The White Event

X&HTowers, busy as everWell, Reading really caught the brunt of the cold weather this time around. X&HTowers is blanketed under about a foot of cold crisp white stuff, and looks more festive than Santa’s new socks. I’ve been really lucky with shift patterns over the festive season, and am happy to report that The Big Freeze, as most unimaginative news outlets are calling it, coincided with three days off. Yes, OK, I have to work this weekend, but I don’t have to work now, which pleases me greatly.

2010 is, I think, the year when Working From Home becomes much more important, especially if the country continues to be caught out by EWEs (Extreme Weather Events, Ⓒ Rob Wickings if no-one’s snagged that term yet). It’s like taking a duvet day without the guilt, or the chance of getting caught out by the boss. With the prelavence of netbooks and smartphones it’s now so easy to Work From Home that you can do it from a cafe. Or if you prefer, the pub. Why pay for all those expensive business premises when you can just bitch about your colleagues and play soduko in the nearest Barstucks? It’s been coming for a while, and all it takes is one more EWE, one company where no-one bothers to come in, business continues as usual and the clients don’t notice and … well, I reckon it’s time to start investing in multi-purpose public spaces. Wave of the future, I’m telling you. Make ’em weatherproof and give ’em free wi-fi and creche facilities, and you’re rocking. Why close libraries, when you could turn them into something like that?

Happy Feet
Happy Feet

I wish I had the option. Sadly, my work still requires a physical presence, which means braving public transport and the train services. I have a bicycle. Buggered if I’m going to use it in this weather. I can walk to Reading Station if I need to, which I have to frequently as buses and taxis evaporate in Reading as soon as the weather takes a turn for the rotten. If you need a workout, nothing beats walking uphill in a snowstorm. It’s that heel-toe action that you have to adopt to prevent the comedy prat-fall and inadvertent face-first snow angel action. It works muscles that you’d forgotten you had. Muscles that have taken the opportunity to remind you of their presence by complaining loudly.

The House Elf Takes The Strain
The House Elf Takes The Strain

The end result of all this has been that I have taken great pleasure in spending the last couple of days with my butt in a chair, laptopping. I have been working hard on a New year treat for you all, which is the first step in what I am calling The Year Rob Makes Contact. I have great hopes for this year, despite all the evidence so far that it’s going to be rubbish. Come on, we’re only a week in. Give the new guy a chance.

In the mean time, here’s a little something. Below is a PDF to a short piece called The Body Politic. It’s excerpted from a longer piece, Under Glass, which I SWEAR will never see the light of day. It was a badly-misjudged piece of erotic writing, and it makes my toes curl in all the wrong ways. Not pretty. The bit I’m sharing has a few merits, though. It’s here as a PDF. I’d appreciate it if you can let me know if you have any problems either reading it, or dumping it onto your hard drive. My reasons for this will become clear soon enough.

Click the arrow to download THE BODY POLITIC


There Is A Light That Never Goes Out
There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

Stay warm, everyone.


He Knows If You’ve Been Bad Or Good

That's G MINOR, Santa!

Christmas is not Christmas to me unless the first song played is the Bruce Springsteen version of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. This has been going on certainly since the mid-eighties, where it was used as reveille, a blast of joyous noise to get you out of bed. Or at least to signal that Dad was up.

I suspect his adoption of the song as the Wickings Christmas anthem came out of the song’s appearance on the B-side of the My Hometown single, which made it the first time you could own the song as opposed to just listening out for it on the radio. It’s always been a Dad-sponsored thing, although I’ve carried it on, and I suspect I am the only one of his three boys that does so. I got my love of The Boss from him. That being said, It’s also his fault that I like prog rock, so there’s swings and roundabouts.

There’s just something about the song that sends the hairs up on the back of my neck at this time of year. The quiet opening with the sleigh bells and Roy Bittan’s gentle piano. The Big Man’s solo. The bit where Bruce nearly loses it as Santa arrives behind him.

I love the video, that was a regular feature on the Old Grey Whistle Test for at least three years, that I think is a recording of the 1978 Winterland gig where the version we know came from (UPDATE: memory serves me poorly, it seems. There IS a version shot in ’78, but it’s from Passaic, New Jersey and it’s black and white. I’m probably getting that and the version of Rosalita that Hepworth and co always used to play mixed up. Still good, though. Have a look.)

This year Dad mentioned in passing that he was thinking of playing the Dylan version of “Must Be Santa” instead of Bruce first thing on Christmas Day.  It’s a good version, sure, and the video is a riot. But it’s not the same. And I was quite genuinely shocked. The very thought that he might play something else to blast the Nans and Mum out of bed on Christmas morning seemed so alien. It pulled against the tradition that we two had so carefully set up and kept running for all those years.

I’m happy to report that he didn’t break the chain, and the Big Man still blared over Havering on Friday morning, in the same way that the Micra shook to the beat as we whizzed down the M4 to join him and the family.

Some thing are just sacred at this time of year.

Write When You Have Something To Say

A quicky, as I’m at work. That’s my excuse for link blogging, but there’s a chunk of work in the pipeline.
Like the wonderful Post Secret, SOMEONE ONCE TOLD ME is a brilliantly simple idea. The heart of it is a collection of simple B&W photos of people holding up a placard of a truism, fact or weird piece of advice that they were once told. It’s random, funny, moving and utterly addictive.

And sometimes it comes up with some really good advice.

Translated above. As in, the title of this post.
Translated above. As in, the title of this post.

Random Thoughts During An Internet Outage

Being offline for a morning (not my fault by the look of it, the cable modem’s flashing where it shouldn’t, and the Virgin Media tech support line is permanently busy) does tend to concentrate the mind on all the other chores I should be doing rather than farting around on the web. But it also tends to concentrate one’s thoughts on the inherent fragility of the online existence.

Take Spotify, as an example. This brilliant music streaming service is being held up by many (including me) as the first step towards a radical new business model for the music business. Pay a tenner a month, and eight million tracks are yours. Up until the point where a workman with a jack-hammer chops a cable in half, killing internet connection. All of a sudden you’re paying for… nothing. Better hope the hard drive you stashed all your music on before eBaying all your CDs still boots.

Actually, let’s think this through. Say, like me, you use Google for a lot of your services, upload text to Google Docs, have online storage with any number of companies. Online banking. Chatting to friends in foreign countries. Online gaming, online shopping. Perhaps even running a business. If you couldn’t get at any of that stuff, then you’re stuffed.

This is, of course, exactly what the government’s proposing to do to alleged file-sharers, as part of their brave new digital strategy thought up in a couple of days flat and sketched out on a napkin by Peter Mandelson, completely superseding the moderate, carefully considered Digital Britain survey on which Labour spent months and millions. If one member of a household is “found guilty” of “excessive file-sharing” (these points are in quote marks as there’s no guidelines as to what either of these terms mean in reality. There’s no mention of any particular up/download limit after which filesharing becomes excessive, and certainly no mention of fair legal process or right to appeal) the whole household suffers.

There’s a school of thought that the Internet should become listed as an essential service, which it already is here at X&HTowers. This becomes more relevant when you consider that the Government is already moving some of it’s services and information onto a purely online basis. I now have to administrate Sick Puppy Films Ltd. through the Companies House website, as they charge me to submit my accounts on paper. This is only set to increase, and it becomes a matter of ever-growing horror and disbelief to me that there is consideration to throttle a vital conduit of services and information on shaky legal and ethical grounds.

See, even now I’m putting off sorting out the flat tyres on my bike in favour of ranting about the internet.

Ooh, look, the modem’s playing nice again. Gotta go. I have YouTubing to catch up on.

Considering the iPhone, briefly

There’s already been plenty of guff about the update to iPhone software that will be announced next week, and how it will finally address issues that have been waved in the faces of owners of said phones as fairly basic weaknesses.
I’ll try not to spend too long on the subject, then. There are just a couple of things I wanted to briefly discuss.

So, we finally get MMS. So what. If I want to send someone a photo from the phone, I email it. I’ve had perhaps three MMS links sent to me in the 18 months or so that I’ve owned an iPhone. Don’t miss that bit of functionality, but then I’ve not been 15 for a very long time.

Cut and paste is of course desperately important. Since I moved to WordPress last year, more and more posts on the blog have been at least first draft generated on the phone, using the excellent free app. And I use SyncBook as a form of jotter now almost daily, dropping notes back to the Mac as .rtf files with no fuss at all.

So, it’s become a writing tool, and the announcement that iPhone 3.0 would allow Bluetooth sync with devices other than earphones is the most important bit of news for me. If I could use the phone with a small wireless keyboard, then it suddenly becomes my go-to portable writing tool, and I don’t have to lug the laptop around with me.

This kind of functionality has been around for smartphones for a while, (Warren Ellis used a Palm attached to a fold-out for quite a while, as I recall, as did an august member of my writing group – an arrangement he called the Economy Laptop) so it’s about darn time that Apple stepped up and offered it to me. After all, it’s not like they don’t already make a Bluetooth-equipped keyboard that would fit very snugly in a small rucky or *ahem* manbag.

I’ve been considering a netbook as a mobile writing solution for a little while, but this would seem a cheaper option that integrates much more snugly with the way I work now.

I don’t have a problem with the touch keyboard that lives in the phone, per se. I’ve learnt that it’s best to relax and let error correction take care of a lot of the bumpy bits, and it’s right a lot more often than it’s wrong. Although I have to admit, proofing is even more vital for the occasional fubar. And of course, I’m not as fast as I would be on a regular keyboard, although not by as wide a margin as you might imagine.

A seperate keyboard would sort me out nicely for writing on the train, which is quickly becoming my principal chunk of thinking time. Who knows, if that arrangement works out I might even contemplate doing chunks of this years NaNoWriMo on it.

Roll on next week, then…

Busy Week Off

I’m on a train, heading back home from That London. It’s late, and I won’t be in bed before midnight. On any normal Wednesday night this might be an issue. But my working life is changing shape for the next few months, and I am no longer a slave to the standard routine.
Once again, I have been shifted onto a night shift at work. The difference is that I have decided to embrace that life, complete with benefits and pitfalls, and am going to try to make the best of it.
I’m working a seven-day fortnight, which is a week on, week off deal. Obviously, the week on is a prize pig. Six 12 hour days on the trot. 72 hours crammed into one long working week. The compensation is that week off. Careful holiday planning can help take the sting off, and I find that I’m getting more things done in the down time, as opposed to monging in front of the telly. It’s early days yet, and I’m sure that’ll change. The worry is how long it’ll take to recover from the on week, and how much desperately needed sleep is going to eat into that time off. That is something I’ll have to see about, although I can’t pretend it’s a situation I’m looking forward to much. I guess if I start posting in monosyllabic grunts, then you’ll know how well I’m dealing with it.
For the mean time, I’m just enjoying the benefits of a late night out without consequence. The reason for my late train journey? Finally, I went to see Watchmen. A faithful, loving adaptation of one of my favourite books. Surprisingly sensitive in places, jaw-droppingly crass in others. I didn’t mind the change of ending, although it’s a worry when you find yourself thinking that the only reasonable opinion in the room is coming from Rorschach. And I never really even noticed Dr. Manhatten’s big blue dong. I guess the storytelling must have worked out after all.