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Meltdown

28 April 2004

Itís been a patchy week, just at the time when I donít want patches, when I want pure intensity and focus. Some days Iíve worked well, some not; and then I was away at the weekend, to Knebworth for the Crime Writersí Association annual conference. Wasn't quite sure I wanted to go; the CWA is good at internal ructions, and we have recently been particularly ructed. I am of course very much identified with one side in the dispute (sorry, no details - this is all confidential) and I thought the get-together might be all back-stabby and unpleasant. Not so: the particularly nasty people werenít there, and the only serious discussion I had was late-night with our incoming chairman, where we were both genuinely trying to understand the otherís bizarre and insupportable position, so that was quite fun really. And the rest of the weekend ranged from fun to fruitful; I hobnobbed with aristocrats (Lord Salisbury was kind about my bear, which endeared him to both of us, and Henry Lytton-Cobbold let me see over his house, which was the novelist Edward Bulwer-Lyttonís family seat, and both interesting and useful to me) and talked to everybody and went to talks from a sense of duty. One of those was about Bletchley Park and the Enigma machines, which again is useful; another was about naturally-occurring poisons. And the guy I was sitting next to asked before it started whether Iíd ever used poison in a book and of course I said no, I didnít write that kind of book; and then as the talk began I remembered that actually I write different kinds of books now, and a minute later recalled that actually there is a possible poisoning lurking just ahead of where I am in the book Iím writing now, and ten minutes later the nice speaker gave me just exactly what I needed. Ah, serendipity... (But you do sometimes have to put yourself in the position where the serendipitous can occur; ask Alexander Fleming.)

And so home, and back to good days and bad days, grr; but I cooked a lovely scallops Mornay, which was some compensation for the bad. And this morning I went to Gailís class on Victorian literary spectres (where weíre talking about Hoggís Confessions of a Justified Sinner as a place to start, and I'm enjoying it much more than Iíd expected; theyíre not bad, sometimes, these classics, yíknow...), and came home straight after (rather than going to the pub, which is the usual practice), determined to get some work down before I do have to go to the pub for a meeting later; and I turned on the computer and the hard disk went Ďpffftí on me, in a panic-inducing kind of way. So I went through all the automatic fixes that Linux offers, which is quite a variety, but to no avail; in the end I had to roll up my sleeves and repair the file system manually, which is Very Scary Indeed. And yet - despite the fact that my living depends on my having a computer that works, and there was clearly no guarantee that I would have by the time Iíd finished meddling - there was one unreconstructed part of me that was enjoying itself thoroughly throughout the process. I have loved computers since I met my first at the age of eight, back when they were the size of bungalows, and this really is what I love: that sense of being down among the workings, typing code and seeing what results. Thatís why I use Linux, because it never tries to shut you out from being that engaged. Iíve never learned it properly, and I donít really know what Iím doing, but I like to think that the software does, the system just uses me as its own interface, a tool for hitting keys with. Metatyping.

But the trouble is, of course, that the tension and its release when everythingís fixed and functional leaves me all afluster, and entirely unfit for working. So I thought Iíd write this and then probably just dribble off into town early for my appointment, and wash the day out altogether, and hope for a good day tomorrow.


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© Chaz Brenchley 2004
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.