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Jul. 4th, 2019


Squeaks In Space

Yesterday, I mentioned that ROAR volume 10 was on its way; today I learned that it's available for preorder at FurPlanet.

ROAR is an annual, general audience anthology of furry fiction. Each year's volume has a theme, and this time it's Community.

My story, Once We Were Meerkats, is a short sci-fi piece about a colony of genetically-engineered meerkats terraforming a desert planet who come up against an alien menace. Simples.

I've wanted to write something in first person plural ever since I read Then We Came To The End by Joshua Ferris, which I loved to bits, and this is it.

Here's an extract:

Once we were meerkats. We’ve seen pictures in the database.

They made us human-sized, so we can build human-sized homes for them, and we lost our tails. We still have the fur that keeps us warm in the cold nights and cool in the heat of the day, with a dark mask to protect our eyes from the sun. We still have strong hands and nails designed for burrowing, even though we also have tools. We’re still tough enough to deal with predators, and immune to some types of venom. We need little water, and we can eat almost anything. Most of all, we still look out for each other. That’s how we survive.

We used to be cute.

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Jul. 3rd, 2019

Cross stitch

2019 Writing Challenge

2018 was a lousy year for writing around here. I had trouble starting projects, and, once started, finished very few. I began to wonder if perhaps I'd reached the end of all the writing that was in me.

This year I've written 6 stories in 6 months, which was a small challenge I set myself. Some of them were very short, not all of them have been edited yet, and, full disclosure, I finished writing the last one yesterday. But I am still pretty pleased with myself.

Three have been submitted, of which one has been accepted and will appear in ROAR volume 10 later this year, while two appear to have vanished into the void.

I'm not sure what's changed, but I've written more words in the first half of 2019 than I managed in all of 2018, and I hope this continues.

Jun. 20th, 2019

The Spy Who Loved Me

Spy Vs Spybrary

Hey, remember when I took part in a podcast on Helen MacInnes? It turns out that once you've done one podcast, they just keep coming.

I suggested to Shane of Spybrary that he do an episode on James Bond continuation author John Gardner. His response was "Great idea, why don't you host it?"

The reason why not is that Gardner is my least favourite Bond author, his characterisation and dialogue make me cringe and I'm not comfortable with his depictions of women. But I did it anyway and managed to be reasonably diplomatic about it.

You can hear me chatting Gardner with Brian McKaig and Edward Biddulph here, or search for 'spybrary' wherever you source your podcast action.

Jun. 17th, 2019

The Spy Who Loved Me

If You Asked Me To

I took Friday afternoon off to enjoy some unfettered nerdiness.

My first stop was Green Park to meet my friend M, who had travelled down from Peterborough for the occasion, and Ed Biddulph of James Bond Food.

The three of us headed to Jack Barclay Bentley, just off Berkeley Square, for an exhibition of Flemingiana courtesy of Peter Harrington Rare Books.

The display was a thing of joy, featuring first editions, limited Bentley editions and items from Ian Fleming's personal library (e.g. a Boys' Own annual, which explains a lot) alongside a Blower Bentley and a Mark VI, as driven by Bond in the novels.

We were obviously not about to buy the book collection (sold as a single lot, yours for £2.5 million), a car or even a Bentley USB stick (£45) but the showroom staff were very nice to us and gave us exhibition catalogues. We tried not to get under the feet of serious purchasers.

In the evening, the Price Charles Cinema was showing Licence to Kill as part of its 007 Anniversary Screenings season (LTK is 30 this year).

As a bonus, the cinema provided an intro by special guest Alan Church, who had worked on the opening titles with Maurice Binder and showed us some previously unseen behind the scenes VHS footage.

We learned that the sexy girl-behind-water effect was achieved, in those pre-CGI days, with a a watering-can, a sheet of glass and a paddling-pool from the Uxbridge branch of Argos, and that Timothy Dalton got spun round in an office chair to do that at-his-most-dangerous turn from the teaser trailer (I would kill to see outtakes of this).

Obviously I've seen the film plenty of times on TV and DVD, but there's something special about a big screen and the presence of an appreciative audience, and we had a lovely night.

Just to cap it all off, a book I'd won in a giveaway on Twitter arrived in the post.

Jun. 16th, 2019

Husky Airways

Daks over Normandy 9: Saturday 8th June

The homeward ferry crossing was at lunchtime, giving us time for a pleasant A and B road ride to Dieppe and a coffee in a waterfront bar before we boarded.

The crossing was rough by modern standards, cheered up by a lecture about wildlife in the Channel. We learned how to tell the difference between a grey seal and a common seal: grey seals have faces like dogs, and common seals have faces like cats. (Google them if you don't believe me.)

I arrived home shortly before 6pm, and really appreciated getting home at a reasonable hour and having Sunday to recuperate.

It was a lovely week, with a nice mix of riding and tourism, and I'm glad to have been on the spot where it all happened for a very important anniversary.

And finally:

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Jun. 14th, 2019

Cat Air

Daks over Normandy 8: Friday 7th June

This was the event around which we had built our trip: Daks over Normandy, the gathering of Dakotas at Caen Carpiquet Airport.

Already the roads to the airport were solid, with cars parked on the verges, but we managed to sneak in to the car park. We headed for the terminal first, where nerdy spotters in anoraks mingled with trendy French holidaymakers, and happened upon the viewing gallery, which nobody else seemed to have discovered.

Here we talked to a woman whose husband had been a small boy during the bombing of Caen, got a fantastic view of the aircraft lineup and saw two Daks take off right in front of us.

We knew an online acquaintance from the Honda forum was also attending, but had slim hopes of finding him in the crowd. As it happened, he managed to park next to us without recognising our bikes, just as we returned to the car park to collect our lunch from the panniers.

The three of us spent the rest of the day together, admiring and photographing the planes and talking bikes, aircraft and life, parting company after a coffee back at the terminal.

Howard and I were spending our last night in Normandy at a B&B not far from Dieppe. It was rainy and windy all the way there, and we arrived soaked. The lovely owner welcomed us to his home and provided us with slippers. Mine were pink, and so obviously incongrous that he laughed and said "Ah, la panthère rose!"
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Orange Vespa Huskyteer

Daks over Normandy 7: Thursday 6th June

On D-Day itself, we guessed all the Second World War sites would be packed and set off to do ordinary tourism.

While out and about on Tuesday we'd spotted people pedalling a strange metal cart along railway tracks. This turned out to be the Vélo-Rail, and I really fancied a go.

We stopped for coffee and, in my case, a passionfruit eclair along the way. The first vélo-rail we tried turned out to be operating only if you booked in advance, but there were several in the area, which is how we ended up in the picture postcard spa and casino town of Bagnoles-de-l'Orne.

We clanked and panted our way along 5km of disused railway line before spinning our vehicle on a tiny turntable and clanking all the way back again. On the way we saw what we initially thought was a marten, but on consulting Google back at the hotel decided was a mink (we are choosing to believe a cute and critically endangered European one rather than the North American invader).
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Jun. 13th, 2019

Cat Air

Daks over Normandy 6: Wednesday 5th June

Today, a Dakota flypast would recreate the D-Day parachute drop over Sannerville, near Caen. We stopped for coffee on the way, and as we parked an amuse-bouche of four Dakotas flew over our heads.

We arrived in Sannerville at lunchtime to find the town packed out and queues out of the door of the bakery, supermarket and brasserie. Luckily we'd bought sandwiches earlier, the queue at the bar was shorter, and we managed to grab a table where we could eat our lunch while drinking coffee.

We'd been informed that even motorbikes were being moved on from the viewing area half a mile up the road, which is unusual for France, so we walked with the rest of the crowd past parked jeeps and army lorries, stopping to wave and cheer at a fleet of London taxis whose drivers had volunteered to carry veterans over from the UK for the occasion.

A Spitfire entertained us, then the skies remained clear of aircraft. The promised rain held off, but it was chilly and windy, and the planes were late. Folk in touch with friends and family in the UK, or listening to radios, spread the word: they've taken off! They've passed Southend! They'll be here in an hour!

The display was worth waiting for. First Hercules, then the Dakotas disgorged their cargo of paratroopers over the fields, filling the sky with movement. This was followed by the Red Devils parachute display team, some of whom jumped in tandem with nonagenarian D-Day veterans and landed very, very carefully.

We ended up getting back to the hotel around 10pm, having stopped for a tasty potato, sausage and onion pizza on the way.

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Jun. 12th, 2019


Daks over Normandy 5: Tuesday 4th June

Today turned out to feature the worst weather of the trip, with sunny intervals between unexpected cloudbursts. Luckily, it was the day we had earmarked for a trip to the zoo, zoo, zoo - specifically the Zoo de Jurques.

On this wet Tuesday it was just us and a few classes of primary school children. All the staff were very welcoming, and we arrived just in time to see the penguins being fed.

I was pleasantly surprised by how many animals were out and about, even if some of them did look rather soggy and mis:


I loved the Arctic foxes, who were moulting for summer and whose resulting blend of grey and white fluff made them look like collie puppies, and spent a long time watching the lion lick his wives affectionately.


After a visit to the gift shop we went to feed the goats and inadvertently let the two tiniest and cutest ones out of their enclosure, into the area between two gates designed to stop them escaping into the zoo at large (the goatlock). We were unable to recapture them, so we left them happily eating bamboo and returned to our hotel.
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Jun. 11th, 2019

Orange Vespa Huskyteer

Daks over Normandy 4: Monday 3rd June

With no set itinerary for the day, we took a break from the crowds of tourists and spent our morning in pretty Domfront, with its mediaeval castle and a marker at the house where a downed Allied aircrew successfully hid from the Germans:

After a croque monsieur we headed into the Suisse Normande. The roads are scenic, almost deserted, and enjoyable, particularly one section known from previous visits as the 'Hillclimb', which we rode up and down half a dozen times.

Our last sight of the day was a bridge over the Noireau river formed by recycling a 'Whale' component from the Mulberry floating harbours used after the D-Day landings (the original bridge having been blown up by the French Resistance).

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