When did you last walk home barefoot?

vintage cars at feteIt’s the sort of thing you do as a teenager or young romantic, casting off at 3 am the ridiculous footwear your mother told you would ‘throw your back out’ while conveniently forgetting the 5″ stilettos she’d disembarked from herself in fuzzy relief back in the day. You don’t do it in your – what shall we call it – late prime? New (middle) Age? Well ok then, your Saga Holiday years.

I went to our village fete yesterday. This used to be a pretty understated affair; a plant stall, bric a brac, two country dances and off you went with an indeterminate  herbaceous specimen wilting in your bag. Fifteen minutes. Job done. But not any more, it’s enormous! Two huge fields full of the miscellany of village life, including the primary school choir belting out 80s hits, a dog agility contest and, bizarrely as we’re nowhere near the capital, two London buses.

Last year, the Volvo Club had lined up a display of vintage motors and they were here again in buffed up splendor but almost eclipsed by the companion ranks of ancient Austin Healeys, MGs, and other beautifully polished artefacts of early 20th century transport. One of these had an equally vintage occupant asleep under his cap in the font seat. As these vehicles had to have got here somehow, they were probably going to be hitting the roads later in the day in anachronistic competition with all the Mondeos, Chelsea Tractors, and 0-120 in five milliseconds BMWs. A restorative nap seemed like a good idea, all things considered.   vintage cars

The weather, given this is Glastonbury weekend when wellies are usually in short supply, was utterly spectacular, leading to the emergency deployment of semi retired footwear. Lovely to look at, not so lovely after several circuits of a pitch the size of a World Cup stadium when a bit of preliminary chafing escalated to an all-out assault on sock-softened heels and delivered a blister.

Blisters are, in the grand scheme of medical emergencies, pretty small beer. They’re the sorts of injuries to be scoffed at by marathon runners, hikers, and abseilers off tall buildings, some of whose chafed areas bear no close consideration or your eyes would water. They’re not credible, you get no Brownie points for them, no kudos, nothing to drop casually into the glory speeches of later years. In fact the only thing that can be said in their favour is that, unlike haemorrhoids, you can at least mention them and people don’t shuffle uncomfortably, possibly in covert sympathy as their own personal collection is enlivened by the reminder, until you shut up and let someone else talk about their altogether less squeamish total splenectomy.

Well, brace yourself, remove small children and people of a nervous disposition from the screen, and adopt a Stiff British (or Multi Cultural) Upper Lip, we’re in skin-off-the-heel territory here. Yes. And I still had to walk home. Hm. I considered removing the one guilty shoe but that would be stoopid, right? Remove both then?  Oh dear! How odd it is to be struck suddenly and unexpectedly by a social convention of unknown origin that nevertheless carries an unarguable authority. You see there’s something inherently suspicious about an adult without shoes on a pavement in a built-up area that is nowhere near a beach. So, pain or social ignominy, which was it to be?

Home is not too far, I reasoned, and I’m an adult so I should shut up and put up, get on with it and take it like a Man. I set off. I got about 100 yards. I am not a Man. Off came both shoes and I set off again, picking my way lightly over gravel,  skipping across gritty surfaces, and twinkle toeing around uneven patches of paving. Which all worked just fine until I hit the road that had been bathed in several days of unnaturally hot sun. Suddenly the ground was too hot to touch, the paving even hotter, the grassy patches too distant. Put the shoes back on? Unthinkable. Self hypnosis as per hot coals rituals? Untenable, I’m not suggestible even to myself. Only one thing for it then, the Benny Hill Strategy; eye up the route, cue music, and we’re off! Somebody once described my post back injury gardening style as balletic in that I don’t bend and grab to shift prunings so much as plie and glide. They would not have described my transit across the village thus. Nor was it at all athletic, more cartoon cat on hot plate. It wasn’t hugely successful either as I gained two new blisters in the process and spent the evening with feet as elevated as possible in as cool a breeze as I could encourage into the house.

The effect on my pedal extremities rather cramped my Senior Rock Chick Sofa Glastonbury stylee unfortunately but, as is the way with the more mature, the moment will wait in digital suspension on my DVD recorder until I’m ready to frighten the dogs with my smooth moves. Assuming I don’t pick up another injury at this afternoon’s England Germany match.

Beeding Village fete

vintage car

model steam engine

london buses

Hugo Nominee – are we suckered by techno-twaddle?

starsI like my sci-fi, really I do, and having been inducted at the age of eight into this genre, I am more than familiar with the essentials of pseudo-scientific terminology. Heck, I write it myself and I appreciate both the value and the pitfalls of inventing tech-speak to describe something that isn’t yet in existence.

For me, the best tech-speak conveys a sense of familiarity so that, on reading it, I have a feeling I know what this is even though that has to be impossible. The worst offers a stream of multi-hyphenated guff and tells me this is ‘normal’, as in ‘Kraark clicked into the usual teleo-spectro-binswanger protrusion and disappeared in a cloud of pre-insular tachyons‘. Come on, gimme a break!

Sadly, this sort of neologismical nightmare is often the product of minds that either are, or believe themselves to be, superior to the mundane equipment the rest of us possess. People who seem perfectly able to write a half way decent letter or report, go into paroxysms of verbiage when asked to write for entertainment. I know, I’ve done it (give or take the superior mind bit). Fancy footwork that packs in vocabulaic (see what I mean?) excess and delights the author, showy sentences that have so little redundancy of language that you need a scalpel to dissect out the meaning, and purple paragraphs that lilt, roll, undulate, and titillate with the lightness of gossamer made of fine steel, and – where exactly is the verb here? Subject or object anyone?

Well, I’ve done quite a lot of work on myself to expunge this kind of self indulgence and write so that the writing itself is not the message. I’ve learned about ‘show, not tell’, although not always to best effect when it comes to the practical, and I’ve pretty much got my clever-cleverness under control most of the time. I’ve let it off the leash a bit in this post for the purposes of illustration (so just imagine what I can do if I really mean it!) and because I believe I’ve been out garbaged by a Hugo Award nominee.

Yes. Up for a major prize. That sort of Hugo Award nominee.

Admittedly this was an audio podcast and so keeping track was more difficult as the presentation has its own pace and narrator delivery style. But even so, it was, to me, a turgid, self important, blind-em-with-science agglutination of made-up verbiage that lectured and postured its way to a blindingly obvious conclusion. But it got some good reviews, people who liked the style, people who thought it was smart and intricate. And it’s up for an award.

So what do I make of this? Emporer’s New Clothes or am I missing something maybe? I think not. I think the people who liked it have the same apparent need to show superiority as the author (this man claims to have a PhD in cognitive sciences and linguistics and to be a university academic) so their appreciation is based on a kind of intellectual snobbery. Some years ago, a one-off study showed that academics at a conference rated most highly a deliberately incomprehensible lecture, thereby illustrating what we all know to be true – no-one likes to be thought an idiot. I suspect the same may be true in this situation, pseudo-scientific twaddle being accepted on the basis of the apparent credentials of the author and rated accordingly.

So, where do I go from here then? Clever-clever comes easy, been doing it for years, and since I’ve also got a PhD handy, I reckon I might be able to knot up enough punters to get myself a reasonable, if perpetually bemused, following. But that’s not what it’s about is it? Since getting to grips with my florid and verbally dense passages, making a conscious effort at dialogue, and at least nodding towards the ‘show’ imperative, I’ve been much more satisfied with my writing and happier with the product so I’ll not be going back other than in momentary lapses and happy indulgences such as today.

I won’t half be narked though if that undeconstructible, hyper-formal, word-saladic, pomposificatory, faux techno baffle-babble wins!

Double or dilute?

voting papers, pic from MorgueFileChances, that is. Last week, after mercilessly punching out redundancy and pruning my tiny story down to the even tinier requisite of 500 words, I submitted the final product to an online competition. My first. Virgin territory. Exhausted, I crawled away to bandage psychic wounds (all those abandoned and unwanted words, left unloved by the literary roadside) and to sleep off the emotional ravages of exposing my soul to public judging. Well ok, bit of dramatic licence there but you know where I’m coming from, right?

Anyway, two days later and an acknowledgment appears. Yes, they received it, yes, the word count is right, and would I like to submit another as the flash category is allowed two? Well it’s an attractive option and, although the deadline is a bit tight, there might be something in my ‘remnants’ drawer that could be shaped up for the purpose. I take a look at ‘Warehouse’ – only a few words over, ideal!

But hang on a minute, does submitting two stories double my chances or halve them? There’s only one winner so only one of them could nab the prize (wishful thinking there in full flight). One of them might get all the votes and be the outright winner (more fantasy here, but in the interests of a mathematical model, as you’ll begin to see), but which one? More likely, if people are attracted to my style (the submissions are anonymised), some might vote for Tale One and others for Tale Two, thereby allowing a third story (not mine) with less than my total vote to sneak in ahead. Hm. It’s the old problem of divided competition; if you want to drive out some old duffer who’s held onto his seat on the council by three votes for the last century, you have to hope the desire to unseat him doesn’t lead to a raft of alternative candidates, each of whom will appeal to a minority of voters thereby ensuring he stays put. You hope for one strong candidate behind whom the populus will stand in order to make the necessary change.

So, on the principle of the divided vote, I have shelved ‘Warehouse’ (did you see what I did there?!) and put all the remaining eggs in my ‘If it ain’t broke..’ basket.

But oh lawdy, what if  ‘Warehouse’ would have been the one? This is where fantasy really does come into its own – of course ‘Warehouse’ would have been the one! I will sit and stroke it, hear it purr while I tell it how, given the chance, it would have knocked ’em dead. Yes Precious, pretty Precious, what has it got in its pocketses, Precious…?

I should go get a cup of tea now.