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May. 23rd, 2016

Monocle Husky

Major Win

Hey, remember when one of my stories was nominated for an Ursa Major award?

It won!

The Ursas, or Annual Anthropomorphic Literature and Arts Awards, are open to voting by anyone, and designed to showcase and celebrate quality in the furry fandom. Or popularity, which may or may not be the same thing.

I am over the moon to have my writing recognised in this way. Thank you to everyone who read the story, took time to vote, or sent good wishes!

In addition, The Analogue Cat has been nominated for a Cóyotl, the annual awards of the Furry Writers' Guild. It means a lot to me that such a short work has struck a chord with so many people.

Hearts & paws to you all: ♥ 🐾 ♥ 🐾 ♥ 🐾 ♥ 🐾 ♥ 🐾
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May. 21st, 2016

Pertwee bike

The Late Great Johnny Ace

It's twenty years yesterday since Jon Pertwee died.

I can remember exactly where I was when I heard the news: in a bicycle shop in Oxford, with the radio playing. The newsreader described him as 'the quintessential Doctor Who', and while he may not have been everyone's, he is certainly mine.

I first discovered him on the covers and in the pages of the Target novels, and he was my favourite Doctor years before I got to see him on the small screen. This was probably the start of a lifelong weakness for prematurely grey hair, aquiline noses, and that particular combination of gentleness, humour and ass-kicking ability found also in e.g. Timothy Dalton's James Bond and Scott Bakula's Sam Beckett.

He's given me so much pleasure over the years - and that's without adding in his turns as Petty Officer Pertwee in The Navy Lark, and as Spotty in Superted. Here’s a nice article celebrating his career.

I present to you one of my most treasured possessions, signed on a Doctor Who Day at Longleat in the mid-90s. I was so overwhelmed at being in the presence of my hero that I could barely say my own name. Jon was as charming, and as handsome, as I had always imagined him.

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May. 16th, 2016

Dangerous Curves

Bike Normandy 2016: Day 3 (08/05)

Our return ferry left at six in the evening, which meant almost another full day's riding. We did need to pack all our luggage, however, and in my case, after a last-ditch attempt to reattach it, lash my windscreen to my pillion seat.

After a brief pause in Camembert to ascertain that there really isn't anything exciting there, we stopped at another piece of military hardware, the Vimoutiers Tiger tank, for a photo opportunity, and Howard informed me that my headlight had blown. The coffee stop was minutes away, in Vimoutiers itself, so we used the opportunity to swap in my spare bulb while the others relaxed in the shade of a café awning.

By this time I was pretty fed up with my bike's determination to fall to bits over the weekend, and the insane difficulty level of replacing the bulb (remove two panels then contort yourself reaching up inside the headset) didn't help. On this occasion, pulling the connector off the back of the bulb proved to be the trickiest part of the job.

John kindly took our coffee order, and in due course delivered our drinks.

"Going well?" he asked.

"NO," we replied in unison.

At last the replacement bulb was in the holder, and the spring clip and dust cover reattached. I spent five minutes fruitless trying to replace the connector, then handed over to Howard, who moved it half a millimeter so it immediately clicked in.

We lunched at The Best Little Creperie In Normandy (probably), where I branched out and tried a feuilleté: a vast base and even vaster lid of puff pastry, cradling a delicious mixture of cheese, sausage, mushroom and ham.

After a glorious and largely traffic-free weekend, there was no way to avoid dual carriageways and busy roads as we headed back to Dieppe. The group stuck together, overtaking slower vehicles when we could and waving to thank the driver of one van-and-trailer combo, who pulled into a layby to let us pass.

We said goodbye to John and Jen at the ferry terminal, and queued up at the booth. Howard's passport and number plate were checked and rechecked, then he was asked to produce his confirmation email.

"Ah. You've booked your return for next Sunday."

Howard had to go back round to the ferry office and change his ticket, at a cost of £10. I was shooed onto the ferry, where I was given a warm welcome by the man who'd helped me drop my bike on Thursday and spent an anxious half hour waiting for Howard to board before he eventually appeared.

We all suspected he'd done it on purpose.

Landing was at 21:30 UK time, and slowed by the insistence at passport control that bikers should remove their helmets (I, in my flip-front, sailed smugly through). Howard and I said goodbye in the middle of a roundabout, the A23/A27 junction having come up faster than expected, and I arrived home soon after 11PM.

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May. 14th, 2016

Mallory Park

Bike Normandy 2016: Day 2 (07/05)

It's not easy to get twelve bikes rolling in the morning, particularly when there was home-made Calvados the night before and someone (not me) has left their ignition on and flattened the battery.

Eventually we were all on the road, having been cautioned that it was Le Mans weekend and the police were likely to be more interested than usual in misbehaving motorcyclists.

The weather continued to be glorious, and after a coffee stop we headed for a riverside restaurant familiar from previous visits. I recognised and liked the route to the river, which went from winding and sun-dappled roads to very narrow, twisty downhills as we approached our destination.

The riverside was busy with families and dogs, but there’s always room to park a motorbike, or even twelve. John had phoned ahead and reserved a table on the decking outside, overlooking the river. After lunch, Howard and I had a quick go on one of the yellow pedaloes before we set off again, working our way carefully out of the busy town and hitting the empty country roads with glee.

There was some excitement at the final coffee stop, when a couple of riders misinterpreted Howard’s marking and went sailing past the car park. Howard set off in pursuit, but on the wrong side of the road, so Jen set off after him. Soon everyone was safely sorted out and returned.

It was getting late in the day, we were tired, and dinner would need to be cooked on our return. But we had yet to do The Triangle: three stretches of excellent road, one of which is Howard’s favourite, a fast section of long straights and favourable bends known in Bike Normandy circles as The Racetrack.

The executive decision was that we would do two sections of the route, omitting The Racetrack. The first leg was fast, with plenty of opportunities to feel as if you’re leaning all the way over when in reality it’s a pathetic amount. At the end of it I found Howard marking a roundabout and looking pleased with himself. We did the home stretch in convoy, riding through woodland and stopping to admire the tank at the side of the road.

I was pleased to note at the end of the day that my Bridgestone T30s were at last showing signs of wear towards the outer edges.

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May. 12th, 2016

Orange Vespa Huskyteer

Bike Normandy 2016: Day 1 (06/05)

Our first stop on Friday morning was the Canadian cemetery, a couple of streets from our hotel. Stone after stone with the same date: June 19, 1942.

We had arranged to meet the rest of the group, along with Bike Normandy's John, at a bar in Saint-Saëns, a pretty little town forty minutes' ride away through some beautiful countryside. But first, we stopped at a supermarket on the outskirts to fill up with petrol and for me to pick up the Orangina Haribo requested by my flatmate.

I was still rattled by my lack of windscreen, and rather dreaded explaining it to the others, as it didn't make me look especially competent. But whatever you've done in biking, everyone else has been there and done that or something very similar, and the warm weather plus numerous towns and villages to keep the speed down ensured I was comfortable.

After coffee, a briefing, and a lunch order of baguettes all round, John led us on a loop through twisty roads and past turquoise lakes as we got used to each other and riding on the right. I volunteered as back marker for this stretch, my favourite position. An hour later we were back in Saint-Saëns and more than ready for lunch. Jeanette, the other half of Bike Normandy, was waiting to meet us, so I was relieved of my marking duties.

Now with a professional tour guide at each end of our column, we rode through increasing heat to cross the Seine on one of the free ferries. The traffic light that controlled boarding was red, but here was a ferry employee waving me on, so I rolled on board. Another bike swiftly followed, and by the time I had put the sidestand down we were in midstream, leaving half our group on the bank.

"I told him there were twelve of us," said John, baffled, "and he said fine!"

I dashed to the stern to wave gleefully at our stranded companions, by which time I had to dash back and get ready to ride off the ferry again. On the other bank was a cafe, where I had a diabolo - lemonade with flavoured syrup, in this case candyfloss flavoured - and we watched a quad biker roar past in circles, usually with two wheels off the ground.

Then we turned back towards Bike Normandy's basecamp near Falaise, stopping on the way for petrol and bread. While our hosts prepared the evening meal, the rest of us sat outside eating peanuts and admiring the view.
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May. 10th, 2016

Dangerous Curves

Bike Normandy 2016: Day 0 (05/05)

Bike Normandy fills up quickly these days, so Howard and I jumped on a trip with two spare places, despite some trepidation about sharing with eight strangers who all knew each other (spoiler: it was fine).

We'd booked a Thursday evening crossing from Newhaven to Dieppe. I took the whole day off, and was outside at half past eight in the morning washing my bike. Then I strolled down the road to vote. The polling station, a church in its everyday life, was offering free coffee and cakes, so I had a second breakfast before returning to polish my bike, which had dried in the already glorious sunshine.

Next on the agenda was a ride to Alton, where some friends from the scooter forum were having a lunch meet. I enjoyed a chat and a sausage sandwich, and was eventually joined by Howard for the journey to the port.

While I waited, I'd been enjoying the Chinooks flying out of nearby Odiham. Soon after we hit the A31, I was delighted by two fighters - Tornadoes? - travelling overhead, banking steeply.

As we approached Newhaven, the traffic grew heavy so we had to filter. There was no sign of the port, and we were coming close to the 45-minutes-before-sailing cutoff for checkin. As I uncharacteristically whizzed over a level crossing whose lights had started to flash, I spotted a sign and pulled in to the port entrance. Howard, however, was still intently filtering and hadn't observed my disappearance. I decided it was better to stick where I was than pursue him through the rush hour, and soon he had returned and we were through passport control.

Eight other motorbikes were already parked below decks, and I surmised correctly that this was the rest of our party. Bikes were secured by riding into a chock, which lifts up and forward to secure the front wheel (and terrifies me every time). Bike held, I dismounted, failed to put the sidestand down, and the bike promptly fell over.

It hit Howard's, and I had a horrible vision of all ten going down like dominoes, but luckily this didn't happen. The only damage was to my windscreen, which somehow popped off and could not be refitted by the combined efforts of me, Howard, a ferry employee, and a bloke in a Jeep with a toolkit.

"Non," the ferry man said eventually. "Dead." I would ride around without it all weekend; good thing the weather was warm and it didn't rain.

We located the group of bikers without difficulty and introduced ourselves, then settled down for the four-hour crossing. At the other end we sat-naved to our budget F1 Hotel, arriving shortly before midnight to a smiling welcome from the receptionist.
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Apr. 29th, 2016

Monocle Husky

Paleolithic Bear Cults

When I was little, I was fascinated by a picture in one of my many books on prehistoric life which showed early humans worshipping a bear skull. That's probably what made the scene of primitive religion in Neil Gaiman's American Gods stick in my mind, many years later.

So, when the second [adjective][species] poetry collection called for poems involving animals and religion or spirituality, this is what came out.


As you made fire,
so you made me.
From the skull of a bear you killed
not because she was attacking
or had attacked before
but because she might attack
From the skin of a sleeping lion
you tracked and speared and thanked
From these things, you made a god.
From nothing, you made the idea of god.
You named me as you name your children.
In me you pour your prayers
your fears
as you store meat in your clay pots.
I am your bear-lion-god.
I am dead things. Empty space. And power.
What do we make next?

Apr. 28th, 2016


A Soft Hail's A-Gonna Fall

We in the UK have been enjoying some bizarre weather this week, with blue skies, sunshine, freezing temperatures, and occasional brief but violent outbreaks of precipitation.

Everyone has been very excited by the five-minute snowstorms, except in the comments sections of local newspapers, where fierce debate rages between those who point out that it couldn't possibly be snowing in those meteorological conditions, only an idiot would think so, this is soft hail, and those who think the first lot need to get a life.

Last night I dined with a friend on the South Bank, and emerged from Pizza Express to find a small pyramid of hailstones on my bike seat. The journey home along roads awash with rain was enlivened by thunder and lightning above.

It's looking good for my friend's wedding on Saturday, then.

Apr. 4th, 2016

Cat Air

Try Everything

On Saturday I finally got to see the film everyone is talking about, at least in the circles in which I move: Zootropolis, or, in the US, Zootopia.

I went with three friends, furry writers all, and sharing made the whole experience more enjoyable.

For those who have not been steamrollered by Disney's marketing machine, this is the story of Judy Hopps, a bunny whose dreams of being a police officer are crushed when she is instead assigned to issuing parking tickets. By insistently doing the right thing and refusing to give up, she stumbles upon a citywide conspiracy and sets about solving it with the help of petty criminal and fox Nick Wilde.

It has all the things I've come to love in recent Disney movies like Bolt and Wreck-It Ralph: strong female characters, sweet, non-romantic relationships between male and female characters, and a well-conceived, immersive world full of tiny details and sight gags, not to mention a totally huggable cast.

I found the opening scenes very reminiscent of Robots, another CGI kidflick I adored. Optimistic young protagonist (Judy/Rodney) leaves the small town where they grew up (Bunnyburrow/Rivet Town), taking a futuristic train to the Big City (Zootropolis/Robot City) where anyone can achieve their dreams. They soon find that the Big City isn't all it's cracked up to be, and fall in with a loveable but cynical conman (Nick/Fender) who must be convinced to help save the day.

Compare and contrast: 'Anyone can be anything' / 'You can shine no matter what you're made of'.
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Apr. 1st, 2016


Light Just Falls Into It

Look what arrived for me at karate this week!


All the way from Japan, with gold embroidery. The short bit is the name of our school, Kenshukai, and the long bit is my name in katakana, or as close as you can get ('Arisu Doraiden', according to Japanese-reading friends on Twitter).

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