Sunday, 29 April 2012

Z is for Zebedee


This is just a tiny bit misleading.  While Zebedee features, the main focus of this post is the wonderful, surreal and generally fabulous Magic Roundabout.  The show has a deserved cult following and brightened the early days of my childhood hugely.  It ran for five minutes before the news every evening and was reliably entertaining. 

It has a slightly bizarre history, which greatly amuses me.  The BBC bought the original children's series from France and somehow the animations arrived but the scripts did not.  To compensate for this (and possibly to avoid translation costs), the BBC decided to transmit the episodes with new scripts created by Eric Thompson (father of Emma Thompson).  He knew no French.

What you get with The Magic Roundabout is therefore Eric's unique take on what he thought was happening and bears precisely no resemblance to the French version of the stories.  He also narrated, doing all the voices from Dougal the acerbic dog to Ermintrude the singing cow via Brian the snail, Dylan the stoner rabbit, Mr Rusty the tricycling gardener, Florence the human girl and Zebedee himself.

The Magic Roundabout was treated to a remake in 2005 which I admit I've not seen.  Somehow I just don't want to.  I loved the original and don't even dare watch the originals on Youtube in case they disappoint. 

Zebedee.  Guardian of the magic garden and its even more magical roundabout.

It was a joyous series.  The plots were random to say the least and mattered hardly at all.  The real joy was the characters.  Every one was clear as crystal and while they were funny apart, together they were hilarious. Brian's cheery Mary Sunshine attitude invariably drove acerbic Dougal to the brink of insanity.  Florence was the voice of sweet reason, and Mr Rusty worried about the magic garden.  Ermintrude addressed everyone as "dear heart" and had wild fantasies about being a bus (among other things) while Dylan slumped under a tree in a stupor occasionally twanging his guitar.

At the end of every episode, just as everything was about to spiral out of control, Zebedee would appear and announce that it was time for bed.  It was a little bit of heaven at the end of every weekday.

That seems like an appropriate place to leave the A-Z challenge 2012.  Thank you for joining me on this alphabetic oddyssey.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Y is for Youth and Yeth Hounds


I hated being a Youth - as in "the youth of today", aka teenaged.  Childhood was interesting, but youth was something that didn't agree with me.  What I really wanted was to hibernate for 7 years, from the ages of 12-19 until I turned back into something recognisably human.  If someone had offered me the option to do so, I'd have taken it, but sadly they did not and I had to take my own measures.

These measures included being paranoid, anti-social and cultivating a yak-type hairstyle which still stands me in good stead.  The upside was that since I isolated myself very effectively from my peers, I had a lot of time on my hands and read obsessively.  Bear in mind that I am still incapable of going anywhere without at least two paperbacks stashed in my handbag.  At that stage of my life, I read while walking down the road.  Myths, legends and  fantasy were my areas of choice, and this is where the Yeth Hounds come in.

Illustration by Anne-Marie Perks
Several other A-Zers have dealt with the Wild Hunt of which the Yeth Hounds form such an important part.  Also known as Yell Hounds and Gabriel Hounds, they appear in a number of northern mythologies.  I haven't found any southern instances, but they may exist.

The origins of the hounds possibly lie in flocks of migrating geese.  Human imagination has turned that eerie sound into spectral hounds.  They cannot be turned aside.  If they catch your scent, they will run you down and there is no escape.  Lean white hounds, with baleful eyes and red ears, they race across the autumn and winter skies, led variously by the devil, Herne and Odin.  Typically the hunt is not evil.  It can be summoned for a purpose however, and as a neutral force, will obey a sufficiently powerful caller whether good or bad.

I've got to admit that the first time I read about the hounds, I stayed awake all night jumping at shadows and fleeing under my duvet at all the night sounds I'd never noticed before.  They still terrify me.  Now however, I'm more interested in them for the way they keep popping up in mythology and I'm still curious about why they should be such a northern phenomenon.

All that self-imposed isolation meant that I at least emerged from my teenage years very widely read indeed.  Completely lacking in social skills mind you.  Which may have contributed to my disasterous start in the romance game.

All this is a very long time ago now, but the me that emerged from the youth-phase is still the me I wake up with.  Most of the basic obsessions were in place and while some of them have mellowed, others have evolved and grown deeper.  Maybe the hounds got me after all.  Some things can't be escaped.

Friday, 27 April 2012

X is for XP


XP stands for experience points.

Experience points are a way of keeping score in an RPG.  Earn enough of those little bunnies and your character gets better, stronger and more awesome.  Win enough XP and you gain a level and get harder to kill.


Or not.  As with many niche hobbies, there are a multitude of loudly voiced views on XP and the earning thereof.   The idea of course, is to encourage players to do things they might not otherwise consider doing.  Deadly and dangerous things.

Back in the early days of D&D it was extremely simple.  If you killed a monster, you earned XP.  If you picked up treasure, you earned XP.  Under the rules, only the person who delivered the killing blow earned any XP.  This lead to a lot of very grumpy fighters who had spent ages swatting at a monster to reduce it enough for the killing blow to be delivered by someone else entirely.  It also lead to the kind of larcenous behaviour that gets role players a bad name.  "Ooh, we're at the inn.  I take the candlesticks!  Worth 20XP."

Gaining levels was nigh impossible for classes who didn't kill things or steal things, especially as not all classes gained levels at the same rate.  A fighter only needed 1000XP to go up from level 1 to level 2, but a magic user needed 2,500.  Bit of disparity there as your average magic user was completely useless until level 3 and it took an eternity to get there.

Beware the might of the magic user

The theory here was that high-level magic users were so dangerously powerful that they had to gain their goodies slowly.  Tales abounded of magic-users who could demolish the entire campaign with a well-chosen spell.  Fighters, clerics and thieves became progressively less useful as they went up in level compared to the magic-user.  Those variable XP tables were intended to level the playing field.

Old school gaming has a lot of things going for it, but longevity of characters isn't normally one of them.

Later iterations have taken a wider view of how XP can be earned.  Quick thinking, disabling traps, cunning plans and fast talking are also valid methods of gaining those cherished points.  These are also open to abuse, of course, but it is a fairer system.  It encourages players to build more varied characters good at more than one thing for a start.  It encourages GMs and adventure writers to provide a buffet of challenges beyond killing things and taking their stuff.

Most games now allot XP equally to all players, regardless of the contribution they made to the encounter. The fighter who flubbed her diplomacy check at a crucial moment is not penalised any more than the cleric who failed to land a blow against the dragon.  Equally unfair you may say, but so much depends on the dice - and we all have horrible rolling days.  Or months, in my case.

Personally, I'm tending to bottle out of XP allocation altogether and decide when the players have done enough to gain a level.  In a PbP that works out at an average of five enounters.  In a table game, probably 9-10.  Encounters being any kind of interactive situation.

That covers a multitude of sins, but allows me to reward creatively minded parties as well as the more mainstream groups.  I currently have two parties traversing the Tomb of Horrors (the 4e version).  One party are currently earning their XP in the traditional way by wiping out the denizens of a dungeon and surviving traps.  The other group are prancing around Freeport with a brass band and a box of slaad eggs.  Both are earning XP.  They're just doing it in their own special ways.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

W is for Way through the Woods


Path through the woods.  Pierre Auguste Renoir (1874)

THEY shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few.)
You will hear the beat of a horse's feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods.
But there is no road through the woods.

(Rudyard Kipling)

About two years ago, I got involved in some play testing for Open Design's Courts of the ShadowfeyI had enough time and cash to become a patron and got the opportunity to contribute fairly actively on the design.  At the early stages we bandied about a lot of ideas for how the thing should work - what made is strangely fey, what people feared about the fey and so on.  The picture and poem combo above was a trigger point for me. 

For anyone not aware of Wolfgang Baur's work and his inspirational patronage system, I beg you to take a look if you are at all interested in RPG design.  It offers a unique platform for development within a defined structure and I found it an incredibly helpful experience.  I would (and will, when funds allow) contribute again.

That, however, is not the entire point of this post. 

The other point is that looking for the way through the woods is a kind of symbol for the hunt for inspiration.  That moment when the spark hits.  All of us look for it.  All of us recognise it when it hits.  I'm not sure you can force it, but I am sure that continually looking doesn't hurt.  You never know what the trigger will be.  Mine tend to be images and words.

Ways through the woods.  So elusive, so rewarding, so frustrating. 

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

V is for Venice


I'm ashamed to admit that I didn't want to go to Venice.   Really.  Part of my History of Art degree involved spending three months in Venice and I fought tooth and nail to avoid this horrible fate.  Quite why I was so against the idea is now lost to me, but if I had the chance to go back I'd smack the 20 year old me pretty hard and tell her not to be such a daft baggage.  Luckily, I had no choice.  Got off the train at Santa Lucia station, looked across the canal and fell in love.  Reluctantly and irrevocably.  My telegram home to let my mother know I'd arrived safely was short and to the point.  "Damn."

So, what's to love so much?

Well, it's so practical for one thing.  For all the glamour of the palaces lining the Grand Canal, at bottom they are just flashy docks.  You can trace the history of Renaissance and Baroque architecture in those buildings.  All of them were built by great Venetian families with two purposes in mind.  Showing off outrageously and allowing easy access to storehouse space.

It hasn't really changed.  I think of Venice as a kind of hermit crab.  It is built on the sound principle of accretion.  Bits get stuck on here and there, but since the city can't expand, the basic structure and layout are the same as they were 900 years ago.

The Rialto Bridge is a comparative newcomer on the scene.  Prior to the stone one opened in 1591, there had been a wooden structure.  This eventually collapsed under the weight of a major procession, but can be seen in the picture below.

By Carpaccio (painted around 1490)

The replacement was the familiar thing still around today.

By Canaletto (c.1750)
Present day, courtesy of the Italian Tourist board

All of Venice is like this.  The street map would be just as familiar to Tintoretto as it is to any baffled tourist.

The hermit crab analogy holds up in another way too.  The Venetians were notorious as pickers up of unconsidered trifles to send home to La Serenissima.  A bronze horse here, a gold pillar there.  There is no particular rhyme or reason to it.  If it looked pretty, or was valuable or could show the world that Venetians had been there and done that, home it went.

Unlike, say, the beautifully organised Renaissance perfection of Vicenza down the road, Venice lacks any kind of unifying theme.  The result should be a mess, but like the hermit crab, it has a style all its own.  San Marco is the perfect representation of this and prompted Mark Twain to say that the basilica looked like a "vast bug taking a meditative walk."

Piazza San Marco (Canaletto again).  Note the magpie effusion of the basilica in the background.  Note also the huge campanile.  It fell down in 1902 and was lovingly rebuilt to recreate the 1514 original.  Amazingly nobody was hurt in the collapse and no buildings were destroyed.

It wasn't just pretty objects either.  Venice was well known as a melting pot of ideas and technology as well.  Many of them were picked up from the dangerous east and the Serenissima was regarded with permanent suspicion by rest of Europe.  Venice has been a haven for many outcasts as long as they were useful outcasts.  Practicality has always taken precedence over any need for orthodoxy.  Indeed,  the Venetians gave their real devotion to the Serenissima - that mythic aglomoration of ideas and place that combined government and city in one.

For the first time visitor, Venice is a hideously confusing city.  Although it is very small indeed (you can walk it end to end in an hour), it is also, without question, the easiest place in the world to get lost in.  Helpful signs on the walls mean nothing at all.  Wide (by Venetian standards) calle* peter out entirely or end in canals.  Narrow calle with no apparant exit open abruptly onto small unlabelled campi*.

At this point you can either consult your map and get even more confused or take the Red Queen's advice and walk in the opposite direction to the one you think you should be going in.  Doing so results in you finding your destination almost immediately.  If you're lucky, you may end up at Paolin, purveyers of the best ice cream I have ever tasted.

I've long wanted to build a campaign around Venice.  It is the perfect amalgam of the an urban setting with dangerous areas, Byzantine rules and mysterious people.  Writing this has reminded me of it and once Mikelmerck is slightly more concrete, this is where I will turn my attention.

Beautiful Venice.  You bizarre product of extreme pragmatism and magpie instinct.  I'd go back in a heartbeat.

* - calle.  The Venetian term for a street
* - campi.  Plural of campo (small square)

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

U is for Utnapishtim and Universal myths


Myths have deep roots.  My own realisation came when I read the Gilgamesh epic for the first time and suddenly there was Utnapishtim right in front of my nose.  "Whoa, that looks familiar ...  man builds boat to avoid flood.  Heard that one before."

(At risk of teaching my granny to suck eggs, Gilgamesh is the hero of one of the first written stories.  His adventures take him all over the place and at one point he visits Utnapishtim, who is the Mesopotamian version of Noah.  Gilgamesh is described as two parts god and one part man and his battle with his own mortality is one of the core themes of the epic.)

There, I think, is the nub of the matter.  With myth, we've all heard that one before.  The stories and the way they work are part of how we operate as human beings. 

If I was asked to define what makes people, people, I might well settle on stories and story telling as our defining characteristic.  Plenty of mammals communicate to share valuable information, but I don't know of any other species that creates history and story for itself as the means to do it.

Stretching that a little further, I wonder at what point this happened.  When did we first start telling stories around the fire?  When did we first start trying to work out what happened after death?  When did we first need heroes?  It feels as if that was an evolutionary turning point.  The need to know combined with the ability to put ourselves into another place or person.

Of course we still do it today.  Drama and games in all their forms are part of this old tradition.  We tell stories to keep ourselves human. 

Sunday, 22 April 2012

T is for Traveling with G and why Delta Airlines is forever on my Christmas card list


(A true story for the letter T)

I have fleetingly mentioned spending a lot of time in the US travelling when I was a child.  In a reversal on the usual procedure, my role was often to look after my father.  He was spectacularly eccentric and my mother deemed me a proper person to make sure he got to places on time.  She had done it for many years and felt that her 12 year old daughter would make a decent substitute.  Or something.  I've never known quite what her reasoning was.

However it came about, G and I found ourselves going on a jaunt to Mexico via San Francisco before heading to New York to catch a flight home to England.  Ever practical, mum made sure that I was the person looking after passports, visas and flight tickets.  "Make sure you tell your father the flight is two hours earlier than it is." was her parting advice as she saw us off.

It was well-intended advice.  G habitually ran late everywhere and his notion of comfortable travel consisted of drinking half a bottle of wine, swallowing a nembutal and crashing out in a cacophonous snoring heap until the flight landed.  Minor details like knowing where we were supposed to be staying he could deal with, but airports did not bring out the best in him.

G and I liked travelling together.  I didn't mind the snoring and rather enjoyed whimsical side-treks to wherever took his fancy.  He let me stay up late and was unfussed by my desire to live entirely off Pepperidge Farm cookies.  It was a win-win as far as we were concerned.  Stage one went very smoothly.  Atlanta to San Francisco was a complete success.  I went with him to whatever lab it was he was supposed to visit and cheerfully broke some software.  We went to see Godspell.  We ate some nice meals and looked at San Francisco which I adored and have never visited since.  Onwards to the airport for the journey to Mexico.

Following mum's advice, I managed to get G awake enough to arrive at the airport comfortably early.  I was so proud of myself.  He wandered off to the bar while I book browsed and we met up to have some lunch.  Over which he announced that he had taken his pre-flight nembutal.  Two hours early.  This was not good news.  Oh how my sensible lie had come back to bite me in the bum. 

Working our way down the marathon walkways of San Francisco airport, we duly arrived at the departure gate and I took my eyes of an obviously rather woozy G to make sure we had the relevant tickets.  When I looked around again, he had vanished.  He stayed vanished.  The flight was called.  He was still vanished.  I could only think of one solution.  He must have gone to the Gents and the nembutal had kicked in.  By now, I was the only person at the departure gate and announcements were blaring all over the airport demanding that Professor Pask present himself immediately. 

Major panic ensued.  I was not going to investigate the Gents by myself.  Masterminding my father was one thing, but that was way out of my remit.  I got on the flight and demanded to see the captain.  Where I explained that my father had probably passed out in the Gents and could they possibly go and get him for me.  To the infinite credit of Delta Airlines, they did just that.  I've been grateful to them ever since.

This, of course, was before we got trapped at Mexico airport when we discovered that my visa had expired.  Same journey, but another story.

Smug virtue

Nominally an S post, but more an interruption in the flow of trivia.

I have now visited every blog on the A-Z challenge list.  All that I can visit that is.  Some are inexplicably unavailable.  My Follow list has quadrupled.

Now that I've done my duty in terms of visiting, I can concentrate on reading the back blogs of the many amazing sites out there.  Stop being creative people.  I didn't actually need another excuse to spend time on the internet.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

S is for Short


Short person speaking here.  At just on 5 foot, I spend a lot of my life looking up.  Living in London made summer a horror.  No tube journey was complete without my ending up with my nose wedged in someone's armpit.  Joyous.

A point I make to drama students is that short is often good.  Better a well thought out scene with a proper beginning, middle and end than an interminable muddle that blurs the point.

Short in games does not mean bad either.  Intense wins out over long-drawn any day, but is notoriously hard to achieve in PbP online.  Long stories, short episodes is what I aim for.

Short is also for this post.  I'm a fan of economical writing (pace Tolkein and the three volume gang).  One day I'll manage it myself.  In the meantime, longwinded phrases, subclauses and conjuctions are my friends.

Friday, 20 April 2012

R is for Romance (supposedly)


My romantic life pre-Budleigh Salterton was a disaster.  There was some serious talent at work.  With a radar-like instinct, I would home in on the most needy lame-dog bad-for-me bloke possible and fall in love with him.  Badly.  It took a very long time for me to break this habit.

My relationship with the Pianist was typical.  He was ridiculously talented.  A post graduate at Warwick who looked like a rather sexy Flemish saint who seduced me by reading Samuel Beckett aloud.  Just remembering how pretentious we must both have been is deeply embarrassing.

Rogier van der Weyden's Reading Man.  Bears a resemblance to ex love of my life.

We spent hours and hours in pubs talking mainly about him and his problems.  These were many, varied and required serious medical treatment.  Naturally I was going to save him.  My friends thought he was a dangerous weirdo, which should have been enough of a warning.  Inevitably, I made all the excuses one makes at these times "Oh, he's quite different with me" after he'd been brutally rude yet again. 

The Pianist spent quite a bit of time in and out of the local psychiatric hospital and I found it wildly romantic to visit him there.  We would walk the grounds together, reciting gloomy poetry and on rainy days he would play Liszt on the piano.  It was all very Byronic and I'm cringing as I write this.

The end was less Byronic and more Marx Brothers.  The Pianist was duly discharged and we went on holiday to Padstow with his psychiatrist.  As bizarre a menage as you can imagine.  A week later, he ran away with her and was not seen again.

My mother did not even bother to hide her relief.  "I thought you might marry him just because you're so stubborn" she admitted a year or so later when I'd stopped tramping around clutching my broken heart.

There's nothing like a 19 year old innocent for being a total idiot.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Q is for Quotations


Many a character in many of my games has used quotations as dialogue.  It's an innocent pleasure.

Favourites sources are plays, poems and lyrics but I'm not fussy. 

Kyleth, the Witch Queen used a lot of Jacobean tragedy and Healaugh the halfling bard quoted Sondheim.  The Moonlit King got a lot of the dottier bits of Walter de la Mare.  A recent slaad was cursed with badly mangled bits of WWI poetry.

It's fun for me and a quick and dirty way to establish character.  Palgrave sits on my desk and I have The Quote Garden bookmarked.  As I say, an innocent pleasure. 

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

P is for Phones and Predictive Text



My mobile and I have a vexed relationship.  It's right on the edge of irreconcilable differences and divorce.  Our needs are so different. 

I want something to make phone calls and send the occasional text for me.  It has much grander plans.  It nags me constantly about updated accounts, fresh ways to link to my friends, demands that I use all its gadgets.  Frankly, it's a bit needy. 

All of that is bearable.  Where our relationship really breaks down is over sending texts.  It thinks it knows me better than I know myself.  I have news for my phone.  It does not.

Take, for example, the little matter of Northallerton.  This charming market town emerges from my phone's predictive text mechanism as Mortgakleston.  Sondheim appears as Some hens.  School becomes scowl.  Winter turns to water.  Partridge in a pear tree became partridge in a rear tripe.  Grudging props for getting partridge right I suppose. 

I'm aware that I need to spell out the words for the phone.  It can't be expected to know these things without some input from me.  However, even after the relevant words have been carefully given to the beast it remains smugly convinced that it knows better. 

Carrier pigeons anyone?

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

O is for Olympic Games

I don't watch a lot of television.  Television chez Heitler does not work well and nobody much cares.  Now, however, I'm panicking about getting aeriel fixed or whatever it is I have to do.  There can be only one reason for that.  The Olympics.

I am a shameless Olympics junkie.  Always have been.  Every other year (since the Winter Olympics went to an alternate cycle and confused me), I embark on a marathon telly watch.  Almost anything will be grist to my mill as I sit poised for the next event.  Food, sleep, and work become things to be fitted in around the round robin section of lightweight judo or the kayak qualifying.  Boxing, football and hockey bore me a bit, and luckily there is always enough of those sports to allow basic bodily needs to be tended to.

Not being the sporty type myself, I'm hugely in awe of anyone who is.  My utter ignorance does not stop me from becoming an instant expert in rhythmic gymnastics.  "Tsk, they'll lose points there" I mutter knowledgeably as a ribbon flutters slightly out of sync with other ribbons.

Since the UK is hosting this year, there are several other enjoyable treats in store.  We lived in London for years, so a lot of the event venues are going to be familiar.  Always fun.  Having worked in Whitehall, the prospect of beach volleyball taking place in the hallowed grounds of Horseguards makes me giggle. 

I'm also looking forward to the commentators wittering about Britain's medal tally.  The BBC have somehow managed to snag Michael Johnson as a commentator and he is fantastic value.   An over-excited Brit turns eagerly to Michael and asks what he thinks of our prospects in some athletic event.  "Can he/she win gold?".  Michael is always polite, but usually deflating, pointing out that the he/she in question will be lucky to make it to the final. 

I do worry that there will be a tendency to swap away from someone about to set a world record in something in favour of watching a plucky home hope failing to fulfil their potential, but only time will tell.

Can't wait.  Must fix telly.

Monday, 16 April 2012

N is for Nativity Plays - drama in a nutshell


I don't know how it works elsewhere in the world, but for virtually every British child, the nativity play is the standard introduction to live performance.  Every nativity play contains a microcosm of every play ever produced.   All illustrations by Giotto.

There will have been ferocious competition for the female lead.  Reactions to the ultimate choice will vary from shoulder-shrugging "meh, it's not a very good part anyway" to "I know it should have been me, but I was just too good to play opposite Joseph".  These opinions will be expressed in audible whispers at every rehearsal.  If Mary is ever absent, there will be a flurry of eager readers-in, eyeing the director and hoping that the miracle will happen and someone will say "we've made a terrible mistake, you are clearly much, much better and shall replace her right now".

It will have been very easy to cast Joseph as only two boys will have been eligble to play the role at all and one of them will have been absent on audition day.  The performer will take one of two forms.  He will either be sublimely confident or a gibbering inaudible wreck.  In either case, he will be mollified by being allowed to wear a beard.  Joseph and Mary will behave as though they are plague-ridden and refuse to hold hands.  Both will repeatedly say "we'll do it on the night".

The Magi
These three will be clowns.  They will probably be the most experienced performers and know that the best parts do not necessarily have the most lines.  They will make the whole cast laugh and everyone will adore them.  The director will not adore them.  At least one of them will have already played the role before and will know how to do it better.  They will not learn their lines as they will assume that the other two will.  During the performances, they will suffer collective memory loss and go through their scene three times in different iterations.  On leaving the stage they will have a massive and highly audible argument about whose fault it was.

Gabriel will either be a reject Mary (see above), or taking their first important part.  In either case the role will be taken extremely seriously and the performer will shoot resentful glances at unruly cast members.  The director will learn to dread those faintly pursed lips and the whispered "can I just ask you something?" 

Angels are obsessed with their costumes.  Furtive arguments will break out over length of dress and amount of tinsel.  They will always have a solo spot of some kind which will be impossible to rehearse as the whole team will only be available at the dress rehearsal.

This is the ultimate home for the too young, too shy and too grumpy.  They will want to be part of the play, but will feel that the whole project is an excuse to chat to their mates.  Some will find relative anonimity a relief, but there will always be a contingent hunting for ways to make themselves noticeable.  In a year's time, such performers will be playing Magi (see above).  Shepherds become obsessed with props.  "Can I have a stuffed sheep?"  If there is a Head Shepherd, he will be the other potential Joseph (see above).  He will need a special prop and woe betide anyone who tries to move or use it.  "That's my crook!" followed by a solid thump and tears is standard at this point.

If you think the above is cynical, all I can say is visit your local Operatic or Dramatic Society and look for yourself.  The person waving their arms, looking despairing and trying not to have a breakdown is the director.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

M is for Mikelmerck, Malfi and Meringue failure



New followers may not be aware of this, but I've been tatting about with an RPG setting for a while now.  It's been in abeyance lately due to having to be in shows and direct stuff, but there's a fair bit of material to be found on this vanity project already.

Mikelmerck is a fantasy Yorkshire turned up to 11.  For a selection of Mikelmerkian posts, take a look here.  Chris over at Bladesharp also has a couple of great Mikelmerkian entries which are well worth a look.  Although I'm not a mechanics bunny, I have been using Swords and Wizardry stats for the few bits that have such things.  Part of me would rather not use any stats at all, but the gamer-side rebels at having no numbers.

As is probably obvious, I'm a lot less interested in working out the mechanics than I am in the crossover between real and imagined myth.  It has been enormous fun and I'm semi-planning to see if I can do a test run with some of this material.  Possibly on G+, possibly just by good old-fashioned email.

None of this can happen until I've got Duchess of Malfi  out of the way.  This possibly overly-ambitious Youth Theatre production hits the stage in four weeks which is a petrifying thought.  We're pretty close to OK on it, but there is still a genuine knife-edge terror about the whole project.  Getting Webster's language sorted has been a huge issue and despite the numerous cuts, it's still one heck of a long play.  I am currently crossing my fingers and hoping the cast have the same sense of urgency that I do and have spent the Easter holiday constructively (i.e. making sure they know it).

On another issue entirely, I woke this morning to find the kitchen floor looking as though it had been hit by a polystyrene explosion.  Closer inspection revealed that someone had tried to eat one of my failed meringues and suffered the consquences.

Unfailed meringues

I made a batch for our Easter party last weekend and didn't beat the eggwhites long enough.  The results are explosive and not particularly edible as they turned into very hard biscuits of crystalline property.  I made a second batch which worked just fine, but my record with meringues is variable.  Either they are a howling success or they go drastically wrong.  No middle ground here.  I don't eat the things.   Egg white and sugar?  I ask you.  Why is that even a food?.

Even so, this particular failure is still better than my all time best failure when I made a superb batch of impeccable looking meringues only to discover that I had used salt instead of sugar.  Or rather I didn't discover it, but some pavlova lovers did.  Gastronomic treats of our time.

The lesson?  When re-using containers remember to label them properly.

Friday, 13 April 2012

L is for Lust, Love and the Learning Curve


Remember that first aching sweep of passion?
Remember the gaping hole that opened up in your mind and devoured everything but whatever it was?
Remember how hard it is to recreate that feeling?  How you can't believe how absorbed you were?  What lengths you went to to find the object of desire?

Welcome to lust.  I've always been prone to it.

I'm not talking here about lust in the sexual sense.  I'm talking about those wild lusts that seem to be a form of insanity, as the longing to know, to find out to discover EVERYTHING is so compulsive.  Even if it isn't, technically, madness, it often feels like that in the aftermath. 

Take, for example, my own first, passionate lust object.  Ponies.  I was five. 

I drove my mother mad.  I behaved like a pony.  Walked like a pony, trotted and cantered like a pony, and was with difficulty restrained from eating my cereal straight from the bowl like a pony.  She drew the line when I started to whinney.  Drew the line and took a lot of time to make sure I met real ponies as often as possible.  Got me riding lessons.  Gradually found ways to make her slightly demented daughter find ways to integrate pony into her life.  I'm not sure I've completely forgiven her for not letting me keep one in our tiny back garden.  It didn't help that we had friends who did keep a pony in their back garden.  In a stable. 

It passed.  Or rather, the boundaries of the lust for all things equine expanded.  One day I found a book about racehorses with some superb photos in it.  Another lust was born. 

Hyperion (T Weston up).  1933 Derby winner and all around excellent genepool addition
Hyperion lead onward to an compulsive interest in racehorse pedigrees.  Books and books piled up.  I had (still have) card indexes detailing the bloodlines of every pattern race winner I could lay hands on.  Nothing and nobody got in the way of me and my race watching.  That lust became a long-term love and still lingers (although I no longer book Derby Day off to spend all morning scouring the Racing Post).

Then, aged 12, I read a book by Nigel Balchin.  The Borgia Testament.  Quite what it was doing on the bookshelf in the school library I don't know, but it got into my hands at just the wrong age.  Let others devote their passions and lusts and crushes towards the living.  Nothing but Cesare Borgia would do for me.

Cesare Borgia by Melone (contemporary)
I still think I showed quite good taste there.  I learned so much about 15th century Italy, the popes and the man himself that I could have gone on Mastermind.

I've generally been very lucky in my lusts.  What has happened is that the initial surge of NEED TO KNOW, NOW has evolved into a longer term interest.  I've kept all of them in some form or another and  they've continued to be an important part of my life.  And I've learned from them. 

One thing I learned is that the racehorse pedigrees, the pony obsession, and the fascination with Cesare and his world were inter-connected to some degree.  I need to find and understand the patterns.  It is part of how I operate and impacts on everything I do.  All that lust goes to a good cause in the end. 

I know I'm still quite capable of going head over heels into lust with something.  I'm looking at the two shelves of gaming material sitting on the shelf behind me.  That is lust alright.  Lust with a vengeance, because these were new systems with different ways of building worlds and how could I not want them?

Lust leading to love on a learning curve.  It's the kind of lust I need. 

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Kicking myself, Konigsburg, Kipling

After the famine, the feast.

Wouldn't you just know it.  Hours after I put up a short and simple "K" post, the above walks into my brain.  I don't know how I could have forgotten either of these completely kickass authors, but there you go.  And another K as well.

E L Konigsburg is more likely to be familiar to US audiences.  As far as I know she is a fairly regular staple in American schoolrooms (that's how I found her), but From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler is well worth a look.  It won't even take you long.  Her books (children and YA with only a few exceptions) are extremely economical.  Don't let the length deceive you.  She packs a lot into those pages. 

The basic premise is wonderful.  Claudia decides to run away from her unappreciative family and picks the Metropolitan Museum of Art as her hideout.  This appealed to me hugely at the age of about 12.  She selects her brother Jamie to accompany her and they do exactly what they plan.  Once in the museum, she becomes obsessed with a small statue of an angel and Claudia's search for the artist becomes the story's focus.

Illustration from the book by E L Konigsburg.
Kipling is an obvious literary giant, but he isn't much in fashion today as he wrote in and about the colonial era and we all tend to prefer that never happened.  In the interests of redressing the balance a little, I draw your attention to the following:

The Jungle Book
The Second Jungle Book
Just So Stories
Puck of Pook's Hill
Rewards and Fairies

Technically all the above are children's books, but really, give them a try.  Disney did a great take on The Jungle Book but the original stories are another thing entirely.  Plus the man gives a flavour of India like nobody else I've ever read. 

K is for Knack


The letter K was causing me problems in my mild A-Z planning, but this is where I've ended up.  

Collins English Dictionary offers these definitions:

1. a skilful, ingenious, or resourceful way of doing something
2. a particular talent or aptitude, esp an intuitive one

Knack covers positive and negative, which is always useful in a word.  My knack for baking cake is matched by my knack for rolling bad dice.

I've also found giving NPCs a knack or two an easy way to bring them to life.  A physical description is all very well, but I run out of hair colours and voices long before I run out of interesting knacks.  Meeting up with that strawberry blonde bar wench is fine, but give her a knack for being always in the right place to overhear what she shouldn't and a mean line in home-brewing and you have a story in the making.

Knacks.  I'm a fan.

Study for the Bar at the Folie Bergere by Edward Manet

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

More on Diana Wynne Jones

Following up from my earlier "J" post, a quick run down of some of Diana's books.

Virtually all of her books can be read and enjoyed as stand alone novels, but she does have some recurring characters and settings.  The jokes are funnier if you know a bit about some of her characters, but with few exceptions, there isn't really a suggested reading order.

Here we go: 

Dalemark Quartet
These four books are set in Dalemark - a kind of northern slightly steampunkish Europe.  They can be read in any order, but chronologically they go like this -
The Spellcoats - set in the far past of Dalemark and telling the story of the mythic first family from the perspective of Tanaqui (a member of that family).  In common with a lot of Diana's work, the story uses a first person perspective, so for a lot of the book, Tanaqui is unaware of how important she and her siblings are.

Cart and Cwidder - centuries later (possibly thousands of years, it's been a while since I read it).  Travelling minstrel's son finds an artifact from the earlier age.

Drowned Ammet - set slightly after Cart and Cwidder and deals with an uprising seen through the eyes of Mitt.  He also appears in The Crown of Dalemark.

The Crown of Dalemark  is set in modern Dalemark but takes its heroine back to Mitt's time two centuries before.  It links all the four books together and makes better sense read that way, but stands as a good story in its own right.

Crestomanci series
These are by far her best known books.  When Harry Potter burst onto the scene, Diana was reprinted as she deals with some of the same things as J K Rowling - i.e. young wizards and their education.  Crestomanci is an extremely powerful nine-lived magician with a penchant for flamboyant dressing gowns.  He is a civil servant whose job is to maintain the balance of magic throughout the worlds.

Charmed Life
The Lives of Christopher Chant
Conrad's Fate
Witch Week
The Magicians of Caprona, and
The Pinhoe Egg

all include Crestomanci at various stages of his life.  There are many recurring characters and the above list is Diana's recommended reading order.  Witch Week and The Magicians of Caprona are set in other worlds and feature Crestomanci, although neither is strictly about him.  Witch Week uses alternate history and The Magicians of Caprona  is set in a wonderful pseudo-Florence.

Dark Lord of Derkhelm
Year of the Griffin
Two books which specifically pinpoint and make enormous fun of traditional fantasy settings.   These books really are best read in sequence.  In Dark Lord the land is infested with tourist parties who have paid to go on fantasy adventures.  It also draws heavily (and hilariously) on The Tough Guide to Fantasy Land - a must read for anyone addicted to fantasy.  Once the mess at the end of Dark Lord  is resolved, Year of the Griffin takes place at a university shortly afterwards and takes a cheerful swipe at academia.

Three books feature the side-stepping Welsh wizard and his family. 
Howl's Moving Castle  turns fairy tale conventions on their head.  Castle in the Air features many of the same characters and has an Arabian Nights setting.  The House of Many Ways has a more northern feel and includes kobolds and lubbokin as well as some royal politicking.  The heroine is one of Diana's many quirky, clever and unknowingly gifted girls. 

Another two which can be read separately but are linked by a couple of characters.  Deep Secret takes place at a SciFi/Fantasy convention and is a personal favourite for obvious reasons.  The Merlin Conspiracy uses Arthurian legend in a modern setting.  Both books use multiple protagonist voices.

Apart from the books that fall roughly into sets, there are a large number of genuine stand alones with no crossover characters.

Eight Days of Luke - norse myth
Dogsbody - Sirius the star is banished to Earth as a dog.
Homeward Bounders - a great one for gamers. 
Hexwood - another great one for gamers, but has the most complex plot I've ever encountered.
The Game - novella and another of my personal favourites.  Myths from the outside in.
Archer's Goon - wizards trapped in a town and farming its various resources.  Also features writer's block.
Time of the Ghost - this one always seems to have been drawn specifically from Diana's own childhood.  Do not make midnight bargains with ancient goddesses.
Fire and Hemlock - Tam Linn

I don't know how many of these are in print at the moment, but the most likely would be the Crestomanci and Howl series. 

J is for Diana Wynne Jones


If anyone epitomises the kind of writer I would like to be, it is Diana Wynne Jones.  She combined extreme intelligence, intricate plotting, humour and fantasy in a unique mixture and she did it consistently over four decades.

I found her by accident one summer holiday when the library had a copy of Eight Days of Luke.  It drew some neat parallels between the highly disfunctional Aesir and a modern day Midlands family without being in the slightest bit preachy.  It also made me laugh hugely and sent me out on a marathon hunt for every other book of hers I could find.

Diana died last year and although I happily re-read everything she wrote, I still hate the thought that there will be no more from her.

She was that rare thing - an author who simply did not seem to know how to write badly.  She always makes me laugh, wince and look over my shoulder.  I understand exactly how her characters work and love the worlds she creates.  She's also driven me round the bend trying to follow the ramifications of her plots.   Hexwood  remains a thoroughly enjoyable enigma, to name only one.

Luckily she was prolific as well as consistently good and her bibliography is long.  If you have not encountered her, please try reading some of her work.  If you have, share your favourites.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

I is for Iggwilv


Iggwilv has never yet appeared in any game I've either played in or run, but she's a character I've always wanted to get into a campaign.  Possibly because she's bound up with so many bits of myth, partly because she just looks so much fun.  Evil, to be sure, but intelligent and never completely out of the game.

Iggwilv - by James Ryman.  An iconic image.  I've never been entirely convinced by the green lipstick, but this isn't someone you're likely to argue with.

Baba Yaga - possibly mid adoption process
Iggwilv is a lady with a mighty arcane pedigree.  Showing magical talent from an early age, she attracted the attention of Baba Yaga, no less.  The Witch's Witch.  Baba Yaga of the chicken-legged hut.  Baba Yaga of a thousand creepy tales and permanent frightener of Russian children.  Also, as it turns out, nurturer of  daughters. 

Iggwilv's cosy childhood home

Later in her career, Iggwilv developed an interest in demons and the Abyss and typically did the thing thoroughly.  Attempting to capture the Demon Lord Graz'zt, the pair fell conveniently in love.  It is not to be expected that two such beings would settle to a life of quiet domesticity, and so it has proved.  Variously betraying and double crossing each other, they have parted, but seem to retain some fondness and respect for each other.

Iggwilv and Graz'zt by Wayne Reynolds

Iggwilv can now be found behind many Abyssal plots.  It is unknown how many of them involve her ex love or her adopted mother, but some connection seems likely.

In my head, I see her living in comfortable luxury, writing new appendices of her mighty work, the Demonomicon.  Always to hand will be her notepad, her chessboard and her faithful messenger ravens as she berates publishers, hunts for fresh worlds to conquer and looks for opportunity.

One day we'll meet in a game somewhere.

Monday, 9 April 2012

H is for History of Art


I've written a little before about my dawning love affair with painting.  In due time, I took an A level in History of Art and went on to do a degree in the subject at the University of Warwick.

It was, as everyone warned me, completely useless as a job qualification.  Much like a BA in English, it opens doors to not very much.  This is unfair.  Any academically rigorous degree should really carry the same weight as they tend to hone the same skills.  Whinging aside, I don't regret my degree choice at all.  In fact, I adored it.

People are often quite confused about History of Art as a subject.  It suffers from being seen as a soft option, requiring an ability to draw and little mental rigour.  Neither is true.  While I know some art historians who can paint and draw (often very well), it is far from compulsory.  What I find less forgiveable is the pitying looks I get when I reveal that my degree is in this supposedly soft option subject.

Consider this for a moment.  If analytical skills are required, you could do a lot worse than consult an art historian.  Most of us have spent long hours analysing very small samples in a lot of detail.  Take a look at this:

Detail of the Adoration of the Magi by Giotto.  Part of the cycle in the Scrovegni Chapel

Note that from this detail you can tell an enormous amount.   The figures are solidly placed in space and have depth to them.  The shading and colour take advantage of fresco (wet paint on three layers of plaster - sinking in and giving a virtually indestructable painted surface.  Only applicable in dry climates).  Giotto may not have seen a real camel, but he knows enough about anatomy to create something believeable.  Notice how the halos are in slight perspective.  Look at the solid anatomy in the figure of that reaching man.

The artist is living in a time and place where curiosity and innovation are encouraged.  He's living in a world where stories matter and painting is the main medium for that.  He's living in a place where fresco survives well and he's been given carte blanche to create a story cycle.  We know this must be so from the arrangement of the figures and from the style and colour of the painting.  It is part of something much larger.

That something larger is  a whole chapel.  This chapel:

Scrovegni Chapel facing the altar

This is a building commissioned by the very wealthy Enrico Scrovegni.  Enrico and his whole family were money lenders.  At the time, usury was a deadly sin and the chapel is a plea for absolution for the sins of the father, as well a pre-emptive plea on the part of Enrico himself.  It tells the whole story of Christ and the Virgin Mary in a series of panels running down both walls. The whole astonishing building was completed in around 1305 and has survived intact ever since.  Even when Padua was bombed in the war,  the chapel somehow survived untouched.

In 1305, the artistic tradition was still firmly rooted in Byzantine art.  Cimabue and Duccio were evolving the style from the extreme formality of the icon to something warmer and more approachable, but Giotto (one of Cimabue's pupils) brought about a complete revolution.  It is possibly fair to say that without Giotto there would have been no Renaissance.

Take a look at the Cimabue altarpiece below and while you can see the very strong Byzantine influence in the gold background, the elongated anatomy and the relative sizes of the figures, there is a real sense of humanity in the relationship between the mother and child.  There is even a slight sense of depth emerging, rather than the Byzantine focus on surface decoration.

Cimabue's Maesta

Returning now to the Scrovegni Chapel, there is a fascinating Last Judgement on the wall opposite the altar.

Last Judgement in the Scrovegni Chapel

Ugh.  So annoyed I can't find bigger images, particularly of the last one.

What you're seeing here is the crossover moment in western artistic tradition.  That Last Judgement is formal and Byzantine in construction (note Christ in the mandorla and the linear representation of the souls of the dead.  Note as well the geometric arrangement of the risen Christ above the crucifixion at the bottom.  Also Byzantine is the size difference between Christ and everyone else.  He's bigger, so he must be more important. 

But ...  look closer:

Despite the gold background, flat decorated halo and the large size, this Christ is a solid body in space.  He is definitely sitting on that throne, not pasted across it (as Cimabue's Madonna is doing).  The drapery follows his body and gives definition to the shape of the limbs, adding to the illusion of solidity.  Here is where the path branches.

Art History is entirely about how people percieve the world in different places and at different times.  Look closely at those paintings and a whole way of seeing opens up.  I've never got over the shock of it.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

G is for Getting to Gen Con


"Meet you by the troll in an hour, OK?"
"Synchronise your mobiles."

First exchange from our dream-fulfilling visit to Gen Con Indy last year.  The plan itself was simple.  We're a family of gamers.  Naturally we would want to make what amounted to a pilgrimage to gamer Mecca - Gen Con Indy.  Typically, it took on the scale and feel of a military operation very quickly. 

Heitlers do not travel well.  Like good wine, we get shook up and all the unpleasant sediment of our personalities rises to the surface.  Heitlers also do not travel light.  Previous excursions abroad have inevitably ended up with us buying an extra suitcase to bring stuff back.  I took all this into account before getting online and hunting for hotels and flights.

For a technophobe, I'm rather good at this.  I can riffle through pages of flight and hotel combinations with great speed and in due course came up with something ideal.  Flights that came and went at sensible hours, a hotel within walking distance and all within budget.  Only one stop - in Philadelphia.

I did not know that Philadelphia airport is a byword for awful.  We found out.  Apart from the long, long queues and incomprehensible announcements that are part of any airport experience, we met possibly the world's least empathic immigration official.  A ten hour flight followed by "Hey, your name is really funny dude, your mom must have been a crazy nazi-lover" did not go well.  Particularly as my husband is Jewish.  Realising that socking this guy on the jaw would achive nothing but a strip search, we kept schtum.  Which I've regretted ever since.

We made it.  We found the hotel.  The hotel was wonderful and the staff made us feel like their long-lost family.  Thank you Crowne Plaza.  Unfortunately, there were some things completely out of their control.  If you recall, last August America had an unrivalled heatwave.  It was hot in Indianapolis.  Hot to the point that our plans to spend a couple of days acclimatising and wandering about were scuppered.  Going outside was like being hit in the face with a huge boiling blanket.  Three days before Gen Con started and we wilted in the heat and wondered if we'd have been better off not coming at all. 

Deprived of wandering, we spent a lot of time in the Boar's Head icecream parlour.  A name that tickled me greatly.  I kept wondering what Falstaff would have made of a hot fudge sundae. 

Ice cream parlour

We also worked out that the convention centre was huge.  As in airport huge.  This wasn't rocket science, but it did get us thinking about how we could stay in touch with each other.  Cheap mobiles was the answer.  Got those and practiced communicating with each other.  "Hi, I'm eating pancakes, want to join me?"

All this background took us to the first morning and our mile long trek down to the main entrance.

Something about the ten foot tall troll, the abundance of ocarina playing elves, the shops of dice and the halls full of people talking about everything game told us we'd arrived.

"Meet you by the troll in an hour, OK?"
"Synchronise your mobiles."

We had the best time.  We'd go back.  Even through Philadelphia.

Friday, 6 April 2012

F is for Father (of second order cybernetics and me)


Stills from the second video link below.

I said that my father would get a longer entry, and here it is.   First, a couple of video clips giving a rough idea of some of his work and ideas as explained by the man himself.  They're both rather grainy and come courtesy of Youtube.

The Experimenters from 1974 - part of a BBC series.  I dimly remember this being filmed.  Note the sweet synchronicity of my childhood being in Richmond, Surrey and our home now being in Richmond, North Yorkshire.

Archive footage  from 1979 I think.  Not sure where it was made, but it gives a good flavour of G's style.

Both are edits by Paul Pangaro, who also runs an archive of G's work (link at the bottom of the post).

All of this is public record of course.  My own perspective is a bit different since I grew up with the man and understood only a very little of his work.

It took me a very long time indeed to realise that G was a major figure and regarded by some as a bona fide genius.  I was a naive child perhaps, but it was a genuine shock to discover that other people had fathers who did things differently.

  • Like being awake during the day.  
  • Like not walking up and down the road eight times before dinner.  
  • Like not running on the spot for 40 minutes every night.  
  • Like not leaving eight dabs of food on the edge of his plate for the fairies.  
  • Like not having a basement full of combustible machinery and a steady stream of adoring and/or traumatised staff and students living with them. 

Looking back now, I realise too that my mother was made of truly sterling stuff as she took all this in her stride for the most part.  G had huge personal charm, but was also tunnel-visioned and selfish to an astonishing degree.  Our lives revolved around  his timetable and nothing and nobody got in the way of it.  He needed that order to function I think.  He simply assumed, childlike, that things would happen as he wished because that was the way he wanted the world to work.  

That makes him sound like a unloveable tyrant and he was not.  He was, in all the important ways, the kindest of men.  He moved mountains for his friends, students and family, often going to a lot of trouble to do so.  He took infinite pains with his students, pushing them far beyond anything they'd thought themselves capable of achieving.  He listened with equal interest to the latest developments in his own field to the minutiae of my day at school.  Really listened as well.

I've never known anyone so open to information.

For the record, I loved him dearly, miss him terribly and wish almost every day that I could share things with him.

A proper memoir is brewing I think.

For those interested in the technical side of G's work, I warmly recommend Paul Pangaro's extensive archive.  To be found here.   Paul did his PhD with G and is an old, old friend. 

Thursday, 5 April 2012

E is for Expectations and Evolution


Funny thing, expectations.  There are certain areas of my life where expectations are, (and forgive the clunky phrasing) expected.  Directing a show or running a class depend on expectations being  understood by both parties.

The cast or students have an expectation that they will learn something.  I have the expectation that they will allow themselves to learn.  Regardless of how that actually works out, there is a contract of sorts in those expectations.

Then there are things like this blog.  Since that is pure self-indulgence, I didn't really have any expectations.  I'm often far more lucid on paper (or screen) than I am in the flesh, so it seemed like a decent idea to write stuff down as I thought of it.  It started as a kind of tracking exercise for myself to follow the cycle of putting together shows - and as a useful reminder of the highs and lows of the process.

My expectations did include finding an audience of some kind.  Few of us blog in a deliberate vacuum after all.  We all want to share our special snowflake status.  With that, comes evolution

I love this chart.  All those branching lines and strange developments.  I can look at it for hours.
Where my expectations fell down was the non-predictability of that evolution.  How many A-Zers out there have found their conversation with readers changing as they develop their bloggy voice?

I'm sure this is an ongoing and familiar process to a lot of you, but it's new to me.  It was brought home by a two things in the last few days.

Jeremy at Geeky Tendencies handed me an award for Versatile Blogging - which I'm chuffed to bits about - and I hit 10,000 page views.  Amazing.  That is by far the largest audience I've ever had or would ever expect to have.  Expectations have changed due to evolution. 

See, there was a point to this post :)

For my next trick, evolve gills.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Headphone penguin

In response to a request to see the headphone supporting wooden penguin on my desk, I present a horrible webcam picture.

Penguin clearly visible, headphones less so.

D is for the Dice on my Desk and Deliveries


Yes, I have this set of dice.  No, they are not the ones on my desk.  I couldn't find a picture of those.
Ah, the dice on my desk.  There they sit, cluttered up with telephone cables, old post-it notes, pencils, tippex bottles, dead lighters, security passes, the wooden penguin I use to hold my headphones, the exciting geode I like to keep there, the mini-stapler, the funny putty, the copy of Sims 3 Pets that broke my computer, my ashtray and all the other paraphenalia of a computerised life.

These are my GMing dice.  As distinct from my player dice.  Those live downstairs.  They even have a bag.  Lucky them.  The desk dice just sit there waiting for the many moments throughout a day when I'll need to roll them. 

Unlike a lot of gamers, I'm not particularly anal about people touching my dice.  This is not reciprocal in the home group.  My rolling is so universally horrible as a player that everyone does their utmost to keep their dice away from me in case I infect them.  I do see their point.

Everyone knows that a die has a finite number of high rolls in it.  If someone borrows your die and rolls well with it, that's one good roll gone.  Everyone also knows that bad luck is contagious.  Don't let the person who spends entire sessions rolling single digits touch your treasured dice.  Particularly don't let them near your lucky d20.  Logically it would make more sense to pass your lucky dice to the unlucky player and get them to use up the stock of horrible rolls for you, but nobody seems to do this. 

Not my study.  Nor my desk.  It looks good though and I've always loved this picture.  Vittore Carpaccio painted it on the wall of the Scuole degli Schiavoni in Venice. 
The desk belonged originally to my grandfather and then later my father.  It's heavy, Victorian and much loved.  I love the fact that it has seen my grandfather planning out his assault on the Derby fruit and vegetable market and my father think his way through the early days of cybernetics.  I love that it has now come to me and I use it in ways grandfather would have loved and my father predicted.

On a random, but irate note, today I must wait in for a delivery.  Joy of joys.  I swear some delivery firms just wait around the corner in their vans, telescopic lens trained on the house to watch for the one moment you are in the loo and can't answer the door.  That is when they hurry past, dropping a  "Sorry you were out" note through the letter box.  Then they drive away laughing, leaving you to negotiate the minefield of automated phone system hell.

"Hi!  We're so glad you have to call us about the enormous box we couldn't put through the door.  Just tap in the 13 digit number at the top of the card and we'll be right with you."

Tap in 13 digit number.  Wait for inevitable cheery "I didn't quite catch that, would you like to try again?"

"Great!  I have some options for you.  To select a new time for your delivery, press 1.  To collect your delivery from our depot, press 2.  To get your delivery delivered to another address, press 3.  To have your delivery destroyed by our special services team, press 4 ..."  

And so on.  At no point does the option "speak to an actual person" appear in all this.

I cannot possibly be the only person who finds this sort of thing drives them into a tooth-gnashing rage.  Support group anyone?