Friday, 28 January 2011

The Illustrationarium - 20th February, London

I'm delighted to be taking part in the Illustrationarium at The Book Club in London on Sunday 20th February, with New York Times no.1 bestselling author Chris Cleave and award-winning storyteller Rachel Rose Reid.

Our stories will be illustrated live on the night by Neil McFarland, Carlos Garde-Martin and Luke Waller.

The event is part of the Yarn Festival. Tickets here. Facebook page here.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Alison Wonderland & Being Light - reviews

Only occasionally does a piece of fiction leap out and demand immediate cult status. Alison Wonderland is one… Smith is at the very least a minor phenomenon. The Times

Made me sigh and throw it to the floor in a fit of envious pique. Julie Burchill, Guardian

A fantastical Thelma and Louise meets Agatha Christie adventure story. The dialogue is smart and the deadpan humour is perfectly judged. The List

Smith’s strength comes to the fore when she’s drifting, observing the incidentals of life… this clean, seemingly effortless voice gives Alison Wonderland an impressive edge. Editors,

Smith has a keen eye for material details, but her prose is lucid and uncluttered by heavy description. Imagine a satire on Cool Britannia made by the Coen Brothers. Times Literary Supplement

This is a novel in which the ordinary and the unusual are constantly juxtaposed in various idiosyncratic characters… Its airy quirkiness is a delight. The Times

A screwball comedy that really works. The Independent

Smith’s world is as wacky as Nicola Barker’s, but much funnier, less disquieting. Perhaps the Evelyn Waugh of Decline and Fall comes closer… She is a great snapper-up of unconsidered trifles…Wicked! Time Out

Smith’s second novel has a comic style with a clear, simple, buoyant prose. Irish Independent

An exuberant, acutely observed second novel. Shena Mackay, The Independent

For more reviews, please look at the Reviews for Books and Plays page on this blog.

Here's a video of me reading an excerpt from Alison Wonderland.
(Please note, it contains the one instance of very bad language that occurs in the book.)

Friday, 21 January 2011

Friday Reads - 21st January

Fame by Daniel Kehlmann
Nine connected short stories - intelligent and brilliant. Highly recommended.

Rejection letter to Gertrude Stein from Arthur Fifield. Photo posted by @EmmanualKnight

Edward Gorey at home with his cats. Photo posted by @MaudNewton

Poem by Elvis Presley. Posted by @LettersofNote

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Large Hadron Collider - Astonishing Evidence of Time Travel

Last night I met up with my friend Russell West, an artist. He told me an astonishing piece of news, connecting his work to the Large Hadron Collider and providing indisputable evidence of time travel.

In January 2009 Russell moved from London to the Isle of Wight and started work on a new painting. It took him a year to make and when it was finished, he called it Slow Big Bang and put a picture of it up on his website.

Imagine his surprise, then, when he opened his newspaper one morning in November 2010 and saw a picture entitled Mini Big Bang, created by scientists at CERN using the Large Hadron Collider. Their picture was remarkably similar to his.

We must assume that these eminent scientists didn't just google 'big bang picture' and try to replicate the nicest photo they found on the internet. It therefore follows that Russell somehow took his inspiration from a future event that would take place one year and ten months after he first started his painting. Yes! Though he had no memory of doing so and therefore couldn't tell me how he had managed it, he had travelled forward into the future from his studio in the Isle of Wight, covering a distance of more than 500 miles, to visit the Large Hadron Collider.

There will be an exhibition of Russell West's work in London at the Woolff Gallery in spring 2011. I'm hoping to have saved up enough money by then to purchase Slow Big Bang to put it in my Exhibition of Time Travel Ephemera and Anomalous Objects.

Slow Big Bang by Russell West
created January 2009 using oil on wire

Mini Big Bang by CERN scientists
created November 2010 using lead ions

Monday, 17 January 2011

Mating Season for Foxes and a Lecture about Time Travel

Araminta still hasn't come home. It's mating season for the urban foxes in London and as I lay awake listening to their unearthly cries as they coupled in the Brixton streets last night, I could only hope that it was love - or at least sex - keeping Araminta in the future, and not anything more unpleasant.

The good news is that I have been invited to give a lecture - provisionally entitled Aviatrix, Notes & Observations on the Risks Involved in Time Travel - in Shoreditch at the end of February. I hope to use it as an opportunity to draw attention to Araminta's mysterious disappearance, making one or two pages from her journal available for examination by the public, and discussing plans for the Exhibition of Time Travel Ephemera and Other Anomalous Objects that I'm hoping to curate as a nice surprise on her return home (or in her memory, depending on the outcome of this case).

So far, as you know, we only have one exhibit - the pair of black tights left behind after the jaunt to Hampstead. However I expect the display to grow over time as I go back and forth into the future to look for my friend.

When I have more information about the lecture in Shoreditch, I'll be sure to let you know.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Calculating Credits & Debits for Time Travellers - and a Mysterious Disappearance

If you read about my trip to Cardiff by train on Monday 10th January (when it seems that I was debited 37 minutes of time by persons unknown in response to my jaunt 19 hours into the future on Sunday 2nd January), then you will probably have railed at the unfairness of the system. Why should my daughter Lauren, my companion on the trip to Cardiff, have been debited by 37 minutes when she hadn't even been time travelling; she's too busy with her degree course at Central St Martins?

Fortunately Lauren contacted me later in the week to explain that things had been put right. She had almost finished writing her final year dissertation about set design in the theatre when she was seized by an urge to restructure it (something to do with Poetic Realism).

She walked from her office in Fulham to the front door of her flat - a journey that took less than half a minute as her office and her flat are both in the same house - and when she arrived at her destination, she realised that, on reflection, there was no need to restructure her dissertation. This, she estimated, saved approximately one hour of her time. I know what you're thinking! I think so too: it has to be some kind of recompense for what happened to us in Cardiff - there's no other logical explanation.

I feel newly optimistic about time travel and may attempt another journey next week. The only thing that's troubling me is that Araminta hasn't come home. She went off on another of her pioneering trips - each time, I can't help noticing, she takes more trouble with her appearance and she stays away for longer - and last night she didn't come home at all. Either she has 'got off with' someone in the future (if you're in America, I think you call it 'dating') or something terrible has happened to her.

I have had the police here this morning, just in case she has been abducted. I showed them the black tights left behind when I time-travelled myself last Sunday but as I had laundered them in a 'dark colours' wash on Thursday, apparently they're not much use as evidence.

I showed them Araminta's autobiography. She'd claimed to have written 60,000 words of it but when I looked at the manuscript, it was more like 600. Either she suffers from some kind of numerical dyslexia or she was trying to wind me up because I write so slowly myself (she has an eccentric sense of humour), or someone has visited from the future to destroy the evidence.

Either way, the police are reluctant to get involved and so I will have to conduct these enquiries myself, with the help of two assistants:

1) my daughter Lauren. She is working on a theory to help us understand the complex formula by which the credit/debit system is calculated and administered. She says she believes time travellers only have to pay back a proportion of time gained on expeditions.

2) my goddaughter EM. She is nearly six years old and she regularly travels back in time to a period she describes as 'when I was an orphan'. Small children are prone to fanciful imaginings and I wouldn't have given her stories much credence if she hadn't recently become terribly upset about Freddie Mercury dying - an event that took place more than thirteen years before she was even born. It follows that 'when I was an orphan' is her way of expressing her experience of visiting a time before her mother gave birth to her.

If Araminta doesn't come back by tonight I will schedule some after-school sessions with my goddaughter next week to 'share best practice' about time travel. And if her parents will allow it, I may sound her out about accompanying me as I attempt to go forward in time to find Araminta. EM's little silver scooter should prove invaluable as a getaway vehicle, so long as we can fit our two feet on the plate, and we can find a way to transport it with us.

Friday, 14 January 2011

The Miracle Inspector - Review

There's a fantastic 5* review for The Miracle Inspector over at SciFi & Fantasy Books.

"The Miracle Inspector is one of the few novels that everyone should read, it's a powerful novel that's masterfully written and subtly complex."

Thank you to Anthony Jones for the review.

You can buy it at or

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Aviatrix by Araminta Claremont

This year has started slowly. I'm supposed to be writing a new play, a literary novel, and a cosy mystery set on bonfire night, provisonally entitled Bonfires, Bangers and Slash.

It's impossible to get any work done as my dear friend Araminta Claremont - who says that 'bangers' is a slang word for bosoms in America, and my book won't sell well there anyway because no-one has heard of bonfire night - has moved into my house and has been pestering me for advice about how to structure her autobiography, Aviatrix.

I explained that she should start at the beginning and just keep going until she reached the end, and so this morning she went upstairs to my back bedroom and sat there in silk pyjamas and a dressing gown, drinking very strong tea and typing furiously.

At lunch time she came downstairs and said, 'Isn't writing fun?' And she asked me if 10,000 words was enough, or should she keep going? I said that she should aim for 60,000 words at least, not realising that she was enquiring about a daily word count, not the total number of words to go into her manuscript.

With the first draft finished, she's out this evening in The American Bar at The Savoy, soliciting donations from millionaires for her time travel museum. I said I'd mock up a cover for the book. It's the least I could do. She's really very brave and interesting, she's my oldest friend and, most importantly, once she's done with it and out of my house, I can get back to writing my masterpiece(s).

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Feedread - Featured Author

Feedread is a useful one-stop site for news and information from blogs by publishers, authors and reviewers.

I'm delighted to see that I'm a featured author over there today.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Upside Down Land, Train Travel, Time Travel

Lauren's grandad, Barry, used to tell bedtime stories to her and his other grandchildren - and their parents before them - about Upside Down Land, a place where, if you went into a shop and asked for a loaf of bread, they'd give you a lump of coal. And if you asked for a lump of coal, they'd give you a banana.

We went to his funeral in Cardiff yesterday and so we reminisced about this, as well as the kindness, hospitality and good humour for which he and Lauren's nana were known and so well-loved by their extended family and the friends of their four children. We heard old, familiar stories about Lauren's Grandad's time spent in Czechoslovakia and his stint in military intelligence in Malaysia during the war.

I met Barry 27 years ago when I visited Cardiff for the first time, and I have been going back regularly to Wales ever since. It wasn't until yesterday that I realised the possible inspiration for Upside Down Land: Cardiff Central Station.

Checking the monitor in the ticket hall for a platform number for the train back to London Paddington at 7.25 pm, I saw Platform 3: London Paddington 7.26pm. Lauren and I went to Platform 3 and waited, and it wasn't until we were about to board the train that we realised it was coming from London, not going there.

It seems that last night the monitors in the station ticket hall and on the platforms at Cardiff Central Station were displaying arrival times and originating stations rather than destinations and departure times. So if you wanted to go to Swansea, you had to look for London Paddington to work out where to wait for your train. And if you wanted to go to London Paddington, you had to look for Swansea.

I have taken the train from Cardiff to London many times before and never noticed this peculiarity. This, and an anomalous event that both Lauren and I witnessed later that night, leads me to concede that it might not have been Welsh bloody-mindedness to blame, but something much more mysterious. Let me explain:

Having just missed the direct train to London at 7.25, Lauren and I hopped aboard the 7.30 to London via Bristol Temple Meads and Bath Spa, a slightly more meandering route that would involve a change of trains.

As we peered out of the window of the train at Bristol Temple Meads, wondering whether to change here (as directed by two members of staff* at Cardiff Central) or at Bath Spa (as directed by the guard on the train), Lauren and I saw a white man of about my age get off the train and walk past our window towards the station exit.

As we left the train at Bath Spa eleven minutes later, we saw the same man leave the train from the same door and walk along the platform. To my astonishment, I realised I had encountered a fellow time-traveller.

I have no idea whether he, like me, is a pioneer in this field, or whether he was a victim, caught up in an attempt by agents unknown to rebalance the time/distance mechanism that was put out of kilter by my experiment the week before, when I successfully travelled 19 hours into the future (and, according to Google Maps Distance Calculator) a distance of 7.439 miles to Hampstead from my home Brixton.

The man on the platforms at Bristol Temple Meads/Bath Spa railway stations had slightly wild hair but the look on his face was innocuous enough. He had neither the thrilled expression of a man on the ride of his life, nor the terrified bewilderment of someone who has been hurled forward in time to an unexpected destination. Perhaps he habitually time travels, and this jaunt was no more than a routine commute. Perhaps he was cunning. Perhaps he was stupid. Perhaps he'd had botox.

One thing I know: he travelled a greater distance on Monday 10th (11.195 miles) than I travelled on Sunday 2nd, but he only went forward eleven minutes into the future.

Another thing I know: I left Cardiff at 7.30 pm instead of 7.25 pm - and arrived in London at 10.14pm instead of 9.32 pm. That's 37 minutes unaccounted for.

Here's what I don't know:
*Was the train journey used to debit some of the time owed from my Brixton to Hampstead jaunt on 2nd Jan?
* If so, by whom?
* How did they persuade the staff at Cardiff Central Station to change the display on their monitors to trick me into missing me train?

If time was being recalibrated last night, it means I still owe more than 18 hours.

The re-routing of my journey may also have been an attempt by someone to debit me some distance by forcing me to cover a greater number of miles when travelling between the same two points (Cardiff and London). I have no idea whether I still owe anything or whether I might even be in credit.

I consulted that marvellous oracle, Google, with the words 'train journeys distance uk'. The answer was something of a break-through: a very strong hint that train travel is a time travel portal:

I asked again: 'Who uses train travel to debit time and distance?' Once again, Google indicated that the answer lay within the offices of National Rail Enquiries, with a hint that I should investigate the person or persons responsible for issuing season tickets.

Before I attempt to time travel again, I need to know whether any hours I gain will subsequently be debited from me on a weekly basis. I will call National Rail Enquiries to try to discover the answer to this.

One final thing. When someone is said to work 'in military intelligence' we now know that this is a euphemism. In a James Bond novel, they might be called a spy. Did Lauren's grandad, with his David Niven moustache and his top secret 'military intelligence' work during the war, stumble on information about the way that train travel relates to time travel? Did his research lead him to Cardiff? Did he later try to explain the significance of Cardiff Central Station to his children and grandchildren with coded stories of 'Upside Down Land'?

I'm afraid it's too late to ask him now. Lauren and I visited Malaysia about twenty years ago, so I'm going to look through our old photos and see if they hold any clues. Not long after we went to Malaysia, we went to Australia, and someone from our future in London travelled back in time to Bondi Beach to visit us on Christmas Day (I have the photo to prove it). That may be relevant. It's a long story so I'll tell it another time.

*or were they?

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Amazon's Popular Highlights - The Miracle Inspector

So you have checked the stats for your blog, marvelling at the key search words that bring people to you. (Of the search terms that bring people here, 'I hate theater' and 'classroom wanking knickers' are still my favourites.)

You have set up a google alert for your name, your book's title, your name + your book's title, your other book's title, your other book's title... and so on.

What else? What fiendish new ego-surfing distraction has the internet designed?

How about this: Amazon's Popular Highlights for kindle books. The most popular highlight for my book, The Miracle Inspector?

"He hadn’t realised that the ordinary little things that happened, the ones that took place between the big events while waiting for something more exciting to happen – they were the most important, after all."

Free Books for the Kindle - Guest Post

I have written a guest post for the new Free Books for the Kindle site about World Book Night. If you're in the UK or Ireland, you have until 24th January to sign up to give away 48 copies of the same paperback book from a list of 25 available on World Book Night, 5th March. One million books will be given away.

Even if you're not eligible to sign up, why not join in unofficially and give away some of your old paperbacks?

And if you're looking for daily listings of free kindle books, why not sign up for one of several useful sites you can subscribe to if you're looking for free or cheap ebooks, including eReaderIQ, KindleNationDaily,, and TheFrugalEreader.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Friday Reads - 7th January

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks in paperback.

How I Learned to Love the Walrus by Beth Orsoff in kindle format.


The West End Whingers give their sought-after awards for least worst plays and performances in 2010 and explain the plot of Flashdance, the movie.

Stevyn Colgan is on Day 7 of his 365 Doodles a Day.

The Writers Guild of Great Britain draws our attention to Public Domain Day.

Michael Caine is awarded Commander of Order of Letters in France and meets 80 year old Dominique Paturel, the man who has voiced him in dubbed French films for the past 50 years. [via Telegraph]

Scientist harvests women's tears to test their effect on men's sexual behaviour. [via Discovery]

Ten tips for authors from Randy Susan Meyers. [via Huffington Post]

I missed the partial solar eclipse here in London on 4th January as it was too cloudy. Here are some photos of people around the world enjoying the phenonomenon. I don't wish I was in Hyderabad. [via Guardian]

I'm trying to keep up with all of it


Thursday, 6 January 2011

The Miracle Inspector Q&A and giveaway

There's a Q&A about The Miracle Inspector over at Good Choice Reading, and a chance to win a copy of Alison Wonderland, Being Light and The Miracle Inspector in ebook format.

The giveaway ends on 12th January so if you haven't read the books, please head over to Good Choice Reading to sign up to win.

2011 - How to Write a Bestseller

How has 2011 been for you? The year 2010 ended on a high for me when I received a cheque in the post for £207.37 on 31st December. It was totally unexpected; a foreshadowing of good things to come, I hope, rather than an indication of my net worth for 2010.

This year has started well:

I signed up to donate 48 copies of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark on World Book Night, 5th March. (I won't know until 28th January if I have been selected for this honour.)

I admired the photos of Detroit in ruins by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffe that were published in the Observer on 2nd January.

I bought lots of ebooks and started reading People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks in paperback. It was a Christmas present and it's very good so far.

I went on my first expedition as a time travel aviatrix, which was modestly successful, although I suffered some ill effects: I hallucinated when I reached the future, and part of one of my back teeth shattered on my return.

I'm friends with the magician David Copperfield (on YouTube). He was the one who got in touch with me, actually. I don't know what first attracted him to my channel - my superhero haiku trade-off made with Xtranormal software, my tribute video to my dead dog or the comic timing of my god-children. Perhaps he liked my ill-conceived Dream Detectives episodes. Anyway, I accepted.

I haven't written anything AT ALL. But I don't mind too much because, after many years of trying unsuccessfully to generate a suitable pen name by combining favourite flowers with the first names of men I have slept with (Hyacinth Damon, Peony Paul, Jasmine Notsure), I abandoned that method and used a brand new secret formula to come up with one I like: Araminta Claremont. What do you think?

Never mind, I love it. Now I just have to write something that lives up to the name. A mystery? Something with sex in it? Perhaps a sexy mystery book about my time-travelling experiences. Yes, that's it. I'll get on to it right away.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

World Book Night - Deadline extended

If you live in the UK or Ireland the deadline to sign up to give away free books on World Book Night, 5th March, has been extended to 24th January.

One million books will be given out on 5th March 2011. You can sign up to give away 48 copies of one book from a list of 25 available books.

I chose The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. Which one will you choose?

Monday, 3 January 2011

Time Travel - Measuring My Success (or otherwise) as an Aviatrix

On the morning of Sunday 2nd January I attempted to travel forward to this evening and visit Hampstead Observatory some time after 6pm. I came home and wrote up my observations: the skies were clear, the stars were visible, and I had watched the conjunction of Jupiter and Uranus in the company of other star-gazers, some of whom were women wearing fur coats.

This evening, after the event passed in real time (with cloudy skies, and Hampstead Observatory no doubt shut), I compared my notes with what really happened in order to measure my success. I would have said that my first attempt at time travel was a failure - I would even have been ready to abandon my new career as a time-travelling aviatrix - if it hadn't been for two things:

1) The pair of black tights left behind by whomever had been sent to take my place while I was in Hampstead. This thrilling piece of evidence will be the first exhibit in my proposed Time Travel museum.

2) A comment left on this blog by Suzie Bee on Sunday 2nd January. She said she would try to meet me at Hampstead Observatory the following evening - this evening - but by the time I read her comment, I had already returned from my expedition. (Indeed, I was worried about how we would notice each other in the excitement. I was going to suggest that pioneer time travellers wear distinctive red coats or fancy hats - but that must be the subject of another post.)

For now, here's the interesting part: I knew of Suzie's existence but I hadn't realised until today that she had a personal blog. I honestly promise you that I hadn't read it until 11 o'clock this morning and didn't know what this brave young woman looked like. But when I saw her picture, it gave me hope. Because wherever I time-travelled to on Sunday morning/Monday evening, Suzie was there.

As I explained in my notes, several of the women standing close to me outside that parallel-world version of Hampstead Observatory were wearing white fur coats (I dare say you'd call them boleros as they were quite short in the body, but I didn't bother going into it in my notes). But out of the corner of my eye, standing a little further away, I saw Susie in her vintage fur coat. I didn't see her face but I saw the coat. I did, I did.

Ach, I had written something like 'Several of the women were wearing fur coats, some of them white' in my notes. But the sentence construction seemed clumsy, the detail unimportant... I edited what I had written, allowing my sensibilities as a writer to overtake my responsibilities as an aviatrix. I will learn from this mistake.

I will try to navigate more carefully, I will be truthful about what I have seen, and dilgent about reporting my observations. And I will time travel again. Soon.

Facebook author page

Ooh look. I have a Facebook author page.

Please click 'like' otherwise I dread to think what might happen:

Notes and Observations on the Risks Involved in Time Travel

I made my first attempt at time travel yesterday, Sunday 2nd January 2011. I travelled forward one day to visit Hampstead Observatory to watch the conjunction of Jupiter and Uranus some time after 6pm tonight.

When I returned home, I wrote up my notes and then got dressed to go to a party. I put on some clothes, including my stripey skirt that I always wear, and a pair of black tights that I found lying around in my bedroom, then I ate two poached eggs on granary toast with hollandaise sauce, and drank a cup of milky coffee.

As I was eating the poached eggs, a small piece broke off one of my back teeth. I crunched it and swallowed it, thinking that the seeds in the granary bread were rather gritty, and then my tongue touched the sharp edge of my broken back tooth and I realised what had happened. My teeth don't usually break when I eat breakfast. I have to conclude that my recent experiment in time travel made them weak and crumbly.

It wasn't until I got on the no. 38 bus from Angel tube station to Clapton Ponds to go to the party later that day that I realised the tights I was wearing - which felt rather snug when I put them on - were so constricting, and the crotch so low, that either time travel had made me gain weight, or they mustn't be my tights at all, but someone else's.

I checked my reflection in the window of the bus (CCTV cameras presumably will have recorded my journey; my appearance can always be verified later by independent witnesses, if necessary) and I didn't seem any chubbier than normal. It therefore must follow that the tights I was wearing belonged to someone else. But who? How did they get into my bedroom, how long did they stay there, why were they there in the first place, and why did they discard the tights?

Here's my hypothesis: when I made my journey to Hampstead Observatory, someone (a female person) was sent back here temporarily to take my place. If she had been outside gazing at the stars in the chilly night air before she was sent back here to Brixton, when she arrived in my bedroom she would have found that she was dressed too warmly. She removed the tights, dropping them on the bedroom floor. I was only gone for a few minutes and whoosh, as I returned she was propelled back out into the night sky towards Hampstead, shoes in hand, bare-legged and surprised.

The other thing I noticed about time travel is that it has a hallucinatory, distorting effect on the perceptions. Reviewing my notes from yesterday morning, I doubt that the people near me really turned into swans. I don't think that Jupiter will look like a big marmelade moon in the sky tonight.

And yet... I made it. I left here and went there. With a few tweaks, with practice, with the help of a good dentist and perhaps with some polite notices explaining the need to 'keep your belongings with you' posted around my house for the benefit of anyone arriving unexpectedly to take my place while I'm away - yes. I believe I have done it and can do it again. Armchair time travel is within reach for all of us. Be a pioneer. Join me!

And if, tonight, some time during the conjunction of Jupiter and Uranas, something 'funny' happens to you and you feel displaced and lose a pair of tights, please get in touch so I can return them to you. Otherwise I'll keep them here as evidence; the first exhibit to go into my time travel museum.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Hampstead Observatory - Time Travel Holiday - report

Date of travel: Sunday 2nd January 2011
Date of event: Monday 3rd January 2011
Location: Hampstead Observatory
Report: follows

I used lucid dreaming techniques to travel forward in time by one day to visit Hampstead Observatory to watch the conjuction of Jupiter and Uranus in the company of other star-gazers.

The sky was clear, the weather was mild and the stars were visible in the sky as I left my home in south London. When I reached Hampstead Observatory, I saw that it was a Victorian red brick building with a glass domed roof. I looked inside and saw several large-leaved tropical plants and knew that my mind's eye - as yet unused to these time travel techniques - was confusing 'observatory' with 'conservatory'.

I didn't go inside but stood outside with a small group of murmuring people who were dressed smartly, as if they had been invited to attend the opera in the company of royalty. Some of the women wore white fur coats, long white gloves, and extravagantly vulgar diamond jewellery. They drank from long-stemmed glasses filled with what might have been Cava, Prosecco or (this being north London) Champagne.

As the murmuring intensified, I looked up (without the aid of a telescope) and was delighted to see Jupiter above me in the sky. It was a marmelade-coloured planet, very bright, perfectly round, and slightly bigger than the biggest moon I had ever seen. Since I had no idea what a 'conjunction with Uranus' might involve, I waited patiently to see what would happen.

Soon I saw a puckered pink thing - not a planet, it was more like a space craft, and curiously reminiscent of a cat's arse - travelling steadily towards the planet from right to left or (to be more technical about it) from west to east. It was clearly visible against the black of the sky. It brushed against the planet as if giving it a kiss.

I looked at my fellow star-gazers. They had been looking up so eagerly and for so long that in several cases their necks had lengthened and bowed, extending from the collars of their white fur coats like swans' necks. I looked back at the sky but the conjunction was over. Jupiter and Uranus were no longer visible. I returned home to south London to write up my notes.

Conclusion: This was the first time I had used this technique. I can see that it may be useful to travel forward in time to experience a future event and determine whether or not it will be worth attending in real time. However, eventually, I'd like to share my methods so that 'Time Travel Holidays' can be used as a substitute for real world attendance, and certain exclusive events can be enjoyed by everyone at no cost, without discomfort (i.e. without leaving the house), and with very little investment of their time.

Note: My methods still need perfecting.

Note to fellow time-travellers: I'm keen to compare experiences. If you would like to share details of your journeys into the future, please leave a report here.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Holidays From Home - Please Join Me (Time Travel is Allowed)

Happy New Year! I have a good feeling about 2011, don't you? Yes, yes. We've all been saying that since the year 2000. But this time it's true. It's going to happen for us.

Now that Jessie has died, I have vowed to be more adventurous this year (i.e. try to leave the house more than once a week), though finances and work commitments mean that I'll be continuing my series of holidays from home.

Holidays from home can be enjoyed in two ways:

1) Stay at home but behave as though you're on holiday - go out and about to interesting local events, eat unfamiliar food, take photographs, learn a new skill, take risks, make friends.

2) Stay at home, read up on all the wonderful events taking place around the world and imagine that you're participating without actually leaving the house.

Option 1 is cheap
Option 2 is very cheap

and you don't have to leave pets unattended at home.

For 2011, I'd like to invite you to join me using Option 2. Let's all holiday from home together*. Please feel free to leave a comment to tell me how it was for you. Since we'll be imagining it, you can tell me how it was even before the event has taken place. Time travel is allowed.
On Monday 3rd, if the skies are clear, I'll be visiting Hampstead Observatory some time after 6pm to gaze at the stars and admire the conjunction of Jupiter and Uranus.

On Tuesday 4th, if the skies are clear, I'll be standing on Parliament Hill with my solar-filtered** telescope to watch the partial solar eclipse at 8.10 am. (Note, this early morning event is likely to be Option 2.)

Happy New Year. Happy Holidays

* For news of local events, I shall be relying heavily on Ian Visits weekly email
** Even in my imagination, I will not look directly into the sun.
*** More sky-watching news here