Monday, 28 September 2009

The Monday Poem

The Lord High Eejit has thrown down the gauntlet of a poetry challenge Here.

This is my poem, pretentious claptrap that it is.

The classroom clock
Drips away the slow seconds

The teacher stands ready
To fill our heads
And tamp it down hard.
Today is Poetry Apreciation.

The clock's hands are moved
But we are not.

Horses and thought-foxes,
Tomcat, Pike and otter
The Hawk in the rain
Have no room to run, swim or fly
In the small crowded space
Of our bored afternoon minds.

The classroom clock
Drips away the slow seconds
The clock's hands are moved
But we are not.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Saturday Wordzzle 82

Each week, Raven gives us a set of 15 words - 5 for the mini, 10 for the 10-worder or all 15 for the mega challenge. The idea is to create a passage which includes the words.

As usual, go to Raven's Nest for the rules of the game and some excellent advice.

Most awkward word of the week: brain cortex

The Mini (mental hospital, falling leaves, apple cider, packing crates, clues)

Having failed miserably yet again last week to please the dragons by shortening my Wordzzle posts, I think I need a nice long rest somewhere quiet like a mental hospital. I mean, what do I think I'm doing, trying to placate mighty creatures of myth and legend so as to avoid marble blocks descending on my house like falling leaves (hey, didn't we have that phrase a few weeks ago?). Now I seem to recall the dragons like poems and they are short, so maybe I should read some poetry and get some clues on brevity there. Hmm, having said that, I'm not really that good at slinging the old rhymes together. Maybe if I just send them a couple of packing crates full of bottles of nice tasty apple cider, the dragons will forgive me for the excessively extravagant exuberance of my verbosity. Oh, dear, there I go again, better make that three crates!

The 10-worder (Tibetan sky, symbols, won’t you come home Bill Baily, shadow figures, brain cortex, practice makes perfect, life, start of school, lavender, chow down)

When I finally go, I want one of those Tibetan Sky burials. Yep, when the old brain cortex goes all flatline and the medics have shaken their heads and walked away, I want my earthly remains to be given to the sun, the four winds and whatever birdies and beasties might want to chow down on them. There'll be no more Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey for me (not that that's even my name, you understand, I'm just saying). No, I'll be in my new life. I'll be the new kid at the start of school, ready to live it all and learn it all, all over again. Memories from this life will just be cryptic symbols or shadow figures at the back of my mind, reminding me of something I can't quite put my finger on, as elusive as the faint scent of lavender I sometimes smell in the mornings. Yes, I'll be back to ride the Wheel again because, you see, practice makes perfect – and, unenlightened soul that I am, I need a lot of practice.

The Mega (Tibetan sky, symbols, won’t you come home Bill Bailey, shadow figures, brain cortex, practice makes perfect, life, start of school, lavender, chow down, mental hospital, falling leaves, apple cider, packing crates, clues)

Harold was running as fast as he had ever done in his life. He had crashed through the bathroom window and had landed twelve feet below, broken glass descending around him like falling leaves.

As he'd scrambled up, two shadow figures had resolved themselves into the forms of a man and a woman running towards him out of the darkness, pointing some kind of weapon. As the woman had got closer, Harold had realised with a shock that she was the one that had helped him with the postcards at the station. He'd let out a yelp of surprise, and they would have caught him right then if the higher functions of his brain cortex had not over-ridden his impulse to stop and ask her what she was doing there. As it was, he had veered off just in time to avoid the crackling discharge of the male human's weapon.

Agent Mercury suppressed a curse as the darts of his Taser flashed harmlessly past the demon as it suddenly changed direction. Man, but this one was fast! He reached for his radio as he set off in pursuit.

Agent Prada acknowledged Mercury's summons, tossed aside Lavender Tibetan Sky (lousy novel, anyway), and started the van.

India was hot on Mercury's heels. A mix of nerves and start of school-type excitement filled her. You could say practice makes perfect all you liked, but practice was nothing like the real thing! Heck, if someone had told her a year ago that she'd be chasing demons in the dark, she'd have thought they belonged in a mental hospital.

Harold could hear the sound of the humans' pounding footsteps grow quieter as his superior speed began to tell. His vessel was not particularly strong, but his reflexes and stamina were demonically good.

Suddenly, a shocking question jumped into his mind: where was Teatime? In the excitement, he had left the little monkey behind! Dammit! The sprawl of warehouses was just ahead, maybe he could lose the humans in there and double back for his companion. He raced round a corner and down an alley between two buildings – to a dead end. He looked around quickly for somewhere to hide: going back would run him into the humans again for sure. He ducked through a busted-in door into one of the warehouses. Luckily, there were old packing crates for him to hide in or behind. He chose a dark corner and slipped in behind a crate which once contained bottles of apple cider.

Mercury and India reached the alley mouth. The demon was nowhere in sight. India shone her torch around, looking for clues as to where it might have gone.

In the darkness, Harold was mentally berating himself. If he'd only practiced some shape-shifting over the years, he could easily have escaped but, no, he had to waste his time re-working old jazz tunes like Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey instead! Fat lot of good that was going to do him now!

India's torch played over the side of the building, illuminating spray-painted gang symbols and startling a rat that was about to chow down on a discarded hamburger. Hmmm, she definitely had a feeling about this place...

The rest of Joshua squad had arrived by now. One of the other agents, Othello, was carrying a pillowcase with something struggling inside it.

"What's that?" asked Mercury.

"Demon left his pet monkey behind." Othello explained, "Thought we should drop it off at the animal shelter after."

"OK, put it in the van for now." sighed Mercury. "Right, here's the plan..."

Harold counted four humans entering the warehouse. They spread out and began poking around the crates. It was only a matter of time before they found him unless he could sneak past them and out the door, which was unguarded.

Quietly, Harold edged towards a patch of shadow nearer the door. So far so good: the humans hadn't noticed. He paused a moment to ensure no-one was looking his way, then carefully moved to the next hiding place. His bare feet made no sound on the rough concrete. At last, the doorway was just a few feet away and they still hadn't noticed! Harold slipped out from behind the last crate and through the door. Now to find Teatime!

As fast as he was, Harold was nowhere near quick enough to dodge the barbs of Agent India's taser as they shot into his back. He crashed twitching to the ground.

"It worked!" India called, stepping out from the shadows. She smiled down at Harold. Her first Spot and first catch, did it get any sweeter than this?

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The Mighty Power of TV

When I was a kid, I remember watching some detective show on TV where the murderer had "dunnit" by electrifying the metal handrail of the "dunnee's" shower, so that when he or she (can't remember which, but it's bound to be one of them) next took a shower, he or she would touch the rail with lovely wet hands and be killed.

Shortly after I had seen this masterpiece of televisual art, we had a shower installed – with (of course) a metal handrail.

I was convinced that the handrail would be electrified because I'd seen one just like it kill someone on the telly (I didn't realise then that someone else had rigged it up and, in fact, the whole whodunnit part is a sort of ex post facto rationalisation of my adult mind, based on a very dim memory).

I even convinced my little sister not to touch the handrail as well, so we spent our formative years balancing precariously on one foot whenever we needed to wash the other because it wasn't safe to touch the rail.

Never underestimate the power of TV on young, impressionable minds (and old ones, come to that).

Has anyone out there had a similar "'cos it was on the telly" experience?

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Saturday Wordzzle No 81

Well, first off, I'd just like to apologise for these crummy words this week. In my defence, they were thought up at the end of an all-night 12-hour shift in a darkened office with only the security guy for company. Most hated word this week: feelers.

As usual, go to Raven's Nest for the rules of the game and some excellent advice.

The dragons (and others) have indicated that they find my posts too long so, rather than displease them and risk having marble blocks dropped on my house or worse, I have tried to keep it brief.

Anyway, here we go...

The Mini (carbon, feelers, outright, ballet, fizzing)

Sunday morning, five Steve and Ed are fishing, just as they have every Sunday morning for the last twenty-five years, come rain, come shine.

Steve sits on his custom-made tackle box, complete with climate-controlled bait compartments as well as a cooler for food and drink for himself. His rod is the latest carbon-fibre model, light, strong and so sensitive that he has often boasted (out of Ed's hearing) that he could feel a minnow cough a hundred yards away.

Ed sits on an old wicker hamper that his wife won in a raffle or something years since. His rod is old-fashioned and heavy, but it does the job. Ed's bait box is an old tupperware with holes Ed drilled in the lid with a hot needle. He tried once to keep it in the fridge, but the missus was so repelled by the whole wriggling mass of maggots when she accidentally opened it one day that she had words with Ed and since then it has been banished to the garage.

The morning is pleasantly warm. The sun came up earlier and is now dancing a sparkling ballet across the water's surface. A few late flies are hovering just above, and some are skating about upon, the meniscus, their feelers twitching in search of a meal or a mate – or both together, possibly.

All of a sudden, the biggest fish either man has ever seen erupts out of the water, gobbling up several of the flies outright, before sinking beneath the surface once more.

Steve and Ed turn to one another and nod. Steve opens one of his bait compartments and Ed reaches for his tupperware.

Both men's minds are fizzing with excitement now.

To be the one to catch that fish!

Neither man utters a word, however. In twenty-five years, neither man has heard the other's voice, and that is not about to change now.

The 10-word Challenge (dangerous, engine, sullenly, bespoke, evergreen, bauble, medicine, freight, destined, tinsel)

"I can't believe that the Christmas stuff is in the stores already!" shouted Agent Mercury above the racket of the van's engine. There was a grumble of agreement from the other members of Joshua squad in the back.

Agent India couldn't believe they were being so matter-of-fact. Here they all were, about to encounter a demon, for goodness sake and all they could talk about was bauble sales!

"Yeah," added a diminutive blonde agent, whose passion for fashion had earned her the nickname Agent Prada, "Where does it say in the Bible we should celebrate Christ's birth by buying a fake plastic evergreen and smothering it in tinsel, anyway!"

The others laughed, but India was too nervous to do more than smile wanly. This was her first time out as an active member of a squad rather than just an observer. Sure, she had participated in mock missions in training, but this was real and potentially dangerous: demons were not fans of the words of Binding and Dismissal and tended to make their objections known quite forcibly. Still, the squad was well-prepared. In addition to the centuries-old formula of the words, it had a few bespoke twenty-first century tricks up its sleeves too.

"OK," announced Agent Mercury as he turned the van onto a quiet side-street, "we'll stop here and approach on foot. Is everyone clear about what we're doing tonight?"

There was a chorus of yeses and the squad began to disembark. Agent Prada was detailed to remain with the van to bring it up when signalled, something to which she had agreed rather sullenly in India's opinion: the woman obviously wanted a more active role. There was a big part of India that wanted to trade places with her, but this was her "shout" – her first solo Spot, and she had earned her place on the team going in. Radio checks were quickly conducted and watches synchronised, and then it was time to go.

Harold was resting on the bed in his motel room. He and Teatime had been given a room on the second floor today and the sampler on the wall of this one was a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. Harold had been pleased that there had been a different proverb in the room but had been disappointed to discover, on closer inspection, that the sampler wasn't actually embroidered at all, but was just a print. What a swizz! Like many things in this confusing world, the thing had not been what it seemed.

Teatime was curled up on the pillow beside Harold's head. It had been a frustrating day. None of the apartments they had seen had been any good. Harold would need to start job-hunting tomorrow or the two of them would be destined for a life on the streets.

Suddenly, Teatime sat bolt upright, startling Harold.

"Did you hear that?" he asked urgently.

"Hear what?" said Harold. A freight train had rattled past a few moments before, but somehow he didn't think the little monkey was referring to that.

"Shh!" hissed Teatime, "Listen!"

Sure enough, now that he was actively listening, Harold's ears picked up the sound of stealthy footsteps on the stairs leading up to the wide balcony which fronted all of the rooms on this level. He got to his feet and padded over to the window. Teatime was quickly there beside him.

"Here," he whispered, "Let me look." He stuck his tiny head up under the absurdly flowery curtain without disturbing it, and cautiously peeped over the windowsill.

"Listen, old biscuit," he said drawing his head quickly back out into the room, "I need you to do the very next thing I tell you without question, alright?"

"Er, OK," Harold replied doubtfully. Teatime was a very strange little fellow sometimes.

"Jump out of the bathroom window and run as far from here as you can." said Teatime.


"NOW!" screeched Teatime, as the motel room door crashed open.

The Mega (dangerous, engine, sullenly, bespoke, evergreen, bauble, medicine, freight, destined, tinsel, carbon, feelers, outright, ballet, fizzing)

Dr Evergreen's Efficacious Elixir said the label on the bottle of vivid green, slightly viscous liquid.

I was nineteen and was travelling illegally aboard one of those old-fashioned freight trains in the manner of a hobo. Quite the knight of the iron road I fancied myself back then, idiot that I was

"It is dangerous?" I asked.

"It's good medicine, is what it is," the man sprawled opposite me replied sullenly. He'd been travelling around this way for years, or so he said. He certainly looked the part, long straggly grey hair and beard, holey jeans, fingerless gloves and all. I had mentioned that my back was killing me from sleeping on hard floors and he had offered me this bottle.

I unscrewed the cap and took a sniff: aniseed with a hint of engine oil, not too promising, plus it seemed to be fizzing slightly.

He gestured me to take a drink. I prepared myself for the worst and slugged away.

After a few moments, there was an explosion of colour behind my eyes and I started to see all kinds of strange things, starting with a troupe of giant ballet-dancing beetles, their feelers waving gracefully in time to the music. This scene was replaced a few moments later by a huge revolving 3D representation of the carbon atom from Chem. class. This was then swallowed outright by a flying Christmas tree bauble which suddenly opened a shockingly red mouth and shot out a long tinsel tongue. A flock of paper birds obscured the view then and these were in turn shredded to snowflakes by a sudden wind. There was plenty more like this and the thing was, it all seemed so significant, so pregnant with meaning that I wanted to get a pen and paper and record it all for posterity.

I was not destined to change the world with my own little bespoke vision, however. Whatever was in that bottle wore off about then and I came to, freezing, sick and alone in the boxcar which was now stationary at the end of its journey.

The bastard had taken everything: my money, my camera, my watch, even my clothes for pity's sake!

I keep the empty bottle on the mantelpiece as a reminder not to be so stupid.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Supermarket Pears

The other day, my boss gave me some home-grown pears. Now these were perfectly ripe so I could eat and enjoy them right away. They were delicious.

What IS it with supermarket pears? They are never at the correct ripeness for eating! You buy them all chilly from Tesco's or wherever and it says on the pack "ripen at home". Yeah, right! In about a billion years maybe.

Or maybe not, because you see, supermarket pears have this kind of programmed obsolescence built into them (by the same evil geniuses that brought you un-openable CD packaging and Pot Noodles, no doubt). What happens is that you have precisely 3 seconds of perfect ripeness in which to enjoy your pear but, and here's the kicker, that three second window will open and close again at about twenty-two minutes past three in the morning while you're fast asleep.

You'll miss that perfect bite into sweetness because you were foolishly sleeping and you'll get up the next day and the pears will have been transmogrified into inedible mush, fit only for the bin or the compost heap.

It's no good sitting up and watching the pears either. It seems there is some kind of Heisenberg-Quantum-Observer effect where the action of observing the pears just stops them ripening. I know, I've tried.

Could there be a more maddeningly frustrating fruit on the planet than supermarket pears?

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Saturday Wordzzle No 80

Yay! It's time to play Raven's Wordzzle again. For the what and the how go to Raven's Nest

I must say, there were some very tricky words this week: propeller was a hard one to knock off. Anyhoo, enough moaning and groaning.

The Mini (chisel, worship, suicide, organic, plus)

Michelangelo's Pieta

The sculptor's chisel has played metal midwife
And brought this labouring stone to birth.
Something organic, something dimly understood,
Had been sleeping in this marble block's future,
The sculptor knew, and his hands in worship uncovered it.
The messy minus of stone chips cover the workshop floor
The bold plus of this tender scene now strikes the beholding eye.
A mother gently supports the lifeless body of her son.
Some might say that it was suicide on his part,
But the serene look on her face whispers: sacrifice.

The 10-word Challenge (Charitable, alligator, tribute, drunk, slave, preparation, carrots, mountainside, propeller, lark)

Elroy Jackson, a.k.a. Mr Teeth, was not a happy man. For years now, the jazz club had been a sweet little number for him and now somebody had gone and burned it down. This was bad enough, but what worried him more was the fact that the club's owner, Baron Samedi, had vanished.

Now Mr Teeth may have looked like some steroid-enhanced gym-junkie whose IQ was about half what he could bench press in pounds, but underneath that shiny shaved head was a sharp mind, a wealth of street smarts and the predatory instincts of an alligator. He knew perfectly well that the Baron, one of the more powerful demons around, could not have been killed in the fire: fire would not have bothered him in the least.

Mr Teeth had toyed with the idea that the Baron might have set the fire himself, but that didn't make sense either – the club had been a sweet little number for him too. Who knew how many souls had been ensnared in the place over the years, what with the drink, the discreetly purveyed drugs and the other more personal services offered to the club's most favoured clients. No, the Baron wouldn't have torched his own place.

It was possible that a rival might have done it, but that still didn't explain the Baron's disappearance. Over the years, others had tried to make a move against the Baron but had quickly learned the error of their ways. Crossing him was tantamount to suicide. The Baron had enemies for sure, but none of them were that stupid. No, the only possibility that Mr Teeth could think of was that the Baron had been taken out by one of his own kind. He slid the picture of Harold that had been on the news and in the papers across the table to the man opposite.

"This is him,"

The other, one Edward Peck by name, reached out a slim, perfectly manicured hand and picked up the picture. Behind the twin discs of his steel-rimmed spectacles, a pair of keen blue eyes studied it carefully for a few moments before laying it carefully back down on the table.

"He was here in town yesterday, you say?" he asked. Mr Teeth nodded.

"I threw him out of the club at about three in the afternoon," he rumbled, "and told him to git by sunset or else. Looks like he had other ideas"

"Indeed," agreed Peck smoothly, "Now, when I find him, how do you wish to proceed: am I to bring him to you, beat him senseless, kill him or what?" Peck did not go in for euphemisms: a spade was most assuredly not a manually-actuated implement of horticultural excavation.

Mr Teeth knew that killing wasn't a likely option: the Baron had often boasted that he couldn't be killed by mortals, so it stood to reason that the young trumpet-playing punk in the picture couldn't be either. Truth to tell, he wasn't exactly sure what the most effective course of action would be. Best to keep it simple.

"Bring him here," He handed over a card. Peck quickly scanned the address printed on it and raised his eyebrows slightly.

"Mountainside Boulevard. Nice area," he commented, pocketing the card. He picked up the picture and dropped it into his Louis Vuitton briefcase. "Now, if you'll excuse me," he said, getting to his feet, "I really must be going, I need to call a few people in preparation. My fee will be the usual: fifteen hundred a day plus expenses, is that alright?"

"No problem," said Mr Teeth, getting up as well. He extended a huge hand and Peck shook it firmly. "I'll be in touch." he said, and with that he turned and walked out of the bar.

Mr Teeth watched Peck's Armani-suited form disappear into the crowd on the street. Fifteen hundred a day was a lot, but Mr Peck always delivered the goods.

Harold and Teatime wandered back out onto the street. The tiny cramped shoe-box of an apartment they had just viewed had been somewhat less than suitable: the wallpaper had been peeling and damp, the windows covered in enough dirt to grow a crop of carrots in and the carpet – if that's what the unpleasantly sticky brown and orange layer on the floor actually was, had been alive with vermin. The landlord, an unsavoury-looking slob in a filthy string vest had also been drunk – at just after nine in the morning.

"We could have fixed it up a bit," said Harold, "a good cleanup, some paint, some wallpaper..."

"I'm thinking more in terms of a gallon of petrol and a match," replied Teatime dryly. He scratched himself, "If that place has given me fleas, I'll..." As he was speaking, he was looking back over Harold's shoulder at the way they had come. "Great Ceasar's Ghost! There's that woman again!"

"What woman?"

"You know, the one at the station that helped you pick up the all postcards you so carelessly spilled over the place."

"Oh, good," said Harold, "Let's go and say hi." He turned and started back the way they had come.

"Let's not," suggested teatime, "she didn't seem that keen on you and we haven't time to lark about, we've another viewing in half an hour."

"Oh, come on, a few minutes won't hurt," said Harold, "Honestly, Teatime, you're such a slave to the clock sometimes!"

Sure enough, there she was, dressed differently today of course, but it was definitely her. She was apparently studying the objects in the window of a shop selling second-hand goods for some charitable cause - studying it very intently in fact.

Agent India was indeed looking in the shop window. She had been told in training that a good way to observe someone without looking at them directly and thereby giving oneself away, was to use reflective surfaces like shop windows, car door mirrors and so on. So it was with some annoyance – not to mention a touch of fear - that she observed Harold's reflection turn around and grow larger as he approached her.

"Hello again," said Harold brightly, charisma turned all the way up to number eleven. "You helped me clear up at the station, I think. I just wanted to say thanks."

It was a tribute to India's training and iron self-control that she managed to turn away from the window quite coolly, quite casually in fact, or so she thought. Inside she was buzzing: Apart from that brief encounter at the station, she'd never spoken with an AFO before: more senior agents had always dealt with them directly. Her job had always been simply to spot them and keep track of their movements until others could come and get rid of them. Now the wretched demon had seen her and wanted to make polite conversation it seemed, and she was on her own. Stupid, India, really stupid!

"Er, Hello," She hadn't been trained for this! "Er, it was no trouble, really." Surely it must be able to hear her heartbeat – it was louder than a propeller for goodness' sake! She needed to get out of here fast. Think, India, think! Getting a sudden idea, she made a show of checking her watch.

"Ooh, is that the time?" she practically squeaked in mock astonishment, "I have to go. Nice seeing you." With that she turned and hurried away down the street, leaving a bemused Harold staring after her.

"Am I that scary?" he asked.

"You're positively terrifying, old shoe," said Teatime wearily. "Positively terrifying."

Around the corner, Agent India had slowed to a walking pace. That had to be the lamest way of getting out of a tricky situation ever! Mind you, the look on the demon's face had been really good: surprise and then bewilderment. It had got mimicry of human expressions pretty much down pat, she'd give it that. If she had not had so much confidence in her gift of spotting demons, she could quite easily have believed that she had just rudely snubbed an ordinary human. Her gift was never wrong though and now she'd have to be much more careful about following her target. Still, not for much longer, she thought. The text she'd received half an hour before was unequivocal: JOSHUA SQD ETA 18:30. RV @ OGS 19:00 4 PLAN MTG.

The Mega (Charitable, alligator, tribute, drunk, slave, preparation, carrots, mountainside,propeller, lark, chisel, worship, suicide, organic, plus)

Now, Tony “the Maggot” Ryan, lead singer of the death-metal band, Suicide by Propeller, was renowned for his willingness to do anything for a lark. Having got exceedingly drunk after a last-night-of-the-tour party, he obtained an alligator from somewhere and put it in Sticky Steve, the drummer’s, hotel bathroom.

That worthy had got up in the night to answer a call of nature and had been scared out of his wits by the beast. Being less than impressed by the prank, he resolved to get his own back somehow. He knew, however, that whatever scheme he came up with would need a good deal of preparation if it was to succeed and thereby teach the Maggot a lesson.

His first thought was to take a chisel to the paintwork of the Maggot’s beloved Porsche, but he quickly rejected the idea as too unsubtle, plus he just couldn’t bring himself to do such a horrid thing to such a lovely car. Sticky Steve didn't worship cars the way some men did, but still he thought the car was just too pretty to be disfigured like that.

So what when? Steve mulled this question over as he took a stroll down the mountainside below the hotel. The air up here was so clear and clean-smelling! As he drew in a big lungful, Steve could feel it practically washing out his lungs and invigorating his whole body. He’d grown up in a grubby northern industrial town and the most charitable thing you could say about that place was that it looked best through the rear-view mirror of a speeding car.

Never a slave to passion for long, Steve began to feel his anger ebb away in the warm spring sunshine: it had only been a joke after all and the Maggot was a good mate really, well, most of the time anyway. He sat down on a little stone bench beside the mountain path and took in the view for a bit. Far below, he could see people toiling away in some fields planting something or other – organic carrots, maybe or potatoes, Steve didn’t know.

The hotel had packed him a little picnic lunch which included a nice bottle of wine. Steve unpacked this and poured himself a generous measure. The way the sun sparkled on the surface of the wine was almost hypnotic as he swirled it gently round inside the glass. He took a sip and savoured the crisp, sharp taste. Aaah! That was good! He lifted the glass in mock tribute to his loony friend.

At least it had only been a stuffed alligator – imagine if it had been real.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Keep Off The Grass

Today, my other half and I went to the cinema to see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

As we were buying our tickets, the cashier asked us if we wanted standard seats or "Premier" seats (more leg-room, more comfy, etc). We said yes, and dutifully paid an extra quid each.

After taking out a mortgage for some Pick 'n Mix and a drink, we headed into the auditorium and took our seats in row F, just like it said on our ticket.

Now, here's the silly bit. We had paid an extra pound for these seats, but the place was almost empty (the film is now nearing the end of its run, so there were about six people, including us, in the place). We could have bought standard seats and sat in the posh ones. No-one came in during the movie to check that everyone was correctly seated. We would have got away with it.

The thing is, if we had have done that, I would have been uncomfortably aware throughout the whole movie that I was sitting in a seat to which I was not entitled - even though I would not have been depriving anyone else of a seat or doing any serious damage to the cinema's profit margins (not after the Pick 'n Mix, anyway!).

I bet that cashier thought we were right chumps. Actually, I bet he had a bet going with the popcorn seller/Pick 'n Mix Mortgage Adviser about how many people he could con into shelling out an extra quid for something they could have for nothing.

But that's me: if it says "keep off the grass", I keep off.

The above sign was next to a set of stairs in the Forbidden City, Beijing. I did my best to obey it too.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Saturday Wordzzle

Another week has just flown by! It really does only seem like yesterday when I was putting up the last lot. In a rare rush of brains to the feet, I've managed a mini, 10-worder and a mega. The words were pretty useful this week. Florida was the most awkward in some ways – as was singularity.

Anyhoo, as usual, go to Raven's Nest for the rules of the game and some excellent advice.

Now, on with the motley...

The Mini (shadows, singularity, Florida, caterpillars, copy)

The spacecraft Intrepid and its crew returned home to a tumultuous welcome. Theirs had been the first manned mission ever to have entered a Black Hole and return safely from its time- and space-warping depths.

Naturally, the three astronauts were kept in quarantine for a while and rigorously tested to ensure they themselves were healthy and that the ship had not inadvertently brought back space caterpillars to devastate the Earth's crops or anything like that.

Once released, the astronauts were feted in the press and invited onto every radio and TV talk show going. After a few weeks of this, they were tired of course, but tonight was to be their last public appearance before going on a well-earned break, and the make-up artists could easily cover up the sallow complexions and the dark shadows under their eyes.

Relaxing in the green room before going in front of the cameras, one of the astronauts was idly leafing through a copy of the daily paper. He turned over a page and swore loudly.

"What is it, Bob?" asked the mission commander who'd been sampling the complimentary buffet.

"Jim, Steve," cried Bob, "I think you should both see this. Something's not right. I... that gravity anomaly ... the singularity must have..." he trailed off, helplessly.

The other two astronauts hurried over to look at the page that Bob was now holding up. It was a full-page colour article about the actor Harrison Ford. The headline for the piece was:

Harrison Ford Says No to a Sixth Florida Jones Movie

"Guess we're not in Kansas anymore, huh," said Bob faintly.

The 10-word Challenge (Spam, perpetual motion, sprinkle, telephone pole, stains, alphabetical, surgery, flattery, liberty, preservation)

Agent India scrolled her way through her email inbox and sighed. If someone could invent a machine that ran on spam, it would be the nearest thing to perpetual motion as the world could get. No, she wasn't embarrassed by her small member not pleasing the ladies. No, she didn't want a genuine submariner's watch, whatever that was. No, she didn't want to lose 10lb of weight in a week, and, no, she definitely didn't want to give her bank details to Mr Liberty Akubuntu, of the Nigerian Law Socity (sic!) so that he could transfer the residue of a late client's estate out of the country and split it with her.

After all that, there wasn't a single email worth reading. She shut down her email program and decided to surf the net instead while she finished off her morning coffee. It would soon be time to go and take over from Agent Carlisle, but first she would take a quick look at what was going on in the world.

She was just taking a slurp of coffee when the web browser finished loading the main page of her favourite news website. Her sudden indrawn gasp of breath when she saw the main news item caused her to splutter and choke on the hot liquid. Drat it, now she had coffee stains on her nice clean t-shirt and would have to change before going out. The news item was all about the devastating fire at Baron Samedi's jazz club, which was shocking enough, but what had caught her eye was what appeared to be a blown-up still image from some CCTV footage. It showed a young man walking towards the camera, a trumpet dangling from his right hand. The face, although rendered somewhat blurry by enlargement was still clearly recognisable as that of the AFO she had tagged the day before. "So, you're a fire-starter, are you?" she murmured as she read the rest of the article. Was there nothing these creatures wouldn't do? It was lucky no-one had been hurt.

Shaking her head, she drained the last of the coffee, dumped the mug in the sink and got changed. In a few minutes she was out the door.

She parked up and got out of the car, narrowly avoiding bashing the driver's door against a telephone pole (for a Spotter, you can be awfully unobservant at times she admonished herself). She walked briskly up to the side of Carlisle's VW and rapped on the window. His head whipped round and by the startled look on his face, it was clear he hadn't noticed her approach (not just me then, she thought). She dangled the brown paper bag containing one of Marvin's Marvellous Muffins in front of his face as he wound down the window. He eagerly snatched it out of her hand and looked inside.

"Sorry," she said as he examined the contents, "they ran out of Chocolate Sprinkle, so I got you Blueberry instead, is that OK?"

"Yeah, fine, fine, thanks," he replied, "Do you want to get in? I can hand over while I'm eating. Did you get me any coffee?"

India mutely handed over the lidded cup. She then went round the car and opened the passenger-side door. Pulling a moue of fastidious disgust, she quickly brushed the littler of candy bar wrappers and empty drink cans off the passenger's seat before climbing in.

"Sorry about the mess," Carlisle mumbled through a mouthful of muffin. He took a swig of coffee and cleared his throat. "Sorry. Anyway, our boy stayed put most of the night, but did something weird at about three-twenty. Have a look at this." He got out the Cicada and pressed the play button. The VW was instantly filled with sad, sweet music, albeit somewhat tinny-sounding on the recorder's little speakers.
"Pretty sweet, no?" said Carlisle, stopping the playback after a few minutes. "It's a pity we can't put it on YouTube or something. You ever see anything like that before?"

India hadn't, but then she hadn't been an OGS agent for much more than a year, so it didn't mean a lot. "So, it didn't go anywhere else or do anything else?" she asked.

"Nope," replied Carlisle, "it stayed put all night, apart from that one hour. I never lost sight of it at any time when it went for its music practice, and the Ladybird showed it staying put in the motel the rest of the time. Like I say: weird."

"Hmm, then I guess I must be wrong," she said.

"You? Wrong? I find that hard to believe!" laughed Carlisle. India blushed: she was aware that she had something of a reputation amongst the other agents as someone did not take correction or contradiction easily. Seeing her red cheeks, Carlisle's grim disappeared abruptly. "Sorry, India, wrong about what, anyway?"

India explained about the fire at the jazz club and her suspicions of Harold. "But," she concluded, "that demon can't have started the fire: it was here all night. Thing is" she continued thoughtfully, "the police are now looking for it. What should we do?"
"Nothing," said Carlisle. "If your demon didn't start the fire – as seems to be the case – then the police not finding him does no harm, and anyway," he paused for a gulp of coffee, "he'll be gone as soon as we can get a squad over here, won't he?"

"True," acknowledged India. "But in the meantime, they'll be wasting resources looking for the man in the CCTV pictures instead of whoever really started the fire."

"That's not really our concern. We can hardly go to the cops and give our boy over there a squeaky clean alibi, now can we?"

"I suppose not," India sighed. That was the trouble with OGS: it wasn't a government agency and had no more authority than any other group of private citizens being, as it was, essentially a religious order.

"What should we do?" asked Harold for the umpteenth time since he and Teatime had seen the news bulletin about the fire. He was pacing up and down the room.

"Oh, do sit still, old bean," grumbled Teatime, "I can't think with you tramping up and down like that." Harold flopped into the one dilapidated armchair the room possessed.

"Now, these humans are pretty stupid," began Teatime, "so it's my bet that even with your picture all over the news they'll not recognise you in the street so long as you don't do anything to draw attention to yourself."

"I could wear a baseball cap or something," suggested Harold, "shade my face. Maybe wear sunglasses?"

"That's good. That's good, "said Teatime approvingly, "Do you happen to have any of those things?".

"Er, no, just that old hat I was collecting money in." admitted Harold. Teatime rolled his eyes.

"And you're sure you can't change your physical appearance, not even a bit?"

"Sorry," apologised Harold, shrugging, "I was never any good at shapeshifting: it takes all my effort keeping up this one appearance."

"If you take my advice, old button," said Teatime, "You'll start practising: your self-preservation may very well depend upon it one day."

"I will," promised Harold, not really meaning a word of it. Shapeshifting was hard!

"Well, for want of anything better," said Teatime, "I think we're just going to have to rely on humanity's staggering capacity to overlook what's in front of their stupid faces. We can maybe get you a hat or something while we're out. Let's go, old sausage, I'm starving."

They found a pleasant-looking diner easily enough and spent a short time perusing the neatly alphabetical menu in the window before going in. Teatime had wanted to ensure there would be pancakes and maple syrup (there was) and proper English Breakfast Tea (there wasn't).

The Lovin' Spoonful diner was obviously one of those places that relied for the most part on the patronage of regular customers rather than passing trade. As Harold and Teatime jangled their way in through the door, all heads turned toward them and all conversation ceased abruptly. The proprietor – Hank, by name - had just been telling one of his regulars, a middle-aged lady, about his impending knee surgery, and didn't look especially pleased by the entrance of a stranger into his cosy domain. For form's sake, however, he plastered on a smile and asked Harold what he could get him.

Harold was just about to order a nice big plate of bacon, eggs, hash browns and all the trimmings for himself (plus pancakes for Teatime) when Hank registered Teatime's presence.

"Oh, I'm sorry, son," he said, not really sounding it. "This is a food service area. No animals allowed in here, you'll have to leave. Hygiene laws, you know?"

"Aw, lighten up Hank," said the erstwhile recipient of the knee surgery story, a rather blowsy middle-aged woman who could most kindly be described as 'handsome'. "He's only a little monkey and I think he's adorable."

So saying, she leaned her face in close to Teatime's and spoke in the sort of simpering high-pitched voice usually reserved for babies, halfwits and small dogs. "Yeshoo are, aren't you? You're adorable, you wittle monkey, you." She started tickling Teatime under the chin.

Harold felt Teatime tense. His companion's little body just radiated outrage at this violation of his personal space and dignity. Now, Harold didn't know if Teatime was preparing to spring at the woman's face, bite her hand or simply run off. Whichever way, it would not be conducive towards the acquisition of breakfast.

"Take it easy, Teatime," he said soothingly, "the nice lady's just being friendly." He turned to her apologetically, "I'm sorry, ma'am, he's not used to the attention of such a pretty lady – it makes him nervous."

Evidently pleased by this piece of outrageous flattery, the woman laughed but quickly drew back her hand.

"He doesn't bite, does he?" she asked.

"No," laughed Harold, "but he can be very sarcastic at times."

Even Hank laughed at that and grudgingly agreed that, yes, OK, the monkey could stay after all, so long as he behaved himself.

Outside, Agent India was watching the diner from the clean and tidy comfort of her own car. Her cell phone beeped.

"India." she said, not removing her gaze from the diner.

"India, this is Control. Joshua squad has become available earlier than expected and has been despatched to your location. They should reach you sometime this evening. Please liaise with Agent Mercury, the squad leader, from this point on."

"Will do, Control." she replied.

"Also," continued Control, "please upload any images you have of the target and we'll distribute them for you."

"Yes, I will, thanks."

Control ended the call. India allowed herself the luxury of a grin. At last!

Through the window of the diner, she could see the AFO eating a hearty breakfast and apparently laughing and chatting with the diner's owner and some of the other customers. Her grin disappeared. Enjoy your meal, Demon, she thought sourly, because you won't be eating many more.

The Mega (Spam, perpetual motion, sprinkle, telephone pole, stains, alphabetical, surgery, flattery, liberty, preservation,shadows, singularity, Florida, caterpillars, copy)

"I'm sorry, Mrs Eeles, there were complications during surgery..." The Doctor's words have been going round and round in her head – locked in perpetual motion behind her eyes - for days now.

Numbly, she opens the kitchen cupboards one after another. She's not really looking for something to eat: she's not hungry anymore, it seems. An old tin of Spam catches her eye momentarily.

"For the taste of it"

She murmurs the old advertising slogan and those words too are caught up in the whirling.

Complications during surgery...

She catches sight of her own pale face, reflected in the shining chrome of the toaster. No flattery from this unflinching scorcher of breakfast bread: the shadows under her eyes are clearly visible, like tea stains on the skin.

For the taste of it...

A copy of the newspaper from before is lying next to the breadbin, just where he left it. Telephone Pole Destroyed by Caterpillars! screams the headline. She has always hated the stupid red-tops and their lowest-common-denominator mentality, but he always enjoyed them. "A liberal sprinkle of sex, violence, celebrity and scandal to go with a glass of the old freshly-squeezed really gets the day started." he always used to say.

Complications during surgery...

She toys with the idea of the preservation of all the things of his in this room: his paper, the cookbooks in alphabetical order on their shelf, the stupid apron with "I Heart Florida" on it he always wore when cooking, the spoons and knives, the spam tin, even.

For the taste of it...

So, she was now alone. One. Solo. A tiny pinpoint singularity of grief in a vast world of carefree, happy twosomes. A world from which she has been summarily ejected by the nick of a surgeon's scalpel – a world, it seems, which she is no longer at liberty to inhabit.

The tears fall now, their stains blooming silently on the newspaper she hasn't realised she's picked up.

Complications during surgery...