03 Mar

The Weasel and the Woodpecker

So far this week, I’ve drawn about three cartoons and written a Windows program to record all my cartoon submissions. Not that I’ve submitted many this week — four or five went to The Spectator yesterday — but the program is central to my vow to take my cartooning more seriously. My problem is that I’ve never been much of a ‘submitter’ and, as they say, you have to play the game to stand a chance of winning a prize.

When the program is completely finished, I might upload it here for free for anybody who might want to use it but even as I type that I have my monetary angel is banging his head against my right shoulder as if to tell me to stop being so damn generous. But, frankly, I don’t think there are enough cartoonists or writers in the world who would want to buy it or even would find a need for it. The main reason I’ve written it is to also help archive my cartoons. I lose too many to computer glitches that I’m trying to make more use of online storage. So, every time I finish a cartoon, I add it to the database which archives a copy to Dropbox. With all my cartoons listed, I can (for the moment ‘in theory’) simply click a button and generate an email based on the publisher details I’ve already entered and with the cartoons embedded into the email.

When it’s finished, I might give it away, might keep it for myself or I’ll ask a few dollars for a copy and stick it over on The Digital Nib. Unlike my previous program, The Gag Machine, this isn’t a long term project. It’s more of a useful tool I needed and realised I could program in a day. And I did program its basic functionality inside a day. I was writing it when my laptop died on Sunday.

The loss of the laptop has be surprisingly hard. The faded/yellowed/’cooked’ label on the back would say I’ve had the laptop about four years but for about three of those years, I’ve not switched it on for fear that it would burn out. However, since my writing my ‘review’ and claiming that I’d never use it again, I’d started to use a thermal cooler beneath the laptop. It didn’t do a great deal but it did make it usable for short periods. With a slightly cooler lap, I’d started to use the laptop at least once a day and I’d got it just how I wanted it. I was programming more. Writing more. And then, within about two weeks, it has died with an inevitable smell of burnt solder. It died exactly how it died the first time it blew its video card. I now hate Dell with a passion. That laptop cost me so much to buy, thinking that buying from the XPS range would make it a long term laptop, only to have it now burn out twice. Only this time I’ve not asked for a repair. I’m not investing another penny into that machine or that company. The XPS 1340 was a horrible machine that should never have gone to market.

I should really get a new (non-Dell) laptop but they’re so damn pricey and my attempts to monetise the blog have come to naught. I started my new drive to earn from blogging on the 4th February. It’s now the 3rd of March and in one month I’ve managed to raise a whopping £1.06. That’s £1.06 reward for 12 cartoons, 2 Photoshops and 21,000 words. Okay, that’s not one of my most productive months but it’s surely worth more than £1.06.

I’m not pleading poverty here (though, perhaps, I guess I am) but this is a example of the new internet economy in which the big guys make millions while the rest of us scramble around to earn pennies. The reality is probably that I should really blog less and devote my time to selling my cartoons or my software. It’s galling that I think that but even more galling that my past efforts have come to naught. Take this morning’s cartoon as an example. If I type ‘George Galloway cartoon’ into Google, one of mine appears at the top of the search results. That’s even before you go into Google image search.  That’s really weird and yet deeply satisfying.


The three other cartoons are by heroes of mine: Peter Brookes and Martin Rowson. My cartoon (below top) was drawn years ago when I was first starting out. I don’t think it’s anywhere as good as today’s (below bottom) Galloway cartoon which, I hope, is not as good as the next one I draw.


Yet the cartoon is there. Multiply all those years of effort and count up the many hundreds of cartoons I’ve drawn, hundreds of thousands of words (I once calculated millions for all the blogs I’ve written), all of which is still online: and all I have to show for that this month is £1.06.

Forgive me if I sound cynical about the internet. The truth, for me at least, is that I draw a cartoon which hardly anybody looks at whilst Twitter is today dominated by a picture of a woodpecker carrying a weasel on its back. And if a woodpecker carrying a weasel isn’t a metaphor for the great democratization of media production then I don’t know what is.

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02 Mar

The Same Old

I leapt out of bed this morning. New day. New week. A new month. New resolutions and a new determination to ‘do something’. That ‘something’ was to submit some cartoons I’ve been drawing over the last week or so. I had a ‘good lead’ in the form of an email address. So, I’d specifically drawn cartoons that would appeal to my lead. What can I say? It was the right market for these cartoons and I’ve been focused on doing the best I could.

So, this morning: final clean up on the cartoons. Nicely captioned. Then packed into a PDF. Email written. Just about to paste the email address into the bar and I thought… Better just check that the email is still current. So I did a quick check.

The person no longer works for the publication.


So, I began to search for their successor. After about half an hour, I made the breakthrough and I had their name. A new name for the old job of cartoon editor. However, despite another hour long search, I could not find a single email address. So, as it stands, I have five really nice cartoons into which I’ve poured my body and soul, yet I don’t have a place to send them.

All that talk about ‘newness’ suddenly feels so dumb. I’m stuck back in the old rut where my enthusiasms quickly run dry.

On a more positive note: I mean to blog more this week but, today, I’ll be running around doing about a dozen jobs.

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01 Mar


Well it died. That’s why I’m posting this from my tablet and hating every moment of typing with predictive tits.

NEWSREADER BUY DELL. I mean that to say ‘never’ but damp predictive tits changes everything I write. Anyway, the  laptop was running hot as I tried to use it for a little coding. Written a nice little programme or was doing until something began to smell of bumming. BUMMING? I hate predictive text. Burning. Bud I get.  Burning.  Burns v.  Burton I get. Can never type the same world twice. It smelt of bur ING

Dawn.  I tried to type “damn”.



Just ridiculous.  What would my blog be if I wrote in on here?

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27 Feb

Done and Done

A brief update since I’m exhausted. After about 36 hours of frantic work and not enough sleep, I’ve got all my websites up and running. The Digital Nib is also back, which is a small relief. Hopefully, I’m now at the stage where I only have small housekeeping tasks to finish before I can consider that I’ve fully recovered from my own stupidity.

I took a break last night to draw a cartoon which I’ve donated to The What and the Why. I have to say that I think it’s one of my favourite cartoons and written with the aid of my invaluable Gag Machine. It’s a bit tiny in the sidebar and I might have posted a copy here to congratulate me for the quality crosshatching. However, my upload still isn’t working. It’s next on my list of problems to fix.


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26 Feb

Taking a break from Linux hell

First of all: if you’ve written to me in the past few months and I’ve not replied, then I’m really sorry. I discovered yesterday that my email server was plain not working. It was a lottery if emails were getting through.

Things should now be better or they will be better if I can conquer Linux (again).

It’s not that I hate Linux. If I had the time, I’d probably love learning its intricacies. However, I don’t have the time and my method of working is often to search the internet for solutions and then try them out. I guess it’s my approach to most things. I think it’s the best way of learning. Work in small steps. Things sink in but in a way that’s organic and natural. It’s not like reading a 1000 page manual and thinking you understand it. Figure things out from the inside. Best way to learn.

Anyway, so far I have this blog back, but with a few things ‘under the hood’ to fix. The archive will be next (i.e. the old Spine website) and then I’ll work on the other websites I’ve hosted here in the past. The FTP server is proving a pain to configure but, hopefully, once that’s done, then the rest should be less ‘brain work’ and simple typing, clicking and dragging.

This new server is a bit different to the last. Firstly, I’ve upgraded it, doubling the memory since it’s now doing more. I realised yesterday that things hadn’t been working right for weeks. I was using a simple email service which forwarded all emails to various addresses to a single account. However, this meant that Yahoo and Google thought it was a server spamming their email servers. They have a *very* low tolerance, it seems, for small servers running email. I needed a proper email server installed on the machine, so that’s what I’ve done along with a few other things including, for the first time, a proper control panel. I’ve also enabled backups just in case all of this goes horribly wrong again in the future.

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26 Feb

My Mistake

You might have noticed that the site disappeared for a few hours. I did something really really stupid. It meant that my Linux server was completely messed up and I’ve had to start again. If you’re reading this, I’ve made a start. Please bear with me.

Lessons learnt:

1. Never take the cheap option when buying server space. Don’t opt out of regular backups just to save a pound a month. I’m an idiot.

2. Don’t play around with Linux commands that you don’t really understand.


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25 Feb

A Brief Descent Into Semi-Colon Hell

A visit from news royalty this morning: a comment from the sorely missed Tim Marshall. My sister (a real news junkie) gasped when I told her, however, his visit also puts a slight shot across my bow given what I’d already written for today.

I was going to point you in the direction of a couple of interesting reads over at his new website, The What and The Why, but I was also going to drop a warning about the second piece by a guest writer talking about Saudi Arabia. I was going to warn you to push on past the opening paragraph. It’s a fascinating article but begins in semi-colon hell:

While pressure was building around the situation with Putin and Ukraine; the possibility of Grexit was on the cards – creating a possible pincer on Turkey between IS and Russian influence; world leaders and country representatives headed to Riyadh to pay their respects to the new King Salman bin Abdul Aziz.

The reason I noted this was last night I was asked to proof-read a letter a friend had written for a job promotion. They’d used a semi-colon where they should have used a colon. I pointed this out and they questioned if I was right. I was naturally a bit affronted. A published writer, blogging for ten years, millions of words under my belt and with a PhD in English Literature and I was being asked if I knew how to use a colon! What was worse: I immediately started to panic. Did I really know how to use a colon? I had to go on the internet to check.

As it happened, I did know how to use a colon but the whole drama reaffirmed my own writing paranoia, which was brought into focus when I started to read the Saudi Arabia article last night. I just couldn’t get past that opening.

Now, despite how this sounds, I’m not a pedant about the rules of writing. I don’t really know the rules that well. I’ve always been more of a gut instinct writer. I’ve always encourage people to write from their gut and to ignore the rules they were taught at school. Our schooldays make bad writers of us all. They introduce things we never need such as the semi-colon. My mantra is: write how you speak but then edit how you read.

I have a love-hate relationship with the semi-colon and realise that admitting this is an odd thing to confess. Whatever next? A slight entanglement with an asterisk? A romantic weekend with flirty ampersand? The fact is: I adore a well-placed semi-colon but I tend not to use them myself. They’re the harbinger of worse things. They’re a form of gateway punctuation. You begin by occasionally dropping a semi-colon at a middle-class dinner party but then you find yourself using them every weekend just to cheer yourself up. Before you know it, you’re a punctuation junkie scoring apostrophes and em dashes from dealers in some rat infested hovel in the backstreets of Manchester.

Semi-colons are the most pretentious form of punctuation. They’re the most elegant when used correctly but abject expressions of self-importance when flaunted where they don’t belong. You’d rarely (if ever) find a writer such as Hemingway use a semi-colon. They are not the stuff of his brusque prose. In fact, I’d offer a my hunch that ‘better’ writers rarely use them at all or those that do have a style which is distinguished by its sheer refinement. Whenever I’ve taught English to students, my first advice was always to learn to use the comma correctly. Commas can rarely be overused (though, of course, there are, exceptions). It can take years to learn to correctly use the comma and, even then, there’s rarely a need to go further and adopt the semi-colon. Writers with a real ear for the flow of language can sense where pauses naturally occur in a line. The comma is really all they need and even then used sparingly. A master of writing, Kurt Vonnegut, once gave this wise piece of advice:

‘Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.’

Not using the semi-colon is really the best advice since it is often misused simply because people don’t quite know how to use it. There are pedants who will give you the strict definition of when and how to use one, though I don’t take the pedant’s line. The way I think about semi-colons is that they simply introduce a pause to your flow; a break in the narrative slightly longer than a comma but not as absolute as a full stop. Perhaps I’ve just misused one there and this too would reveal something significant about my character. I don’t consciously use semi-colons myself and when I do I always get into a knot of self-loathing.

But back to the offending paragraph. It wasn’t written by Tim Marshall but by a reader who also happens to be a solicitor. I began to wonder if that’s significant. Solicitors live in a world of language yet they’re not trained in language. Solicitors are often the abusers of language. They treat words like station masters racking up train carriages in a yard; locking clauses together with the iron link of the semi-colon. The offending prose is overwritten, destroyed by the misuse of the semi-colon. It’s not a trivial misuse. What the writer only really needed was the simple comma. So why didn’t he do that? Because semi-colons convey a message. It’s like wearing an old school tie or a pin stripe suit. The semi-colon is saying much more than simply ‘take a breath’. You can read a lot about a person’s character by their use of the semi-colon. It’s telling us that the writer is educated and believes in their education. They believes in their status. It is all posture. Horrible. Brutal. Plain bad writing. It’s also a real shame. The article is an interesting insight into something you rarely read about. Just skip the opening paragraph and bite you lip whenever you see a semi-colon.

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