Saturday, 29 August 2009

Another Day in Paradise

If you're looking for Wordzzle, it's the post below this one.

I actually hate this Phil Collins song. Who does the sanctimonious little drum-goblin think he is, trying to make us all feel guilty because there are people out there who have to beg a living on the streets? If he's so worried, let him donate a few mill (he probably does, actually, thinking about it, the git).

I'm well aware that there are people who have to spend their days begging for change. I know because I passed a guy doing just that every day last week as I made my way through the Old Street underpass to get from my hotel to where my course was being held (BEA Weblogic Server Administration, in cause you're interested).

Anyway, this chap sits at the entrance to the underpass, so you have to pass him whether you're on the stairs or the ramp (clever, eh?). I, like most other impatient, busy type, just pretended not to see him. Don't meet his eyes, then you won't have to feel guilty, will you?

Except that I did.

A bit.

Just not enough to do anything about it.

Now, what this post is actually about is the sheer contingency, the sheer randomness of that thing called luck.

On Friday morning, I awoke in my hotel room to find the bill they had shoved under the door "for my convenience at check-out time" included a bunch of charges to me personally that should have gone straight to my company which had booked the room in the first place.

Now, I really dislike confrontation, I do. I had even managed to grit my teeth and not got worked up when some stupid woman punched me in the ear on the Tube a few days previously (Ok, it was an accident, I think, but still).

Anyway, I was not relishing the thought of having to have a fight with the hotel about what was on the bill, so I was in a bad mood. The mood was made worse by the fact that I now had to get packed and ready more quickly than I had planned in order to allow more time for the checking-out process. This is always hectic on a Friday when everybody else is doing the same thing, and the possible disagreement, threats (me), tears (me again, probably) and freezing politeness (the hotel staff) would only make it longer.

I stumped downstairs, ready for the fight. Luckily, the queue for checking out was small (bonus) and I was soon at the counter, looking into the smiling face of the improbably pretty young lady receptionist.

Careful to be calm and polite, I explained the situation and showed her the booking form which clearly laid out what was to be charged to whom, and held my breath as she tapped keys on the computer, which seemed to take quite a long time. Maybe she was writing a blog about bolshy customers.

"That's alright," she eventually said brightly, "I'll just amend the bill and there will be no additional charge."

I almost felt let down by having my fight taken away, but not for long.

I strolled out of the hotel to find that the sun was shining, the air was warm, and I had loads of time to get to the course so I could just take it easy and enjoy the walk.

Now, here's the contingency of luck bit that I just know you've been waiting for: the guy at the bottom of the steps got a couple of quid in his outstretched cup – just because I was suddenly in a good mood.

Here's a photo of the area just above the underpass, that I took about two minutes before giving the chap the two quid.

Have a great weekend, peeps!

Saturday Wordzzle

My, how the time flies! It only seems like yesterday I was putting up my last one of these. Anyhoo, go to Raven's Nest to get the rules and guidelines for challenge.

The Mini (side effects are generally mild, clingy, rooster, samples, curiosity)

"Step right up, gentlemen!" shouted the fabulously be-whiskered snake-oil salesman, "and try Dr Portergill's Powerful Patented Potency Potion! Guaranteed to put some pep in your step and get you crowin' like a rooster in no time!"

Well, this sounded just like what Bert needed. Eunice had been so clingy lately and, well, he wasn't getting any younger. He had considered getting some of those vinegar tablets that everyone was going on about, but you had to ask the internet for them and Bert didn't know how. His curiosity tickled and lacking any other option, he got in line.

"No free samples!" barked the salesman at the scruffy young fellow who was one place ahead of Bert. The man shuffled sadly away and then it was Bert's turn.

He was about to make his purchase when an irate individual came barging his way through to the front of the queue.

"Hey!" protested Bert. But the man ignored him and confronted the salesman.

"I want a word with you!" he yelled.

"No refunds!" snapped the salesman, on reflex.

"I bought some of your damn potion!" the man continued. "and I want you to explain the meaning of 'side effects are generally mild'!"

"Well, it means – er - not severe, not long-lasting." The salesman was only a little fazed by the gathering crowd.

"So how do you explain this!" shrieked the man, opening his shirt.

The crowd gasped. Under the man's shirt were two perfect breasts.

Some time later, when the ruckus had died down, Bert started to make his way home. As he was nearing the edge of the field where the fair was set up, he caught sight of the erstwhile salesman sitting on the steps of his trailer. He looked a sorry sight: one of his eyes was swollen shut, his clothes were torn and dirty and one of his mutton-chops - now revealed for the fake it was - was clinging precariously to the side of his face.

Serves you right, though Bert, you should never have offered that poor guy a job in the Freak Show.

The Ten-Worder (records, impulsive, really cool, bread crumbs, angels, Sponge Bob, magical moment, back and forth, suffering, good fences make good neighbours)

It was three a.m. and Harold was wide awake. Beside him on the pillow, Teatime was curled up sound asleep, emitting tiny snores. Harold wondered what sleep was actually like since, as a demon, he did not – indeed, could not – sleep. The nearest thing to it for him was quiescence, a state of relaxation which allowed him to conserve some of the not inconsiderable energy required to maintain his corporeal form – his vessel – here on the Brightside.

From time to time, a car would drive by outside and its lights, shining through the absurdly cheerful flowery curtains of the drab motel room, would light up the framed sampler that someone had hung on the wall. Good fences make good neighbours it said. Harold wondered if all the rooms at the motel had the same embroidered aphorism on the wall or if they were all different. Somebody must have had a lot of time on their hands. He sighed: he was a million miles from the calm mental state needed to drift into quiescence.

They had not been able to find any suitable apartments for rent the previous evening, but had made a couple of appointments to see some the following day. A friendly gas station attendant had pointed them in the direction of the SleepEZ motel, situated, according to a leaflet he had given them, conveniently close to the city's major transport hub. This meant, of course, that it was right next to the busiest and noisiest railway tracks. When they had arrived, Teatime had been unimpressed to see that someone had removed the "P" from the motel's sign and had expressed the hope that the result was not going to be too accurate a description of the place.

Fortunately, the motel room had turned out to be clean and comfortable enough, if a little worn and threadbare-looking, and they had settled in for the night.

It had been, on the whole, a rather disconcerting day. At the start, Harold had had a job and place to stay, but just because of a stupid impulsive whim, he'd chucked all that away and ended up jobless and homeless in a strange city with very little money and nothing but a talking monkey for a companion. Was everybody else's life as confusing and disorganised as this? He wondered. Probably, if what he'd seen so far was anything to go by. Everywhere around on the Brightside, there was hunger, heroism, suffering, saintliness, greed and grace in various degrees. Back home in the Basement, life had been pretty straightforward compared to this.

Three twenty-one a.m. Harold sighed again, got up carefully so as not to wake Teatime, picked up his rucksack and slipped quietly out into the night.

"Three twenty-one," murmured Agent Carlisle into his voice-recorder, "Subject has left the motel. Am proceeding to follow on foot, as the car will be too conspicuous." He clicked off the recorder and, making sure the Ladybird tracker's handset was safely in his pocket, quietly got out and locked the dark blue VW he had spent the night in on Agent India's instructions.

Harold had no particular place to go, but for what he needed to do, he needed to be well away from people. He took a route that roughly paralleled the railway tracks. After a few minutes' walk, he found just the place. It was an old, abandoned warehouse – the derelict cliche of every gritty cop or gangster show – and as he seated himself on the crumbling loading bay platform, it made the perfect backdrop.

Agent Carlisle watched from the shadows as the AFO took a cloth-wrapped bundle from its backpack. He looked through the viewfinder of the Cicada night-vision camcorder to see if it was getting a good image – it was. It was a really cool piece of tech, but then agents always had the best kit that OGS's not insignificant resources could acquire. The War on Error, as he privately called it, was certainly making somebody rich.

Right now the image showed a strikingly good-looking young man who was carefully fitting together the pieces of something metallic and shiny.

"A trumpet?" breathed Carlisle,

Indeed it was. Harold began to play, completely unaware of his audience.

A series of long sad notes drifted up into the night. They spoke of sadness, they wailed of homesickness and wept unconsolably of loss. They soared to the heavens and floated down gently like a breeze. Now and then a passing train would drag them away to screeching, rattling oblivion, only for them to return, soft as a sigh.. In the shadows, Carlisle stood frozen, tears running down his face, all thoughts of observation and recording forgotten, totally caught up in the heartbreakingly magical moment.

Eventually, having played himself out, Harold lowered the trumpet to his lap and sat there in the darkness, eyes closed. He loved the feeling he got after playing his heart out: part exhaustion, part elation. If only they would just leave him alone with his music. What he had played tonight was a new piece that had come to him just as he had put the instrument to his lips. That was the best kind of music.

He decided he would call the piece We Were Angels Once. Then, laughing to himself at his own pretentiousness, he mentally scrubbed out that title. As he cleaned and put away the trumpet, another idea came to him. He'd just call it Missing You instead - more catchy, more likely to sell records – not that anyone would ever be likely to record it.

In the east, the sky was just beginning to show the first faint light of dawn. Harold got up and headed back to the motel, Teatime would not be pleased if he thought Harold was wandering off about the place without him.

When he got back to the room, Teatime was awake and irritatedly flipping back and forth between the channels on the battered TV set in the room.

"Where on earth have you been?" he demanded, "I was worried sick!"

"Sorry," replied Harold, dropping his backpack onto the bed, "I just went for a bit of a think and a walk. You were asleep, so I didn't want to disturb you."

"Fair enough, old sock," said Teatime, somewhat mollified, "but you have to be careful out alone at night. Bad things can happen."

Harold laughed, "I'm a demon! I'm supposed to be the Bad Things That Happen', aren't I?"

"Yes," agreed Teatime, "but there are things out there which are a threat even to you."

"Like what?" scoffed Harold, "Ghosts? Brain-eating Zombies? Dragons? Here, give me that remote." He perched on the edge of the bed and began flipping channels himself.

"Don't dismiss the dragons so lightly," admonished Teatime, "Just because they have some silly agreement not to eat humans, doesn't mean they wouldn't – wait! Go back!"

Harold pressed the remote.

...coat the whole thing with breadcrumbs and bake in the oven for twenty...

"Again!" commanded Teatime, "Hurry up!" Harold did as he was told.

..Sponge Bob is Nickelodeon's highest-rated show and, today, as we go behind the scenes to...

"No, not that one!" Teatime was fairly jumping up and down with impatience. Shrugging, Harold pressed again.

The screen now showed a news bulletin. The news anchorman was speaking over a piece of grainy CCTV footage which showed a young man apparently being thrown out of the main doors of a building by a very large black man. The first man, having landed in a heap, got up and walked away quickly.

"I was right!" gasped Teatime, "That is you! I thought it was."

"Unfortunately," said the newscaster as the film ended, "We don't have any better pictures that these as the rest of the footage was damaged in the fire. The Police Department is very keen to speak to the man you just saw, so if you know who he is or if indeed you are him, please contact them. Now we go live to Sherry Taylor at the scene. Sherry." He turned to the large screen beside him.

A pretty blonde reporter began speaking to camera from outside what Harold instantly recognised as Baron Samedi's club. Behind her, firefighters could be seen coming and going through the blackened main doors, their hoses trailing like fat snakes into the dark recesses of the building.

"Bill, the world-famous jazz club has been almost completely destroyed by the blaze." she said, "Fortunately, no-one appears to have been inside the club when the fire broke out. The Fire Department has yet to conduct a full investigation but, as you mentioned already, early indications are that the fire was started deliberately. We have still not been able to track down the club's owner, Baron Samedi, for comment. I do, however, have here with me the club's Head of Operations, Mr Elroy Jackson." She turned to a hugely-built black man. "Mr Jackson, do you have any idea who could have done this?"

Mr Teeth looked straight into the camera. Miles away in his hotel room, Harold gulped: Mr Teeth seemed to be looking right at him.

"Oh, yeah," he growled, "I got a pretty good idea."

Sunday, 23 August 2009


I have recently come across the phenomenon of LOLcats. Basically, someone gets a picture of a cat (there are also LOLdogs as well), and adds a funny caption.

The thing about the captions, though, is that are couched in this strange pidgin english, which has a kind of grammar and syntax all of its own. If you google "cat pidgin", there are some quite interesting bits and pieces about it.

Anyhoo, I present for your amusement, my first ever go at this.

Hope u likez!

You can build your own lolz here.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Saturday Wordzzle

Yes, it's that part of the week and it's just gone midnight here, so I can post this.

This week's words were a bit easier to deal with than last week's, I think. As always, go to Raven's Nest to get the rules and guidelines.

The Mini (class, calendar, keeping secrets, boring, fashion)

A headache was boring its way into Mr Stringfellow's head as the bell shrilled the end of the school day. His class of six-year-old miniature natural disasters, released for the day from the arduous task of absorbing knowledge, scrambled helter-skelter out of the classroom with shrieks of pent-up glee.

He stooped to pick up the homemade calendar that one of the little tornadoes had blown off the wall in its mad dash for freedom. It had a childishly-drawn picture of a windmill on it – all red and green crayon, with an inch or so of blue scribble at the top for sky and a kind of drunken-spider yellow sun, its legs all akimbo, in the corner.

As he went to pin the calendar back up on the wall, he noticed that the picture was coming away from its cereal-box backing. As he went to smooth it back into place, he noticed there was something written on the reverse.

Carefully, he teased the drawing away from the card. It wasn't too hard: the calendar's creator has secured it in a rather cursory fashion with a few blobs of glue here and there.

Dear God, he read. Please make Tracey's goldfish come back up the toilet so she won't tell mum i flushed him down there. Love Jake

Mr Stringfellow smiled and went to fetch some glue. Kids had some funny ways of keeping secrets.

The 10-Worder (blind panic, apartment, fleas, soap operas, cajun cooking, free and easy, legal, sangria, public school, new)

"Right," declared Teatime, having polished off the last of the cheeseburger. "What we need now is to get you a job and a place to stay. Let's go and purchase ourselves a local newspaper and see what's about."

So saying, he hopped smartly up onto Harold the demon's shoulder as the latter got up from the table. Harold reached out to pick up the plastic tray containing their food wrappers and paper cup.

"Leave it there, old fruit, leave it there." whispered Teatime into Harold's ear.

"Why?" asked Harold.

"Because this is a self-clear eatery." Teatime explained.


"Look, if we leave the tray," the monkey continued, "it will cause annoyance to staff and patron alike, but most people are too polite to do anything about it so they'll just seethe inwardly. It'll put them in a bad mood and they'll probably take it out on their loved ones when they get home – which is a result for us."

"Well, OK, if you're sure..?" Harold quickly grabbed his rucksack and walked away from the table.

"It's the little things," sighed Teatime happily, as he looked back over Harold's shoulder at a young woman in a charcoal suit who was definitely glowering – and probably seething too if he was not mistaken.

Agent India was glowering. She had hoped to get close enough to her target to plant a Ladybird, but it (the target, not the Ladybird) had got up and left just that bit too soon. She let it move off a bit, so it wasn't too obvious that she was following, then casually walked after it.

Harold and Teatime wandered over to a newsstand. The little kiosk was piled high with colourful glossy magazines whose covers shouted things like: The Secrets of Cajun Cooking Revealed! Creationism Must Be Taught in Our Public School System! and Sun, Sex and Sangria – Get All the Gossip from the Soap Operas! (the exclamation mark was mandatory, it seemed).

Harold bought a paper and turned away from the counter, almost bumping into the young woman in the charcoal suit, who had come up close behind him whilst he had been making his purchase.

"Pardon me," said Harold, as the young woman skipped smartly back a couple of steps.

"It's OK," she replied, "You weren't to know I was there."

Harold flashed her a quick apologetic grin and made his way past her and a couple of other people who were waiting to buy something.

Drat it! Thought India furiously, missed my chance again! Planting trackers had been so easy in training, how come it was suddenly so hard? She took a calming breath. Well, if at first you don't succeed... She set off after the demon.

"We should have bought the paper first, then we could have read it at the table while we were eating," said Harold, "Now we'll have to find somewhere else to sit down since we can't go back to that place, thanks to you."

"Oh, pish, my dear fellow," replied Teatime airily, "it was worth it. Anyway, this is what you're supposed to be doing up here – it's not all about getting people to sign the Ccontract, you know?" He glanced around, "And, if I'm not mistaken, there's a new opportunity for you just over there." He pointed a tiny black finger across the concourse to where a girl – in her early teens, by the look of her - was just in the act of furtively trying to slip a cheap silver pendant from the station's jewellery stall into the pocket of her jacket.

Unfortunately for the girl, the concourse security guard had also spotted the theft and was starting to head her way.

"We need to distract him," said Teatime, "See that stand over there? Accidentally on purpose knock it over."

Harold did see, and walked purposefully over to one of those rotating displays of postcards - which just happened to be between the girl and the guard. As he walked past the stand, Harold turned suddenly, as if remembering something important in the other direction, and allowed his rucksack to clout it.

It had the desired effect: the display went down with a satisfying racket and suddenly there were bits of shiny card all over the floor. The guard was not to be put off his quarry that easily, but had perforce to go around the mess. Harold, meanwhile, was busy making a nuisance of himself, getting in the way by diving around and snatching up the scattered cards, all the while apologising noisily to everyone in sight. Several other people had also come forward to help clear up the mess, adding to the confusion.

Hearing the racket, the girl turned and saw the guard for the first time. A momentary look of blind panic flashed across her face, but seeing the guard somewhat hampered by the idiot with the rucksack, she seized her moment and was away on her toes before he could get anywhere near.

"Bravo!" crowed Teatime, as Harold righted the stand and started to replace as many of the cards as he could under the scowling eye of their owner. "Now that girl has had a taste of shoplifting and, buoyed by her success here today, is likely to try it again! Good work, old boy, good work!"

Suddenly, the woman in the charcoal suit was beside him, a bunch of postcards in her hand.

"Erm, I think this is the last of them," she said, offering them to Harold.

"Why, thank you, Miss," he replied, taking the cards, "that's very kind of you." He spread his hands in mock helplessness and grinned, "I'm such a klutz!" His twinkling blue eyes and perfect smile would melt any woman's heart.

"It's no trouble at all," she said coldly, and with that, turned and walked briskly away into the crowd.

"Obviously not your type, old boy," sniggered Teatime, "Come along. Let's see if we can find a low-rent apartment that isn't positively crawling with fleas. You have no idea what a torment they can be, no idea at all"

As demon and talking monkey headed out of the station concourse into the city proper, India fished in her bag and brought out a small hand-held device. To the casual observer, it looked like a typical modern cell phone. India touched a button and the device came to life. Its display brightened to reveal an aerial view of the railway station and its environs. In the very centre of this was a red dot, which was moving slowly along the street outside the station.

India smiled in satisfaction. It had been so easy to plant the Ladybird this time: the stupid demon had been so busy mucking about with the postcards and whatnot that it had totally failed to register her presence as she slid the little device into one of the pockets of its stupid rucksack. India knew that the technology was not exactly legal, but you simply couldn't have AFOs running around the place, free and easy. In the battle for men's souls, there were higher laws to be obeyed.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Dungeon Crawlin' Days

As a card-carrying IT geek, I did of course play a good deal of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) in my younger days (and some of my older ones too, come to that).

D&D. You know, the game that

- encourages Satan-worship
- makes kids commit suicide when one their characters dies
- stops kids playing healthy sports outside
- enourages a retreat from reality

that game.

For the record,
- I do not now nor ever have worshipped Satan
- yes, I have seen people get quite upset when their character has "died" in the game,
- we have the internet for that now
- see the comment above

I'd heard about D&D from a friend who had gone to the local Wargamer's club. She (yes, she) had gone there to see if anyone was playing a game called Traveller which is a Role-Playing Game (RPG) set in a science-fiction future. She and I were hard-core Sci-Fi readers back then and had no truck with this sword-and-sorcery nonsense. Dragons indeed! (Sorry Fandango, if you're reading this, I know better now.)

As it turned out, no-one there was running a Traveller game and, rather than turn around and go back home, she joined a group playing D&D. Well, after that, she just kept going on about how much fun it all was and kept recounting the hilarious sequence of adventures she had "had". Then she got herself a boyfriend from amongst the Wargamers. This was my cue to go and take a looksee. Admittedly, my curiosity had already been aroused somewhat by the game anyway, it sounded fun, but now I had an excuse: to meet the boyfriend.

So I toddled along with her the next club night and entered the Wargamers' strange world...

As the only two females in the place, we did attract a certain amount of attention but my friend had already been going there for a few weeks, so most of the boys weren't even scared anymore.

I can't remember what happened on that first adventure, if I'm honest. There was something about exploding cats, I think, but can't be certain. Anyway, the long and short of it was: I was hooked.

So I became a regular down there and got to "DM" (i.e. referee) a game of my own that ran every Friday for 18 months solid and had a player population of anything from 5-12 people on any given night. This was in addition to several games I was involved in purely as a player.

So what was so addictive?

Well, for me, the whole RPG thing is about story-making. In RPG players, you have a group of very articulate, imaginative people. They get together and build themselves a world, create backgrounds for the characters they play in that world, then they plan, strategise and explore it together. There is usually loads of humour, moments of high drama, spine-tingling suspense, triumph and tragedy. All of this is accomplished with nothing more than a pencil and paper, some funny-shaped dice, some reference materials, the odd prop and, of course, the human imagination.

As a Dungeon Master (DM), it is your job to create the world in which your game is to take place (you can buy ready-made ones, but I never did). I used to specialise in city-based adventures – not all of the action in D&D needs to be in an actual dungeon (underground maze of passages stocked with monsters, traps, magic and treasure).

My favourite types of adventure were mysteries and puzzles that needed solving, from your basic whodunnit to strange sightings on the city streets in the dead of night or the unexplained disappearance of the Mayor's son, etc.

I used to like having layers of plot for the characters to work their way through, like the skin of an onion. They might find, for instance that a trusted ally was actually an enemy or vice versa. They might find that the pretty girl that one of them was courting last night was actually a shape-shifter and wasn't even human (blecchh!) They might discover that the Mayor himself was responsible for his son's disappearance and is likely to silence anyone who finds out about it (cue panicky flight from city in the dead of night).

The marvellous thing is that my players would jump into this world I had made and add ideas of their own to it so that it became more rich, more rounded and more detailed than I could even have managed on my own.

Just as in real life, you'd get recurring characters and in-jokes running though the life of the game. In the first adventure I ever created, I had street urchins offer to carry characters' messages from time to time as a sort of informal postal system. As the game went on, I had the urchins gradually appear in better clothes. Then they had their own horses, then a carriage and so on, until they were sort of fat-cat businessmen, having got rich off the characters' payments. This kind of thing had no real bearing on any of the main story being played out, but this little bit of comedy continuity added so much to the fun of the thing as a whole – and I didn't plan it at the start, it just grew naturally as part of the game.

The urchin thing could happen because the DM and the players were human beings, as opposed to computers. Although, as a DM, you'd map out a sort of sequence of events (encounters with people/monsters, journeys to other places, fights, etc) for the characters to follow, it had to be quite loose because, as we always, used to say: there are two ways to do an adventure: the right way and the players' way.

You could never be sure what was coming next. It did not matter how carefully you set up the game scenario, someone could derail the whole thing by (say) slaying the Dragon that was meant to impart a vital clue before it could so much as open its mouth. As a DM, you need a certain amount of mental agility to get round showstoppers like this – and do it on-the-fly, preferably without making it too obvious that you are basically having to re-work the whole story!

Players would surprise you by either working their way through your beautifully prepared adventure in twenty minutes (oh, great, now what do we do for the rest of the evening?) or by getting hung up on a tiny detail. I once described the scene that my players came across thus: you are standing at the top of a flight of stone steps. One of you notices that the third step down has a 1-inch hole drilled into the middle of it. Now this hole was just that – a hole. But, because I had taken the time to point it out, my players assumed it must be significant. They imagined it was probably part of a booby-trap (dungeons are just full of these things, the Health and Safety mob would have a field day). So they spent most of an evening's play session trying to work out what kind of trap it could be and how to circumvent it. Priceless!

You also need to multi-task as a DM. When you've got 12 people, all excitedly shouting out at once the actions their characters are taking, you need to keep track of it, all the while planning and organising what your non-player-characters (NPCs) or monsters are doing.

Aah, NPCs. This is where the DM gets to have his/her cake and eat it, as it were. You get to play in your own game, because as a DM, you have to represent all the people and monsters that your players' characters are going to run into. Dramatic improvisation? Pah! Been there, done that. I have played everything from humble shopkeepers, to Kings, to Dragons, to super-intelligent pools of silver metal (one of which was called ... Argent!).

I haven't played D&D for years now, mainly because you need a group of at least 4 people to have a really good game (you can do it with fewer, but you don't get the chemistry) and most of my old gaming friends have moved away or moved on and become grown-ups with no time for such childishness any more.

I do miss it though.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Saturday Wordzzle

My days! This was a bit of a stinker for me this week. I think it's actually harder to include phrases than single words.

Check out Raven's Nest for Wordzzle rules and guidelines.

The 10-Word challenge (superlative, flea market, falling leaves, disinformation, who was that masked man?, keeping kids out of trouble, I'm a believer, bonnet in the attic, staff, generation)

Autumn always makes me think of Jack, and I can't tell you just how much he's been on my mind lately.

There's a little flea market near us which operates every second Tuesday of the month. One windy autumn day I was bored and messing about down there and that's were I first met Jack.

He was a good generation older then me, but we became fast friends even so. He had this crazy idea that friendship was the best way of keeping kids out of trouble and I suppose he was right in a way - at least, that's how it worked out for me.

I was one of those smart-aleck kids, convinced that everything adults told me was pure disinformation and that the world owed me something, although I couldn't have said just what that was - a complete jerk in other words.

I ran into Jack by accident – literally. I'd just stolen the latest Nick McKnight thriller A Bonnet in the Attic, from one of the stalls at the flea market and was running hell-for-leather away from the scene of the crime.

I didn't see the old fellow leaning on what looked like a wizard's staff until it was too late and down we both went in a tangle of arms, legs and the many folds of that ridiculous long grey coat of his. The stolen book shot out from under my jacket and landed with a splash in a puddle.

I got up, swearing a blue streak and was about to run off again when I felt Jack's bony old hand gripping my arm as he levered himself up to a standing position.

"Just a minute, son," he said. He then bent down and carefully picked up the sopping book. "I believe you dropped something."

He knew I'd stolen that book. It wasn't wrapped or anything and I had been about to run off without it – not something you'd do to something you'd just shelled out good money for. I felt my face begin to burn. You see for all the trash-talking I did, I wasn't really a bad kid and had really only tried stealing for the buzz rather than for the gain of it.

His faded blue eyes stared straight into mine as he gravely placed the dripping book into my hands.

"It'd be a shame to leave it behind," he said, "after all it must have cost you." He turned to go, leaning on that knobbly old staff of his. At the last moment, he turned back. "By the way, if you want a really good book, try Who Was That Masked Man? It's a much better read than that one."

There was a kindness in his eyes and a tone of wry amusement in his voice that got to me in a way that all my parents' shouting, grounding and stopping of pocket-money had never managed to do.

I tucked the book back under my jacket and started walking back the way I'd come.

These days, I'm a believer in owning up to things you've done wrong but back then I was still too young and scared in spite of my cockiness, so although I didn't go back and own up to my crime, I did drop the price of the book into the stallholder's money-tin when he wasn't looking. It was the best I could do.

As I said, Jack and I became fast friends after that. He was a superlative steady hand, helping me to keep my wilder teenage impulses in check and he never once mocked me for the mistakes of my callow youth. He could always see a way out of the scrapes I got myself into – and there were plenty of those! I wouldn't be who I am today without him.

After I moved away to college, I heard that he'd been knifed by some young drugged-up punk he'd tried to befriend.

Crazy old fool.

Crazy, brilliant, magnificent old fool.

But I still remember that autumn day. I can still feel my heart pounding. I can still hear my feet thudding against the ground, kicking up great clouds of dead leaves. I can still feel the burn of the breath tearing in and out of my lungs. I can still see Jack's face, a snapshot picture of pure surprise as this kid comes barrelling into him from nowhere.

And that's why whenever I see the leaves falling, I think of Jack.

The mini
I'm doing this all wrong: my minis end up longer than my 10-worders but hey-ho. Anyhoo, Harold is back again this week. Words to include were: deep in the forest, government, charming, heirlooms, flabbergasted

"Well, don't look so flabbergasted, old shoe," said Teatime, "Anyone would think you'd never seen a monkey before!"

"Well I've certainly never seen a talking monkey before, that's for sure," replied Harold the demon, "How in Hades did that happen?"

Teatime jumped nimbly off the table and onto Harold's shoulder, where he settled himself down quite comfortably.

"Well," he began, "there I was, deep in the forest, minding my own business – "

"- or throwing it at someone." interrupted Harold, chortling.

"Oh, charming!" moaned Teatime, "Why is it that that people only ever remember the poo-throwing? You know, we capuchins have a very rich repertoire of behaviours: nest-making, tool-using... Look it up in Wickedpedia sometime, why don't you? Anyway, where was I?
"Deep in the forest." prompted Harold, still smirking a little.

"Yes, right." Teatime sniffed, "Anyway, there I was, minding my own business when, all of a sudden I felt this stinging sensation and the next thing I knew I was in this big white room, being prodded and poked by humans and injected with badness knows what, and generally in a pretty pickle altogether."

"So the humans made you into a talking monkey!" marvelled Harold, "What was it? A secret government experiment? Was it their military?"

"No, I'm afraid not," sighed Teatime, "Nothing as worthy as that, dear boy. I think they were probably just looking for a cure for dandruff or something." An angry glint suddenly appeared in the monkey's black eyes. "But of course I wouldn't know, would I? Because you'll be amazed to hear that for some reason THEY DIDN'T ACTUALLY BOTHER TO EXPLAIN IT TO ME!" This last part was delivered in a screech which, coming as it did from right next to Harold's ear, caused him to wince.

All over the carriage, heads turned towards the pair.

Harold smiled weakly at the heads and hastily started stroking Teatime as one would a pet.

"Calm down," he urged, "People are looking at us. I'm sorry if I upset you."

"No, No," replied Teatime, collecting himself with an effort. "I should be the one to apologise."
He produced a tiny white handkerchief and blew his nose delicately. "It's just that the thought of what those humans did - and still do - to creatures like me rather gets in amongst me. Please accept my most humble apologies for the outrageous display."

"Er, Ok, sure," said Harold, somewhat mentally wrongfooted by the monkey's rather mercurial temperament.

After another nose-blow, Teatime went on. "Anyway, things were looking decidedly sticky for me. Each day the humans would take one of us monkeys away somewhere, never to be seen again - and there weren't that many monkeys to start with, if you know what I mean."

"I do," cried Harold, "It means that –"

"The point was rhetorical, actually," said Teatime with some asperity. "Anyway, when we were down to just two monkeys, I decided that, whatever else happened, I was not going to end up the way the others had, so I made The Deal. That night, a lab assistant carelessly left a certain cage door unlocked and the rest, as they say, is history."

Harold pondered this for a few moments.

"So you escaped," he said, "I get that, but how did you get the ability to talk if the humans didn't give it to you?"

"Well, that was part of the bargain I made with your dear pater, you see," explained Teatime. "I needed more than just an open cage door to get away from the humans. I needed the tools to stay out of their clutches for good. I needed to have the sort of powers that my tormentors had: language, rational thought, education, culture and so on. Your father gave those to me."

"I see." said Harold. "But why are you here with me now instead of running around?"

"Well, I work for your father and he told me to come up here and keep an eye on you. Help you out a bit and whatnot."

"You work for my father while you're alive?" Harold was amazed: the Deal did not usually oblige the Signatory to do anything in life. "And he gets your soul when you die as well?" He shook his head in wonderment.

"Let's say you father drives a hard bargain." Teatime said dryly.

"Wow!" breathed Harold, "And to think I didn't even know animals had souls to trade."

"Now, that's exactly the way the humans think," said Teatime. "and I would have thought that you, as a demon, would know better. Didn't you pay any attention in Monday School?"

"Not really," admitted Harold, "it was just so boring. I mean, all those rules and regulations, stealing of heirlooms or birthrights or whatever, and those tedious genealogies! Who cares who begat who, anyway?"

"Whom," corrected Teatime, fussily. "who begat whom! I can see it wasn't just Bible Study you neglected."

"I fear it is so," grinned Harold, "Anyway, here's our stop, I think."

The train had indeed come to a halt. Harold and Teatime alighted and began to make their way through the crowded station.

"Righty-ho," declared Teatime, cheerily "Let's find something to eat, something to drink and then we'll see about getting you a job and a place to stay."

Harold surveyed the various fast food outlets on the station concourse.

"Hmm, I don't see any banana stalls here," he said doubtfully. Teatime rolled his eyes.

"My species is omnivorous, you doorknob. Just get a cheeseburger, and make sure there's none of that filthy mayonnaise stuff on it."

They got to the counter and the burger was duly ordered.

"What drink do you want?" Harold whispered as the smile behind the counter waited expectantly. "Let me guess, banana milkshake, right?"

"Don't make me throw poo at you," hissed Teatime, "An orange juice will do nicely, thank you so very much."

"You're the boss," grinned Harold, opening his wallet.

Across the concourse from the burger bar, a nondescript young woman in a smart charcoal business suit flipped open a cell phone and dialled a number. As the call went through, she brushed back her dark hair and lifted the instrument to her ear.

"Control?" she murmured, "India here. I think we have an incursion, can you send a squad?"

"Negative, India." came the reply, "All squads are currently engaged. Track and report the incursion until a squad becomes available."

"Understood, Control." She snapped the phone shut and sighed. Just her luck! The one time she actually managed to spot an Accursed Fallen One for herself, there were no squads available to wipe it out. Well this AFO was not going to get away from her! She dropped the phone into her shoulder bag, zipped it closed and stepped out onto the concourse.

As she walked towards the burger bar, the late afternoon sun glinted off the discreet gold pin in the left lapel of her jacket: a shepherd's crook bisected by two crossed keys. Underneath was inscribed a tiny motto: Dirigere et Defendere.

Meanwhile, the Accursed Fallen One in question was involved in the abominable machination of happily tucking into a bacon-double-cheese (hold the Mayo). From time to time its evil scheme involved passing bits of food to its pet monkey, thereby occasioning a certain amount of damnable saucer-eyed delight in three small children at a nearby table.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

A Little Piece of Toast(masters)

Last night, I went with a friend (Don't feed the Pixies, to be exact) to our local branch of Toastmasters. It was to be his debut as a main speaker there and I was going along for two reasons: to lend him a bit of moral support and to see for myself what exactly it was that he had been enthusing about these last several weeks.

I've usually felt awkward when joining an established group for the first time: you don't know the etiquette, or what's coming next or what's expected of you as a guest, but the toastmasters had it all worked out. Every part of the evening was explained and guests were given the choice of whether to join in the fun or not. Now, being a gobby git who enjoys the sound of her own voice and who relishes a bit of a mental agility challenge from time to time, I decided it would be much more fun to throw myself in than to hang about on the sidelines.

The evening started off, as DFTP has said, with a warm-up which involved singing something about Summer. I'm ashamed to say I stole DFTP's thunder a bit by singing There Ain't No Cure for the summertime Blues. It wasn't intentional - it was all I could think of, given that all the other obvious songs (Summer Holiday, Summertime, etc) had already been taken by others before us. He controlled his annoyance masterfully, however, and didn't stab me to death with his voting pen (Oh, yes, peeps, there's voting!).

After the warm-up came the main speakers for the evening. Now, DFTP has already described at length his contribution, which was truly excellent given that it was his maiden speech, so I won't repeat it all here. There were two other speakers who were further along in their training and their speeches were both entertaining and informative.

Before we knew it, it was recess and a chance to mingle with some very interesting and engaging people. The one thing I noticed about the people at Toastmasters was that without exception they were friendly, voluble (no surprise there, given the kind of activity being undertaken by the group) and interested in getting to know their guests. This was so refreshing after all the awkward starts I've had in groups that I've joined over the years. OK, so the whole group is devoted to cultivating their personal presentation skills and it behoves them to be as warm and engaging as possible. Having said this, though, I did not get any hint of false, over-effusive friendliness from any of them. This I like.

After the break it was Table Topics. This is a regular thing where the Table Topics Master (TTM) chooses people at random to speak for two minutes on whatever the subject is for the evening. Our TTM this week must have had a slightly sadistic streak though because rather than give out a topic, he gave each speaker a real but extremely obscure English word and they had to come up with as original a definition as possible for it and expatiate upon that definition for two whole minutes.

Now, you wouldn't think 120 seconds would be that hard to fill now would you? Well the first few speakers managed a good showing with the likes of yardang and purlicue. Then suddenly, my name was called and my brain shut down. I hoped that, in the 10 or so seconds it took for me to get to the front, I could come up with a breathtakingly witty definition, but nope, the old grey matter stayed maddeningly silent.

I'm facing the crowd now and stammering my way into the standard opening "Mr Toastmaster, Master Table Topics Master..." Anything yet, brain? Nope. Damn! OK. Look at the word (infundibleform or something), point at it, try to sound erudite about the etymological roots (woo, get you!) of the various parts of it. Flammel! Prevaricate! Phillibuster!

Eventually, after one minute and ten seconds of the most incoherent and rambling nonsense, I gave in and wrapped it up. The audience was, as they had been to everyone who had spoken, warm in their encouragement and applause.

That's another thing I like about this group, they are all so positive and constructive in their feedback. Everyone, but EVERYONE is evaluated at Toastmasters (even the evaluators!) and the audience gets to vote on their favourite speaker in various categories (First speaker, Second speaker, Best Evaluator, etc).

Amazingly, I was voted Best Table Topics speaker for the night. Earlier you will remember I mentioned that I am a gobby git who likes the sound of her own voice.

At Toastmasters, this is not necessarily a character flaw. If you have a branch near you, go along and check it out: it's as much fun as you can have with your clothes on!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

What's So Funny?

I've just been watching Scrubs, the American TV medical sit-com. For my money, this is possibly the best comedy show EVER.

I'll try to explain why. Yes, I know talking about comedy is difficult – it's not usually that funny itself, for a start. Stick with me though if you can, and maybe I can pass on some of my enthusiasm.

The writers have not relied on making the characters stupid and incompetent to get their laughs. The doctors and nurses (and, of course, the Janitor) can do their jobs. OK, Ted the Lawyer's the exception, but not all the humour based on him is about the fact he's not an especially good lawyer.

I always feel cheated when comedy writers resort to just having their characters be stupid – this is lazy writing in my book. One of the worst examples of this in British comedy in my opinion is the "classic" sit-com Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em which centres around a character called Frank Spencer who manages to screw up royally each week. I get that Michael Crawford, who played Frank, is a talented performer who did his own (sometimes quite hairy) stunts, but to base a whole series of shows on just one lame gag really is insulting to the audience's intelligence. The character never grew, never learned and never changed. In Scrubs, on the other hand, we see the characters progress through their lives and careers and, while they retain most of their core characteristics, they do mature and become more "real".

The writers on Scrubs mix the mundane and the fantasy worlds very artfully. The main character, JD, often daydreams bizarre consequences arising from ordinary situations, and we see these things played out. Played out, that is, until he is snapped back to reality by an exasperated colleague a few moments later. As a card-carrying daydreamer myself, I have a habit of drifting off into reverie during boring meetings – usually to be suddenly yanked back to stare wide-eyed and clueless down the loaded barrel of "So, what do you think we should do?" I completely identify with JD.

There are several levels of story in Scrubs. There are series-spanning stories – like Turk and Carla's relationship though to marriage and beyond. There are 2 or 3 episoders like Jordan's brother's leukaemia and there are silly little one-offs like JD having to memorise everyone in the hospital's name for a bet with the Janitor. I think the writers can do this because they have built strong, multi-dimensional characters whose back-stories can be mined almost endlessly. Also, because it's a hospital setting, there are always new patients with their own stories to weave in. It never gets old.

So where's the funny? Well, we have much to choose from here. There are running jokes, like the Janitor's long-standing animosity towards JD which began in episode 1 and continues all the way though. But get this: just like in real life, this is not at a constant level and there are sometimes truces. It is the endlessly varied and inventive way this is played out, though, that stops it getting stale. Another running joke is the way Dr Cox always addresses JD by a different girl's name (I bet there's a website somewhere where someone has listed them all [I checked, there is]).

The characters' dialogue is often very witty. I really envy the writers on this show: they've kept up the standard of writing through seven seasons. Now, I just love witty banter and word-play so this is meat and drink for me.

There are some clever set-pieces like the Janitor's use of a crane for practical jokes on the hospital's aging Chief of Medicine and the main characters bullying their interns into making a space invader formation in the car park and then water-bombing them from the hospital roof (this one's on YouTube)

There is slapstick humour, but this is sprinkled lightly enough not to be tiresome. Slapstick is very hard to rely on as a mainstay, I think. The Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy are shining examples of how to do it properly. Scrubs includes it really well – but you'd really have to see it.

Music plays a big part in setting the mood. If there is a trace of formularity in this show, I guess this would be where it is. There's nearly always a really cracking music track playing in the second half of the show. Whoever chooses the tracks, though, is almost always on the money and the songs often add in a few moments what it would take pages of dialogue and action to say otherwise.

And then there's the turn-on-a-dime agility of this show. Like all the great books, shows, films and whatnot, it can go from laugh-out-loud funny to heart-rendingly moving in a heartbeat – and back again. I don't know how they get this to work, I really don't, but if I had to guess I'd say it was because the characters and situations the writers build up are so well-rounded and we do get to care about what happens to them.

So, there it is: the strong characters, the clever writing, the music. What's not to like? If you have not seen this show, then what the hell is wrong with you? Go see it now, now, now!

(There are loads of clips on YouTube as well).

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Saturday Wordzzle

Managed to get this up a little bit earlier this week. For rules and such, go to Raven's Nest.

The Mini (official portrait, personal bank account, shoulder bone, unbearable, widow)
The painting was truly horrible. The eyes were two different sizes and colours, both ears appeared to be on one side of the head, and the way one shoulder bone had been painted made the sitter look less a peer of the realm and more a sort of monocled Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The widow of Lord Etchingham-Cunnlyffe, who had commissioned this official portrait of her dear late husband, looked aghast at the smiling artist who had just triumphantly unveiled it.

“Great Caesar's ghost!“ She cried, “it’s simply unbearable, and if you think I’m dipping into my personal bank account to pay for such an abomination, you are sadly mistaken! Now kindly get it out of my sight!”

She picked up the little silver bell from the marble side table and rang it furiously. The butler appeared at once.

“Addlethorpe” she barked, “Please show Mr Picasso the way out.”


I think I've nicked that joke from somebody. If if's yours or you know whose it is, please let me know and I'll remove it.

Now, if you're not sick of him yet, here's more of Harold....

The 10-Worder (reluctant, sacrilege, territory, humiliating, master of ceremonies, gesture, dirty deed, crumbling, thaw, token)

Harold was now at a loss. He had committed the humiliating blunder of attempting to poach souls in another more powerful demon’s territory. This was as close to sacrilege as a demon could get, given that their very existence was predicated on the doing of any kind of dirty deed. As a result, he now found himself having to get out of town before Baron Samedi sent Mr Teeth and his steroid-enhanced buddies after him.

He trudged into the railway station with a heavy heart. Most of his busking money would have to go on a train ticket; a plane would be faster of course, but he had not made anything like enough money to pay for a flight. He scanned the destination boards and picked one at random, after all, it didn’t actually matter where he was going, did it?

He found a quiet, mostly empty carriage and slumped down into a seat by the window. Some summer this was turning out to be! His father's voice choed in his head Get your lazy backside up to the Brightside and get yourself some soul-snaring experience instead of wasting your time daydreaming down here.
It had been an experience all right.

After a while, another passenger plopped himself down in the seat opposite Harold’s. He was a small unshaven man in a crumpled, none too clean raincoat. His face had a lumpy, misshapen look to it that hinted at lorry tyre somewhere in his ancestry.

Harold was mildly irritated by the unwelcome intrusion: there were plenty of spare seats in the carriage and yet this fellow had to come and sit opposite him. He supposed he ought to engage the man in conversation, there might be a soul in it after all. This fellow definitely looked like he had needs that could be fulfilled – not the least of which was a good bath. The decision was made for him, however, when the man started to speak.

“So. Running away, eh, Kid?”

Harold was reluctant to start spilling out his private life to this rather malodorous stranger, and somewhat stung by the implication of cowardice in the man’s tone.

“Not exactly,” he replied somewhat defensively.

The man laughed nastily.

“Whatever, kid, whatever.” He lifted up a small suitcase that Harold hadn’t noticed before and placed it onto the crumbling formica of the table between them.

“Your father sent you this as a little token of his esteem.”

Harold was all bolt-upright attention now, his eyes narrowed in suspicion.

“My Dad and I don’t exactly get along," he growled, "why would he be sending me gifts?”

The stranger shrugged.

“Maybe things are starting to thaw between you and he wants to make a gesture. Don’t ask me, I’m just the messenger.”

With that, he flipped open the lid of the case and spun it around with a muttered master of ceremonies-style ta-daa! so that Harold could see its contents. Harold leaned forward.

“A toy monkey?” he cried incredulously. “I’m in it up to my ears and my ever-loving Dad sees fit to send me a toy monkey?”

“Ahem!” said the monkey, clambering out of the case. “I am not a toy! “

Indeed he was not. He was in fact a small golden capuchin-like creature with bright black eyes in a wizened little face, tiny delicate black hands and feet and long curling prehensile tail. He was clad in a little pin-striped waistcoat, (complete with watch-chain) and the whole ensemble was topped by a tiny perfect bowler hat.

“My card, Sir!” he announced. A tiny white rectangle appeared in his paw and he proffered it to Harold.

Harold squinted at the minute inscription on the card. “Mister A. Tay-ah-teem-ay”, he mouthed.

“It’s pronounced Teatime, you buffoon!” snapped the simian, snatching back the card. He drew himself up to his full eleven inches of height and bowed stiffly, “Augustus Teatime, at your service.”

“And what am I supposed to do with a talking monkey?” Harold demanded.

But there was no answer because, in best dramatic tradition, the stranger had vanished.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Earth, Swallow me up!

Years ago, I worked in Brimingham (the English one). Each day, my other half would drop me off at the railway station in the morning and pick me up there in the evening. One night, he was running a little late, but eventually our blue Metro drove into the station, straigh past me and stopped some distance away. Slightly annoyed, I trotted over to the car, yanked open the door and started to demand why he had not stopped next to me.

The face of the complete stranger at the wheel, and those of this two passangers were a picture... for the milli-second that I was able to see them before I turned tail and legged in into the crowds in the station concourse.

I'm such an idiot.

The odd thing was, though, just a couple of weeks later, I was sitting in the passenger seat of our car which was parked up while hubs went into a shop, and suddenly the door was yanked open by a very surprised-looking womam, who apologised profusely and legged it, having mistaken our car for hers.

What are the odds?

It would have been brilliant if I could have said it was same woman who was in the car at the station, but the universe isn't that neat.

I still chuckle when I think of this incident though. Does anyone else have any Earth-please-swallow-me moments?

Saturday Wordzzle

Hardly had time to turn around this week, so only managed the mini. Find out what's going on by clicking Raven's Nest.

Words to include: hard labour, lurid, quick fix, sizable contributions, trumpet

Finding his summer job at the bar more like hard labour than a quick fix, and the souls less easy to snare after that first easy trapping of Miss LaChaise, Harold the Demon turned his attentions to the lurid world of the jazz musician. He quit his job and, trumpet in hand, set off to try his luck busking outside Baron Samedi’s on Fletcher Street.

Now, in those days, Baron Samedi’s was the premier jazz club. All the jazz greats of the age began their career there, all of them, without exception. Harold figured if he could get invited to play at the club and become famous – as everyone who played there inevitably did – he'd be in a much better position to snare souls, after all, women love musicians, right?

Well Harold got himself all set up and started in with some seriously demonic improvisation, we’re talking exotic modes, blisteringly fast chromatic runs, daring interpretations and who-all knows what else. The dollars soon started plopping into his hat, making a sizeable contribution to his personal wealth and things were looking good for our boy.

After a couple of hours of this, Harold suddenly felt a heavy hand fall onto his shoulder. He broke off from a nice re-working of something or other by Thelonious Monk to look up, up, up into the face of the Baron’s chief enforcer, Mr Teeth.

“The Baron wants to see you, boy” rumbled Mr Teeth, wrapping a meaty paw around Harold’s skinny arm and propelling him towards the ornate doors of the club. Harold, although a demon, was one of the weedier sort and could not resist being pushed along by the gigantic henchman.

This is it, he thought, I'm in.

The Baron was waiting for them in a tastefully-lit room at the back of the club. The walls were lined with photos of all the greats who'd played there. There was a faint smell of cigars, expensive aftershave and something familiar that Harold could not quite put his finger on.

The Baron himself had his back to them as they entered the room.

“I brung ‘im, Boss” announced Mr Teeth, somewhat unnecessarily.

The Baron turned around. He was immaculately dressed and groomed but above his perfect smile, his eyes were as cold as gravestones.

"So," he drawled, "Another young hopeful wanting to make it big in my club."

"Yes, sir," replied Harold.

"And just how much are you prepared to give to obtain your dream?" He slid a piece of paper across the polished top of his desk towards Harold.

Harold looked at the paper and his heart sank. It was the standard Contract for Infernal Services.

"Er, I think there's something you should know about me." he said.

A few minutes later, Harold landed with a crunch on the sidewalk outside the club and his trumpet clattered out onto the street behind him. Mr Teeth paused in the doorway for a moment.

"Boss says to tell you this here's his turf. Be out of the city by sunset or there'll be trouble."

The club door slammed shut.

Harold picked himself up, dusted himself off and began walking.