 Southward Migration

Since I turned forty I began to notice that some areas of my body were apparently hell-bent on migrating southwards. What was once easy to keep trim suddenly sagged with a determination so ferocious it was initially quite alarming. What once was perky, wilted most of the time and bloated the rest of the time. And what once near shone with elasticity came to more closely resemble one of my mother’s crocodile handbags. I suppose multiple years of abdominal surgeries and toxic but necessary medications helped make much of the abdominal muscle-weakening inevitable ( although a heads-up from some bloody doctor at an earlier stage would’ve been nice…wait, no, it was all done on the NHS so I should probably think myself lucky the surgeries didn’t actually kill me and stop expecting such frivolous extras ). One good thing though, I’ve always been fortunate enough not to have had serious weight issues so the sagging, wilting, and general lack of perking are not accompanied by calorie-hoarding! It hasn’t, however, prevented the need to purchase a whole new wardrobe of jeans and trousers, the ones I had having mysteriously begun to pinch an inch wasn’t there before as the abdominal muscles get progressively weaker and more prone to feeling the pain of pinching. And I’m so past the stage of forcing it for the sake of appearance. I understand now why they call them slacks because after a certain age, that’s all you bloody well want them to be!

We live in a world obsessed with youth, beauty, physical fitness, and the idea of some elusive perfection, evidenced by the celebrity images we are daily bombarded with. In the midst of the dazzling smiles, perky bottoms, and buff pectorals, it’s easy for we mere mortals to forget that celebrity is as much about smoke and mirrors as it is about anything vaguely resembling reality. So the 38 yr-old Kate Beckinsale may have poured herself into the skintight leather once more for ‘Underworld 4’ ( and bless her indeed for doing so, the world needs Selene and her skintight leather ) but at what cost does such a physique come to Ms Beckinsale? When was the last time the poor dear spent a weekend lazing on the couch in front of the TV, with a nice cream cake and a full-fat frothy cappuccino and just indulged herself, without giving so much as passing thought to working out? And I don’t want to hear any of that crap about being able to eat anything without putting weight on…yeah, I can do that, too, but weight gain isn’t the issue here. The issue is the increasing vigor with which one must battle gravity as one gets older. That other notorious skinny cow, Victoria Beckham, was once snapped by paparazzi sporting a visible protrusion of belly, which prompted the slavering question “ Is Posh Pregnant?” Mrs Golden Balls calmly responded that no, she was not pregnant, she simply gets bloated sometimes just like everyone else! I may not ordinarily have much time for Posh, but it was nice to hear her admit to being a victim of the same imperfections as the rest of us.

The rest of us who often just do not have the time nor money - nor frankly, the inclination - to devote ourselves 24/7 to the vigorous honing of a perfect body. And sometimes you just don’t have the physical ability either. Some of us forty-somethings would simply prefer to accept that we are human, and therefore imperfect. Find a level of fitness that is comfortable, and turn blind eyes and deaf ears to the celebrity bombardment of orange tan, cabbage-soup diets, and pumping iron ‘til you puke. We embrace our flaws instead. Better still, we toast them with a big old glass of vodka or another beer ( no, not lite beer - are you fucking insane? ). I may be going on forty-two and be sagging, wilting, wrinkling, and long past any perking, but with thirty-some years of medical mishaps behind me, my abdomen has earned the right to look a little more like Buddha and a lot less like a washboard.

You couldn't pay me enough money to squeeze my saggy, bloated self into that outfit.
But I'll happily pay to see Ms Beckinsale do so!