Tag Archives: life

In praise of “economic waste”

J M McDermott’s heartfelt essay at SF Signal chimed with me for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that certain recent Life Direction Decisions™ of my own are now pointing me toward an economically wasteful Masters degree, but also because McDermott seems to share a lot of my own value systems. You should surely read the whole thing, but here’s a few favourite bits:

Be proud of me. Be proud of my economic waste. The greatest tragedy of our culture is that we have allowed the financiers to take over our young imaginations. Our brightest minds from our greatest universities flock to high paying jobs, where they try to make as much money as they can before they die. The best and brightest children our nation has to offer have all been seduced into believing that ownership of large houses is more important than the environmental footprint that our McMansions smear all over our fragile ecology. The systems of wealth culture have brainwashed our youth into believing that upward mobility is something everyone should aspire to, and that being a leader is something glorious and respectable and sexy, and everyone else is a slacker or failure, and that it is a shameful thing to be a janitor or a waiter or a truck driver or a stay-at-home mom.

We, all of us, need to stop that shit right now. The best and the brightest of our world should neither be measured by how much money they earn, nor by whether they own big houses, fancy clothes, or all the consumerist bullshit things like that. The only measure of a person that matters is how they affect other people, and how we all can find a way as individuals, communities, and continents, to contribute in a meaningful, positive fashion to the very tiny world we all share. The best and the brightest should, in fact, in a fair world, see high-paying jobs as corrupting influences on the pursuit of true value in the world.


As this experience winds down, I like to think of all these supposedly economically useless degrees, especially degrees in the creation of artistic things like poems or pottery, like getting a degree in being super heroes. By day, people with useless degrees are, most of us, working hard to keep our pantries stocked with food and our lights on. If we are lucky, our daylight work is engaging and interesting. If we are not, it is a minor inconvenience as long as there is food and light. Then, we leave our day jobs and our lives open up. We read, and analyze, and create. We engage in debate on the internet and in the magazines of our fields–for instance, at SFSignal. We continue pursuing our interests, beyond graduation, and maybe we make things or ideas that whisper out into the world, rippling chaos theory’s caribou sneezes to rend the walls of Jericho. We go out to buy groceries afterwards, and nobody knows us. We go to work, and maybe we tell one person there over lunch what happened in our esoteric pursuits. We work hard, raise families and/or pets, and most people don’t even know what we really are in the wee hours and the corners of our lives, when we pursue what interests us.

But, at night, in the corners of our lives, when no one is looking, we are superheroes.


Farewell, Velcro City

boxesNo, no, I’m not closing down VCTB – sorry if I got your hopes up! Though given the quietude here of late, you’d be forgiven for thinking it of me…

What I am doing, however, is moving out of Portsmouth this coming Tuesday, shifting ~250 miles up the country to Stockport in order to set up housekeeping with my lovely lady.

That may go some way to explaining why things have been quiet this year on the VCTB front; every bit of spare time I’ve had has been invested in spending time with my better half, and when you live so far apart that can be quite demanding. It’s been a struggle keeping on top of my freelance work, to be honest, let alone chuntering sf-nal blather here on a regular basis. And so the time has come to transcend the geography and start a new life in a new town, to paraphrase David Jones. I’m really looking forward to it. 🙂

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with this town – a relationship that gave this blog its name, in fact. I arrived here in September of 1994, fifteen years ago, so I’ve now been here for near enough half my life, and it’s a huge part of my identity and outlook – not in the football-team sense, but in the sense of having spent the formative years of my adolescence and adulthood here, having been a part (no matter how peripheral) of its cultural pulse for a decade and a half. There’s times I loathe the place – and grey damp days like this one are the worst times for that, for sure – but to say I’ll miss it would be a massive understatement. So many people and places that I love dearly are here, and it’s tough to leave that behind.

But love makes the difficult into the trivial, and I’ve got an exciting new life waiting for me in the chilly hills of Cheshire. Stockport itself isn’t what you’d call a cultural hub, but it’s mere minutes from central Manchester on the train, where (so it seems) all the cornucopian cultural options of a sizeable city await my involvement. I’ll be looking to join a new band (one of the hardest parts of deciding to move was having to quit Aeroplane Attack, and I’ll never forget or recapture the fun of being in my first proper band with four awesome people), find some writing groups and hangouts, haunt concert venues and second-hand bookstores and libraries and museums and pubs… but more importantly, I’ll be living alongside the lady I love. And while I’d probably balked slightly had she asked me to move into an internet-less cave two hundred miles from the nearest bookstore, I’d still have gone. All the other stuff is just gravy.

But hey, it’s the season for gravy, AMIRITE? So maybe some of you lot who know Manchester can suggest good places to go, interesting people to meet, exciting stuff to do? Maybe you’d like to meet up if you’re in the same area, show me the sights, tell me the horror stories? Maybe you know of a science fiction fandom group or writer’s circle I might be able to join? If so, please drop me a line – I’d love to hear from you.

And for those who are wondering (and the few who have asked) about the fate of Velcro City Tourist Board, fear not – it’s not going away. Sure, I’ll not be based in Velcro City any more, but the place will always be a huge slice of my mental furniture… and who says the guy who runs the tourist board can’t telecommute, eh? Velcro City has always been the version of Portsmouth that lived in my head, and always will be; it will become no less real or detailed by me living somewhere else, and someday I may even finish the damned stories I keep thinking up for it. So, no promises about schedules, but look out here in the coming new year for me talking about stuff I like, books and albums I’ve received, stuff I’ve been to see, and stuff that’s amused/annoyed/amazed me on the intertubes… and maybe even some fiction and poetry. It’ll be just like old times. Except, y’know, new. 🙂

Going solo!

chain and unlocked padlockOK, so I can at long last officially announce what a few of you have known for a while (and some more of you have guessed). Today I went in to my day-job and gave them my notice to terminate my employment with them as of 1st February 2009. From that date onward, I will be a full-time freelance.

You’d be forgiven for thinking I’m quite insane; hell knows I’ve thought it a number of times in the last few months as I’ve considered my options, and the economic outlook at a global scale hasn’t helped dispel that feeling. Leaving the safety of a regular (and very enjoyable) job for the white-water rapids of full self-employment? And doing so at the gates of what is being described as the biggest recession in nearly a century? I must need my head examined.

And yet… and yet. The last three months have been progressively more crazy; as more work has arrived, I’ve run up against the one limit I can’t hack or work around – the limit of hours in each day. Sure, it’s nice to be earning more than you need, but you can miss having a life beyond it. Something had to give.

So I’ve put in my notice – which was rather tough to do, considering I only found out today that our director died of cancer over the holidays – and I’m making the mad leap. This is why I’m not drinking this year: I need to be financially flexible, I need to be healthy, and I need to be productive. I’ve done my budgeting; it’ll be tight at first, but I can survive if I cut back on crap I don’t need.

And what I’ll lose in income I’ll gain in time – time to create, time to enjoy. I want to be able to play guitar every day without watching the clock; I want to be able to write for an hour a day without staying up an hour later than I should to do so; I want to be able to read books for my own satisfaction, as well as for review.

So that’s what I’m gonna do. I’m going to work, and create, and think. I’m going to pare away the junk and clutter in my life and in my head; I’m going to Viridianise myself. I’m going to stop dreaming about the life I’ve always wanted, and I’m going to chase it down with a big pointy stick.

So, welcome to my new life. Doesn’t look too different right now, does it? But who knows what’s just around the corner…

Thanks for listening. 🙂

PS – Many thanks also to all the people who’ve said supportive, encouraging or – in some cases – derogatory things (yes, that means you, Norris), or who’ve sent me work or helped me learn stuff. I owe you one, so make sure you call it in some day.

[image courtesy Dazzie D]

Friday Photo Blogging: Straylight botanical gardens

Since I’ve been huddled indoors all week with a cold which refuses to budge (despite generous applications of vitamins, caffeine and healthy food), we have another “no proper photography” week on our hands. So, a snap-shot from Second Life instead:

Straylight Botanical Gardens 6

That’s yours truly (as my alter ego, Isambard Portsmouth) taking a constitutional in the Botanical Gardens at Straylight, whose enterprising owner has realised that the best way to promote and market his skill with sculpties is to make a place that people will visit just because it looks nice.

It’s about as close to nature as you’ll get in SL at the moment … and when you have an inkling as to the degree of work and expertise involved in creating objects like those trees, it’s even more impressive.

Writing about music

The barrage of music reviewing continues apace; I’ve upped the number of albums I cover in recent weeks because my newly rationalised working procedures have permitted me to do so, but I think I’m now at a peak quota. If I take on any more, and I’ll have no flex left to incorporate other forms of work into my schedule, and I’m hoping that some other forms of work may well be in the pipeline as we speak.

I’ve also been looking into the logistics and planning of my proposed solo music reviews site, as well as poking around with WordPress themes and costing up my hosting options. Watch this space!

So, here’s a few highlights from my music reviews that went live this week:

The next month or so will see me interviewing some of my favourite bands, including the aforementioned Oceansize and Hundred Reasons. As yet unconfirmed (but still a distinct possibility) is a chat with none other than Sir Henry of Rollins. Note to self – bullsh*t questions are not going to wash with this particular interviewee!

Writing about books

Completed my review of Karl Schroeder’s Queen Of Candesce, and sent it off to TTA Towers along with all the other reviews to be included in Interzone #213. So most of the writing about books I’ve been concerned with this week has been stuff written by other people, but that’s fine – I’m learning a lot about different ways of writing from having to edit other people’s work.

I’ve also been taking notes in preparation for writing a review of Lucius Shepard’s Dagger Key collection (for Vector) over the weekend to come. I wasn’t sure what I’d make of the book when I was sent it, as I’m not an aficionado of ‘dark fantasy’, but suffice to say that I now understand why so many people told me I was lucky to be given the book to review – he’s quite a writer. I’m not sure if I’d go out of my way to buy his stuff in future, but I’d certainly recommend him to fantasy and horror fans of my acquaintance.

Next on the slate is McDonald’s Brasyl, which has been in the queue for a long time, but needs to be reviewed for Foundation

Writing about other stuff

My ‘beginner’s guide to Second Life’ is currently being incorporated into the coming edition of D+PAD Magazine, and if it looks as good as the current issue, I’m going to be proud to see my name next to it. And I’ve been asked to follow on with a regular SL column, too … so, time to start cribbing from Warren Ellis! 😉

Writing at VCTB

Yeah, I know, I’ve been slack as hell. If you’re interested in excuses, I’ll mention that a certain amount of ‘bedding-in’ of the new bloggers at Futurismic has been ongoing, and that this damnable cold has slowed me down considerably – thinking clearly is still a matter of conscious effort, and hard to sustain for more than half an hour at a time. But I’ll be back on form soon, don’t you worry …

Books and magazines seen

None. Nada. Nowt. Naff all. Not a terrible occurrence, because the TBR pile is quite big enough already … but unusual enough to be notable. I feel strangely incomplete.


The weekend arrives, and with it grey clouds and rain … I table a motion to declare this The Most. Rubbish. Summer. EVAR.

Still, the weekend is the weekend, and it brings with it plenty of things to do. Tonight is the grand final of The Wedgewood Rooms battle-of-the-bands, where yours truly will be dispensing his judicial decisions for the last time this year. However, due to this enduring illness, I’m not going to be drinking … meaning I get the fun of watching everyone else steadily descend into gibbering inebriation, which should more than compensate.

Sunday is the last of the month, which sees me down at Tongues And Grooves, the poetry and music open-mic night I attend. We’ve no special guest this month, instead concentrating on local artists, and I have a fifteen minute slot to fill with readings of my own work and that of other people, which should be fun (if a trifle nerve-wracking – I never have gotten over the stage-fright thing, even in a small venue with no stage).

But first things first – it’s time for The Friday Curry Of Justice, as is traditional. Have a good weekend, folks. Hasta luego!

Friday Photo Blogging: still life with bug

Here’s a shot from back in May, which I’m becoming convinced was about as much summer we’re going to get this year:

Still life with bug

I have no idea what sort of plant that is, nor the identity of the little critter either. I just liked the textures and colours. Taken at the Rock Gardens on Southsea Seafront, for them who’s interested.

Speaking of plants … I mentioned last week that the builders came and took away the old condemned gas fire from my flat. This permitted a rearrangement of bedroom furniture, with the end result that a greater number of my houseplants can now indulge in the south-facing window:

Room With A View

The view would be nicer if there wasn’t a house in the way, and if the garden flat hadn’t had its scruffy but verdant garden paved over when it was renovated a few years back. Selah. It’s better than bugger all.

A first step in freelancing

Well, I’ve been battering on about it for ages, and I’ve even written a few pieces that have paid me token amounts in the last six months, but this week represented a first for me – I sent out an invoice for some copywriting work.

A real invoice, for real work, for real money! I’m pretty stoked about it (though obviously I’ll be more so once the money arrives); while I’m nowhere close to making a steady income yet, this is a first step on what I hope will be a long road … a road that gets progressively less steep, with any luck. So, yay me! Wh00t, etc.

Catching up with ex-colleagues

Went out to an friend’s leaving party for an hour or two last night; he’s just left the same library that I departed three busy months ago. It was really nice to see the old gang, and made me realise that as much as I like my new job, I really miss the sense of community I had in the old one.

They’re great people doing a tough job for worse money, and good friends too. So hello, Portsmouth library staff, if any of you are reading. You guys totally rule.

Phonecalls with the (somewhat) rich and famous

As mentioned last week, I did a telephone interview with Alan Wilder on Tuesday – and I’m pleased to report that I got the sound recorded perfectly, transcribed the conversation and sent it in to my editor at Subba-Cultcha, who seems pretty pleased with it and will be running it (I assume) next week.

Alan Wilder was once described as being ‘the only musician in Depeche Mode’ before his departure from the band in 1996; nowadays he makes music under the moniker of Recoil, a studio-collaboration project that (sadly) never plays live. Mr Wilder was a charming and interesting interviewee, and I can heartily recommend the new album, subHuman – I was a fan before doing the interview.

Books seen this week

Another slow week on the reading materials front, with only one new title. I got an email midweek from a gentleman called Peter D. Smith, wondering if I’d be interested in seeing a copy of his new book that discusses the role of science fiction in inspiring the development of the Cold War ‘Cobalt bomb’ – the device central to the movie Dr Strangelove. It sounded pretty intriguing, so I invited him to send me a copy of it:

Smith, P. D. – The Doomsday Men: The Real Dr Strangelove and the Dream of the Superweapon. [pub. Allen Lane, May 2007; ISBN 978-0713998153]

Doomsday Men

It’s a real doorstop of a hardback, too – 576 pages! But it looks like a well-researched piece of work, and the sort of thing I can probably read in amongst other titles (which I still can’t do with fiction, for some reason). I’ll share my thoughts about it here when I’m done.

The ephemera of life

After a ten month wait, British Gas have finally managed to commit the fifteen keystrokes that mean I actually receive paper bills for my electricity! I’m tempted to wait for ten months before paying them any more money as a matter of principle, but bitter experience tells me that its not worth toying with utility companies, no matter how inept and cludgy their customer service systems are.

Futurismic is back up, though not fully operational – hard-working head honcho Jeremy managed to export the hefty back catalogue of posts from the evil-tempered Movable Type installation into a nice fresh WordPress database. Now all we need to do is get the backline machinery tuned up, and a nice new theme design, and we’re back in business.

Any web-dev types fancy taking on a low-budget WordPress theme hack? Get in touch and we can talk money – we don’t need anything too hardcore, and it’ll need to be cheap, because it’ll be coming out of my own pocket.


I think that’s about it – if that little lot hasn’t bored you to tears or killed a dull ten minutes at work, I don’t know what will. But my stomach tells me it’s time to go fetch The Friday Curry, so I’ll wish you all a good weekend – hopefully one blessed with better weather than we have had for the last week or so.

Hasta luego!