Friday, August 31, 2007
About time too. I can hear Gillian’s shrivelled bones circling the S-bend of television world even as I type.
Not that I’m taking credit, you understand, but this here blog has thrown a couple of good slaggings her way in the past; notably here, here and here...
And now for a movement of a different sort: I actually heard from Mr Chauffeur man yesterday. A very polite and respectful email promising to get payment to me ASAP. I was pleasantly gobsmacked.
About time too yet again.
Though I’m very aware that it might be wise not to count this particular chicken until it’s hatched...
Thursday, August 30, 2007
It’s weird discovering which of the characters appeals most to friends and family – it’s like they’re some sort of astrological archetype. Ah, you were born in the year of the Hiro. You have a strong desire to stop the merry-go-round and get off. You like things to be arranged nicely in the nick of time.
Hiro Nakamura certainly possesses Karen’s hero ability of choice and I can definitely see the advantage of being able to stop time and space around you. The possibilities would be endless. You would be able to do anything. Take a few hours sleep whenever you felt like it – nobody would know. Enjoy the countryside and then return to your workstation with no-one none the wiser. For some reason it feels quite a grown up, logical, well thought out choice and fair play to Karen for leaning in that direction.
For my part I must confess to liking the (perhaps traditional) ability of Nathan Petrelli – the power of self propelled flight. I’m aware that I’m imposing some sort of hierarchy on the heroes’ superpowers but the power of flight – or rather the desire for it – seems to have a more day-dreamy, childish appeal; it feels less grown up than being able to manipulate space-time. We all have dreams of flying and most of us at some point secretly wonder how it would feel to be able to fly. Stopping the space time continuum seems very sciencey by comparison. I guess I’m saying I’m more of a dreamer than someone who has a desire to meddle with the metaphysics of the universe.
Like I said: astrological archetypes. I was obviously born in the year of the flying pig. Or the cloud cuckoo.
I do however have a sneaky admiration for the “power” (if you can call it that) of Niki Sanders. Although having a super-strong and totally ruthless alter ego seems quite sinister and disturbing on the face of it I can see the advantage of being able to switch to a more calculating, fearless, Machiavellian mode of behaviour when circumstances demand it. My God, I could use some of that right now in my dealings with my little clique of nefarious web clients. I guess my sneaky admiration has its root in the simple fact that I’m not particularly ruthless or confident in my dealings with other people – for all I may come over all bolshi and strident on this blog.
It would be nice to be able to kick ass occasionally.
So. All this begs the question: which superhero are you and why?
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
However, given that I only ever hear from him when he’s got a complaint or a gripe and then have to put up with an arsey and offensive tone of voice for the duration of the call it’s taken a surprising amount of willpower for me to open up this one line of communication. If truth be known I want this person out of my life ASAP and then never to hear from them again.
But first though I want to be paid! Karen starts her maternity leave on Friday and our belts are going to be cinched damn tight. I just can’t afford to write off £500!
If he doesn’t pay then for the first time ever I think I’m going to have to play hardball and threaten to pull his site. I’ve joked about doing such things in the past (on this here blog) but to really do it feels quite scary. Crossing the Rubicon, I guess. Once I do that then things will get nasty and possibly end up at the small claims court. I’d much rather things were concluded with a modicum of goodwill on both sides.
Onto other matters... and a nettle of a different sort...
What do you do when you discover that one of your regular clients (effectively your bread and butter earner) is plagiarizing other web sites left, right and centre to add content to their own? I’ve had my suspicions for a while but now a little bit of internet research has provided proof... news items nicked word for word from other web sites; technical queries and advice lifted verbatim from an on-line technical advice forum and then pasted as coming from the mouth of one of their own “leading technical experts”... (a man who has trouble with a hot water kettle), fictional awards presented by themselves to themselves in a desperate bid to look legitimate...
It would be almost laughable if it wasn’t so horribly crass.
Thankfully most of this content bypasses me and goes straight into their on-line web magazine which is hosted and engineered by another company but I’m sure this company would not be happy to learn that they are a party, no matter how unwittingly, to intellectual theft.
The question is: what do I do? Do I broach the subject with my clients? Inform this other third party company of what is going on?
I’d effectively be putting my clients out of business.
Or do I just continue to keep my head down and my nose clean as much as I can?
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
With immaculate timing Karen and I both came down with a 24 hour stomach bug over the Bank Holiday weekend but despite this set-back determinedly set about enjoying ourselves. Karen is now heavily pregnant – 33/34 weeks – and our options for getting out and about are becoming more and more limited so it’s a case of doing what we can when we can.
As Kenilworth Castle was holding a mini War Of The Roses re-enactment event we decided to mooch along and have a gander. We all love Kenilworth – more so than Warwick though the latter is certainly one of the grandest castles in the UK. The trouble with Warwick, I find, is that Tussauds’ have eviscerated the entire place of atmosphere and have stuffed in its stead a money-spinning circus of hi-tech mechanics and theme park quackery. Kenilworth for the most part is a well-preserved ruin and as such retains so much romance and atmosphere that it’s a joy to walk around its walls and battlements just as they are and to let your mind drift back to what once might have occurred there. The boy certainly loves it and always takes a sword along to fight imaginary foes.
Yesterday however the foes were very real. Whatever re-enactment society were performing the honours (I know, I should have endeavoured to find out) certainly threw themselves into their respective roles with gusto and we had fantastic views as the Lancastrians and the Yorkists laid into each other with pike, sword and bill. Volleys of blunt tipped arrows also added to the overall melee though the boy seemed quite disappointed that we weren’t seeing any real bloodshed. However, his usual testosterone fuelled lust for fighting soon quailed when we suggested that he was welcome to engage some of the fully armoured warriors down on the battle field...!
Wise decision. They were an impressive bunch. The women were all magnificently buxom and the men were all mightily bearded.
In fact, Karen and I were consistently mistaken for being two of their number...
"Who spilt my mead?!"
The newly restored Gate House.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Tris and I have known each other since we were 7 or 8 years old, more or less, so it’s fair to say that nobody knows me as well as Tris – not counting Karen that is; I do think that to really know someone you have to live with them.
Anyway, we had a lot of catching up to do and amid the domestic tale telling I filled Tris in on my current web design business woes – Mr Chauffeur Man still hasn’t coughed up the £500 he owes me. Tris was very complimentary about the chauffeur site – something I very much needed to hear after last week’s attacks by Mr Anonymous / Mr Web Designer – and also revealed that if the site had been designed and built by the company he works for in London they would have charged a cool £30,000 for it!
My jaw dropped open so fast I think I dislocated it and left a permanent notch in the table.
I must point out that Tris works for Saatchi & Saatchi so he’s quoting S&S prices. But even so…
I’m beginning to wonder if maybe, just maybe, I’m selling myself a little bit short…
Thursday, August 23, 2007
The feature, although not particularly in-depth, called us all to celebrate the oddballs and misfits of the celebrity world – the stars that we are “afraid to admit [we] fancy”. On the face of it this seems a great idea. Anything that bounces people out of the size zero hero-worship that taints modern society has got to be a good thing, right?
And yes, having scanned through the list of misfit celebrities there are plenty that can be termed geeks and misfits: David Gest, Louis Theroux, Jade Goody... I could go on.
But there are plenty on the list that I think are not geeks or misfits at all. They just don’t adhere to the stick-thin ethos of the media and fashion world. Lorraine Kelly, Fern Britton, Kirstie Allsopp – all highly attractive women (in my opinion) and eminently fanciable. Hubba hubba, etc.
So why does bucking the size zero trend automatically label you a geek? Or even a misfit? Why should I be ashamed to say that I think Lorraine Kelly or Kirstie Allsopp are attractive women? There are countless men (and women) out there who’d be glad to tickle Lorraine Kelly’s fancy on the GMTV sofa or give Kirstie Allsopp a quick look at their basement extension in the privacy of their own home... and they’d be damn proud to brag about it too.
And then it got me thinking about the rest of the list and at what point my opinion diverges from that of the author. Are David Gest, Louis Theroux and Jade Goody geeks just because I don’t fancy them? Or because the person who wrote the feature doesn’t? I mean I don’t fancy Catherine Zeta Jones or Keira Knightley either but does that make them geeks too?
If someone is attractive then they are attractive. End of story. There’s no shame in admitting this. And everybody is attractive to somebody. So who has the right to label somebody else a misfit?
If I get my kicks ogling Supernanny, Jo Frost or moist muffin maker, Nigella Lawson, shaking the bejasus out of a bawling brat or a homemade cocktail, so what? I like what I like. And that doesn't make anybody a misfit or even a non-misfit.
Wow. I actually started this entry with the intention of waxing lyrical about the impressiveness of Kirstie Allsopp’s commodious bosom and her rapier-like high heels but seem to have ascended instead into the higher realm of social comment...
Geez. Does this make me a geek?
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
One particular show that we’ve been watching has been UKTV Food’s "Rhodes Across India" which features celebrity chef, Gary Rhodes, hobnobbing around India sampling the wares of various street vendors and top Indian chefs.
The food, I admit, looks amazing but Karen and I are constantly irritated by Gary Rhodes’ arrogant and domineering attitude. He might dress it up under a jovial, easy going, I’m-your-best-mate-I-am manner but his condescension towards everyone he meets is plain.
What annoys me most is that he constantly meddles with the recipes that he’s been privy to. It’s like he can’t resist improving them or applying the smarmy Gary Rhodes stamp to them. On one episode we watched recently you could see the Indian chef visibly gritting his teeth in the background as Gary Rhodes totally trashed the simplicity of the original dish and pointlessly westernized it.
The point is: I’m watching this programme to see dishes and food prepared the Indian way. I want to see how the actual street vendors do it – how they prepare recipes that have been passed down to them through countless generations - and I object strongly to every single ingredient and measurement having to be passed through the crass dictatorial filter that is Mr Rhodes!
I don’t want to see Gary Rhodes’ take on Indian food. I just want to see the Indian food as it is!
Whether he realizes it or not, Gary’s attitude brands him a thief rather than a respectful explorer. And that leaves a very bad taste in my mouth.
The British Raj, it seems, is alive and cooking...
Monday, August 20, 2007
I’m sure a lot of it is due to high stress levels at the moment – Karen’s pregnancy is totally exhausting her, I’m under extra pressure at work due to the extended clean-up operation after the flood, I’m still receiving hassles but no money from my horrible web site clients, a shedload of money/mortgage worries, broken sleep... gah! All of it has conspired to make me hyper sensitive and all too easily knocked off my feet by the slightest motion. Planet Steve feels in danger of shattering like a cut glass goblet at any moment. One high C and crash tinkle tinkle smash.
I guess I need to focus on the positive though. Karen is beginning her maternity leave at the end of August – so barely 2 weeks to go and she can rest properly. Her bosses have also been very understanding and supportive which has been a great help. I’ll be a lot happier knowing that she’s resting at home next month I must admit rather than flogging herself at work to the point of collapse. Work and pregnancy are plainly not a great combination for her!
As for my horrible client. Well... it’s been a steep upward curve. It’s taught me a lot about what not to do and who not to work for. Most of all it’s taught me to never ever doubt my gut instincts. Most of all it’s taught me that money should never be the deciding factor in anything. There’s very little I can do now to the site – the last hurdle is just getting the money out of the client and then I can shut my doors on the whole situation for good. I can’t effing wait.
The comments of Mr Anonymous have had one positive effect: they’ve made me review the work I produce and made me decide to be a lot more careful about how I pitch it and who I pitch it to in future. I can’t compete with the big boys and I think it’s important I acknowledge that to myself and to future clients. The people I want to deal with want something modest and affordable – not huge, corporate looking, data collecting web site behemoths. There’s a niche in the market for what I can offer and as long as my clients are happy with what I produce I don’t see that anybody else need throw their opinion into the mix.
Mortgage worries.... Geez. Don’t we all have them? After a good discussion about it all with Karen over the weekend I’m going to shop around and speak to a few banks. See if I can reschedule some loan repayments to free up some income – enough to ensure we have a decent safety margin should interest rates leap up another notch (which seems likely). Where to start is beyond me though. I find the world of finance and banking something of a turn-off and as a consequence my knowledge of such things is minimal.
So, things might still be a bit overcast on Planet Steve but I’m going to do my damnedest to encourage clear, blue skies and green horizons... if I can’t do that then I shall at the very least invest in some decent wellies.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
God knows we all receive negative comments every now and then and most of the time I hope that when they come my way I take them on the chin when they're deserved and give as good as I get when I think they're not.
This morning, however, I awoke to some comments on my blog which felt like personal attacks. I didn't publish them as they were from the ever misanthropic anonymous: although one did have the startling nom de plume "a web designer" it was fairly obvious they were all from the same person.
Basically the web sites I design are "bad" and my writing it seems isn't up to much cop either. It seems also that I'm not funny, though in brackets Mr Anon was keen to point out that I myself obviously think that I am.
I'm still wondering if I made the right decision by not publishing them - maybe I should have let you all read them too? As it was I decided to stick to my guns: no anonymous posts get published on my blog. Plus I didn't want to resurrect the upset they engendered in me every time I re-read them. I don't need that kind of crap in my life... so click. They're gone.
Part of me suspects they were a personal attack from someone who knows me. Part of me wonders if maybe I'm just hoping that's true so that it in someway invalidates what they said.
Anyway, a healthy stint in the garden - lawn mowing and the like - has righted my keel a little more now but that cloud of upset remains over me.
Maybe my web sites are bad? Certainly I acknowledge that they cannot compete with stuff you'd have designed for you by a huge company: I work alone and my knowledge base is therefore tiny in comparison. However, this is reflected in the prices I charge and I believe they are more than fair. Whatever, once the price has been agreed between me and the client that is the end of it. I deserve to get paid when the work is done. And I believe I have a perfect right to complain when this doesn't happen (the insinuation was that I had no right to the complaints detailed in the previous post).
And maybe my writing is bad too? That's a difficult one to answer. I can after all only write as I do. And I'm glad (arrogant maybe) to say that I've had far more people offer praise than criticism - though the latter I am always hungry for when it is constructive and helpful. Comments that I am "lame" and "not funny" aren't really helpful at the end of day. That's a subjective response. Sure you're entitled to feel that way Mr Anon but rather than leave a snide comment about it why don't you take your reading abilities elsewhere?
Ultimately Mr Anon, I wonder what the point of your comments were. To cause upset? To make yourself feel superior for a moment or two? Hey I can sympathise. I'm sure I'm guilty of such things myself some of the time. We all are.
Just don't do it on my blog. This is a forum for me to expunge my dirt. Not yours. And I believe that here I can write whatever the hell I like...
Friday, August 17, 2007
And so the business relationship limps on for a few more painful weeks. And all the while my stress levels and blood pressure continue to rise.
In a bid to massage myself back into a state of relaxation and carefree bonhomie I’ve decided to compile some terms and conditions for dealings with future clients. Actually it was Karen’s idea and after the experiences of this year I think it’s a good one.
Anyway, the T’s & C’s below aren’t actually the official ones that will be used by my business, Brighter Web Design, but they are the ones that I shall be referring to mentally whenever I meet with new clients...
Terms And Conditions
1) You will not take 5 months to get your business material to me and then complain that the web site isn’t moving fast enough.
2) You will not ring me up late on a Sunday evening or pre 7 am on a Monday morning and expect me to drop everything just to put something new on-line for you because you have some “important clients” viewing the site today.
3) You will not change your mind constantly about web content and then insinuate that it is me messing you around.
4) You will not submit material composed by yourself or a colleague and once it is on-line then complain that it misrepresents you or makes you look unprofessional. Point of note: only you make you look unprofessional.
5) You will not withhold payment for 2 months once the site is live and generating business for you and insinuate that you are not getting value for money, especially when your £500 web site would have cost you £2000 on the High Street. Until you pay for it, the site is not yours.
6) You will not have the cheek to try and charge me money for putting my name as a link on a web site that I have designed (and you have not paid for) and insinuate that I am taking you for a ride or acting unprofessionally. Such copyright acknowledgments are industry standards and to my knowledge are not chargeable! There is such a thing as business courtesy. Please familiarise yourself with it.
7) You will not deny me the right to refer to the site on my own on-line portfolio with the insulting excuse that it makes your site look bad and your “multi national, multi billionaire clients” wouldn’t be interested in hiring me anyway. My on-line portfolio is not for your clients; it’s for MINE. If you don’t want your clients to know that you’re a cheapskate who paid for a cut price web site that’s your problem. Or I’m happy to charge you triple.
8) I do not respond well to bullshit, self inflating hyperbole and vague promises of how good/professional you are. Show me the money or shove off.
9) I am web designer. I do not sort out problems with your PC/palm pilot.
10) If I don’t like you, I’m not working for you. Period.
Oooh. I feel better already.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
So, to change the pace somewhat, here is a small offering from my extensive back catalogue of angst and metaphor.
Sheffield, December 2003
In hoar wind trees lag dirty:
white filings pinch northward as iron
but grow grey and blunt
in the furnace slump of the factories.
The air sounds detonated –
the lung aftershock pressing down, pursed
and cursive, a spent
cartridge. The streets are baptized in it and
limed with the sign of the cross.
Trams belch black looking shoppers like grapeshot
but none hit their mark.
Fag ends blow red grit across department store windows,
the displays lost behind
a welding shower of tracer bullets.
The pavements bolt beneath
the rapid cannon fire of pork shops and pound shops
and job shops.
Christmas growls and sprints once from the rubble
to be dourly gunned down by the masses.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Yes. I know. You’re all reeling in shock. “38!” I hear you cry. “But how can that be when your writing is always so youthful and (what’s the word you kids use?) rad?”
Well, it’s time to come clean. I’m a 69 boy and proud of it.
Erm. Let me rephrase that. I was born in the year 1969 and am proud of it. I’m proud to have cut my teeth (quite literally) in the space age. I’m old enough to remember black and white TV that closed down for the night at 12 o’clock. I can recall glam rock, punk, New Wave, Shoe-gazing and grunge long before they all stepped up to the plate yet again in the 21st Century. I can remember Penny Chews and Rhubarb & Custard sweets. I chortled at Hong Kong Phooey and Top Cat. I guffawed at Rentaghost and Chorlton & The Wheelies. I fancied Daphne from Scooby-doo. And Cheryl Ladd from Charlie’s Angels.
And 30 odd years later nothing much has changed.
Well. Apart from the fact that my hair is turning grey and I become a grumpy old git when I hear what passes for music on the radio these days. Bah humbug. Who told that Calvin Harris chappie he could sing, eh?
Anyway, I had a terrific day – Karen and I both had the day off work and she treated me to a fabulous Thai meal in Stratford. I was also showered in gifts – the most notable being a beautiful 7.1 Megapixel camera which knocks the spots of my old one by miles. I was also overwhelmed to find the Life On Mars and Rome box sets among my birthday bounty along with Hot Fuzz and The Last King Of Scotland. I have some terrific viewing ahead of me. Karen’s done me proud (erm, let me rephrase that... er, oh yeah; I’ve done that joke, haven’t I?).
Karen also treated me to various stylish articles of clothing and a couple of survival handbooks by the god of nettle-tea and mushroom sticking plasters himself, Ray Mears. The accoutrements to my life are complete.
Global warming can bring it on.
I’m ready for it.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Anyway, here for your delectation and serrated critical faculties - finally - is an excerpt from Chapter 9...
Book 101: Excerpt.
Apologies for posting it as a Word doc download but 9 times out of 10 I post to my blog from work (shhhh!) and I'd never get this excerpt passed the sensors if it was posted as html.
As always, thank you to all those who take the trouble to read it, it's much appreciated.
Friday, August 10, 2007
So there I am walking along the main shopping thoroughfare of my own home town when suddenly the crowds part like some sort of Biblical miracle (the parting of the chav sea) and with an awful demonic whirr a shape both diabolical and familiar approaches my terrified form at a speed which must surely induce immediate suffocation in its rider. Amid the red and chrome glint of this monstrous beast I perceive a weapon of perverse shape and engineering aimed inexplicably at my quivering heart. I have a split second to dive out of the way and with the adrenalin still pounding in my ears I hit the carpet of the Pound Shop to my left as this pavement behemoth trundles blindly passed without even a by-your-leave or a thank you. As I pick myself up and wander dazedly back out into the sunlight I watch as other poor pedestrians are likewise terrorized by this path hog. Not content with owning a mobility scooter built like a Chieftain Tank, it’s driver has also seen fit to attach a pair of crutches to it in such a way that the vehicle is now equipped with a pair of state-of-the-art lances. I strongly suspect that this scooter also had full mine laying capacity and side mounted scud missile launchers beneath the seat but due to the speed of its acceleration I really can’t say for certain...
The rest of the article can be read via Pocketropolis.com or Pocketropolis.co.uk.
Thank you for your kind attention.
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Cornwall now seems but a dream but one which I have made several escapist dips into over the last few hours. For all I’m totally un-enamoured with being back at work everybody has been telling me how well and how relaxed I look. Plainly Cornwall has done me good. Sadly its boosting effects will no doubt have worn off by the time Friday arrives. I can feel the rising tide of mediocrity lapping at my boot heels even now.
Talking of tides and such... the last day of the holiday Karen, Ben and I went mackerel fishing from Penzance. Karen had been mackerel fishing before and I’d done some night fishing in The Maldives some years ago so we were both well up for it and thought the experience would be a good one for Ben.
The experience certainly started well enough. We headed into Penzance and managed a lovely late afternoon meal at a lovely little café that was proudly advertising the fact that the BBC had named it as one of their food heroes for the area. Good for the BBC. I stuck to omelette not wanting to risk a chilli con carne on the high seas while Karen plumped for the crab salad. Ben, ever the galloping gourmet, went for the chicken dinosaur shapes. Not even Gordon Ramsay could have dissuaded him.
Anyway, such culinary fare took on a slightly sour note once we were at sea in waters that I’m sure your average sailor would merely describe as “a mite choppy”. For us it was a deal more alarming – especially when, the engine stopped in readiness for us to cast our lines forth, the boat was constantly being rocked at 45 degree angles, port to starboard and back again... up and down, up and down.
As the song goes: Huey, up she rises! Huey, up she rises!
Or something like that.
Never having been one who’s ever suffered from any form of travel or motion sickness I was absolutely fine – though I caught not a damn thing; not a single bite. Ben’s chicken shapes however started a deep sea diving expedition about an hour into the fishing time and disappeared overboard with much gurgling and splashing. About half an hour after this Karen’s crab salad also made an escape bid and headed back to the ocean in a much reconstituted form.
Such chumming of the waters may have been what kept the mackerel away. Personally I was juat glad that it didn’t encourage the much reported Great White shark that was stalking the Cornish coast at the time to head in our direction while we were at sea.
Anyway once Ben had recovered some of his colouring the Cap’n good naturedly asked him if he’d like to come mackerel fishing again...
To which Ben told him with frank 6 year old politeness that he “really didn’t think he should...”
That’s my boy.
Landlubber and proud of it.
Sunday, August 05, 2007
Forgive the lack of words - I'm absolutely shattered today. We arrived back from Cornwall yesterday evening and are now beginning the slightly depressing process of resuming normal life again. Still, at least I don't have to return to work until Tuesday which is a much needed consolation at the moment.
Cornwall was wonderful. Given the amount of rain we've had recently Karen and I were dead chuffed to find we'd picked the one week this summer where we had sunshine practically every day. We even got sunburnt; something I didn't expect to happen this year in the UK!
Anyway, I'm too tired/lazy to give a full account of our holiday so suffice it to say that a good time was had by all and we took in some amazing places including Prussia Cove, St Michael's Mount, Portreath, Perranporth, The Eden Project, a seal sanctuary and The Cornish Cider Farm. Karen got some much needed R&R and the boy and I got some much needed outdoors activity. I have to admit it was nice to be completely away from the PC for a week.
Below are a few pics freshly downloaded from the ol' digital. Hope all has been well while I've been away.
Marazion from St. Michael's Mount