Welcome - The International Writers Magazine
- NOVEMBER 2010
Welcome to Hackwriters:
Nothing like a cold snap to concentrate minds eh? So nice that it coincides with gas and electricity prices rising 10% in the UK. In fact the future in the UK looks decidedly expensive. VAT going up to 20%, diesel and petrol prices rising twice with duties and tax, rail fares up and students rioting in the streets whilst in the West at large, at least, economies are failing, the Euro on the skids and gold prices rising. There is a heady whiff of the 1970’s in the air. (When inflation touched 25% I recall).
One notices it all the more when one is redundant. Redundant is a very descriptive word isn’t. An on-line Dictionary describe it thus:
1. Exceeding what is necessary or natural; superfluous.
2. Dismissed or laid off from work, as for being no longer needed.
The pain is felt in the bank. You have no income but oddly enough the cost of living stays the same or rises (see above).
*Particularly painful when one gets a speeding fine – a needlessly self-inflicted amount of self-abuse d'oh.
Of course I am missing the excitement of double sized classes and seething discontent at the University. (And that’s just the staff). The current students are laughing, having got in at the lower rate. New students from 2012 will have to pay around £9000 a year for tuition and the normal costs of lodging and food and beer. They’ll come out ready to work in McDonalds owing around £40,000 ($60,000 US). If I were a student considering Media Studies right now I’d skip University and go straight to McDonalds. You’ll be the manager when the graduates come out and you’ll be able to point and laugh at them (if being cruel and heartless is your nature).
Alternatively – if you are doing you’re A–Levels in 2011 seek out a Varsity Education elsewhere. Holland (where they teach in English), Finland (where media is taught particularly well), UCT in Cape Town or McGill in Montreal. You’ll save money and end up better qualified to get a real job. The teaching will be much better too, with staff much more focussed on teaching than research.
Meanwhile life without the stress of the staffroom is the only pleasure I can think of that redundancy brings – shouldn't be underrated but one does miss the salary.
Last weekend we squeezed in Harry Potter at Westfield Mall in Shepherd's Bush, London. Talk about busy, no sign of a recession there. The film has some great views of the UK but erm isn't something supposed to happen from time to time? Emma Watson has become quite a hottie though. Dobbie saves the movie and Helena Bonham-Carter chews the scenery. Trailer for something called 'Fred' made me want to vomit though.
Just read Quentin Bates new novel Frozen Out. Comes out Jan 2011. Order your copy now. Great little detective story set against the financial collapse of Iceland. Quentin used to write for us on Hacks and has hit the big time with his novel coming out simultaneously in the UK and USA next January. Interview with him coming up over Christmas.
'You've never had it so good.' Says a Tory spokesman Lord Young. (Who promptly resigned for telling us that those who have mortgages and paying little or no interest on them are living the life of Reilly.) Trouble is many, like me, I guess, have had to pay so much for the hovel we actually live in, it will NEVER feel good to live in a house you know you paid at least $100,000 too much for. That is also at risk of going into negative equity at a time when the whole European ecomomy might implode and take down most of the West with it.
16.11.10 Aung San Suu Kyi is free at last and able to speak freely. Long may it last. Now Burma should release the rest of the political prisoners.
Last Monday I was in the City of Bath. My view of the early morning frost at 7.10am from the hotel window was spoiled by the sight of two parking wardens already out there giving tickets. Tells you more than you need to know about Bath I think. Did enjoy the huge aerial pics around the Cathedral and elsewhere in the streets that show the British Isles from the air. Fascinating as easy to forget sometimes that we live on a beautiful island.
Nov 4th: The American people have spoken and they clearly want 'smaller' government. With Obama losing control of the House and barely in control of the Senate it will be tough for him. I wonder if all those Tea Party activists who want to abolish Medicare and Social Security could come forward now and put their names on a list to make that happen. With this surge from the right - this could be one way to reduce the debt. It's a thought. American paralysis of Government is what we have to look forward to now and that is a scary concept. More Quantative Easing is promised - but wouldn't it be better to build new high speed railroads and hospitals and schools than give it to bankers? Just a thought.
Whilst I was in Vancouver in October I noted that some enterprising people were running 'foreclosure' parties in big hotels with 400 people or more turning up with cash to buy American homes. We aren't at that stage in the UK and if anything there is a chronic shortage of places to live as the population rises due to incomers from Europe and other places. I'm betting this time next year we shall be all screaming about interest rates and the cost of everything and I do mean everything. In China costs and wages are rising, the era of 'cheap' is disappearing. Just because we have had ten years of stable prices it doesn't mean that things will always be that way. The worst possible outcome is stagflation - where we don't have a recovery and we do have fast rising prices and interest rates. We shall see.
Canada in the Fall
|Spending time in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal one is struck by the enormous amount of construction going on – not just in housing, but in roads and other infrastructure such as the massive rebuild of the newly twinned Portmann Bridge in New Westminster BC and the expansion of the highways all the way from the city to Maple Ridge and beyond.
*This is what it will look like when finished according to the Highway constructors
(Of course my immediate and very European response is why aren’t they building urban railways? Canada is not by any measure very green orientated and very fixated on the car and suburban expansionism. Toronto is a little better with a train and subway system as is Montreal with an effective subway system, but the car rules their cities and the jams are huge.)
Although every Canadian you meet complains loudly about the new harmonisation tax which is added to everything you buy (12.5%) and it is hugely irritating, it pales behind the VAT we pay in Europe (but hardly notice as it is built in to every price). Furthermore they are only paying around $1.10 cents for a litre of gas contrasted to the UK where we pay the equivalent $1.80 a litre which gives them quite an edge in competitiveness.
Whilst I was in Vancouver the Government statistic office revealed the average price of a home in the city was $667,000 dollars (£444,000) which comes as quite a shock and is actually more than living in London right now. By contrast in Montreal it is $240,000 (£160,000) and the cold winters aside, Montreal offers a pretty sophisticated way of life and better value for money. I had never been in Quebec before and was worried that everyone would only respond to speaking French, but in fact in Montreal, at least, everyone speaks English and have little resentment at one's bad French. Café society is well entrenched – hardly a Starbucks to be found in the neighbourhoods and the restaurants are pretty darn cool. (And crowded – did I mention how prosperous Canada is right now?)
We were staying at my nieces loft apartment behind the giant Ubisoft building off St Laurent Boulevard (Where hundreds of pretty normal looking employees develop Assassins Creed and other violent games). In true French style they all stream out of the building for lunch at 12 and you can spot game developers smoking furiously on the sidewalks all around the building most hours during the day. Yes everyone smokes in Montreal, which is the least attractive aspect of the city. Yet here is a great neighbourhood, among many great neighbourhoods, with cool unique shops and cafés. Favourite stores found were devoted to graphic novels or odd clothes and stuffed bunnies. My pal Kit bought a neat dress with kitty cats on it. You can get all the real fresh French pastries everywhere and you could see why Montreal is so civilised. It is very different to Vancouver and the architecture immediately marks it out as East Coast and old. I guess Old Montreal is bit of a tourist pit, but I enjoyed Olive and Gormando which is a pretty unique lunch spot and highly recommended.
My hosts clearly pointed out the demarcations in Montreal. ‘This is where the English live,’ and here the French etc, but to be honest his divisions were invisible to me and with many Universities (McGill, Concordia, Université of Montreal as well as LaSalle College) there is a lot going on here. We were taken to the F.A.C.E. school performance evening on the Friday. (A School for the Arts from early years right through to High School like FAME). It was impressive. Kids singing and playing rock to higher standards than anything you’ll see on Pop Idol or X Factor and more mind boggling when you realise you are listening to 10 or 13 year olds giving their all with confidence. If I had kids I’d really want them to go there. Amazing and I’m just a tad jealous considering how dull English schools are.
Tab & Kit in Toronto
|Toronto was busy. We dined at the Drake on Queen West (oh so hip with tattoo artists in the upstairs bar) and explored all the coffee shops on King and Queen streets. Favourite place was Gallery 44, a kind of co-op for artists I guess. Again we were struck by the vitality of the arts and the talent shown in photography, literature and pretty well every medium. I think there is more creativity going on in these three cities than the whole of the UK and the indie coffee shops thrive too. Kit was happy to discover all the coffee shops on Queen Street and we met up with Tabytha Towe, one of Hackwriters earliest contributors, who helps keep the Drake Hotel's cool restuarant running smoothly. She was busy packing for a quick trip to Cuba. Just a few hours away by air.
We enjoyed the shopping on St Catherine Street too in Montreal. Simons Department store in particular and of course Chapters bookshop, which has such an incredible range. In winter everyone shops in the underground malls but I think I’ll stick to above ground weather for my future visits. One can’t leave Montreal without mentioning the ‘Mountain’. Our host kept referring to it, and Kit and I were looking for a mountain, failing to notice this little hill above the town (where the rich English live). Eventually we joined the whole city that had driven up there on Thanksgiving Day to check out the view. Mont Royal was in fact why the Montreal location was chosen so they could see the British coming… Some pretty lavish homes overlook the city. Take the drive.
|Vancouver is still growing. Luckily Kits remains pretty much as I left it and it was great to walk by the waterfront and watch my sister Sara's dog, Koko, swim again. Vancouver is different to its East Coast cousins, the population mix is distinctly Asian but the same ambitious set of principles abide. People want to get on, succeed and it remains a city very focused on being 21st Century. The past has not been preserved (Gastown is the oldest bit from 1886 aside from New Westminster on the Fraser) and I don’t think that it matters here – most of the population are looking forward.
|My sister is living in an area I had always ignored, Pitt Meadows, and it was with surprise I discovered it was between two rivers (The Fraser and Alouette) providing great dog walks on both. Some interesting adventures in architecture are going on by Mosaic the developers, but the lots are small which is kind of crazy when you think how big the whole country is.
Image: The Alouette River
I met the guy who has just brought a three-screen cinema to life there (The Hollywood) and was surprised to discover that the digital screening equipment comes from Belgium. In fact I was shocked at how much it actually costs to re-equip a small cinema. If you ever had a notion to revive one, you’ll get no change out of a million bucks that’s for sure. But it’s good to see someone taking a risk. (For keen fans the Twilight films were partially filmed nearby in PoCo).
The moment I said I was in Canada everyone said how cold it must be… well the daytime temperature never fell below 20c the whole time I was there and some days it was closer to 25c. Autumn in Canada is often like this and the fall leaves were spectacular. The boring drive between Toronto and Montreal was much like driving through an oil painting of extraordinary rich colours. Wonderful. (Save for keeping an eye out for the speed cops who 'fly' overhead).
|Canada thrives, the people are incredibly friendly and right now they are living a great life with huge promise. Yes it is slightly depressing to return to the UK and face reality, but then again Canada has had rough times and this time they have everything right. I suggest you check your points now and see if your skills are needed there. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
*Image: Granville Island from Go Fish
|Toronto has a few reminders of its early years. The flatiron buidling here taken at twilight looks almost ridiculous against the giant towers behind, but I think it is essential to keep some of the past for their beauty or even if just to prove that buildings erected 100 years ago or more are a lot more durable than the towers that replace them.
On our last day we nearly ran out of gas on our way to the Pearson airport. Flashing empty, Kit panicking as she anticipated we'd miss our flight, meanwhile we were in the biggest traffic jam (eight lanes across) I have ever seen, we finally found an escape road and got some gas in a scary area where everyone was super friendly actually. Rejoining the traffic jam we discovered it was caused by a truck overturning with 80 cows on board. Not a good day for cows in Canada and we just got there before they sold off our spaces on the plane.
*all images taken by Sam North with a Nikon Film camera using Fuji 400 ASA
Many thanks to all those who have contributed to this joint October/November edition from all over the world. Many thanks too to those who have bought my books recently (Discounts now available via Lulu). Another Place to Die has passed the 2850 figure now and that cheers me up. I will be discontinuing this title in January as I am in the process of selling a new version of it to a mainstream publisher. Now if I could get Mean Tide or Diamonds to sell as well, I'd be really happy. It really does help keep Hackswriters going. Take care out there. Get writing.
© Sam North November 18th 2010
Editor – Hackwriters.com
You probably need cheering
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Place to Die if you want to be ready for when the next flu pandemic really does take off in the future. *Many thanks to those who have ordered my book recently. It is selling pretty well now. (Over 2860 copies sold to date - not too shabby for a book only available on-line. Thanks too to those who spread the word on it. I really appreciate that.) Often being a writer, especially for one whose books are only mostly available on-line it is very isolating, but now I know it is selling every month it really feels as though the two years writing it were worth it.
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will never be the same again' - Sunday Express
Buy from your favourite on-line retailer
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also available from The Nineveh Gallery, 11 The Pallant Havant,
PO9 1BE. UK and to order from Blackwells in Portsmouth
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