Sunday, 26 October 2008

Colonel Blink

For J.T.

Sometimes – not very often, but sometimes – I’ll do something foolish on account of refusing to wear my glasses and, if I admit as much, will earn the scorn of my Nearest & Dearest. She’ll laugh and call me Colonel Blink and show no pity for the embarrassment my vanity may have caused me.

The first time she tossed that epithet at me – Colonel Blink – we were 22 years old and living near Cardiff, Wales, and may have been younger than we are now, but were inevitably getting older, even then. At least I was. I’d had 20/20 vision for the first 20 years of my life, and had never really wondered why it was called 20/20 vision until my optician told me it no longer was. Might have guessed it was just a USE BY date after all. All the same, I wasn’t so short-sighted that I needed to wear those damned glasses all the time, but only to watch TV or at the theatre or the cinema, or if I wanted to recognise people on the other side of the street.

The car we owned back then was an ancient Beetle which broke down more reliably than it ran, with an electrical system that pre-dated Thomas Edison. Not only was it our first car, but I suspect it was the first car. The headlights were so weak that a bicycle’s front light would outshine them if a cyclist happened to be behind us, although this wasn’t often the case as most cyclists usually passed us in a flash.

We were returning to Wales one night after a weekend on the other side of the border and had been driving (or being dragged in the jet stream of tractors and bicyclists more likely) along brightly lit motorways for a couple of hours before turning into an unlit side street on the edge of Cardiff, when Nearest & Dearest calmly asked me why I was driving on the pavement and whether I thought it might be safer if she drove now instead. Hmm.

In my defence, it was an unusually wide pavement and I’m sure I’d have felt a bump or two from climbing the kerb, even in our tank of a Beetle, had there been one. And the road was poorly lit and our own lights weren’t so good, so it probably wasn’t my fault at all, but the fault of the City Council or Volkswagen or Thomas Edison. Even so, that’s the first time I got called Colonel Blink.

I didn’t really mind though because I’d been a fan of The Beazer when I was a kid, and Colonel Blink, The Short-Sighted Gink, was one of my favourite characters. His stories were always good for a laugh. How he kept his driver’s licence I haven’t a clue, and it’s a good job he didn’t live near Cardiff, but he was the only guy who could inadvertently foil an armed bank robber by mistaking him for a hat stand or get the better of an escaped grizzly bear by treating it as a carelessly placed rug. Colonel Blink saved the world (and himself) without ever being aware of it. My kind of hero.

Fortunately for pedestrians, my Australian driver’s licence requires me to wear glasses whenever I drive, but there’s no law that says I’ve got to wear the things when I’m out walking and so, to compensate for not being able to recognise friends who might be walking on the other side of the street (or standing in front of me these days), I say hello to everyone. I’m just friendly, that’s all. I’ve even been known to say hello to a reflection of myself – how I hate those mirrors on the pillars in department stores – and I once apologised when I reached to look at a shirt that my reflection was also reaching to look at.

‘Colonel Blink,’ she calls me, and thinks it funny. By now, I should’ve learned not to share my latest misadventure.

A couple of years back, I was jogging along a rough coast track nearby. It’s a narrow track with scrub and bush on one side and rocks and sea on the other. I came to a bend and there was a large figure in front bending down to tie up his shoe laces. ‘Sorry,’ I said, and at the sound of my voice, the kangaroo stopped grazing and bounded off. Hmm.

It’s said that pride comes before a fall, but I reckon it’s vanity that throws down the banana skin, and I really must wear my glasses more often, or go for laser surgery.

The fall came recently, in Port Douglas, only a hundred metres from the Crocodile Warning sign that I mentioned in a recent post. It was a warm and balmy night and my Nearest & Dearest and I were looking for a restaurant attached to the Port Douglas Yacht Club. There was a single street light in the middle of the car park and reserve that separated this area from the rest of the town, and the light would flicker on for a minute and then off for five.

After a bit of wandering around, we thought we’d found the Yacht Club, but couldn’t find a way into the restaurant, which we knew was at the back of it overlooking the water. As always, I was leaping ahead, doing the hunter-gatherer thing, being the one to find the way, when I came to the edge of the reserve and... found a path... at the bottom of a short drop (well, about 4 foot of drop). Hmm, this’ll take us round the back of the building and there’ll be an entrance there, I thought. Pity the lighting isn’t better.

All ready to jump down, I realised Nearest & Dearest wouldn’t find it as easy to clamber down the bank in her skirt as I would in my athletically-trained David Hasselhoff board shorts, but that, once down, I could give her a hand.

‘Here’s the path,’ I said, ‘but there’s a bit of a drop.’ And was about to jump.

‘Don’t,’ she said. ‘That’s the sea. This is the wharf.’ Just in time. And laughed. And called me Colonel Blink, and reminded me about the crocodiles I’d be wrestling if I really wanted to jump in.

Except Colonel Blink would have mistaken a croc for Auntie’s suitcase and would have wrestled it into submission without even realising, whilst I earned myself a stiff drink or two and the opportunity to learn from Robert Louis Stevenson, who once said: “Vanity dies hard; in some obstinate cases it outlives the man.”

Friday, 24 October 2008

Excellent review

Yesterday was pretty special when the Facebook application Visual Bookshelf let me know that Jen (aka The Amateur Book Blogger) had posted a wonderful review. Well, it didn't tell me in the e-mail that it was a wonderful review, just that it was a review -- I discovered how fine it was when I read it. Jen also posted her review on Amazon.co.uk and on her own blog, so I'm trebly delighted by the coverage she's provided. (Thanks, Jen.)

What I really like is that Jen's reading of the novel is the reading I was aiming to create, down to her observation about the chaos and the relief. Hmm, every time someone posts a review or a comment like this, there's a little sigh of contentment for knowing that Thomas Passmore is sailing well.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Fat Tuesday

Had my first swim this side of winter in the Southern Ocean this morning. It was a tad fresh. Not as warm as the Coral Sea, but clearer.

The first swim is always a baptism. Makes me feel summer is on its glorious way. Long days, warm nights.

Fat Tuesday arrived by post last Friday and I finished it yesterday. I'm not a fast reader, so that's the best sign. Have been looking forward to getting my mitts on this book every since I struck up a friendship with Gary Davison over at PaperBooks. We've travelled parallel journeys towards seeing our books in print -- enjoying similar high points and hiccoughs -- with our publication dates alternating two or three times along the way, to say nothing of the advice and book recommendations we've bounced back and forth.

I've always loved Chris Gooch's cover design for this book (it reminds me of Skinhead and Suedehead, which I read as a young teenager), and it certainly picks up on some of the elements from the story: the montage of a knife, a fight, an Australian beach, eccies, marijuana, a couple sucking face, all set against the top half of a young bloke's closely-shaved head. Nice font too.

Anyway, if you like your story to be action-packed and fast-paced, with a liberal sprinkling of sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll -- well, all sorts of music really -- then you should give this a try. I liked picking the nuances of Spencer Hargreaves' Geordie vernacular in the narrative and the fact that I felt I was being delivered a good yarn from start to end. Particularly liked the middle section, which lends itself to the title of the book: the description of the Fat Tuesday festival at Marasa Bay and the craziness of the world which the characters get thrown into there. The vitality of the writing reflects the festival atmosphere superbly.

Well worth a read, and available from book shops in the UK, from PaperBooks or Amazon. Good on yer, Gary.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Don't play with the crocs

During our holiday in Port Douglas, tropical north Queensland, last week, we came across this crocodile warning on the foreshore:

...next to the children's playground.

...and one of the swings was missing!

Saw these beauties in the Daintree River.

PS. Picked up a review in The Independent last Sunday. Getting some great coverage and interesting comments, even if they might have given The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore an extra couple of spuds! (See Bio/Interviews page.)

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Back home

Got back late Monday from nine days in tropical, northern Queensland. Bliss!

There are a couple of stories (involving crocodiles) from this trip that I'll share in a later post, but the first thing I've been trying to do is re-establish some sort of routine. It went to pot for a few weeks before our escape north, what with the book getting released and a rush on at work and the dreaded lurgy that knocked me for six (well, four perhaps) and...

But how wonderful it was to open my e-mail and, amongst the 80+, get a batch of enthusiastic responses to The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore. Not only that, but Mike French posted a tremendous review at The View From Here and Revish, and Fossfor created an illustration that superbly captured a scene from the book. Also discovered today that the Daily Mail Online featured The Snowing and Greening, although the review (a paraphrase of the blurb followed by a one line crit) didn't recommend it: "Promising though this (storyline) sounds, the narrative darts down far too many lyrical dead ends"!

Never mind, I don't expect everyone to 'get it'. That's just the way it is, and it's fine. It makes every other review so much more delicious.

However, The Australian Times put together a very substantial response, based around a recent interview. So, all up, it's been a good couple of days, even if the temperature has been about a hundred degrees cooler in not-so-tropical Victoria.

PS. The pic shows the only place in the world where two World Heritage sites meet: the Daintree Forest's Cape Tribulation (Captain Cook had a tough time here after ripping a hole in his boat) meets the Coral Sea of the Barrier Reef. Pretty special.