Sunday, August 27, 2006

City of Tiny Lights by Patrick Neate

I recently finished reading the subject novel. It's in the detective fiction genre, leaning very much toward the "hard-boiled detective" sub-genre. It takes place in modern London -- post 9/11, but prior to the July 2005 attacks (it was published in June 2005, so it was probably written in 2004) -- and its protagonist Tommy Akhtar, a cricket aficionado, devoted son, some time private investigator and some time idol to West London's thug-lites. Tommy's parents are Indian (as in, from India) but lived in Uganda, then moved to London.

It portrays a London that I've never seen. Being a tourist when I've visited there, of course I'd not be very much aware of hookers, drug dealers, pimps, and all of the rest of what's generally called "the underbelly of society." Even from reading some of the authors of the police procedurals (another sub-genre) set in contemporary England -- the Dalziel & Pascoe series, the Inspector Morse series, the Inspector Linley series, the Coffin series -- there isn't a real feeling for this aspect of the city as there is in City of Tiny Lights. It's probably because the protagonist, Tommy Akhtar, isn't some aristocrat or employee of Scotland Yard.

It's an earthy story. Tommy is nowhere near perfect, but he's working hard at being a good person and a good detective, despite being rather poor and despite being a person who is discriminated against at many turns because of his dark skin and because he is not a native of the U.K.

I'm going to look for more stories from this author.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Just One of Those Days

Yesterday did not start out well. I'd left my important black bag at the stationery shop. That bag holds a number of things, among them the ID I need to show to gain access to my place of business. So, at 4:30 a.m., I was in the stationery shop and, indeed, I found my bag. Only 20 minutes out of my way, but still an annoyance.

And then, no matter what I ate or did yesterday, I was HUNGRY!!!! All day it was like that, until after my workout. I had three chicken strips from McDonald's and a medium fries. I think I just needed more fat in my diet. But I tried everything -- eating protein (slower digestion and longer-lasting satiety), engaging my mind (I was developing a new knitting pattern), journaling, meditation, walking ... NOTHING WORKED! All day my stomach was growling as though whatever I put into it was getting metabolized in two seconds.

So far I'm down 3.3 lbs, which is a good thing. I don't feel as though yesterday's binge eating (I still have totaled the calories) has been a huge setback, which is a good thing. Today, I'm just moving on.

By the way, I had a fun time knitting last night. I met some new people, and I got to see my good friend Miriam (who always brings her wonderful dog Sheba). I got to show them my magnificent new yarn (from and I actually got a bit of knitting done.

Life is pretty good.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Getting Into Shape Should be Easier

I hate exercise. I do it, but I hate it. I like being strong and I like being able to walk without running out of breath, but I hate getting there. And I hate maintaining.

Someone needs to work out a better system.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Espresso Tales, by Alexander McCall Smith

Ed and I have had the pleasure of reading a number of books by Alexander McCall Smith. We started out with his series, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, which features the formidable Precious Ramotswe, a traditional Botswana female detective. I don't recall how many books there are in the series now, but we've read them all, the last one being Blue Shoes and Happiness.

Last night I finished Espresso Tales, which is a sequel to the book 44 Scotland Street. Both of these are the collected series he had been publishing in one of the Edinburgh newspapers on a daily basis (if I understand it correctly) and they are an interesting and often funny satire on an odd group of characters living in an Edinburgh apartment house (the address of which is 44 Scotland Street). There is Bruce, the narcissist, who owns the building and shares his flat with Patricia (they have separate rooms -- just roommates, you see), who has taken some time off between high school and college to figure out what she wants to do with her life. She ends up working at an art gallery owned by Matthew, whose rich father has set him up in this little gallery with the knowledge that his son is no good at business, but at least this is better than him doing nothing.

Matthew spends a lot of time drinking coffee in a shop owned by a woman called "Big Lou," who is in her 40s. The shop used to be a bookstore, so she is reading anything she can get her hands on in order to make up for a missed education. Also frequenting the coffee shop is a painter named Argus who has an interesting dog, Cyril, that likes to wink at women and drink beer (as well as coffee), among other things. One of Argus' friends in Domenica, a 60-something anthropologist who also has a flat at 44 Scotland Street.

There is another interesting little quartet of people who figure into the story, but who aren't as tied together as the others. This is Irene and her husband Roger. They have a son named Bertie who is quite gifted, and whom Irene keeps pushing in so many ways. In the first book Bertie is only 5 and he's taking saxophone lessons, learning Italian, attending yoga classes, and seeing a psychiatrist (Dr. Raeburn). Actually, Bertie only sees the psychiatrist for about 15 minutes each session because his mother spends most of her time talking with the man. And Bertie only see the psychiatrist because his mother insists on it from extensive reading of some other psychologist of the Freudian school. Oh, it's a maddening read when you see what this kid is going through, but it's a great send-up of the screwy ideas people get into their heads about raising children.

Anyway, if you're looking for a good book to read, I'd recommend Espresso Tales. You don't have to read the first book, 44 Scotland Street (in fact, I found many of its story lines frustratingly unresolved), in order to get a grasp of what's going on in the latter, but it could make a well-rounded experience with these characters.

The Last Cup of Colombian Coffee

My dear friend Ruth and her mother are kind enough to bring coffee when they visit from their home in Bogotá. It is really not a special or premium product for them; it is the basic coffee that they can purchase any day at the supermarket.

To me, it is heaven in a cup! It is smooth and mellow, unlike the burnt-coffee taste that comes so often with the "gourmet" brands one purchases at outrageously high prices from Starbucks or any of the other specialty coffee places out there.

This morning, I am drinking the last cup. Despite careful rationing (only on weekends, only 4 to 6 cups brewed at a time), I was down to the last of the grounds this morning. I brewed a modest 4 cups, which nearly fills the oversized coffee mug Ed and I purchased on a visit to Seattle some time ago. (I love drinking my Colombian coffee from a Seattle mug -- a certain poetic justice, I think, to show the Starbucks capital of the USA that I have found something infinitely superior to their muddy water.)

Ruth y Judit, mis amigas, mis hermanas Colombianas, muchas gracias para la cafe muy bueno. Es especial tambien, porque es de sus corazones.

¡Ahora tengo solomente una minuta la beber, porque mi casa esta mas terrible!

(Translation of my clumsy Spanish: Ruth and Judith, my friends, my Colombian sisters, many thanks for the great coffee. It is special also because it is from your hearts. Now I have only a minute to drink it because my house is terrible!)

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Customer From Hell

Oh good grief! I've been dealing with the most impossible customer at the stationery shop lately, and he was back again today! This guy is so freakin' unbalanced, I can hardly believe it.

OK, first of all, he comes in about a month ago on a Friday night about 10 minutes before closing and he's looking for a sympathy acknowledgement card to send out for his mother's recent funeral:

1. He doesn't want the kind that the funeral home provided. Fine, we have them in our shop and we can put her name in the space provided and even match the font.

2. He wants his own wording. Fine, we have all sorts of blank cards and we'll print up whatever he wants.

3. He wants a larger fold-over card than what we have. Fine, we can order something.

4. It has to be spectacular. He also wants his mother's photo on it. And pink roses. OK, let me recommend this very fine paper stock from Crane that really makes the colors pop.

5. He loves it. But he wants it larger. No problem, they make a size that, when folded, is a little bigger than 5" x 7".

6. OK, but now it looks too formal, and he wants it in pink. We'll look it up and get back to him on Monday.

The following Monday, we call him because we've found two things at least that will work. We can still special order the one paper from Crane. Even though it's not pink, we can add a lot of color to it and it will have an overall pink cast.

He comes in that week on Wednesday. He doesn't like anything they've shown him. It has to be larger (about 5" x 7"), it has to be pink, and now he tells us he wants a tri-fold. He's got three people running around looking for this stuff. Finally, the owner comes up with a solution. She shows him a sample pack from a local paper wholesaler and recommends he contact them.

The following Tuesday, he's back. He has a sample of the paper he has ordered, so now he's ready to sit down and discuss the layout with me. Except that he wants me to get the aforementioned sample pack from downstairs. I go and get it. He opens it to the specified sample, and that's all he ever does with it. He just has to have it on the table in front of him as we're doing this. So, I get the whole layout sketched out with all of the wording, the fonts, and whatnot. He wants me to show him color samples. I tell him that I can't do color samples until I have his actual paper stock in hand. Great, it's coming in the following Monday. I tell him to drop it off and I'll call him when I have some samples to show him.

The following Tuesday (last week), I have a migraine and I'm working on three rush projects. He comes in. The owner tells him that he can just leave the paper with her, but, no, he insists on meeting with me and he won't take much time (all of his prior visits have been for 30 minutes or more). Fine, I come upstairs, get the paper from him, and tell him that I'll get to it soon.

He comes in on Friday last week. He has the envelopes now. He won't just drop them off; he has to meet with me. Fine. I got the envelopes. Then he asks when he's going to see some samples because he needs to get these written and mailed out. (Oh, like he hasn't wasted my time and everyone else's!) I tell him I will have them today. He wants to know what time. I tell him at 3:00 p.m.

I actually had all of his samples ready at the end of the day on Tuesday (yesterday), but that was neither here nor there. He was to come in at 3:00 p.m. today to look them over and discuss them. I did one in full color and one in a burgundy kind of duotone. I did them both on pink and on plain white.

He didn't come until 5:00 p.m.!!!!! And then he was so happy with what he saw that he came at me to give me a big hug!!! I literally put up my hands and told him no, but he came at me anyway. I was actually holding back his arms! I couldn't believe him!

And that wasn't all: He now wants white paper, trifold. I'm going to source it for him and get it. AAAUGGHHH!!

Do I have a sign on me that says, "Hey, weird people! Come over here!" Well, I'll tell my husband about it soon and we'll have a good laugh. What a day!

50,041 Words

I've been involved in a personal project for the past month in which the object is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, no matter how bad it is.

This was started by a guy in California who set up this event called NaNoWriMo -- National Novel Writing Month. It's supposed to take place in November, but that will be a terrible month for me to get anything like this done because of it being a big month for retail businesses, so I gave myself the challenge to write in the month of July. And then I couldn't help myself so I just started in on June 28th and went to town with it.

It is, in a word, terrible. In two words, utter crapola. This novel is nowhere near readable, but that isn't really the point. The point is to get one's arse in a chair and write, no matter how badly it's going. And there's no time to go back and edit (well, no time if you're working two jobs and fighting migraines and are responsible for making sure you're wearing clean clothes to work, etc., etc.). For me, this was an exercise in letting go of my perfectionistic tendancies. Believe me, I was so depressed last week that I nearly didn't finish this at all because it was so horrid.

In fact, this novel is so bad that I don't have a title on it, other than "The Great American Crapola Novel." It was supposed to be a romantic comedy. In some places I probably achieved that, but in other places it reads like a spy thriller / suspense novel and in other places it reads like a bad soap opera. In fact, if I just wrote in identical twins who were switched at birth, lost their memories, and then had a penchant for falling in love with people who were all wrong for them, then, yes, it would qualify as a soap opera.

So, forget asking to read any of it, because it's horribly unreadable. I even screwed up the whole time line in these last few days of writing, so you'd be completely lost if you did get past all of the repetitiveness and the woeful lack of much description.

But, I did it.

Good grief, if I can do this for 30 days, what else could I accomplish????