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I have the day off work; I was pretty sure that after running a cabaret at a festival, I'd need it - especially as I didn't get home until 11pm because of booking a late ferry crossing (my own fault, and definitely Lethargy Tax - I could have got an earlier ferry if I'd booked my ticket more than a month ago.)

I had to return the hire car this morning though, so I was up at 8am and the car was back by 9.30. That's okay - I don't need sleep, just not to be doing much.

So I got back to Ilford and mooched around the shops, somewhat inevitably ending up in Waterstones, even more inevitably buying books. And as I left I noticed that they had the new Terry Pratchett novel, "I Shall Wear Midnight" - the final book in the Tiffany Aching story. So I went back in and bought that too.

Because it's a mooching day, and because I hadn't had breakfast, I stopped for coffee and started reading. Three hours later I looked up from my book with tears in my eyes, the story finished.

I've liked Terry Pratchett for a very long time. I remember reading one of his books in the Burger King in Brighton and laughing out loud at the cleverness of his turn of phrase - he mentioned that the Medusa often had problems with underarm deodorant - the snakes kept biting the heads off the roll-ons.

Think about the implications of that for a second.

He also introduced me to my favourite GK Chesterton quote, and explained why fairy stories are important all in one go (even though he misquoted Chesterton): "Fairy stories don't teach children that monsters exist. They already know that. Fairy stories teach them that monsters can be slain".

And then he switched from merely clever to worthy, and I liked that too. He took fantasy and he used it to tell us truth about the world we live in, and did it without preaching and with humour - the spoonful of sugar that made the medicine go down delightfully.

With the Tiffany Aching books, he switched from worthy and thought provoking to soulful. For me, the Aching books are my favourite of his stories, because Tiffany herself is a character I feel affection for, not one that I merely admire. I care deeply what happens to her and that is one of the greatest gifts an author can bestow.

I was speaking to a friend recently and he expressed some concern that 'Midnight' would not be a great book. Certainly, Pratchett's recent books haven't grabbed me - Thudd, Making Money and Going Postal all had moments of what I love about his work, but not many of them. They're perfectly good books, but not up to his best. Unseen Academicals is okay, but nothing more than that. Is it the Alzheimer's? A lack of caring about the Discworld? Running out of ideas?

Having seen him speak at the National recently, and being very aware that he wasn't the same person I'd heard speak 5 years previously, I had much the same fears.

I won't post spoilers about the story, but I will say my fears were groundless. Is 'Midnight' his best book? I can't tell you yet. Give me a few years to see which ones I re-read over and over and then I'll let you know. But it's a worthy finish to the story he started telling in 2003, and like the best childrens books often are, full of beauty and certainly suitable for adults.

The tears in my eyes at the end were mainly there because it very much felt like a good-bye.
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"When I was 10", I told her, "I wanted my birthday to move from September to December just so there was the slightest chance I could wake up on the morning of my 11th birthday and open my curtains to a snow filled landscape."

There's been a lot in my head this year about mythologies; the stories that shape us. Andrew Rilstone (who writes very well, especially about Doctor Who, quotes Laurence Miles in this post saying that Doctor Who is his native mythology. Rilstone also quotes Ursula LeGuin talking about the language of the night and the language of the day; the symbological as well as the literal; two strands of language going on at once in one story.

Doctor Who was never my mythology. That's not to say it wasn't part of my childhood. I have a very strong memory of when we got our first portable television - Rebecca must have been about 5, I'd have been 10. Somewhere about 1978 or '79, so we'd have been watching Tom Baker. Why was the portable important? It was in the kitchen, and Doctor Who was on at the same time that Dad would have been watching the news in the living room, or Mum would have been watching her soaps. Back in the days of one television per household, we watched children's TV until 5.30 when the news started, and then control of the TV passed to your parents unless a combination of advanced diplomacy, foot stamping and cries of 'But everyone at school will be watching it! You're so unfair!' could wrest control back.

I remember the excitement of the portable television. Black and white, of course, and with only three channels, but under our control. We could watch whatever we wanted. (For a given value of 'whatever', of course - in actuality, we could watch BBC2 while Mum was watching ITV.) I remember watching the Young Ones on that TV, and the first series of Blackadder - Monday night comedies on BBC2; half an hour of anarchy. I remember watching Doctor Who and, as the end credits rolled, turning off the kitchen lights and turning up the brightness on the TV so the explosion that closed the credits lit up the whole room.

I remember the Who stories, of course, but not well, because I didn't internalise them. I didn't make them part of the mythopoeic landscape that I was building inside me, unconsciously at the time, but building it nevertheless. The bricks of that landscape were shaped by Ursula Le Guin, by Michael Praed, by Herne the Hunter and Ged the wizard. And by Will Stanton, of course; youngest of the Old Ones, 11 years old on a snow-clad morning, ancient and young all at once.

Susan Cooper describes Britain as myth-haunted, and that resonates as truth with me.

So I've never felt the pull of Who that so many of my friends have. For me, the myths of my childhood are both ancient and modern. Take Robin of Sherwood, for example. There have been Robin Hood stories for a long time, one of the quintessential underdog tales. But it wasn't until the 80's TV series, silly hair and all, that the overtly pagan Herne got added in to the story in the popular conscience. He's in the Dark is Rising stories too - master of the Wild Hunt, neither Dark nor Light but above and beyond both. I often wonder if the writers of RoS had read the Dark is Rising stories, or if both they and Cooper were merely drawing from the same stewpot of ideas.

I think it's the reason that I fell so heavily into LRP at the Gathering, to be honest. If I'd been in a different faction, I'm not sure it would have held my attention for as long as it did. But I was in the Lions, and then the Harts - fighting for Albion - the parts of England that were Arthur, and Robin, and Herne and the Swords of Wayland. I never felt the need to portray anything but human either - being part of the stories of my own mythology was enough.

The fact that we were adapting and creating our own stories had its own funny repercussions; the webmaster of the Harts website once received an email from someone in the USA demanding that we take down the story of how the Swords of Wayland came to be because her coven was the actual holder of the seven swords, handed down to them through the Middle Ages. I believe she may have been pointed at the interview with Richard Carpenter where he said that he'd made them all up, including their names, out of his imagination. She was, I think, treated more politely than I would have, at the time.

I think it's also one of the reasons why Odyssey, the LRP I was at a couple of weekends ago, didn't resonate. Mediterranean Mythology does little for me; keeping track of which God turned into which thing to sleep with which woman never really had much appeal for me.

So I’ll chase my own mythologies; outside of a costume, possibly outside of a mask. I’ll listen to the stories which resonate; some with truth, others with beauty, the occasional one with both. And I’ll listen to both the language of the night, and of the day, when the storyteller speaks.

And occasionally, just occasionally, I’ll tell a story of my own.
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Those of you playing Echo Bazaar(or actually, those of you interested in game design and / or story structure) might well want to read this:


I'm linking to Part 3 because it has links to part 2 and part 1 at the top. Well worth a read for an insight into (and some cool ideas about) adventure design.
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There was a woman on the train today wearing a parka; one of the old green army coats made popular by Mods. I've seen her a couple of times wearing the same coat, and thought nothing of it until today, when she got off the train before me and I saw that the parka had a fishtail.

I guess the fish-tailed parka was the first item of clothing I was aware of being 'designed' - during my childhood clothing was something you just wore. Maybe the teeshirt had a funny picture on it. Maybe the jumper was in one of those patterns that only a mother could love. But it all seemed a little bit incidental to my life. Clothing was something that happened to you, not that was a series of conscious choices.

The Punk Wars passed Shropshire by. We had, at best, the Minor Punk Contretemps. I knew one punk when I was a teenager - he was called Nick Tooth (his actual name) and I played Dungeons and Dragons with him on a Sunday afternoon; hardly, if you'll forgive the phrase, rock and roll. We may have had Mods in the 80s, but I wasn't very aware of them. Rockers? There was one pub in Wellington that smelled of wee ... actually, there were several pubs in Wellington that stank of urine, but there was one in particular that had that greebo odour, but this was before I was really going out to pubs, so it wasn't part of my mental landscape. Even the skinheads were few and far between - I guess most of them were up in Stafford with Shane Meadows at the time.

I guess what I'm saying is that during my early teens, dressing to identify myself with a particular genre of music wasn't really something I felt the need to do - partly because I just wasn't that much of an adherent of any one genre, and partly because none of my friends did either. The tribes I was a member of during the early 80s were all far less focussed than that.

But I had a parka.

It hadn't been bought for fashionable reasons. In fact, I hadn't bought it and certainly hadn't paid for it. My mum bought me my parka, and I have no idea why. She'd got it when we were visiting relatives in Ireland and decided that I needed a new coat.

The parka was a rubbish coat. Too thin to keep warm, not particularly water resistant. A big (because of course, I'd "grow into it"), shapeless green bag.

And the first item of clothing I ever wore which almost got me beaten up twice.

Because while most of the Skins were in Stoke, not all of them were. And on two separate occasions I remember getting stopped by scary lads with shaved heads and beautifully polished oxblood 18 hole Doc Martens, and them demanding to know if I "was a Mod?". Demanding with menaces, as the Theft Act of 1968 quite poetically puts it.

And this is where the lady on the train kicked off this particular stream of memories this morning. Because back when I was 13 or 14, I knew almost nothing about the Mods. I hadn't yet seen Leslie Ash in a Brighton back alley in Quadrophenia. If you'd said "Who are The Who?" I'd have thought you were doing a particularly bad owl impression. But I knew one thing about Mods.

And with that particular calm born of naiveté, on both occasions I turned to my interrogators and said "No - because Mod parkas have a fishtail."

And I walked off letting them see that, in fact, my cheap, Irish knock off parka was indeed sans le queue du poisson - bereft of the fish tail.

And while kingdoms may have been lost for want of a nail; beatings have also been avoided for want of a tail.
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I remember drilling for oil on the moon.

It was a summer play scheme, back in the 70s sometime. It was held at Madeley Court, which was both the local sports centre and a rubbish secondary school. When the high point of a school is that they have access to a dry ski slope, you know that their standards are low. (I am aware that some of my ski-ing friends will disagree). Madeley Court was also the source of the worst bruise that I've ever received that wasn't inflicted by the NHS and related to that, a slight fear of mixed hockey. But that was a couple of years later.

There were a lot of different activities going on at the play-scheme, and I've no idea how or why I chose the one I did; the memory I have starts when I walked into a room. A large, low table was set in a clear space, and an even larger lump of clay on it. I remember that the clay was brown, and smelt very different to dirt; a cleaner, almost clinical smell. Not quite the taste of a petit madeleine, but still easy to bring to mind after all these years. I must have been 8, I think; nearly 9 as it was the summer. The lump of clay was huge; I remember it being larger than I could reach around with both arms, and we were gathered around it by one of the two adults leading this activity.

What's this? she said.

I'm certain that after the requisite delay that occurs when you pose a question to a group of kids who don't know each other and haven't worked out the pecking order yet, and aren't certain that volunteering an answer will result in a duffing up later, someone said 'Clay'.

She smiled.

No, that's what it is. What is it?

And she was laughing, but she was one of those people who knew how to laugh so that you got the joke, rather than thinking that you're being laughed at. I remember her being an adult, i.e. old, and dressed strangely; now I'm certain that she was in her late teens or early twenties, and dressed in that hippy / bohemian style that I really find quite attractive. Who needs psycho-analysis when you have LiveJournal?

But I digress. Eventually, one kid piped up;

It looks like the moon.

And she laughed out loud, and said Yes! That's it! It's the moon! What does the moon look like?

It has craters?
one child suggested.

This doesn't have craters, does it? Then she pointed at three of us. Why don't you make some craters on the moon?

It really didn't take a lot more encouragement for three young children to get dirty, so they jumped forward and started digging holes in the clay with their bare hands.

What else does the moon have? she asked.

Rockets!  said one boy, with great enthusiasm, and she pointed at the spoil heaps that were appearing next to the crater-excavators. Show me, she said.

And that was the rest of the afternoon.

We took the clay and we told stories with it - bases were built and occupied by every nation we'd ever heard of, whether they had a space programme or not. Flags were raised and rockets erected. She kept asking us questions, and we answered, and everything we said, we built. I noticed that rockets needed fuel so started building oil rigs and wells and piles of oil drums, heedless of any envionmental consequences - but this was 1977 and I was eight; I'm not sure the environment had made it to Telford by then.

We ended the afternoon covered in splats of clay, with the world our storytelling had built in front of us.

My niece, who is 10, emailed me yesterday, and as part of the conversation said that she preferred English to Crafts at school. She didn't like "making things", she said, but she really liked writing. I can't blame her. In secondry school, I detested Woodwork;  I think my parents still have the fish statue that we all had to carve somewhere. My sisters (my niece's mum) is lithe and graceful - you can imagine it dropping off of its stand and into the water, darting away. Mine is ugly and solid; the sort of fish that we'll only eat when all the pretty ones have become extinct. So I do understand my niece; I hated not being able to transfer what was in my head into solid form. The things I made were never as sleek or graceful as how I could describe them. Never as alive. I never managed it.

Well, except once. The time I built oil wells on the moon.
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""It is not just for a student's grade to depend on the willingness or capacity of a stranger to help him with his homework. I am ready to discuss this with your teacher, principal or school board."

Robert Heinlein's Form Letter.
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The explanation of it is one of the TED talks, here.

By the way, if you haven't seen the TED site, do. It justifies the Internet on its own.

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