UK to expel 23 Russian diplomats

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…


Remembered I have a blog

I got asked about my novel again recently. It happens from time to time. It usually goes along the lines of, “Didn’t you write a novel? Where can I get it? Free, is it? Can you send me the link?”

I’m not good at self-promotion, and long ago gave up attempting it. But yes, gentle or ungentle reader, the book is still out there, available for free download. Absolutely free. You don’t have to sign up for anything or sign in. Simply click one of the following links for the format you want:

For epub version:
For Kindle version:
For Pdf version:

If you would like to join Smashwords and leave a review, that would be lovely. If not, a comment on the blog would also be appreciated. I’m not on Amazon. If you’re interested in my reasons for this, they can be found in this post:

Just for the record, I’m not on social media. I’ve never been on Facebook and I deleted my Twitter account a while ago now. Nothing good comes from the endless desire for immediate responses, upticks, thumbs-up, hearts, or whatever button they clothe approval in. You’re simply being exploited to feed a beast that doesn’t care about you. See this from a couple of Facebook’s former leading lights:

A bit link-heavy this post. Please like and comment below the line (yes… irony. Social media has made interesting others in something you’ve done rather unseemly).

6 things (you might not have considered) that will hold you back as a writer

1. You’re actually interested in the writing (you know, style, elegance of expression) — not just getting noticed for your hackneyed, no-intelligence, punctuation-doesn’t-matter story.

2. You hate Amazon: a company run by a psychopath with dodgy working practices being indulged by sycophantic governments as it moves towards a virtual monopoly position (my novel’s on Smashwords).

3. You hate Facebook: a data-mining company run by a psychopath (I’m not on Facebook).

4. You hate posts about how to promote yourself on social media (I deleted my Twitter account).

5. You find self-promotion rather unseemly, a bit undignified really (while recognizing you have to tell people it’s there — the novel, that is — if you want them to read it).

6. You think best-sellers are mostly shit (Dan Brown, James Patterson, E.L. James, Lee Child, Clive Cussler, to name a few), reflecting the poor taste of the “average” reader.

7 (bonus point). You recognize, at bottom, that this world isn’t really for you.

Testing patience

This post is work-related, and is designed to capture something of the madness of what I do for a living (Orwell’s intellectuals passionately arguing about whether the full-stop should go in or outside the closing bracket has nothing on this).

Imagine this. To get an idea all you need be familiar with are the columns in a spreadsheet. So: if column A has an ID that starts with an R (as against the other things it could start with), then multiply column B with Column C (but only if Column C has a number less than a 1000), and add the difference between Column F and Column G (but only if Column F is greater than Column G), then represent as a percentage in Column J (but only if Column J is unpopulated, and the month has 30 days in it).

Now imagine warnings (“validations”) can be set to pop up if one, some, or all of these criteria aren’t met. To test this, you must ensure that the validation has been turned on (otherwise it’s not going to fire, right?) and that the criteria for the validation to fire have been met. So off you go to a screen of validations with tick-boxes (so you can tick the one you want, hmm?). A minor catch is that all the validations are similarly worded and may do something only slightly different to the validation you want to test. For example, you might have a validation that does exactly the same thing as above, except only for months that have 31 days in them. Make sure you get the RIGHT validation (and untick the others), or you’re going to look like a silly Billy (and you don’t want that, do you?)

The validation warning will read something like this: “No percentage written to Column J. Some or all of the criteria have not been qualified, or Column J is previously populated”. Clear, succinct, and to the point. Your boss told you this would be straightforward.

So, to our test data (bullet points, please).

  • ID for Column A: R something or other, say R001. Remember, you will need to test the negative: a serial number starting with something other than an R in this case.
  • Column C has a number less than a thousand (1-999). Again, remember the negative.
  • Column F number = 20 (Column G needs to be less than this). Er… remember the negative (I — probably — won’t say this again).
  • Column G number = 10 (so is less than Column F). See above. Our difference is 10, which will be added to the output of Column B times Column C.
  • Column J (currently) has nothing in it (Err…).

For a quick (negative) hit, you meet all the criteria except for the ID in Column A which you start with a P. You run the test. No validation. Uh? You check the validation page (which you have open in another tab) and, sure enough, your validation’s ticked. You refresh. Still ticked. Hmm. You check you’re in the right environment (you’ve been caught by this before, haven’t you?). You are. You run the test again. Same result. Huh! Well, you could just fail the ticket… but maybe you’re missing something. First, let’s see if you can get the validation to fire at all. You put 1001 in Column C and re-run the test.

Eureka: “No percentage written to Column J. Some or all of the criteria have not been qualified, or Column J is previously populated”. Progress. You can get the validation to fire. It’s not firing on the wrong ID, though, and the ticket says it should. Or does it? It suggests it should. Implies it, anyway. Shit, are you over-thinking this? Err… You talk to your boss.

“Ticket V64, you say. Validation’s not firing when Column A ID starts with something other than an R.”

He looks blank. As well he might. But you sit together and look at the ticket. “What’s the problem?” he asks finally.

“The validation’s not firing when the ID in Column A doesn’t start with an R. I thought it had to start with an R.”

He says, “All IDs start with an R. The ticket’s just stating the position.”

“So the ID’s not relevant at all?” you ask. “The fact the validation didn’t fire on a row with a Column A ID that starts with something other than an R suggests it’s happy with the  data row, right?”

“All IDs start with an R,” he says patiently. “The ticket’s just stating the position.”

“Right.” Pause. “Except I entered an ID that didn’t start with an R.”

“It would be an R in the database,” he says. “So the validation didn’t run because you’d met all the criteria.”

“So what if it isn’t — an R in the database, I mean? What I’m really asking, then, is why wasn’t my non-R ID entered in the database? Since the lack of a validation suggests it processed successfully. Or did it?” Should have checked that.

“Only numbers that start with an R can be entered in that column in the database.” His tone suggests this is patently obvious. “There’s a restriction in place to stop other numbers.”

“Right…” I say dubiously. “So, just be clear, my row of data was entered in the database. Or it wasn’t? I mean it didn’t fire the validation.”

“It might have been,” he said. “But maybe not. If the system sees an ID in Column A in the spreadsheet that doesn’t start with an R, or the column’s blank, it looks for a company name in the row and then a location. If it finds both, it changes the non-R ID to something that begins with an R and enters it in the database. If it can’t find a matching company and location, it rejects it and throws an error-warning.” Pause. “But that’s another validation. Beyond the scope of this ticket.”

“Okay. Right. So I shouldn’t be entering non-R IDs for this test. Sorry, the ticket suggested it mattered. Who wrote the ticket?”

“I did,” he says, smiling.

“Well… good. Excellent. Well, I’ll get on and test the rest of the criteria. I have got the validation to fire, so at least we know it’s working.” I smile gamely.

“Maybe we need more training on this,” he says, standing up. “Not just you,” he assures me; “the team.”

Turnings taken without a map

I think we’re alone now. Good. Because this is going to be a long and meandering — even maundering — post. I’m tired. And the motivation to write has left me. It would be fair to say I don’t see the point, and truly regret the labour I put into the novel I “promote” on this site. I think it spiritually exhausted me. Writing might even have been a wrong turning for me, an out of character hard shoulder, something I forced  myself to do, a kind of phony raison d’etre, a pseudo meIST religion. Work was the vulgar, secular world of having to make a living; art, in the form of writing, my spiritual calling. Utter, self-regarding nonsense, I now realise. I suppose it’s not uncommon to wish I’d been given better advice when I was younger, made to see how easy it is to delude and bullshit yourself, though I tend to the view that drowning in one’s own bullshit is a widespread human affliction.

I’ve deactivated my Twitter account (I’ve never been on the odious Facebook). It, Twitter, has pleading, shrieking “notice me”, “approve of me” aspects marinaded in desperation and unloveliness. Part of that world of recommends, upticks, upvotes, likes, etc. Here’s something like the ultimate expression of the latter coming to a community near you sometime soon: Sesame Credit

A world of endless connections has been created, of checking phones for updates of one sort or another. I’m not alone, cries the world; I’m connected (even if, for the most part, it’s only digitally). Twittering something every so often seems rather pointless to me, and I’ve always found self-promotion rather embarrassing, though I know that’s the world we live in now.

I voted for Brexit. I’m convinced that the Brexit vote is one of the most significant political events of recent years, even (perhaps especially) if the establishment don’t allow it to happen. They, the establishment, have been forced into the open. They have a near-total contempt for the lives of ordinary people, are themselves entirely insulated from, and indifferent to, the world of having to make a living. For them, it’s about power games and shaping the country and world to their will and vision. The British were noticing when the EU did their bullying number on Greece. So was the rest of Europe.

Immigration is not something gentle, generous, and benign, as people like the Greens would have you believe. It’s a sharp, weaponised means of undermining working conditions, communities, and cultures. Want a pay rise? Too bad. We’ve got ten migrants who’ll do your job cheaper than you, and who care not a jot about you. It’s surely worth noting that these migrants (seeking the iconic “better life”) either come from an inappropriately expanded EU (the Western powers wanted to get to the borders of Russia post-haste) or trouble-spots that weren’t troubled until we stuck our oar in. It isn’t hard for powerful countries, like Britain and the US, to create conflict elsewhere, and then open their doors to the refugees fleeing the trouble that wouldn’t have happened if they’d left well alone.

The game is up now, or at least it’s in the open. The EU is, always was, a hard-nosed economic union that was allowed to happen because of an unholy alliance between money-driven technocrats and the fluffy-headed well-meaning types who believed it was principally intended as a way of stopping war and bringing peoples together. A younger me counted himself among the latter — though, of course, the early (earlier) iterations of the EU could reasonably be regarded as a club of equals: that is, there wasn’t so much of a disparity of living standards between the countries involved. Opening the EU to the Eastern European countries (done, as I say, to undermine Russia after the fall of communism) was a tempting sparkling beacon of consumerist light to those who imagined freedom was the ability to buy lots of things. Of course it wasn’t done for political freedom; it was done for Coca Cola and Levis and Micky D’s.

The mainstream media (MSM) has lost its monopoly on the narrative. There are other narratives now, closer to the truth (and social media has played a big part in this). This is a catastrophe for the MSM, since they/it become irrelevant the moment people stop buying their view of the world.

Their narrative, incidentally: we’re the good guys, as is the US; globalisation is a GOOD thing; Russia is bad; there’s always a threat for which we, the State, have to protect you; freedom must be curtailed for the sake of protecting you from terrorism and protecting the children from bad people (no, NOT advertisers and Big Pharma — they’re good guys, too). Now, they’re on about false and fake news, suggesting in true Orwellian style that only they, the MSM, are telling you the truth. Only their view of the world is the right one. Dissent from that, and you’re a loon seduced by fake news and conspiracy theories.

Brexit happened despite the MSM being railed against it; so did Donald Trump. Supporters of both were vilified as ignorant and ill-informed before and after the vote, meaning they weren’t buying the doo-doo pouring out of the MSM. Another interpretation would be to say they — the people — used the tools available to them to kick the establishment, which is rightly perceived as serving only its own interests and that of other elites. We’ve seen now how much the elites really like democracy. Their fondness for it ends when it threatens to make a significant difference. Matteo Renzi resigned in Italy as a result of losing a referendum on constitutional reforms that would have given him and his office more power. It’s been a tumultuous year politically. I’m hoping for more across Europe in the New Year.

Me? I’ve lived more than half a century, and work as a Test Analyst. I live with my partner in the South East of England. I’d like to move. North(wards). I don’t own my home, but still hope I might. I think at one time I wanted to be a writer. A fairer world would have been nice, too. One where there was a right to a home and food and the other necessities of a decent life, and where the difference between the top and the bottom of a society was linked, so that the prosperity and misfortune were always — at least relatively — shared. Orwell, and others, had the same idea. It’s amazing how radical an idea it sounds now.

In some parts of the world, from your penthouse view, you can watch children climb over toxic dumps, looking for something they can sell to eat. But that’s okay, that difference between rich and poor — that’s freedom. And if the casino goes against the house elite, then you’ll hear about the need for austerity because we have to bail them out. They can’t fail, or we pay the price.

Parenthetically speaking

Consider this.

Would it really be quite decent (or prudent) to tell her he was dead?

The above sentence is from my novel. What we’re interested in here is the use of parenthesis or brackets, which I’m told I over-use, and which (I’m told) adds difficulty for the reader.

So – consider the following:

Would it really be quite decent (or prudent) to tell her he was dead?
Would it really be quite decent – or prudent – to tell her he was dead?
Would it really be quite decent, or prudent, to tell her he was dead?
Would it really be quite decent or prudent to tell her he was dead?

The question is: can and does the “average” reader mark the difference, appreciate the distinction? Or does the appearance of an “unfamiliar” punctuation mark (the brackets) simply act as a distraction, a stumbling block, a jagged impediment?

Consider, too, the following:

My hair is shoulder-length and mousy and (outside the private domain) invariably worn tied or clipped back. I had been a (the) DCI in Amberton for two and half years, having briefly been a DI in the Met. Amberton has a population of eighty thousand or so souls and a slower pace of life than the capital. Friends and colleagues had assumed (quite correctly) that I had craved a quiet (or quieter) life. I had, indeed, begun to find London brittle and dispiriting.

Here it is again with the parenthesis replaced with dashes:

My hair is shoulder-length and mousy and – outside the private domain – invariably worn tied or clipped back. I had been a – the – DCI in Amberton for two and half years, having briefly been a DI in the Met. Amberton has a population of eighty thousand or so souls and a slower pace of life than the capital. Friends and colleagues had assumed – quite correctly – that I had craved a quiet – or quieter – life. I had, indeed, begun to find London brittle and dispiriting.

To me, there is something of the theatrical aside to the parenthetic content, a change of tone, an extra thought – some of which might survive with the use of dashes, though it is distinctly weakened. With merely commas or no punctuation at all, this (the tone change, the extra thought) is entirely lost, and the meaning (not so subtly) changed.

Here it is again with the dashes stripped out and not replaced:

My hair is shoulder-length and mousy and outside the private domain invariably worn tied or clipped back. I had been a, the, DCI in Amberton for two and half years, having briefly been a DI in the Met. Amberton has a population of eighty thousand or so souls and a slower pace of life than the capital. Friends and colleagues had assumed quite correctly that I had craved a quiet or quieter life. I had, indeed, begun to find London brittle and dispiriting.

It seems to me a lot of tone and voice is lost in the above if one compares it with its parenthetic counterpart.

But… perhaps all this sounds rather too precious, and one should simply go with reader feedback. In this word-processing, digital age, these things are easily changed. It would take very little in the way of effort to swap out the parenthesis for dashes and/or commas, and I could later argue that brackets – as a punctuation – are just too visible for the “average” reader, too much of a surprise. They’re not used to seeing it, I would say regretfully, and don’t quite understand why it’s there, nor how they should read it. Nuance, I would add snarkily, must be sacrificed on the altar of marketability.

I worry about this, of course. I fear the ability to read generally has been (is being) degraded, that poetry and its cousin, style, are now regarded with suspicion and mistrust. Will I, then, be searching and replacing my brackets? No (actually), I think not. There are so many other reasons for the novel to fail (in terms of the market), its subject matter for a start. The “average” reader is not going to be clamouring for my book anyway, parenthesis or not. And there’s surely something to be said for authorial integrity, for an artistic rather than a mercantile decision.

You can be sure, though, I’ll have it in mind for my next novel (partially built and in abeyance), which will be written third-person (the “average” reader is more used to this) and unburdened with “eccentric” punctuation.

I’ll end on this:

While I was sleeping in Italy, I heard news from overseas – England to be precise – that affected me emotionally and made me want to write a poem in protest.


As I lay asleep in Italy
There came a voice from over the Sea,
And with great power it forth led me
To walk in the visions of Poesy.


An Individual Will by J.G. Ellis. Yours at NO COST.

To DOWNLOAD this elegantly written work of philosophical detective fiction, simply go HERE and click on the format of your choice.

Reviewer Ruty B said on Goodreads: “The book is intense, and if you are looking for a sweet, light and simple story this is not for you… profound reading and the topics leave you thinking and wondering about your own life.”

Kris, in the office, said: “I read four chapters and couldn’t go on – it was too depressing.”

Sheila, in the office, said: “I enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t give it to anyone having a baby.”

Author J.G. Ellis said: “I thought this book was going to change my life. Clearly I was wrong.”

But here it is for YOU. FREE. No fuss, no logins, no joining-ups. Simply click on the format you desire, and copy it to the device of your choice.

An Individual Will by J.G. Ellis.