Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Pavement Art

Another friend sent me these and I just had to share them with you! The artist is Julian Beever.

Just goes to show what talent can do with pieces of chalk!

On Writing, Blogging and Life

As the end of the first month of blogging draws to a close, I’ve been thinking…

I started this blog as an experiment, and to get me writing for my PhD, but it is turning into so much more than that. Writing is a lonely occupation, and even though the old image of the writer in the garret has been dispelled since I’ve met ‘real’ writers, it can still be terribly isolating.

I’ve been writing since I was big enough to hold a crayon. I sat under the kitchen table making up songs and scribbling stories down, much to the amusement of the grown-ups. I drifted through those early years in a haze of make-believe in which everything and anything was possible, but then something happened; a month before my 7th birthday, my parents decided to go ‘home’, and at the end of 1976, having missed the hottest British summer on record, we arrived in time for the worst winter.

Everything changed. I was thrown into realism, and it was a gritty, dark urban realism at that. I had felt normal in the mountains and forests of British Columbia - at the very least eccentric - but in England I was weird, strange, laughable. To say it was a culture shock is like saying the universe is quite big. I seemed to have an un-erring knack of upsetting the local kids, whether it was calling the girls guys, or reading too many books and using ‘big words’. But all that unabashed confidence, the arrogance perhaps, of the North American Kid, was soon kicked out of me. Looking back, perhaps seeking solace in the adults around me and the teachers at school, did little to help the situation.

I still wrote stories, and the terrible rhyming poems in iambic pentameter, but they were increasingly miserable, and certainly not for sharing. Grown-ups don’t want to hear about bullied children, being home-sick, or having adoption issues, they just want you to go out and play. Only there was no one to play with. My parents did everything they could but there was no way around it – they had a weird child who just couldn’t make friends, so I turned to music and it was better than Prozac – still is. Here was a way of expressing all that pain and teenage confusion in a beautiful way; wordless, classical structures. I was never any good, but that didn’t matter - it afforded me endless hours of locking myself away in a room with my guitar, and later, in the kitchen with the giant over-strung piano my father bought for a tenner and dragged through the city streets on a dolly – but that’s another story!

I kept on writing, in the dark, in those sacred early hours when the world sleeps, a habit I’ve not been able to break to this day. I no longer wrote fiction. I had no room for it. Escapism is not an option when you’re trying to survive. But like a crack-head I couldn’t stop. I kept a diary for 14 years only to burn them all when I was 21 because they really were very depressing! I tried working in ordinary jobs, intended to go back to college and finish my education, but life got to me first and I entered what was to be the blackest period in my life. But hey. We live and learn, and I learned a lot. I went abroad, learned a language, regained a bit of the confidence I’d lost and moved on.

I managed to kick the writing habit in 1997 when I went back to college to do the A’ levels I’d abandoned 20 years earlier. I took English and Spanish and got into University. I said I wanted to be a teacher. I didn’t. I just needed an excuse to feed my book addiction and justify the time and money a degree would cost. I chose to study English Literature and Language because I couldn’t choose between them, and picked Education Studies as a minor, only there was a mix up, and I found myself signed up for Creative Writing. Generally I don’t believe in Fate. I believe in Cause and Effect, Physics, Stuff We Don’t Know About, but I have to say, the day I got the form back I was almost converted.

And it’s been the best thing that ever happened to me (besides my girls obviously). Working with wonderful people I started writing fiction again, learning about the craft. I had to show my work, which I loathed and resented at first, but I began to reap the benefits of feedback – the good and the not-so-good.

I’m still edgy about showing my work but it’s getting easier, and the blogosphere has been a constant source of encouragement. I’ve been reading them for years, but was too scared to so much as post a comment – even anonymously. I followed the progress of The Wandering Scribe and am gutted/ashamed/driven to work harder when I look today to see not only has she written her book, but it’s got a shiny cover and is available on Amazon! I practice my rusting Spanish reading La Tormenta en un Vaso (Storm in a Teacup), and find all manner of wonderful blogs out there; the witty, educated folk who share their thoughts on a daily basis and make the virtual world a brighter place.

Not that I’m one of them – but in less than a month of blogging I’ve already met some wonderful people, am more in touch with current affairs and political debate than I ever was, and even posted some stories on Urbis.

All in all, this blog thing has been delightfully fun and encouraging. I’m less and less hesitant about posting, and certainly more productive on the writing front. To the critics of the blogosphere who worry for out safety, I’d say sure, there’s probably some lunatics out there, but hey, I meet them in the real world all the time, and at least online I can close the page. No, I think I’ll stick around and see what happens!

Now, better get on with that novel…

Monday, 29 January 2007

Stating the Obvious? Silly Warning Labels

These arrived in an email from a friend – I’ve left his comments intact. Health and Safety really has gone mad!

On a Sear's hairdryer: "Do not use while sleeping."
(Gee that's the only time I have to work on my hair.)

On a bag of Fritos: "You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside."
(The shoplifter's special)

On a bar of Dial soap: "Directions: Use like regular soap."
(And that would be how...?)

On some Swanson frozen dinners: "Serving suggestion: Defrost."
(But it’s ‘just’ a suggestion)

On Tesco's Tiramisu dessert (printed on bottom): "Do not turn upside down."
(Too late!)

On Marks & Spencer Bread Pudding: "Product will be hot after heating."
(And you thought . . .)

On packaging for a Rowenta iron: "Do not iron clothes on body."
(But wouldn't this save me more time?)

On Boot's Children Cough Medicine: "Do not drive a car or operate machinery after taking this medication."
(We could do a lot to reduce the rate of construction accidents if we could just get those 5-year-olds with head-colds off those forklifts.)

On Nytol Sleep Aid: "Warning: May cause drowsiness."
(One would hope.)

On most brands of Christmas lights: "For indoor or outdoor use only."
(As opposed to what?)

On a Japanese food processor: "Not to be used for the other use."
(I gotta admit, I'm curious.)

On Sainsbury's peanuts: "Warning: contains nuts."
(Talk about a news flash.)

On an American Airlines packet of nuts: "Instructions: Open packet, eat nuts."
(Step 3: Fly Delta.)

On a child's superman costume: "Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly."
(I don't blame the company. I blame parents for this one.)

On a Swedish chain saw: "Do not attempt to stop chain with your hands or genitals."
(Was there a lot of this happening somewhere? My God!)

And if you liked these, you can find more at Rink Works, click here!

Monday, 22 January 2007

Not quite a Damsel but definitely in Distress: My Worst January on Record!

I should be marking essays right now, but after marking half of them and discovering endless abbreviations, spelling mistakes, and single spacing, I feel compelled to have a rant first. So far I’m not having a brilliant 2007, which is unfortunate given that we’re only 22 days in. I actually started writing this yesterday, when I foolishly said to a friend that surely nothing else could go wrong…

Let me see – this is the month when I am overwhelmed with work. There’s planning for next semester to sort out, and lots of assignments to mark, not to mention that novel I’m supposed to be writing for my PhD in between coaching gymnastics and attempting to be a full-time house wife and mother. Basically I need every waking minute, and then some.

So in week one the car failed its MOT and cost a tidy £500 to put right, and then I got two punctures in the same tyre in two days – which was okay because bad things come in threes, and that made three. Only I seem to be having groups of three, so the dishwasher died quietly in the corner and refused all attempts to coax it back to life, costing £200 to replace, plus the time wasted in trying to fix it and then washing dishes the old fashioned way for a week while waiting for said replacement. Just as things were quietening down, we got a letter from some company we’ve never heard of, threatening to take us to court if we don’t use their insurance broker because apparently they’ve bought the lease for the land our house sits on. We checked up on the law – another day – and wrote back to them quoting Section 164 and explaining we’re happy with our current insurance, thank you very much.

In the second week the building inspectors decided that the loft conversion hadn’t passed its inspection, even though the builders insisted it had. Another afternoon was lost to numerous polite - but getting less so - phone calls to sort it out. There was the file that couldn’t be found, then was found, and promptly lost again. When it turned up two days later the building work had indeed passed inspection but someone needs to photocopy something and post it to me to photocopy again, and then post to someone else so that the loft conversion will be ‘satisfactory’. Then we got another letter from the new lease people, threatening legal action within 14 days and demanding £30 for the privilege of not being taken to court if we insured with the company they choose! Cue all the neighbours turning up with similar letters and more hours of planning and marking were lost to fruitless discussions of what to do next.

More bureaucracy followed in week three, from various government bodies intent on making sure a myriad of rules and regulations are being followed in order to make our lives safer, healthier, and more politically correct. I’m sorry that legalities prevent me from expanding on this in a public blog, but rest assured I’m not a happy bunny. It is interesting to note just how many little laws were passed/changed over the last couple of years while I wasn’t looking, and why is it that we now appear to be guilty until proven innocent in every capacity the law has to offer? And even when proven innocent/no case is found/decisions I’ve made have had just cause, is there no apology at all, just the implication that one should simply be happy that all investigations/misunderstanding/outrageous accusations are over? Another letter from the lease people, and another week lost to bureaucracy and bullies.
On Saturday evening I sought solace in some mindless television only the dish got blown off course in the wind, and the analogue aerial was in next door’s garden along with our shed roof.

Sunday went disconcertingly well. The offending satellite dish was re-aligned and the shed roof nailed back on. I consoled myself with the knowledge that I don’t live in a war-zone and we’re all okay if you ignore the runny noses and chest infections.

So this morning, as I loaded the car for the school run, I was positive because I’m told positive thinking works, only to find the car battery as dead as the dishwasher. Luckily Super-mum was running late and answered the phone in time to save my neck and take my little one for me. Now I don’t like to think of myself as a non-technically minded useless female but have to admit that it took me half an hour to figure out how to open the bonnet and another 30 minutes to work out how to disconnect the poorly battery without undoing the engine or something else of equal importance. Covered in oil I even managed to find the battery charger in my husband’s chaotic shed, and connect the terminals without blowing the kitchen up. Then I marked a few essays before buying a new battery. Which was dead. And then taking it back and replacing it with another one, which was also dead.

So now it is nearly 8pm and I still have heaps of marking/planning/writing/crying to do. I can hardly wait for week 4 of 2007!

Monday, 15 January 2007

Bookmarks, Bacon and Notes in the Margin: The interesting things we find in books

What's the most interesting thing you've ever found lurking between the pages of a book? Perhaps the oddest the find was a piece of fossilised streaky bacon found in an old family bible by a friend of mine who is a second hand book dealer. It was being used as bookmark, it seemed, and left a clear impression of itself forever between Matthew 28 and Mark 1.

Other finds of the second handbook dealer include a multitude of bus and tram tickets (for journeys all over Britain), concert tickets (out of date), receipts (for all manner of purchases), and 2 pristine white £5 notes. The fivers were very old and quite valuable, but not as valuable as the 22 perfectly preserved Stevengraph Silk bookmarks which were distributed through the pages of yes, you guessed it, another ancient family bible!

Whilst family bibles and cookery books appear to be the most regular sources of notes and receipts, any book could potentially contain a diamond – and diamonds come in many forms. Take, for example, a post-it note left in a leather bound legal tome, and found by an actress experiencing a day as a law student for some reality tv show I caught the other day. As she complained miserably that one case kept leading to another, and another, ad infinitum, she stumbled across the note. It stated simply, "Law sucks! Don't be a solicitor."

I've always been fascinated by books because in one way or another they are treasure troves, whether or not the treasure was initially supposed to be there. Inscriptions in the fly leaf are marvellous things, a trail of ownership, of Christmases and Birthdays, of graduations and tokens of love. The carefully handwritten notes in a margin can often reveal a wealth of information about the previous owner/s of the book - and if you've ever found any, please post a comment and share it with us!

Even books in public libraries can become marked by their readers. My mother informed me that all the books she borrows from her local library have a tiny pencil ring around the number 13 wherever it occurs, but it only seems to affect Lynda La Plante, Catherine Cookson and the Liverpool Sagas. An old friend of mine loves to tell the story of a book he borrowed from his local library in the 1970s. It was about Hydroponic Gardening and before he returned it, he placed one perfectly formed and pressed leaf of Marijuana, just to show how well the techniques had worked. I still wonder who found it and what they did with it.

So I put the question to you. Have you ever found a note, or interesting object hidden in a book? A note in the margin that made you smile, or a photograph that haunted you? Please let me know!

Friday, 12 January 2007

Places to See No. 1: The Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.

Picture from Salisbury Museum

The Pitt Rivers Museum is very special. You won't find the wide avenues, clean lighting, and spacious displays of your usual museum experience here. Gone is the typical word-processed signage, replaced by beautifully hand written notes in black ink, on tiny yellowing tags. And whereas artefacts are usually displayed according to geographical, or cultural areas, here things are arranged and displayed according to what they are – typographically - so you'll find similar objects clustered together regardless of when they were made, or where they came from.

General Augustus Pitt Rivers founded his museum in 1884 when his house became too small for the 18,000 objects he'd collected on his travels around the world. These objects range from a tiny glass bottle containing a foetus, to a full sized totem pole from Canada, and because of their typographical arrangement, they tell the fascinating story of how objects like pens, combs, or sewing needles have been developed, designed and improved, not only over time, but by different cultures as each found different methods of overcoming common problems and flaws.

The museum is contained within one large room, and although an extension was built recently, it interconnects with the original Victorian display to retain its magical atmosphere. The cabinets are packed to bursting point, and sit close together with additional objects placed on the top of them, hanging on the wall, or from the ceiling, giving the impression that the passages between them are even narrower than they are. And it is a place of discovery. Even when you know what you're looking for, you still have to find it among an ever-growing collection of oddities and wonders. We once spent 2 hours looking for the bottle with the witch in it, and even then had to ask an attendant who was new and struggled to remember where it was himself! There are drawers upon drawers beneath the black cabinets, and lining the walls – drawers full of amazing little objects; talismans and charms, jewellery and hair clips, or even miniature Voodoo dolls.

So if you should find yourself in Oxford, as I did, on rainy day with some time spare, you could do a lot worse than to explore the array of objects that Pitt Rivers collected all those years ago. You'll find it tucked away at the back of the Oxford University Museum Natural History on Parks Road, and it's open from 12 till 4.30pm Monday to Saturday, and 2 till 4.30pm on Sundays. It's free to get in, and even if you visited every day for a year, I doubt you'd manage to see everything!

Picture from Pringles Richards Sharrat Architects

Monday, 8 January 2007

Spelling Chequers

I am always telling my students to avoid relying on their spell checkers. My own pet hates include Microsoft Word stealing a letter 'l' out of words such as traveller because it is convinced I use American English (no matter how many times I reset it to the British variety), getting green squiggly lines every time I use the word which (because it can only cope with that, and finally it not being able to tell the difference between there, their, and they're.

So some clever sausage wrote this, which I thought might amuse you!

Spelling Chequers

I have a spelling chequer,
It came with my pea sea,
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye cannot sea.

When eye strike a quay, right a word,
I weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid
I nose bee fore two late
And eye can put the error rite
Its rarely, rarely grate.

I've run this poem threw it
I'm shore your pleased two no,
Its letter perfect in it's weigh
My chequer tolled me sew.


Saturday, 6 January 2007

Primary Science: fun things to try at home. Number 1: Bouncing Liquids and Walking on Water

Here is a really great thing to try at home (with or without children).

You will need:

a bowl
cornflour or custard powder (but not instant custard)
an egg cup
a spoon
What to do:
1. Put 8 egg cups of cornflour or custard powder into the bowl.
2. Add 3 egg cups of water.
3. Stir gently with the spoon, adding more water if it's too dry.
4. Stir it quickly and see what happens!
5. See if you can shape it into a ball and bounce it on the countertop!
What you have made is called a dilatant liquid. You should find that as long as you handle it quite roughly, it will behave like a solid, but when you are too gentle, it turns back into a liquid and drips through your fingers!

If you make enough of the stuff and have somewhere to put it, you can actually run across the top of it. Be warned - if you stand still, you'll sink, so don't make it too deep! See here for Jonathan Sanderson's article 'Walking on custard' Jonathan's Web Pages can be found here

The Science Bit
Cornflour and water combine to make a non Newtonian fluid. See here for the physical properties of chemicals. The viscocity (thickness) of non Newtonian fluids is affected by shear forces (stirring) as well as by temperature. This leads to some pretty odd behaviour. Dilatant fluids get thicker the more you stir them, whilst thixotropic fluids get thinner. Examples of thixotropic fluids are ketchup, and non-drip paints. These become runnier the more you stir them which is why ketchup comes out of the bottle more easily if you shake it. When you stop stirring or shaking these liquids, they thicken again.

And here is a video I found showing how you can 'Walk on Water'!

Notice: I cannot find the creators of this video to ask permission. If it is yours and you would prefer I did not use it, or would like me to put your name to it, please email me. Thanks.

Noticia: No puedo encontrar la gente quien han hecho este video por conseguir su permiso. Si esto es lo suyo, y quiere usted que no lo utilizo aqui, o si quieren que su nombre puesto, por favor, mandame un email. Gracias.

Friday, 5 January 2007

The Internet - Saviour of the artist?

I was listening to BBC Radio 4 this morning, to the Today programme and an interesting article came on about how the internet is changing the music industry. listen here

The Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen (hailed as the "Success of the My Space Age" by many), both use My Space to promote their music, but there are literally millions of bands and solo artists out there, nearly half a million in the Rock category alone.

And it isn't just musicians either. Writers, artists, photographers, film makers, designers, to name but a few, are all getting in on the act, finding a way to bypass the censorship of the commerical giants who pull the strings and decide what Jane and Joe Public will be listening to/reading/watching/wearing etc. Even independent book shops are being bought out by huge chains -You know who you are - so that only the safe bets make it to the 3 for 2 tables. It's getting harder and harder to get a foot in the door if there's any hint of you being a financial risk.

It doesn't really matter that artists on My Space can send out 'friend requests' to all and sundry, inflating their figures to perhaps look more popular than they really are because the proof of the pudding will be in whether or not they make any money (selling cds/tickets/books/etc). The beauty of the internet, it seems to me, is that it gives us, the public, more choice to decide. As Sir George Martin, producer of The Beatles, points out, it's not an individual decision anymore as to who gets their wares promoted, but an army of people.

So if you have something to share with the world, and you can't get the attention of the Big Boys, then the net is probably the best place for you!

Thursday, 4 January 2007

It's official - Tea is good for you!

After years of having everyone (okay, the family) go on at me about how much tea I consume in an average day, I just wanted to point out that tea is good for you, and not just the healthy, herbal stuff either! I was most pleased to find that drinking at least 4 cups of tea a day helps to provide us with the fluids and antioxidants we need as part of a balanced diet! No longer shall I feel guilty as I reach for the pot!

Admittedly 76 cups a day is a bit excessive though!

Walking, Rock Climbing, and why I’ve given them up

The thing about Welsh hills is that you can never get to the top. On a sunny day, after giving up smoking, when the world is a joy to behold and your energies are unceasing, this is a good thing: there are always new heights to be reached, new challenges on an ever-elusive horizon. But when it is 10 am on a Sunday morning, and it is pissing down, and the hailstones are aiming straight for your eyes, the never getting to the top thing is really crap.

Up and up and up I went, one foot in front of the other, cursing under breath I didn’t have, while old people came jogging up alongside me, and they were actually chatting! Of course when they saw that I didn’t have enough lung capacity to walk, breathe and talk, they politely ran on into the distance...

At the risk of sounding rude, I think they’re all a bit mad. Take rock-climbing for example. I fail to understand the joy my husband gets from dangling about on the end of a rope, half way up a crag in the middle of Wales, or the Lake District, or anywhere else. Don’t get me wrong here… I have tried it. Lots of times. I even thought I might enjoy it at first, despite the fact that I am terrified of heights, and hate adrenalin.

The last climb I attempted was a tiny little V-Diff on Sheppard’s Crag in Borrowdale (that means Very Difficult, but is possibly as easy as it gets, with E-grades (Extreme) being the hardest but affectionately called Easy – such is the logic of the climber). The weather was superbly Lake-Districty, with gale force winds and a driving squally shower (okay, a light shower). My husband showed his prowess on the rock face and sauntered up the crag in a sickeningly casual manner while my stomach turned and retched at the thought of leaving the ground. He disappeared up into the clouds (okay, 60 feet then, but the weather was crap and he went over a ledge so I couldn’t see him). I waited for the tug on the rope to let me know I should start climbing…

I have no idea why I even bothered. After 4 feet my fingers started to ache, and after 6 my head started to spin and I felt rather queasy. I wanted to go back but couldn’t cope with looking down, wimp that I am, so I went on following the rope, up and up. I climbed with all the grace and elegance of a mud wrestler on a pig farm and failed to retrieve at least 3 pieces of gear (expensive thingymijigs wot keeps ya safe if ya fall off – but that cannot be climbed past because the bloody rope goes through them and they’re attached to the rock). I slipped and whacked my head (no idea how that happened but does re-iterate the importance of adequate safety gear, old chap), and arrived at the top battered, bruised and bleeding only to get shouted at for said gear left in said rock-face! To add insult to injury I then burst into tears in front of a crag full of adrenalin junkies and fell arse over tit down the decent path.

I’ve had enough. As spring threatens to carry my husband off into the hills I will not be following him with the expression of a rabbit on the carriageway of the M6. I will don my walking boots (but never again rock boots), and will walk as far as the nearest riding centre, to continue with my new hobby, which is much, much safer – Horse Riding!

Wednesday, 3 January 2007

cheeky monkey sets new record

Next time you're feeling like it's all a bit too much effort, think about 14 year old Michael Perham who just crossed the Atlantic single-handedly in his yacht 'Cheeky Monkey', and set a new world record into the bargain (I tend to feel I'm doing well when I make it across town in one piece). Hat off to his dad too, who 1) allowed him to do it in the first place, and 2) followed him all the way.

It just goes to show what can be achieved when we follow our dreams (not to mention having really supportive parents and a 28 foot yacht ;-)

Image from Michael Perham's website, Sail Mike

The Battle of Trafalgar (A short story set on 31 March 1990)

I remember everything as though it were yesterday, memories etched into my mind; six of us sitting on the fire-escape of the old hospital; the gardens of the Actor’s Church below, spring blooms teetering on the edge of life, reaching for the sun. I loved it up there, away from the hordes, resting between shows. Crab said it was his favourite place in the West End, one of the few where you could have a reefer in peace.

Evy laughed when I told her how doting Aiden had become, bringing me flowers, smoking outside, and whether it was a trick of the light or just the company I was in, I remember wishing I could take that moment and hold it safe it my hands forever.

* * * * *

I went to Kennington Park in the morning and by lunchtime there was masses of people everywhere, really crowded. I didn’t think that many people would turn up and more joined in on the way. It was unbelievable, even the sun came out. Of course we took the kids, even made a picnic. A lot of us was pushing prams, hanging on to the older ones, trying to keep everyone together. We all felt, well, passionate about it, you know. It was like they was just taking the piss out of us. We was protesting for our children, just like we’ve always had to.

* * * * *

Yes, I was angry. I just don’t get how you can justify arresting a man in a wheelchair. I mean, for fuck’s sake, what was he going to do exactly? Not only that but they wouldn’t let us move. Whitehall was shut off both ends and, well, I can’t see that the police thought it through to be honest. They couldn’t have done, could they?

I did time for it yeah, and I’d do it again if I had to. It was wrong, totally wrong. The saddest thing is we couldn’t get to that bitch who started it all in the first place.

* * * * *

I remember the kids was crying because they was hungry but we just got swept along with the crowd. We couldn’t go nowhere. If the cops hadn’t blocked the roads and started everyone off panicking, we could have all been sat in Trafalgar Square listening to Tony Benn and having our picnic instead of running for our lives.

* * * * *

We were in Covent Garden deciding what to do with our final afternoon in London before going home to Marseilles. It was a beautiful day, but hot. I wanted to sit and watch the performers, do nothing, but my wife kept complaining, saying we had too much to do before our flight the next day. In the end we watched the performers for only a few minutes before taking the metro.

We did not speak to each other again until the evening, when we saw what had happened on the news in the hotel. All those people hurt. Antoinette said how lucky we are that we argue so much.

* * * * *

I was discussing a new juggling routine with New Boy when we were disturbed by the sudden appearance of a rather large and nasty looking police helicopter. We were submerged in its shadow, deafened by the whup whup whup of the rotors as it hovered bizarrely above the church garden. I saw the colour drain from Chloe’s face, hands instinctively covering her belly. Crab was looking around frantically for somewhere to stash his tin full of prime home-grown, and I must admit it took us a while to register the fact that the occupants of the chopper didn’t seem in the least bit interested in us, despite the fact that there must have seen the six inch reefer, wind torn but nonetheless, still sticking out of New Boy’s curled mouth.

* * * * *

The thing that got me was that I was having to pay the tax just like they were, and it was a damn sight more than the old rates were. But you can’t elect a government and cry about what it’s doing. They voted her in, well someone must have. I was just doing my job, trying to keep the peace when all hell’s breaking loose, peace that wouldn’t need keeping if those lazy bastards had jobs. It’s bad enough when you do the football matches but I wasn’t prepared for what happened that day. I’d had the training, read all the books on crowd control but when it comes down to it, you’re fighting for your life, just like everyone else.

* * * * *

I think it dawned on me that the chopper wasn’t there for us around the same time that I noticed the smoke coming from Trafalgar Square. The sky was getting blacker and blacker and it got real cold. Aiden didn’t look too fazed at all. ‘New Boy,’ he said, ‘I wonder what excitements London is bestowing upon us today!’ And then he smiled at Chloe, but I thought she looked scared. In the end I grabbed Hannah and we all followed Evy and Crab down the stairwell. Thinking back, I guess we shoulda just stayed where we were, huh.

* * * * *

The lads who tried to clear Whitehall came up into the Square and I can’t say what happened next. No really. I can’t. All I know is that what felt like total chaos was really highly organised. Them, that is. They had the easy bit, running through the streets, chucking missiles, causing damage. There was only 2,000 of us at first, against I don’t know how many of them. Only a few hundred of us had short riot shields, and all our equipment is defensive. We didn’t have a hope in hell of stopping them.

* * * * *

The crowd just sort of sucks you in really. I don’t know what happened. I can’t explain it. One minute I was, like, completely normal, just walking along carrying me banner, all proud and that, and the next I just got caught up in the mood of it like.

Me mam and dad went nuts. ‘Son,’ me dad said, when he came to visit me, ‘You’ve acted like a total twat and now you’re gonna have to suffer the consequences. Even a copper didn’t deserve that.’ I just felt ashamed in the end. It was like something else took over me and I just saw red. I’ve never been involved in anything like that before, or since.

* * * * *

It’s an odd thing to see smoke rising out of the city in such copious amounts. It’s not something I ever expected to see in my lifetime. London. Burning.

* * * * *

They were selective in their looting. This was no public rally, no attempt at using their voice to protest in a safe and civilised manner. I believe that the rioters were always intent on causing destruction. I believe that the rioters had no intention of staging a peaceful protest against the Poll Tax, had no intention of walking quietly to Whitehall, had no intention of delivering a petition free of violence. This was nothing more than an attempt by anarchists and thugs to cause the most damage possible. There is no doubt in my mind that this demonstration was always set to become a riot, which was why my advice was to prohibit any form of public demonstration, rally, gathering or otherwise in Trafalgar Square or anywhere else. 491 arrests were made.

* * * * *

We simply wanted to go home. It was a nightmare. We were caught in Trafalgar Square around 4 o’clock trying to get out but the crowds were too dense. It was all I could do to stay on my feet at times. They must have closed all the exits by then because people were beginning to stampede. You could feel the panic go through the crowd like a Mexican Wave. I remember going under the crowd and James letting go of my hand, and when I felt myself being hurled up again, I was confused when I saw a large bald man staring at me. I don’t know what time it was when the fires started but it was really scary. Men were up on the scaffolding at the side of the Square throwing bricks and bits of scaffold and the next minute it was just thick black smoke and the sun went out.

The darkness seemed to subdue everyone for a little while. I thought it would be over then and I could just get on the tube and go home, but then the smoke cleared a bit and it all started again. I thought I was going to suffocate or get smashed on the head with a brick. I was terrified. I was trying to climb up the church railings of St. Martin in the Fields, to see if there was any clear exit route when I promised God that I would never ever go to a public meeting again if only He would get me out of this in one piece.

I woke up in hospital with 23 stitches in the back of my head. James later explained that he had watched a mounted police officer hit me with his cosh in ‘self defence’. Apparently I was mistaken for a rioter. No one ever apologised even though all charges against me were dropped. I can still remember the smell of the blood on the pavement.

* * * * *

No, I don’t believe we were specifically targeted at all, despite your insinuations. A vast number of cafés, bars and restaurants have been attacked, not just McDonalds.

* * * * *

I think, given the situation we were faced with, that our police force was exemplary in the management of the crowds that day. Trafalgar Square has a capacity of 60,000 people, yet we estimate that there were closer to 200,000 there on the day of the riot. No further comment.

* * * * *

When we got down the stairs and onto the Piazza it was mayhem. There was mass panic; people screaming, running all over the place. Some of them had blood dripping down their faces. It was sickening, really. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. There was just this sound getting louder and louder, and none of us could place it. Crab looked at me, and then at Evy, and then I heard New Boy muttering, ‘Guys, I think we should get out of here!’ I don’t remember much after that, except the sound of Aiden’s voice as he grabbed me and dragged me to my feet.

* * * * *

We like London very much. We came to see all of famous historical sights with group from my country, Japan. We like very much to go Covent Garden and watch performing people. We were in front of crowd, and I was filming man on unicycle. I thought when he cycle away that it is part of show. We wait for them to come back but then we hear horse’s hoof on stone.

Yes, we very shock to see police on horse. They charge into Covent Garden and it was very noisy. The horses slip on pavement and lot of people running. We got lot of video. People were screaming. Lots of things in air. We have very good film when fire-extinguisher go through window of shop.

Then we had run also but we did not know where run to. We find ourselves by public lavatory and Akiko help those of us who can climb up gates. Nobu make crying. I keep camera run for long as I can but Seiko hit by brick and we had try stop bleeding.

* * * * *

I thought it was really exciting. I mean, to have news like that break right under your nose is a gift for any reporter, let alone someone trying to make a name for themselves. We missed the main event in the square because we’d had a meeting that afternoon with one of Bicksy’s cronies. Bicksy was my photographer. ‘It’s only going to be a little gathering,’ he’d said, ‘hardly worth us covering it.’ Christ, did I give him hell for that. Anyway, by the time we walked through to Charing Cross it was dusk. The police had managed to get some barriers up and hordes of people were walking around, bathed in the eerie light that was provided by burning Porches and Jags. There was thick black smoke pouring up into the air, the choking stench of petrol. It looked random at first, but you could see that the only cars that survived were the ones that had seen better days already. I thought, this is what being in a civil war must feel like.

In the end the piece I wrote was rejected. Too biased apparently. ‘If you want to write crap like that, write fiction,’ said my editor, but I saw the police drag anyone and everyone into the back of their vans. It was indiscriminate violence. I saw a young policeman take a scaffold pipe across his back, buckling under the force of the blow, but I ran out of sympathy when another’s cosh came towards me. I held up my press pass and cowered waiting for the blow but it never came. I thought I’d react differently but when it came down to it I just couldn’t stop shaking, and when I saw Bicksy was on the floor unconscious I just stood there staring at him. We lost the camera and all the pictures in the end. I just wanted to get out of there but all the tubes were closed and it was safer to stay put than risk being hit by anything else.

Later we heard that a woman had been trampled under the riot horses in Trafalgar Square while other people were mown down by the riot vans that drove into the crowds. How can you be objective? I thought, if we were in China or somewhere we’d all be dead now.

* * * * *

I think it very terrible because everywhere is such a big mess now, but for me, it turn out very well now, because the seguridad will pay for all the fixing, and I had lot of things already that need fixing in the restaurant, so is okay for me.

* * * * *

I heard that loads of people had looted Denmark Street before the police got there. I was gutted. By the time I got there, people were walking round with new saxophones and keyboards, the lot. There wasn’t so much as a plectrum left. Why am I never in the right place at the right time?

* * * * *

The crowds and the police were gone as quickly as they arrived, a wave of devastation in their wake. Covent Garden looked like a war zone. Shop windows smashed, broken glass everywhere. I had a lucky escape, Aiden tells me, falling like that, taking such a sharp knock to my head. A punk skiffle band we hadn’t seen before struck up an improvised song about The Battle of Trafalgar and we sat on the low wall of garden on the corner of Russell Street in shock, drinking take-outs from the Market Tavern. I remember sipping orange juice in silence while we watched the last of the casualties drift away down the narrow streets.

I told Aiden I was fine to stop him worrying, but I knew she had gone, because I couldn’t feel her moving anymore.

I'm new to this, and a little unsure as to what constitutes a first post, so do bear with me! I've been visiting the blogosphere for years, always amazed by the range of information, thoughts and ideas on offer. I have laughed heartily at the comedic, been educated by the very clever, frightened by the exceedingly odd, and discovered that for every point of view there is an equal and opposite posting. I was terrified at the thought of signing up to eblogger and having my own little virtual voice, but find I have been tempted into submission (although if Trevor Butterworth of the FT is to be believed I'm a tad late).

I hope to share with you the little things I discover on my journey through the ether, and life, and a little bit of short fiction too. Ooh - how exciting!