Driving Ambition: The Dead Tree Version

For those of you wanting the dead tree version of Driving Ambition, you can now get them online! The link here will take you to the publisher’s website. You can also get Kindle and Kobo versions of course. And if you want to buy one direct from the author– just flag me down at any event I’m attending!

The Town With No Pubs

The recording studio that Magic Bullet usually uses is a really good one, which I would recommend heartily to anyone wanting a studio in Southeast England, but the catch is that it’s also owned by an indie rock group, who reserve the right to reschedule anyone’s bookings if they suddenly find they need the space for a week or two. This happened to us once: fine, but it happened to us after we’d booked the actors and sound man, who we couldn’t reschedule. Meaning, we needed to find another studio.

After a bit of a hunt, we found one, in a converted barn out in Ovingdean. The producer and I went for a look at it, and decided it was more than suitable for our needs. It had all the necessary equipment and personnel, and a rather nice in-house cat. The catch there, though, was that it was too small to have a green room.

Not a problem, we thought. We’ll just set the actors up in a local pub and keep them happy when they’re not performing. So, we went for a walk to find the local pub.

After about half an hour of finding the church, the newsagent and all the other usual small town amenities, we stopped a local and, bewildered, asked him where the pub was.

“Oh,” he said, clearly used to this question, “the town doesn’t have one. There’s some sort of law dating back to the Civil War, that never got repealed. So we just go into Rottingdean instead.”

So, the result was that on recording day, the production manager’s job involved not only the usual things detailed in the previous post, but also driving on a circuit between the studio and the seashore pub in Rottingdean, and spending a small fortune on temporary parking permits as I rushed in and out to pick up actors and drop off other ones.

However, the issue of green room snacks and drinks was definitely sorted!

A Tale of Holiday Aviation

Christmas 1997, in the days before online check-in, airport and airline apps, and mobile phones cheap enough for a student to afford. Yes, this is relevant. Bear with me.

I was preparing to spend the holiday with my parents in Toronto. I’d booked a relatively inexpensive flight; I’d learned the best and cheapest way to get to Heathrow from Oxford (the Heathrow Express coach– this has not been a paid advertisement); I’d filled my rucksack with clothes, presents, and library books (I had a degree to get); and had tickets to fly out of Terminal One. I was getting ready to go when one of my flatmates stuck his head around the door.

“Have you heard the news today?”

Well, no. I didn’t have a television or a working radio, and I’d been too busy packing to look on the Internet.

Which was when I discovered that this was the day when a deep-fryer caught light at a Heathrow branch of Burger King, leading to the Great Terminal One Fire. Firefighters had been at it all night, and it was still ongoing.

The BBC was recommending that travellers contact their airlines. I rang up Air Canada, but the lines were busy. I tried again, and again, as the clock ticked closer to the point at which I’d have to leave if I was going to catch the bus. With no mobile phone, in the end I decided to just go to Heathrow and risk it.

Upon arrival, I got a front-row perspective on how aviation authorities handle emergencies.

In the first place, all flights had been redirected to other terminals. All North American and some Middle Eastern flights were now running out of beautiful, brand new Terminal Four, and I couldn’t quite believe my luck in getting to see what was then a huge attraction for anyone who likes airports.

(Yes, that’s me, in case you haven’t guessed. No apologies for that.)

But the queues for check-in were gigantic. And that was just for check-in. I shuddered to think what awaited passengers once they got into Security.

I asked one of the attendants what I should do. “Join the queue,” she told me, so I did.

A few minutes later, I heard a boarding call go through for a flight to New York.

Immediately, the attendants swung into action, running down the queues, shouting, “New York! Anyone travelling [flight redacted] to New York?” If someone indicated this was so, they were immediately yanked out of the queue and hustled to the front, where they were speedily processed and rushed through Security.

So it was all going to be OK then. I relaxed.

Sure enough, when I was about two-thirds of the way up the queue, a call came for my flight. An attendant snagged me, dragged me to the front, and I was processed, stamped, and throwing my bags through the X-ray machine in minutes.

I made the flight with a quarter-hour to spare.

So I did make it home for Christmas after all, thanks to quick thinking and efficient emergency operations. And I got to do it through Terminal Four.

I’m going to be taking a posting break over Christmas, obviously. See you in the New Year!

Beijing, 2006: A Photoessay

I’ve made multiple visits to Japan and Singapore, and had a visiting fellowship in Taipei for a while, but only ever visited Beijing once. This was in 2006, when the city was clearly well on its way towards becoming a glass-and-chrome metropolis, but really wasn’t all the way there. Looking back, it occurs to me that it’s changed a lot, and people might like to see some of what it looked like at that complicated time:


Many rickshaws:


(seconds before the photo below was taken, the chain came off the gears, and the driver literally hooked it back on with his foot)SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERASAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

A blacksmith fixing a wheelchair:


Old buildings and mosaics, probably gone now:


The old site of the Pan Asia Games:


A Christian wedding at a church:

Dong An Market…


and a state “Friendship Store”.


Man selling rabbits in the subways under the road:

Man selling books off the back of, yes, a rickshaw, above the subway:

Gas masks in the closet in my hotel, a little bit scary:


Finally, fish. Every shop had its lucky goldfish, this jade retailer was making them do marketing work too: