Wednesday, 25 November 2015

A Lift with The Dray

The dray manoeuvres into the car park of the Temple Bar twice a week. Tuesday and Thursday afternoons - both of these happen to be my shifts. So I have tried to cultivate a good relationship with the draymen. 

Traditionally, barstaff and draymen were always on good terms. In times past, barstaff would offer the draymen a pint in exchange for doing all the heavy lifting and ensuring that the pub got stock with long dates on it. However, over time, social mores changed and it became frowned upon (1) for staff to steal pints from their boss to donate to their colleagues in a related industry and (2) for people to drive Heavy Goods Vehicles after twelve pints of bitter top. These days the only thing a bartender can offer a drayman is the use of the toilet. The dray now lack incentive to do anything other than dump their stock in the cellar, explain that the machine is not working, use the toilet and depart. (The machine is a little electronic signature collection box that doesn't work - all draymen must carry one).

I think it a great shame that one of the great working partnerships of the industry has so soured and that bartenders now have to rack their own barrels on a Tuesday.

However, the draymen that deliver on a Thursday are very much of the old school. Happy to rack 'tubs' (a quick linguistic note: draymen refer to kegs and casks as ‘tubs’ but you must never do so as this is a drayman word and they will give you a funny look if you say it) and rotate stock without being asked. The Thursday draymen are not at all like the surly Tuesday draymen. Last week, they saw me coming out of Pye Bakery (more on this soon - I am sure you are anxious to hear my verdict on their sausage rolls) and held up the traffic on Heigham Street so that they could offer me a lift to work.

I was obviously quick to accept. I love riding in lorries but the opportunity doesn't arise that often. Until that morning, I hadn't been in the cab of a lorry for about twenty years. When I was a teenager living in a rural county and unable to drive (before I grew into an adult living in a rural county and unable to drive) my main method of getting around the vast uncyclable distances between villages in the Westcountry was to hitch-hike. Lorries were always the best lifts because the extra height would give you such a fantastic view of the countryside and because the seats were on springs.

I was pleased to note that the dray had sprung seats and we bounced our way up Earlham Road and into the Temple Car Park.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Gloomthreaders - 1st Review

It has long been an ambition of mine to write a children's fantasy novel. So you can imagine my gumption when an old school pal got in contact to say that he had written a children's fantasy novel and would I mind reviewing it on my blog. Dammit, that was my idea, we can't both be successful children's fantasy novelists. Then I remembered that each time I try to write my children's time-travel adventure book, snappily titled: The Dial's Shady Stealth, I never get past chapter three because the paradoxes get too involved. Whereas here, I was presented with a complete 300 page manuscript. Cap doffed, good work.

People like myself who enjoy wasting time thinking about such matters, usually divide fantasy into four categories: Other World, Magic Door, Intrusion and Liminal. Stephen Rollett's Gloomthreaders: The Unlight Weke occupies the blurred space where Intrusion and Magic Door fantasies overlap. A space that lovers of mid-20th Century children's fantasy will readily associate with Alan Garner.  

The 'real' world occupied by its central character Felicia Hart is being impinged upon by dark forces that seek to control the Unlight. To do so, they must discover the whereabouts of the eponymous Weke that the heroine's father was last seen setting off in search of.

Putting the 'read' into 'Gloomthreaders'

It is an essential trope of the children's fantasy novel that the child must be orphaned as soon as possible. Essential because it feeds the prospective reader's fears (what if my parents were missing/dead?) and dreams (if only my parents weren't here, I could do what I like!). So with Mother dead in mysterious circumstances some years earlier and Father disappeared, Felicia enlists the help of her friend Hugo to search for the Weke herself.

Felicia and her erstwhile father are not the only ones looking for the mysterious Weke. The Council of Solarius are also interested in its whereabouts, but are its members quite what they seem?

I was pleased to see that the broad theme of emergent trust was deftly dealt with in Gloomthreaders. During childhood, we trust implicitly but, as we leave that family bubble and encounter the larger world, we have to learn how to tell those who would help us from those who would harm us. Adult characters in children's fantasy assist us with this lesson. Mummy and Daddy aren't here, who should you trust? Rollett has a good understanding of this. In a Dickensian (or I suppose these days, more Rowlingian) way, the names are sometimes the clue to a person's nature. A bit of fun that begs to be subverted.

One character in Gloomthreaders is fond of saying: "We know nothing - only that on which light falls." Light has long been a metaphor for knowledge. Rollett embraces this association and expands on it in certain passages. Wittgenstein springs to mind: whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. 

The novel imbues light with fantastical properties. Light can be Hard and used as a weapon. The opposite of Light is revealed not to be darkness - a mere absence. Instead we are presented with a true opposite: Unlight. This and other ideas (the fantastical creatures encountered and especially the Freeze - a mini-winter that occurs as a result of an alien planet's erratic orbit) that make up the core fantasy elements of the novel are elegantly combined with a realistic depiction of a child's moral outlook. Sometimes we do a thing because it is the right thing to do. Sometimes we act because we are frightened. Sometimes we have to act even though we wish we'd never got involved in the first place. Children's fantasy novelists who understand this (rather than getting embroiled in temporal paradoxes in chapter three) deserve acknowledgement...

...and sales, they also deserve sales. You can buy the book here.

Friday, 6 November 2015

On Meetings

I got called into the office of my new employer for a 'meeting'. One thing that I have always suspected about office workers is that they secretly love meetings. Oh, they might moan about in the pub ("What did you get up to today?" - "Bloody meetings all day!") but secretly, I suspect they love it, I mean it's not real work is it? If I had to go to meetings, I always thought, I would spend an hour or two daydreaming and then read the minutes later to find out if I'd missed anything important.

Well, this week I had my first meeting. The first item on the agenda was how often we should have these meetings (more evidence for my theory) but most of the rest could be summed up in a single sentence: okay, kid, you've had your fun.

Basically, when I joined up, I had free rein to write about what I wanted because they had to get these blogs ghostwritten and posted up and they had been short a blogger for a few weeks. Now they are back up to a full complement of staff and have written plans for what they want written for each company for the next few months. 

It makes it easier, obviously and I am in it for the money, so the quicker I can bang them out the better. But where, before, I might draft a mini essay on the philosophical puzzle of inverted qualia for a local printing firm, now I am expected to hack out sub-buzzfeedesque listicles with titles like '5 reasons why the business card is a practical advertising tool for your company'.

Anyway here are a few of my favourites that slipped through the system before I got called in:

The four-colour theorem

Norwich newspaper rivalries of the 18th Century

A short history of the Crystal Palace 


The Torso Belvedere (and gnomes)

A short history of pantiles