Monday, December 14, 2015

No more shall we apartelle

Having a while ago reached my unambitious plateau and curled up like a contented cat only occasionally awakened by infuriating, unnecessary noise, I haven't given a real update on my life since the last time I moved into a new place a year and a half ago. I haven't really done anything since. Well, there was that time I got married, I suppose.

The most exciting thing to happen to me recently was when I over-enthusiastically defrosted the fridge-freezer with a knife, let out the refrigerant gas and worried for a few seconds that I might be about to die in an embarrassingly stupid way (not yet). It's alright, we were about to move out anyway. Deposit refunds are for squares.

I probably wouldn't have bothered taking note of this latest flat - sorry, apartelle, get it right (like that's a word) - except that it will hopefully-definitely be the last in an undistinguished line of temporary accommodations I've called home since leaving the family nest 11 years ago, from Room 8 of Bowland Hall through various passive-aggressive communal flats, bed-bug-infested dorms, claustrophobic hotel cupboards and tyrannically regulated condos.

Beyond the awe-inspiring views, this air-conditioned cube seems like a peaceful enough shelter to make it through another Filipino Christmas, which has been going on since September and is fast approaching its unbearable crescendo. I could do without the racist system of apartelle that means my wife and I have to live in separate buildings, but it's only for a couple of months until our house is finished. And this is about as close as we can get without going for the Alan Partridge static home option.

I'm told it's coming along nicely, but I haven't visited the site personally, since I don't want to turn the suspicion of foreign investment into hard evidence and risk inflated (i.e. more reasonable) prices. My wife's taken photos to chart the construction's progress, I'll post them when it's over and we can look at them together. What could possibly go wrong?

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Alrightreads: Faves and worsties 2015

I read quite a lot of books this year. Here's probably what I thought about them, if we're going to pretend I'm capable of mentally juggling hundreds of books read over the course of a year in various moods and states of distraction and to put those into some kind of definitive ranking to find the most alright read of the year.

I've tried, anyway.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Alrightreads: December

That'll do, maniac, that'll do. I read the equivalent of a book a day in 2015, which in reality was nothing like that. There were times I delighted in watching the flimsy titles speed past, other times I sabotaged myself with a long and arduous tome in failed attempts to snap myself out of it.

It was mostly good. Well, it was alright. Next year I'll write a book a day, it's only fair. Tedious stats coming soon.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Alrightreads: November

Last month's theme was a little exhausting, so this month I rehabilitated with worthless trash and another safe round of repeats after hitting 300.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Alrightreads: October

Being able to read what I want is way too much freedom, so I took a quick glance at some of the "books" on my "shelves," trying to identify a common enough theme that would narrow things down and force me to read things I'd never bother with if not the association, and decided to make this funny foreigners month.

More specifically/generally, that means either: (i) things written about funny foreign cultures/people, either by funny foreigners themselves or by normal people, or (ii) just anything that wasn't originally written in the English language. I read the English translations though, obviously. I'm not magic.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Alrightreads: September

Another month of repeat authors/series/themes in reverse chronological order, because why not keep imposing pointless rules on myself?

I don't like these repeat months all that much, I'd rather be reading something new. But what can you do? Next month, only titles starting with Z.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Alrightreads: August

So am I just going to keep listing every book I ever read from now on, like some kind of Art Garfunkel? Hopefully it's just for the rest of the year. Next year can get its own damn gimmick.

It's not going to quiet down any time soon, as this month my wife got an new phone for her birthday and I inherited the old one, so I now have a portable, fun-size e-reader and audiobook player (I don't know if it has other functions).

Now I can keep reading while pretending to sleep! It's like being eight again. Hopefully I won't ruin my eyes as much this time.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Gareth Shinks' Absolutely Boring, Normal Day (demo)

I was putting together a blog post of synopses for things I'm clearly never going to write – story concepts anarchically bashed out on Notepad between cryptic password reminders and dream notes, older ideas languishing sadly in the '2011 Stuff' folder – when I was astonished to see that I had actually got round to writing this one.

Or at least made a determined start on it before getting visibly ground down by the tedious task and spoiling it before quitting. I wrote this a few years ago while stranded in a Malaysian city for several weeks, for reasons that I won't bore you with because you're about to be bored out of your goddamned mind as it is.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Alrightreads: July

So I did my arbitrary 100 books. Not all were equally worthy, and my attention wandered during some of the ones I didn't really enjoy but forced myself to get through in the name of fun. It's almost like it's all just a meaningless activity to give me something to do and cut down on the TV.

So there's no point stopping now; only stopping pretending it's some kind of challenge or achievement. Will I still bother to read as much without the fear of defeat pushing me on? One way to make sure could be to actually read things I might actually like. Which probably means things are going to get even more repetitive.

So to begin/end I went on a victory lap/month, revisiting favourite authors from the year so far and giving less favourite ones a second chance. It turns out you're allowed to do that.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Dream journal: Celebrity edition

I'm struggling for themes, and since a sizeable quantity of the recent dreams I bothered to jot down after waking (I said waking) involved a famous person of some kind, let's go with that. I'll tell you now that these aren't the sexy type of celebrity dreams - they exclusively feature quite old men.

Here are 20 more interesting-only-to-me unconscious adventures.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Alrightreads: June

After spending a month at the grown-up table (with a couple of exceptions), it was back to lightweight books in both senses for June. It was much more enjoyable, taking me back to those days of dipping in and out of several library books a night. Do you remember libraries? And pavements? And weather?

It's not only so I can get through this quicker. I prefer concise stories that are less likely to leave me lost and confused when my attention wanders every couple of chapters (especially treacherous with audiobooks) and having to catch up with the Wikipedia summary that's been floating in my tabs all week.

And when there's the occasional non-fiction topic I feel like reading about, and I convince myself to turn to an authoritative book on the subject rather than click through a few quick web pages that would satisfy that curiosity in a matter of minutes, I'd rather not be bogged down with the encyclopaedia.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Ranking the Dizzy games, even though it's 2015 and I'm nearly 30

When listening to audiobooks, I like to have something to keep my eyes busy without being too much of a distraction to the old noggin. I used to do this by going on day trips and walking around. More recently, I've been playing through every one of Codemasters' Dizzy adventure games on Amiga and Spectrum emulators. I am nearly 30 years old. I liked some of them better than others.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Helping the misfortunate

Like all humble philanthropists, I don't like to talk about my charity work. Though in my case that's because I don't do very much, beyond a monthly Red Cross direct debit that could be a lot bigger, the annual Herring, buying the occasional charity eBook to offset my guilt for stealing all the others and dropping coins into cups on the rare occasions I head into civilisation. I'm no Jimmy Savile, is what I'm saying.

Living in what can inaccurately but emotively be called 'the third world' ('developing country' isn't any more accurate), you can imagine that my first world guilt is pushed to its limits every day as I walk past malnourished men, women and infants sprawled out on cardboard in the street, the ones who still possess a modicum of strength extending a withered hand in a silent, impassioned plea.

Well, you'd be wrong, as like all foreigners and aspiring middle-class people here I shield myself from the distasteful poverty by living behind guarded gates, out of reach of the zombie-like peasants' aimlessly grasping arms. I feel like a right prick when we look at prospective houses in gated subdivisions, but I know this is an unfortunate necessity to keep the more desperate locals away from my door and so I won't have to switch off the lights and hide in the dark when the trick-or-treaters come calling.

I try not to shut myself away completely though, and stay updated on all the latest depressing news stories more than I ever did back 'home,' where things just objectively weren't as bad. Are the Tories reducing your access to free medical care? That's a shame, we're just dealing with inevitable annual supertyphoons, the threat of war with China and the government handing over part of the island I live on to terrorists. I'm not so self-involved (LOL!) to not let my cushy, shut-in life be affected by the miserable hell outside, even if I feel powerless to do anything beyond the one-to-one level.

I've often wondered what it would take to shock me out of this apathy and to take a stand, and today I finally reached that level. Reading my favoured opinionated local news blog - which is the best I've found even if you have to tolerate the occasional homo/Islamophobia - my heart went out to one of its regular contributors, who valiantly bared his soul to tell us:

"I have the misfortune of having to live with house-help who enjoy watching local TV that is utterly filled with errors and worse. As much as I’d like to put a stop to it, I try to be a gracious host and employer and allow them to watch whatever it is they want. “To each his own” after all."

Goddamn, feels like someone just ripped the aorta right outta me.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Alrightreads: May

Anyone who's commissioned repetitive corporate work from me knows that I'm a firm believer in doing things properly and by the book, though preferably with the minimal amount of time and effort expended.

It's satisfying to tick off a book a day and get this self-imposed task over with quicker, but those picture books and Choose Your Own Adventures have to be balanced out. And however much I might enjoy all those undemanding pick-'n'-mix short story anthologies, when this is over, it's the (necessarily longer) stories I've spent more time immersed in that are going to be the most memorable, for better or worse.

So this month, I restricted myself to books of at least 480 pages. It was supposed to be 500 pages, but then I saw that the bird book I'd been looking forward to was a bit shorter than that (including full-page title pages, and admittedly quite a lot of said pages were taken up by pretty pictures). What are you going to do, mark me down?

Monday, May 4, 2015

A weird tale

I may have given up on the dream of writing creatively for a living as soon as I left university and entered the real world (not going back there again), but I can only consume so much of other people's works before I feel guilty and need to give something back, however paltry. Maybe I'll write a story a month? Not going to happen.

I wanted to call this 'Gob of Death,' but feared that might compromise the tone somewhat. Then I resorted to silliness anyway, never mind.

Octopus photo credit, before I forget: Alexander Semenov.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Alrightreads: April

I hadn't intended to read a book a day this month, but when it got to about half-way through and I realised things were averaging out that way, I thought I might as well commit.

Admittedly, I didn't exactly tackle any whopping Dickenses or David Ickes this month. I've bought myself the time for those now.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Alrightreads: March

Having only decided half-way through February that I was going to try to read (and tediously catalogue) 100 books in 2015, I was fortunate to have another largely empty month that I could fill with digital sheaves and jarring LibriVox accents.

Ending Q1 in the black with 27/100 books read (however that works out as a percentage) was more important than earning money or going outside. One day they'll make books portable, I have to dream.

Friday, March 27, 2015


Whether you read a lot of books, pore over a newspaper or magazine every day, or you just waste a lot of time reading websites of no nutritional value such as this one, there's no doubt you will have read more open brackets in your life (and other types of punctuation marks than closed ones, due to the illiteracy or forgetfulness of the authors or copy editors involved.

As long as spelling and grammar checks remain passive rather than enforced, this is a problem that doesn't seem to be going away (if anything, advances in technology have made it worse. But I can at least reduce the burden of your open bracket debt by presenting a selection of closed brackets for you to read through at your leisure.

I haven't done any research or got any kind of reliable estimate of the type of figures involved, but here's a round 500 in a neat enough square sort of shape that should at least go some way towards helping:


If you have the nagging feeling that that wasn't enough, feel free to read through it again as many times as needed until that feeling goes away.

Don't worry if you think you might have accidentally read it too many times and have now read more closed brackets in your life than open ones, as that just means you'll have a handy stockpile to be getting on with. The open brackets will sort themselves out.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Is it worth it?: Groceries in the Philippines

I don't live in the Philippines to save money. That would be totally ridiculous, considering there are many countries in the region where the cost of living is cheaper or at least roughly equal, and that don't require the same level of compromise to my quality of life.

No, I'm here because it's where my wife's family lives, and not everybody can be as cold and ruthless as me when it comes to severing ties and living in self-imposed exile. At least let me be good at something.

But I'm not here to bash on the Philippines again. I got most of that out of my system in my first two years here, especially now we're living in a place where I'm isolated from the worst aspects of the country most of the time. Instead, I thought I'd use my experience and unbiased maths to illuminate some of the reasons why this is a confusing and frustrating place to live, and to better understand why someone on the average monthly income of 10,000 pesos (less than $8 per day) might be having a bit of a hard time not dying in a gutter.

This time: largely imported groceries mostly at more expensive prices than in the developed world.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Alrightreads: January & February

Last year, my friend/rival Oliver wrote a blog post about his failed attempt to read 100 books in a year that inspired me to try the same before pathetically failing myself.

This year he wrote about his more successful failed attempt that inspired me to try again and do it properly this time.

Maybe when I try again next year they'll even be proper, adult books with hardly any drawings at all.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A whole new level of self-indulgence

I've reached that stage in our life's journey when occasional Facebook searches to see what past acquaintances are up to have started to carry a reasonable risk of showing these people with babies in their arms.

So far, it's generally been the people I would have least expected or hoped to take on that sort of responsibility in their lives, but five years is a long time and people can change. Just because, when I knew him, he'd do things like leave a half-eaten chicken in a bag in the corner of his bedroom for a week or two, wonder why he could hear the sound of pattering rain on a clear day, eventually realise it was the sound of feasting maggots, take care of the problem with a vacuum cleaner, then wonder why his living room was hosting more flies than usual that summer, doesn't necessarily mean he shouldn't be trusted to look after a living, breathing human being.

Since I'm only marginally above that level of incompetence myself, I won't have any photos of mewling, puking offspring to share with you for a good while yet (if ever). But I do have some photos of myself as a young child, courtesy of my Mum who scanned and emailed them for my wife to have a laugh at. And you thought this blog couldn't possibly get more onanistic - don't underestimate me again!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Davao: (My) life is here, so best get on with it

Travelling (some of) the world has taught me nothing. When I lived in Scotland for three years I lamented that I rarely bothered to see the country that was a damn sight more scenic than practically anywhere I've been since, and since I plonked myself in Davao City about two years ago I've similarly failed to do much in the way of sightseeing. I seem to mentally separate places I'm visiting from places I'm just living in, so don't need to bother.

But there have been certain weekends when I've been free from work obligations and felt the need to escape the flat, and have sought out some of what this place has to offer. There's really not much. Obviously there's plenty of surface area, and I see a lot of nice green from these vantage points, but as far as categorising and monetising this natural beauty with convenient package tours goes, this place is lagging behind its Southeast Asian neighbours. Then again, if I am going to be living here long term, I shouldn't use it up too fast.

After the last day out I finally have just about enough pictures to justify a blog post, so here are assorted Davao-based activities enjoyed over the last two years of my life. See me mildly age before your eyes like I'm in some kind of superficially intriguing Hollywood coming-of-age film.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Work in total lack of progress

I have tried to limit my thieving women reparations updates to the times I actually have news, and that hasn't been difficult when absolutely nothing is happening.

This weekend's efforts to get a word out of my Thai debtor (300,000 baht, about £6,500 at the time) felt like they were getting somewhere at the start. Dangerously free from work and willing to journey into that black hole again, I tracked down her new Facebook account and got a load of new contacts from her new job and new life to add to the old pile from the last time I was mad enough to do this. But by the end I was left back exactly where I was 18 months ago: blocked without a word of apology or explanation, despairing at the world and with no one to turn to but a small army of sympathetic souls in her sphere of influence who can at least type in passable English.

I'll try not to bother these innocent people too much, but they're the only resources I have. I'm not going to pay a demanding law firm or debt collector more than a third of the total owed, in a country where I get the feeling the justice system is less reliable and impartial than Korea's. Some people have blocked me already, I'm delighted to see - this is what they should all be doing, as well as reporting my borderline identity theft account to Facebook for good measure. This is insane behaviour. But I'm a man with a selfish mission and my quest for fair reparations won't be swayed by emotions like guilt, until I try to sleep at night and accidentally think about what I've done.

Do you think she's similarly troubled about what she's done? Don't be silly! She probably won't delete the account and run away from her old life this time, so you can pester her here if you want to be instantly blocked too, or just to advise her how to use privacy settings and not reveal everything about her life to people she might not want knowing these things. I would love to let her get on with her life and forget that aberration in my life ever happened, but forgetting about it isn't an option. This will relentlessly continue until I start to receive a trickle of the money back that paid off her family's urgent mortgage debts and children's appendectomies when they needed them (unless none of that was true), or until hired goons show up at my door to block me once and for all.

It's all been a bit morbidly depressing, so I was grateful to be lifted out of the darkness when I was shown a drawing my three-year-old niece had done featuring Tito Dave, Tita Jackie and herself. She hasn't even seen me for months, but I'm apparently still in her thoughts. That was nice. I think I've worked out which one is me.

Art by Eshen

Saturday, February 7, 2015

All hail the butiki

Pictured: Not actually a butiki. He'd never sit still like that

Butiki (house geckos) are an everyday sight in the Philippines, and an everyday annoyance for those locals and ex-pats who aren't as Zen and culturally tolerant as I am. lol

But seriously, finding one of these little guys in my kitchen every once in a while is one of the very few 'annoyances' that I'm actually able to enjoy as a quaint, exotic touch in my tropical life. I'm less forgiving of the loud karaoke, cat-calling, shameless public urination and other 'traditions' perpetrated by the more advanced species of local fauna outside that should really know better.

As we leave our bedroom's fifth floor suicide window open all the time, butikis are free to come and go as they please - scurrying along the wall, looking constantly on edge and presumably keeping down the mosquito population before returning to the outside world through the window or that imperceptible gap in the air conditioner we never use. It's unlikely that it's always the same lizard, but they are polite enough to stick to a one-in, one-out rota most of the time, which is appreciated.

That was the case until a couple of weeks ago anyway, when one of these 'visitors' broke the unspoken agreement (well, they don't speak English and I don't speak tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk, though I've given it a try) and set up shop as our unsolicited pet and neighbourhood pest controller for keeps. I don't have the heart to tell him he's not exactly welcome either. I bloody hope he's a he, I don't want to discover eggs in my slippers.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Is Sliding Doors the shittest film ever made?

Those are strong words, and while Peter Howitt's 1998 "rom" "com" may not be as morally objectionable as something like Triumph of the Will, nor as endearingly all-round inept as Troll 2, it's certainly the most offensive flick I've subjected myself to for a long time. But I can't say I wasn't warned.

Spoilers and overlong commentary for a 17-year-old film follow.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Hong Kongfidential

Like our last trip to Singapore that I couldn't tell you about either, the reason behind our recent visit to its spiritual sibling to the north must remain similarly under wraps because I say so. When you concede to make your home in a third world hellhole where nothing works, you have to escape back to civilisation every once in a while to get things done.

With the unpleasant business taken care of, we tried to make the most of our few days in Hong Kong, enjoying the nostalgically nippy subtropical winter before heading back into the relentless furnace. Remember when I used to visit places just because I wanted to see them? Those were the days.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The BFG's B-sides

Twenty more unexciting entries from the dream journal. No attempts at psychoanalysis this time, I'll let the insanity speak for itself.