Monday, March 30, 2009

George had the best few days he’s had for a long time, smiling and giggling for most of the week. Then on Thursday night, it all went wrong. He’s spent the last two days and nights throwing up. Not very nice.

We’d planned to go away on Saturday for a day trip to Brighton. It doesn’t look like this will happen – which is a bit of a shame, not least because last week, after Mum and Dad left to go and see Grace and Igor, we decided we’d take a day trip to Windsor Safari park - a jaunt which George would have absolutely loved – if it weren’t for the fact we discovered just before leaving that Windsor safari park closed 12 years ago.

The fact that neither of us realised this was a bit embarrassing until we discovered that everybody we’ve so far told didn’t know it had closed either….

In the event, we had a pretty low key weekend – although we still managed a roast dinner at Sam’s…

Jade Goody died last week. With newspapers and the TV news all trying to tell us that she wasn’t as stupid as she seemed – primarily I think because of a need to justify our fascination with her. I’ve never been much of a fan, but I still found her strangely fascinating.

In science class I remember an experiment. The idea was that atoms and molecules are far too small to see even under a microscope. However, if you look at large particles you can see them moving about under a microscope even though they’ve got no power of their own as the atoms of water bounced off them.

By watching the erratically moving particles, you could see the unseen engines of the universe. It was called Brownian motion.

That’s the way I think of Jade Goody – as a character with no means of propelling herself through the celebrity firmament, she bounced erratically without direction – but through her, you could see the action of the forces that shape the media…

But there’s something else too. For me, she’s who I think about whenever I hear a policy proposed on social inclusion, education, the unemployed or pretty much anything, I wonder how it would have affected someone like her.

It’s a tough test for any policy, but there are enough Jade Goodys around, and by and large they fall through pretty much every net put into place….

Friday, March 20, 2009

George, the neighbour who crashed into our house seems to have turned the exercise into an effort to make friends with everyone in the street. He’s been calling round regularly – sometimes up to 5 times a day – trying to sort out insurance and other stuff.

I admire the sentiment, but he seems to be able to choose the most inappropriate times (usually George’s bathtime, or when we’re eating). He’s also got the idea very firmly in his head that because his accident was important to him, it’s going to be just as important to us… which it wouldn’t be if we didn’t have him knocking on the door every five minutes asking why we haven’t phoned the insurance company for the 14 th time….

At the weekend, we had a couple of Lisa’s friends around for Sunday lunch – which was nice. I tried out my breadmaking, and it seemed to work – although I’ve still got a long way to go before I get the technique right.

My mum and Dad came up for the end of the week – and it’s lovely to see them. Mum’s leg is much better – and she even went out for a walk around London today (trying to track down our family tree), so that can’t be bad. She’s getting back to her old self which is great. And Dad is such an amazing hit with George who seems to think he’s the funniest person on the planet.

…Even if Lisa and I are both a little tired right now, so not very good hosts!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Over the weekend, we went to Bristol for a break. I had a breadmaking course in Bath which Lisa got me for Christmas. It was run by a French baker who has a serious objection to, among other things, sliced bread and kneading.

The first objection is mainly due to the huge ingredients list you get on shop-brought bread – when all you really need in it is flour, water, salt and yeast.

The second objection has a lot to do with getting the right amount of flour and the right amount of air into your bread. The technique he taught is difficult – and I’m planning to try it on my own this weekend – but it was very successful.

We managed to make (using one recipe) bread sticks, fougassi, ciabatta and a tin loaf… there was even a bread-based quiche…

A really good course… although I’ll see on Sunday whether I manage to pull it off.

However, it was hard work, and what with that and Lisa’s day looking after George in Bristol (and the fact that we hadn’t got much sleep on Thursday night), we were both a bit tired. A pity really because we had a baby sitter booked to come to the hotel room so we could go out and have dinner. We could barely keep our eyes open.

Having returned from Bristol, and met up with our next door neighbour who’s wall was also demolished last week, he showed me what his CCTV camera (which he’s got pointed at the street – partially as a sign of the times, and partially because he suspected that this would happen sooner or later).

It shows quite clearly what happened as the car from across the road sped backwards into our front garden, paused for a couple of seconds, then screamed off into the road to crash again.

What surprised me was how quick it all was. From the time he started out of his drive to the time he left our garden was only about 5 seconds – and yet, although I was asleep when I heard the crash, I was at the window to see him drive out…. It must have been loud because I’m not out of bed that quickly when George cries!

Met up with Russ in town on Thursday, which was nice. We went to an itallian restaurant next to the Silver Cross pub on Whitehall… a rather bizarre experience as its management has changed since I was last there. It’s now done out like a Greek temple, but filled with full sized knights in armour for some reason. The menus are huge laminated books with what pretends to be a photo of each dish – only the photos are of generic pastas with other ingredients badly photoshopped into them so that the whole thing looks like a child’s collage….

Anyway, it turns out at the end of the meal (while they were hoovering up the floor around us) that they no longer take cards – only cash. Helpfully they accept euros, although we didn’t have any – so we had to simply give them all the cash and bits of fluff from our pockets and hope it was enough… it wasn’t, but they let us off.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Lisa’s Mum’s Birthday
Last week was Lisa’s Mum’s 70th and we had a house full. Sally came up (without Colin or the kids because their dog was having its leg amputated due to a tumour). Lucinda, Giancarlo and Livia came over from Switzerland, and Lisa’s parents, of course, joined us.

Friday night was a bit frantic – but luckily we also had Jane’s Son, Nathan round as we were babysitting him, so he was able to help me make dinner.

Saturday, we went out for Wendy’s birthday to Beauberry house - in Dulwich for dinner. It’s a great place which serves a strange fusion of Japanese and European cooking – you can have a sushi starter, a pork hock main course and a sticky toffee pudding for afters.

They were also offering everything half price, which was nice. A small problem with Lisa’s Uncle didn’t dampen the evening too much, but we were both ready to sleep when the weekend was over…

It was also my mum's birthday this week. Her leg seems to be improving and she's getting out a bit more. I'm looking forward to seeing her in a couple of weeks when she comes up to London...

The recession has hit

Ok – there’s no getting around it. The recession has well and truly hit me. Having decided at the beginning of the year to plough money and effort into advertising my work in an attempt to grow my business, I find myself at the beginning of March with little to show for it.

By putting a huge amount (£40 per day) into advertising on google (my best source of business so far), I’ve got one job, and a few positive enquiries from January, but nothing at all of any use in February.

I can’t keep up that level of spending, so I’ve taken the decision cut it right back. Which in turn means no chance of getting the work that is out there.

The other strands of my advertising are more positive, but not any more promising. I’ve now had two email mailing lists compiled:

One of 2,000 museums to which I’ve sent a note letting them know I’ve written a guide to commissioning animation. This is a very “soft sell” – I’ve offered them a feature they might find interesting along with a note that they can contact me if they need any animation done for future displays. From this, I’ve got lots of people saying how much they like my work, and that they’ll keep my details for the future – but no actual work right now.

The other, of 500 aquariums to which I’ve offered a very specific animation idea – to create a “virtual fishtank” containing animations of extinct, or un-exhibitable sea creatures. It’s a much more direct offer (albeit one at quite a high value), but the response was pretty similar “love your work, but haven’t got any money” was the overwhelming view.

Although the responses I’ve received have all thanked me for sending my email - I also did a little checking, and am worried by the legalities of sending out mail unsolicited – (something I hate doing – but running I’m a little short on ways to make people aware of my work). It turns out that generally, you can send out emails to companies as long as you give them a valid email address to respond to and tell you if they don’t want your emails. You also have to not disguise who you are.

The one problem is that you can’t send emails to named individuals. Only there’s no way of knowing whether you’re talking to a company or one individual trading as a company, so it’s all a bit confused.

Anyway, this means I have to worry about the legal side of emailing, but it doesn’t mean I can practically do anything about it.

In addition, the company I’ve employed to build up my website traffic by writing a couple of articles about my work and putting them on sites which link to mine have come back to me with the articles to check – and they’re awful! They’re really badly written and say absolutely nothing of any value. I wouldn’t be happy having my work associated with them at all, so it doesn’t look as though that avenue is going to work either.

To make matters worse, my website stopped working this week – somehow it’s code became corrupted (possibly as a result of someone hacking into it), and it’s taken 3 days to get it working again and I’ve changed all my passwords.

All in all, I’ve been a bit despondent - there’s not a lot of work out there. By the looks of it, there isn’t going to be for a while, and I have to re-think my strategy. And this is not going to be a cheap year – either professionally or personally…

I’ve worked out that if I finish the documentary project I’m on now, and manage to keep the monthly newsletter I write for Pinnacle (there seems no likelihood of that going under – in fact it may expand) and I get a few more pieces from magazine articles, then as long as the images I’ve got on stock libraries keep generating income, I’ll make enough to survive.

This also depends on the tenant in my property in Manchester starting to pay his rent again (he hasn’t been able to pay for 6 months now and the council are being scandalously slow in processing his benefit claim. I may have to evict him.

So what else can I do? –well, my new plan is to develop a series of emails making different offers every month to different sets of people… the next one will be a very low-cost offer (just a few dollars for giving video footage a certain “look”). It’s not something I can make a lot of money at – more of a “loss leader” but my thought is if people aren’t buying high-cost projects, might they go for something much lower cost initially?

There are a few other low cost, small projects I can pursue – like writing articles and doing one off illustrations… but I still need to get the work.

Relentlessly optimistic
Ok, so to be optimistic about it. The good thing about having no paid work is that it means I should have the time to work on some of my own projects that nobody’s going to pay me for anyway. Having no other work means working on personal projects isn’t taking time away from paying ones, so if I’m organised, I should be able to do some of the things I’ve really wanted to do:

A feature film documentary idea about something I think is really important… and a children’s animated series. Both, huge undertakings, but if other work is short… I’ll do a breakdown of just what it would take to get these projects off the ground…


New drive
We started work on our new driveway this morning… or more specifically somebody else started work on it at 1am this morning.

George, the guy from across the road who I picked up the other week when he fell over outside his house and broke his ribs, has been getting more unsteady on his feet over the last couple of weeks. The ambulance has been outside his house a few times, and he’s been put on medication.

He still spends a lot of his time standing outside his house, chatting to passers by during the day and feeding the foxes at night. In fact, he’s out there almost constantly.

He’s never been a particularly careful driver – bumping various cars on the way into our out of his driveway in the past few years. He hit Lisa’s car a couple of years ago, as well as running into a big yellow skp a few weeks later.

However, since his falls, he’s been on heavy medication, and last night at about 1am, he decided to go for a drive. I was woken by a crash and rushed to the window to see his car had skidded across the road in reverse, knocked over two walls and ended up in our garden. As I watched, he revved the engine, screamed off over the wall, smashed into our neighbour’s mini opposite, and accelerated into someone’s garden three doors down…

Some of the neighbours came out, and by the time I got there, he’d decided (against most people’s advice) to climb out of his car.

I always find, at the scene of road accidents that there are a few common responses:

The victims always want to get out of their cars – despite the danger of injuries being made worse if they do. They then invariably decide they need to go somewhere else or do something they clearly can’t do.

Anyone peripherally involved but not central tends to initially try to start an argument – but pretty soon realises it’s going to do more harm than good…

And most people tend to assume, having watched lots of movies, that the biggest danger is of the car exploding into a fireball (in reality, cars – even ones packed with explosives – rarely explode).

On this occasion, I managed to stop George from wandering off in shock, and tried to focus people on sorting out the mess rather than arguing about it (which as a polite middle class bunch, they seemed to do pretty easily). George seemed pretty un-harmed, but there’s a lot of damage in the street.

I made a cup of tea for his wife (who wasn’t in the car, but was mortified by it all), took his keys, and pointed the ambulance men and police in the right direction.

Hopefully, this will stop George from driving (I’m sure the police, his doctors and the lack of a car will also help), because it could have been a lot more serious. As it was, we had been wondering over the past week how we were going to get the wall taken down to make way for our new drive. It seems, that’s not going to be a problem.

He’s done us a favour.

Our neighbours, Jo and James were not in when the car ploughed through their wall as well as ours. They’ll be quite glad too – because if they had been at home, their brand new Porsche would have been parked directly in George’s path…