Tuesday, 28 February 2012

No man is an island but a gorilla can be


Last weekend we celebrated my 40th birthday by escaping the working from home routine for a visit to Longleat Safari Park. Not what most people would chose to do on their 40th but I did a zoology degree some time ago and have two young kids who wanted to be a key part of the celebration.

It was an inspired choice as Longleat is a fantastic place to visit. We were very lucky with our animal experiences. The monkeys were fantastic fun as they jumped on our car, playing tag and trying to steal the aerial. However, it was the big cats that really made the day worthwhile for me.

The sight of a tiger majestically prowling twenty feet away from us is hard to describe. The latent power and danger radiates out from the beast – a truly gripping sight that filled me with awe. Then we found a pride of lions sunning themselves on a fallen tree, while to one side some cubs were play-fighting.
This was enough of a treat but suddenly the lions heard something and quickly, but deceptively gracefully, they jumped down from the tree and went to investigate. Our car was in the way and the pride surrounded us as they slunk past; their eyes fixed on the source of the sound behind us. We could have touched them they were so close.

Later we went on a boat ride around a lake to see the gorilla island. We were obviously expecting to see gorillas but as the boat chugged through the water we were surrounded by playful sealions. They were mesmerising to watch as they slipped effortlessly through the water around the boat. Suddenly, Liz nudged me and said “Look! There’s a hippo!” and true enough there were two of the most dangerous creatures to man swimming in the lake; firing a gaping yawn at us, warning us to keep our distance.

You would have to travel a long way to experience this sort of connection with these animals in their natural habitat and you’d be very unlikely to get anywhere near as close. Later on the kids were stroking ferrets, watching marmosets scuttling over their feet, holding a tarantula and feeling the smooth scales of a beautiful snake.


Anyway, I was telling you about the gorilla on the island on the lake. He is an old silverback (even older than me) whose mate died years ago so he lives on the island by himself. He has a house, complete with satellite TV and a huge HD screen. Apparently his favourite program is Spongebob Squarepants and he turns his back if Eastenders comes on. He also throws sticks at the sealions if they make too much noise near his island in their quest for fish from the boat.

This stately silverback is happy in his retirement but there is a diverse world of amazing experiences across the short expanse of the lake that surrounds him.

Sometimes we need a reason to try new things as we are constrained by the restrictions placed on us by family, work and other commitments. However, the reality is that there are amazing experiences relatively close by that don’t take up huge amounts of time or money. In my fortieth year I’m determined to try out lots of them.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Working from home on top of a laundry basket


Working from home has been interesting over the past few months. We moved from Scotland to Somerset into a rental house that’s not big enough for all our furniture. We have a double bed in the lounge and the only ‘desk’ in the house is a small table about a metre squared.

My wife works full time from home so she’s blagged the desk and I’m left with the dining room table. If that is taken I use a wooden laundry basket and sit on the edge of the bed. It works surprisingly well except for the backache.

I’m turning 40 this week and I would never have predicted how I would be working 20 years ago. However, I’m not complaining. Well, just a bit. We can’t find a house to buy at the moment but when we do, I’ll be working in the same funny farm but without the bad back.

I know I am not alone. There are writers everywhere grabbing time to write in all sorts of strange places. JK Rowling made writing in a café cool, but there is even someone writing a novel in between customers at a supermarket till. Find her on Twitter here @KateSpencer2go
Some writers work in sheds, lots work around their children and others write in the evening after completing everything else.

Don’t think the famous writers always have it easy. Joanne Harris (@Joannechocolat) commiserated with me on Twitter when I complained about being so cold when I was writing that I took to wearing a deerstalker hat with the flaps down. It turned out she was wearing something similar, along with fingerless gloves.

My novel Working from home is finally close to publication and I am working on marketing materials in the bedroom, in the dining room, in the library and sometimes in the car. It is not always comfortable but it certainly beats a twice daily commute.

NB. Did you notice how casually I mentioned turning 40? Dead nonchalant me! :-O

Friday, 17 February 2012

Why I miss Loaded magazine and the market for totty flakes


One day in 1994 I was travelling by train. The destination escapes me but I’m certain it was a pub. I was browsing the magazine racks but nothing seemed aimed at me. Then I noticed a new magazine, had a quick flick through and bought it.

I read the magazine solidly for at least an hour. Here at last was something that spoke to me and people like me.

When people think of lads’ mags like Loaded they tend to think of tits, arse and banter. It wasn’t quite like that at the beginning. The front covers featured men not women. There were sexy photos but they were more realistic without the excess re-touching of modern times. For example, a famous Liz Hurley shoot showed up the Loaded team’s lack of air-brushing skills by showing her bikini line stubble. Sounds crude when you read it here but it made Ms Hurley seem more real.

There was also much more to Loaded than the babes.It was written by a team who abandoned all the rules. Even better, they were having a fantastic time. They got away with it because they were very talented. Loaded won the prestigious PPA Magazine Of The Year Award two years in succession.

The content was aimed at breaking the rules and having a good time and they rode a clever line between making the mundane experiences of life funny and covering more exotic activities. These ranged from insane parties like the Mardi Gras in New Orleans and the tomato throwing festival in Bunol in Spain; to tales of vengeance from the staff writer whose girlfriend was eaten by a shark. They showed that if you worked hard and took a few risks you could achieve great things (and get drunk).

The problem is that naked women sell products. The lads’ mags ruined their own party by depending on the lure of flesh. Look at the Loaded web site now and it is swathed with adverts for Television X and one of the lead articles is ’10 ways to sod the detox with Lacey Banghard’.

This lure is in the male genes/jeans . My four year old son gazes at the Special K woman while he eats his cereal. When he was a toddler he showed impeccable taste by saying ‘Yum’ when he saw a photo of Kirsty Gallagher in a weekend magazine. He saw another photo of her when he was four and he nudged me and said, “Daddy, isn’t she pretty?”

We could put the foxy ladies on to cereal packets instead. They could contain ultra-healthy cereal and men and boys would eat it. Someone wholesome and healthy like Kirsty Gallagher would do the trick. My son would definitely it eat it and I might have the occasional bowl too.