Friday, July 28, 2006

David Gemmell Dies.

Damn and buggeration. I’ve just discovered that David Gemmell is dead at the age of 57. He’d had a heart bypass a couple of weeks ago, but obviously it didn’t do the job. On an utterly selfish level: crap, no more excellent books like Waylander, Legend, the Jon Shannow books … so many excellent reads. This is truly a shame for readers of his stuff, and of course for his family and others who knew him. I wish I could have met the guy.

On another note, I tried to leave a post on the BBC website about this, but it was rejected because my post contained offensive language: the word ‘bugger’. I replaced it with ‘damn’ and it was accepted. Laughable, really.
Ah I see the cover for Brass Man is up on amazon.com, but sadly it’s not out in America until January, and sadly The Line of Polity isn’t coming out there (yet?).

Interesting day, in the Chinese sense of ‘interesting times’. I sat down to write some more chapter starts for Hilldiggers only to receive a phonecall from my mother informing me she had called an ambulance for my father. He was coughing up blood, amongst other unpleasant symptoms, and he’s only just come out of hospital where they were filling him up with the stuff. We went over there to find the paramedic working on him, then when the ambulance picked him up we followed that to the hospital, where we waited expecting the end. It didn’t arrive – more blood, drugs, treatment. Thus far he’s had a stent put in for a bile duct blockage, that followed by chemo for the tumours (lung and pancreas) that led to that blockage, followed by shingles and a skin infection … it’s been going on for some months now. I now intend to get completely and utterly slaughtered.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

While on holiday I read three books, all of which were enjoyable. First was courtesy of Stefanie Bierwerth at Macmillan – one time oppo of Peter Lavery and now and editor in her own right. This was Dead Simple by Peter James, an excellent thriller with a nice plot thread that seemed to come directly out of those old late night Hammer Horror showings. The next was Banner of Souls by Liz Williams. Some excellent ideas here, the main driving one being ‘haunt tech’ – a definite feeling of ‘I wish I’d thought of that.’ Last was Starfish by Peter Watts, which was as excellent as I expected having read his book Blindsight.

Only three books – I always expect to read more than this. I did, however, work through a couple of chapters of my Hilldiggers each day. I’ve since updated the alterations I made then and am now working through my ‘chapter starts’. I should be banging that off to Macmillan within the month.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Here’s a little bit more, but that’ll be all. The thing about sunny slothful holidays is that really, there ain’t a lot to say other than: sprawled in the sunshine, swam, ate a meal, drank too much etc … which is the attraction really.

17/4/06

Back at the apartment we prepared to go off on a ‘sunset cruise’ we booked. I heard Gerry (Caroline’s father) talking to a woman in a nearby apartment and went out to join in. She seemed okay at first but has now turned into ‘the scouser from Hell’. She appeared at the meeting point for the cruise and it soon became apparent that she was to be avoided – attaching herself leechlike to people and talking non-stop bollocks. On the boat she headed for the top deck, her attitude implying that we were to follow her. We didn’t. However, she soon found others to attach to and at no point during the trip did her chatter cease

Caroline and I moved to the stern of the vessel to take things in, whereupon we fell into conversation with the deckhand. He showed us pictures of the ‘kingfish’ catches he had made during his wintertime job as a fisherman. He then moved into bullshit mode showing us an item on a string around his neck and claiming it to be the tooth of a black shark. I could see it was a half claw of some crustacean – a crayfish or a langoustine. No matter, he moved on to a Dutch girl who couldn’t have given him more signals of invitation without wrapping her legs around his neck.

The cruise midpoint meal was on mainland Greece where we were packed around tables on a beach and fed mediocre food. Gerry got the scouser next to him, but she concentrated her line of bull further down the table where she found her soulmate, or rather, someone looking for a holiday shag. The group this guy was in ended up with her for the return journey. We saw some others in this group becoming quite upset and making little darts for freedom (I dunno what was going on up there). This even included her soulmate. As we left the boat we saw she was still attached to them, excitedly wondering where they were going to go now. All but her looked quite sick.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

9/7/06

Nice apartments we’ve found ourselves in: path leading up to our veranda and front door surrounded by a garden full of lemon and pomegranate trees. We’ve walked to the beach sign-posted, and it’s three quarters of an hour away with some interesting stuff along the route: walnut, fig, eucalyptus and almond trees, various rubbish and a dead dog. Cool (as in temperature) sea and steep beach, sun beds 8 Euro for two – with umbrella – for the day. Other prices? 5 litres of retsina for 7 euros, 2 litres of Metaxa for 19 euros. Bloody hot here, but not the oppressive suffocating heat of Essex. Quite noisy in the morning ... damned cockerels and cicadas…

13/7/06

Thunderstorm and pouring rain last night. Heat unrelieved so I stood out in the pouring rain in the middle of the night. We discovered a closer beach today on the other side of Skiathos town: sandy, shallow sea for a little while, sheltered, but consequently crowded. I snorkelled (not a lot to see), did plenty of crawl and sometimes just lay floating on my back in the sea. On the way back from the beach we stopped for a half litre glass of Mythos each – the glasses taken ice-coated from a freezer. Outstanding. In the evening we ate in a restaurant poised next to the sea. You could toss your leftovers into the water and watch the fishes homing in and feeding like piranhas.

14/7/06

Ten 50g packets of Old Holborn cost 60 euros here – about £4.20 a packet. At home in good old rip-off Britain a packet of this stuff is nearly £11.00, that’s £110.00 or 160 euros for ten packets. That wanker Gordon Brown is really coining it in, but does he spend it on the NHS, is it spent on research into addiction or on cures for lung diseases? Is it buggery. It’ll mostly be used to keep some chain-smoking welfare scrounger on 40 a day.

In the pharmacies here you’ll find other inequities whose source is probably the drug companies. If I am not careful in places as sunny as this my lips burn and then I end up with cold sores. The most effective cure for these is the cream Zovirex. When this cream came onto the market in Britain it was £5 for a tube no larger than a dog-end and now the price has dropped to about £3.99. Here you can buy it for half that price.

Being an evil (and foolish) smoker, the other thing I need is an inhaler. At home I can’t even get near one until I’ve seen a doctor and received a prescription and then I have to pay the prescription charge of £6.80 (or thereabouts). Here you just walk into the pharmacy and buy one over the counter for less than a couple of quid.

The cost at home of the two items I’ve mentioned would have been £10.79, here it was about £3.50.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Okay, I haven’t put anything in here for a while because Caroline and I have been sunning ourselves in Skiathos. I said nothing about this before going because I feel no overpowering urge to advertise to the world that our bungalow is empty for two weeks. However, I was keeping a journal while away and here’s a little bit:

7/7/06
On the anniversary of the London tube bombing it’s nice to see the good people at Gatwick firmly controlling the really dangerous people: those damned smokers. The smoking pen in the middle of the upstairs shopping area, with its curved over Perspex screens (presumably to prevent escape) and its central location, seems placed to put on display and shame the underclass of nicotine addicts. It’s almost a refugee camp. While inside it, I half expected passers-by to start lobbing over aid packages.

Now I’m crammed into a space on an aircraft which, had I been a dog, the RSPCA would have considered cruel confinement. They would have rescued me from this aircraft and provided me with a bowl of water and some Bonios. Very shortly we’re going to hear all the bull about the exits and life jackets. Does anyone for a moment believe this matters? When was the last time you saw rescue boats picking up life-jacketed survivors from a crashed passenger aircraft? When was the last time anyone picked up passengers from such a crash without the aid of a shovel and some black bin liners?

I just read in the paper that when asked by John Humphries about his other alleged affairs John Prescott replied, “People must judge me by what I do on the job.” You have to wonder if his foot-in-mouth disease is a charade. While people consider him a clown they're less likely to boot him out of his cushy non-job.

When leaving Gatwick I spotted the mock-up aeroplane the airport fire crews practice on. It’s made of steel and about the same size as the real thing. Upon our arrival at Skiathos I spotted a similar plane that appeared to be made out of dustbins. I could see that fire practice probably involved a Greek guy sauntering over with a bucket of water.

As we disembarked the ‘safety demo kit’ – used by the stewardess to tell us all about the intricacies of life jackets – fell out of the hand luggage locker onto Caroline’s head.

More later.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Max Part Three

What was going to happen to Max? With Marjorie being moved into a ‘recovery home’ for an indeterminate period, he surely couldn’t stay in kennels. We considered the possibility of having him in our house, but ours is a small bungalow with a postage stamp garden. In one winter he would have turned the garden into a quagmire and have trailed in mud to destroy a pale carpet we’d recently had laid. If there was no alternative, we would probably have had him. However, we were in for quite a surprise.

We’d discounted the idea of Max accompanying Marjorie to the home. Surely the HSE would not allow this, surely those running the home would be terrified of being sued by residents or relatives of residents knocked arse-over-armpit by such a large Alsatian roaring about? Surely there were rules about this sort of thing? Surprisingly, those running the home were prepared to have him there. Apparently the rules are that a pet can accompany someone into a home, but people living in homes cannot buy pets.

Though it had now become a twenty mile round trip – travelling to Bradwell where the home is situated rather than to Burnham where Marjorie lived – we decided to continue walking Max. The home was a secluded ivy-covered mansion and when we arrived there, I looked around at some very old and ill people tottering around on Zimmer frames and wondered how having Max here could possibly work. Marjorie looked a lot better: clean, tidy, walking about without her frame. Max, however, looked in a terrible state. He had lost weight, he looked miserable, his back legs kept giving way – a common complaint in Alsatians and the one that usually precedes their visit to the vet’s for that final injection. I felt the staff in the home, who were hard pressed enough as it was, were rather annoyed about having a furry resident to look after too.

We took him out for a walk. It was bleak, windy, cold and wet, and we didn’t know where to go. We ended up heading generally towards the coast and the big grey loom of Bradwell power station. On the way we found a fenced-off football field where we could let him off his lead, beyond that we necessarily walked on the grass verge beside a long road. It was all rather depressing, and I suspected it could not continue. Then things slowly began to change.

After two or three exploratory walks we found an excellent route that took us out to the left of the power station, along the sea wall before it beside the Blackwater Estuary, onto a shell beach, then returning on the other side of the station along a nice walk before hitting the road again. We later discovered that we didn’t even have to walk all the way along beside that road, since there was a footpath in the field adjacent. As we continued walking him the weather grew steadily better into the spring. His legs no longer collapsed underneath him and he began to put on weight. And the staff in the home began to fall in love with him.

One day, when we opened to front door to the home, we saw a Filipino lady running towards us, a big grin on her face, with Max in hot pursuit. Max really liked her and followed her everywhere, so the other carers told us with some jealousy. He also had a bit of a game with the lady who fed him his dinner, for when she gave him his epilepsy pills wrapped up in a piece of thin ham, she necessarily had to chase him for a little while too. Slowly, over a period of months, Max’s usual reserve began to disappear. He went from being the only pet of a chair-bound old lady to a pet that belonged to perhaps ten of fifteen carers. Marjorie wasn’t vastly happy about this. He was her dog, yet it was infrequent when we arrived to find him anywhere near her.

Many of the residents really liked him too, smiling benevolently when he was near and reaching out a hand to stroke him in passing. The night staff thought he was great too. When one of them took a nap on a couch he would sleep on the floor beside her. “I feel safe with him here,” she told us. Nothing quite like the assurance of a large Alsatian nearby when you’re on night duty. Marjorie’s daughter and partner often visited, taking Marjorie and Max up to the nearby pub. When carers went down to the local shop they sometimes took him with them. He was seeing more life, more action, than he had ever seen before. He was having a great time. On the odd occasion, when a door was left open, he wandered off and caused all sorts of worries. But eventually he stopped doing that. We would often turn up to find him sprawled out the back, on the concrete or the lawn, where the carers sat for their tea break.

Things had turned out very well, for him. Marjorie, however, was becoming increasingly confused and though her health had rallied under care, it deteriorated again.

Then she died.

To be continued…
From 800 years in the future, a runcible gate is opened into the Polity. Those coming through it had been sent to take the alien 'Maker' back to its home civilization in the Small Magellanic cloud. Once these refugees are safely through, the gate itself is rapidly shut down - because something alien is pursuing them. The gate is then dumped into a nearby sun. From those refugees who get through, agent Cormac learns that the Maker civilization has been destroyed by pernicious virus known as the Jain technology. This, of course, raised questions: why was Dragon, a massive biocontruct of the Makers, really sent to the Polity; why did a Jain node suddenly end up in the hands of someone who could do the most damage with it? Meanwhile an entity called the Legate is distributing Jain nodes ... and a renegade attack ship, The King of Hearts, has encountered something very nasty outside the Polity itself.
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Saturday, July 01, 2006

At last an enjoyable episode of Dr Who after two rather awful ones. The low moment came last week with that ridiculous tossing of a cigar-sized spaceship into the flame of the Olympic torch (at which point I finally had to leave the room). Well, if the ship required heat then put it in the damned microwave or on the hob. Now perhaps this was some obscure reference to ‘Torchwood’ but, if so, it fell flat. At that point the episode finally descended into what it had been teetering on the point of from the beginning: extreme bathos.

It would also seem that, with an instinct I would credit to rats leaving sinking ships (possibly misguided) that Billie Piper is leaving. Thank goodness for that. If her character Rose and the Doctor shared another of those giggly aren’t-we-having-a-laugh-travelling-through-space-and-time moments I swear I would have to buy myself a rifle and situate myself on a Cardiff tower block. Let's hope the Daleks roll over Rose Tyler like a lorry over a hedgehog, though a hedgehog is admittedly cuter.

The only big criticism I have, of tonight’s episode of Dr Who, is the music. One day directors might learn that loud music is no substitute for good acting or drama. It also really puts off those who are hard of hearing – those who have been fans of Dr Who from the beginning. And bringing the Daleks and Cybermen together to slug it out? Excellent.
Max Part Two.

Marjorie had been deteriorating for some time, really wasn’t well, and it seemed possible she might get worse. Don’t get the impression that we were the only people seeing her. Her daughter visited when she could, but had to shlep down from Ipswitch; a district nurse visited and a couple of neighbours occasionally checked up on her; carers went round regularly to do what could be done in their limited time (after dressing her ulcerated leg), and it was one of them who finally called the nurse. Such situations are terrible, but difficult to resolve when the patient is as headstrong an individual as Marjorie. She feared being hospitalized, being moved to an old people’s home, feared the interference of social services, and this was all because of her bigger fear of losing Max. Eventually she acceded to going into hospital, quite probably because she could not even get out of her chair to feed her dog.

The first we heard of this was when Caroline received a phone call from The Cinnamon Trust at lunch time. She took the afternoon off work and we hurried over to Burnham to find Marjorie’s house locked up (the key in one of those little coded safes beside the door). The moment he saw us Max began rushing about excitedly inside, but we couldn’t get in. We knocked at her neighbour’s house and were let in to find the district nurse there having a cup of tea. We hoped she could let us in because surely by now Max would be getting desperate. She couldn’t – she didn’t have the authority to do so – so gave Caroline the number of the social worker concerned with this case. Despite Caroline having been vetting by the Cinnamon Trust he also could not let us in and put us onto Marjorie’s daughter who, knowing we had been walking Max for some time and had not yet mugged Marjorie nor stolen the family silver, gave us the code to the key safe.

So eventually we got in to find Max’s pills out on a counter and a scrawled note of instructions beside them, we then took a frantic Alsatian for his much-appreciated walk and worked out together how we were going to look after him. Luckily, being self-employed, my time is pretty much my own. In the mornings, after dropping Caroline off at work, I drove over to Burnham, took Max for a walk, gave him his breakfast, gave him his epilepsy pills, then spent some time with him before coming back home. In the evening we both went over there and went through a similar routine. At the end of it we were reluctant to depart, because Max knew we were going, would butt his head against Caroline seeking affection, and wander about morosely. We stayed longer, trying to clean up the house a bit since, with the weather turning wetter and colder, Marjorie’s back garden had become a quagmire and Max tracked plenty of it back inside. But mainly we stayed just to keep the dog company. Even so, we were there twice a day for little more than a couple of hours each time, the rest of the time he spent locked inside. No messes, none at all – that’s the kind of dog Max was.

This state of affairs continued for two weeks. It was March, but winter was hanging on and really bit in then with sub-zero temperatures and driving snow. The ground became as hard as concrete and every puddle turned into a skating rink. Max loved it. A German shepherd like him, with his thick heavy coat, I rather think not bred for the near Mediterranean warmth Essex often receives. Arctic tundra would be the perfect environment. Here’s an email I sent to Caroline during this time, reporting on the morning walk:

Well Max had a wonderful time. I took him down to the point where he did a stand up fall down slapstick routine on a frozen puddle, he was snapped at by a sheepdog, had his willy licked by a very insistent Labrador, and rolled eight times.


Of course things could not continue like this. Speaking over the phone, Marjorie’s daughter and Caroline both agreed that anything more than a couple of weeks would be unfair on Max. At the end of two week the daughter and her partner transferred Max to a local kennel, then went to tell Marjorie what they had done – she had insisted that he stay at home, again fearing that he might be taken away from her. We also learnt, during this time, that Marjorie had lied about her age to us: she had told her she was 74 when in fact she was 84 – rather selfish, I think, to buy an Alsatian puppy when in your 70s.

Max spent about five days in the kennel after which Marjorie returned home and he was returned to her, whereupon we commenced walking him again. We were now taking him out three times a week, for without too much persuasion from her we upped the frequency from twice a week (another walker from the Cinnamon Trust had visited but been rejected). Spring started to make itself felt and obviously Max felt it too, barking uproariously (all his fur standing up), at a cat in the back garden – his territory. This was the most noise we ever heard him make and seeing he like this brought home to us why sometimes people would step off the pavement to go round us when we were walking him. If he had been a vicious Alsatian, he could probably have taken someone’s arm off at the shoulder. He was a pussy (oops – sorry Max) and many other dog walkers in the park, having known him since the days when Marjorie took him there, knew this, and he always received lots of fuss from them.

Social services had provided Marjorie with a portable toilet downstairs, where she now slept, and a Zimmer frame – both of which she hated – whilst her daughter and daughter’s partner were making preparations to completely revamp her house and build a downstairs toilet. This was not to be; old-age removes dignity before everything else. Shortly after she returned from hospital, she began deteriorating again. Knowing we could access the key in its key safe, she no longer expended the energy to get up and let us in, though we always banged on the window to let her know we were there. On a couple of occasions we could not wake her – she was invariably asleep when we arrived – and we entered expecting her to be dead in her chair.
After a month Marjorie was taken back into hospital and Max moved straight to the kennels. She spent three weeks in hospital but still wasn’t well enough to return home, in fact, would never be well enough to return home. She was moved from the hospital into a ‘recovery home’. And Max? I’ll leave that for another time…

To be continued…