Tuesday 12 November 2013

I wish it could be Christmas every day....

My dog, Louis, is not clever – this is a known fact. So when he starts jumping up and down at 2pm in anticipation of his dinner, which he never has until 6pm, I do my best to console him about the impending 4 hour wait. By 5pm, he reaches fever-pitch, and spends the next hour barking at the cupboard door. But then the real problem arises in that he wolfs it down so fast that it is over in 5 seconds and the only thing he has left to look forward to is breakfast.
This is very much how I view Christmas – as a nation builds such deranged expectation on one day full of woeful anti-climax.
So, I have an idea.  Why don’t we have Christmas every 3 months? Or even make it a monthly event. Let’s face it, its religious anchoring has long been lost in the annuls of greed. With enough back-handers, I am sure the Conservative party could swing it through parliament. That way I wouldn’t have to scream when the whole TV gets taken over by Xmas adverts for things that I don’t want, as they would be on all year round and I would surely get used to ignoring them!  Simon Cowell could rehash endless Christmas number ones while we just wheel out the fake tree and some tinsel each third Monday in the month, grab a turkey sandwich and a glass of Astpi for lunch, and then get on with our lives, safe in the knowledge that it was not really worth getting excited about! The BBC could show repeats of everything we saw last month on a looped tape and the Queen could tell us that it was a tough month but the next one would be much better if we all spared a thought for those in poorer parts of her Empire. Then, if we chose to ignore the whole thing and hide under a blanket, nobody would get too upset, as there would always be next month’s to look forward to, along with three weeks of turkey curry. That’s where you’ll find me, anyway.
On the subject of TV ads, which tends to be my bugbear this time of year since the winter drives me indoors, am I the only one who fears that product placement has gone way, way too far? It seems that some companies no longer just have advertisements between the programmes but actually have programmes of their own. Yes, BBC4 have stooped to a new low, by giving high street stores their own shows, in return for large sums of money. In fact one despicable store, whose name I refuse to patronise even in this modest publication, has its own whole TV series, which it can use for as much product placement and self promotion as it wants. Ok, yes, I did watch half an episode, just so that I could rant about it! On it we see its marketing department and sleazy managing director trying to raise themselves and their products back out of the gutter after being caught peddling horsemeat to a whole nation for 20 years. Is there no longer a ruling body that scrutinises this stuff? Instead of being allowed to redeem themselves from such a dastardly and despicable act on national TV, Fridgeland (name changed to protect the polar ice cap) should have been closed down immediately and their MD thrown in jail. Whatever can we expect next? Will Fred Goodwin be offered a weekly show discussing the benefits of pension investments? Or Myra Hindley presenting children’s hour! It’s all gone too far.
By the time this goes to print, we are expecting once again to be in Scotland, suffering quietly from tinselphobia in our bolt-hole by the sea. This year, we have exchanged the tiny drafty cottage that we used to rent for a newly built, if somewhat soulless, apartment in a new built block, near the famous Muirfield golf course. It has gas central heating and all singing toilets which, for some reason, sound like HMS Ark Royal arriving through the fog every time they are flushed. My local plumber says we need to replace the shu-shu valve, but I reckon he may be taking the mickey! In fact, he probably has a mate on the counter at the nearby Know-it-All superstore waiting to ridicule me when I pop in and ask for a new one, so he can announce it over the tannoy and the whole 40 acre shop-floor can share in my shame.  I can hear him now: ‘..the gentleman on till number 5 is looking for a new shu-shu valve, could an assistant please bring one over, along with some left-handed spanners and a glass hammer…!’
As well as being warm - and handy for the golf course and pub - this flat also has another advantage, from a female prospective anyway: FIREMEN. Lots, and lots of them, all rushing around with their sultry good looks and long hoses, right outside our window. Why is it that us men never cotton on to the whole picture, when devious women are concerned? The fact that the block is situated right next to Scotland’s fire college never even crossed my mind, as Wendy enthusiastically signed the purchase deeds. I was hoping for a few quiet months, in which to get some writing done - but no. Now all her mates frequently pop in for coffee, and then shamelessly ogle out of the window, giggling. It’s disgraceful! Would I do the same were it opposite, say, the ladies beach-volleyball training camp? Too damn right! At least the location does present one advantage: When we are back south in the summer, I am considering renting the apartment out to ladies-of-a-certain-age through an advert in Harper’s Bizarre!

Sunday 3 November 2013

I AM John Sharpe

It’s that time of year again, where the daylight goes unnoticed and sleep is rare, while I am tucked away in my little bothy, hammering on the keys. Yes, National Novel Writing month is here again and, once again, I have decided to take part in this global event. Every one of us hundreds of thousand of wannabe writers have their reasons for needing to knock out 50,000 words in one month, each as valid as each other. Mine is quite simple. Currently my day job consists of research and writing for 8-10 hours per day, while I compile a massive history book, on a two year contract. With that and running this old farmhouse, it tends to leave little time for much else, except, of course, drinking.  With a project of that size, I find myself immersed into my own world, day and night, a personal world where nobody else would either understand or care what it entails. I am alone in there - just me and a whole bunch of cows.
So NanoWriMo offers me an escape to another world, although perhaps still not the real one. Now, I have to be someone completely different. Many years ago I did some acting and, to play a part well, you have to image yourself on that person, and become them for as long as the show runs. I feel the same about writing a novel. In the past, most of my 15 or so novels have been fiction, where the mind can run free and the central character does what I tell him to. In fact, in many cases, the protagonist takes over and skips happily through the story, while words appear on the pages as if by magic. But this year is a little different, as my story is a true one, waiting to be told or, at least, dramatised. This is the first time I have ever done this and am finding it damn hard. As the protagonist in real life has since died, and I have only sketchy details of him, I discover that the only way to bring him to the page is to don his shoes and coat, and be John Sharpe for a month. And he is very much, most definitely, not me!
Quiet, calm, clever, resourceful...need I go on, when I describe all the things I am not? Being someone else takes total dedication, probably twice as much as knocking out 50k words of fiction. Each morning, I have to pull on the mask and transform, not unlike Spiderman, except not as exciting and with baggier clothes. My partner thinks I am bonkers as my voice changes to broad glaswegan, my walking pace slows, and I stare at nothing much, saying even less. My dog has since disowned me and visitors think they have the wrong house. Today is day 4, and I am just starting to wake up with the same dreams that I think John Sharpe, an engineer from Aidrie, would have; ones where he achieves his objective of building and flying his own aircraft. Although he is not me, I have come to like him.
Only now we are one, can I proceed towards the goal of this exercise and get his story written, as it needs to be, within the allocated timescale. It will probably only sell one copy, to his grandson, but who knows, he might send it to the BBC so that the man can be immortalised in cellulite.
Strange, really, for once writing a book for an unselfish reason.