In the world of Blakes 7 fandom, there are many hotly debated issues, but the end of the series is particularly divisive. There are many fans who feel let down by the fact that everyone (debatably) died and that the evil Federation ‘won’. Personally, I have always been happy, although obviously also devastated, that it ended in such a strong way; I would have hated for the series to drag on too long and then just fizzle out. I have posed the question before – if it had had a happier ending, would I still be obsessed with it forty years later?
However, this isn’t an essay about Blakes 7; I’ve just used that for illustrative purposes. My real aim is to talk about the nature of failure and to determine whether I should feel more disturbed by my failures (they are many). It seems, even before the rise of social media, that we have been increasingly encouraged to sanitise our failings and the word “fail” itself has been demonised. The mantra nowadays seems to be “praise the successes, gloss over the failings”. I, for one, am beginning to wonder if this is really wise.
This has been on my mind over the weekend because I have been watching YouTube videos by someone who writes, self-publishes, and also has a business advising other writers about planning their work/lives. The channel is Heart Breathings, if you would like to check her out; I’d say she does about 50% good commonsense and advice and 50% hustle, and there are a lot of YouTube channels out there with much more hustle. I will come clean and admit I watch a lot of YouTube videos in search of inspiration about tackling my own lackadaisical approach to planning. You have my permission to question whether watching YouTube videos is a sensible way of dealing with a lack of enthusiasm and determination or whether it is yet more procrastination.
I watched one particular video in which this writer and her buddy had a writing retreat and I found myself wondering about the fact that she didn’t meet the targets she set herself. Now, she is heavily pregnant which would definitely affect her ability to work, and the word count goals she had set at the beginning of the break seemed incredibly high to me. Although the first day was mainly travel, she was already far behind her target at the end of it and I wondered why she didn’t revise her target based on that fact. It is fine and dandy to forgive yourself for not achieving your targets, but you need to be realistic when you decide whether you can catch up over a set amount of time, and if you can’t, you will need to lower your expectations.
One of the most interesting things my weekend’s viewing has me thinking is that I should care more when I fail. If failure doesn’t upset me, then what I was trying to do wasn’t important in the first place. I’ll be honest: I’m getting on, I don’t have time to be doing things that I don’t care about. Failure is a feeling, as are success, love, and hunger. Why would I waste my remaining days ignoring such feelings or, worse, not feeling them at all? To a certain extent, we judge which things we care deeply about not only by how happy we are when we succeed, but also by how we feel when we fail at them. When something is important to us, the stakes are automatically higher. We can shrug off a disparaging comment from a stranger far more easily than the same comment from someone we know and admire.
From the partial reading I have done of The Bullet Journal Method (see my previous One Book July musings), one strong idea I have taken away is that if you continually fail to do a particular thing on your list, you would be wise to examine whether it is actually important to you. I am guilty of carrying certain tasks forward from day to day, often tiny tasks that take no time at all to do, because I don’t feel any sense of guilt that I didn’t do them. I need to look at each of these things and ask if I actually care about it. If I do, then I should feel guilty that I am pushing it endlessly into the future; if I do not then I shouldn’t be trying to do it at all.
It reads as if I just spent the whole weekend watching videos, but that is not the case. I spent a couple of hours on Saturday sketching out a version of a planning page that would help me to set goals for the next quarter of the year and break them down into a list of tasks for each month and week. Doing this, I discovered that I don’t actually have a problem with the goal-setting side, and I can see the actions I need to achieve the goal, but I struggle with the concept of assigning particular things to set time periods. Perhaps it is because the projects I am currently working on really consist of doing the same thing repeatedly. Take, for example, searching for a job, which involves checking out particular sites for vacancies each day. I can’t control how many suitable jobs will be advertised in a week, so I can’t plan ahead to put in, say, two job applications every week. All I can do is repeat the process and ensure that when I see a vacancy that I think will suit me I send an application in a timely manner. That doesn’t count as ‘planning’; it is, by its very nature, reactive. There is a more proactive method which is to send of a set number of ‘cold-call’ letters every week on the off-chance that someone might be thinking about hiring, but that doesn’t appear to be how the job market works nowadays. There is a similar conundrum with writing my novel: I am trying to write a minimum of 500 words a day and the aim of finishing first draft will be achieved when I’ve finished telling the story. In this instance, the proactive course would be to determine at the outset the number of words I want the novel to come in at and set goals of when I want to be at the 25,000 or 50,000 words mark. That is certainly something I want to consider. Funnily enough, knitting is the one thing where I find it very easy to set goals and break down a project into components – when I want to have the back or the sleeves finished by. In fact, if I could approach different types of projects with the same clarity that knitting has, life might be a little easier.
So, here we are, heading into a new week and it might seem negative to start off with the objective of feeling more disappointed and unhappy if I don’t do things well, but being disappointed by my failures is a key component in moving forward. After all, fail is a four-letter word, but if I own my failures and use them as rocks to form the foundation of the life I’m trying to build, it does not have to be a bad word.
Last week I wrote that I wasn’t going to push myself to complete my knitting, but it turns out I did! My Inigo Cardigan is done and I am almost entirely enchanted by it.
Pattern: Inigo by Lisa Richardson Source: Rowan UK pattern brochure “New Vintage DK” published 2018 Size: To fit bust 32-34″/81-86cm Materials: Sublime Yarns Luxurious Tweed DK (discontinued), 60% wool/40% cotton Needles: 4mm KnitPro Symfonie wood straight needles, 30cm long
The pattern is very well written and explained everything you needed to do very logically. There were a couple of places where I didn’t read it carefully enough, but I can’t blame the designer for my lack of attention. This project is knit in separate pieces and seamed together, which is my preference, but I know it is off-putting for a number of knitters.
The yarn was surprisingly pleasant to work with and I would say improved slightly when I put the garment through its post-completion wash, dry and pressing. I don’t generally like cotton, but this combination of 60% wool with 40% cotton seems to yield a very nice fabric that doesn’t take too long to dry and feels summery, but still holds shape.
Speaking of shape, I must address the one thing I’m not so happy about with the finished garment and that is the gapping where the fronts meet. I think this is caused by three factors coinciding:
a) I could do to be five pounds lighter than I am!
b) The front bands are knitted together with the body on the 4mm needles and are therefore not quite as firm as I would like them to be; I think it would be better if the were knitted on a smaller needle to give a tighter gauge, or crocheted.
c) There are only five buttons; the gapping would be reduced or eliminated if there were more.
When I had finished the knitting and seamed the pieces together, I searched through my button box for suitable buttons. I decided on the silver ones because I feel the shape of the cardigan coupled with the tweedy yarn lends this garment a slightly Chanelesque air and metal buttons suit this very well.
I am sure I will revisit this pattern, probably knitting a version in wool and addressing the closure issue. However, I love this version and will enjoy wearing it. It is a really strong entry into my spring and summer wardrobe. I wasn’t too sure how many balls of the yarn I started off with (13, 14, 15?), but I have enough left over to make a little sleeveless top at some point.
But, wait, that’s not all the knitting news! I have started the Norah Gaughan Vogue Cabled Cardigan.
I have completed two sleeves! I can’t believe how quickly this is knitting up. I love working on it and it feels so good to finally have a project I know I will complete using the old gold Sirdar Country Style yarn. This will be the second project in a row where the yarn has been donated to me when friends and family have been de-stashing. I have been listening to my collection of Blake’s 7 audio books from Big Finish whilst knitting. There are a lot of excellent stories on these CDs and they are just the job for long stretches of stocking stitch with no shaping, which makes up the majority of this pattern. When, in the fullness of time, I move on to the cabled ‘scarf’ part of the pattern I shall need to concentrate fully and that’s when I will need complete silence.
This week, I’ve been paying my respects to the late Paul Darrow by re-watching the 1973 BBC production of Murder Must Advertise in which he plays an advertising copywriter. It’s a role which grows in complexity as the four-part story unfolds and Darrow is excellent in it, capably portraying the character as ingratiating, bullying, enmeshed in a derailed lover affair, and, through it all, managing to be utterly charming. He wears the sharp 1930s suit and tie very well, and ultimately, he gets a chance at heroism of a sort. It’s a very good performance as part of a very good ensemble cast.
Five years later, Paul Darrow would don the iconic leathers to portray Avon in Blake’s 7 with pretty much the same set of characteristics! Indeed, Vila (Michael Keating) was often to be seen in a similar pose to the above when Avon spoke to him. I see many parallels between the two performances and I salute Mr Darrow for being able to play characters who might, on the surface, not seem worthy of our admiration, and show that they, too, have their good sides as well as their bad.
I do enjoy this particular set of Lord Peter Wimsey adaptations, the ones starring Ian Carmichael. If you can track down Murder Must Advertise it’s well worth a watch, as are all the other stories in the series. (Blake’s 7 is also represented via an appearance in Wimsey’s The Nine Tailors by David Jackson who played Gan in the sci-fi series. That story also provided a part for a young John Duttine who went on to star in the BBC production The Devil’s Crown in 1978, then To Serve Them All My Days and The Day of the Triffids in 1981.)
Actually, mentioning To Serve Them All My Days leads me nicely into the tin shown in this photo:
I use it to store ink cartridges, but I am unsure of its original use. It belonged to my maternal grandparents and had been used for many, many years to store a lock of hair, although I have no idea whose hair it was. For some reason, I always think this tin dates to the First World War, thus the connection with To Serve Them All My Days which begins in that era. This is one of those little items that provides a tangible link with people I loved, and it is my joy to be able to put it to a useful purpose and cradle it through another generation. It also reminds me I am going to have to use up those ink cartridges and to do that I am going to have to use up the red ink in my Cross pen. Perhaps when I finish the green ink I’m currently using to write my daily journal I will have a couple of weeks of writing that in red. Sounds like a plan.
Finally, I wanted to just refer back to last Friday’s post where I wrote about trying to use my memory more. Starting with small steps, this week I’ve been doing a memory exercise which I think some people would think is ridiculously simple and others ridiculously hard. Each morning, immediately upon waking up, I tell myself what day of the week it is and what one thing I really need to get done. It’s easy to wake up befuddled and with a firm belief that it is totally the wrong day of the week, and so this is an interesting challenge.
I hope you have had a good week and are looking forward to the weekend. At the moment it looks like we can look forward to rather less rain next week which will be a pleasure.
Haruki Murakami wrote an entire book entitled “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”; I have never read it because, well, running? However, the title of this blog post is a nod to that book.
At its best, knitting, for those of you who don’t do it yourselves, is a soothing, mechanical hobby, which can lull your mind into imaginary worlds full of ponderings and vague, nebulous plans. One of the things I imagine whilst I am knitting is what life will be like when I have finished the project I am working on. I imagine wearing the finished object, what I will wear it with, where I will be when I wear it, how it will make me feel, how it will fit. Sometimes I imagine clothes I might buy to wear with it. Sometimes I imagine an entirely fictional self in a different world, wearing that actual item.
At other times, of course, knitting is a test of skill, dexterity, and calculation which leaves your mind no room for anything but solid facts. You need to keep hawk-like eyes on the pattern to make sure you commit no errors or omissions, you have to count your stitches repeatedly to reassure yourself that none have gone AWOL.
I have two projects on the go at the moment. The sea-blue cardigan is creeping along and I have not worked on it as much as I could have, or should have, this week. Instead, I have started knitting a cosy winter cowl for myself using the set of ten mini skeins of wool from Noodle Soup Yarns that I received at Christmas. I am calling this the Mama, Weer All Crazee Cowl, partly because the range of ten colours is not quite as harmonious as these first two suggest, and partly because working 300 stitches per row of knit one, purl one rib for somewhere around a length of 20 inches is an undertaking that only a crazee mama would consider.
Here is a close-up of the lovely sparkly wool from Charley of Noodle Soup:-
I have one minor misgiving about this project: I fear I may get to the end and find that I’ve knitted a crazy, sparkly, multi-coloured boob tube!
The second stripe is the one I was working on when the news came through that one of my favourite actors had died: Paul Darrow, the man behind the wonderful character of Avon in Blake’s 7. Some of the sparkle has left this world, but it lingers on in memory and in this project.
“I am not expendable, I am not stupid, and I am not going.”
Avon, Blake’s 7,
If you’re not familiar with Avon, follow the link for a dollop of his sardonic wit – just try to ignore the lamentable quality of the video capture.
2018 is singing a triumphant closing number and 2019 is poised to make its entrance so what better to do today than reflect on some key themes from the year? You might want to make yourself a cuppa before you head into this – it’s going to feel like you’ve been reading for a whole year before you get to the end!
Chapter 1 – the ignominy of scriptwriters
I’m going to start with Kojak, but I promise I will bang on a lot less about this subject in the New Year (maybe!). Today I want to talk about how cruel script-writers can be. Since July, I have sat through four series of this excellent show from the 1970s and in almost every episode, Detective Bobby Crocker has crossed a busy New York road. Every time he crosses a road, he does it perfectly – he looks in both directions before he crosses, he carries on looking both ways as he crosses, if a car approaches, he calmly and politely alerts the driver by holding up his hand, if a car stops he generously raises a hand in acknowledgement and thanks. I am not kidding, every time I cross a road now, I think about Bobby Crocker and his road-crossing technique!
I therefore consider it a betrayal that, in Series 5, the scriptwriters decided that he should get knocked over by a car whilst crossing the road! This scene could have been done with any other detective in Manhattan South and been utterly understandable. But no, they had to choose Crocker!
(It’s okay, he only banged up his elbow and lived to fight another day, but that’s not the point.)
Chapter 2 – knitting
So, on to the serious stuff. At the end of 2017, when my knitting spirit was slightly under par, I decided to set myself the goal of knitting one garment and three pairs of socks for each of the four seasons, with the year divided at December 21st 2017; March 20th 2018; June 21st 2018; September 23rd 2018 and ending on December 20th 2018. I actually knitted three garments (the chunky sweater, sleeveless top, and maroon superwash sweater) plus two pairs of socks (both in Mr B Yarns – “Where the Wild Things Are” and “An Inspector Calls” colourways). I am not downhearted because that’s an improvement on the previous couple of years. Also, I am only counting my personal knitting – it would be a lot more impressive if I added in stock I’ve knitted for my Etsy shop, and the Christmas gift jumper.
The most important thing is that I love and wear the items I’ve knitted this year, so I consider it good, solid progress. What I am taking forward into the new year is a renewed commitment to work on the project/s I have on the needles every day, rather than to revert to my normal ‘boom or bust’ nature. A tiny bit of progress every day is the best way to go, and I find if I pick up something intending to only knit a couple of rows I will probably still be there at the end of an hour thinking ‘just one more row’. This is especially true of the Gaudi caridgan I am currently working on.
I do like the idea of dividing the year into the four seasons and I will continue with that for the coming year, just in a more organic, less goal-driven way.
Chapter 3 – reading
I haven’t read as much in 2018 as I intended to, although I have read more than I did in the previous few years so, again, there’s been a bit of progress.
The reads I have recorded were:-
“Frenchman’s Creek” Daphne du Maurier – re-reading of an old favourite
“Eight Girls Taking Pictures” Whitney Otta – gift from my daughter and a thoroughly fascinating book
“Hypothermia” Arnaldur Indridason – Skandi-noir crime-thriller passed on to me by my daughter
“The Great Gatsby” F Scott Fitzgerald – another re-read; another old favourite
For Christmas this year I received four books as gifts, so these will be my initial reads going forward:-
“Little Miss Christmas” Roger Hargreaves – read this as soon as I unwrapped it on Christmas morning
“Iceling” Sasha Stephenson – science fiction, really keen to read this as soon as I’ve finished the Murakami
“Killing Commendatore” Haruki Murakami – new book; my favourite author; lovely dustcover, but simply stunning covers underneath it; started reading this on Christmas Day
“Uncommon Type” Tom Hanks – I’ve seen so many snippets about this since it was published and I’ve been thinking about getting it, so great to receive it as a gift, and keen to read after I’ve read the others
As with the knitting, I am finding with reading that if I do a little each day I achieve more than if I think I will spend a big block of time reading something.
Chapter 4 – creative writing
Back in the early part of summer I put in a lot of work on my creative writing and I hit 10,000 words on the first draft of what I like to refer to as my novel. Then I stopped. I had good reasons for stopping, not to do with lack of enthusiasm for the project, just that my attention was needed elsewhere. Towards the end of the year I’ve been thinking seriously about short fiction pieces, and looking at Medium as a platform to get some of my writing past the draft stage on into an arena where it stands a chance of being read. I intend to write more about this in the next couple of weeks as I firm up my plans.
Chapter 5 – weight and health
I think in 2018 the most beneficial thing I have done is change my diet, lose weight, and become more active. It took a big change in my lifestyle to prompt me to do this; I had been unhappy with my weight and generally feeling lumpy and unfit for a long while, but I was stuck in a rut of spending too much time on work I didn’t particularly enjoy and not enough time on creative things that I would enjoy, then compensating myself by over-eating.
Now I am two stone lighter than I was; I have eaten well, though not to excess, over Christmas without either gaining or losing any weight; and I feel a hundred times better about myself than I have for a long while. The trick (for me, at least) is to recognise what your particular downfall is and then just apply yourself to correcting it. For me, it’s snacking – I never have been one for eating huge meals, but will happily graze on sweetery until the cows come home. Forcing myself into a routine of eating three meals a day and not snacking in between has been the key as far as eating goes, and I think if I maintain this then I have a good chance of establishing a weight that I am happy with and can maintain.
That is one side of the equation. The second, equally important thing for weight loss is EXERCISE. I don’t think you can lose weight just by changing your eating (input); you also have to address your exercise (output). I initially committed to doing at least 30 minutes of exercise a day and quite quickly upped this to an hour a day. About 50% of the exercise I do is walking because it’s the thing I enjoy and I can easily do and I find it beats cycling into a cocked hat for general fitness.
The other 50% is down to that blue plastic step! No, it isn’t pretty; no, it isn’t exciting; but, boy, does it work! I don’t use it for fancy workouts; I don’t follow some wonderful programme – I literally just step on and off it for 30 minutes. Sometimes I listen to music whilst I’m doing it (Dusty Springfield is great!); sometimes I watch TV (The Professionals; Alias Smith & Jones); I just make sure I do at least one session a day – two if it’s rubbish weather or there’s some other reason I don’t want to go out for a walk.
The third element in my fitness triumvirate is the Apple Activity App (and it’s only the Apple Exercise App because I choose to live within the Apple ecosystem as opposed to the alternatives). I use this to keep me accountable for exercise and general movement. It tracks three things:- Move – I keep this target purposely low; it’s currently set to making sure I burn 360 calories per day and most days I will double this, every so often I will triple it. ‘Move’ is hard to define as I notice I get a higher ‘score’ if I sit and knit than I do if I actually go out and walk, but you take it as it comes, really. The app also tots up your Move streak and at the moment I have met my Move target for 110 consecutive days. Exercise – I have this set to 30 minutes per day; again, I usually achieve more than this. Both timed workout sessions and general exercise count in this one, although you have to go for a brisk walk rather than a general amble for it to be deemed exercise. Stand – This is always set to a minimum of 12 hours ‘standing’ per day – which means that you have got off your chair and moved around for a minimum of a minute in each of those 12 hours. It’s a good one because it is surprisingly easy to remain relatively motionless for huge stretches of time, and on this one sitting knitting doesn’t count as ‘standing’ – you do actually have to get up and walk about.
Using this app has shown me that I am very motivated by achieving targets, no matter if they are completely arbitrary and even if I don’t really understand what constitutes a particular achievement. Give me a big, shiny, virtual medal and I’ll obey you!
Chapter 6 – stationery
My love of stationery has continued to thrive in 2018 and I have been lucky enough to be able to use my fountain pens and lovely notebooks even more as I have gone through the year. In February I took part in InCoWriMo for the second year and totally sucked at it! I will do it again in 2019 and I’m determined to succeed in sending out 28 letters this time. I’ve corresponded with some lovely and interesting people doing this challenge and it is well worth it.
I didn’t increase my store of fountain pens during the year, and I don’t have any intention of doing so in 2019. I did receive two lovely new bottles of ink as Christmas gifts. These are from Lamy’s new Crystal ink range and they are both simply gorgeous. I feel rather ho-hum about Lamy’s standard inks so wasn’t sure if this higher-end range would inspire me, but I am very impressed with the initial try-out. Although they aren’t huge bottles (30ml compared to 75ml in a bottle from Graf von Faber-Castell), this keeps the price at a point where you can comfortably put it on a gift list. (I am a normal person some of the time and I can completely understand that people who don’t use fountain pens might baulk at shelling out £23-£29 for a bottle of ink from lines like Graf von Faber-Castell and Pilot Iroshizuku.)
I am still a sucker for a pretty, or simple but incredibly well-made, notebook. In fact, I choose my handbags based on how easily I can fit an A5 notebook and pen into it. On that front, I received a further very thoughtful gift at Christmas, a leather case to carry three pens which is proving to be such a good item to take in and out of your bag.
Chapter 7 – being a fan
A huge part of this year for me has been about being a fan, primarily of Blake’s 7, but also of Dr. Who, Kojak, Alias Smith and Jones, and the hundred other little flames I keep burning across the years. Being a fan brings me so much pleasure and it is a joy that I share with my grandson which is even better than experiencing it alone.
This year was a happy one as we went about celebrating 40 years since the first showing of Blake’s 7, and we pushed the boat out with a weekend convention where I met loads of lovely people: fans, crew and cast members. I am still smiling with pleasure every time I think about it. It was sad, too, as the inimitable Jacqueline “Servalan” Pearce passed away; a tiny, but larger than life lady who leaves behind the most marvellous memories with all who met her, however fleetingly.
I know it has also been a tough year for Ian Kubiak who organises the Cygnus Alpha conventions and I just want to ackowledge how much poorer my life would be if I had not stumbled upon his web page in 2016 and reignited my love of Blake’s 7. Ian, his family and all who help out at the conventions have earned a very special place in my affections.
Chapter 8 – word of the year
I am not keen on New Year’s Resolutions, but for a few years now I have chosen a ‘word of the year’ to give me something to focus on. These have been “Return” (2016); “Flexibility (2017); “Home” (2018). Whilst I didn’t really manage to be terribly flexible in any way at all during 2017, I think keeping home in mind through 2018 helped me a lot and it was very successful. I have always been very much a homebody – it is where I feel happy and free to be creative. For me, there is nothing better than shutting the door and knowing that nothing needs to intrude unless I will it. Except, of course, for those lovely people I don’t actually know who like to spread joy by phoning me from foreign climes to suggest that my broadband will be disconnected unless I give them control of my computer.
For 2019 I have chosen “Establish” as my word of the year and this is to help me focus on getting things onto a firm footing through 2019 whilst trying to be more the person I want to be and less the person that convention suggests I should be. I am looking forward to seeing how this works through the upcoming year.
Chapter 9 – visitors on WordPress
I have loved writing my blog this past few months, but I think even more than the writing, I enjoy seeing all the countries where visitors have logged in to view my posts. In 2018 these have been (from lowest number of visits to highest number):
Switzerland – Thailand – Philippines – Netherlands – Austria – Japan – United Arab Emirates – New Zealand – Ukraine – France – Portugal – Egypt – Russia – Croatia – Indonesia – Sweden – Hong Kong – Finland – China – South Africa – Australia – Romania – India – Ireland – Germany – Canada – United States – United Kingdom.
So, if you are the person who visited from Switzerland today and read my Quote of the Week from Bob Dylan, thank you, I hope you enjoyed your trip. And, of course, my heartfelt thanks to everyone who has come to look at my tiny plot on the internet and has enjoyed what they have read here.
Whew, this is a mammoth blog entry. I would like to end it by wishing everyone all the best for the coming year.
After a fine run of warm, sunny autumn days, it seems we have turned a corner and yesterday was dark and dank without respite. A day for hunkering down with steaming mugs of tea, for switching on the lamp to provide a pool of light on the desk, for typing and typing (trying to improve my speed) and for relishing the quiet.
Relishing the quiet and the pool of light most of all. Since I abandoned my job this summer, I am missing a regular income intensely, but not missing the bustle and brightness and, lets face it, austerity of modern offices. It seems that the more firmly we wed ourselves to technology, the less appealing, perhaps less human, our offices become. We can’t live without the technology, but I know I am not alone in thinking we need to forge a better connection between the computers and phones and our heritage products, the pens and papers, the files and filing cabinets, the people. One case in point is the ability to track exactly who is involved in a project, and what they are doing, simply by looking at a list on the front of a folder – we’ve lost that and I miss it.
On the other hand, I do not miss the early years in my last job when finding information in a folder would often start with unlocking the next-door warehouse, which was only used for storage and therefore freezing on all but the hottest summer day, climbing the stairs, then climbing the stepladder, then braving the clouds of dust to locate the file in its cardboard box. No, that I do not miss.
All of this is simply to preface a brief update on my home desk. After I reorganised my books at the beginning of last week, I was struck with the need to move my desk yet again. There are really only two places in my flat where the desk can possibly go, yet it yo-yos between these two positions with alarming frequency. I think, possibly, it will end up being a summer position/winter position thing. Now it is in the ‘winter position’ – a dark corner, but rather cosy. In summer it makes sense to have it over by the window to take advantage of breezes and natural light. (Isn’t it funny how quickly the lovely summer breeze becomes the annoying winter draught?) Both positions have equal value and neither position is quite perfect, and so I despair of ever finding any resolution as to the ‘winner’.
The staple items on top of my desk, regardless of the position, are:-
Lamp – Due to the way I had the desk laid out in the summer I didn’t have the lamp and I missed it.
Laptop – My trusty MacBook is little and lightweight and I love it. I don’t for a moment regret moving to this from my desktop iMac. There is a lot to love about a desktop computer, but in a small flat it can be overwhelming.
iPad Pro – Music centre, and handy extra screen when I want to reference something without taking too much focus off what I’m doing on the MacBook. I have the Apple Pencil and use it occasionally, but nowhere near as much as I expected I would when I bought the iPad Pro.
Diary, Notebook, Pen – In the summer these were pretty much permanently perched on the back of my settee and only taken to my desk as and when needed. Now the desk is back near the settee they have gravitated towards living on the desk.
Bamboo magazine tidy x 2 – One holds various notebooks and stickers together with my journal; the other houses printed copies of my CV, some other random paperwork, and an A5 Filofax which I have set up to prepare for next February’s International Correspondence Writing Month (InCoWriMo).
Mouth and Foot Painting Artists‘ Calendar 2018 – This is a charity which my mum supported and I have carried on. A couple of times a year, they send out a bundle of cards featuring artworks by people who are unable to use their hands, yet are supported and encouraged to find other ways to express their creativity. As someone who can’t ‘draw’, ‘paint’, or otherwise express creativity in a visual format, I am in awe of them. The pack with Christmas cards always includes this A5 format calendar and for several years it has been the calendar I have displayed near my desk.
Blakes 7 etched coaster – Because it’s my desk and of course there is going to be something on the Blakes 7 theme.
Having done what passed for some work at my desk, the afternoon drew to a close, what little light there had been in the day departed, and my knitting began singing its siren song to me. As I age, I am becoming reconciled to the bright summer nights, but in my heart I have always loved best the long, dark evenings of autumn and winter.
Long, dark evenings, or the summery stretches of balmy half-light in the garden – what’s your preference?
Here is an admittedly low-quality screen grab of the moment in Blake’s 7 when Tarrant is handed a pencil and utters the immortal line “A graphite writing stick. It’s the first time I’ve seen one of these outside museums.” This line has always amused me for a couple of reasons – firstly I like the idea of a dystopian future where you still get taken on school trips to the museum; and secondly that Tarrant and Avon go on to simply use this ancient technology as if they have been doing it all their lives.
I was reminded of this clip when I unpacked my subscription box from Mark + Fold this summer and found this:-
And if you are interested, this is how it writes:
Thank you, Mark and Fold, for making me a happy girl.
This time last week I was on my way to London for a weekend convention devoted to the 40th anniversary of Blake’s 7 – Terry Nation’s dystopian sci-fi series which ran from 1978 to 1981. It was a fantastic weekend; I had such a good time; and now I am home and finally calming down from all the excitement I wanted to write a bit about what being a fan means to me.
There are two things about Blake’s 7 which have kept me hooked for 40 years. Looking at the show itself, its huge appeal was and is that it is massively character-driven. There was no budget for spectacular special effects, models were built in peoples’ garages out of anything they had lying around, such as the infamous 2-hairdryers spaceship.
Instead of loads of explosions, monsters, and epic space battles, this show had intelligent (and sometimes not so intelligent) scripts, the characters grew with the series, they became our family, our friends, the people we hung out with on a weekly basis. We rooted for the good guys, but we loved the bad guys equally well. These were not disposable villains, they were their own strong characters with their own motivation. Just as Blake and his crew made sense, the Federation also made sense and I’m sure just as many fans would choose to be the arch-villainess Servalan or her sidekick Travis as would wish to emulate the worthy rebels Blake or Cally. However, the point is we knew them all, we loved them all.
We also relished being fans of show called Blake’s 7 in which there were never 7 crew members (you had to count the two computers in to make up the numbers), and from which Blake himself disappeared entirely after the first two seasons – delightfully perverse.
It helped, as a female fan, that the leading ‘romantic’ male – Avon – was played by the utterly delectable Paul Darrow – in black leather; every sardonic line uttered impeccably through cruel but kissable lips in a voice that slid into the ears like liquid chocolate glides down your throat. I’ve got the audio-book of him reading his autobiography and, still, after all these years, that voice! In the series, he would kiss the girls, then he would thump them or kill them, and then he would turn away and never look back. We couldn’t get enough of him! At the convention we gave a huge round of applause to the costume designer who first put him in the black leather.
For the later two seasons, as cast members left, some new faces joined the crew. Guess what? We loved them too! We embraced them, their characters grew, the show continued to be character-driven. The end of the third season was very hard on me as the gorgeous ship, the Liberator, died; for the ship and its computer were characters in their own right and, no, there has never been, nor will there ever be, a ship so beautiful. Through the fourth season the stories slid inevitably down to a final shoot-out with Avon in full Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid mode, surrounded by Federation guards, raising his weapon to take one last soul with him….
At the end, the bad guys endured and the good guys were blown away – the emperor of all perverse storylines.
For me, that was it for a while. The show was over, we didn’t have video tapes or regular repeats, although I have a novel by Trevor Hoyle based on the series and perhaps that dates back to the earliest days.
All of which brings me to the second strand that leads to fandom of such enduring proportions – the time and the place. When Blake’s 7 started, I was 18 years old, I was working with people who understood the sci-fi genre and with whom I could happily discuss each episode after it aired. If the characters in the series were friends and family, part of that feeling came from discussing them with real friends and family. By the time the final episode aired, I was 21 and I had a 4-month-old baby. The four years that the series ran were the years when I matured and worked out pretty much who I was; and part of who I was turned out to be a sci-fi geek.
I think everyone who becomes a fan – whether it is of a particular band, a TV series, a film franchise, comic books – retains one thing and that is a sense of childlike wonder. The object of the fandom is keyed into that like a genetic code and no matter how long elapses, hearing a tune or revisiting a story immediately releases the wonder and you are once again as you were when you first encountered the object of your passion. Yet, over time you accrete new experiences to add on to the original bedrock of your fandom and so your relationship with the object grows ever more complex; a pearl growing larger day by day, year by year.
For me, after a lull, the next proper resurgence came in the 1990s. Once again, I was working with people who were themselves into the sci-fi genre, who understood what that meant. There were monthly Blakes 7 publications that I bought at the newsagent on my way to work. The whole series was released on VHS and suddenly it was possible to relive the stories. My babe-in-arms had grown into a young lady, I was able to attend a convention (Who’s 7 1996 – a combination Dr Who and Blake’s 7 effort), I had my coffee every day at work in a Blake’s 7 mug! Myself and two of my best friends had Blake’s 7 evenings where we watched our way through the entire series and when I think of being a fan now, that is all part of what I think about. From this era, I have books and magazines, a copy of Paul Darrow’s fiction book “A Terrible Aspect” signed by Paul (Avon), Gareth Thomas (Blake) and Martin Bower (designer of the Liberator teleport bracelets).
Time moved on, people moved on, and ultimately I found myself working in companies where no-one cared for sci-fi and other things took precedence. Even then, though, Blake’s 7 remained near and dear to my heart; the transition took place from video to DVD and I dutifully collected all four seasons on DVD, as you do. My Season 1 DVD came with a tiny model Liberator and the cover was signed by Gareth Thomas – Blake himself. Then there was the internet, allowing all of us fans to geek to our hearts’ content.
My recent return to the fan fold came about in February 2016 when I was discussing my Blake’s 7 fandom with my grandson and I decided to look into which year the Who’s 7 convention took place. The first thing that came up was a link to the page for Cygnus Alpha 2, due to take place in April of that year. With a few tickets left for sale, I took no time at all for consideration and booked myself a place. Through that, I found out about Big Finish who produce excellent audio books and dramas using original cast members and new talent. Now, with three Cygnus Alpha conventions under my belt and a little group of friends who I’ve met through these, I know that, for me, Blake’s 7 is a once and always love.
So, 40 years a fan…. and counting!
Last weekend I had the honour of meeting Roger Murray Leach who designed and partly built the original Liberator ship for the series. I was able to tell him how important the ship was to me, that the first shot of the Liberator in the series had me hooked for life. So here, in writing, my huge thanks to him and to everyone who makes being a Blake’s 7 fan such a joy.
In honour of the wonderful Jacquline Pearce who lost her last tussle with cancer this week, a quote from Blake’s 7 (best ever British TV show, of which I am still a great fan). Jacks “Darling” played the arch-villainess Servalan and has had a very definite influence on my lifestyle, although that has only dawned on me in recent years.
To set the scene for the quote, Servalan at the height of her power in the Federation has been captured in her own presidential palace during a coup when our heroes, the freedom fighters from the Liberator, arrive on a totally unrelated mission. Avon encounters her chained in a cellar by her enemies.
Avon (slightly disappointed): Is that it? Have you finally lost your nerve? Have you murdered your way to the wall of an underground room?
Servalan (bitterly): It’s an old wall, Avon… it waits.
I think we all encounter walls during the course of our lives and perhaps they are always there, waiting for us. We deal with them according to our own natures, using our particular skills or tendencies.
Servalan, naturally, escaped this particular wall and lived to fight many more days. It’s like that with a lot of the walls you encounter – you get round them or over them, or you laboriously demolish them brick by brick.
For those of you wondering, the Latin phrase in the title translates to “hence these tears” and I like it slightly better than the traditional “rest in peace”.