Tag Archives: history

Friday Photo Blogging: Shelob Junior the portly spider

OK, just in case the title was enough warning – arachnophobics should probably scroll right past this image before it loads. This big lump of a spider has taken up residence out front of the house my flat is in:

BigFatSpider 002

Sorry for blurriness – for one thing, I don’t have a macro lens (another reason to jealous of Jeremy), and for another, the wind was blowing enough to make the web oscillate. That shot (like the other one I’ve stashed on Flickr) was the clearest of about thirty attempts.

Shelob was distinctly unimpressed by being photographed, hence the strange suspended pose in the other shot – she kind of skulked off to a corner of the web in a fit of pique. Models, eh?

Totally scary blogging moment (brief digression)

It’s odd, this blogging thing: you are aware, consciously, that people read the thing, but – with the exception of the people you know from comments, web-connected work or having met in meatspace – you tend to lump them into this abstract group of people who … well, who are just a number, in a way. You have no sense of their real-ness, as actual individual people.

So when you’re at work, and some chap comes in asking for directions to the other branch of the Admiralty Library (it’s elsewhere in the Dockyard – don’t ask, it’s complicated), and you tell him, and then he cheerfully tells you he knows your name because he reads your website … well, suffice to say it’s as momentarily frightening as it is flattering.

So, to the fellow in question (whose name I was far too stunned to be polite enough to ask for): thanks for saying hello, I hope you’re still reading, and I hope next time we meet I won’t be doing my best impression of a landed cod.

Reading, writing, and stuff in between

I may have cleared the decks of major projects over the course of last week, but there’s still been a lot of minor things to sort out this week, and some other catch-up business here and there, like meetings and appointments.

Hence, no blogging here at VCTB – though I have about five half-finished screeds just waiting to be rounded off and posted. I’m building up a safety net of content so that I don’t go totally quiet when my non-blog life gets a bit hectic, basically … as well as slowly learning the principles of self-management and discipline by luck and flaw.

I’ve also been attacking the reading pile. I’ve finally finished my first pass through John Meaney’s To Hold Infinity, and have made a healthy start on Karl Schroeder’s Queen of Candesce … as well as actually reading some poetry for the first time in what seems like months. wh00t!

Heavy labour at the day-job

Well, not so terribly heavy, in truth. The RNML is having a book sale tomorrow, so the last couple of days have involved moving a lot of dusty old books out of the store and getting them ready for the buying public … whom we hope will be numerous, because we could do with shifting the old stuff to make room for titles we actually need to keep.

The upshot of this being that yours truly is racking up the overtime hours tomorrow afternoon, manning a table and taking the cash. The best bit is that I can read during quiet moments – and there’s nothing better than being paid to read a novel, as far as I’m concerned.

So, if you’re in the Portsmouth area, and fancy picking up some naval history bargains, get thee to the Historic Dockyard between midday and 3pm tomorrow!

Books and magazines seen

Another slow week; the only magazine to arrive was Talebones #35, which has (as always) a lovely cover:


Also picked up a couple of non-fiction titles from the book-sale selection (as mentioned above); general naval history, nothing too focused, just useful background reference titles at a fraction of the cover price:

These are titles I refer to all the time at work, and a great introduction to matters nautical. While I don’t think I’m going to become the sort of hyper-focused enthusiast historian who attends the RNML, I’m definitely developing an interest in naval history as a broad topic. Lots of story ideas in there, too …


There’s your slice of my life for the week, which has been brought to you by Windows Live Writer Beta – that rarest of things, a free Microsoft product that doesn’t totally blow goats. They’ve really upped the feature set, so if you’re looking for a free blogging client, give it a try. It’s not as bells and whistles as Ecto (though it can extended with plug-ins), but nor is it as utterly bug-ridden.

(To be fair, I’m told the Mac version of Ecto is rather fantastic. But the PC version is only worth the money if you need certain features impossible to get elsewhere, IMHO. Note: Mac users leaving smug comments will be mailed a packet of fresh sea urchins first thing Monday morning.)

So, time for The Friday Curry, and then lots of writing to do that I’d normally be doing tomorrow afternoon. What the hell, I could do with a Friday evening indoors, and I have a review copy of the new Oceansize album to keep me company!

I hope the weather holds out, and that you all get the best out of your own weekends. Hasta luego, amigos.

Friday Photo Blogging: Portsmouth as it once was

Here’s one for the history buffs! This is chart from the manuscript collections at the Royal Naval Museum where I work, that shows the layout of Portsmouth as it was in 1726:

Map Of Portsmouth 1726

As you can see, there was a lot less then than there is now. If my estimates are correct, the Hall Of Mirrors (my humble abode) would be somewhere in the midst of what is labelled as ‘The Great Morass’ (bottom left, almost out of shot – it’s a big chart). That could be taken as still being true in a metaphorical sense …

Full-time flashback

And speaking of morasses (is that a real plural?), my schedule has been a bit of a swamp this week; as I think I mention last week, I’m currently covering for the colleague with whom I job-share, which means I’m working full-time hours.

Having only been part-time for just under six months, I’m astonished at home quickly I’ve become accustomed to having more time on my hands … and how effectively I’ve managed to fill it all up with other work! Suffice to say that getting all my blogging, reviewing and interviews done this week has been a bit of a marathon effort, and I’m very thankful for the forthcoming bank holiday.

Scribblings delivered and pending

Over the last weekend, I wrote three articles – an introduction to Second Life (for D+PAD), a report on the SFF Masterclass I attended back in June (for Vector), and a piece on why anyone taking a potential career as a writer (or other sort of artist) needs to have their own website (for Focus). The Focus piece I consider to be an especially good result for me – as the “writers’ magazine” of the BSFA, that’s a fairly prestigious publication to be appearing in.

This week I’ve already knocked out three CD reviews (which I did last night, because the albums themselves took a while longer than they should have done to work their way through the postal service), and spent some time chatting on the phone to Tony Wright, who you may know as the frontman of semi-defunct Britrock heroes Terrorvision. He now has another band, Laika Dog, who have a new album in the pipeline … so I got to speak to him about the decay of the corporate music industry, and rock and roll as a vocation rather than a career. Lovely chap, great interviewee.

Interviews in the pipeline include the legendary David Yow (formerly of The Jesus Lizard, now frontman for Qui); Mark Meyers from Pox, a band who share history (and former members) with Belgian alternative heroes dEUS; history-obsessed UK post-rock outfit iLiKETRAiNS; and (way off in October) the mighty Oceansize. I may not get paid for any of this yet, but I certainly get to talk to some interesting people!

Apparel received

I don’t buy T-shirts anywhere near as often as I used to, but the urge still takes me from time to time. When I heard a friend was going to see the inimitable Tool at Brixton Academy this week, I asked him to pick me up a shirt while he was there; by sheer coincidence, my official WordPress T-shirt (that I had totally forgotten I ordered) arrived by mail the same day.

RockTee vs. GeekTee

So, choices: do I dress rock, or do I dress geek?

I know, I seriously need to get a life.

Books and magazines seen

Well, this is the third week in a row that an issue of F&SF (October/November 2007 this time) has arrived in my letterbox – which I take to mean I won’t be seeing any more until around December or thereabouts.

I’m definitely going to switch to digital when my current sub expires – I know it’s not the magazine’s fault, but the delivery is incredibly irregular. Plus that way I’ll get to pick and choose which issues to take.

A busy week for books:

  • Ascendancies – The Best of Bruce Sterling – the long-awaited (and, as always, beautifully made) Subterranean hardback that collects the highlights of Sterling’s career. I shall be saving this one for when I take some time off work, so I can just devour it in a day or so.
  • Queen of Candesce by Karl Schroeder – next review job for Interzone, and sequel to the excellent Sun of Suns.

And from SF Site (after a journey from Canada of over a month’s duration, according to the postmark):

  • Land of the Headless by Adam Roberts – well, it’s a Roberts, so I’m expecting high literary values. I nearly said “I expect it’ll be clever”, but I know that annoys him
  • Human Is? – a Philip K. Dick Reader – PKD is one of the huge self-assessed gaps in my sf-nal knowledge. I know loads of his work second-hand (through reading frequent reviews and references to them), but I’ve not read a number of what are considered to be his most seminal works – so this should be an enjoyable (and long overdue) education.

All this serves as a reminder that I’m hideously backlogged on books to be read and reviewed. Once this full-time intermission is over at the day-job, I think I’ll need to take a week off from music reviews (and possibly my increasingly rare and truncated visits to Second Life) and just attack the book pile to whittle it down to manageable proportions.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more appealing an idea that becomes …

[Side note: one of the books above came with a press release that described its author as “… one of the best writer’s (sic) in the field.” Come on, guys, you’re marketing literature here – surely you should be proofreading for the correct use of apostrophes? If any publicists require a new copywriter, my email is in the sidebar to the right …]


Well, that’s about it for this week. I can hear the silent yet clarion call of Meat Balti (Madras Hot) from a few streets away, so I shall venture forth to purchase (and subsequently consume) The Friday Curry.

In the meantime, enjoy your weekend (and extra day, if you’re a Brit) – I’m not even going to bother mentioning the weather, because doing so hasn’t helped at any point in the last few months. So, regardless of location or climate, have a good time doing whatever you’re doing. Hasta luego!

Friday Photo Blogging – the Royal Naval Museum Library

Yes, FPB is back after a two-week hiatus, wh00t! Thanks to those of you who emailed about its absence last week – I’m flattered by your interest in my personal ramblings, but I’d suggest that you may need to get out more. I can recommend Second Life as an alternative, if leaving the house is unappealing – I know how you feel sometimes.

So, here’s what I’m surrounded by in my new workplace:


There are original documents and manuscripts going back over two centuries. I’ve only been here a month, and I’m already developing a genuine interest in British Naval history. It’s hard not to, really – once you start to look at it, the history of the Royal Navy is almost impossible to separate from the history of Britain itself, not to mention the modern world. Although I can’t see myself abandoning science fiction for the C. S. Forester novels just yet …


I’ve already been roundly mocked for my abortive efforts at chronicling Eastercon, for which I offer little in the way of apology – I was far too busy hanging out, talking science fiction and generally having a high old time of it. A lesson learned – cons are too full of stuff to do to seriously contemplate getting a decent amount of work done. They’re also good places to pick up new novelty illnesses, as both I and my good buddy Shaun discovered – that’s one of the reasons there was no FPB last week.


Cons are also great for encouraging you to part with your hard-earned cash for desirable books. I’ll not list everything I bought, but the two highlights (and high price tags) were John Clute’s Scores and Parietal Games, a collection of criticism by (and of) M. John Harrison. Heavy stuff, but well worth it – to be consumed in small doses, like a fine brandy or somesuch.

Incoming reading material is in no short supply at the moment. My place on the Orbit mailing list seems to have kicked in, which has resulted in a number of packages arriving at varying times of the morning over the last few weeks. A lot of it has been, to be fair, not really the sort of thing I’m interested in (teen vampire romances and fantasy doorstops), but this morning’s shipment included Marianne de Pierres’ Dark Space, which looks like it might be pretty good. I’ve still not read anything by her yet, so that may be a good place to start.

Stuff has also winged its way across the Atlantic from the good folk at SF Site, despite being mangled by the Canadian postal system, and I now have a copy of the Night Shade Books’ Best SF and Fantasy of the Year anthology to attack when time permits. Given the fact that I’ve not finished the stuff they sent me last month, it may take a week or so for me to get to that …

Furthermore, the evil overlords of the new Scalpel Magazine have sent me Chris Roberson’s Set the Seas on Fire. I quite liked Paragaea, and I’ll be interested to see what Roberson does with his characters in a different setting.

Added to all the above, I’m also receiving an average of seven CDs a fortnight, along with all the usual things – so my postman loves me to bits. I can tell – he keeps waking me up before seven so he can see me wearing the oh-so-fetching towel-and-scowl combo …


Well, there you have it. You may notice I’ve not mentioned much besides books – that’s because, with the exception of a couple of great gigs over the last few weeks, I’ve not been doing very much else except try to shake off the con plague (plus some lingering psychological baggage). Of course, I have been adventuring in Second Life, but as you’ve been paying attention you already knew that, right?

So. It’s Friday. It’s still quite sunny (although a brisk chilly wind from the southeast indicates that may not be the prevailing situation in a day or two). My day-job graft for the week is done, so it is time to obey the callings of powers far mightier and and more imperative than those of mortal man.

In other words, time for The Friday Curry. Have a good weekend, folks.