A.J. Walker

writerer

Plans

Not going to put the gubbins of my plans here but here are the very broad outlines. Needless to say there's a lot to do.


This year’s plans to include:

  • Writing
    • Finish story for anthology I’m working on
    • Finish at least first draft of one novel length book
    • Start another novel or novella
    • Keep an eye out for other submission options
    • Aim: get Published a minimum of FOUR times (eek!)
    • Write for local website
    • Keep my website and blog up to date
  • Work changes
    • Look for other work opportunities
    • Consider re-training if appropriate
    • AND GET ANOTHER JOB
  • Guitar
    • Fix the Takamine
    • Continue with Sanctuary Open Mic
    • Expand repertoire
    • Write own songs
    • Take some lessons to identify best way forward to improve - esp. strumming
  • Reading
    • Same as last year a minimum of 40 books (tracked on GoodReads)
  • Food & Fitness
    • Eat better (more cooking/fewer take outs)
    • Run and/or walk
    • Consider other options eg cycling
  • Activities
    • More gigs than last year (shouldn’t be difficult) to include at least one festival
    • Walking (I’ll put it here as well as the food/fitness as it’s for photo/story opps too
  • House
    • Needs a lot of work chucking and some repair/maintenance
    • Basically turning it from A house to my HOME.
    • Lot's more (and similar) shelving for all me books (and CDs)
    • Priority is to turn spare room into an office/music room.
      • Would clear things from downstairs, whilst being a better environment for writing and strumming the geetar.
  • Transport
    • Need to consider a lot here too. Re: car/bike/motorbike et al.

All in all a lot to consider and move on.

Some of these, including the food/fitness, guitar and writing may well result in a weekly update on my blog (a fine reason to keep the website ticking over whilst also acting as a prod to do better at some things).

Next thing is to firm up some/all of these and more importantly act on them. Eek!

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Planning on Planning

The last few months - and longer - have been difficult one way or another. And I have not bothered with New Year's Resolutions. Then again, there shouldn't be a time for resolutions. If you decide you need to do something don't wait til January 1st to get it into motion. Anyway, it's the well into the second half of January and I ain't doing resolutions, but I am doing planning. In that I am planning on planning with respect to all sorts including; work, writing, reading, guitar, and fitness.

Will put some of the planning up here and then track progress as the year goes on.

But now I've got to get some of these plans down. Catch yer later…
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Flower of Scotland

You may have noticed that I have been a bit quieter on the blog recently - usually I write 7-9 blogs per month. But I've had good reason for disappearing a little as my dad died in the second half of December. He hadn't been ill and it was a shock. There's never a good time I know but coming up to Christmas it is a complete bugger on multiple levels. It is doubly difficult for us as mum died in the same week of the year 4 years ago. Christmas is going to be a bummer going forward. I nearly hid from Christmas this year - we were to have it at my dad's - but in the end I did go to my sister's family and I am glad I did.

One of the other problems around Christmas is if an autopsy is required then you can't arrange the funeral for weeks as the coroners office is closed over Christmas and New Year. In our case the funeral, which was yesterday, was over four weeks after he passed. It is frustrating and extends many of the immediate issues (you can't contact anyone important to cancel things (or claim for funeral)) without a Death Certificate. Anyway, we are there now.

Dad 1 - 2013

The funeral went as well as such a day can go. Lots of family and friends turned up, apparently with some people not even able to get in the room. Dad was a respected man and will be missed. Many came back for a drink and a sandwich later at the Fleetwood Hesketh, where my dad used to go every week. The service itself was nicely presented by the chaplain from Southport Hospital and the music choices went down well. I still can't get Flower of Scotland out of my head.

Will probably write a couple of follow up blogs on this and dad. I'm always a bit unsure about how much personal stuff to say and how much to keep to one's self: my dad would say nothing I know. We'll see, after time, where I get to on thinking about that.

In the meantime it was a nice goodbye with everybody. Like mum, he has gone too early.

MumAndDad
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Books 2019

I made it to my goal of reading 40 books in 2019 and just got to 42 before the year was up. Life sometimes got in the way but in the main I made steady progress through the year. Usual suspects in terms of style and types of reads (lots of SF & F with some non-fiction) with a few new authors too. My last book was 'Embers of War' a SF saga from Gareth L. Powell, which was a nice easy read. I am in danger of mixing all my SF reads up though with reading that so close to reading books from James A. Corey's 'Expanse' series and Stephen Donaldson's 'Gap' series. Reckon I'm going to have to refresh my head between each SF book by resetting with another style else my head will explode.


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I have set my goal for 2020 for another 40 reads and I can but hope they are as good as last year's. Bring them on. I'm not going to plan what I'm reading in advance as I always seem to veer off and just go with the flow.
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Volcanoes, Guitars, Aeroplanes and Motorbikes

When I was a young kid there were four things I wanted to do at some point in my life. One was learn the guitar, another was to fly in a plane and I wanted a motorbike. Lastly, but not least, I wanted to climb onto and into a volcano. I've got a couple of guitars, I've flown countless time and I've had a couple of motorbikes (and want to return to that too). I've also climbed up (or been driven up) few volcanoes.

Seeing the people in New Zealand on White Island (Whakaari) it is horrible to see what has happened, but I understand the desire they had to go and see a volcano, preferably an active one. I'm sure they'd have preferred it a little less active, but they probably wouldn't have wanted to go there if it had been dormant. Then it would just be a hill.

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Arenal, Costa Rica
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Arenal

I've been up a few active volcanoes and a few dormant ones. My most disappointing one was Arenal in Costa Rica, because for years it had been bubbling away reliably putting on a lovely show at night with the lava plopping up into the air. But I got there about a year after it had stopped - and I don't think it has restarted again yet. The locals want it back as the tourists come for the volcano (and the natural heated waters - albeit in awful naff attractions). The two best volcanoes I've been to were active in so much as there was a great deal of steam and sulphur coming out of the craters which I walked into. These were El Chichon in Chiapas, Southern Mexico and Mount Sibayak in Northern Sumatra, Indonesia.

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Mount Sibayak
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Sibayak
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Sibayak

The first one, El Chichon, I went into with mates from work back in 1996. It was an epic day which I have described previously (click here). The latter was several years ago when I was travelling in Malaysia, Borneo and Sumatra. I expressly went to Berastagi so that I could climb one of the volcanoes - either Mount Sibayak or Mount Sinabung. As it happened, on the day I chose Sibayak as there was a trail which went right by my hotel and it should have been a bit shorter. It turned out to be a more difficult walk than I expected as for every thirty metres you went up it seemed you went down another twenty before going up again. It was really tiring. But when I got up I was rewarded by colourful lakes, steaming vents and sulphur. It was everything a volcano should be–minus the lava and pyroclasts. Still, it felt safe and I was glad to have put the effort in. As it happened the other volcano, Mt. Sinabung, exploded about ten days after I was there causing 10,000 people to be evacuated. There but for the grace of whatshisface and all that.

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Irazu

Vesuvius and the other dormant volcanoes I went to in Costa Rica were all impressive - especially the latter ones with the beautiful lakes in the crater - but being dormant or extinct they weren't the same. I can understand the desire to go to an active volcano and would do it again and again given the chance.

Anyway, about that motorbike…
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A Fine Line

Doing a delivery job is a bit of a lottery every day. Imagine all the bad driving you see every day and then put yourself on the road for 200 miles plus each day, whilst having to stop regularly on every type of road and track you can think of. That's interesting enough on any day, but in the winter when the days shorten the difficulty is multiplied painfully by the early fall of dusk and then night. At the moment come 4pm it is very hard to read numbers or names of houses/businesses and when you are looking at delivering twenty or so an hour in a suburban environment you are suddenly down to 12-14. Which can add hours and stress to your working day. As for finding isolated houses on unlit country roads… well that's harder still (not to mention slowing down and parking up on narrow roads to make your delivery (or just to read a house name)). Oh, then theres the cold, the wind, the wet. The ice. Yep, winter stinks.

Yesterday I was driving around 4:15pm on the road south of Llanwrst which is a National Speed Limit road. And I was doing around 50mph with only one vehicle ahead. So far, so standard. Then I see the reverse lights come on the black van in front of me. On a National Speed Limit road! And they didn't have hazard lights on. I did well to even realise what it was doing. I swerved out a little to give it room. In the horrible dusk light I then saw across the middle of the road step ladders. So there was the explanation for his sudden reversing. I had to swerve again to miss them. I actually just clipped the top of the ladder and in the mirrors saw it rocking slightly in the road. I was terribly lucky not to damage the van seriously (or even 'just' get a flat) or veer into the oncoming reversing van. Anyway, I breathed a sigh of relief and got on with the last few drops of my day in the dark thankful. I hope the guy who didn't secure his ladder properly has unusable ladders, but I dare say they'll be usable still. At least next Friday maybe he won't be in a rush to get home and he'll do a better job.

The day before one of my colleagues fell when she was getting out of her van. She smashed her arm and feared it was broken. After six hours in A&E she was relieved to find she'd only dislocated her elbow. At least that means she'll be out of work for a week or two rather than months. There but for the grace of… well, we all each day could have this type of thing happen to us. Trips, falls, dogs, all sorts of hazards are so much more dangerous in the dark. Not so often step ladders.

It's nice to be lucky. And hopefully that luck can hold out.

Stay safe out there people. And please secure any roof loads.
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No Singing, or Dancing

Missed four Open Mic nights on the trot in October and November due to work and a dodgy throat on the last occasion. I finally got up an running again a couple of weeks ago when I made it and played four songs at the Sanctuary. It was the first time I've played on the ground floor. Did four of my usual songs: 'Sweet Carolina', 'Somewhere Down the Road', 'Couldn't Get Arrested', and 'Whiskey in My Whiskey.' And so it was that I was looking forward to getting back up again yesterday.

I got back quite late thanks to a rather heavy work load in and around Denbigh (officially 126 drops, probably 140 in reality). Most of the town is okay but the ones around the old town centre are horribly slow with the narrow streets and little one ways and the like. Wasn't sure I'd get home in time to get out again, but in the end I was home for 7.25pm. After a quick change I was out and at the bus stop for 7:45pm, then into town and in the Sanctuary for 8.30pm. Huzzah! I could see plenty of people downstairs, but no guitarists or PA. I was happy to see it would be upstairs or downstairs then…

But no. There were no guitarists there 'cos the Open Mic had been cancelled. Apparently it had been heralded on Facebook, which is all well and good but I don't do FB, do I? So it was a couple of beers and home without giving the singing muscles a go. Ho hum.

I suspect the next Open Mic will be cancelled. As in two weeks time it will be Election Night. Hopefully get one or two more Open Mic's in before the end of the year.
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Tick Tock, Dandelion Clock

Been a while since I've done a Mid Week Flash Challenge from Miranda over on the Purple Queen website. But here is one for this week. The challenge is for stories up to 750 words (my story below is 699 words). Click on the photo to go through to the website and have a read of the site and give it a go sometime.

Dandelions
Sculpture by Polish artist: Mirk Struzik


Tick Tock, Dandelion Clock

Karl Hosman hated dandelions when he was young. They took over his parents lawn quicker than the Germans circled the swimming pools on their family holidays (and that is quick!). But he did like them whilst they were dandelion clocks. They had an undeniable beauty, especially on a sunny day and whilst he wouldn't no longer blow on them it was hard not to as a child - it would be like walking past a football and not kicking it. He thought dandelion clocks and their flowers related to each other like caterpillars and butterflies; albeit that the damn flowers seemed to take over whole towns sometimes and for months too.

In art college Hosman focused on sculpture and mostly he’d build mythical towers with marble and steel, and studied busts of everyday people he knew. His art was all about people and what they built, he eschewed nature: apart from dandelion clocks, which many people noted to him. He claimed they’d invaded his psyche as some alien presence which he hadn’t been able to shake. He got several commissions for his sculptures; mainly for his fantastical towers and castles - some were in galleries in the Americas and Asia as well as Europe. He was a master with mixed modern materials.

And so it was that he was commissioned by his own city council to create something unique for the city park, but something with a nod to nature, he eventually chose to produce a single shining steel stalk of some ten feet tall, which over a period of a week produced a giant dandelion clock. People came and marvelled at it from many miles, and in an area where art was not usually a thing (apart from graffiti along the railway lines) that was something to be proud of. He quickly became a bit of a celebrity, getting on the local and national news - not a common thing for a young artist. The headlines were positive: he was The New Real Deal and live sculptures were going to be the next big thing in public art. He anticipated more commissions.

Things went wrong a couple of weeks later, whilst he was on holiday. He was sat at the pool (inevitably behind the Germans who he was sure had moved his towels when he was at breakfast) when he received a text from local planning officer he’d dealt with for the park: ‘What’s going on? You never said about this. We only have planning for the one sculpture.’.

Hosman was puzzled and went online to see if he could find anything about it online.

‘Shit!’ he exclaimed, before taking a large swig of lager. ‘I don’t believe it.’

His wife sat up and removed her sunglasses, quickly regretting it as she couldn’t see anything in the brightness. ‘What’s up?’

‘It’s the dandelion. It’s gone rogue.’

‘What?’

‘The park’s now got three sculptures not one.’

‘I was there, love. I saw it. How can it be? Someone copycatting your work?’

‘I wish. I think it’s a tad more problematic than that. I think it’s the nanobots. They’re replicating each other.’

‘I thought they were programmed to build the clock then stop.’

‘So did I, so did I. Me thinks that there’s been a problem in the software.’

‘So when will they stop then? Maybe it’ll be just these three. That’ll look quite good in any case.’ She secretly thought that there should have been more than one anyway and thought a collection of them would look more balanced. Still, it was worrying that it was doing things out of their control.

Hosman sat up. He’d found a live feed from the park. There were images of the metallic seeds blowing across the park. He could see from the trees behind that there was a strong westerly wind. Not good at all. Suddenly dreams of myriad commissions seemed to be disappearing to be replaced by multiple lawsuits. By the time he got back from holiday the town could be swamped by the things and his career could be over. Still, at least he hadn’t programmed the sculpture to go beyond the clock to a flower. Now that would have been really bad.
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Capel Garmon: a clearer visit

It was a lovely day on Monday this week and I was back in North Wales around Llanwrst and Trefriw, including getting down as far as Capel Garmon. I switched the order of a couple of drops so that I could finish the route there in order to take the opportunity to revisit the neolithic burial chamber - on a much nicer day than two weeks or so ago when it was very wet and immensely grey. It gave me the chance to go and look at the Gorsedd Stone on the adjacent rise. I didn't have my camera with me but got some okay shots with my lightly battered phone instead. Easy to get nice shots when the day was so nice.

So here they are (the previous photos, and the write up, can be seen here).

As well as being much clearer in the late afternoon light I also got proper shots where you can see the massive cover stone above one of the chambers. In addition to this I went over to the Gorsedd (throne) Stone on the adjacent rise which is obviously part of the site assemblage.


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View of the Capel Garmon burial chamber.

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View into the burial chamber.

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Covered chamber.

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Beautiful view from the covered chamber.

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Massive stone covering one of the chambers.

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Original entrance way into the burial chamber (with chambers on either side of it). Gorsedd Stone on rise roughly in line with it.

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Second, uncovered, chamber

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Gorsedd Stone

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Gorsedd Stone (burial chamber in background on right side)

All in all a worthwhile revisit on a beautiful afternoon.
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Calexico and Iron & Wine Gig

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Went to the third gig of the last month. Wow! I say wow because it's also the third gig of the year too (discounting pub bands). Following Kathryn Williams in the Liverpool Philharmonic Music Room and Rival Sons at De Montford Hall at the Liverpool Uni a couple of weeks ago it was time for another class act (or two really): Calexico and Iron & Wine.

I'd last seen them together years ago but seen them separately several times in Liverpool, Manchester and at festivals. And I have even seen Iron & Wine (aka Sam Beam) at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall before with my sister several years ago. The album they are touring with is Years to Burn and is absolutely beautiful. If you haven't got it, what's stopping you? (Okay, stream it if you must)

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I had an eventful time getting to the gig. Having a late start at work meant I didn't get home until 18:58. I managed to get showered, changed and out of the house by 19:10 and to the bus stop for 19:14, with the bus due at 19:17. Brilliant. Come 19:30 still no sign of bus and me getting anxious. What this time? It wasn't like there was a big footy match on or anything. Oh no. Theres always something with the infamous No.17. What could it be this time? Well a lady got of a 62 and asked us if we were waiting for the 17, for if we were we'd be waiting a long time as the woman driving it had crashed into A&E at Fazakerley Hospital. I mean, WTF? How do you not see a hospital? Still, I suppose dispensing any injured passengers would be handy and wouldn't tie up any ambulances.

So I had to get to the next bus stop to double my chance of getting a bus - with both a 19 and 17 a possibility. The next 17 was late so I ended up on a 19 and running about 45 minutes late. Meaning I'd get to the Phil about 20:20. I checked on Twitter for stage times… Calexico and Iron & Wine due on at… yep, 20:20.

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Dispensed out of the bus at London Road and took the ten minute walk to the Phil. I realised I was parched after the long wait and realised I hadn't drunk much at work either. I decided I'd throw myself into the Pen Factory for a very speedy pint. Took me about three mins, including ordering, to get a pint of Dark Star 'Hophead' down. It hit the spot. I speedily passed on down Hope Street arriving at 20:20. Get in! The bar in the foyer had a queue but was handily placed. I needed one to last through the 1.5 hours of the gig (as the bar was closed during the performance (shocking state of affairs). A security guy said 'Sorry, the bar is shut' - my face fell and I blurted out the tale of woe getting there and the hospital jumping in front of my bus and a lovely lady (the loveliest) said 'Go on, get in the queue.' Woo hoo! So five minutes later I had a pint of Love Lane Pale Ale and then went through to my seat. As it happened they didn't start until about 20:35 or so, so I didn't miss a note (though I missed the support, Lisa O'Neill).

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Sam, Joey Burns and Lisa O'Neill performing 'Dreams'

I was sat downstairs in the stalls on Row L. Not a bad spot to be in; that said to be fair anywhere in the Phil would be a good place to see a gig. Of course, I'd much rather stand than sit through music but sometimes you don't have a choice. From the first notes of Father Mountain through so many of their songs, and some of the Calexico's and Iron & Wine's, and several great covers; including the Everly Brothers' 'Dream' (sung with Lisa McNeill), and Echo and the Bunnymen's 'Bring on the Dancing Horses', it was musicianship of the highest quality. The level didn't drop.

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Accordion Solo

Only slightly negative thing for me occurred when three late arrivals, all guys in their sixties, sat down and talked through parts of several songs. And then did some American style Whooping. I mean, NO! I was half expecting a 'Get in the hole'.

They played around an hour and half before I plodded of with a large grin on my face to the merchandise where I got a tour T-shirt and a signed poster. Bit odd this, as I never used to buy merchandise at all - despite years and hundreds of gigs I only have tour T-shirts from Ryan Adams, Wilco, and Frank Turner. I think a Calexico and Iron & Wine T-shirt is a mighty fine addition to the not-even-collection.

If you can get to see them: do so. If you don't know them and are interested in finding out what they are like here's a link to a live performance of 'Bring on the Dancing Horses'.

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Finally I got back home on the No.17 and it managed to get back without hitting any buildings, well not so you'd notice anyway.
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