Midlothian Council is resurfacing the steep hill through Auchendinny, a village just south of Edinburgh. It’s causing minor chaos. These days they don’t burn off the surface, they use a mechanical planer (for the mechanically minded, the cutters were developed from mining and rock tunnelling technology – video here. Note: the vid is NOT of Auchendinny!). Not only do these planers cause less pollution than their gas- or oil-burning ancestors, they are also much safer. The fire-breathing versions had a tendency to set fire to things, unsurprising considering that the burner resembled an inverted blast-furnace aimed down at the road.
I used to be fascinated by those burners. I saw one stuck on a hill much steeper than the road through Auchendinny. The roadmen were more concerned with the vehicle being stuck than with the effect the burner was having on its surroundings. Not satisfied with merely melting the tarred road, the machine set then set fire to it. Dense black smoke billowed into the street, so dense that the machine’s operator was unable to reach the valves that controlled the fuel. Had the hill been in open countryside it might not have mattered. But it wasn’t. It was in a residential street lined with houses with small front gardens, their front doors quite close to the road. Have you ever used a blowlamp? I mean a real one, one of those pump-up things made of brass that burn paraffin and strip paint off doors. The noise they make and the heat they produce is awsome. This road burner was like a million of those and it stripped the paint from three front doors and several front windows that looked onto the street.
So, residents of Auchendinny. You think you have problems?
I have never been much of a ‘joiner’. I lasted about two months in the cubs, much to my parents’ chagrin after having bought all the kit. A couple of months ago I joined HarperCollins Authonomy website and put one of my novels ‘Playpits Park’ up on it. It got some excellent reviews, and advanced from 6,000th place to 230th. The aim is to end up on the ‘Editors Desk’ but with no guarantee of getting published (fair enough – especially when you learn that the fastest way to get there is to spam other contributing authors). Rather like the cubs, it was not for me. Two days ago I zapped the lot.
With the cubs it was too much ‘dib-dib-dib’ and woggles. With Authonomy it was too much ‘I am close to the top, so if you back me then I’ll back you’. I also found that my writing output (my new novel and also this blog) dropped close to zero. Stephen King is right. In his 2002 book On Writing, which I have only just read – shame on me – I was reminded that I should be writing for myself, not writing for others. Leaving Autonomy reminds me of George Melly’s remark that it was like being unchained from a lunatic*.
Spending so many hours on the site reading budding authors’ works (a few good, some bad and some extremely bad) has made me sympathetic towards agents and publishing staff whose daily task is to plough their way through the slush pile. In the last couple of months I have read the first pages and chapters of several hundred novels and commented on many. In the end I simply switched off.
*Though he was talking about something entirely different, and apparently Sophocles said it first (I’m no classics scholar – I Googled the Melly quote, just as you are about to do…)
Being a dutiful son-in-law has its compensations. I have been dragging my in-laws around the Museum of Flight at East Fortune ((well worth a visit if you are around this way and WWII airfields turn you on) seriously though, it is quite a place). Note the double brackets. I haven’t forgotten my A-Level maths.
I have to admit that I get quite turned on by engines (that doesn’t mean I’m a petrolhead like Clarkson. He likes CARS. I actually understand how engines work and can rebuild them).
I’m wondering how to shoehorn the one in the picture into Pam’s 1951 BSA Bantam. It will present major difficulties, the main one being that this engine is twice the length of her bike.
No need for words (apologies to my German friends, but you know how it is with us Brits).
I was confronted in Edinburgh yesterday by one of those ‘green machine’ pavement sweepers. The problem for me – for both of us actually – was that we were in an alley barely wide enough for the machine. Had there been a proper confrontation then the machine would have won – not only was it spraying a cloud of dust-laying water, it was whirling a pair of steel wire scrubbers. I hate to think what they would have done to my new shoes. And to my feet. I smiled at the driver. I was further into the alley than he was, and he had an engine, it was only right that he should reverse. He glared back through his windscreen and backed along the alley. It was done with a degree of reluctance and I guessed he was following a council directive not to destroy too many council tax payers. Either that, or he shouldn’t have been in the alley with his machine.
It reminded me of something I saw the year before last in Edinburgh’s George Street. Someone (perhaps the same guy, who knows?) had filled up the water tank of one of these things with diesel. It was hardly an event to rival BP and the Gulf of Mexico, but it left a slick of scrubbed-in diesel fuel down the pavements of one of the City’s smartest streets.
I have been away, isolated from the Internet for eight whole days (not sure if that is a good or a bad thing, but it explains why my last post on this site is over a week old). In the late 1970s I tried to learn Swedish, I even took lessons. The firm I worked for was tendering for a large (huge, actually) contract in partnership with a Swedish firm, but the contract didn’t materialise. Nor did my Swedish, because I can remember only two words of the language, the words for ‘no’ and ‘nothing’ – so it is just as well that Henning Mankell’s ‘Wallander’ novels have been translated into English. Also Stieg Larsson’s, of course.
I spent most of the week reading Larsson’s ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ and then his ‘The Girl Who Played With Fire’. Now I am halfway through ‘The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest’. Each novel is about twice as long as many thrillers I’ve read. Hornets is huge, 746 pages. Are they good? Good…? (Bears, woods and Popes come to mind). The fact that I have been hooked by them so completely speaks for itself. Stunningly good. Very different.
The bad thing is that shortly after delivering these three novels to his publisher, Stieg Larsson died of a massive heart attack. Read more here.