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Chaz'z Blog

Wednesday, April 28, 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.

Posted by Chaz at 03:12 PM GMT [Link]

Thursday, April 22, 2004

IBM is running prime-time TV adverts to promote Linux. This pleases but intrigues me, given that most prime-time viewers will have no idea what Linux is, and will care less if they ever learn. So - first time ever, in response to a TV ad - I went to their website, just to see what theyíre saying. Obviously what theyíre doing is pushing their own Linux-based e-business services (to prime-time commercial-channel TV viewers - again not an obvious ploy), but what they start off by saying is this:

"If Linux were a person, he would be ... a savvy nine-year-old boy improving the way the world works."

Which is one of the most bizarre and incongruent advertising images I can remember. One knows, I suppose, what they mean - young, vital, heading towards maturity, active already & with huge potential, all of that - but have these people ever met a nine-year-old boy, and can they cite me one, just the one who actually improved the way the world worked? Ever?

Still, never mind. I still love Linux, despite my current installation difficulties, and despite IBMís attempts to brand it with a white-haired cherub (here, if you want to check it out for yourself. All the TV ads are there, save you having to watch TV, which has got to be a good thing).

Posted by Chaz at 10:22 AM GMT [Link]

Friends are good. Going back to ĎNot a day without a lineí (and talking of which, just had one - whoops! Do weblogs count?), Stephen offers me this as an alternative - and of course there is such a thing as a pineapple fish. How could I have doubted it? Jean found it for me, and here it is:

Pineapple fish
Photo ©

It says in big letters underneath that it should not be eaten, but then it doesnít say why. Grr. Is it poisonous, or just foul? Is it an emetic, or endangered? Or shy? I think we should be told...

Posted by Chaz at 12:49 AM GMT [Link]

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Whatís the difference between a fish and a pineapple? The terrible truth is, I do not know. I have a cream china dish that must be meant for a mould, because it has scalloped sides and a design cut deep into the bottom, that would obviously stand out proud from the mousse or blancmange or whatever when it was turned out. I took the dish out this morning (in order to put chocolate coffee beans in it, if you must know, for my desk; those of us who no longer smoke, we need some kind of treats to keep us working) and glancing inside I thought, ďI wonder what this is really meant for, what dish do people make thatís moulded and flavoured with pineapple?Ē - and then, because Iíve owned this dish for years and never had that thought before, I looked again and remembered that Iíd always previously thought the design was a fish and the dish was meant for fishy mousses and p‚tťs. Look, itís not very clear, okay? But itís deeply rounded and clearly scaly, and at one end it branches out into a sort of fan; and that could be the tail and scales of a fish, and todayís revelation is that it could equally well be the leaves and scales of a pineapple. If there is a pineapple fish, I want to hear of it now, today...

Posted by Chaz at 05:27 PM GMT [Link]

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Who was it, what writer, who said ĎNot a day without a lineí? Some man, Val suggests, with a support-system in place, wife or servants or both: someone, at least, who never had to worry about doing the laundry or taking the cat to the vet. If I googled, I would know. But actually my gripe with him runs the other way. As a prescription for the writing life, never to let a day pass without at least writing something, itís among the best advice around; impossible to follow, I think, without that support-system above mentioned, but good to aim at none the less. The problem is that Ďa lineí is actually not very much work at all, and this quotation gives us licence to quit. When things are bad, you make that first engagement with the work, fire up the computer or sharpen the pencil, straighten the pad, have a quick early stab at a sentence - and then the first awful existential angst of the day rises up, or else itís the smell from that bin-bag in the kitchen, and either way you are now allowed to cry Ďthatís a line, Iíve tried, Iíve done my duty to St Francis de Sales [patron saint of writers, due to his habit of leafleting the good news, rather than preaching in the public square; I like to think of him as a singularly shy evangelist], itís okay to give up now.í If only heíd said Ďnot a day without a pageí, or even Ďnot a day without a thousand wordsí, the world would be a far better place by now, or at least more full of books. Many of them by me.

Specifically, Iím thinking about Thursday. Misha was in hospital, I was phoning anxiously (and the only nice thing the whole day was the nurses brightened up as soon as I mentioned which cat I was asking after; you could hear their sudden smiles. Sheís like that), and I wrote a sentence and a half. All day. Itís a lovely sentence, and the half ainít bad either, but at that rate it would take me years to finish this book, and many of them. Iíve got six weeks.

Misha came home, though she is still not mended. They did all the standard tests, and they all came back normal (hah! as if any cat of mine could be normal...), but her little heart is still going thumpety-thumpety at a rate not good for cats, and they donít know why. Nor do they know why her pupils are so dilated, so now theyíre doing specialist tests (see, told you, normal just doesnít cut the mustard) before they even think of putting her under anaesthetic. Personally I have no faith in special tests either, weíve been this way before with her and with Sophie too, and never had answers. In the meantime, though, she is home, and I am being absurdly sentimental; and I wish I could say that she is treating me with the contempt that I so richly deserve, but actually she laps it up. None of that cat-who-walks-by-herself nonsense, why would she want to do that when she can be cuddled and adored?

And I am getting back to work, more or less, but much of the impetus has gone. A couple of weeks back I was being dragged along in the novelís wake, couldnít write fast enough to suit it, didnít want to be interrupted, didnít want to go out. Now Iím doing the driving. Even when I can match the page-count at the end of a day, it still doesnít feel the same. I go to bed with no confidence for tomorrow, because itís dependent on my willpower, and we know how weak that is. With luck, the bookíll take over again - but ah, how often am I lucky?

Posted by Chaz at 10:42 PM GMT [Link]

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

So I had one of those terrific days, where I wrote a couple of thousand words before five oíclock, to finish my chapter. And then I took the handheld down the hill to the Lit & Phil and wrote a thousand words more, to start the next. Then I went to the Theatre Royal to meet Gail, and I was there first, so I just wrote a little more while I was waiting (and all this with the new Guy Gavriel Kay novel in my bag, and he is just my favourite writer, not excluding myself...). And we saw Suddenly Last Summer, in a production with Diana Rigg, on a set that clashed open and clashed together like a Venus flytrap, stinking of symbolism in that hot, sticky way that Tennessee Williams just does; and it was wonderful, and really all about bone structure. Diana just is, anyway; and it seemed to me that the language was the bone structure of the dialogue, and the set the bone structure of the production, and so on and so forth. I was off on a flight, and just loving it.

But that was yesterday. Today has been grim, a hacking struggle to drag out a couple of pages, amid my Misha-catís going to the vet for a check-up and ending up being kept in overnight for tests and a possible operation in the morning. She has a list of troubles, none of which is inherently life-threatening, but the cumulative effect is - well, this. Sheís in hospital waiting on the results of bloods and blood-pressure readings, and Iím at home and canít work and am just going to get drunk, I fancy.

Posted by Chaz at 05:51 PM GMT [Link]

Wednesday, April 7, 2004

In the realms of the greater stupidities of men, it probably doesnít count for so much, but in my own personal universe there is probably not much I could have done that would be more foolish than installing a whole new operating system when Iím in mid-book with an urgent deadline looming. Not that itís thrown up many problems so far - but the one distinct difficulty that I canít resolve lies absolutely at the core of my practice. What do I depend on? My word processor. Whatís not working properly? My word processor. What seems to be happening is that everything I type is fed into a buffer, and doesnít make it to the screen till I stop typing. I gaze at the screen and see nothing while my fingers thunder away, and every half a line or so I have consciously to stop and let the screen catch up. Itís amazingly disconcerting. Admittedly I do use an obscure little German WP program (Textmaker for Linux), and I do have a fallback if I have to use it, but I like this one and I donít want to give it up. So I asked them if they could help, and they needed some technical details about my system; so I asked my system to divulge them, and found the other little problem that I have post-upgrade. It wonít tell me. Or canít tell me, rather, it freezes every time it tries. So I asked Suse (thatís Suse Linux, the distribution that I use), and they declined to help. It seems that although I bought Suse 8.0, and now Suse 9.0, both of which come with free installation support, that doesnít actually cover an upgrade from 8.0 to 9.0, I suppose because they know it causes problems. Their only suggestion was to wipe everything and start again from scratch with a whole new installation. Grrrr...

So I wasted my morning hammering at futility, and then went storming off into town. But - because I am a good boy, and Iíve had a couple of really good working days, and I really didnít want to lose that - I took my old handheld with me. I love this machine; itís five or six years old now, a Packard Bell Easymate 770. Itís what, nine inches by five when itís folded up, and it opens just like a laptop, so that is also the size of the screen and the keyboard - which means itís big enough to type on properly. And it weighs nothing, the batteries last ten hours between recharges, and it cost four hundred quid. It runs a cut-down version of Windows, alas, but thatís okay, Linux can read Windows docs. What I donít understand is why these machines disappeared. Theyíre a halfway house between PDAs and laptops, but in no sense a compromise; the virtues of both as far as Iím concerned, and the drawbacks of neither. But nobody makes them any more. People are always asking me where they can get one. Sorry, guys - have you tried Ebay?

Anyway, took the handheld to the Lit & Phil, and itís that thing that happens when Iím working away from home, I find an extra degree of focus, I suppose. An hour and a half solid, fifteen hundred words, rat-a-tat. Maybe I really should think about getting an office, but Iíd probably only fill it with distractions. Better to work in libraries and cafes. And pubs. Of course I did go to the pub on the way home, swathed in virtue as I was; and it seems I canít go into the pub these days without a friend finding me, and buying me more beer than I meant to drink. Ah, me...

Posted by Chaz at 11:58 PM GMT [Link]

Sunday, April 4, 2004

Oops: more drinking, more being drunk. Friday was Jeanís leaving-work do, as she will hereafter be full-time working for Cornwell Internet, the rather wonderful company that manages this website and many others equally fine. So I spent the afternoon and early evening with Jean and Roger (the other half of Cornwell Internet) and a few of their friends; we drank, we ate. Then they went off to catch a train, and I slipped into my favourite pub for a pint to see me home - and was hailed by a couple of friends, and we had a pitcher of beer, and then another, and...

And I woke up in the morning not entirely remembering how Iíd got home, only pleased to discover that I had. And now it was Saturday, and there was a party to be catered for (I made dips: salsa cruda and byesar) and then attended, and I think I must have got exceedingly drunk, because I only really remember the start of it. Oh, sigh. Damn this alcoholic amnesia, itís a terrible thing.

But the other thing Iíve been doing all weekend apart from drinking is upgrading my system, to the latest release of SuSE Linux. Always nervous-making, but we seem to have come through without major trauma. Iím still engaged with that inevitable process of finding out whatís new, whatís changed, what doesnít work any more and whatís replaced it. The old installation was getting a little rough around the edges, frayed by a couple of years of electronic friction; this feels sharper, more solid. I wish I understood it better than I do, but I havenít really learned the basics, so Iím like a permanent newbie, fumbling my way through. I downloaded some new software off the net yesterday, and so far I havenít actually been able to find it...

And the other other thing Iíve done today is start the next section of Selling Water. Bit late, I let too much other stuff displace it, and Iíve only got a couple of months left now till the deadline. I used to be really reliable with deadlines, but not any more. Theyíre like overdrafts; when youíre young, youíre scared of them. Then what you're scared of happens, you run into debt or you miss the deadline, and actually the sky doesnít fall on your head; so you slowly become entirely cavalier, live in debt and write in arrears. But I donít want to be like that any more. Zeal, all zeal, Mr Easy. I can write half a book in two months, of course I can, why not...?

Posted by Chaz at 11:57 PM GMT [Link]

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© Chaz Brenchley 2002/2006
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.