Cruel Britannia

I tried to go home today. Back to the UK, I mean. I’d done everything properly. Last week I squeezed my belongings into two battered suitcases and even ventured to clean the oven. I shouldn’t like to leave an untidy flat for the next occupant.

Today, bag in hand and documents in wallet, I left the flat. I checked the post box, and descended the small flight of stairs to street level. The same as any day, except today I was going home.

Because Latvia is in the Eastern European time zone (GMT +2), and a flight from Riga to London takes two hours, it’s possible to make the journey in almost no time at all. If one is lucky it can take all of five earth minutes.

And so it was today. With little more than quiver on my clock, I arrived at the border, the last leg of my journey taking me across a junction, around the corner and past Queen’s – my local, and a pub as traditionally British as any you care to name.

The gate was locked, but in fairness, I hadn’t told them I was coming. Generally when I speak of going home, my fellow countrymen promise they will welcome me in at any time. I expected today to be no different. With cheeks flushed and a smile spreading at the thought of my green and pleasant land, I stood at the gate and rang the bell.

“Yes?” said a voice.
“Hello!” I said. “I’ve come home. Can I come in?”
“Who are you?” said the voice. “What do you want?”
“I want to come in,” I cried. “I’ve spent a year in Latvia and now it’s time to go home.”
“Do you have an appointment?” he crackled through the speaker.
“No, but I’ve got friends here. They said I should come and visit.”

There was a pause, then the electronic lock on the gate gave a clunk. I pushed the weighty frame aside and stepped over the threshold. I beheld not Anglia, but a security guard. The mystery voice.

“Do you have any ID?”

I handed him my driving license, hoping it would suffice as I’d carelessly left my passport in Latvia. The guard surveyed it briefly and asked me to wait. He then disappeared, leaving me trapped in customs limbo with a second guard keeping a watchful eye on my every move. What if Britain didn’t want me back?

Five minutes later he returned.

“Britain is in a meeting,” he stated. “Perhaps you should come back another day.”
“Thank you,” I said. “I will. Thanks so much for you time. Sorry to bother you.” Even if Britain is too busy to greet me, I will still maintain my customary apologetic politeness ‘wards her.

I turned to leave, all the time regretting that my beleaguered nation no longer runs its embassies like it used to. I walked all the way down the road and everything. A long road. And I was humming Jerusalem at the time.

Mind you – political territory or not – I’m not sure that little compound was truly our Great Isle after all, in soil or in spirit. Among other things, a sign on the gate indicated that no umbrellas were allowed.

(Fret ye not. I will actually return to the UK, properly, on 1st August.)

This one’s for the freaks

Version A
In an attempt to evaluate the user experience of the popular blogging platform Tumblr, I have undertaken to publish a work of my own devising, thus experimenting with its user, admin and customisation features. Because, apparently, we’re all so short of spannable attention, I’m going to publish it scene-by-scene three times a week, till the end. I will attempt to gain followers (gasp). The result of this experiment will also influence when and how I publish my novel Lo! The Flat Hills of My Homeland.

Version B
Because of reasons I am uploading Star Cross-dressed Lovers a spoof jukebox show, a Manic Street Musical, if you will. (It’s built around Manics songs. Of course it is.) It’s got James eating pies, Nicky nearly destroying the world, Sean being evil and best of all, Richey isn’t dead (much).

If Tumblr and I get on, I’ll use it to publish my completed (in the sense that I’m not bloody doing it again) typo-ridden novel which is NOT called Lo! The Flat Hills of My Homeland, but it probably should be.

You can visit the Manic Street Musical site any time you like.

Dear The Queen,

I wish to formally express my intention to apply for the post of Archbishop of Canterbury. I attach my application below. (I do hope that you are accepting outside applications; as I’m sure your Majesty is well aware our own Lord Jesus Christ was not himself one of the Pharisees or religious stalwarts of the day, and look what he achieved.)

Personal Statement*

About Kathryn
Kathryn is a loyal subject of your Majesty, so much so that she has moved to Latvia. (I am aware that should I be successful in my application, relocation will be mandatory. I trust the Palace has some kind of relocation loans scheme in operation.) She is currently self-employed and spends many days in her own company. Kathryn also volunteers regularly for a local charity which supports disadvantaged children. This quiet life of self-sacrifice ideally lends itself to the role of Archbishop, not least because it involves living in Canterbury, of all places.

Why I am suitable for the role of Archbishop of Canterbury
I feel I am uniquely placed to fulfil the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury for the following principle reasons:
– I hold moderate left wing views, which express themselves in a strong social conscience.
– I am a woman. Appointing me is a simple way to silence the debate about women in church leadership, as I can hold the debate privately, in my head.
– I know all the words to Jerusalem and Henry V’s ‘St. Crispin’s Day’ speech.
– I believe in full seperation of church and state. My appointment will neutralise me and render me harmless to the Anglian church. (Do you really want to leave me on the outside pissing in? Well do you? Don’t cross me, your majesty, I have a blog and I’m not afraid to use it.)
– I look stupid in any hat so that one won’t matter.

Transferable skills
I can read, write, speak, listen and create dodgy powerpoint presentations as much as the next person.

Education and qualifications
– I was christened into the Anglican church, and I went on to play Mary-Mother-of-Jesus in the 1994 nativity. Previously I gave my ‘Angel number three’ and ‘Surprised lamb’ to great applause. All this was years ago; I must be due for a promotion by now.
– I possess three bibles in two languages.
– I have a half-GSCE in Religous Studies (A grade). For my final paper I debated the ethics of George Orwell and Brian May. (You like Brian May, your Majesty, he’s been on your roof. Allow me to ingratiate myself to you further, your Highness, by stating that I like him too.)

Other notable achievements
– I once prayed over a broken CD player, which subsequently worked.
– While at University in Sheffield, I walked up a truly massive hill to get to church each week. If that doesn’t spell commitment to the faith, I don’t know what does.

Closing remarks
I should also add, although I hope it does not hinder my application, that I am a practising christian and I do believe in God, Jesus and the Holy spirit. And, of course, your majesty’s continued health. I don’t fancy that Charles as a boss, thank you very much.

Thank you for your time, your Highness. I trust in your prompt response.

*I have diverged from the standard ‘CV’, lest your Majesty find the Latin unhelpfully Roman in its tastes.

Beauty is duty and duty beauty. So there.

I’m sure you’ll all be delighted to know that I’ve written some poetry in Latvian. You might wonder how, being here less than two months, I’ve grasped enough of the subtleties of the Latvian tongue to delve into the true depths of love and life that poetry requires, but let me assure you that it’s all here: time, beauty, and a very real sense of hunger all permeate my early work.

As anyone who’s thrashed their way through GSCE English will know, it’s not just about the overarching themes but the personal context in which the poems are placed. Here I am in this far flung land – so cut off I can’t watch the 6 o’clock news in English, never mind Scotish dialect – perhaps it’s only natural I should find those very English reflections on the weather and the decline of aristocratic classes creeping into my work. For they have, as you will see when you enage with my lines:

1. Skatās Debesīs
Laiks ir skaists,
Bet skaistums ir laiks.

1. I stare at the sky
The weather is beautiful,
But beauty is time.

I think this speaks entirely for itself. No explanation required. If you don’t grasp its multi-layered sensations as they ripple past one another, you are heartless indeed.

2. Čau Ģīvs!
Man ir viens piens
Tev ir divi zivi
Mums ir trīs pilis
Bet mēs esam izsalcis.

2. What ho, Jeeves!
I have one milk
You have two fish
We have three castles
But we are hungry.

What better way to express distate at our worship of property at the expense of proper financial management than by invoking an image of a lonely breadline existence against a backdrop of comparative wealth?

I await my Nobel Prize.

What’s my name?

Returning to some user profiles I created two years ago raised a wry smile back at myself. Never one to let the chance to sneak in a subtle nerd/fan reference slip by, my wireframes, user journeys and user profiles are full of sly nods to whatever I’m crushing on at the time.

User profiles, example below, tend to sketch a person with reference to a particular project e.g. a website. They’ve got a name, a location, backstory, tasks thoughts and feelings. For me their names have much wider significance than one might think at first.

Picture: Rough ‘n’ ready user profile

Two years ago, ‘Matthew Osbourne’, ‘Adrian Healey’, ‘Jenny Lewis’, ‘Michael Young’, and ‘Donald Trefusis’ (or variants of) were very busy people, while I was up till 1am most mornings watching QI repeats on Dave. Not a coincidence.

When I’m profiling, I sometimes have genuine user data, but sometimes I’ll need to design in the dark, and sometimes I’ll have practical tasks but I need a personality to pin them on. These insta-names give my developing persona somewhere to begin. Knowing that I don’t have forever to create 6-10 new people adds to the impetus to get some ego-aspects going quickly.

If I’m using real people as a basis I’ll jumble up names and surnames as a cover, because the aim isn’t for the client to recognise their origin; they need to be new people, portmanteaus of their genuine users as well as my fictional friends. Across projects I’ve also used mixtures of the Manics, Conan-Doyle characters, the Comedy Store Players, Suede, Chalet School novels and many more. The profiles that come out the other end are in no way these people. They’re a very useful starting point for personality and a happy repository for in-jokes that are too tiresome to list here.

It’s also a bit about my identity. When I go down a fandom rabbit-hole, I take my whole world with me. I always wonder if a client or a colleague would spot my references but they never have done yet. If they did I’d be happy and embarrassed at the same time. Pleased someone gets me, mortified that my nerdiness might have crossed a line too many.

On one occasion I used names taken from my own fiction writing. Now, no one would ever recognise these and bring me to book as it were, but they still came with all the benefits of a pre-fab identity. Only, as I handed them over to colleagues and clients, Tom, Pippa and Rachel were changed. Words were put in their mouth that they would never say, lives were given to them that they would never lead, and I found it strangely hard to handle. But “Pip would never have a haircut like that, she’s far more of a 70s child” does not go down well with a designer on a tight deadline. In the end I forced the project to change their names because I couldn’t cope.

Now I stick to fiction and bands, all jumbled up in my cultural reference pit. Jenny Healey gets a lot of fun because she’s an extension of a fictional character. She’s mine to use at will but since I based her on a Fry character it’s not so personal when others take control.

However, naming personas remains a secret pleasure and Jenny won’t last forever. No doubt I’ll keep finding new obsessions, they’ll keep leaking, and in a few years time it’ll be a good a map as any to find out where my mind’s meandered.

Hello, it’s us again.

Attention. The next Manics album will be as follows.
Following gobshite Wire’s statement that the next album will be an attempt at ‘mass communication’, a pub committee decide we don’t even need to hear it to know what it’ll sound like.


1. The second single. It’ll have a ‘la la laaa’ chorous, and will certainly contain a string section.
2. The first, slightly communist hit single, with a repeated chorous (Nick’s spelling, not mine) and a high chance of string section.
3. The track based on Sky news, referencing money, football and the Tories.
4. The track about some artist we’ve never heard of.
5. The track on some film nobody knows or wants to see. There will be an least one instance of a poorly recorded soundbite from said film, or if Wire is feeling extra-clever, a poet.
6. The track which is ripped off from made up of quotes from Wire’s current favourite people.
7. The track which will inevitably become James’ acoustic spot live, and will probably be the third single.
8. The track about war, global politics and Wire’s own internal strife vaguely weaved together. This is like track 3, except Nicky read about this stuff in a book, rather than watching it on the telly.
9. The track where Nicky takes lead vocals/prominent backing vocals and mutters about his house, kids, Newport, haircuts, dysons and GLORIOUS WALES.
10. The track which James wrote the lyrics to, over a pint (or two or three or four), where he attempts to sound deep ‘n stuff
11. The last track, with a four word chorous and epic outro.
12. The hidden track – probably Poker Face, or Rock Around The Clock, if James gets to choose.

And the bsides:
13. The track which rips off a Generation Terrorist song, only James sings an octave lower.
14. The track which reuses the lyrics to previous Manics songs
15. The track about Richey, but it isn’t, but it is yeah you know kinda like. Despite not being about Richey, it’ll have a soundbite of him speaking in the middle.

Manic Street Musical

So, I did it. I spent the summer writing and the autumn editing and correcting endless typos.

Here is Star Cross-dressed Lovers (A Manic Street Musical) [Linked updated May 2012]. A time-travelling political rom-com of a show in two acts, neither of which are credible.

I’m weirdly proud of this. I know I said it was a joke but I did actually try to make this entertaining trash, if not high-level. I suspect if you don’t know the Manics it will make no sense at all. And if you do know them I suspect you’ll be horrifed I placed such firey, jealous, all-consuming songs into a musical at all. But that’s why it’s funny. It’s all a joke.

Feel free to download and use as you will. I only ask for credit (and protection if you send it to James).