Clearing out

Over the last three years my feed aggregator – Google Reader – has become two things.

It has become a hideously expanded mass of websites waiting for me to pore over, and it has become a hideously expanded mess of websites, waiting for me to pore over.

I do wonder how I – we – used to keep on top of things, in the bad old days, before websites generated RSS feeds, don’t you?

There can’t be any many people left on this planet who don’t use a Reader to manage their surfing habits.

But did I – did we – really keep visiting and revisiting websites, in a daily routine, to see if they had been updated?

Yes, sadly, I – we – did.

But even back then, with the aid of bookmarking, and the ability to file away website addresses in folders and sub-folders in our browser’s memory, keeping on top of things was, for a while, relatively easy.

Inevitably, though, the list of websites in my ‘daily checklist’ slowly began to challenge the amount of time I had available in which to undertake my ‘daily check’.

Conflict!

The wider I roamed across the world-wide-webish tundra, and the more I collected a wider range of varied and interesting websites; discovered strange new topics, the more difficult the act of keeping on top of my various reading lists became.

With the introduction of website aggregators, things became easier, for a while.

Bloglines – the tool of discerning web-surfers in those days – turned the act of keeping on top of my web-based reading in to such an easy task; I loved the simplicity that Bloglines gave me.

Broadband soon arrived and, in conjunction with Bloglines, keeping on top of my daily, weekly – and even monthly – reading lists because a task of such ease that I increased my web-use significantly.

But – and you knew there was a ‘but’ coming, didn’t you? – the easy peasy point-and-shoot functionality of broadband, combined with the seductively simple ‘come hither’ ease of use of my Bloglines feed aggregator led, as you knew it would, to a massive upswing in the number of websites I was visiting regularly.

My reading lists got out of control.

Again.

Like a kind of Godzilla, powered exclusively by reading frustration as it strode, angrily, across the landscape; uprooting trees, pulling down buildings and generally instilling fear and trepidation left, right and, indeed, centre, my control had slipped to enable my reading lists to grow to such tremendous dimensions that they became worse than unmanageable.

And yet I let this situation continue to grow.

That’s where my web-reading has been, for most of the last year; unmanageable.

And yet, like some kind of web-savvy, but slightly foolish virgin, I have ignored the unmanageability of my aggregator.

Right up until this weekend I have continued to add more and more websites to Google Reader (my current aggregator) on an almost daily basis, whilst continuing to struggle with the impossibility of a reading list the length of the Nile.

When I sat down to write this post I had 2,473 unread items in Reader.

But, half an hour later, I have reduced that number of unread web-articles to…

Zero.

I have been ruthless, and I have been ruthless for a reason.

The cost of allowing my reading list to expand out of control has been to demotivate me from writing.

The sitcom has been on the back-burner for six months, although I did blow the dust off the screenplay, over the weekend, and tidied up a couple of scenes.

But it needs finishing, and I’m not going to be able to do that if I’m wrestling with an unmanageable reading list every night.

And, away from the sitcom, I have a number of other projects that need my time and effort.

So I have decided to decimate my reading lists.

I have gone back to basics; the websites of my friends, and those websites I have a tangible, contributory interest in. And one or two exceptions, perhaps.

But the bottom line is that my Reader subscriptions to everything else have been thrown out.

Hopefully this drastic cutback will give me some time to get back on track with my writing.

And that – and the company of friends and loved ones – is what is really important.

You are what you read?

This posts comes courtesy of a couple of gentle digs about a newspaper I tweeted I was reading…

I think it is important to begin by saying that I do not buy a daily newspaper. But I do read the online content of elements of the British press, on a daily basis.

So on a gloriously warm and sunny day when I tweeted, ‘Roadside cafe – fried egg sandwich, mug of tea, borrowed copy of The Sun. Bliss :)’, I got a little bit of stick because I was reading the tabloid The Sun.

But it was, sadly, the only newspaper that the aforementioned roadside cafe had on offer. So what is one to do?

Anyway, the two bits of criticism gave me a little mental prod and I’ve spent some time since then reviewing what newspapers (and/or their online content) I read. And here’s the list of daily visits:

  • The Daily Mail
  • The Daily Telegraph
  • The Guardian
  • The Independent
  • The Times

So no The Sun. Also, you’ll notice, no Mirror or Express. Except, of course, if I have stopped at a roadside cafe and they’re all that’s available to me.

But if you are what you read, I can’t help wondering what that list makes me?

Anyway, in other news, here’s a very short video of Tom being schooled yesterday:

And here’s another:

Booking things

I’m almost done…

After a difficult series of telephone calls with Daughter last night – but only difficult because, well, you know, she’s a girl – I was able to use the interwebs to spend some money.

  • Flights booked and paid for? Check!
  • Car hire booked and paid for? Check!
  • First set of accommodation booked? Check!
  • Second set of accommodation booked and paid for? Check!

In fact, the only thing not yet taken care of is the airport car parking, but that can wait, it’s less important.

Hmm… what else have I done today?

Breakfast in bed for Soph, obv.

And reading; in fact I’ve just finished Neil Gaiman’s peculiarly compelling tale of multiple Londons, ‘Neverwhere’.

Soph’s up.

Yeah, I know!

So perhaps a walk in to Witney next?

And Costa?

We’re meeting Perpetual Spiral for a drink this evening. If we can stay awake.

Because, you know, it’s been soooo hectic today.

I love reading but

No, not the town in Berkshire where Colin lives; I mean the activity that involves the printed word.

So yeah… I love reading but, is the reading of books doomed?

On Monday lunchtime I visited a large outlet of a very well known chain of booksellers.

The store was immaculately laid out but prominently were the displays: offers, offers, offers, offers. Two for one, three for two, six for four.

Add to these displays the various reduced price ‘discount’ bins and it would seem that the market for the printed word isn’t exactly buoyant.

Except perhaps in our house, but that is a different – and altogether more entertaining story.

Nick Hornby(1) recently wrote a feature on the Penguin website arguing that the digital development of the printed word – eBook readers and so on – will never replace books.

I concur, although I do remember people saying years ago that vinyl would never be replaced – but where are the sales of records on vinyl now?

However I think Nick Hornby is right because a digital book still has to be held, just like a real book. And unlike a real book you will never own – just rent – a digital book.

These points are the key differences between books/eBooks and vinyl/digital media (though some might argue that with DRM the buyer of music still never completely owns the records) ; that eBooks are ‘rented’, hard copy books are owned and both types of the media have to be held in an identical manner.

However the downward trend of book sales is unarguable and, in a way, underlined by the proliferation of offers and discounts – for if book sales were bullish the imprints and vendors wouldn’t need to rely so heavily on discounted lines to shift stock, would they?

Rhetorical.

But what does puzzle me is that second-hand bookshops haven’t risen to become the literary equivalent of the ‘charity shop’, which can be found on almost every UK street corner.

Yes, there are significant ‘used’ outlets around the country.

The Book Barn (for example), which once used to occupy an enormous (formerly top secret Defence installation) single site to the north of the Somerset city of Wells, has now expanded to occupy four aircraft hanger-sized warehouses in various parts of the UK.

And although I’ve visited The Book Barn a few times – and come away with armfuls of books each time – but I find The Book Barn too large.

OK, I can meander along and have a pretty ropey plastic cup of plastic coffee made with plastic milk and browse the dusty dust jackets of hardbacks, softbacks and even – dare I say it – boxes of vinyl,

But where, I want to know, is my local second-hand bookstore?

Where is my book-filled place of foot-tapping but unobtrusive music?

A place where I can go and browse sections – rather than square miles – of neatly categorised printed work?

A kind of bookish ‘Championship Vinyl’?

See what I did there?

I suppose the commercial factor – the financial calculation of markup – where the margin between ‘buying-in’ and ‘selling-out’ needs to support the business expenditure: premises, heat, light and staff costs – is the main inhibition in the growth of the used book market.

Hay-on-Wye, for example, is a small town on the Welsh border where the local economy is supported by books. Used books are not the main industry in Hay, but it’s one of them.

But if you look at Hay-on-Wye you’ll see that there is hardly any competition for the commercial premises which, in turn, must be a significant factor in governing the affordability of market rents in the town.

My home town though, Bromsgrove, has a significant number of charity shops – clothing charity shops – but no second-hand bookstores.

Commercial property in Bromsgrove must be affordable at the moment, there are a number of empty shops and they’ve been empty for some time; are not getting reoccupied.

The question has to be what is the weak spot in the used book market business case?

I think the answer is that it is the same weak spot that is blighting the new bookstores.

The buyers.

Or the lack of them.

But would people more readily patronise a used bookstore in these financially squeezed times, than they would a new bookstore?

Hmmm…

Setting aside mundane practicalities like stock selection and ambience, it’s an interesting question.

At least it is to me, here, now.

Who knows if it will be tomorrow.

But tomorrow I might not want to visit a second hand bookstore.

In Bromsgrove.

(1) I learnt an interesting Hornby-related fact recently: the music budget for the film adaptation of High Fidelity was bigger than the entire film budget for the film adaptation of Fever Pitch.

Boggling fact that, eh?

B.

So farewell then…

Arthur C Clarke.

2001: A Space Odyssey, Expedition to Earth, Rendezvous with Rama, Childhood’s End, The Fountains of Paradise, Of Time and Stars, Imperial Earth, The Deep Range…

All of these and many more captured my imagination and became my relief valve; took me to places outside of my childhood, and in later years made me want to write.

In my little world this is a very sad day.

B.

Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through

That TV advertisement is right, dammit! I do need to remove stubborn stains and I am worried about damaging the colour. But lo my friends! There is a product that I simply need to dip my stubbornly-stained clothing into and behold… the stain is gone! This must be magic. Or sorcery. Anyway, back in the real world…

Earlier I managed to spill my craftsman-like constructed cup of tea all over the kitchen worksurface.

No significant damage was done, but so great was the crisis that once the damage was repaired Die Hard 4.0 and a significant quantity of ice cream followed.

Elsewhere…

I haven’t ridden this weekend – the weather’s been awful – but I have finished the very last task at the yard of clearing up Beech’s things. Much poignancy.

I’ve also emailed Jo (new trainer) to postpone our next session – I haven’t had time to put her ideas in to practice from the last time yet.

Vinnie looks good, I wish I was giving him the quality of work that he deserves.

Gary’s repaired the power steering feed pipe on the lorry (yay!), but we don’t have anything booked in the competition schedule – though I’ve just noticed there’s some dressage on Sunday 16th December down at Huntley in Gloucestershire.

And here’s a thing… those Southern Comfort television commercials. Haven’t the advertising agency realised the awful truth yet, that they’re being handicapped by the fact that the product tastes like sickly cat wee?

We had breakfast at Little Chef this morning (yeah, rock’n’roll!), a token of apology from me to The Lovely S for behaving like a complete and utter twot yesterday.

After breakfast a trip to the yard where I cleared stuff up, as previously mentioned.

Then shopping in Kidderminster (woo!) where I scored a rather nice two-piece pinstripe from Next. It’s a smart suit and the cut on the trousers emphasises things very well.

Then home via Blockbusters where Die Hard 4.0, a tub of ice cream and a large packet of chocolatey things invited themselves in to my possession.

And now it’s the hysterically delicious Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality. Interspersed with fcuking irritating fcuking adverts.

We were going to the cinema today but the reviews that The Golden Compass has been getting are absolutely awful, so we passed.

Christmas looms.

The place I’m working closes down for the Christmas/New Year period.

Christmas Day sees the annual fried breakfast and Buck’s Fizz at the yard – even those on full livery have to do their horses AM and PM to give Sue at least one day in the year off.

Christmas Day evening and Boxing Day will see a visit to the outlaws; time will be spent in the company of Damien, the child who bears the number of The Beast.

A post-Christmas trip to Spain to visit Daughter is becoming a possibility, there’s lots of arranging to be done to make it so, but the chance of a few days in her company exists.

I have two books that shall be reviewed over Christmas and have made the conscious decision that OU submissions may well be late while I settle many tasks down at work.

And The Lovely S has decided that when the last episode of Buffy has been viewed we should perhaps move on to 24. Whilst I see merit in the suggestion I can’t help wondering where Angel fits in to the plan.

There doesn’t seem to be any less going on in my life but it does look as though I’m managing things more efficiently.

B.

I am a slut

Some might unkindly think ‘So what’s new?’ but bear with me for a moment

It’s Sunday afternoon, 13.15 of the clock.

I should be down in Gloucestershire having teamed up with Vin and collectively wowed the folks down there with what he and I amusingly (in a sometimes ironic kind of way) call ‘dressage’.

Sometimes what he and I perform bears little relation to the definitions everyone else in the sport have, other times we’re pretty damn good. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground with Vin and me; we’re either a pair of contenders or we’re the comedy turn.

But today we are neither the pretty damn good nor the ‘Oh my God Laura, what are those two clowns up to’ variety.

Rain stopped play.

Actually, that’s dishonest.

Hartpury has a beautiful indoor arena that would not be out of place in an Olympic venue.

Rain sapped enthusiasm might be a better description.

So while I am occupied with non-dressage fripperies Vin is free to lounge about in his field with his buddies while I try out…

Slovenliness.

I’m still in my bathrobe – I have the house to myself (why do I want to add ‘Oh yes’ in a Wayne’s World voice?).

There’s something on the television but the sound is off; it seems to have a very young Denzel Washington in it though.

I’ve just put a book down for a few minutes while I collect my thoughts.

I’m listening to some talking heads on Radio Four’s Any Questions.

One of the politicians makes me want to reach for my hammer and smash the laptop to bits every time he fails to answer a question, but that would be foolish so I fight the urge. It’s touch and go though.

Why are you alone, I hear you ask. (I did hear that, didn’t I?)

I am alone because the Lovely S and The Lovely Aussie Sammi have gone to Chav Central, sorry, England’s fine medieval city of Worcester, to experience the complete and utter hell that is the Worcester Christmas Fair. Or is it Fayre? Or Fare?

I declined the offer to accompany them because, erm, I’ve got a bone in my leg and, umm, the housing market worries me and, ahem…

Anyway.

This morning I have finished reading A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil by the erratic but usually brilliant Christopher Brookmyre.

This really isn’t one of his better works.

But it is undeniably clever. And in parts excellently written and, as always, shows excellent examples of life through scathing observation.It’s his most Glasgae work to date – so much so that there’s a glossary in the back so those who haven’t worked things out can look up words like ‘Bampot’ (brilliantly translated to ‘A person of combustible nature’).

I have also, this morning, picked up, restarted and made significant inroads to Wide Sargasso Sea.

Yeah, not my choice, it’s a text.

And that’s why at (checks watch) 13.30 on Sunday afternoon I’m still in my bathrobe. With a cup of hours-old tea on the worktop. And the lorry parked around the corner (yeah, sorry about that Bromsgrove).

Apart from the onslaught of slutty slovenliness I’m feeling pretty good. Considering.

Dreadfully tired.

But apart from that, not too bad.

Yesterday I cleaned out B’s stable and packed his rugs and tack away. It broke my heart all over again.

Pauses while wondering why Denzel Washington has suddenly turned in to the fat queen of all that is chavness who is currently bombarding the hapless people of this country with wall-to-wall adverts urging us to buy Iceland’s substandard food products. Yes that’s right, it’s another attempt by the corporate beast to brainwash us all that cheap and nasty really isn’t so bad after all. Realises he’s accidentally changed channels but decides to stick with C4 because a trailer has just announced that The Simpsons is on next. Woo-hoo!

Did I mention that I’m dreadfully tired?

I should have a shower.

I should fix myself something to eat (there’s half a ton of Chinese food that we rescued from China City last night in the fridge).

I should tidy up and heat my tea.

I should get dressed.

But then I wouldn’t be a slovenly slut.

And today I just can’t be arsed.

B.

Playing catch-up

Hours, not, day, enough, the, in.

Rearrange these words in to a well-known phrase or saying.

Work is annoying. Things come in productivity cycles – peaks and troughs.

For the last eight working days I’ve been riding a massive peak; polished off the last thing this morning which – I hope – puts the lid on a big thing. The rest of the day is going to be spent on things of a boring but necessary administrative nature.

Work has also been massively frustrating for the last 3-4 weeks. I’m hoping it’s nothing terminal.

Coursework has also been on the up.

Tomorrow is submission day for TMA02 – the four-parter (art history, poetry, music, philosophy).

I’ve re-written parts 1, 2 and 3 so many times I could now re-write each one without reference to my (way too copious) notes.

Part 4 is as subjective as a dressage test and therefore has little reference to anything of a substantial nature.

The tutor is stunned at my admission that once I’ve finished a piece of writing I go in to serial re-edit mode and I’ll pore over something for as many hours/days/weeks/months as are available (a kind of literary slant on Parkinson’s Law).

She is of the ‘do it once and leave it alone’ school of writing. I sometimes wish I was.

My ‘really must read this’ pile is about seven books tall. Three of these are Uni texts, two are books to review. I’ll polish the latter off before Christmas but the former…?

Christmas.

Christmas may – just may – be a foreign affair this year.

Pending a variety of factors that include prices being right, flights being available, accommodation ditto and the appropriate level of liquidity in the current account, Christmas could conceivably be a Californian affair.

You know; take advantage of the economic situation while the dollar sinks slowly in the west…

And it’s been, frankly, a hell of a year, The Lovely S and I deserve a holiday (our last being Iceland back in January).

Of course there are other calls on the account but sometimes common sense isn’t the strongest of my suits.

Because it would be warm.

And sunny.

And not grey.

Or frosty.

Hmmm…

Received an email from K this morning wanting to know if I’m interested in a contract for a minimum of six months in south London.

I feel like Vicky Pollard.

(Yeah but no but yeah but no but yeah but no but…)

Horses… I have still not got the vet back to give Beech a second inspection. Next week, maybe.

I’ve not ridden Vin since last Saturday’s ride through the Wyre Forest – spending yesterday evening working instead.

Here’s a thing; Facebook.

I’ve had a friend request from someone I don’t know. Is this normal? I need to ask because I think my Facebook profile is the lowest, least inactive there is.

Not a bad thing really.

See earlier statement at the top of the post begining with the word ‘Hours’!

A quick conversational loop back towards the course…

My webstats show me that my daily average of hits referred from google and answers.com with search terms directly related to TMA02 have just climbed past 250.

Which raises all sorts of questions.

Speaking of questions…

I have received an email at an ‘old’ but active email account – the one associated with my old (and occasionally active) blog.

The writer of the email has spent some time going through some of the – shall I say ‘more frank’ – writings and, for some reason or other, has pinged an email at me asking my view.

It’s interesting, funny and a little bit saucy. I might reproduce it here when I have time.

But it won’t be today, for now my lunchtime has expired and I have to sweep crumbs from my keyboard and get on with my paperwork.

B.

This month’s book group

I never fail to be amazed by the capacity of our species to induce surprise.

Two things astounded me so much at this week’s brookgroup that for what seemed like an age when each was revealed I was actually lost for words.

The first related to something that happened last time out when a member of the group said that she had been reading a novel which sounded very interesting.

After her summary I mentioned that it sounded right up my street and made a point to note the author’s name and the title of the book.

So surprise number one occurred when, at this week’s meeting, she produced a copy of the book and gave it to me, saying I could borrow it for as long as I needed. From anyone else this would be generous enough but the person in question usually comes across as one who is slightly aloof, a tiny bit prickly and very formal.

It seemed such an unexpected gesture of… friendship?… that I was quite staggered.

To get to the second surprising thing I need to go further back than last time.

At a meeting a few months I mentioned one of the works I had just finished reading ‘off the reading list’, was a novel by Adam Hall.

The Lovely S later told me that I’d raved about this novel in a (for me) typically overenthusiastic manner.

Sidebar:
I do like Adam Hall’s style. He wrote under two names -his real identity of Elleston Trevor and the pseydonym: Adam Hall. And he wrote completely differently in the guise of each author.

Adam Hall author wrote sharp, detailed, punchy espionage/thriller novels.

Elleston Trevor wrote slightly flowery, very literary, a little over-grammatical works.

Ironically one of Elleston Trevor’s novels was turned in to a hugely successful Hollywood film with an international cast that included Ernest Borgnine, James Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Peter Finch, Hardy Krüger and George Kennedy. And how’s that for a top rate cast?

So imagine my surprise when another bookgroup member, one who I’d viewed as slightly prickly and a little aloof, told me that she had tracked down one of the out of print novels by Adam Hall from a supplier in London, had ordered it, received it and finished reading it and wished to thank me for introducing her to a work and a strand of genre that she wouldn’t normally have picked up.

Stunned!

And then she said that she enjoyed the author so much she would be ordering other copies of his work.

How cool is that?

How cool are both of these things?

And also, how cool are these people?

Anyway the bookgroup evening -with me sitting in for The Lovely S who was being all academic in Wales.

Went really well.

They indulged me and (figuratively) held my hand.

No-one walked out, no-one threw food at me or booed me.

So in terms of how it went I’d say it was a moderate success, except…

Black Swan Green -the book of the month.

It took a bit of a pounding from the group; I’m not going to do a full review.

I’ll just say that the consensus of opinion was that Black Swan Green was over-long, carried too many bookmarks and could have been written more sympathetically.

B.

More lit. stuff

There’s a Readers Group meeting tomorrow evening.

And…

Hold on to your hats…

I’m chairing it.

The Lovely S, who normally runs the meeting with the sensitivity of Herbert von Karajan and the delicacy of a brain surgeon, is in the Land of My Fathers for the week.

So it falls to someone else to chair the forum and for reasons far too complicated to detail…

I have been ‘nominated’.

So rearrange these words in to a well-known phrase or saying: Myself, crapping, am, I.

This is way worse than any professional presentation I’ve ever done – and far worse than any case conference I’ve ever attended.

It’s scary stuff being in a roomfull of people who are significantly more intelligent than oneself and trying to fill The Lovely S’s shoes!

B.