First of all I guess, why the title?
Answer: I build planets; model ones that is. Once in a while. Now and then.
The 2 featured on my blog page are 2 of my models – with atmosphere added – of what I call ‘ExoEarths’ which is a play on the word exoplanets: a shortened word for ‘extrasolar’ planets being found orbiting other stars. In otherwords Earthlike worlds outside this solar system. The one on the header is a world called ‘Epona.’ Every aspect of that planet was designed by a group of scientists, writers and enthusiasts of which I’m one. For more on that go to http://www.eponaproject.com/
I used to participate in what was known as an amateur publishing group in science fiction fandom. Where friends and acquaintances could write about anything really. We all had to think of a title for our entries though, so because I build planets and can moan about aspects of the mundane world Planetbuilding Blues seemed a natural one for me.
I gave this up when my Mum and Dad were dying in the middle of the last decade. Matters related to that and lack of motivation occupied me for awhile. This year though I organised an adventure which inspired an old friend to tell me to write a blog about it. I’ll get to that in due course but my immediate feeling was that it was time to resurrect Planetbuilding Blues. Not only could it include my adventure but it could be a kind of diary or record of the rest of my life. I may make an entry weekly if there’s a lot going on or it could be as little as quarterly.
To begin this properly though, I’d better go back to basics and the beginning.
Name: David Alexander Angus or ‘Dave the Planetbuilder’ in SF circles such as the South Hants SF Group.
1 sister several years younger, brother in law and nephew in Cornwall. 1 aunt, 3 cousins, 2 grandnieces and 1 grandnephew in Australia.
Born February 15th, 1950, in Cheam. Which was in Surrey, but now is included in Greater London. Father an architect. Mother very supportive. Black Persian cat called ‘Smudge’ must have been 1st playmate. Our family have always had cats but there were also tortoises, guinea pigs and various creepy crawlies when I went through my Gerald Durrell phase after we moved to Berkshire near Reading in 1962. That was aided by an Uncle who was a Professor of Zoology, which led to the Natural History Museum being supplied with Common Lizards by myself and a friend, who taught me to catch them.
Taught myself to read Ordnance Survey maps at 4 years old. I was also interested in planets as long ago as 5 years old, for I remember attempting to draw Jupiter and Earth to scale in my first year at infants school.
English was one of my 3 strong subjects at school, along with Geography and Art. A good reason for starting this blog is that although I’ve done plenty with my abilities in Geography and Art I’ve done little with the English.
My life took a turn for being more difficult when I just failed the 11 plus through feeling ill during the exam and that turned out to be chickenpox.
Worked my way up to grammar school 6th form in 1966. I was talented in the Arts but my interests were in the Sciences. Dinosaurs were my earliest passion at 6 years old followed by Herpetology then Geography/Geology. That plus growing interest in girls led to a mixed up teenager failing in everything and winding up in Art College which is where they sent you in the 60’s if you failed your exams.
Art College was in Maidenhead. A ‘dormitory town’ in geographical terms. Aptly named because it was only used for kipping in by people who worked in London. A boring town from a students point of view. That plus interest in travel plus a pledge in a field when I was 12 years old never to work in an office or factory led to me wanting to stick a pin into a world map and go there when I left Art College rather than resign myself to the commercial world. While having to concede this on a temporary basis I have never sold out on this overall.
After Maidenhead I had contacts in Canada and South Africa. I chose South Africa because – being young and foolish – it seemed more of an adventure. After triumphs and disasters there I came home overland in 1978, the adventure of a lifetime.
Back in Blighty nothing seemed to work out for me and I thought the useful part of my life was over. Wrong. In 1983 I broke the deadlock by landing a job producing a relief model for a BBC TV documentary. To me that felt like Luke Skywalker landing that million to one shot on the Death Star! Success followed success and in 1986 I joined forces with my competitor on that documentary, Oxford Cartographers, working in house with them on an atlas when I developed a new modelmaking technique.
In 1987 I built my first spherical globe relief model of a planet: Lower Cretaceous Earth. Having already worked on the planet Helliconia for author Brian Aldiss in 1984. I was inspired not only by Dinosaurs but by the Magrathean planetbuilding industry in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. To forge a career building planets. What a lunatic idea!
Well I like being a lunatic and in the mid to late nineties I came damn close to pulling it off! I gained the lifestyle I wanted with long distance travel through my own efforts. Living off royalties from one planet (Earth which is a popular model) while gaining fame – including a TV interview in California – and occasional money from others. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’s description of the old galactic empire puts it well. It was my time of ‘when Men were real Men! Women were real Women! and little furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real…..’ and so on.
But the dark forces of Mundania were gathering. ‘Mundania’ is a SF fan’s name for mundane aspects that control our lives, or threaten to. Oxford Cartographers ran out of work for me in 1999. Also I’d never bought a house and would have that problem before the year was out because the old osteopath landlady who owned the huge house I’d rented part of for 13 years died in November.
I called this period ‘The Great Martian War’ because a girlfriend in America had got me a job Terraforming Mars – featured on my website – with what I called ‘the worst deadline in a thousand years:’ it being a few days after New Years Eve: the end of the millenium! On top of this my landlady died when I was with her, so not only did it feel like a battle against the odds but there was even a corpse thrown in! My mother told me I was suffering from shock but my sentiment was ‘no I’m not because I haven’t got enough bloody time.’
I won the battle but lost the war. The deadline was met but my girlfriend’s boss – who’d caused problems – was expert at finding fault with the Terraformed Mars model. The Chicago SF Worldcon art show I displayed model and montages at turned out to be – to cut a long story short – a well known disaster and I had little contact with the girlfriend afterwards for I no longer had money to travel.
Meanwhile I’d had to cope with property in a burned out state when a major source of employment had just dried up and royalties were declining. I was lucky though because the girlfriend’s mother lived on Hayling Island and knew of cheap properties in a tough estate in Rowner, Gosport. I moved there in July 2000. I’d finally gained a place of my own. It still felt though like an unparalleled expenditure not on what I wanted but on what I was obliged to need, wrenching me away from a place that had seen the most successful days of my life and people that I regarded as one big family.
Worse was to come. After a winter of mass flooding the World Trade Center was destroyed and I made a decision – running out of money and trying to retain my freedom – that should have had me shot. I tried to make a go of home shopping which swamped my time with commercial bullshit for virtually nothing. All this made me feel as though the 21st century had begun by taking a wrong turn into a bad parallel Universe. As for my budding ‘galactic empire;’ it had been superseded by a dark age of debt and squalid problems, enforced by the financial black hole of property, for I stuck home shopping – believing there was no alternative – for 5 years.
It wasn’t all bad. Rowner reminded me in some ways of an American city: grim neighbourhoods close to nice ones like where I live. A yearly carnival was organised in 2003, and I participated with a sea monster as long as the Blue Whale, and 13 beachball planets for the local cheerleaders. Lower Cretaceous Earth was used on a BBC 2 documentary about Dinosaurs on the Isle of Wight in 2001 and in the summer of 2006 was sold to a museum there for a good price. By that time I’d somehow found the time to work on Jupiter’s moons and Titan with the Art Director of Startrek; then after selling LC Earth I worked on an extrasolar Earth for author Dougal Dixon.
Overall though, ‘there’s no money in it.’ Not enough to equal that going out despite taking on lodgers, or providing an alternative to home shopping. The only way it could was through royalty deals like the 2 I had during the nineties but they were as rare to come by as a blue moon.
To my chagrin the only way out of this dark age that began with death, was through more death. My parents! My mother died in April 2006 and my father on New Years Day 2007. I wish I could have been doing better when their time came. My sister and I managed to sell the house just before things went wrong economically so I was rescued financially by property!
Enough gloom and doom! Mum & Dad would have wanted me to make the most of assets I had. I now had the wherewithal to get back my previous lifestyle – and make my home more liveable – provided I was careful with investing, expenses and wary of possible rip offs. I’ve become – with exceptions such as small businesses and a friend running a satellite business – sceptical to the point of being hostile to the commercial world. So if anyone reading this is thinking of an angle I have an aggressive question: ‘do you feel lucky?’
When Mum and Dad died I’d just started a job that gave me sanctuary from that. It was brought about by emergency measures arising from the mistakes of an accounts department wiping out royalties in 2005. It was School Escort work taking Special Needs children to and from school. The best support job I’ve had. Sometimes I still find it hard to believe I’ve taken on another career with a pension but still have so much time not only for my creative work daily but even long distance travel during the summer holidays. It’s hard to estimate and the money’s no fortune but it looks as though something like an average of 3 times the amount of money I made monthly with home shopping is earned on this job; for about a third of the time invested. Maybe less if you count the holidays. If I’d started it when I moved to Gosport I could have held things together financially.
The children themselves can be so entertaining that sometimes I feel I should be paying them! I think they’ve helped start a spiritual renaissance in my life; unwittingly of course but one can have the feeling of being part of a family with this job. One of them even called me Daddy. Frankly, I never wanted to lose the child in me anyway and like them have trouble in coping with the world as it is (no dishonour given aspects of it) so that probably helps in this line of work.
Even old age isn’t a problem. One can work past retirement age in this job. A few summers ago they wheeled out a guy in his eighties. “What’s the point of retiring?” I told the assessor perhaps tactlessly “when you can go back to bed an hour after starting work” – or not much longer – “as long as you wake up in time to bring them home again.”
Another plus is knowing I can work well enough with large numbers of women in the school and on the Council. At the risk of baring my soul and ‘too much information’ I’m divulging the following:- Having flown around the world (and built it several times) and gained a wealth of experience in my life – some of it erotic – I could call myself ‘a man of the world.’ Despite this though, that teenage shyness and awkwardness around girls/women has been hard to lose and the lifestyle I’ve chosen didn’t help, though the School Escort work does. Nowadays I relate to most women as colleagues or friends rather than in the physical sense;– though that can certainly kick in, in some cases. I often appreciate my freedom but feel I could really do with a fulfilling relationship or more of a love life before I die. I suspect it’s too late, given social conditions and the kind of women I’d want in that way.
Ah well I could always be wrong. Besides; it’s a fact that I’m a lucky man. I’ve regained my independence, got a little gem of a job and time to do the stuff I love. For a single guy without much income in the south of England I’ve got a good sized home, much of which is now quite civilized. I’m well regarded locally and am not short of friends and connections. And for a 62 year old I’m not in bad shape. So I could still do a lot with this life and the story’s not over yet by a long chalk.
Where do we go from here? Well when my present lifestyle took shape I felt that it would either be a nice quiet stroll through the late afternoon and evening of my life or attempting to be an economic tiger again forging that next ‘galactic empire.’ As always the truth is neither. Although things are a lot more relaxed than they were I’m spending more money than I’d like and so can’t afford that stroll all the time. On the other hand the economic tiger seemed dead in the water to begin with; but over the last few years opportunities have been cropping up one after the other without any plan or reason. Strange. Trouble is each one has been cancelled out or compromised by something.
Will I turn the next opportunity into an outright victory? ‘Seek out new worlds’ and see ‘a lot of strange things?’ Go through more cock ups and disasters? Or booze and idle the time away happily with friends and play computer games until it’s too late? Or – more realistically – some of all of this?
Read on. If you want adventures I’ve got a good one coming up.
© D.Angus 09 12