Friday, April 30, 2004

walk on by
She's not rendered, but she's still beautiful.
right that's it, it's is 5.45am, the animator has a friend coming over at 9am and - finally - I think I might be able to get an hour's kip before needing to get up and be the hostess. Note to self: do not drink two bottles of wine, it's not big, it's not clever and you actually quite like sleeping.
wine whine
Yesterday was a bit loopy: Kelly from the Island (she'll be the next big R'n'B sensation) came over for lunch and we ended up drinking wine all afternoon and putting the world to rights, in the evening Jenny from the Island (JLo's country cousin) came over for dinner and more wine was drunk with housemate C and the animator. All very well and good so why the whine? I'm whining because I can't drink wine without suffering horrible sweaty insomnia and it's not fair!

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Kelly from the Island (she of the comments box fame) is coming over for lunch, since she's an Urban Badger reader (and it was one of the few things I had all the ingredients for) I've made the trusty butternut squash tortilla, I'm serving it with and tomato, sweet pepper and green bean salad and homemade (first time I've tried this) coleslaw. In the style of Manor Menu:

Lisa's Greek-style coleslaw:
2 carrots (grated)
an equal amount of white cabbage (grated)
1 white onion - although red onion would also be nice (grated)
1 clove of garlic (crushed)
tablespoon of natural yoghurt
splash of lemon juice
teaspoon of tahini

mix all together and enjoy!
Listen to the fatkins squirrel, he knows the truth! (NSFW, needs sound, via Lose the Buddha).
Challenge Lisa: what happened next
At 20.00 hours an exhausted Lisa peeled off her sweaty jumpsuit, showered and slipped into something more comfortable (and bottom minimising) in which to welcome the animator home. Viewers will remember that when the timer went at 20.00 hours Lisa had one vital part of the challenge still to complete - writing the novel - tune in next week to see if the animator has forgiven her for reneging on their agreeement.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

I've got a long list of things to do today - weather permitting - and was up early in an attempt to get a head start on the indoor chores. Wish me luck, I feel like I'm standing in for Anneka in a low-budget version of Challenge Anneka. Now, where did I leave my shiny jumpsuit?
To be continued...

The clock is ticking, but I've got a (false?) sense of confidence that all tasks will be completed by the 20.00 hours deadline I have set myself. Missions so far accomplished include: posting a thank-you letter* to the Animator's parents (a task made more difficult due to the fact that I left my wallet on the Isle of Wight ferry - it was returned to my parents who are in the process of returning it to me - and had to scrabble round the flat for change); managing to complete my daily lap of Regent's Park without getting wet; purchasing milk (more scrabbling for change); tidying the flat and doing laundry. Tasks that are partially completed include: 100 ab crunches (I spread them out throughout the day - 3 sets of 10 before each meal and then a bonus 10 before bed) and other assorted 'toning' exercises; writing a thank-you letter to American friends (belated birthday gifts arrived a couple of days ago) and cleaning our bedroom. Tasks not yet started include: applying for jobs; writing more of the memory-loss story; updating my blogroll list; and yet another walk, I think I might go to the South Bank this time though, Regent's Park is beginning to bore.

And, for those of you who wondered, low-budget Challenge Anneka means on foot with no walkie talkie or team of helpers. At least I have the jumpsuit though.

*Describing the contents of the Easter parcel from my in-laws is something I'm saving for another post.

I forgot to mention this before. My day has been made even more like Anneka's by being diverted by strange shannanigans at Camden Town Hall. There is a police cordon around the Judd St side of the building because council workers are staging a charidee abseil down the building - at first we thought all the cheering was a protest, but no all morning people have been shinning down ropes while their co-workers stand outside the pub cheering. Now, enough of this nonsense, there's no time to lose...

Things have started to slide - job hunting is horrible and now, having scoured various jobsites, all I want to do is skive off the rest of the tasks and there's still so much to do! The animator and I have made a pact: we will write two pages of our respective stories a day and when the novels are finished we will edit each other's work. This scheme is fraught with danger - we have diametrically opposed tastes and styles - and he is already more than four pages up on me. All I can think is: must have glass of sherry and read this week's Time Out. Also I've hurt my foot (yes I know that injury never stopped Anneka) and the second walk doesn't seem like such a good idea. Finally, I'm stumped for something to cook for dinner tonight (the animator is teaching in Kent and won't be home until 9ish, so it has to be something that can survive in the oven for an hour or so). I will not be defeated!

Famous. Last. Words. Sherry has made me tipsy and Time Out has been read. Now, what on earth am I going to cook. What would Anneka do at a time like this? (Bear in mind I do not have access to a helicopter, a team of researchers or the pull of product placement on the BBC). Only 50 minutes on the clock people, things are getting desperate.
rain stops play
I've been very excited all day...I was going to meet some up with some pals for a chinwag, mucho plonko and some mighty fine live blues music at the wonderful Blues Bar. I'd lined my stomach with a veggie burger and was standing at the door with my gladrags on and a face full of slap ready to go. And then the thunder and lightning started. The roads are now rivers and the pals and I have decided to postpone to a later non-flooded date - 40 days and nights ought to do it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

the blind leading the...
I was walking through The Regent's Park (not, as I had previously thought, Regent's Park but The Regent's Park, how odd) when I saw a blind man walking his guidedog. Now I know what you're thinking: this is hardly front-page news, blind people do walk with guidedogs, that's the whole point of guidedogs. But you'd be wrong, this guidedog was off duty! The chap was walking along with his white stick and holding his dog's harness while the dog - with large tinkling bell attached to its collar - was behaving like any dog on holiday would. I've never seen an off-duty guidedog before. Guidedogs are the sober, world-weary, conservative, reliable members of the canine world; it never occured to me that they got time off to be normal, happy-go-lucky, frolicksome dogs. I grinned all the way home.

Monday, April 26, 2004

notes from a rural badger
Four and a half days: 58 miles walked, one set of lost marbles regained, one pub lunch, one swim in the (very cold) sea, one sunburnt forehead, one dinner out with my brother and parents, one upset, seven tarot readings (all saying the same thing), swathes upon swathes of beautiful woodland bluebells admired, one lost child (no relation) found and returned to anxious parents, two gin and tonics, four afternoon naps, many restorative deep breaths taken of sea and country air. Each day I was woken before five by the dawn chorus, each day I was out of the house before 7.30am and off on a long walk (day of arrival: 4 miles, day two: 14 miles, day three: 7 miles, day four: 14 miles, last day: 20 miles).

my family and other animals
2 hawks
2 buzzards
lots of trout
1 moorhen nesting on five eggs
4 other moorhens
a plague of pigeons (no change from home there then)
a goose
assorted doves, both white and ring collared
1 dead blue tit
lots of little birds (I'm no ornithologist)
1 red admiral butterfly and several other unidentifiable types
1 black hairy caterpillar
many more rabbits than people (rabbits being the coutryside's answer to rats)
enough pheasants for a mediaeval banquet
ducks - mallard (mostly) and other kinds
cows - black ones, brown ones (no fresian or hereford, which are the only breeds I can recognise) - and calves
sheep and lambs
2 cormorants
clouds of midges (some unfortunately ingested)
1 black beetle
some swans (a silhouette of swans, a silver service of swans, a royal dinner of swans, a song of swans - what is the collective noun for swans?)

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

butternut squash, spinach and walnut tortilla
My parents think that lunch equals bread and eggs in one of many combinations: fried egg on toast; scrambled egg with cheese in it, you've guessed it, on toast; poached egg (on toast); egg and bacon with bread and butter; boiled egg and soldiers. It is not surprising then that when E came over for lunch, and I was old enough to cook for us (12+), eggs predominated.
We hatched a plan. We'd have a cafe (probably next door to our salon) where people could order omlettes like you do pizza - any topping of your choice. Perhaps even sweet omlettes!
In honour of this memory, and because last time E came over she was laughing about how these days I can cook more than eggs, tonight I'm going to cook butternut squash, spinach and walnut tortilla. The following will serve four.

6 eggs
150ml double cream
salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
1/2 butternut squash (can use pumpkin or sweet potatoes instead)
olive oil
soy sauce
tobasco (or sweet chilli sauce, chilli)
150g spinach
walnut halves (or chopped walnuts)

Preheat oven to gas mark 7. Whisk eggs with double cream, add salt pepper and garlic. Peel and chop squash into 2cm chunks - coat these with olive oil, soy sauce and chilli. Bake in the oven until tender and slightly browned (about 20 minutes). Transfer into a large (non-stick) frying pan. Over a medium-to-low heat, add the spinach and pour the egg/cream mixture over the top. The egg/cream should reach about 2/3rds up the frying pan. Sprinkle the walnut halves/bits over the top of the tortilla. The egg should begin to set - this will take about 10 minutes - you can cook the tortilla in two ways: 1. cut and lift with a spatula so that runny egg flows to the bottom of the pan and cooks; or 2. when the tortilla has cooked half way through from the bottom up, place the frying pan under the grill to let it cook top down. I prefer method 2 as I like my tortilla quite firm.

Can be eaten warm or at room temperature - it is good served with salads.

This recipe is adapted from The Cranks Bible, which is one of my favourite cook books - along with The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (you Americans have no idea how rude that sounds to us Brits, makes me wet my pants every time), The New Cranks Recipe Book and, of course, The Moro Cookbook.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Trip home has been put off until tomorrow because an old friend is coming over tonight - in fact, with any luck, I might even get a lift home with her on Wednesday.
E and I met when we were four. She lived five minutes' up the road and our parents used to share school run duties. From age four to age fourteen we saw each other almost daily. Sleepovers, secrets, huge rows, world-war sized fall outs, treaties, peacemaking, makeovers - she feels more like a sister than a friend. And like sisters we were classified by our families: I was the clever one, she was the beautiful one. And she was beautiful, as tall as me but her build slender and delicate, her hair dark and thick, her skin porcelain. I might have been even more jealous (because I was jealous), only I always felt it was better to be clever than beautiful - clever means a better job, more money and a nicer life; clever meanss being admired for something deeper; clever means having deep thoughts. E always wanted to be a make up artist, hairdresser or beautician, she said we'd open a shop - she'd do the beauty and I'd do the sums (accounts I guess). Whole afternoons were devoted to her making me over, styling my hair - it was her hobby and she was good at it. During these years my career goals chopped and changed: fashion designer, teacher, scientist, writer...
E didn't do very well at middle school and her parents decided she'd have a better chance at a girls' school. We saw each other less and her social life moved to the town where the convent day school was. When the convent school closed I was at the local high school, but E decided to go to a different one to stay with her friends from the convent school. We saw each other every couple of weeks, but our lives were already so different. Then her parents split up and she and her mum no longer lived five minutes' away. We kept in touch, but it was sporadic. I went to uni up North, she stayed on the Island working as a beauty threrapist. I became a bit arrogant when we met up, I think all us uni students got a bit big for our boots. We stopped bothering to meet up when I was home, but our mothers kept us informed of how each other was doing
I went to Greece for a year after graduation, by the time I'd got back (and moved immediately to London) E was in Australia. She did really well for herself out there - she really is a very good beauty therapist, one that gives generously and makes the client feel genuinely beautified by the end of the treatment.
When E came back I heard from my mum that she and her boyfriend bought a house. I was busy working in London and when I was on the Isle I never bothered to look her up. My life moved on and so did hers, I got married. Then suddenly E and her boyfriend broke up. The Isle became claustrophobic and she went travelling for a while, when she came back she got a high-powered position with Clarins travelling between concessions, checking up on staff. I heard that she was now often in London. I got her mobile number and gave her a call.
It was as if the last eight years hadn't happened - we picked up exactly where we'd left off. For the last year or so E has been a regular visitor to Badger Mansions, often staying over when she wanted to add an extra day to her London visits, coming to dinner when the thought of another solo hotel evening became oppressive. In the run up to Christmas E and her new bloke stayed for a few days. We swapped 'work is shit' stories - we both knew we had to quit.
I quit in January with nothing lined up, feeling brave and confident. E waited a month or so. I heard a couple of weeks ago that she had handed in her notice with Clarins and bought a shop with a hairdresser friend.
E has managed to make her childhood dream come true I'm still unemployed and wondering what the hell I'm going to do with my life - who's the clever one now?

Monday, April 19, 2004

I've just had a rather unsettling phone call from a freelance headhunter looking for a 'powerful business editor'. I resisted the urge to say, 'then why on earth are you calling me?' and meekly emailed her my CV as requested. Meanwhile, back on the ranch, Agent Ben has emailed asking if I'd be interested in a project manager role at a legal publishers. I'm flummoxed - I have no relevant experience for the legal publisher position and I'll be blowed if I'm a 'powerful business editor' - something very strange is going on. Weeks of hearing nothing then lots of leads just as I'm preparing to flee to the country. What an odd morning this is turning out to be.
no comment
First off, I'm turning into a bit of a comment box floozy. So I left a comment on Unluckyman's blog - one of those throwaway 'been there, done that' comments - only for Jonny B to suggest that it should have been a post. So what the hell, I'll extend the story and make it into a proper post.

kind hearts and internets
I've never been a serial datist: I've always had long periods in between relationships. That said, all through high school, uni and living in Greece I never had a problem meeting people I wanted to date. However, after living in London for a year or so I suddenly realised that I'd got into a bit of a sad singleton rut. I went out a bit more often - clubs, pubs and bars, the usual thing - but was always a bit disappointed by the results. It's virtually impossible to get to know someone in that environment and it always felt rather sleazy: beers, snog, swap numbers, more beers, veggie burger, night bus, lose number, home, sleep, wake, hangover, vague memory: who was that? What I wanted were proper dates, like you see in US teen movies.
Work was going through a quiet period and I had hours of spare time to surf the internet; the logical solution appeared to be internet dating. I'd read about wheresmydate in the Independent and rationalised that there might well be an influx of like-minded Independents registering - I decided to follow suit. I filled in a questionaire and waited. I didn't have to wait long, within a day or so my inbox was full of replies.
This is fun! This cures office boredom.
As I mentioned to Unluckyman, the majority of the replies were fairly hopeless and within a week or so I got used to ignoring all of those that didn't sound like sane human beings from the off - there's no room for charity in this enterprise. Bad grammar, profiles that included terrible photos, requests for sex - all of these respondents were instantly told to get lost. Those replies that seemed worth a punt received a chatty reply. If, after a few weeks of emailing, I still liked the chap I suggested meeting up for a drink. The next three months or so were pretty hectic. One date was enough to tell whether there was any spark - most often there wasn't, but it was still good fun. Occasionally there was and we went on more dates. It was great - I met really lovely guys, felt courted and had a great time.
Some of this dating success must have given me an aura of attractiveness because suddenly I had offers from guys at friends' parties too. At one point I was dating three and had another two lined up if things didn't work out. Then things got a bit difficult. I fell head over heels for one chap who turned out not to feel the same way about me. Suitably chastened I retired from online dating for a few months.
However, it is a bit addictive - it's exciting to open your inbox and discover that half the world likes you - and once I felt a bit more heart-whole I decided to try again. This time I registered with Match. Again, I found that I was suddenly meeting more 'prospects' in real life too. However, one guy's emails made my heart beat faster than any other had and, after a month of emails and hour-long phone calls, I met the animator for the first time. I knew I had to meet him to dispell all of my fevered imaginings about how wonderful he was. His witty, sensitive emails had set an impossibly high standard. Then those long, long phonecalls where neither of us had wanted to hang up even though it was one in the morning - we were too busy discussing art or theatre or my work or his...we had lots in common, but also so much of our experiences were new to each other - those phonecalls were the animator's voice was soft and his laugh hearty had me thinking impossible thoughts. I had to meet him.
We arranged to meet at Angel Station. So that we'd recognise each other I said I'd wear my devil horns (bought for a halloween costume) he said he'd wear antlers. Improbably, I'd imagined that these would be Herne the Hunter-esque; in hindsight, I realise this says more about the workings of my unconscious than I care to admit. In fact the animator was wearing novelty fluffy reindeer horns, bless.
We repaired to a nearby pub and then on to The Old Red Lion pub/theatre to have another drink and see the animator's colleague in an am-dram production. The attraction wasn't instantaneous. I remember looking at him very carefully after the second drink thinking: right then, I'd better work out whether or not I fancy him before I get drunk; but if I don't then I'd better be sure because I'm probably passing up the chance of a lifetime, he's wonderful.
After the play we went to a noodle bar for dinner and a bottle of wine. Half way through I helped myself to another brimming glass, only to remember my manners and fill his glass to spilling point too. Apparently, it was at this point that the animator decided that yes he really liked me; to this day I don't understand why.
Neither of us wanted the evening to end and a lost minicab driver and the offer of a bottle of vodka conspired to ensure that he came home with me, even though it was a school night. We slept, yes really. Got up the next day, Friday, and went bleary-eyed to our respective offices. We saw each other again on Saturday, then the following Monday. Within two weeks the animator told me he loved me: around 11 at night, while we sat waiting for a tube at Piccadilly Circus, northbound Bakerloo line platform. Within three months we were living together; eighteen months after we first met we were married.
Not quite a whirlwind, but close enough.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Me: [joking tone] I must stop eating so much, I think I'm getting a double chin.
Him: [serious] Yes, I had noticed.

I think we can all agree he committed suicide can't we?

Saturday, April 17, 2004

I started to respond to Virginia's comment (see previous post) in the comment box, but then had so much to say I thought I may as well post it - hey it's my blog I can do that, ooh the power!

Wow, married after six weeks? The faith you must have had in each other (and in the strength of your own feelings) astounds me. We thought we were rushing into things by getting married after 18 months together, even though we'd been living together for almost all of that time.
My previous post was probably a little bit muddled up because it touched on two ideas:

  • My doubt that the romantic ideal of the one true soul mate exists outside of the imagination

  • That marriage is a process not a destination

  • I wasn't saying that I didn't commit when we got married or that I don't think that there is something sacred in the bond that connects two people (whether they've had the state recognise that bond or not). It just seems more precious to me (and more likely to last) if you remake that commitment to stay together every day rather than assuming it's a given. Sometimes, when the animator and I are having one of our strange 'lots of talking, but no mutual understanding' days I reflect on the differences in our world views. For example, for him our marriage is granite bedrock. It is the foundation that everything else is built on, he has no doubt that he will always love me and that we will always be married. If things were to go horribly wrong in the future he'll think of it in terms of cataclysm - an earthquake, an enormous sudden split. I, on the other hand, think of our marriage as somewhat akin to a coral reef: a beautiful, living, crystaline structure. A reef, given the right environment, not only flourishes and grows, it also provides a home. However, a reef is also fragile - it needs to be protected and here's where the analogy breaks down... Sometimes, while I envy the animator his certainty, I worry that we don't tend our marriage like we should. Essentially, life sometimes pollutes my coral reef, while it just washes off his granite bedrock. Am I writing gibberish?

    Friday, April 16, 2004

    how do you know?
    How do you know when you've met 'the one', how do you decide that this is the person you are going to spend the rest of your life with? For starters, neither of us believe in this concept of 'the one'. The animator grew up in a small-town environment and almost all of his friends are still there, most have married their childhood sweethearts while one or two have shaked up with their childhood sweethearts only to then break up for a previous crush. Essentially, everyone has paired off with someone from their immediate circle of friends. Many of the people I grew up with did the same. Looking at this we've both thought: out of all the people in all the world, what are the chances of 'the one' being in that small population? So, that brings us to the pragmatic theory of 'near enough is good enough'. If we had both kept on looking I'm sure we could have found better partners eventually, so what made us stop looking? How do you know that, for better or worse, this is it?
    I've mentioned before that, although I really wanted to get married, we were rushed into it. The animator lost his job and with it his visa - it wasn't much of a choice get married, split up or move to Australia and be in exactly the same (though reversed) position a year later. If we had moved back I think things would have been even more miserable, certainly I would have felt that I'd gone under duress and perhaps even that I'd moved all that way for a man that didn't want to marry me. And the last two years have been pretty tough on both of us - we've been continuously broke, our lives have changed dramatically - so tough in fact that I wonder if we would have made it through without being married. Even though he was dead set against marriage (in general, not to me specifically), the animator doesn't have these endless thoughts about 'what if' - for him, this is it like it or lump it, there's no point thinking about what might have been.
    So how did we get here? What made us decide that we're life partners (that sounds like a jail sentence!)? Some days I just know - something he says; a look; a joke; the way he approaches a new project; the way he cooks 'experimentally' - just chimes with the way I think a marriage ought to be. There are other days where I'm filled with doubt - we bicker; we talk loads, but never quite communicate properly; we have different tastes in everything; there is just so much compromise involved - and I say to the animator, 'Is this the way it's supposed to be?' And that's where our parents' examples prove their value. Maintaining a marriage is occasionally hard work (and we're only half way through our second year!), but it does repay the investment.
    And, actually, I'll never know for sure whether we'll be married for ever - there are no guarantees are there?
    Verily I say unto you: 'woo' and then 'yay'
    Two sheets - or, to be more precise, two large sherries - to the wind and sailing erratically: I'm meeting Ben from MediaTypes tomorrow. Apparently, I was over qualified for the position I originally sent in my CV for (I can't remember what it was, it was weeks ago), but I'm a good match for the better paid, more powerful position.

    Since I haven't had an interview since I left my previous employer (ironically, I had quite a few while still there), I'm quite excited/relieved. Perhaps I am employable after all?

    Thursday, April 15, 2004

    I realise that this is probably equivalent to posting cat pictures (actually, I suspect that it is worse; lots of people like cat pictures), but here is a preparatory design for the character the animator is currently working on. I like her. I always have the final veto on breast shape and volume, I also offer hairstyle consultant services.
    I've just found my school report online - how strange...
    more Isle of Wight madness: truth stranger than fiction
    A long in the tooth councillor suggests that people go to France rather than private dentists. What the mad councillor forgets is that paying for the Isle of Wight ferry (and the ferry to France too) will - in most cases - make this more expensive than the private option. Oh and somebody at the BBC needs a lesson in geography the address says 'england/hampshire/dorset/' - the Isle is a county in its own right thank you.

    Thanks to google...from letters to The Independent

    Sir: Two months ago I lost three teeth in a criminal assault on me. No dentist on the Isle of Wight will take a new NHS patient. I was quoted £350 and a waiting time of two months by a practitioner 35 miles away across the Solent in Hampshire.

    French friends in Calais say that I can - because as a county councillor I have a very small income - probably get the work done there free of charge within two weeks. Travel costs will be only about £65. If I have to pay the dental charge, it will be about half that suggested in Britain. Why is it cheaper to get dental treatment in France than (none at all) here?

    Ventnor, Isle of Wight

    Isn't there a conflict of interest here? UKIP councillor wants dentistry in France? Although, since treatment is free, at least he won't have to dirty his hands with any euros. I sense a man ripe for the Bloggerheads treatment.

    Nice to see healthcare tourism working the other way for a change - what would The Daily Mail say? More on Mr Buckle...

    But wait! There's more! Buckle for BBC chairman:

    The wildcard is one Bernard Buckle, a councillor for the UK Independence party in the Isle of Wight, who has told his colleagues he is heading for London next week and has ruled himself out of council business. It seems rather improbable: Mr Buckle, a chartered accountant who switched allegiance from the Labour group, has a conviction for drink-driving and a colourful reputation. But the civil service works in mysterious ways.

    Finally, he's a bit of a skiver.
    what's cooking good looking?
    Enchiladas, since you ask.
    Today I have mostly been applying for jobs, running errands, surfing the net, suffering from sleep deprivation (the animator was up at 6am and out the door early - he's working for the rest of the week) and planning my escape. Thanks to my parents' open door policy, next week I'm going to spend some time on the Isle of Wight (cockney rhyming slang = pile o'shite). I'm planning to do a lot of walking, a bit like this chap - though I actually quite like the place, as long as I'm allowed to leave when I've had enough. I'm hoping that some sea air and parental affection will restore my sanity, as I feel as though I'm in danger of going mad. This will be a solo visit - the animator has better things to do with his time than commune with nature. Oddly enough, the animator once visited the Isle prior to meeting me. He went on a Sunday (big mistake) got on a 'scenic' bus (perhaps an even bigger mistake) and got stuck behind a steamroller. He never lets me forget this.

    Wednesday, April 14, 2004

    It's not just that I'm a proud wife, though of course I am, I'm constantly amazed by how much incredible graft goes into producing 3D animation: the software is frighteningly complicated; there's lots of tricky maths involved; although we live in a 3D world, navigating the 3D space represented inside the computer is a major headache; patience is a necessity not a virtue; and after all is said and done, no matter how wonderful your modelling, rigging, texturing, animation and lighting, if your computer can't handle processing all this information (called rendering, this alone can take the animator's souped up PC days) no one will ever see it. So, when people ask what the animator is doing with his 'spare' time I get a bit defensive.
    animator by name, animator by nature?
    As regular readers will know, I am married to a chap I refer to as 'the animator'; however, since neither of us are in full-time employment right now you may be wondering just how much animating the animator actually does. This is where it gets complicated...
    The animator wants a job working for a computer games company, specifically he is looking for work as a 3D modeller, concept artist and/or animator. That's a very broad set of skills and it is going to take him a long time to get proficient in all of them. To achieve this ambition he is constantly working on improving his showreel and adding new content to his website. It is quite natural to think that 3D animation, since it is done with computers, is easier and less laborious than traditional 2D animation. Ha bloody ha, let me tell you there is much labour that is 'hidden' in 3D animation*.
    Step 1. Build your model. This can be done by using either 'nurbs' or 'polygons'. I like to think of nurbs a bit like modelling with virtual clay, while polygons are more like building with lego - the animator thinks that this is rubbish, but the analogy is a useful one for us outsiders. The animator works mainly in Maya (but, as I understand it, most software packages work in a similar way) and prefers to use polygons over nurbs. I'm not a 3D modeller and it is tricky to explain even with the software on the screen, but I'll try to convey the compexity of the task. To begin with, the animator designs a character on paper. Once the look is set he draws two scale-accurate versions on squared paper - one front on and one in profile. These then get scanned in to be used as guides. He imports these pictures into Maya and places them in a cross + thus. Now the fun starts! Using polygons, he painstakingly begins to build his model using the drawings as an outline: each polygon gets extruded from an edge until he gets a hollow head, body or whatever he's modelling. There can be many thousands of polygons in a model. It takes a long time to build even the most basic model, with anything remotely sophisticated taking much, much longer: Sil-9 (see Soluus), for example, took around three weeks to complete.
    Step 2. Blend shapes. If you intend using your model for lip-synch you will need to set up a series of 'blend shapes'. Blend shapes are pre-set facial expressions. A very basic set of blend shapes will require at least 14 copies of the head (Gollum in LoTR may well have used over 100). With each head, the animator carefully deforms the geometry of the model to create an expression (angry, happy, scared etc) or mouth shape (oh, ee, woo etc). Each blend shape takes around 10-15 minutes to set up - a full set will take the best part of a day.
    Step 3. Rig your model. Once you have built your model, to make to move you have to give it a skeleton; this process is called rigging. If you are going to animate your model successfully, all the joints need to be placed in exactly the right position - otherwise the model's movement will look unnatural, no matter how skilled the animation is. Also, the axes of each joint need to be correctly aligned - with the x-axis follwing the direction of the joint and the others placed acording to the three-finger rule (a bit like we were taught in science lessons: the thumb points up, the index finger out and the middle finger down). Models can need a lot of joints, Sil-9 has somewhere in the region of 80. In most games companies, models are rigged by a someone who specialises in rigging - and, by extension, knows a good deal about anatomy (although sometimes rigging can be counter-intuitive, with extra joints needed in the lower arm, for example). Once the skeleton is complete the skin of the model (its surface) is bound to the rig, either rigid (a given point is weighted to one joint only) or smooth (allows the weighting of a given point to be applied across multiple joints). The animator then pre-programs sets of movements - so that if the wrist moves the rest of the arm follows, for instance.
    Step 4. Weighting. This is where things get really awkward. Each joint has a certain sphere of influence and - to make the model appear to move naturally - it is necessary to assign influence to each joint. Weight maps tell the computer how much influence each joint has. The animator selects a joint and 'paints' weight on to the surrounding 'flesh' this method is more of an art than a science and, with much of the body affected by multiple joints, can be an arduous process of trial and error. Hair and fabric move according to particle dynamics and, yes, these too need to be programmed in.
    Step 5. Texture mapping. Right then, if all has gone according to plan, we now have a lovely well-modelled and rigged character, but it looks crap because it is made out of a matt grey substance. We need to create colour, texture and surface detail. To do this, essentially, the computer takes the 3D geometry and creates a 2D flat surface - this sounds so simple, but in practice it is anything but. There are examples of finished texture maps on Soluus, but it takes a long time to get to this stage. The texture map begins life as a series of complicated and difficult to identify fragments - imagine what a box looks like flat, now try to imagine that multiplied by 10,000 non-uniform planes, or take my word for it, it is complicated. The animator stitches these fragments together to create a recognisable patchwork skin. There are several ways to colour this skin in - the animator uses photoshop. There are other things to do with the way light reflects and is absorbed by surfaces that also take hours to set up - I can't even begin to explain how these work.
    Step 6. Animate. At last! After weeks of work the animator can finally begin to actually animate. The animator uses the key frame animation method. There are 25 frames per second (European standard) and a basic 1.5-second walk cycle has approximately 18 key frames. Unlike hand-drawn animation, the animator works his way through the cycle moving, for instance, just the legs then goes back to the beginning to move the arms, then the breasts, then the head...etc. It is only at this point that 3D animation begins to have advantages over traditional hand-drawn animation - the animator can instantly check his progress by 'playblasting'; whereas, with trad animation, it is only once the drawings have been 'line-tested' that any problems can be seen.
    Step 7. Lighting If the lights aren't on no one can see your animation! There are whole books devoted to the subject of lighting CG environments - suffice to say it takes a very long time to set up anything more than the most rudimentary lighting. The best lighting enhances the realistic feel of the environment and helps us to suspend disbelief.
    Once you have watched someone go through this incredibly laborious process to create a second or two of animation, Finding Nemo or any LoTR scenes featuring Gollum are suddenly transformed into masterpieces beyond compare.
    The animator is currently working on a new character, based on the basic body of Sil-9 with considerable refinements, for lip-synch, walk cycles and what he calls a 'cut scene' (those bits in computer games where you get played an animated bit of story before going up a level or on to a new senario). So when the new stuff is finally finished - probably in another week or so - I hope you'll join me in being mighty impressed by how much hard work is involved.

    rant alert
    *If the animator wanted to he could buy in ready-made models (although I think he'd still need to rig them) or use software like Poser to help him out - I don't really need to tell you that this is frowned upon do I? One of the most frustrating things for both of us is that having spent over £5,000 on putting him through an intensive six-month course at Central St Martins he seemingly still has a very long way to go before he is of a good enough standard to find a full-time job in the industry. He's not the only one either, despite the course literature quoting a 90 per cent employment rate on completion, the majority of his classmates are also struggling to find work. Also, St Martins only teaches animation - all the other stuff (the modelling, rigging etc) he's had to teach himself and, while it would be great to be able to concentrate purely on animation, a showreel featuring models made out of primitives isn't going to impress anyone, no matter how beautiful the animation.

    Saturday, April 10, 2004

    Spires of St Pancras
    The animator and I are going to take a tour of the Midland hotel above St Pancras Station today - it would be rather remiss of us if we didn't, seeing as the blue-grey roof tiles and red-brick exterior are what fills our eyes as we open and close the blind each day. In fact, I use the clock to check the time more often that I do our alarm clock.
    Works have been ongoing to modernise the station and to make it into a Eurostar terminal. I walked up York Rd the other day and was astounded by the scale of the building work - it covers almost a square mile. What I hadn't realised is that St Pancras is set to lose as much as it is gaining, not least its name.
    I have a great fondness for the station and it's grandeur and would echo Sir John Betjeman:

    "What he sees in his mind's eye is that cluster of towers and pinnacles seen from Pentonville Hill and outlined against a foggy sunset, and the great arc of Barlow's train shed gaping to devour incoming engines, and the sudden burst of the exuberant Gothic of the hotel seen from gloomy Judd Street."

    However, I take exception to Judd St being called gloomy.
    Hot Cross Buns!

    Hot cross buns! Hot cross buns!
    One a penny, two a penny.
    Hot cross buns!

    Hot cross buns! Hot cross buns!
    If ye have no daughters,
    Give them to your sons.

    Eat up, they're good for you.

    Friday, April 09, 2004

    Was up half the night with an upset stomach (definitely not due to my cooking) and then went to the emergency dentist at Whitechapel with the animator this morning (allegedly my cooking resulted in a broken filling - I contest the accuracy of this assertion). He was advised to be there by 7.15am. We got there at 7.15am, but the queue was already in the double figures. Doors opened at 8am and once inside the process was fairly straightforward. We were home again by 11, but neither of us were in the mood to do anything remotely constructive. Stomach is still rumbling ominously. This morning's events have made me realise how nice it is to be able to call in sick.

    Wednesday, April 07, 2004

    it's our revolution, but who's buying it?
    Talking to a PR friend last week about the marketing possibilities of weblogs, which she'd never heard of before, I'd say the smart money is already on the case as this article attests: readers skew somewhat younger than average Web surfers, are power-users of the Net and media junkies in general, spend more money online, and consume a disproportionate amount of literature, pop culture and electronics. No big surprises there for anyone who reads blogs, but the bottom line is that this segment sounds like an attractive demographic for advertisers.

    (via the ever-excellent bloggerheads).

    If you want a real life example of a product benefiting from weblog pluggage, track the reactions to The Soap back and back again, now think how many readers each of these blogs have (and mimi smartypants is pretty damn popular) I wonder how many ladies are now buying The Soap?
    Shaun... Of... The... Dead....
    So, I went to the preview showing of Shaun of the Dead last night at The Prince Charles. It was brilliant. I'll try not to mention any spoilers. Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright were there to introduce the film and there was a Q&A session afterwards.
    Simon said that they'd wanted to create a film that was about London as much as it was about zombies, which sounds a bit odd until you see the first 10 minutes of the film. It is really quite brilliant: people are shuffling around, staring blankly into space, moan and groan piteously and are lost in their own little worlds, but that's normal - commuters lend themselves to zombification. There are lots of things for Spaced fans to watch out for - later in the film I noticed Tyres was one of the zombies; as well as zombie film fans, although as this is the first zombie film I've ever watched I missed all of those things (although I got the dig at 28 Days Later that comes near the end).
    Unfortunately, we were sat next to the obessive fan boys at least one of whom had been a zombie extra on the film. The animator left the cinema muttering darkly about their peurile running commentary. The Q&A afterwards was a bit painful, as these things always are, with strange and off-topic questions and heckling from aforementioned fan boys. But I can reveal that Simon is meeting up with Jess today to discuss a third series of Spaced and that Sade was excited to hear that one of her records would be used to dispatch a zombie, but Mark Knopfler wouldn't let them use a Dire Straits album, even if their lives depended on it.
    So there you have it: it's a great, great film go see it now and have a great time and help save the British film industry in one fun-filled evening.

    Tuesday, April 06, 2004

    Is it me or has Prescott gone a bit (more) bonkers? He wants to turn brownfield sites into nature reserves (all well and good - but only if there's not a better way to rehabilitate these sites) while planning to build half a million homes on greenfield sites (very, very, very bad). I suspect that all the brown-turned-green sites will be in depressed towns with high unemployment while very little will be done to regenerate brownfield sites in the already overcrouded south east. In fact brownfield sites in high-demand areas will disappear under loft-style and/or Barret Home monstrosities without the Government needing to provide anything in the way of encouragement. And the upshot is, areas of deprivation will me grassed over, a sort of green whitewash, allowing Prescott to say that he's working to improve areas that suffer from underinvestment without doing anything constructive (if you'll pardon the dreadful pun) to remedy the reasons for underinvestment and deprivation, while, at the same time, burying the south east under bricks and concrete. This isn't regeneration Mr Prescott, this isn't a balanced national approach to Britain's housing shortage, this is political profiteering.
    Does he think we won't notice?
    Going to see Shaun of the Dead tonight - full review will be posted tomorrow. Can't wait!
    Very excited, very excited indeed. Have become Welsh. Just so you know, it's a homage to an Eddie Izzard sketch from The Definite Article:

    Pavlov's Dog Experiment:
    Day One: rang bell, dog ate food. Very excited. Very excited indeed. Hang on, he's become Welsh now... Very excited. Terribly excited, here in er, Russia.
    Day Two: Been well accepted here in Russia, changed name from Evans to Pavlov. Am now called Gareth Pavlov, and fitting in well. Day two, rang bell, Dog ate two lots of food. Very excited.
    Day Three, Right: Day three, rang three bells, Dog ate a whole bunch of food and my leg as well. Very excited, win Nobel Dog Prize for Cats.

    But you never heard his Cat results, did you? If he'd have published those he'd have just been finished!

    Pavlov's Cat Results:
    Day One: Rang bell, cat f*cked off. Damn.
    Day Two: Rang bell, cat went and answered door.
    Day Three: Rang bell, cat said he'd eaten earlier.
    Day Four: Went to ring bell on day four, but cat had stolen batteries.

    Final Day, Day Five: Went to ring bell with new batteries, but cat put his paw on bell so it only made a 'thunk' noise. Then cat rang his own bell!
    I ate food.

    Pure. Comedy. Genius.

    small world
    I've got a few books and dvds listed for sale on Amazon. On Saturday Amazon sent me an email to let me know I'd sold one. Today I went for a half-hour stroll up to Camden, delivered the book and strolled home. I emailed the lady to let her know I'd left the book with her neighbour. Ten minutes later I get this reply:

    No way!! And I logged on on the internet to buya book from neighbour!!!
    Small world indeed!!

    People say that London is a big city, but really I find it a very comfortable size. Almost everywhere I ever need to go is within an hour's walk of the flat. This morning I strolled down to Charing Cross for a coffee with the animator and his friend - who needs gym membership?

    Friday, April 02, 2004

    I don't miss not having a television, until I hear about programmes like this, the house that the woodsman built, crafted might be a better word, looks amazing (via the cheeky squirrel).
    meet the ancestors
    Roger, this story is for you.
    meet the grandparents
    Ah yes, the long-awaited post on the grandparents...
    Because I was fostered until I was four, the grandparents were allowed to send gifts and letters during my early years. Small children can be quite mercenary and I'll admit that I cherished affectionate thoughts of these mystery bestowers of prams and expensive dolls. My parents always made sure that the grandparents' gifts were played with carefully and preserved from the full toddler onslaught, consquently they survived my childhood intact as mute reminders of my tenuous blood connexions. At some point I learnt that the grandparents had been asked if they would take care of me when it became apparent that my birth mother couldn't cope with raising a child, they had declined. I believe the reason they gave was something along the lines of: we've only just got the spare bedroom decorated, we don't want a baby with all the mess and disruption to spoil our life, which I can almost understand.

    Fast forward to my eighteenth birthday...
    I received a birthday card from the grandparents asking me to re-establish contact. I thought about it for a few days, remembered the efforts they'd gone to to keep in touch, and felt as though I owed them something. So I rang and arranged to visit them on my way up to uni. I went with my boyfriend at the time, J, for moral support. It was one of the most disturbing days of my life.

  • they insisted on calling me by my pre-adoption name

  • there were hundreds of china dolls - the kind that have names and come dressed in Victorian costumes - looking down on proceedings from shelves around the room

  • the grandparents are younger than my parents, but were old before their time (spam salad is something I associate with the war generation) everything they said and did seemed to age them and mark them as little Englanders, ugh

  • they were over solicitous of me, almost as if I was still a small child

  • one of them picked up a photo of their daughter, my birth mother, and her husband (this was the first I'd heard of her being married), gripped my jaw, turned my head to profile and said, 'you're not his then, we did wonder at the time'

  • they showed me family photos, fair enough you might think, but this really unsettled me because I'd never seen people that looked like me before - and, once you discounted the different clothes that showed pictures of her had been taken twenty years before, my birth mother and I could have been twins

  • but what really made me want to run away and never talk to them again happened just before we left:

  • they invited a neighbour in and introduced me to her with the words, 'this is our granddaughter, you know, the one we told you was dead'

  • I was in shock, we soon made our excuses and drove away very fast, I vowed I'd never see them again. However, I'd resumed contact and, for all their faults, I felt as though I couldn't just cut them off. So we settled down to a routine, I'd write to them at Christmas and to thank them for my birthday card - a chatty newsy letter that explained in the broadest terms what was going on in my life, without ever giving too much away or agreeing to go and visit them.

    Then I got married.
    There was a short discussion with my parents beforehand about whether or not I should let the grandparents know I was getting married, I even briefly considered inviting them to the reception, but several factors combined to make this totally inappropriate:

  • my real family were going to be there in all their extended glory, can you imagine a/ the confusion and b/ how hurtful it would have been to have these strangers there

  • of all the animator's relations, only his brother could make it over from Oz - it would have been unfair for me to have two sets of family to his one brother

  • numbers were limited because we were broke and in somewhat of a hurry

  • we weren't getting married in church and actually only had a couple of guests each at the ceremony itself

  • most important, it was a day for the animator and me to celebrate our love for each other with those who are closest to us, in no way could the grandparents be considered to be close to us

  • After the event I wrote them a very long letter describing the day in detail and enclosed some photos. I didn't hear back from them for months, which surprised me somewhat. Finally, a very strange letter arrived of which I read the first page. In it the grandmother began by describing all the lovely weddings they had been to over the previous summer, proper white weddings in churches. Their goddaughter had had a wonderful wedding in a beautiful white dress and they were the guests of honour... I could see where this was leading and threw the letter on the bed, thinking I'll read this once I've had a fortifying cup of tea. Perhaps luckily, the animator got there first. This was his first run in with the grandparents and he was appalled. I never got to read the rest of the posionous letter, the animator destroyed it in a rather lovely act of chivalry. Suffice to say the grandmother had gone on to question whether our marriage could be considered real for the following reasons:

  • no 'real' family was there to witness it

  • I'd got married under a 'false' name

  • the wedding wasn't in a church

  • I was furious, although touched that the animator had wanted to protect me. At that point the animator and I decided that really I'd given these people their dues and now it was time to break off contact, my parents, particularly my dad, stuck up for the grandparents, but I'm relieved to be free of them and don't feel in the least bit guilty.

    When I wonder about my birth mother, wonder what made her unable to cope with a baby, what made her violent, I think of the grandparents and think I know the answer. I'm filled with relief that my birth mother realised that she needed help and that the grandparents didn't take up social services' suggestion that they adopt me.
    The Prince Charles is previewing Shaun of the Dead on Tuesday - get your tickets now!

    Thursday, April 01, 2004

    things I only do because I'm not working
    wash the kitchen shelves
    iron tablemats
    air the bed each morning
    wash the sheets more than once a week
    wear trainers everyday
    clean my teeth after lunch
    read Vogue online
    eat more than three meals a day
    start thinking about what to cook for dinner, the more complicated the better, as soon as I've cleaned up after lunch
    walk in the park during the week
    wish I was at work
    It's out soon, I hope it's been worth the wait: Lighthousekeeping.