June 2009

A pleasant surprise this morning. I was doing my usual, obsessive compulsive checking and re-checking of sites and mags that are due to publish one of my stories or are in the process of thinking about rejecting one.

During this journey, I discovered that Random Acts of Writing has released their new issue. I’ve enthused about RAW before in terms of its look, its content and its ethos and the fact that it proved to be something of a template when designing the look of Trialling The Content.

So, my story — The Ghouls at the Four Sisters — appears in RAW’s issue 13. Apparently, Gemma Rutter’s story shares the theme of childhood in high-rise flats, which amuses me because in RAW 12, there were two stories that featured hornbills, and one of them was mine, too.

While reasonably pleasant and surprising, none of this is really the main pleasant surprise, though. The main pleasant surprise was the discovery that further down the RAW home page, after the contributor list and flanked on top and bottom by a deep block of black, was the opening paragraph from my story. It looks really smart and I thank whoever it was who thought that doing this was a good idea.

(apologies — I have no idea what the collective noun is for pleasant surprises, but gape seemed as good a choice as any)

About ten years ago, I went through … well, I guess you’d call it a phase … of writing spoof letters of complaint to confectioners in hope of receiving some free vouchers in return. The success rate is so close to 100%, it’s not worth doing any further investigation.

Starburst paid up when, in a letter that constantly referred to the product as Opal Fruits, I complained about the frequency and variance of getting a Strawberry and included a number of pages of observational statistics.

Rolos sent me free stuff when I took them to task about their claim that the customer services desk could help with “any question I may have” and submitted them a recent pub quiz.

Quavers gave me vouchers and pieces of plastic when I posed as a OAP confused by the Tazos that were included in the packs.

It’s great fun to scam them and even better when they hint that they know they’re being scammed in their reply — they’d never be so bold to make the accusation clear.

Anyway, hidden at the heart of all this wanton Thomas Foolery there was a serious distrust of confectioners who, for the last twenty years, have been reducing the size of their product while conversely increasing the price. Milky Way, it’s safe to say, are among the worst offenders in this regard.

So today, I was pleasantly surprised to see an old Milky Way advert on TV that took me back to my childhood and a time when the fluffiest of fluffy chocolate bars wasn’t so small that it could comfortably fit inside a Tom Thumb’s arse pocket.

While watching it, though, something struck me. They guy’s voice … that’s not the voice I remember from the 80s and 90s … so why would they go to all the bother of re-cutting the vocal when the music and the video are unchanged. Towards the end, I discovered the answer was in the lyrics.

The Red Car and the Blue Car had a race,
But all Red wants to do is stuff his face.
He eats everything he sees,
From trucks to prickly trees.
But smart old Blue, he took the Milky Way.

He’s looking for a chocolate treat,
Fluffy and light,
Coz he knows it will taste just right.

[Oh, no. The bridge is gone. Old Red can’t carry on!]

But smart old Blue, he took the Milky Way.

Can you spot what’s changed? Here’s the old version, which I think has the new singer, which complicates things but lets skip by that for now. Focus on the lyrics; particularly the self-righteous reasons behind Blue’s snack of choice.

It seems that over the years, the reason that Blue finds his Milky Way so irresistable during the race with Red has changed. It used to be to protect his appetite. Now it’s about taste? Are you kidding me? It makes a nonsense of the whole campaign. The whole chuffing point of going for a Milky Chuffing Way in the first place was so it wouldn’t bag him up in his race against fatso Red. Now, apparently, taste alone is what allows Blue to clear the canyon? IT MAKES NO SENSE!!!

So why change it?

We all know. Deep down, we know the reason. We can see the law suit landing on Willy Wonka’s (or equivalent) desk and I particularly know because in an old hard drive in my attic, there’s a draft spoof complaint, unsent, that was a forerunner for this scam. And now, someone else has picked up the torch.

After eating a Milky Way, someone, somewhere will claim to have spoiled their appetite and punitive damages will be well in excess of the few vouchers I scammed all those years ago. And ironically, due their current size, such an eventuality has never been so unlikely.

For shame.

I’ve given it careful thought and the answer is, yes please.

I can recite pi to 422 decimal places.

I’ll just put that out there and let it settle for a moment.

Up until a couple of years ago, I just knew it up to 10 decimal places. I know. Terribly inaccurate. Then, I noticed that the scientific calculator on Window$ had it up to 30 odd, so I spent half an hour tripling my knowledge. By the time I got up to 100 decimal places, I started to put the experience to good use and wrote a half-decent short story about it. By the time I finished writing Memorising Pi To 120 Decimal Places, I’d already chalked up 200.

I stopped at 500, mostly at the behest of my good lady and in the intervening time, I’ve forgotten 80, but 422 is still a hefty sequence to remember so I’ll try not to beat myself up about it too much.

Anyway, I discovered today that the advert is true and there literally is an App For Everything. You, yes you, can indeed, for 59p, download an app from iTunes where you see how many you can remember. Your attempts are timed and ranked and I can’t stop playing it.

Even before I get into this sentence I was already aware of its pointlessness, but if there’s anyone out there in my reading several interesting in joining me in my high geekdom, you can download the app here but you’ll need to supply the 59p yourself.

You have 422 and 245 seconds to beat. Get to it!

So, I mentioned rather briefly the other day, a little something called Trialling The Content. I’m now in a position to reveal a little more information.cover_0109

Trialling The Content is a small run magazine featuring work by Alloa Writers Group which launched yesterday. I’ve edited the first issue so any typos and whatnot are my fault. Apologies in advance.

Thanks to all those who’ve been involved in its production, either in a creative or advisory capacity.

It’s been quite a hectic business putting the whole thing together. There’s the content. There’s art work. There’s the print run. There’s choosing paper. There’s First British Serial Rights Agreements to be drafted up and signed. There’s organising people and words and when Alloa Writers only meet every couple of weeks, time runs out very quickly. There have been many times I’ve wished we’d plumped for a 1 July launch, although I suspect that would have led on to 1 August etc.

As someone far more intelligent than me said, distribution is everything, so I’m thrilled to be able to say that Trialling The Content will be available for free from every library in Clackmannanshire and will also be available from Toast, the cafĂ© at the cinema in Stirling, The Card Shop and McFarlane’s in Alloa. It will also be popping up randomly throughout the Wee County.

I hope those of you who can get your hands on a copy will do so and I hope even further that you enjoy it. Steve, yours is in the post, ser. Nearly.