A.J. Walker


It's Not Just Ten

The Government’s decision to bring forward the closing time for bars and restaurants to 10pm this week is a non-thinking disaster. It is wrong-headed in terms of reducing the health risk to people in the towns and at the same time couldn’t have been much better designed to make it impossible for these businesses.

Let’s be clear, it’s not simply a reduction of one hour in drinking. For a start it is 10pm chucking out time as opposed to last orders – so it is more like an hour and a half. But it is not a case of having an hour and half less out drinking, is it? In the media they keep playing Vox Pops of the people saying ‘well people will just go out an hour earlier’... Who the hell are these people? Most people have a job of work to do one way or another. Going out an hour earlier is not an option or something they would want to do.

In my case, which I can’t see as uncommon, I get home at say 7pm or so. There’s no pub near me worth a dime, so I go into town. Even if I just have to grab a bit of beans on toast and slap on a fresh shirt I’m not getting into town until 8:30. Last orders is an hour later! So ninety minutes waiting for and getting buses and the same for a couple of pints: basically it’s not going to happen. 8:30 till 11 would be fine for an evening, but 8.30-10 is just a no-goer. 

Then there’s the football. Games kicking off at 8pm will be finishing of after last orders. And god help them if there are any significant injuries, then you’ll be chucked out of the pub before it finishes. Ho hum. Even if things run to time there will be no time for post match chit-chat with mates about the game; that’s half the fun of watching the footy.

So, instead of going out for a night or two on working days for a quiet pint that ‘one hour’ change means people with work won’t be going out at all – unless they are lucky enough to have  a pub nearby. How many people are making the same decisions? Plenty.

The problem bars are those that are busy, with extended hours, and little or no regard to Covid securedness, so why not just say 11pm closing to give the pubs, bars and restaurants a chance of pulling in some coins, then concentrate any policing on the problem places? I’m sure they haven’t done this maliciously but boy they’ve done it unthinkingly. One would hope they’d reconsider it at some point. I’m assuming they are being approached constantly by representatives of the industries, so hopefully this awful decision can be pulled. Let’s face it looking forward to December they are going to have their worst Christmas ever with no Christmas work parties possible etc. They need every quid they can get.

At the same time it shouldn’t be forgotten that as well as the risk to the businesses there is the mental health side of people getting out of their houses and spending some time out and about and having some interaction with real people - friends and strangers – socially distanced of course.

Personally it looks like unless I get unusually early finishes at work I wont be out on working days – whilst the government say they want us out keeping the economy going. I may be able to go out ‘an hour earlier’ on days off I suppose. In short: what a fucking mess, what a nonsense. Let's just hope things are different in a week or two (let's face it things change from hour to hour). Lastly, follow the Covid secure rules. Keep your distance (all day, not just in the pub), wear a mask when you have to, and wash your hands with soap and water and/or use hand sanitiser when you can't. It's not that difficult.

Seedling Update

It's the end of August and I've done the maths (or math) and decided to stop bothering with Seedling Challenge. Basically the seedling failed to take – I don't have green fingers. I started it as a means for people to write flash fiction in the way we were lucky to do back in the past with Angry Hourglass and Flash! Friday. It seems fitting to do it while Flash! Friday is back, if only for a short while.

It never took off as a place to write even though it used the VSS365 prompts which so many people do. I suspect only myself and Sal will miss it (and I may even be over egging that!). So when I write my story this week it'll be my last
Seedling Challenge. Maybe someone will plant some other seedling now.


It's Practice and It's Fun

With the return of the great Flash! Friday fiction challenge comes the relative furore that it deserves, And that raises several interesting points. The fact that there is a ‘winner’ drives more people to enter than one that is just for your own challenge (the Seedling Challenge being a case in point - no winner and hardly any interest). Having a winner drives more people to go for it. And yet what is the winner in actuality? Hopefully it is one of the better entries that week. But there is no guarantee of that. And of course so much is subjective. One person’s piece of genius is another’s ‘what the fuck is that all about?’. 

There have been other challenges that as well as having the winner chosen by a ‘judge’ (often the winner from one of the preceding weeks) also have a comunity winner - or one that gets the popular vote in ‘likes;’ or whatever. Is this a better way of choosing a winner - I doubt that. Often the writer with the most followers or maybe just the first person to get a story up could win that one. 

No. Having judges decide it is the best idea. And the feedback from them is nice. But there’s the luck of the draw too. If your style doesn’t hit the judge’s appreciation meter that week then maybe you would have won the previous week with a different one who loves your work. 

The desire to be chosen as a winner must be important (or else other challenges that don’t have them would have similar entries). As far as I am concerned the winner is the winner in that judge’s eyes that week. Everyone has preferences. We all have our own favourite authors and genres. There can be no definitive ‘winner’ unless there is only one entry (and in that case they would also be the worst entry of the week).

Look, all I’m saying is enjoy it for what it is. If you win: great–enjoy the moment,the love and kudos. If you don’t then don’t sweat it either. Just enjoy the process, the vibe and all that. Don’t decide you are doing something wrong because your genius prose this week doesn’t win you the plaudits you expected. I’ve ‘won; challenges with pieces I’ve not been happy with and come nowhere with ones I’m very happy with. Just take every bit of writing as practice towards bigger goals–whatever they may be.

Write your piece; click your likes on the stories you like; comment if you want (and can–depending on the vagaries of WordPress at the time) and enjoy the community. Don’t sweat it. Just enjoy it. I’m not an everyone is a winner guy (god help me) but look it really is all practice and let’s face it a bit of fun.

Incidentally I’m one of two judges in the coming weeks on Flash Friday and if I pick your story it’s cos I like it. And if I don’t, then maybe I am wrong or just don’t understand it. #keepwriting 

Flash! Friday: The Return of the Dragons

Out of nowhere Flash! Friday is returning and I for one am made up. Of course I am not the only one. It is one of the first flash fiction challenges I got into regularly. Along with Angry Hourglass these were my two favourite weekly challenges and when it went away (I won't say died, for this is no resurrection) I was a little sad. This was compounded later by the long walk taken by Angry Hourglass too (um… I wonder if that will be back one day?).

The friends I met online through being involved in these two challenges have endured the years since. Many of the regulars who wrote most of the weeks in these grew to become the fabulous
Flash Dogs, who produced amazing books in the following years. Yes, from writing in these challenges and meeting regularly on Twitter we actually produced hard copy beautiful books. Champion!


Who knows where this return will take us, maybe not so far. Maybe further. Wherever it goes it will be a fun ride. And it will be fabulous to introduce the dragons to all the new brethren who have discovered the joy of micro fiction through VSS365 (which after all is a love child from the Flash Dogs).

Please get involved. It's great writing practice and may give you ideas for longer stories too. I can't wait to see your stories there. And hell, some weeks I'll be helping judge them – yeah, didn't I say? It's a judged challenge. It's great that I'll be teamed up together with @voimaoy for this again. Winners get a virtual badge and a warm feeling. I was lucky to win and get placed several times – and it did make me feel warm and fuzzy.

When does it start? That'll be
Friday (there's a clue in the name, you know).

@FlashFridayFic on Twitter and if you are tweeting about it use the hashtag #fireiceflash and, of course, get one over to the website: flashfriday.wordpress.com

Back to Work

Amazingly this week I've been back in work after my accident last week. The accident was quite horrible and very discomforting over the following period. It was quite a fall as I'd gone up some steps in a back garden to deliver a parcel. On the way down I stupidly stepped backwards rather than turning around. And as the steps were not finished (the garden was being worked on) my foot went into free air and I went spinning through the air from a foot or two above the ground and as I twisted through the air in something like an ice skating move, perhaps it was a Salchow. Anyway this exciting move was aborted early by my back finding a rather uncomfortable sudden stop on a metal railing. From where I bounced down to the concrete path. It was all quite dramatic. Severely winded and sore I lay there for a while wondering how far my swearing had travelled. I went to sit in my van for a while wondering what damage I'd done. I couldn't breath properly due to the pain. I wondered whether I'd broken a rib and pierced my lung. All sorts of things swam around my head. But ultimately I decided it couldn't be that bad as I could still move albeit painfully it wasn't making me faint or anything.

Eventually I wen on to the next stop, before ringing work and telling them about it - and that I should be able to finish the route but would likely not be in again for a while. It was sure to stiffen up and get worse. And it did.

The next day the agony getting out of bed - where I'd had to sleep sat upright, wedged between two pillows - made me think I had indeed done more damage. I struggled through a shower just in case I needed to make a last minute call to go to A&E. Over the next couple of days I thought the same on several occasions. At one point I was pretty sure I wouldn't get into work until late this week at the earliest. And what happened? I ended up being off work from Thursday through to Sunday. I've been in for a normal working week - 5 days. They gave me an easy day on Monday, and I finished quickly but was sore the next day. The following day I was back on a normal route and boy was that hard. I struggled with the pain in the evening. Next day was a smaller route in terms of number of drops and was a lot easier.

Anyway, here I am ten days after a most painful accident and I've done a week's work. In terms of working days lost, incredibly I only lost two days. All in all, if anything, it shows how resilient the body is. Where it can fix itself it does an amazing job. Looking back at the accident it could have been a lot worse I guess - as a glass half full person - the railing could have had sharp edges instead of being curved and maybe if I hadn't landed on the railing and bounced to the ground I would have landed on my head and done some more serious damage. If I'd bashed my head I'd have lost a lot more time off work, at the very least.

Moral of the story: don't walk backwards down steps you don't know. And the world is precarious for each of us.


Words, Words, Words

Looking at getting stricter with my writing which is partly why I want to record it: as a document of success or failure and a rod for my own back (or something like that). I’m not sure what to aim for. It will probably be a matter of finding what works for me as I get into the writing daily habit. Be it 300 words or 2000 words (hell, I know it won’t be that initially).

I found a website called The Daily Word Counter <www.wordcounter.net> which had an article giving an idea of the daily word count of many famous writing as follows:

Ernest Hemingway - 500 words
Stephen King - 2000 
Jack London - 1500 
Tom Wolfe - 135 
Mark Twain - 1400-1800
W Somerset Maugham - 1000
Sarah Walters - 1000
Sebastian Faulks - 1000
Michael Crichton - 10,000
Kate DiCamillo -600-900
Nicholas Sparks - 2000
J.G. Ballard - 1000
Ian McEwan - 600
Lee Child - 1800
Anne Rice - 3000
Arthur Conan Doyle - 3000
Arthur Hayley - 600
Graham Greene - 500
Holly Black - 1000

I’m not sure of the voracity of these numbers and whilst they show a wide difference; most are between a pretty manageable 500 and 2000 words.  Given I can crack off a blog of 300-500 words or a flash of 365 words in less than an hour then having a daily word count of 500-1000 words should be achievable,  I’ve also done NaNo successfully twice, which equates to 1666 a day.

I don’t think having the NaNo tick-tock is necessary but it certainly helps over the relative short term of a month. Without it maybe the  very act of recording it will be the kick up the backside. 

So let’s see how I go with achieving 500-1000 words on projects (not counting blogs) – incidentally this will be about 380 words. 

Writing even that much/little will drive me into more projects and ideas i.e. finishing existing ones and getting me to new ones. Let’s see where I get to come November . In theory that should be 45-90.,000  words. Ha, we shall see.

First thing I’ve done is write down where I’m up to in various projects in terms of current word count so I can check up on progress.

Current Word Counts and aims:

TWO1 - 56,267 : 80,000
TM2 - 3946 : 6000
SC1 - 601 : 4000 
TT1 - 1193 : 50,000
THS1 - 73 : 50,000*

* may get broken down into multiple short stories.

Writing, Damn Writing

It’s been too long since I’ve done any proper writing. A 365 word flash fiction once a week doesn’t count and neither does VSS365 or the other occasional Twitter prompts or prompt rants I get involved in. I mean writing on specific projects. 

I did some writing for the defunct/no longer defunct GetIntoThis website between March and June and when this went I realised I should force myself to write to my own deadlines on the pieces I want to write, be it blogs on the website or projects for potential publication – or just furthering my writing practice.

And so I need to get back to it. Thinking I may do a weekly diary on the blog. This could act as a kick up the backside as well as a simple record. So my thoughts as of today (Monday) is that I’ll start that from next weekend. As it’s a nice date to start with Saturday being the 1st of the month. It’ll give me a few days to make my plans on the projects and to get back up to speed on those already started. 

I am particularly wanting to finish the ‘Wobbly Odyssey’ which has some five  chapters to go (some 20-25k words).  I’ve been reading it again lately and quite enjoying it – which is weird to say about your own story but hell I am. I’m wondering how difficult it will be to get back into the groove with the characters and the story after so long away from it. I am thinking it will be quite hard, but willing to be pleasantly surprised. 

Then I’ve got the story for another project to rework or start again for the umpteenth time. That’s only about 5-6k and I’ve done my usual trick of saying too much upfront rather than just running hard with the story from the starting pistol – I also wonder if it would just be better as a longer story in any case.

The other thing about recording my writing progress this way is it makes me write a blog post every week which keeps the blog updated regularly too. It could be a win - win: but only if I actually keep up with writing regularly. It’s actually been quite difficult lately with work being long and hard; making me tired when I get home and not in the mood for writing (or just falling asleep not long after tea). I’ve got to experiment to see what works. If I wake up early perhaps I should spend some of that time writing rather than hoping for the best in the evening. It’s a difficult concept as a certified night owl, but needs must. 

Anyway between now and the weekend I’ll have a think about the projects and how best to write and record a blog about it – and do the writing itself of course. I guess something short and simple will be best to avoid eating into writing time, and to ensure I do it in a timely manner (should be easier for any reader too). Or maybe something largely visual.  I’ll have to come up with a snappy title for this part of the blog too and decide where to put it i.e under Writer’s Block or a new sub titled section under the Writings section. I am minded for the latter, lest it get lost in this blog with all the general hubbub of Open Min, Reading and Work blogs. Anyways, watch this space...

Reading, Damn Reading

I always now seem to set myself a target to read forty books a year. Some people smash that, others don’t read one. Obviously I find people who don’t read books weird – it’s akin to not being arsed about music. But maybe it’s the way people have been brought up. I guess for people who haven’t regularly read it may seem a strange thing to get into. I know some people who say they struggle with the habit but love reading. Hell, we all have other things that get in the way.

This year the thing that got in the way was this damn virus of course. I know some people have found a load more free time but I’ve been working full time either five or six days a week throughout. And let’s face it whatever we are going through individually it is a stressful time. So even when I have had time to read I hadn’t been reading as much as I did the last couple of years. I raced through books in January and February but fell away and a long way behind my forty books pace between March and May.

Don’t know whether it is because I’ve grown used to the stress of the death of everything but I caught up with where I should be come to the sixth months. I’ve now read 22 books and so with 18 left to reach my goal then that’s just about one book a week from August (or to put it another way 15% of a book per day: not entirely sure that is a better way of putting it).

One thing that was difficult between March and July was the closure of all the second hand shops. No browsing of second hand books in Oxfam and the like. Horrendous! My first time back in the book shop in Penmaenmawr I ended up buying six books (for the princely sum of £10).

So far my reads this year have comprised (K: Kindle, SH: Second Hand):

‘Moon Over Soho’ - Ben Aaronovitch (K)
‘Whispers Underground’ - Ben Aaronovitch (K)
‘Broken Homes’ - Ben Aaronovitch (K)
‘Travels with my Aunt’ - Graeme Greene (SH)
‘Bottled’ - Stephanie Ellis (K)
‘A Wizard of Earthsea’ - Ursula Le Guin (SH)
‘The Tombs of Atuan’ - Ursula Le Guin (SH)
‘Flowers for Algernon’ - Daniel Keyes (SH)
‘Fleet of Knives’ - Gareth L Powell (K)
‘The Subtle Knife’ - Philip Pullman (SH)
‘Light of Impossible Stars’ - Gareth L Powell (K)
‘Sunfall’ - Jim Al-Khalilli (K)
‘The Mercies’ - Kieran Millward Hargrave (K)
‘Slipping Through’ - Miranda Kate (K)
‘About Writing’ - Gareth L Powell (K)
‘How to Argue With A Racist’ - Adam Rutherford (K)
‘The Last Day’ - Andrew Hunter Murray (K)
‘One Last Time’ - James Hampson (K)
‘How to Build a Time Machine’ - Brian Clegg (K)
‘Scouse Gothic: the Pool of Life’ -  Ian McKinney (K)
‘Username: Eve’ - Joe Sugg (SH)
‘The Psychology of Time Travel’ - Kate Mascarenhas (K)

There’s a few things of note in my reading so far (other than my impeccable taste). Firstly there is not a single new book bought there from this year or previous years. Secondly there are a lot more Kindle books than usual. This is because of the lockdown and it being impossible to go into shops (new or second hand) during that time.  I have read loads more on my Kindle this year that’s I have in previous ones. To save you counting them there’s SIXTEEN Kindle books there and just SIX second hand ones.

I am fairly sure until the next lockdown comes that there will be a few more actual physical books being read for the second half of the year. Maybe some of those ones I got from Penmaenmawr for a start and the second of the His Dark Materials Trilogy too (which I also bought from there last year or the year before...).

Not sure I will get to forty books, will have to see how the second half of 2020 goes. Right now that really is anyone’s guess.

More Pub Distancing

The last Open Mic got cancelled and I was away camping at Bishop's Castle for the one before so I was looking forward to this one. Picked up some excellent ‘White Rat,’ ‘Cold Stone Cream Austin’ and ‘Aiwass’ from Craft on Smithdown on the way home and that was my preparations done –apart from some quick strumming for fifteen minutes. As it happened OM was to prove a low key affair with only four of us on it; with Bobo and Nette, Matt and myself.

There wasn’t too much in the way of singing. Matt started of with a story then Bobo did a couple of songs. I did three in the end and having decided to do new (or very old) ones I went for ‘Half A World Away’ (always contentious doing Oasis - sorry), ‘House of the Rising Sun’ and ‘Wild Rover’. Bobo did another and Matt gave us a longer story.

Said to Matt he should try and write for the Seedling Challenge and use all seven of this weeks prompts -  a tough one this week - and that we could then read the resulting stories out at the next OM. We agreed to give it a go.

Then after lots of interlinked chitter chatter about all things travel, pubs, and Covid-19, we went on Jackbox to play some games. Suffice to say funny as fuck – but you would have had to be there (and probably have had a few beers) to appreciate it. Apparently OM is going to go to fortnightly now, which is a shame but I guess a sign that now that things are opening up a little bit people have less time or need for it. Anyway, I am looking forward to it; whenever it is. At least two weeks gives me more time to learn some more new old songs.

A Quick Visit to a Distant Past


With the long days and longer weeks at work over the last five months – not to mention historic/tourist sites and parking bays being closed throughout Wales – I haven't done any of my archaeological visits since last year. Today I was over in Anglesey again delivering to the Morrisons by Holyhead. It was only a few weeks ago that I saw from the main road a neolithic tomb just a couple of minutes from the supermarket. Today I decided (after getting a wee shop in at Morrisons) to pop over to it. Funnily enough now with all the summer's growth of trees and bushes the site is not as evident from the A55 as it was when I saw it earlier.

Trefignath view from site entrance/stile

Trefignath Selfie

There is no proper parking for the site. But it is by a new and relatively quiet road, evidently built for an industrial park which is yet to be built. After a short walk from the road, along a narrow partially tarmac path, there is a stile entrance into the site. There actually don't appear to be any signs, at least in the direction I came from, showing where the site is, which is a little odd. Maybe it is to do with all the 'new' roads along the edge of the area.

The site at Trefignath is a mind boggling 5300 years old, according to the information board at the site – charcoal found at the site date to 3300 BCE (plus or minus 70 years). It comprises three chambers built over a long period in the
Severn-Cotswold cairn form. The first chamber has some very large stones forming the walls but no roof. There is little evidence on the surface of the second chamber. The best one (at least in terms of having a roof) is the third more recent chamber.

Burial chamber view chamber one nearest and main chamber three furthest away

Whilst the site doesn't appear to be signposted there is at least an information board half way along the northern western boundary of the site outlining the history of the site and describing the three chambers of the tombs. Unlike other sites I've visited, which have been at least partially excavated into the ground, due to the geology the chambers appear to have been constructed directly onto the bedrock. Some of the stones used are very large, particularly the large wall stone of Chamber 1, the two vertical stones at the entrance of Chamber 3 and the roof stones of that chamber.

It has been heavily reconstructed (despite the lack of much of its form) and you will see brick and mortar columns supporting some of the stones in Chamber 3.

The sides of the cairn are made with loose stones and rocks. I'm not sure whether originally it would have been left as stone or grassed. I assume it would have just been stone. Why this spot was chosen was for the cairn unclear. Who knows, maybe it was where the people lived, or maybe they just wanted to be handy for the Morrisons. An alignment of stones at the site though are apparently in just 1 degree away from the winter solstice sunrise, which I guess may be more relevant than the supermarket.

Chamber one

Chamber three

If you are visiting this site you may also want to go to the single, large standing stone "Ty Mawr" several hundred metres to the north of the site in another field–you can't miss it from the road. I didn't go over to see it on this occasion as parking again didn't look straightforward and because I needed to get home via a debrief with the one parcel I had been unable to deliver (mistakenly on my route – Grrrr.)

It was only a tiny diversion from my return home and I didn't spend long here, but it was nice to take the opportunity to visit the site. Definitely worth a visit if you'd otherwise be whizzing past on the way to or from Holyhead. It's not up there with
Capel Garmon, but then again it is a very different position and up to 2000 years older!

If you fancy seeing
Capel Garmon take a look at my blog from November, which was now several life times ago.