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Monthly Archives: December 2009


Maybe I should explain the rules of Urban Trekking. Most of us don’t have easy access to the foothills of the Pyrennees, or even the Peak District, and walking for pleasure, in pleasurable locations, isn’t always possible.

Hence, Urban Trekking. You can do it in a day, a half day, or even a couple of hours. You don’t have to carry a tent or wear stout leather boots, you can stop over in a pub. Or get the bus home. And the cool thing is you do it close to where you live. And it gets you fit.

Anyhow, the rules. You must encounter …

1.Something ugly, and preferably made of concrete: a carpark, a 60’s office block, a subway. Something like that.

2. Heritage: a church, a library. Something of at least faint historical interest.

3. The underclass: this includes all breeds of pit-bull. It makes the Trek interesting.

4. Some nature. A field. A cow. A Land Rover. Whatever.

5. A motorway or, at the very least, a dual carriageway.

The idea is to mix the ugly and beautiful, experience the old and new, thrill to the yin/yang explosion of heritage meeting 60’s brutalist architecture-vandalism; healthy outdoor pursuits combined with the thrill of being chased by Staffys, or chavs on BMXs.

Anyway, that’s Urban Trekking. Anyone can spend a night in a haunted castle, but who dares walk through a council estate as twilight descends? In a cagoule?

Urban Trekking

Just said goodbye to Lishman who’d popped over for Christmas and is now on his way to that mythical city of Tunbridge Wells.
‘Royal Tunbridge Wells,’ as Jesse said.

Like Bunbury, Surbiton and Newton Aycliffe, I don’t believe that Tunbridge Wells really exists. People just say the name instead of ‘like, wherever.’

The magazine idea is gestating healthily, and we should be online by March; we thrashed out the details over the course of a four hour Urban Trek which, as per the rules of such an undertaking, took in snow-covered fields, thronged motorways, an underpass or two, an industrial estate that smelled of cheese and onion crisps, and a 300 year old church.

We didn’t get chased by any dogs, and we weren’t accosted by knife-wielding thugs, but it was very cold, it hailstoned a bit, and the roads and paths were ice-covered, so as Urban Treks go, it was bracing.


Just installed a site-meter to count visitors to this site.

We shall see.


The God of locks has taken umbrage with me.

When I picked up Lishman and Jesse from the airport it was snowing and the boot of my little VW jammed shut, with the cold, I thought at the time, but ten days later it still won’t open.

My front door won’t lock either. Well, it will, but only from the inside, and only so long as the key is left in the lock.

And tonight, I tried to get online to do my tax returns, but I couldn’t remember my password, so I’m locked out.

So that’s a trip to the garage, a call to Scotty to fix the door, and a call to HMRC to try and sort out my tax details. This last task will, no doubt, involve telephone queueing for hours, and then answering security questions along the line of what’s the name of my mother’s cat, after which I’ll be back at the point I am now.

But poorer.


I sat on the ledge of one of the massive pillars and my fingertips admired the work of stone-masons eight-hundred years dead. The Cathedral was full.

The choir sang the most beautiful, unearthly harmonies and the organist played notes so deep that they existed below the level of any music I’d ever heard. Ruthie stood beside me in her own reverie, eyes glistening. It was absolutely wonderful.

I wanted to believe in God. I wanted to be a Christian.

But there was no blinding light, no swift conversion; maybe a soft half-submersion, but that was all. I thought, religion is just a human thing, with all the qualities and failings that we humans have. It’s not a god-thing.

I thought, if Jesus was alive, he wouldn’t be here; he’d be working in a soup-kitchen, or smashing down the doors of some bank, preparing to burn the money inside the vaults.

After the service ended, we went and sat down for a while in an empty row of pews near the front. The bishops were loitering, dressed in a variety of gowns and robes of gold and purple, one had a shepherd’s crook, made of gold, and they were chatting to the remnants of the congregation. Volunteers in cagoules and woolly hats cleared away the orders of service that littered the pews.

These are nice people, I thought. Good people.

I try to be good, I thought. I try, and I wish it was easy.
I felt unworthy.

We left the cathedral, and the spotlights that lit the sky were fogging in the freezing air, and we passed the decrepit gravestones and the parked cars and the open area where people had built snowmen and, turning to look back, it was like the most perfect Christmas scene you could imagine: the cathedral, the glow of soft lights, the heavy grey sky, the footprints and the snowmen.

Hungry, we found a restaurant and enjoyed a pot of coffee with cream, shared toasted bread.
Ruthie asked, ‘You ok??’
‘I’m fine.’
‘You sure? Nothing on your mind?’
I smiled, said, ‘Nothing much.’

Then we walked through the quiet snowy streets to the car, and drove home to wrap Chrismas presents and watch movies about Christmas.

Hero Films

A couple of years ago a Canadian film maker, Linzi Knight, who runs a production company called Hero Films, was going to make a movie of one of my stories – I’ve seen her work and I think she’s really talented. But then some bad stuff happened and she had to drop out.

When she’s ready, I hope she remembers me. I’d love to work with her.


I’ve put links on the sidebar to two films based on my short story – Zippo.

I was in contact a lot with Faisal Osman, the Norwegian film-maker who made the first film, but I came across Arthur Swidzinski’s version completely by accident. They’re both very different, and I’m pleased with the results and, satisfyingly, neither is how I see the story in my head.

Anyway, if you get a moment click on the links, watch the movies, and if you think they’re any good, feel free to contact the directors and tell them.

Another piece of news: a guy called Jacob Klimaszewski is making a short film of The Card. I’ll post a link when it’s complete.

Deck the Halls

I love Christmas.

I do.

I love the feasting, the gift-giving, the nativity, the TV movies that always show Santa Claus having some sort of crisis in New York; I love the Christmas Eve visit to the Cathedral and the sound of the choir.

I love it that in the middle of winter we have a festival of food and lights – that we decorate our homes with tinsel and cover fir trees in lights and baubles, and we light candles and have parties and drink wine and beer and spirits. Not much of that bit is intrinsically Christian though; take away the church and the virgin birth and what we’re left with is more of a pagan mid-winter knees-up. Just the sort of thing we need to life the spirits and fill the bellies on the darkest, coldest days of the year.

It’s no wonder that the early Christians co-opted our winter-solstice binge into their brand-new religion. It’s great. And I like it that they co-exist so well, that the full-on winter partying stands happily alongside the celebration of the spiritual.

I intend to enjoy the whole thing. Like I always do.


The night of 21st December was the longest of the year. And the cold snap this weekend means that this month is one of the coldest Decembers since, well, since last December. And that was one of the coldest since a good three years previous.

But the good news is that, despite the onrush of global warming, the days are going to start getting longer; the sun is going to shine a bit more every day.

And it’s Christmas Day in about 50 hours, and I’m on holiday this week, so these are the best 50 hours of the year.

And counting…

Naughty and Nice

Instead of blogging, I should be writing my Christmas present list.

I love gift-giving, and I enjoy hanging around where people go shopping, though mainly to drink coffee and watch people. But I’m not so keen on shopping. Being male, if I have to do it, I like my shopping expeditions to go like this:

1. List
2. Route
3. Timescale
4. End

…but until I get down to writing the list of what presents I intend to buy, for who, I can’t get down to the business of devising a route that will a) represent the minimum actual time spent shopping and b) factor in a touch of flexibility to purchase alternatives should my original ideas be out of stock, or in the wrong size, or whatever.

Having the devised the route, I will decide on when I intend to shop. I like to do at least 80% of it in one go.

When I used to work in the city, it was easy; throughout November I’d do scouting trips, and then roll the whole thing up in one extended mid-December lunch-hour. But now I have to travel in, there’s a larger element of chance.

I have bought a couple of gifts already. Wilson has got a Swiss army knife – he’ll probably never use it but it’s a thing worth owning. Got a couple of books under my belt too, for specific people who I won’t name, in case they’re reading the blog (Wilson doesn’t).

Anyway, here’s the point: do I concentrate on buying specific gifts for people, or do I buy gifts I like the look of and then decide who to give them to afterwards? I know the first idea sounds better, and certain people will always requite certain gifts but, sometimes, if I buy say, a dozen nice gifts, I can share them out in a really good way and no one is the wiser, whereas, if I search for specific things, I never find them.

Then there are cards to buy. I’ve got a roll of thick brown paper for wrapping, so that’s OK, but I’ll need wrapping tape. Labels. String. I’m feeling anxious already.

I need to write the fucking list.