Saturday, December 17, 2005

Bright Light City

I went to London today to do a bit of Christmas shopping. As it turned out, I didn't do any at all, and just bought things for myself, but that's what I always do on the first shopping trip I make. I never seem to see anything that looks like a suitable gift until the very last minute. I've left it too late to post presents to people now, anyway, because I've got to be in the office Monday to Thursday next week and I won't get a chance to go to the post office.

I nearly spent £120 on a present for my brother - a Japanese boxed set of Predacons from that cool little comic shop on Tottenham Court Road - but decided against it in the end. We don't generally go above a fiver on our presents to each other, the rule is quality and entertainment value rather than material worth, and while that doesn't necessarily preclude buying something that's both cool and expensive, I don't really like to. It might look like I'm saying "Ha ha, I've got more money than you!"

So I need another shopping trip tomorrow to actually buy cards and presents, and maybe that laptop computer for myself that I've been meaning to buy for ages. I bought some CDs today, including a big Christmas compilation that my brother and I are going to spend the whole of Christmas listening to whether we like it or not (I insist, it's not Christmas without Christmas songs), and the CD player on my current computer is increasingly senile and non-working. I'll need a laptop for organising that memory competition anyway, so it's a worthwhile expenditure. I'll do something big and charitable to make up for it.

I need to buy decorations and food for the aforementioned festive fraternal visit - this'll be the first time I've entertained someone at Christmas time, and I'm determined to make a proper turkey dinner, and Christmas pudding and everything. I don't know how it's come round so quickly this year, it still feels like November to me.

Friday, December 16, 2005

But it makes me look like a geek!

I've got one of those luminous reflective jackets (with Parkhouse Recruitment written on it in big letters - I don't pay for my clothes, as a rule) that is very useful for stopping lorries from running me over when I'm cycling home from work in the dark. Or it would be, if I wore the thing. You see, that kind of thing is just so uncool. It screams 'trainspotter' to anyone who sees me wearing it. And because I'm so worried about total strangers' opinions of my sartorial elegance, I'm very reluctant to wear this potentially life-saving item.

"But Zoomy," I hear you say, "you look so cool that no amount of reflective safety gear could harm your image!"

Or, if you're more honest, "But Zoomy, nobody gives a monkeys what you wear anyway, least of all people who catch a fleeting glimpse of you from the pavement as you cycle past. And even if they did, they'd laugh at your normal clothes anyway, so you really don't need to worry."

So okay, I'll wear the nerdy thing. But I'm not wearing a helmet.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


I don't know why, but I've had really epic dreams for the last couple of nights. Or maybe it's just that I've remembered them better than I usually do, by virtue of waking up half an hour or so before I need to get out of bed and thus having ample time to analyse my subconscious meanderings. But each of them came in three distinct interlinked sections, with a whole host of characters, strange locations and goings-on. This morning I even woke up with a catchy original tune running around my head, but I've forgotten it now, annoyingly enough. I do have another dream-composition from a few months ago that's going to be a hit single some day, or at least a popular jingle for a bacon advert (the lyrics involve getting out of bed and having a bacon sandwich, which was obviously something on my mind at the time).

A guy on an internet message board for idiots who want people to think they're clever (one of my favourites, naturally, although I don't post there much any more) is fond of saying that you only dream if you have unresolved thoughts in your mind when you go to sleep. So, he says, a practicioner of yoga (or whatever he does) doesn't need to dream and is therefore an altogether better person. Being too polite to say so to his face, I'll say here behind his back that this is the most ridiculously, colossally STUPID thing I have ever heard. Why on earth would you want to not have dreams? Letting your subconscious play around and entertain you is something that you should try to do as much as possible! In fact, what the world needs is a way to make people dream much more than they do at the moment. That would make the world a better place.

Last night's dream actually posed me a moral dilemma that I was ruminating about at work today. Going into detail would be long, complicated and incomprehensible, but the basic idea in this dream was that a friend of mine was unhappy, and I came up with a solution that basically involved taking her mind off things for an evening, rather than doing anything about the long-term cause. Indeed, when presented with an opportunity to ask for help from someone who might have been able to do more (but might have made things worse), I deliberately didn't. This, it seems to me, is typical of the way I always go about things. I do go out of my way to make other people happy, but only in the immediate kind of way you can do with a hug or a kind gesture. I generally avoid doing anything to help people deal with serious problems of their own. If someone's upset, my usual solution is to do something silly and keep everyone entertained, leaving someone else to do the comforting. Perhaps I should make more of an effort to do some good in the world. Or possibly I should stop overthinking everything and just carry on the way I am.

See what I mean about Christmas time? I'm getting all introspective and serious. It won't last. Anyway, if anybody was wondering how the new job's coming along, it's not too bad. I don't entirely know what I'm doing, but everyone else there is to a greater or lesser degree in the same situation, so it could be a lot worse. Still don't know if I'll stay there in the long term, but I'll cross that bridge when I either get fired or find out that I've been there for forty years and I'm retiring next week.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Fantastic and Terrific

By way of a belated birthday present, my brother found me a fantastic old comic, in more ways than one. It's issue 78 of Fantastic, the magazine of choice in the late sixties for British children who wanted to read American superhero comics but couldn't get hold of the originals. Or at least I assume it was - I've never heard of it before.

Actually, the title at this point in the comic's history was "Fantastic and Terrific", with the "and Terrific" in very small letters. This used to be a common sight on British comics - an unsuccessful one would be swallowed up by a more popular title, and the names would both be featured prominently on the covers for a while, so as to make sure not to lose the few readers who only liked the failing comic, before the second name, like Terrific, was quietly dropped. The cover also features the logo "A Power Comic", with a picture of a fist just to emphasise how powerful it is, the date (10 August 1968) and a little copyright notice for Odhams Press Ltd.

It was on sale every Monday for 9d - Australia 10c, South Africa 10c, East Africa 1.25, New Zealand 1/- (10c), Rhodesia 1/3, West Africa 1/-. So it's educational too - NZ was obviously in the process of decimalisation at the time, and a shilling went further in West Africa than it did in Rhodesia. The rather uninspired cover illustration is a close-up of the superhero Goliath's head, and a photo of the Fantastic Book of Soccer Stars that could be found inside.

The front and back covers are the only splash of colour in the comic - the British standard at the time was anthology magazines, in black and white, with five or six stories of five or six pages maximum each, with the obligatory crossword puzzles, letters pages, competitions and fun facts to pad out the stuff that people actually wanted to read. So ignoring the fact that the American material being repeated was designed to be read in full colour, in 20-page bursts every month, Fantastic strictly follows the British format. We get a luxurious nine pages of Avengers, Goliath and his friends battling the evil alien Ixar, five pages of Dr Strange in the middle of a longer magical fight scene with Yandroth, five pages of the X-Men thwarting the plans of the Mutant-Master and Factor Three, six pages of Thor exploring Ego the Living Planet, including a glorious double-page spread that must have looked so much better in colour, and eight pages of the Hulk fighting the Sub-Mariner. Plus a full-colour back-page pin-up of Unus the Untouchable, a crossword that you need to know the name of the Beast's girlfriend to solve, a "Spot the Boob" competition which isn't nearly as fun as it sounds (it's a spot-the-deliberate-mistake thing), letters and editorials. All for ninepence!

There's three-quarters of a page of adverts in the entire comic - two little ads for stamp collectors' outfits, and an encouragement to buy Tonibell Miniballs - the ball with the ice cream inside - in order to enter a competition and win £50 of vouchers to spend in London's biggest toy shop. Oh, and rather incongrously in amongst all the superheroes, there's the first of five pull-out profiles of famous footballers, that you can put together to make a little book, just in time for the 1968/69 season. This week it's Bobby Moore (who gets the front page, of course), Billy Bremner, Billy McNeill and Jeff Astle. Bremner's Leeds went on to win the league that year, if anyone's interested, so the Fantastic editors Bart and Alf (whose names replaced Stan Lee's in rewritten footnotes to the superhero comics) obviously knew how to pick the winners.

They really don't make them like that any more.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Seasons in the sun

It occurred to me today that the next few months are going to be comparatively dull reading if you're mainly interested in this blog for the memory or othello talk. Memory competitions are traditionally all crammed into July and August, although there'll be anything up to two of them in March next year, which would be good. And even othello has now stopped until the end of February.

I've sort-of volunteered to organise one of the regional othello tournaments here in Derby next year. I never wanted to do one in Boston, because the place is so impossible to get to by public transport that it would just be inconvenient for everyone, but I've got no such excuse in Derby, so it's about time I did. If I put the tournament on in April, it'll be good practice for the memory competition I'm planning to hold in May - another thing I've been promising to do for years but haven't got round to it.

The othello will be a lot easier than the memory - that'll involve lots of advance preparation and (unless it's unlike every other memory competition ever held) a lot of unexpected problems causing it to run wildly behind schedule until we get pestered by caretakers trying to throw us out of the building. Which comes in handy when you need extra arbiters for the speed cards.

Monday, December 12, 2005

How To Be Friendly

I was wondering today why I don't like a particular person more than I do, when we've got such a lot in common and like most of the same things, and that led me to speculate about what qualities my favourite people have that makes them my friends. I decided in the end that it's not shared interests, so much - most of my friends aren't particularly interested in memory, or cartoons, or board games, or things like that. Likewise, more often than not I don't share their own favourite things and activities either.

I think it's more a shared mindset, or similar sense of humour - the people I like the most are the ones who I can have a really strange conversation with, both of us reacting to and building on the other's comments until the whole discussion is a lot more fun than either of us could hope to produce with anyone else. I also concluded that a special friend needs to be the kind of person who doesn't run away screaming when I mention that I'm in love with Piper O'Possum from Nick Jr.

I seem to have been doing a lot of thinking today. I've also been considering this book I keep talking about writing, and whether I'm going about it the wrong way. What I should maybe have done is taken a month or two off work with my redundancy money and devoted myself to it with some kind of seriousness. What I should also maybe have done is gone about approaching publishers and people like that first, rather than waiting until I've written the thing.

I know I had perfectly good reasons for not doing that - I didn't want to agree to write the book before I'd done it, because that would turn it from a hobby into a job, and thus make it a lot less fun. Also, there was that time a couple of years ago when I was asked to write a book, agreed to do it and then changed my mind and had to tell the company in question that I had (which is the kind of thing I really don't like doing). But now I'm starting to think that exploring the possibility of getting the thing published might be fun in itself, and might also inspire me to get writing.

Incidentally, more than one person has told me exactly that in the past, and I've replied that no, my brain doesn't work that way, so it wouldn't work. So I'm not claiming any originality in this idea, and I give full credit to everyone who's given me such good advice. But that's my plan for the moment - as soon as I get round to it, I'll look into people who publish how-to-be-clever kind of books and see about sending them a synopsis and sample chapters.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

log, on, secure, online, free

That's the title of the HSBC personal internet banking web page. Log, on, secure, online, free. It's said that for at least a couple of years, too. It's the kind of thing that makes you think you're logging on to an amateurish phishing attempt instead of an official website of a really big company.

I know that talking about other things I've seen on the internet is meant to be the kind of thing I don't do, but it was that or write a long essay about the things I've removed from and added to my Favourites list today, and I'm pretty sure there wouldn't be anything more boring than that. Except maybe the BBC Sports Review of the Year, which I've just turned off. I don't know why I always start to watch the thing every year, it's never remotely interesting. I might tune in again later to see who wins the award, but it's a foregone conclusion this time round anyway, so I might not.

So, fourteen more sleeps till Santa. Christmas seems to have come round unreasonably quickly this year. I still don't properly feel like the festive season has really started. Which is probably a good thing, because I usually get terminally depressed at this time of year, and I'm only just easing into that mental state now. Still, just two more weeks and it'll all be over, so if you see me in the meantime and I'm manically cheerful or sulky and uncommunicative, bear with me. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible after Boxing Day.