Four do Rugby

Ireland-v-England

Assuming that I can work out this scheduling posts malarkey, then as this post comes out, I will be at Twickenham watching England take on Ireland in the Six Nations. The photo above comes from the Daily Mirror report on last year’s game.

I’ll be watching the game with three friends.

There is Conchita, a bearded Englishman living in Dublin, CLD, a Welshman who splits his time between South West England and Warsaw and Tone – an Englishman abroad. Vilnius, last time I checked.

Add in me, a Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Cornish mix-up in Southern England and we are quite the motley crew. We all knew each other in Prague – we played rugby together, we drank together, and to a certain extent we grew up together. In fairness, Conchita and I may have a way to go on that front.

Conchita is flying over on Friday and staying here with us, while CLD and Tone arrive on Saturday morning. They have booked a hotel for Saturday.

I daresay Conchita and I may have managed a couple of glasses of wine on Friday night. The long-suffering Mrs L almost certainly had an evening shaking her head as we talked nonsense and drank wine, lots of wine. Within about an hour of being each other’s company Conchita and I will have speech patterns will so similar as to be indistinguishable one from the other. It’s quite spooky.

The Four are gathering for a spot of lunch up near Twickenham, five or so hours before kick-off. What could possibly go wrong? (That is very much a rhetorical question.)

Once we have been fed and settled into some hop-based beverages, we will exchange some banter on the France Wales match of the previous evening. Then we will watch Scotland take on Italy in Rome. A few years ago Conchita and I took the precaution of learning the words of the Italian anthem. The thought of being caught short in a singsong was just too much for two front-row forwards to bear. I daresay that we will not be the only ones singing all of the anthems.

Before the main event begins, we will have made one hundred new friends. Any supporting England will be known as Rupert, and all supporting Ireland, as Mick. Tradition is Tradition. Our voices will be hoarse from singing (and the odd hop-based beverage) and we will be ready for the big match.

I have mentioned this before here. Rugby is a pretty special game.

Of course – I may be completely wrong. We may have had a terrible time. Writing this post in advance may have been a stupid thing to do.

But I doubt it.

On Sunday morning, the four of us will be saying, “I’m too old for this.”

 

Writing Tools

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Writing, at least for me, involves quite a lot of sitting around doing all manner of things that are not writing.

At times, I can be a world-class procrastinator. Yes, I can do ‘the gazing at a blank page’ thing. I’m even getting better at the tortured artist look, although Margaret still regards me suspiciously and asks whether I am about to fart.

However – in addition to these basic techniques, there are more advanced methods. My latest is a deep need to make sure that I have the right tools.

I have always had a bit of a thing for stationery, my inner geek has always been lurking just below the surface.

This geek has been encouraged into the open by my new writing buddy Amanda.

We ‘met’ on Twitter (how hip am I?) at #writingchat.

A writing buddy is an essential aid to the aspiring writer. More importantly, a writing buddy saves the friends and family of the aspiring writer an enormous amount of boredom. I can now ask “Do you think the three act structure will work here?” or “How do you feel about third person limited?” without being greeted by the electronic equivalent of tumbleweed.

Amanda is on the cusp of releasing a book. In fact, you can pre-order the physical paperback version right now. Just click HEREFollow the instructions and you can even get a discount on the cover price. Go! Have a look right now. Go on. I’ll wait…

Welcome back. I hope that you have ordered the book. If you are electronically inclined, you will be able to pick it up soon on Amazon, Kobo and all those good places.

Amanda also keeps a very nice BLOG where you can find some proper writing. While you are there, sign up for updates. Come to think of it, while you are here – sign up for updates too. It really means a lot to us writer-types to know that people are reading.

Recently, Amanda and I got chatting about pocket notebooks. I daresay that one day, I’ll tell you all about my notebooks – but to cut a long story short, Amanda took it upon herself to make me the notebook cover that features in the picture. It’s a beautiful soft leather.

Isn’t it gorgeous?

Swimming

Swimming Walrus

In a preemptive comment, I can confirm that the picture is not in fact of me. It is an image from a You Tube clip posted here by Heinrich Eggenfellner. Although, there is a striking likeness in a certain light.

Earlier this month I posted about my first, and last, spinning class.

Wisely, I am pursuing an exercise regime more appropriate for a man of my age and size. I am walking the dog, playing golf and swimming. Usually not at the same time. I am even paying some attention to what I eat and drink. Shocking, I know.

To call me a strong swimmer would be a little inaccurate. Alright, it would be entirely inaccurate. Rather than powering through the water like our tusky friend above, I sort of float aggressively. There is forward motion, in much the same way that glaciers do move, but you would be hard pressed to actually perceive it. You may have experienced something similar before. Lying on a beach in the morning, you might catch sight of a large tanker out to sea. It appears stationary, yet when you pack up at the end of the day, it has most definitely moved across the horizon. Watching me swim is like that, but with more splashing.

I try to tuck myself into half a lane (it gets busy where I swim) and float along without causing too much harm. I always have a cheery smile for the pensioners as they pass me, walking sideways through the water. I try to keep out of the way of the proper swimmers as they power up and down with designer clothes pegs on their noses and lycra condoms on their heads.

As the traffic passes me on both sides, I console myself that even going this slowly, I am getting some exercise, moving my muscles and burning some calories. I also have plenty of time to people-watch.

There is one fellow that is fascinating me at the moment. Like me, he is a fat boy. I see him when I am at the pool in the evenings. Usually, he emerges from the sauna, hot and flustered.

He sits himself down on a wooden lounger and pulls out a book, which he reads for ten minutes or so. (Almost a full length of the pool for me). Then he rinses himself in the shower.

This next part is the part that mystifies me. He then puts on a pair of flippers. Full-blown, honest-to-goodness scuba diving flippers. Then on goes the clothes-peg and the goggles. Into the pool, three kicks, two arm strokes and he bangs his head against the far wall. Then he turns around and does it again.

The pool is only twenty metres long. He looks like some sort of demented pin ball being fired at the far wall, before bouncing back.

Why would someone do that? Go to the pool to do some exercise, then put on flippers to avoid doing the exercise.

Don’t get me wrong – if that’s what he wants to do, then fine by me.

But why?

Perhaps I should ask him.

If I time it right, I can surely outrun a fat guy who is wearing flippers?

 

Ugly Social Media

Click on this if….

No. Stop it.

Gradually, I am overcoming the dramatic gastric impact of Spinning, which is a great relief to the dog and many local residents.

However, I am increasingly annoyed by the tactics some organisations are using to garner positive social media statistics. You know the posts that I mean;

“Like this page if you believe that a soldier who saved his platoon, sacrificing his life should be honoured while this malicious paedophile should not!”

Seems a bit of a no-brainer.

Then you look to see that the post originates from a page called “Lovely fluffy British folk”. Curious fellow that I am, I look at this page.

It turns out that the page should more accurately be called;

“Racist, xenophobic dimwits? You have found your online home.”

Many of these ‘like-farm’ posts are using images of the military to lure people to anti-immigration or anti-muslim organisations. The implication being a polar relationship. “Military Good, Military fight Bad. Immigration Bad. Muslim Bad.”

I thought I might take a moment to relate to you an anecdote.

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(Getty Image taken from the Independent website)

I live adjacent to Salisbury Plain, home to Stonehenge and essentially an adventure playground for the British Army. I play golf (badly) at Tidworth Garrison Golf Club, which as the name might suggest, has strong military connections.

Tidworth is a garrison town.

On Tidworth high street, I went for a haircut in a busy barbers. Three barbers were working and four more customers were waiting. I’m fairly certain I was the only non-serving military man there. I was the only one not in camoflauge for a start.

The standard cut seemed to be, “number 2 back and sides and short tidy on top please Kemal.”

You see the barbers were all Muslim Turks. Really.

Immigrants too. Good heavens.

Please don’t associate images of the British military with stupidity, ignorance or prejudice. They’re way too good for that.

Incidentally – best haircut I’ve had in ages.

Spinning

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What an impact! The amazing effect of Spinning.

Along with many others, I have made my annual donation to the bank account of a local gym. This year, as last, I am determined that my payment will not be a donation, but an advance payment for more than one hundred life-enhancing, health-giving visits.

Brimming with New Year enthusiasm, I booked myself in for Spinning.

I had a broad understanding of the concept, a group class, with everyone on specially designed exercise bikes, cycling hard and fast to loud music. Being at the “so fat you should be dead” end of the Body Mass Index, I took the precaution of booking a beginner’s class. The wife came along, I suspect to administer CPR if required.

The instructor was sweet. She took the time to ensure that we were correctly setup on the bikes.

“It takes practice. You probably won’t be able to stand on the pedals today, but you will get used to it. Just do what you can.”

She eyed me with a combination of fear and concern. Quite probably, she checked her liability insurance.

I did try to stand a few times; after all I used to mange on my pushbike as a kid. On each occasion, I managed to suddenly stop the wheels turning and jar my back. Ultimately, I elected to remain sitting, varying the resistance as instructed by the little Miss Positive over her radio mike.

When not exclusively focused on trying to breathe, I concocted multiple scenarios where Police were mystified as to how the gym trainer had died in such cruel and unusual ways.

After thirty minutes, I stood on legs made of marshmallow, making half-hearted efforts to stretch various bits of my anatomy, while trying to find a dry bit of t shirt with which to wipe the sweat from my eyes.

As I thanked the torturer, our eyes met, both of us certain that we would never meet again.

Mrs L had enjoyed things no more than I. Curiously, she could stand, it was the sitting on the saddle that, quite literally, was the biggest pain for her.

We drove home, making plans for a late supper. Once there, I needed to get something from the garage, so the dog and I went out of the back door and pushed open the metal up and over garage door. I believe that my heart rate was returning to normal.

As my body recovered from the unexpected assault of the class, I felt the familiar tightness in my abdomen. Pleased that I was in the sanctuary of the garage and could escape the approbation of Mrs L, I leaned slightly to the left.

Well!

The garage door shook on its bearings, the dog fainted and I am almost certain that a platoon of infantry exercising on Salisbury Plain dived for cover.

Nobody had mentioned that effect of spinning in the brochure.

I resuscitated the dog and went back into the house. Mrs L eyed me with suspicion.

“So, going to Spinning next week?”

“No, love. It makes me fart.”

 

Editing – Where to start?

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I have been doing some editing. I mentioned it before here. I am implementing a ‘Red Pen’ approach to editing. I have been receiving newsletters from, and attending webinars at, scrivenervirgin.com

I cannot recommend Red Pen enough. Anne Rainbow is a writer with a broad experience. Her system is logical, methodical and straightforward.

You can get onto the newsletters free of charge, and in themselves, they are an excellent resource. If, like me, you see the benefit, you can sign up for some webinars. They are far from expensive.

Anne has given me an approach to editing and an understanding of the process.

One thing that is immediately apparent is that an eye for detail is a real advantage when editing.

Regrettably, an eye for detail is something that I lack entirely.

Fortunately, help is at hand.

ProWritingAid is editing software. I access it through the web, although I believe there are ‘bolt-ons’ for Word and Google Docs. There is a free version, and then a paid version.

Without getting into all of the options, I copy and paste text into the webpage, press go and the software does an analysis for me.

It looks at spelling, grammar, how many adverbs there are, sentence length; the list goes on.

Put simply, it’s brilliant. In a few seconds, it highlights multiple things that require attention. In some instances, it might suggest alternatives.

It does not claim to replace the human process, nor should it. It does have an option to have a human look at the work for you (at a cost of course). For me, its value is in automating the ‘eye for detail’. Faced with the highlights, I must still decide how to deal with them, but at least I know that I have made a decision, not simply missed something.

It costs $35 a year. I will renew.

One thing that neither the Red Pen process, or Pro Writing Aid have been able to help with is WAS. WAS is my new acronym for Writing Avoidance Strategies.

It has got to the stage that I have even resorted to writing to avoid writing. I’ll explain what I mean next time…

 

 

Sky. Stupid.

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I have just finished a telephone call.

A charming-sounding lady called me. The phone indicated that she was calling from Derby and she told me that she was calling from Sky.

The call was not entirely unexpected, as I have recently informed them that I will no longer be taking their services once my contract expires at the end of April. I daresay that Sky has an entire team dedicated to getting customers to change their minds. Good for them, I say.

I have no problem with Sky TV, but I have come to the conclusion that we were not getting value for money from it. Essentially, we were watching channels that are free to air, with me occasionally watching some golf.

In effect, it came down to paying £70 a month for me to sometimes watch some golf.

Watching golf in the twenty first century is not something to be taken on lightly. Watching a round requires planning and organisation as well as the ability to watch the same adverts over and over again. Professional golf takes an age. We are talking 5 to 6 hours per round. A full day of golf coverage can quite literally be from dawn until dusk.

Frankly, I can’t be bothered anymore. Too many other things to do. During a day’s coverage, I can walk the dog twice, play a round of golf, write a blog post and eat three meals.

I digress. I was telling you about my phone call.

The call was to explain how any transactions (pay per view purchases etc) between now and the termination date would work, I was told.

The caller and I agreed that my name is Stuart Lennon. The fact that I had answered the phone with the words “Hello, Stuart Lennon speaking” was a pretty big clue, I thought.

The caller asked me to confirm my address.

Reluctantly, I did so.

Then she asked me for my password. I politely declined to do so. I did provide the rationale: “You called me.”

There may be some asking yourselves, “Why would Sky need to identify a customer to explain that with no contract, he couldn’t buy pay per view events?”

Well done! They don’t need to identify me for that. They need to identify me just in case the charming lady is able to convince me to change my mind, or to accept a reduced price.

I got the impression my caller was a little niggled. Nevertheless, she persisted.

“OK, will you give me your Mother’s maiden name?”

“No.”

“If you google the telephone number that came up when I rang, you will see that it is a Sky number.”

Honestly. That is what she said. All of these warnings about phishing and passwords, all nonsense. All that one needs to do apparently is Google the caller’s number. Then be free and liberal with your personal data and even passwords. Hurrah!

I’m reasonably certain that it was Sky calling and not some criminal mastermind, but surely companies should not be phoning up their customers asking for personal data?

I suggested that if my caller was unable to continue the call without my mother’s maiden name or password, she might want to discontinue it.

We parted as friends, but I have the distinct impression that she was a little miffed.

I had a quick ten second trawl on Sky’s website.

I quote from their section on security;

“Identity theft/Fraud
A few simple rules could help you guard against criminals stealing your personal details.

The risks

•Phishing – being tricked into giving private information, such as bank details, user names and passwords”

Is it any wonder that people are confused about online and telephone data security, when there are massive multi-national companies being so incredibly stupid and half-witted?

Stupid, stupid, stupid Sky.

In it to win it.

business-competion

This week I honoured a promise made on #writingchat

#writingchat is weekly meet up on twitter, Wednesday 2000 hours UK time for writerly types. There are some great people there – come along. Just use the hashtag.

I submitted a short story into a competition for the first time. I am not telling you which one. I will report back once the results are published.

Actually, I promised to enter and win a writing competition in 2016.

Although, I am convinced that the story is, in fact, a masterpiece, I am prepared to accept that it is unlikely to win. I can’t win the first competition that I enter, surely?

Therefore, I am working on several ideas at the moment. Naturally, I am scouring the literary world for competitions with extremely few entrants.

I have even written a poem.

No. Really. I have. I am going to enter that into a competition too.

One thing that has come from the entering of competitions is that I have started to use ‘Red Pen’, an editing system and ProWritingAid, an app. I will post a review here soon.

Before I go…

Further to my post about medical studies, I came across another on twitter this morning, courtesy of @lifehacker and @beccacaddy all about people over 65 and sarcasm. The study found that the over 65s don’t get it. Really?

Most of the over 65s I know can cut me to shreds with sarcasm.

Whining on Wine

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Me again.

This morning I awoke full of the joys of the New Year. I had resolved how the next few days would be spent.

I am particularly looking forward to a couple of nights away with the long-suffering wife, Margaret. In a particularly sensitive moment, Nero the dog has gifted us a stay at a very posh hotel in the Cotswolds.

Walks in the countryside, lounging in the spa, delicious food and fine wine with the love of my life. What could be better?

Then the Chief Medical Officer (Dame Sally Davies) came on TV to tell me how dangerous drinking was. “Drinking any level of alcohol regularly carries a health risk for anyone…”

Fortunately, I have recently read “Doctoring Data” by Dr Malcolm Kendrick. If you read only one book this year, read that one. Actually, read two, because I’m going to release a novel too.

Dr Kendrick very mildly points out that we might want to be a little bit careful about guidance and advice issued by people like the Chief Medical Officer.

Equipped with the mental tool kit that Dr Kendrick has equipped me with, I was able to note a few things that I might ordinarily have missed from the brief item on the morning news.

In my head the conversation went a bit like this

“Have the new findings and recommendations come from a thorough and rigorous test that has recently finished?”

“Um. No actually. Broadly speaking, we have read a lots of the studies that have already been done and reported on and sort of put them all together.”

“I see. So every single study?”

“Well No. Not all of them. Some were a bit dodgy.”

“Let me guess. The dodgy ones were the ones that suggested that a few glasses of wine with dinner and friends was actually good for your long term health?”

“Spot on. You are clearly a very perceptive man. Outrageous that a study should suggest something like that isn’t it?”

“Hmmm…”

In a nutshell, there is absolutely no new evidence.

Let me repeat that.

ABSOLUTELY NO NEW EVIDENCE.

Some very well meaning folk (all of whom have spent their entire careers telling us that drinking is BAD) have ‘proved’ that drinking any alcohol increases your risk of cancer, and they have proved it by reading a lot of studies already done.

Dr Kendrick explains it a lot better than I do. Read his book.

I don’t want to rant, nor do I want to suggest that lots of heavy drinking is good for you. I’m pretty certain that It isn’t.

I will leave you with this little nugget that appears at the end of the BBC News website coverage of the story.

“Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter, an expert in understanding risk from the University of Cambridge, said it was important to put the 1% risk in context. He said an hour of TV watching or a bacon sandwich a couple of time a week was more dangerous.”

I was going to have a bacon sandwich for breakfast, but for the sake of my health, I’m going to turn the TV off and have a glass of wine.

Cheers.

 

Books!

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The image is pinched from the Goodreads website.

If you have an interest in books, Goodreads is a good place to go and find out what is going on.

As the year turned, the site sent me an automated mail. It was asking me how many books I was going to read this year. Not something that I have ever thought about before.

“50” I typed confidently.

“50?” People were incredulous.

“Are you counting menus?”

“You are supposed to read every word, you know.”

A witty lot my Facebook friends.

I suspect that I will comfortably get through a hundred in a year. Once I get into a book, I can finish it in a sitting or two. Offer me the TV or a book and I’ll take the book every time.

Predominantly I read on my Kindle. I had resisted this device, absolutely convinced of my love for the physical manifestation of a book. I still do buy the odd book. Non-fiction especially. The Kindle however is a marvel. On holiday I can have thirty novels, all in my back pocket. Should I run out, I can find some wifi and buy thirty more. Its easy, convenient and cheaper. I am a convert.

Reading is a double-edged sword for me. I enjoy reading ‘as a writer’, where I am mindful of the craft that the author has put into the words.

However, I also get intimidated. When I find myself at the end of a novel, taken there on a page-turning rush, I doubt whether I might ever enthuse a reader in quite the same way.

Now, got to rush, time for a couple of chapters before lunch.