June to August 2014
27 July 2014 ~ A Thingummy of Things

I provided the idea and text for a children's book, A Thingummy of Things, and for over a year, my partner in the project, Donata Zawadzka has been working on the illustrations. The cover below shows some of them.

Now we are contacting publishing companies, which is no easy thing. Many that specialise in children's book have web message that state they do no accept unsolicited manuscripts or are overwhelmed by them at this point in time.

The book is based on invented collective nouns for animals starting with an audience of alligators and a buzzload of bees.

6 July 2014 ~ Review of The Bush Baptist in NZ Journal

The current issue of the Journal of New Zealand and Pacific Studies contains a review of The Bush Baptist. A copy of the review is reproduced here with permission.

1 July 2014 ~ The Fetish Collection

I have tried returning to my third novel, which has the working title A Modern Privateer and deals with a mother discovering her son was not just a soldier of fortune but also a brutal abuser of  human rights. I'm not happy with one of the aspects of the plot and until that is resolved I will spend time on short stories, both new ones and re-working some of the older ones.

I intend to bring out this year an anthology as an e-book called The Fetish Collection. While I acknowledge that the title owes something to the notion that "sex sells", none of the stories are salacious. They all mention a fetish or rather each story refers to a different fetish. Goodness knows there is no shortage of them. Anil Aggrawal in his 2008 scholarly book reckons well over 500.  However, this doesn't take into account the variety that a single heading might represent. For example, Dr Aggrawal lists ten forms of necrophilia in a 2009 article.

My interest is sexual obsessions started with Colin Wilson. His 1956 study of social alienation through writers and their literary characters, The Outsiders, was a revelation to me at the age of nineteen. The way he combined the study of modern literature with philosophy and social trends into a very readable book impressed me.

I read other books by Wilson and these included The Origins of the Sexual Impulse, which in turn led to Richard von Kraftt-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis, an early attempt to record the breadth of sexual fixations. The first edition appeared in 1886 and the paperback  I read c. 1970 still had some of the fruitier passages in Latin. Reading the book was one of the few times my three years of Latin at school has been needed for translation.

This book and Wilson's Origins made me aware of  the variety of sexual practices and the way one or two events at a critical stage of an individual's life could dominate her/his sexual thoughts and practices. And the books fed into another aspect of my thinking, the way in which people keep returning to what is familiar and has been pleasurable with little thought about what similar activities might yield similar returns.

A distinction is sometimes made between people who tend towards options as opposed to routines. Take for example, going to a strange city for a conference and staying at a hotel fifteen minutes walk from the venue.  Some people would always walk the same route to and from the conference and others would feel compelled to explore and use a new route every day. As I tend towards options, I would prefer different streets  even if finding a new route took longer.

My preference for variety made me more aware of routines in non-sexual areas of life such as sports played or watched. Some people only enjoy one type of football or are hooked on a single thrill-inducing activity such as snow skiing that seems to prevent them trying others that would also provide intense sensations. Food offers more examples; many people order or prepare the same meals over and over again or avoid eating what is beyond their cultural norms or something that was disagreeable once in childhood. I know someone who is now very fond of olives after avoiding them for over twenty years due to one bad experience as a kid.

For the most part, there is nothing wrong in having set preferences and society benefits from having a proportion of people who are reliable in their exercise of choice. (I'm not the sort of person you would want running a nuclear power station because before long I would tempted to see what happens if I varied the procedures.)

Although experimentation sometime has unfortunate consequences, the bad experiences are usually one-offs unless they spark an obsession or an addiction. Provided one is not hooked or transfixed, trying new activities can add to learning.

However, I'm not advocating sexual experimentation where curiosity doesn't exist because these erotic preferences are very personal and may well have been fixed to a large extent long before adulthood. For example, a woman several decades ago wanted me to spank her as part of our intimacy. As much I wanted to please her, I couldn't bring myself to use the level of force that would have satisfied her. What I interpreted as violence didn't feel comfortable and this became a turnoff. Her preference wasn't a problem in itself and neither was mine. However, it didn't do much for our sexual compatibility.

The variety of sexual interests, how people acquire them, the ways others react and the issues around what is socially and legally tolerated continues to fascinate me. And often when I am trying to develop a major character in a story, I consider whether to use a fetish and if so, what might best add to the story.

My sexual preferences are what some would call vanilla, using the metaphor of ice-cream where vanilla-flavoured is equated with plain or least interesting. My view is that the pleasure quotient of ice-cream or sex depends on more than just one ingredient. Vanilla might not add colour to food, but can bring a wealth of other sensations. And the steps taken in the manufacture of ice cream or in love making are just as important as the key flavouring.

29 June 2014 ~ E-Herrings

I wear flip flops for much of the time at home when the weather is warm. I first encountered this type of footwear in New Zealand when I was ten. There they are called jandals, a portmanteau for Japanese sandals, though strictly speaking this is a brand name. Fifty-five years later, wearing flip flops evokes childhood memories of sunny beaches 12,000 miles from London.

There is another set of memories from the age of thirteen. I was riding a bike in jandals, had to stop suddenly and somehow used my right big toe as a brake. The nail came off and X-rays revealed two fractures in the toe. It was about a week before I started secondary school and I turned up in odd shoes, wearing one of my older brother's on the right foot to accommodate the dressing. The damaged nail grows in two overlapping parts to this day; otherwise I had recovered fully within four months. I never rode a bike in jandals again.

My gardening flip flops (not for mowing!) had worn down at the heels so I ordered a new pair on line recently and relegated my other old ones to garden duties. Then as often happens these days, using the internet to look for products led to a series of targeted ads  on various sites, in this case for flip flops. My searches had been noted, but not the fact I had already purchased the shoes. The same kind of ad's have appeared following my searches for swimwear, netsukes, credit card wallet etc. 

This form of personalised advertising is known in marketing as behavioural tracking. It irritates me because given the chance I opt out of unnecessary sharing of information. And I don't like being reminded that the internet can log data and turn it into profit regardless of my preferences.

Rather than feeling the manipulation is one way, I decided the tail should also wag the dog. I will search for products that I neither need nor want, a kind of electronic red herring, and snigger when the ads appear on my screen for llama panniers, spats, a plastic tree, unicycle and clothes that feature the name of the designer or company on the exterior. You couldn't pay me to wear advertising and I certainly won't do it for free.

22 June 2014 ~ Small Claims Case Concluded

A cheque arrived yesterday for £200 from Carlton Leisure, the amount awarded by a County Court judge following my action against this travel company. If you want further details of the case see Carlton Leisure Watch.

No apology was received with the cheque despite the court finding against the defendant.

I was impressed by the judge on the day of the hearing ten days ago. She combined being scrupulous without making the hearing overly formal. Another person who impressed me on the day was the court usher who greeted everyone with courtesy and left people with the sense that he was there to help.

Less praiseworthy was the administration before the hearing. Despite writing to the court three times over four months to advise that there was no longer a second defendant (the airline involved) the documentation continued to list a second defendant. And mediation was made more difficult by the fact that the requests to delete the second defendant were not acted on. The mediator needed the curt to confirm this.

The case was lodged on July 2013 and was first scheduled for a hearing in April 2014. This was deferred at short notice due to the court needing to deal with other cases first. So not a swift resolution, though fortunately launching the action and persisting with it got me back the money I had paid in April 2013 by the end of August 2013.

It may have been my case was disadvantaged by being transferred to three different judges, one of whom retired between the date of the initial hearing and the actual hearing.

One other complaint is archaic language.  A letter from the court asked me to supply, "The amounts of any directions made by the defendant". I could find no explanation of this online, called Willesden Crown Court and the person I spoke to could not explain it. And a written request for clarification went unanswered.

4 June 2014 ~  British Museum Exhibitions

We finally got to see The Vikings; Life and Legend and saw Ancient Lives on the same day. I much preferred the latter.

The Vikings used much of its vast space for one object, the remains of a very large boat. The steel framework certainly conveys the scale of the structure, but the salvaged timber isn't that informative.

And space is important. The start of the exhibition is poorly designed. People stand back to look at a large display creating congestion.

More congestion resulted from a number of displays that had text only at groin height, which meant they couldn't be read while waiting for someone studying the exhibit  And even where text was also displayed higher, it tended to be to one side. There was much free space above displays that could have held large boards with the text.

Ancient Lives: New Discoveries reveals the secrets of eight mummies through the use of advanced medical scanning.  Large screens display moving images that show cross sections of the mummies along with the occasional helpful arrow and comment. The public can control the images to some extent on a number of the scans.

One also gets to see the mummy that was scanned plus useful background information and related items on display. Top marks for packing so much into a small space.

The Vikings
had grand ambitions, but imho came second because telling  stories about individuals beats piles of bling, weapons and summarising a vast a culture than spanned continents, seas and centuries.