My 50 Favourite Things (part 3)
25 - The Internet
I can't imagine life without the Internet - I use it every day to find recipes, movies, books and pretty much anything else that sparks my interest. It's all there at my fingertips and I love it.
When I was at university in 1995, I got my first computer. Well, I say that, but really it was little more than a typewriter masquerading as a computer. I got it from an uncle (who'd obviously progressed to better things), but my initial enthusiasm waned when I realised that all the things I'd imagined you could do with a computer, were just impossible with this computer. The damn thing was so crap it wouldn't even save my work, so every time I used it I had to print out whatever I'd written otherwise it would be lost forever.
In the university library, I discovered 'proper' computers. They saved stuff. I had a great set of floppy discs with all my essays, stories and plays on them. However, for some reason I didn't think to try using those computers for anything else. My room-mates (four completely mad librarian students) knew all about email and the Internet, but being a bit slow on the up-take, I didn't begin to discover that stuff myself until a few years later when I was working for the Press Association. My job as Regional Theatre Editor demanded that I search the Internet for information and create text about every professional production in England. I was amazed at how easy it all was and I've been in love with that lovely sexy Internet stuff ever since.
Yeah, I realise that sounds a bit weird, but hey - I'm a creative type. I'm allowed.
26 - Theatre
I've written quite a lot about theatre elsewhere, so I won't bang on about it here. However, I think it's worth saying that theatre changed my life and gave me a way of expressing myself that hadn't really been open to me before. Becoming a performer came later, but it was my first experience of seeing professional theatre that showed me a way of communicating with the world that was more exciting, more real and more stimulating than any other.
27 - Card Making
With so many traditional crafts now overtaken by commercialised (and rather tacky) versions, there's something very satisfying about making your own greetings cards. I've been creating cards for years, but I first got into it while experimenting with wood and lino cuts. I became fascinated by what you could achieve with those parts of the block that were left blank (printing white). It was like having an additional colour to play with.
One Christmas, I decided that rather than go out and buy cards, I'd make one I could print from a lino block. The image opposite shows a later version of that first card, taken from the original lino cut (with additional decoration added via Photoshop). I've also made a lot of pop-up cards, though I seem to have forgotten some of the early skill I had for these. No doubt a little research will return me to my prime position of Master Pop-Up Maker-Man, and possibly a Hub to go along with it.
28, 29 and 30 - Peter, Paul and Mary
My parents didn't have a lot of records when I was growing up, and those they did have were divided into two very different sections: there were the old 78 rpm discs featuring the likes of Bing Crosby, The Beverley Sisters and Guy Mitchell, and then there were the modern LP's (Long Players, for all you young folk out there). These were the ones I was really interested in, but since my parents weren't great record buyers, there weren't very many of them, so I played them a lot and my all-time favourite was an album by Peter, Paul and Mary.
American folk trio Peter Yarrow, Paul (Noel) Stookey and Mary Travers had become famous when their mix of politics and music echoed the voices of the people during the civil rights movement and the famous March on Washington, where the trio appeared alongside Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Harry Belafonte.
But of course I didn't know any of that while I was listening to their songs and trying to work out the chords for 'Blowin' in the Wind', '500 Miles' and 'The Cruel War'. Their gorgeous harmonies and slick vocals were a delight to my ear and even now, I don't think there's another folk group who can touch them.
31 - Brazil
No, not the country, but the movie made in 1985, starring Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Michael Palin, Robert de Niro and Bob Hoskins (among many others). I totally love this film, not only because it's directed by Terry Gilliam (probably the most talented director of all time), but because it's such an off-the-wall, chaotic plot.
The action takes place in a futuristic, dystopian society, where a Big-Brother style corporation rule over a population of terrorists, shoppers and harassed workers. There's a wonderful optimism in the protagonist's struggle to discover the truth and his determination to win the heart of the woman of his dreams.
Of course, it all turns to crap in the end, but the journey is fabulous.
32 - Coffee
Back in the mid-eighties, I lived in Ipswich in Suffolk. In the town centre there used to be this great little tea and coffee shop with a restaurant above it. I can't say I ever noticed the smell of tea, but the smell of the coffee beans always hit me like a smack in the face whenever I walked into the shop. I don't think I'd ever really thought about coffee in its natural form before that time (having been used to the instant variety), but after my first time in that shop, 'proper' coffee has been a regular item on my shopping list.
33 - Chocolate
I don't think I need to say much about this one - we all love it!
34 - Bix Beiderbecke
I first heard the music of Bix Beiderbecke when it was used in a series of comedy dramas by British writer, Alan Plater. Known as 'The Beiderbecke Trilogy (consisting of 'The Beiderbecke Tapes', The Beiderbecke Affair' and 'The Beiderbecke Connection'), the music was an essential part of the storylines. I'd heard trad jazz before, but this was different - there was a freshness and sparkle to it that I loved. I went straight out and got hold of one of Bix's albums on cassette and I played it so much the tape broke.
Beiderbecke was a self-taught cornet player who made his name with orchestras such as the Wolverines and the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. His compositions and recordings influenced a great many jazz instrumentalists and his 'ballad' style eventually led to the 'cool jazz' of the 1950's.
35 - Sherlock Holmes
I've covered my adoration of Arthur Conan Doyle's infamous detective quite considerably on Hub Pages, so I won't add anything more here. Suffice to say that I love a good crime novel and the Sherlock Holmes series are some of the finest examples of detective fiction. The hundreds of movies and TV series based on ACD's characters, also add to the irresistibility of the stories.
36 - Bed
I like being in bed. I like sleeping. I love being able to lie between those clean, warm, comforting sheets, with the thoughts of the day running through my head. Of course, there's other things to do in bed, but perhaps I'll leave that to one side for now...
37 - Murder!
Apart from a great detective story there's nothing better than a lovely, grisly murder. I'm a big fan of the history of murder, or rather, the history of solving murders, though there's something to be said for the unsolved ones too. The hundreds of theories around the Jack the Ripper killings are fascinating, even if only to whet our appetites while some clever clogs shoots down the latest suspect with a long list of reasons why he, she, or it couldn't possibly be guilty.
My fascination with murder is of course related to my writing. Coming up with a story that will grip audiences the way I've been gripped by the imaginations of Louise Welsh, Mark Billingham or Stuart MacBride, is always at the back of my mind. What is it that draws us into the murky worlds of death, deceit and dark deeds? Well, if I find, out, I'll let you know!
38 - Weeding
I'm not a natural gardener so I won't pretend to be one of those elite 'soil-people' who can boast a green-fingered flair that some folk have in spades (no pun intended). However, I do like a tidy garden and one of the tasks that always leaves me feeling particularly worthy is to do a bit of weeding. Digging up those offensive growths and casting them aside leaving a nice clean un-weedy flower bed, is one of those satisfying jobs I never get tired of.
39 - Scotland
I moved to Scotland in 2004 and I can't imagine living anywhere else. Don't think there's anything more to say on that, really.
40 - 17th-Century London
I've always been interested in history. Ever since I had to give it up as a subject at school in order to do 'O' level music, I've wondered if my life might have been different if I'd stayed where I was. Probably not. Nevertheless, there are certain periods in history that intrigue me. When I started writing a children's novel about a boy searching for his father in 1630's London, I became more and more interested in what life was like in those days. Looking at maps of the period is great for the imagination, as it gives a real insight into the shape of the city at that time. Everything I discover about the lives of Londoners holds a new fascination - the names of the streets, the way people worked, the things they bought, the flesh markets, the architecture - it's all so fascinating.
Mind you, I'm not saying I'd want to have been alive in those times. With death and disease round almost every corner, it's a wonder anyone survived to adulthood. But in my imagination, it's a truly enthralling place, a place where I can live out my own adventures and still be home in time for tea.
42 - My Son
41 - Being Published
Being a writer, I naturally want to see my name on the cover of novels, in literary magazines and on suitably highly-regarded websites, but there's more to it. Having your work published is a sign of acceptance, an acknowledgement that what you're doing is okay, good, brilliant, even. In an ideal world all us talented writers would get paid huge sums of money for our work, which would then allow us to continue doing what we love - writing, giving up the proverbial 'day-job' to pursue a full-time creative career. But of course, it's not as easy as that, and sometimes all we get is that little bit of recognition that tells us we're doing okay. In any case, getting published is a pretty damn good feeling.
43 - Juggling
I absolutely love juggling.
Actually, that's not true. What I mean is, I love trying to juggle. Years ago when I was studying drama, myself and other students would try out different skills (collectively known as 'circus skills') to see if we had any aptitude for them. After all, anyone who wants to work in theatre needs to have as many strings to their dramatic bows as possible.
I bought juggling balls - the kind filled with seeds, so they won't roll away when you drop them. I bought juggling clubs - silvery ones that were well balanced and nice to handle. I practised regularly. I tried all sorts of clever tricks. But I never quite got the hang of it.
But you know what the worst thing was? I can teach juggling. Yes, I know - how can someone who can't juggle, teach juggling? I don't know, but I ran several workshops for kids where I demonstrated my meagre skills and for some strange reason, everyone I taught was able to master juggling very easily. Like falling off a log, or a bike, or a wall (or any other thing that's incredibly easy to do). Sometimes, they'd pick it up in minutes. Literally minutes!
But not me. I can't juggle. Still.
44 - Typing
Having wanted to be a writer form an early age, I naturally needed to be able to type. When I was 12, I bought one of those portable typewriters - a Silver Reed one. It was small and cheap but it did the job and I taught myself to type in a matter of weeks. These days of course I use a laptop and my years of typing mean I can just about manage to do it without looking. But the thing I've always loved about typing is that the words seem to appear like magic, as if I have some incredible talent that gets all that stuff swirling around in my head down there on the screen.
45 - Puppets
Like mask-making, I've been dabbling with puppets for many years. Though I'm not so good at making the little costumes, I've made quite a few heads for glove puppets. These are usually created by shaping a head out of Plasticine and then covering it with papier mache. It can be a bit tricky to get the Plasticine out, and usually the only way is to cut the head in half and then glue it back together again. It's a fun thing to do with kids, too, and it leads very easily into getting them to put on their own puppet shows. Drama queens one and all!
46 - Shakespearean Sonnets
I was never a great fan of Shakespeare until I saw Derek Jacobi performing some of the Bard's sonnets. One in particular grabbed my attention:
When my love swears that she is made of truth
I do believe her, though I know she lies...
It was great the way he brought the language to life as if it were the very language we still use today - there was nothing difficult or archaic about it. I wanted to be able to do that too, so I learned a few sonnets, including this one, number 138. I often recite it when I'm driving to work as it gets me breathing properly and gets my day off to a good start.
47 - Hub Pages!
I love Hub Pages - they give me an opportunity to vent my spleen about anything and everything, as well as get feedback from the HP community, which I have to say, is the best part of it. I'm proud to be a Hubber and I intend to continue for many years to come.
48 - John Betjeman
English poet John Betjeman is one of my favourite of the post-war poets. Unlike some of my other favourites, his poetry was always accessible, easy to understand, and often very funny. The poem I love most is this one, 'A Subaltern's Love Song'...
By roads "not adopted", by woodlanded ways,
She drove to the club in the late summer haze,
Into nine-o'clock Camberley, heavy with bells
And mushroomy, pine-woody, evergreen smells.
The language is so rich and atmospheric, you can almost believe you're right there in Camberley in the back of the Hillman, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn in the driving seat.
49 - Earl Okin
I first saw Earl Okin when he was supporting Ralph McTell on a tour back in the early Eighties. I was struck by his unique guitar style and how he used bossa nova rhythms in many of his songs. Because of this, the chords he used leaned towards jazz positions and gave his music a very interesting slant. In any case, he made such an impression on me that I went home and tried to write a song in a similar style.
Like Jake Thackray, who I've written about on Hub Pages, Earl Okin's songs are often comic and rather risqué. His lyrics are clever and witty and he has this amazing thing he does with his mouth that makes him sound like a trumpet player - it has to be seen to be believed.
50 - (Insert Own Favourite Thing)
To be honest, I think having 50 favourite things is too many, so I'm going to stop here.