MARK HILL - writer guy

MARK HILL - writer guy

I'd better let you go

When someone on the phone says "I'd better let you go" it does not mean that they are graciously allowing you the opportunity to go.

It means that they want to go.

Gilmore Girls

Two years ago I became obsessed with the TV show Gilmore Girls. I would watch it for every waking hour. I would watch 12 or 14 hours of Gilmore Girls in a single day.

Now, it's on Netflix, and I have become obsessed all over again.

It sort of keeps me in touch with the feminine side of my personality.

The first few seasons are the best.

 

Economics

I am an economics geek.

For most of my life I was a hard-core, Friedman-esk, Chicago school, free-market capitalist.

I am now disillusioned with that model and, looking back, find it rather simplistic.

But since 2008 I've been trying to work out a model that works. I am disenchanted with the free market and I don't really think that socialism is the answer.

I'm starting to think about something I'm starting to call "highly regulated capitalism". An economy where business competes, but where the state sets a high baseline in terms of safety, worker rights, environmental concerns, and more.

Nobody listens to me

Nobody listens to me.

When someone has an issue or a worry, I try to listen and, from my reaction, show that I have been hearing what they have to say. Draw them out; encourage them to share their feelings.

But nobody listens to me.

Cold Food

Most food is perfect served cold.

A pasta and stir-fry is delicious cold.

Sliced pork with cooked apple is yummy cold.

Same goes for egg-fried rice.

And cooked beans.

If you work in an office, consider this: skip the yukky microwave that sucks all the flavour and nutrition out of your lunch.

Just take last night's dinner, bung it in the fridge and eat it cold.

It'll be just as good, it'll taste like a new meal, and it'll be better for you.

Mercedes

I'd like an old Mercedes.

I don't drive, so it's all kind of pointless. But I'd like an old Mercedes.

The current models are dull and boring.

But I like the old ones.


James Bond 007

Bought myself a present on my birthday.

Bought this robe in Chinatown.

I feel like the villain in a James Bond film. Like I should be saying things like "I don't expect you to talk, Mr Bond, I expect you to die" then, like Blofeld, stroke a white cat while dumping Sean Connery into a shark tank.


Broadcast News

I've been watching the film Broadcast News.

It's about dysfunctional people finding a way to make their way in the world.

Being a dysfunctional person, I really relate to it.

Vegetarian

I'm starting to go semi-vegetarian.

I've got some meat in the freezer and I'm going to eat it because it's already been slaughtered and paid for and I don't want to waste it.

And if someone invites me over for supper and it's meat-based, I'll eat it. And I'm not going to worry if I buy a few stock cubes for soup that have a bit of animal fat in them.

I'm not going to be obsessive.

But in my own life, I'm going to stop buying meat. I'll buy fish because I can't imagine a world without fish and seafood.

But, from now on, I'll buy loads of vegetables and fish, but no meat or poultry.

It's a compromise. It doesn't qualify me to declare myself as "vegetarian" or "vegan" and I don't care.

I don't care about labels.

But I think that animal fat causes illness and is cruel to the cow or the chicken or pig (even when they have a nice life, they're killed by us for for food). As well, unlike plant-based food which tends to keep you healthy, animal-based food generates all sorts of illness.

So, without being pedantic about it, I will remove myself from that.


Fruit Flies

For some reason, I have been invaded by fruit flies.

I don't know why. I don't keep any fruit out in the open. I wash my dishes regularly. I keep my rubbish and recycling outside on the balcony. And I'm pretty much obsessive about cleaning my apartment.

My place is spotlessly clean.

Yet I seem to be attacked by fruit flies.

So I did a little online research and came up with a solution.

I took an old yogurt pot, cleaned it up, put in a bit of old white wine, a good splash of white vinegar, half an apple and a splash of dishwashing soap.

Works like a charm. The fruity mix attracts the fruit flies and the dish soap means they can't fly away.

They seem to congregate around the rim of the pot. When enough of them gather, I toss a cloth over and kill them all. Then I douse the cloth in the liquid mix and squeeze it out in preparation for the next culling.

It's working like a charm

Fake Cowboy

When I lived in England, I used to make up fake cowboy sayings.

There are real cowboy sayings:

"He's all hat and no cattle" means a guy is all talk and no action.

When something is going nowhere, it can be described as "that's a dog that won't hunt".

These are old sayings. But I used to make up sayings right away that sounded like old cowboy sayings, but actually just came out of my mouth. I used to make them up right away.

For example:
  • "That's a three-legged chair on a four-legged floor".
  • "He's packin' a beer for a wine tasting".
  • "That old horse been ridden hard and put away wet".
  • "You can't load that in my pickup truck".
  • "You can seed the back-40, but that crop ain't gonna grow".
  • "You're driving a Ford in a Chevy town." 

These are meaningless phrases. They say nothing at all and don't have any relevance to the matter at hand. But people all over the UK bought them as sage country wisdom (even though I come from the city and have never lived in the country).

It was great fun.

Out Of Home

I'm becoming a big believer in what (at least in England) we marketing types call "out-of-home".

Out-of-home is, as the name implies, is any marketing communications out in the public space. It's ads on the side of buses and cabs. It's posters in bus shelters and storefronts. It's billboards. It's boring old-school stuff but it works.

It's not cool, but you can't ignore it.

Ad people like to drone on about apps and banners and social media, but the evidence is coming in that most of this is a waste of money. Banner ad click rates are next to nothing and most of those are electronic bots or accidental clicks. Somewhere about half of all people use an ad blocker (I do and I reckon I've actually written more banner ads than I've actually viewed). Social media is looking more and more like a dog that won't hunt. Firms are finding themselves with millions of likes and retweets and whatnot but little or no extra sales.

The ad industry and the clientside suits are trying to keep this racket going because they're all making a nice comfy living out of it. But the game is pretty much up.

There's a billboard and a bus stop poster between my house and my supermarket. There are city buses passing by. I have no choice but to see them. I can't install an ad blocker or a spam filter. I have no choice but to see them.

Out of Home.

It's old school, but it works like shit on a stick.

Burglar

It's a good thing I haven't been burgled.

Over the past months, I can't count the number of times I've gone to sleep without locking the door.

I wake up after hours in a deep sleep and find that I have left my door unlocked.

Anyone could have walked in while I was fast asleep and cleaned out the place. Taken everything.

I really need to keep an eye on that door lock.

Soup

Lovely soup gently simmering on the stove top. Tomato, fresh water, vegetables, garlic, fresh corn from the farmers' market, jalapeno pepper, a pinch of salt and a dash of lemon juice..

Later, at the last few minutes, I'll add some chunks of fish.

Already tastes great, but, after an hour or so, it'll be grand.



Salon

I would like my apartment to be a salon.

A salon, as described by Wikipedia, is "a gathering of people under the roof of a host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation".

In the early 1900s, Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas hosted a salon. People like Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, F Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce and many others would come and go at will. A lot of good creative work came out of that.

Today, in Paris, the bookshop Shakespeare & Company does the same sort of thing. It's a bookshop, but artists and writers can come in and stay for free.

The only requirement in a salon is to be amusing. To bring original thought, intelligence and good conversation and a sense of humour. Most of all, to not be boring.

I don't have a house, just a small apartment.

But I would like my place to be a salon where interesting people can hang out. Where intelligent folks can meet up randomly and hang out or talk or have a debate or make jokes or converse with knowledge or think up new ideas..

A salon.

Cheese

I'm not a fan of cheese.

Cheese is junk food. There is little or no nutrition in cheese.

But cheese is the easy option for people who can't cook. Just melt some cheese over anything and you have a meal.

You could probably melt cheese over my sneakers and people would eat them. But that doesn't make it good for you.

Have you noticed how many fast-food joints sell you worthless, tasteless rubbish, but there's always some melted cheese in it so it tastes good.

When I worked at the coffee shop, we had all manner of wraps and sandwiches, and they were all made with garbage. But we bunged them in the panini griller with a bit of cheese which, once melted, the whole thing tasted fine.

But it was still garbage.

New low

It's 3 o'clock in the morning.

I'm in my bathrobe watching Notting Hill and eating fruit salad straight out of a tin.

My life has hit a new level of patheticness.

Pickle



For the past year or so, I've been really keen on pickling.

It's actually really easy. You take any sort of vegetable, dump in a bit of salt, some hot pepper and vinegar or white wine. Leave it in the fridge in a sealed container for a few weeks to ferment.

Over the past, I've pickled all sorts of things - beetroot, carrots, kale, spinach, cabbage.

At the moment I'm pickling cucumber and fennel in a spicy mix.

I reckon it's going to be pretty good.

Julia Roberts

I've just been watching Eat, Pray, Love.

And I have been looking at Julia Roberts.

She's getting older but, I think, more attractive.

When she was younger I found her rather bland.

But, as she grows over time, character comes out and she becomes more attractive.

Stock

I always keep a pot of stock in the kitchen.

If I have a piece of meat, I boil it up in the stock. The stock infuses the meat and the meat flavours the stock.

Sometimes, I just use the stock to make pasta or  rice. The stock is flavourful and nutritious and the pasta or rice absorbs that.

Today, I'm using up kitchen scraps. I got a husk from corn from the farmers' market (I'll keep the corn for later), I've got the tops and tails from some small carrots, I've got some small courgette. It's all scraps, but there is flavour and nutrition in it which I don't want to waste.

So I will simmer it gently for a few hours then sieve out the hard bits, throw them out and keep the stock.

It has dozens of uses and is really good for you.


Craft

I've been watching the film Kate & Leopold.

There is a line where someone says "just because someone doesn't have a paying gig doesn't mean he's not working on his craft".

I know that's true.

The Mean Reds

This is a clip from Breakfast At Tiffany's

Audrey Hepburn says "I've got the 'mean reds'.

George Peppard says "Oh, you've got the blues".

Audrey replies that the blues are just about being sad, but the mean reds are when you're scared, but you don't know what you're scared of.

I think I've got the mean reds.


Alone

I am slowly learning how to live alone. How to be okay in my own company.

I've spent most of my past life in London, England. When you live in London rent is so high that you pretty much always have housemates. So you're never alone.

Here in Ottawa, where rent is cheap, I live alone and it takes some getting used to.

Sometimes I go to the supermarket and buy things I don't need just to have some conversation with a person on the counter.

But, ever gradually, I'm learning how to be alone.

Eat Real Food

Eat real food.

Not packaged food or ready meals or fast food joint food or stuff in a packet with all sorts of supposed nutritional claims.

Eat real food that you cook yourself.

It will save your life.

I've spent my life drinking like a drunken fish and sleeping with whoever will have me. But through it all I have eaten well.

And now, in my middle years, despite my depraved life, I am a healthy man.

So, whatever you do, eat well.

Knife skills

You don't need a chopper.

Or a shredder.

Or a blender.

Or a multimixer.

If you can handle a knife, that's all you need.


Vegetables

Dad is coming over for lunch.

I'm doing a veggie bake. Cauliflower, some sweet pepper, cheese and spice.

Simple stuff. Kinda rustic. But I think it's going to taste pretty good.


Microwave oven

If there is one item in your kitchen that you ought to throw away it is the microwave.

Over decades, we have been sold a bill of goods about microwave ovens - the idea that they are fast and convenient.

But, the truth is, microwave ovens suck all the flavour and most of the nutrition out of everything. Stuff comes out pretty much devoid of health and tasting of nothing.

If you want to warm up leftovers, buy a small toaster oven. You can re-heat slowly without running up your electricity bill.

But ditch the microwave; it kills your food.


Barry Manilow

People slag off Barry Manilow.

They dismiss him. They say he's camp and cheesy.

But, when you take the time to listen to his stuff, you realise that it's not junk.

It's well-written, well-produced and well sung.

It's good music.

How to walk like a model

Walking like a catwalk model is easy.

You only need to know three things.

First of all, make sure that, at all times, your hips are ahead of your shoulders. Throw out your hips and pull back your shoulders.

Second, cross your legs as you walk. As you walk, when you bring forward your left foot cross it over your right foot. Then, as you bring forward your right foot, cross it over your left. Keep this up as you walk.

Third, when you reach the end of the catwalk, pivot on the forward foot. Left or right, it doesn't matter, but pivot on the forward foot.

Then walk back. Again, hips over shoulders and legs crossed.

Thoughts on bread

I no longer buy bread. I like it, but I don't buy it.

I make my own bread.

Supermarkets make a fortune off bread. They take 10 cents worth of ingredients and sell them for three dollars.

At the supermarket the cheapest loaf is $1.50 and most loaves are pretty close to three bucks.

But, at the same supermarket, I can buy 2kgs of flour for about four dollars. And I can make a shedload of bread out of that.

This morning I was hungry. I tossed in a handful of flour and a dash of water and a pinch of salt. I mixed it up with chopsticks (I don't own a blender) and spread it out onto a pan. I dumped on some beans and veg I had in the fridge and cooked in a hot oven.

Doesn't look great, wouldn't pass muster at a poncy restaurant, but it tastes great, it's nutritious as all get out and costs next to nothing.


Mystery board cooking

I watch a lot of cooking shows, Top Chef, MasterChef, stuff like that.

And my favorites are what MasterChef calls The Mystery Box. The cooks are given a box of unknown mixed ingredients and have to concoct a dish out of it.

It's my favorite way of cooking. I do it myself all the time.

Anybody can pick up a recipe book and go down to the supermarket and buy all the ingredients and follow the directions and turn out a meal.

But a real cook is someone who can open the fridge and the pantry and look at what's there and what needs to be used up before it goes off and figure out how to take a mixed bag of stuff and make a decent meal out of it.

How to cook

Cooking has become a big deal.

Celebrity chefs have become, well ... celebrities - the new rock stars.

But cooking is easy. You don't need a $25 cookery book. You don't need to follow a complicated recipe. You don't need to carefully measure in a quarter teaspoon of this or that.

Just get some good stuff, mix in some spice and flavour, apply some heat and, when it looks done, eat it.

It's that simple. It's not rocket science.

It's just making food.

Punch

If you're ever in a fight, punch with your palm.

Keep your fist open and punch with your palm.

Don't make a fist and punch with it like they do in the movies. If you do that you'll likely break your wrist or your knuckles.

Punch with your palm. It will inflict as much harm as a closed fist, but with much less damage to you.

I'm an immigrant

I feel like I'm an immigrant.

After 10 years in Europe, I've returned to Canada.

But I feel like an immigrant. It's like a new world.

I like it here. I like it very much.

But, for me, it's a new world.

Nutrition

Food writer Michael Pollan has reduced nutritious eating to just 7 words:

Eat food.
Not too much.
Mostly plants.

I agree. Though I would add fish and seafood to that list.

I've decided to do that.

I gave away a bunch of sausages recently because I don't like them. I have a bit of chicken and a little ground beef that I will eat because I've bought and paid for it.

But once that's used up I'm sticking to fish and seafood, loads of vegetables, rice, noodles and beans. Loads of beans (they're incredibly good for you).

So I would modify Michael Pollan's advice a little:

Eat food.
Not too much.
Mostly plants, beans and seafood.
Plus a bit of crappy starch so you don't feel hungry.

Breakfast At Tiffany's

This is my apartment.




People ask me why Breakfast at Tiffany's is my favourite film. Why do I watch it when I'm depressed? Why not watch something more upbeat and cheerful?

But, when I'm down, I watch Breakfast at Tiffany's because it's about two people who are, in their own way, somewhat damaged.

But they find each other and appreciate each other and realise that while they may each have their individual faults they can come together and find love.

I like that.

Fish

Having a bit of, as Holly says in Breakfast At Tiffany's, a bit of the "mean reds". So I'm cooking myself a little fish to cheer myself up.


Smile

Somebody once wrote that every time you make eye contact with another person you should smile.

I've been doing that for a while now. And nearly every time the other person smiles back. Even on a short walk to the supermarket or the bank, I exchange smiles with a dozen or so people - young people, old people, pretty young girls, macho guys on mountain bikes, little kids - all sorts.

It makes me happy to receive these smiles.

And I hope my smiles give some happiness back.

Cooking stock

I always keep a pot of cooking stock on the go.

I put all sorts of stuff in it. Sometimes I put in a piece of chicken, boil it up, let it rest then brown it off in a skillet. Sometimes I toss in some pasta and cook it up. The stock turns ordinary pasta into something delicious. Right now I'm cooking up some dried beans. I'll sieve them out and cook them with rice. I'll use a little bit of my stock to flavour the rice.

The stock is too powerful a flavour to eat on its own. But the nice thing is that cooking things in the stock adds flavour to the stock and cooking things in the stock adds stock flavour to what you're cooking.


Fireworks display

The view from my balcony.




Rain

I like rain.

I don't care to be out in the rain. But I do like to be inside or undercover looking out at rain. I love lightening and thunder.

It's been raining all day. This is unusual in Ottawa. In Ottawa we normally get torrential rain for half an hour, then it stops. In England we get pissy little rain that lasts all day.

But, today, we had torrential rain all day.

And I love it.

Rain cleanses. It washes all sorts of bad things away.

And it produces life. It makes the grass grow and the crops thrive.

A rainy day is not a bad day. A rainy day is a good day.

I cry

I cry. Or weep.

I cry all the time. My tears well up at the slightest thing.

I cry at movies. I cry when I think about things both past and future. I weep when I read a sad story.

It's not the most manly thing in the world, but I cry.

Life changes

Here's something I've learned.

It is easier to make a positive change than to eliminate a negative.

It works this way:

If you want to eliminate a negative, you have to do it 24 hours a day and seven days a week. If you want to quit smoking or quit drinking or quit gambling, you have to be perfect 24/7.

Nobody can do that.

So focus on the positive. Because positive doesn't require 24/7. Positive only requires that, sometime in the day, you do something positive.

So maybe you go to the gym. Or take a brisk walk. Or cook a healthy meal and eat it.

All you have to do is find one small part of the day when you do something good.

You don't have to be perfect all the time. Just do one or two things some of the time.

And, if you do that, the good will drive out the bad. The classic film will drive out the urge to gamble. The walk in the park will drive out the the urge to smoke. The healthy meal will drive out the urge to drink.

Good drives out bad. So, if you have bad, don't concentrate on eliminating bad, rather concentrate on producing good.

SEO is bullshit

For those who don't know, SEO stands for search engine optimisation. It's all about getting your website high up on the Google rankings. There are consultants who will offer advice and guidance to help you do this.

And it's all bullshit.

Google has an algorithm called Penguin that deliberately seeks out these silly SEO tricks and, when it finds them, kicks your site down to page 10.

I don't know how many times I've sat in a meeting with some SEO bullshit artist blathering on about how much data he has about search.

And where does that data always come from? Every time - Google Analytics. These clowns always claim they can fool Google by using Google's own data!

Google has all the data. Google sees all the tricks. And Google doesn't like tricks. Google likes a good website.

So, if you want to get on Google's good side, shove those SEO clowns out the door and just build the best and most interesting website you can.

Do that and Google will find you and love you.

Social media is a waste of time

I don't do social media.

I've long since quit Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn.

It's all a waste of time.

I used to think I was keeping in touch with friends. But I realised that keeping in touch is about meeting up and sharing a meal or a cup of coffee. It's about sharing time together in each other's company.

It's not about clicking on a "like" button or re-tweeting some rubbish post.

So I've quit social media.

If you want to be friends, come on over for a cup of tea. Just ring the bell and I'll put the kettle on. Or meet up someplace for a coffee or a cold pint.

If you're in town and want to hang out I'll give you a key to my place.

I'm cool with all that.

But I want real friends, not click-friends.


Creativity

Where does creativity come from?

I think creativity comes from people who are a bit fucked-up.

Being a bit fucked-up is almost a requirement for being creative.

Look at the great writers and directors and painters and artists - they're all mad!

They're all killing themselves or drinking themselves to death or can't hold down a job or sustain a decent relationship.

Creative people are all a bit fucked up.

But, if not for fucked-up people, we would have no creativity.

Women

I'm starting to think that women should run the world.

Women think differently than us. They work differently than us.

When women get together to plan something or decide something, they seem to talk forever. And the men become annoyed at how long they spend "babbling".

But, by the time they're done, they have achieved a consensus that no group of men could achieve.

Women are generally more concerned about the overall good, in contrast with men who are generally concerned with personal gain.

Someone once wrote a book entitled "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus".

I think I'd rather live on Venus.

Chelsea Handler on Netflix

I have become a real fan of Chelsea Handler.

She's funny, but more to the point she tells things like it is (or at least the way she sees it) and holds nothing back.

In an age where everyone is so careful to present a perfect image, it's good to see someone who just blurts out whatever comes into her mind.

Her website is here.

And if you have Netflix, you can catch her show here.

Writers

I've been watching "Death In Paradise" on Netflix.

There's a bit where one of the suspects, a screenwriter, says "What you have to understand is, I'm a writer. Writers don't do things, we just sit behind our laptops".

Too true.

Apartment life

There's a nice thing about living in a central Ottawa apartment.

We leave things out for each other.

Not junk. Not rubbish. Good things that, for one reason or another, we no longer need.

In my building, we leave things in the side lobby near the mailboxes.

In my short time here I've picked up (and passed on to family) two nice shopping bags and a pair of winter boots. I have offered out a few books and a Chinese wok, all of which were picked up in minutes.

It's the best form of recycling and builds a sense of community.

I like it, hugely.