A.J. Walker

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Zevonia: A Brief Introduction

This Extract is taken from the First Edition (1982) of the 'Rough Guide to the Lonelier Places on the Planet'. Note: this was also the last edition as there was only one sale of the book which was to the main author’s mother. If you see one in a second-hand book shop it is probably an edition given free to one of the contributing authors as most of the print was sent for pulping in 1986. If you do see a copy I recommend buying one, as although it is somewhat out of date (the capital city has changed three times since its printing) the geography has not changed and indeed many of the bus time tables have not altered either (sounds unlikely until you realise that the buses run only twice a week between most towns).


Introduction

The Occasionally Free People’s Republic of Zevonia is situated in the Far East of the Central East, if you are that way inclined, or it may be in the Far West of the Far East (lying on the edge of the Central East). It all depends on how you look at things and where you are both geographically and politically - and we dare say, just as essentially, philosophically. It is a land of wonder, in so much as you will wonder why you are there. And while we largely mean that you could of course find things to make your days there interesting and as Travellers we would never say never about going anywhere. The fledgling tourist board (interestingly currently comprises just one woman who also works at Calypso Fish Market) has started a campaign with the strap line: 'Come to Zevonia: You Never Know' and we think she's hit the nail on the head there. We certainly don't know.

The Towns

The country is in the northern hemisphere with a mostly continental climate. The Summers are long and hot and the Winters long and harsh. Spring and Autumn visit sparingly and if you have a lie in the wrong day then you may miss it.

The Capital city changes at the whim of the ruler and is currently in the small south western town of DISPENSARY in the shadow of the Mysterious Mountains. It is there for no good reason other than the current President was born there and felt it was a good idea, at least for his family. It isn’t. Its connectivity is arguably amongst the worst of the towns in the country and due to geographical constraints that is unlikely to change. It does have a tiny airport, but it is only capable of taking small turbo prop planes (c.18 seats) when the wind is blowing in the right direction (or, ideally, not blowing at all, and the accident rate is eye-wateringly bad. Note: anyone in need of spares or repairs for such planes could do worse than spend a day in the Mysterious Mountains. It is improbable you wont find a crash site without even looking.

The fairest city of them all is CALYPSO, on the south western coast. Its favourable climate, abundant sea food, and relatively easy transportation links make it a popular spot to visit these days. In historic times its location and ease of access was often its undoing, as it was sacked on too numerous occasions to be sure of. Suffice to say if you had any treasures or even just small change you would find a place in the countryside to bury it lest it be seized by brigands from one neighbouring state or another. Or even one neighbour when times were hard - which was usually the case. 

One city you cannot fail to visit (for it is the only place with a dedicated Immigration Office) is PORT CROWN on the north east edge of Zevonia. Words like; pretty, bijou, safe, fun and exciting are never used in describing the city (and we use that word advisedly) although 'exciting' could be used in the event you link it with police brutality, running to save your skin and being robbed. It is not without its charms. It’s just that you have to work hard - or be damn lucky - to find them. 

The city (yes, it really is) has been the Capital more frequently and for longer than any of the other towns in the country. It certainly makes more sense than the current one. It is relatively rich, though it does its best to hide that with the brutal architecture and brusque nature of the inhabitants (think Londoners, meet seedier areas of a no-go Moscow suburb, and a Red Light area in a downtrodden port town at 4 am - yeah, pretty off-putting). It was founded by the British or the Portuguese, or some say the Russians, in the 1700s or maybe later. It is difficult to be sure as no records seem to tally up in any of these countries and no-one seems to want to own up to it.

If you have the time you must spend some of it travelling around the interior, where you will be rewarded by sweeping views of nothingness a lot of the time. Due to the levels of dust in the atmosphere, both in Zevonia and adjoining states the sunsets can be unbelievably satisfying. Due to to the sparse nature of the countryside it can be difficult to get something interesting as a foreground for the sunsets though. During the sprout season don’t miss the opportunity to get a silhouette of the sprout stalks against the painted sky. Predictable for Instagram, but evocative of your time in Zevonia.


I trust this extract is of interest to you. I'm going to see if I can find a decent map of the country; everyone loves a map. And I'll see about uploading some more extracts on the geography and history of this intriguing country.
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Greetings From Zevonia

In April the word prompts for VSS365 come to you from me (@zevonesque on Twitter) on behalf of the Occasionally Free Peoples’ Republic of Zevonia. Since the last time I was the Prompt Meister I have become the Official Envoy for Zevonia. Despite the title it is actually an unofficial role, as that’s the way the country rolls. Last time I presented words which were a celebration of the history and the people of Zevonia and Zevonistan (and by pure coincidence also names of pubs in Liverpool and hop varieties; Spooky!). As I am now the Unofficial Official Envoy then I’m afraid I’ll have to ditch reference to our upstart neighbours in Zevonistan. 

Please note, that whatever you hear from Zevonistan’s troublesome media and state (which is the same thing) I am not dissing them because they wouldn’t take me as an envoy. I did not, and never would, set up a bidding war between the two nations, whatever you read. Suffice to say I am happy where I am and will be seeing out my contract here as long as the bosses are happy with me. I note that there was a Bored Meeting of the Cabinet Makers* last week and they gave me a ringing endorsement in my un/official role saying ‘He’s doing okay’ - and so there you go. You can’t say fairer than that.

So what of Zevonia you ask? (And please don’t ask me about Zevonis...) Well things are pootling on pretty much as standard. It remains a little known, and little visited or cared about country. The Sprout Festival goes from strength to strength, in relative terms, and some intrepid tourists have visited in recent years - deviously written questionnaires by yours truly suggest that they may have come in order to ‘tick the country from their list’ and sometimes they say that they will come back. That said the data is limited to three completed questionnaires, and one of those was spoiled. To date there has been no evidence of such repeat business but we live in difficult times and the routes into the country are affected by strained transportation and a questionable tourist bureau; hey I’m unofficial I can say these things.

There have been no visitors this year at all. Some readers may put this down to Coronavirus, but to be fair last year our first tourist arrived in mid May - and that was by mistake: he’d confused Zevonia with Zevonistan! Incredible mistake to make.

Anyway, with 2020 having started so badly with regard to worldwide travel and whatnot we have downgraded the countries expected visitor numbers to zero, so we’ll be pleasantly surprised if anyone turns up. Incidentally as we’ve had no visitors since mid October we’ve had no cases of that dreaded virus and unless it can blow in on a wind, or land on a beach with a message in a bottle, we can consider ourselves blessed. And our 28 qualified doctors can sleep well: though the 437 quasi-registered (for tax purposes) quacks will probably start some rumours so they can sell more snake oil (unsurprisingly actually made from sprout juice, for this is Zevonia). 

You don't need to know anything about the country or its people it's just where the words are coming from. Anyway, enough of my rambling. I’ll see you in April. Keep well my friends and may the road rise to meet your sandals and your sprouts be healthy. Cheery bye, as they say around here (it’s weird what they’ve picked up from their various colonisations).


* This would be Cabinet Ministers in any other country but historically someone of importance, who turned out also to be pig-headed, misheard the title. Similarly the official minute taker (some say mischievously) typed Bored instead of Board and that stuck too. Never let it be said that Zevonians like to admit they’re wrong. No, never say that.
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The Last Gig

As mentioned on the previous blog I got to see Romeo Stodart play at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall Music Room on Sunday. I was lucky to be able to see him on several counts. Not least because now the gig industry has ground to a halt. The Phil was closed from Tuesday. This damn Covid-19 virus is wreaking its toll like a Sten gun, its just hitting everything.

Anyway, my review of the gig is over on the Get Into This website.
Check it out.

RomeoTweet

The poster boys for not social distancing: wouldn't do this now.

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If Music Be the Food of Love...

'If music be the food of love, play on.' (from 'Twelfth Night' by Billy Shaks) is lovely, ain't it? Billy had a wonderful turn of phrase and I bet he loved a good gig - or even an average one. You really can't beat live music. I'm hoping to get to more and more after a hiatus and tonight I'm going to see Romeo Stodart from the Magic Numbers. I've seen them a fair few times in various venues and seen Michelle do a solo gig, but this will be my first Romeo one.

Back in the day I had a great time in Amsterdam before a Numbers' gig drinking with Romeo on the banks of a canal with several of my mates. Talked so much about music with him as we sank a few continental lagers. It was a great gig and we ended up drinking until the early/late hours after it. He's a fabulous guitarist and songwriter and a lovely guy to boot.

Romeo1

Romeo2

Really looking forward to it - not least because I am going to it as a reviewer for the website '
Get Into This.' Hoping it will be the first of a few. Sod's Law though with the way things are going with CV19 that there may not be too many gigs about for a while. Who knows? I just gotta go with the flow.

Numbers1

It'll be interesting to write a review too. I've done them before but - well you know - it's been a while. Reviews sit somewhere between factual report writing and fiction. In so much as whilst it is a factual report you can throw in verbs and adverbs and plenty of feeling. And at a length of between 250 and 500 words it sits right in the comfort zone of us Flash Fiction writers. If music be the food of love and all that jazz.

In the meantime, if you're interested in music, gigs, dance and the arts then check out:
'Get Into This'
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Out the Other Side

It's unusual for me not to write a blog for over two weeks, but let's face it we are living in damn unusual times. Living through the constant daily onslaught about Brexit since 2016 I thought it would be nice for things to die down once that path was taken. But boy oh boy how wrong I was. I hark back to those simpler Brexit Apocalypse times. COVID-19 truly is a Black Swan event. It's one of those things you could kinda imagine happening and we've had smaller scale events like it (SARS, MERS, Ebola) but this has evolved into something else. I well remember the post-9/11 issues of flying and the lack of flights with all that entailed. Seeing countries pull up their collective drawbridges is a whole lot different, and I dare say once a virus is in the community pretty much useless.
Anyway, I'm no expert - though everyone else seems to be - so I'll just take this opportunity to wish all my friends and their families (and the whole world (minus a couple of people maybe)), the best through this time. Let's hope this toilet paper apocalypse suddenly disappears or at least becomes a damper squib than it appears right now. We have to hope the experts who are doing what they can to minimise the effects have luck and a fair wind behind them. Don't listen to people pointing in every other direction saying these guys are right and we are wrong - it is a perverse version of the grass is alway greener (though we won't know how green it is until we see it in a month or twos time) - we must accept that there will be deaths - that's diseases for you - and that they cannot be laid at the door of an individual. What I'm saying is don't play politics with this. If this is our Battle of Britain moment it won't be the RAF who save us and our friends but doctors and scientists.
Stay safe peoples. Keep the faith. Do the best you can. Try not to get too paranoid, but do the basics. Do wash your hands. Keep in contact with people. Keep your humanity.
See you all out the other side: if I don't see you before.
And now, I'm of out for a pint or two before the Government, or cruel economics, closes all the pubs…
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Not Exactly Prepping

I regularly buy what I am going to eat on the day. Only cooking what I’ve got in the cupboard as and when. I don’t have a freezer, just a small fridge. So if I do cook a meal with more than one portions I either eat it over two days - or worse over one extended night. Bad Boy! Cooking for one can be a pain; particularly if you don’t have a freezer.

The other day I noticed the only food I had in the house was a tin of peaches and some crackers (but no cheese!). A bit bad. But usually not an issue. At least I still had some coffee (but only enough milk for one coffee). I am out and about every day and often just get myself whatever is in the mythical section of the fridge of the Co-op or Asda: the Yellow Sticker bit. Usually I end up eating very well for not much money.

I am aware though that my eating has gone a bit haywire. Particularly since my dad passed away and I’ve had far too many take outs, which I didn’t use to do all that often. Clearly with an empty cupboard it is all to easy to justify getting a takeout on the way home. 

With the Coronavirus coinciding with my particularly empty (don’t think it has ever been that low) cupboards I decided I needed to get some food in. Stuff that will last weeks or months, just in case the shops do get empty for a day or two - or close. Of course, I’ve kept this quiet as I don’t want to be seen to be part of the problem by panic buying a load of shit. 

So today I went to a couple of shops and have got 80% of my planned stuff together now. Including pasta, rice, potatoes, tinned veg, tinned tuna, cheese, spices, cordial, cheese (for the oatcakes and everything else). And some Ibuprofen - always handy. And, accidentally, far too many sausages: I will be eating sausages for every meal this coming week. 

Of course the purpose of having this is partly not to have to rely on Yellow Sticker shopping, and cut back on take outs, whilst also leaving me not to worry about going hungry for a day. So I need not eat much of it, or if I do I need to backfill with the same. 

It sounds like I’ve gone mad, but I haven’t. I really did have empty cupboards. At the end of the day it was only two and half bags of shopping. Some people get that every week anyway. I’m not exactly digging a bunker yet. But I know I can have a decent pasta meal or a corned-beef hash - and I have some painkillers to boot, if required. I’ve got loads of reading to do and writing projects too. Bring on the end of the world (for a couple of days anyway).
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Have tech, will travel: and write

For ten years I’ve had a MacBook Pro and it’s a lovely bit of kit (I’m still using it ten years later and use it for my website and writing). But let’s face it at 5.5 kilos it’s not designed for walking around on the off chance you may want to pop a few words down. For that you need a notebook and a pen. Yeah, but then you need to type it up when you get home. That’s some double handling you can do without, surely. As well as being large and heavy a proper laptop like that is very attractive to thieves. It’s not like you can have a coffee or beer and walk away and leave it without worrying about it not being there when you safely got back with a lighter bladder. No: not conducive to carrying, opening, running software, writing and saving, closing, packing away, bringing back and repeat.. etc. For the sake of the odd hundred words or so you just don’t take it out in the end.

iPad2

I’ve finally bit the bullet and gone for the cheapest of the standard iPads and got an integral case with keyboard. It is brilliant for me. A friend offered me a none Apple tablet (which he didn’t want , nor could think of anyone else that might either) but as I mainly wanted it for writing it had to Apple so that I could link it with Scrivener on my Pro. Not knowing anyone with the same set up it was a little bit risky in case it didn’t work. But I did plenty of online research. Now I have it... what was I worried about? It is perfect.

If you’ve got a Dropbox account, it’s flawless. If you haven’t, just set one up. It doesn’t take long. Then save your Scrivener projects into Dropbox and you’re away. An iPad is 5 kilos less than your laptop; it’s like carrying a small book.

iPad1

Smaller and lighter and less obvious than a laptop. Easier to open, close, save etc. Less of a risk and at the same time more likely to be used for your writing whilst you’re out.

I’m sure it would be great without Scrivener and Dropbox, but it’s just so seamless the way these two bits of software work if you already do.

iPad3

One of the first things I did, which I hadn’t planned to do , was create a diary using Scrivener, knowing I’d pick up the iPad once every day or two. It’s so much easier than guaranteeing doing that with a paper copy book. I simply created twelve folders for the months then the requisite number of pages for the days of the week. Then saved that as a Template I can use for later years. Now I find me typing out a simple diary each day - it’s been a few years, but I used to keep a regular diary and loved it. It’s nice to get back to it. So far I haven’t thought about adding anything other than words to it - but if I wanted I could add photos, links, anything to the diary. We’ll see how it evolves,

Anyway, in short, if you are away from home, your PC and (hardback) notebooks regularly then having the option of a tablet to put your notes or stories into can be a massive plus in multiple ways. I’ve only had mine for a week or so and reckon I’ve written at least 4k additional words than I would have without one. Even this blog post has been written in one sitting at a pub, with a single pint (of Oakham ‘Citra’, in the Dispensary). It certainly increases productivity and options - and I reckon writing habits.

iPad4
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Returning to Zevonia

It's getting close to holiday time. Yep, in a couple of months I'm returning to Zevonia and Zevonistan and I'll be taking a lot of you with me. I introduced the little known countries when I last held the VSS365 baton - and I'm getting passed it again shortly. Last time my prompts were all words associated with beer (hop varieties) and Liverpool pub names. This time…? Well, we'll see.

Obviously as the VSS365 train has been rolling for some time now there have been lots of words used. But there are plenty left out there running wild in the environment. So I have started choosing my words (have got my first twenty) and have checked that they have not been used in this challenge before. There's nothing wrong with reusing prompt words, but I really don't want Sal to recycle her old VSSs. For anyone prompting in the future it's easy to check whether your chosen words have been used before, just search in Twitter for: #VSS365 and #proposedprompt (where 'proposed prompt' is the word you are considering using).

Little clue on my prompts: I will not be using Liverpool pubs or hop varieties this time. That's all I'll say.
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Bloody Phones

Been a mixed week on the IT side for me. Whilst I am doing a delivery job the mobile phone is second only to the vehicle (or third if insanity is counted) as a requirement to undertake the job. Amazon stopped providing equipment years ago so drivers have to get their own phone that will run the delivery application. This saves Amazon money and time in caring and charging for equipment but means the drivers have to have a decent phone - but not too decent. Taking it out for deliveries all day, whilst carrying parcels and asking people to sign on it - in all weathers - there is a great risk of dropping the damn thing. Once there's even a tiny crack on it the phone becomes useless once it starts to rain.

Battery life is also important. My rule of thumb is that the app makes the phone use about 1% battery per delivery. This means if you've more than 100 deliveries (or start with less than 100% battery) you need to leave it connect to a power source as you go for a great deal of the day.

After dropping my previous phone several times (a Redmi one) the crazed screen meant it only really worked on dry days. After that the route was all in the lap of the gods. In addition to that one more little drop and it would no doubt be useless. So I had to bite the bullet and buy another phone. After a bit of research I went for the Blackview 5500. A reasonable price and very rugged. It worked well and survived several drops completely unscathed, with its inbuilt rugged cover and toughened glass. And the battery life was fine. It was ideal for the job.

Until Tuesday. Suddenly it went wrong. The battery didn't charge up fully overnight and then it was using the battery up rapidly through the day. Changed cables over the next four days and could get it to 100% charge, but the battery was dropping faster than West Ham in the league. Hadn't put on any new apps. Went through and deleted some - just in case - and made sure all the notifications and locations were turned off for everything but the work App. But to no avail.

Couldn't find any information online about current issue and in the meantime I could barely finish a day at work when I only had 63 drops - let alone a day when I would get over 100. I needed to sort it. Only advice I could see was trying a factory reset. This would be painful: having to reload all the apps (and fail to remember all those usernames and passwords). In the end this was not a problem I had to deal with… as when I attempted the reset it failed and the phone will not even boot up. I think they call this a 'soft brick'. So basically I have no phone to do my work. Arghhh! I may be able to fix it but it may take some time - and still may fail. A lost day for not being able to work due to phone is the same as buying a new phone. So, I'll have to bite that bullet.

So I'm off to buy another one. And then yet again another bloody case. I'm not going for the Redmi again as it was too full of bloatware that couldn't be deleted, or the Blackview as now I don't trust the software/firmware. Think I'm going to go for the Motorola G7 Play: good deal at Argos at the mo. Will have to get a case online.

Anyway, thanks goes to Amazon for not providing equipment, and to gravity for causing screen breaks, the weather for causing difficulties in the rain, and software issues for affecting batteries: thanks to all.
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Reading the Numbers

I love listening to podcasts about books - especially the New York Times Book Review (every Friday) and the BBC Radio 4 ones from Alan and Mariella - but when they talk about all the books they are looking forward to in the coming months (or year) I feel a bit bemused. I don't know what's coming from many authors at all. I don't follow them like I do favourite bands waiting for their next album. Maybe I should. It made me think though about my reading and I thought I read mostly older books. In no small part due to my frequent appearances in any Oxfam or British Heart Foundation (or other) shop browsing for little prizes.

So I thought I'd look at my reading for the last couple of years to see how old the books were that I have been reading. And I was surprised to find the majority are actually only from the last five years or so. In my head I was sure I was reading a lot more from the 50s and 60s. Just goes to show how much I know about what I actually do myself - what chance has anyone else. And yes I have even graphed it - didn't take long, don't shout at me. I've only broken it down into decades at this point, but if I were to do it by year the greatest numbers would be for 2016-2019.


Book Reading

The numbers of more recent ones are skewed a little by reading the anthologies that I have been featured in but not that significantly. I guess I'm more modern than I thought. Basically I just read what I want, when I want. May have to show some of those missing decades some love though.
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