Monday, 30 August 2010

The Poetry Bus - Back to School

Schooldays are meant to be the happiest days of your life, right?


Some parts were ok, I suppose, but not all of it was enjoyable.  Enjoyable or not, however, this week's Poetry Bus challenge, as set by Karen here is all about school.  You can also click on the link to see what others came up with.

I chose to write about my least favorite lesson.


Of all of my lessons, the worst one,
Was Maths, Monday morning, the first one.
Those Equations and Pi
And sine x and log y,
Made teenage existence a cursed one.

The teacher kept taking me through it
Showed me how to break down and construe it
They made my blood boil
To this day, I can't bloody well do it!

The teacher, she thought me a duffer.
I didn't know enough stuff to bluff 'er.
She would call out my name
And put me to shame.
How I wanted to shoot 'er and stuff 'er!

Exam day came round and I blew it.
So fed up, that I simply slept through it.
Now Maths, I may lack
But it's not held me back,
'Cos I get the computer to do it!

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Saturday Wordzzle 124

Hooray, it's Saturday, after a packed week - and a Bank Holiday on Monday!

I'm responsible for the words this week so no griping from me about how hard they are, although if anybody knows what on earth cold-stone is meant to be, let me know, because I have no idea why I included it.

To see the words for next week's challenge and read other players' offerings, go to Raven's Nest.

The Mini (fluid, acreage, fasten, tripe, pages)

“Cover that amount of acreage with that amount of muck? You don’t ‘arf talk a lot of tripe, Ted Weatherby!” exclaimed Walter, looking up briefly from his examination of the racing pages. Ted took a moment to drain the last dregs of fluid from his beer mug before replying. “Well, that’s your opinion, Walter Fieldhouse, but I tell you – “ He stopped suddenly, interrupted by a loud twang coming from the vicinity of Walter’s midriff. The piece of string that that worthy had been using for years to fasten his trousers had finally given up the ghost, releasing the full volume of his ample stomach from its increasingly inadequate confinement, and it now flowed out from the top of his trousers like some vast hairy avalanche. “Looks like there’s some more acreage that wants coverin’”, observed a grinning Sally from behind the bar.

The 10-worder (corner, cold-stone, rolex, sole, effortless, raindrops, eyebrow, speaker, amusing, leapt)

New to Harold? The story so far is here.

His name was Steve Corner and he had been in telecoms ever since he’d managed to escape the dunghill town (as he privately thought of it) of Cold-Stone, Missouri. Although he’d been armed only with his high school diploma when he escaped, he’d impressed the hiring manager at Rainbow Telecom enough to get a place as a trainee engineer. He’d been bright and hard-working, and in a few short years had made it to Lead Systems Engineer, a good, well-paid position.

This morning, he was whistling Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head softly to himself as he sat down in front of his computer and logged in for another shift. His inbox was bulging with all the usual work requests, chasers for work requests, company Health and Safety bulletins and the like. One email, however, caught his eye. It was from a sender he hadn’t heard from in a while and had really hoped not to have to hear from ever again.

The sender was RolexBoy99. Steve sighed: they’d been trainees together and close friends once upon a time. So much so that RolexBoy had been the one he’d turned to when he’d hit and killed a pedestrian one night while driving home from a night out. There’d been no witnesses and Steve had fled the scene, terrified of what he’d done. RolexBoy had been supportive, had even urged him to go the cops at first, but had stood by him even when he hadn’t.

After a few months, RolexBoy had moved to another job and that had been that – until the emails started. They had always been just simple requests, getting Steve to alter RolexBoy’s phone records and reduce his bill, give him unlimited texts, that kind of thing. This one was different, though.

Hi Steve

One last favour – and I do mean the last one ever this time, buddy. I need the text of all messages sent to and from these numbers since 00:00 this morning


Do this for me and you’ll never hear from me again, promise.


Accessing subscribers’ messages without authorisation was cause for instant dismissal, of course, but Steve’s heart leapt at the thought of never having to give in to RolexBoy’s blackmail attempts ever again.

His hands fairly flew over the keyboard in an effortless dance of access codes and menu-shortcuts. Soon he had the information on screen. There was very little activity, as it tuned out. All of the traffic, it seemed, had been between just one of the numbers in RolexBoy’s list and one other.

There were several outbound calls – not answered, evidently, then an exchange of texts, starting with an outgoing one:

07993345276: All safe here. Please call or text as soon as possible. Othello.
07744332257: Safe also. Box says there is a traitor in OGS. Meet us at 1472 Goose Egg Drive. H
07744332257: Do you have an ETA? H
07744332257: Do you have an ETA? H
07744332257: Do you have an ETA? H
07993345276: On our way. O.

Out of curiosity, Steve called up the subscriber names for the two numbers. The first one was registered to Aunt Aggie’s Family Cheesecake Company, the second to a Mr Raymond Donnelley.

Not recognising any of the names, Steve shrugged and pasted all the information into a reply email and hit send. Now maybe RolexBoy would finally leave him alone. He started whistling again.

Seconds later, a tinny little computer speaker beeped to alert its user to an incoming email. The user shut down the game of solitaire with which he had been amusing himself and opened up the message.

It was a good thing he was currently the sole occupant of the room – his air-punch and whispered exclamation of Yessss! would have raised more than one eyebrow.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Through A Glass - Electronically

Attention anyone who does NOT have the eyesight of an eagle!

For ages now, I've been looking for some screen magnification software for my computer (Really?  We thought it would be for your dishwasher - Ed).  Windows itself comes with a magnifier which isn't bad, but takes up a lot of screen room and generally gets in the way a bit.

I wanted a magnifier that took up a small bit of the screen and that could be moved around to where I need it.  I found one a while ago and it looked promising, but was very disoppointing in that it kind of took a snapshot of the screen, magnified that and had to be reset if the screen changed in any way.

But then the day before yesterday I found it.

It's a screen magnifier that follows your cursor (you can have the cursor centred in the magnified bit or on one corner).  You can also set the magnified bit to sit in one part of the screen only, magnifiying the area around your cursor as it moves around.    Its size, shape, magnification level and opacity are configurable by the user.  You can set it to start automatically when Windows boots, or you can start it yourself.  When running, it can be toggled on or off at will by pressing a pre-defined set of keys (settable by the user).

In short, it's flippin' brilliant, as you can see from the screenshot below.

You can download the software for free from here

Thursday, 26 August 2010

A New Home in the Sky - Saucy Goings-On

The sky, as viewed from our 7th Floor eyrie, is what hack novelists might describe as ‘slate-grey’ or ‘leaden’ – an almost uniform shade of dullness with no break in the cloud-cover anywhere. It could be November. The rain is coming down in stair-rods. Spare Change Guy, who normally sits at the bottom of the steps to the underpass has had to move to higher ground or be drowned (one solution to the problem of begging, I suppose)

IL4-hitman Terry has been very quiet today, engrossed as he is in the proposed new International Linear Collider (Large Hadron Colliders are so yesterday, it seems).

JH, a female colleague from another team, wanders in with an envelope.

“Look at this,” she says, proffering the white rectangle. “I got this in the post this morning. It’s dead weird.”  I see nothing particularly weird about receiving an envelope - a device whose very purpose it is to convey mail messages - through one's letterbox, but wisely refrain from commenting.

I look at it. It’s an unremarkable white envelope which is neatly addressed and has what appears to be the correct postage on it. I turn it over, see nothing amiss, and look inquiringly at her.

“No,” she says, “Open it.”

I hadn’t wanted to do this uninvited as it was personally addressed to her and the gummy bit on the flap had resealed it, making it appear unopened. Anyway…

Inside are two items:

  • An individual sachet of tomato sauce
  • A blank compliment slip from a caravan site in Wales.

No other note, no writing on the slip, no explanation.

Apparently JH did visit this campsite many years ago, but is that any reason for them to be sending random condiments through the post?

Is it some kind of promotional? (remember how lovely our sauce sachets were?)

It is some kind of very oblique threat? (remember how awful our sauce sachets were?)

Why on earth would somebody spend money posting sauce sachets to people?

The world is a most mystifying place at times.

And still the rain continues.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Poetry Bus - Overslept

Well, the Muse stayed in bed all day Monday and Tuesday, the lazy mare.  She finally showed up, half-dressed, her hair and make-up a complete mess and smelling of drink.  I was going to send her home as being unfit for work but, hey, at least she got here in the end.

This week's challenge poetique was set here by Chiccoreal.  I chose the morning-related prompt and this is what transpired:


The alarm’s diamond drill-bit
Whines, and cracks go spidering
Across the surface of my dreams.

The fish-head man, the flooded bathroom,
The argument we were about to have,
And the apples with human faces shatter and fall.

I unglue my eyes into waxy morning light.
I cannot yet escape the gravity-well of the duvet,
So I savour the delicious warm lethargy awhile.

But Monday is calling and will not be denied.
My bare feet touch the bedroom carpet
And I’m surprised it’s not covered in pieces of dream.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Saturday Wordzzle 123

Technically, it's Sunday now and I'm late again for the Wordzzle game this week. Don't Feed the Pixies gave us a selection of words associated with the Rolling Stones's album, Exile on Main Street and some of them were tricky, to say the least (took me forever to dispose of Rip This Joint).

Anyhoo, go to Raven's Nest for next week's words and this week's other players.

The Mini (wine, plundered, signifying, river, survivor)

"Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing!" brays celebrated wine critic Nigel Ingram-Baynes in that annoying, adenoidal voice of his. He sets down the empty glass, scribbles something – derogatory, no doubt - on his clipboard and moves on to the next contestant's offering. It's always the same. Every year, I enter my best bottling into Le Gourmet magazine's fine wines competition, and every year that fat, smirking, imbecile slurps and smacks and then condemns it with some hackneyed witticism. Last year it was: "I have sampled wine so fine it must have been plundered from the wine cellars of heaven itself," pause for dramatic effect, "Unfortunately, this one cane from a very different place." The thing is, my wines are among the best and I'm not just saying that because they're mine. Ingram-Baynes knows this perfectly well, of course, but his bitterness will not allow him to acknowledge it. We were friends once. I was just starting out as a grower and he was a wine writer for the local paper. Both our careers were on the up: the Cherry River valley soil was giving me some excellent grapes and he was making his name as a critic and connoisseur. Then one night, everything changed. I was driving him back to town after a convivial evening at my place. It was dark, it was late, and the valley roads are notoriously narrow and twisting. I didn't see the other car until it was too late. I swerved and we went over the edge, rolling over and over, finally coming to rest upside-down in the dried-out bed of the Cherry River itself. The emergency services got us out eventually, telling us how lucky we were since they'd expected to find not one single survivor. True, we had survived, but we were not unscathed. Amongst other things, I lost the sight in one eye, but he lost something more – his sense of smell. Smell plays the major part in the sensation of taste and, as such, is a wine critic's worst nightmare. He's clever, though, is Nigel, and keeps himself well-enough informed to keep up the pretence of being able to taste. Over the years he's developed a flamboyant and colourful presentation style which has netted him his own TV show and no end of book deals. I have kept his secret all this time, but he has never forgiven me for what happened that night and every year, he makes sure I know it.

The 10-worder (rocks, rip this joint, casino, tumbling dice, frayed, angel, cup, on the run, ventilator, face)

New to Harold? The story so far is here.

"So what do we do now?" Prada wanted to know. "The demon's disappeared and, let's face it, we're no nearer to solving this thing than we were before."

"Can you not track him down," asked Teatime, "the same way you did when he and I were on the run from you before?"

"No," sighed India, "We were only able to catch up with you that time because I planted a tracking device in the demon's backpack – which, as you can see, is sitting right over there."

"We're not completely out of leads yet," said Othello. "We've still got our traitor to find plus something that occurred to me while we were sitting around with those UPS guys." He turned to Reverend Box.

"You said you worked on project Dynamo with another agent - Mark Rainbow. If he's still around then maybe whoever is trying to revive the project has approached him. Do you know where he is now? Maybe would could talk to him."

Box looked less than happy at this turn in the line of enquiry. He scratched one of his large ears for a moment before answering.

"Rainbow and I didn't exactly part on the best of terms." he began, "We'd worked on the project for ages, thrown our whole lives and a lot of OGS resource into it, and had got pretty frustrated at our lack of progress. Then he had this crazy idea that instead of Dismissing the next demon OGS came across, we should just Bind it and keep it around for study. I was totally against it – as was the OGS hierarchy when I told them, so the project was canned. Our relationship became more than a little frayed after that, shall we say. The way he saw it, I'd sabotaged his life's work, but it would have been far too dangerous – a Bound demon is still a demon after all."

Prada, who had been fiddling with her phone as Box talked, suddenly spoke up.

"Your Mr Rainbow wouldn't be related to the Rainbows of Rainbow Industries, would he?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact, he is," replied Box, "He's Jonathon Rainbow's younger brother and because of him OGS was able to buy quite a lot of equipment from Rainbow Industries for the Dynamo Project. When it was canned I think he got some heat from his older brother for allowing a lucrative arrangement to come to an end."

"That's very interesting," said Othello, "I don't know why we didn't think about this before. Rainbow is well-connected and might well be motivated to try to complete his life's work, wouldn't you say?"

"It's possible, I suppose," admitted Box, scratching his ear again, "But, last I heard, he was badly injured in a climbing accident at Casino Rocks. There's a part of it called Tumbling Angel, where you have to climb along hanging upside down from a roof-crack like Yosemite's Separate Reality. His safety wasn't hammered in hard enough and he fell a good forty feet. He was lucky to be alive, but the accident left him paralysed and, while his mind's OK, he's permanently on a ventilator now. I suppose he could be trying to finish the project, have one last throw of the dice, as it were, but it seems unlikely."

"He could have handed over the project to someone he trusted, though, someone able-bodied, maybe." said Othello. "Rainbow could be bankrolling it and providing guidance..?"

"I guess," Box acknowledged doubtfully.

"We have to check him out, surely." said Prada, "If only to eliminate him."

"And what of our traitor," added Teatime, "If this Rainbow chappie is really behind everything then our traitor must be connected to him in some way, keeping him informed of our movements and so forth. Is it worth looking again at those files you downloaded - or at Rainbow's own file for that matter?"

"Monkey's got a point," said Mercury, "It's something tangible to look for at any rate." He stifled a yawn. "It's been a long time since any of us slept. I suggest some of us take a nap while the others get another cup of coffee and start searching the records. We can take turns."

"Shouldn't somebody keep watch?" asked India.

"Fat lot of good it did us last time," said Prada. Then, seeing a faint bloom of red blossom under Othello's dark skin, she patted his shoulder, "Sorry, Othello, that was out of line."

"It's OK," he sighed, "I shouldn't have opened the door, it was stupid."

"Well, those guys got what they wanted, so I don't suppose we'll be seeing them again." said India. "I'll keep an eye out though, just in case. Let me just go and splash some cold water on my face first."

Meanwhile, Othello had booted his computer and was accessing the OGS system once more using Opal's password.

"What was Rainbow's codename as an agent?" he asked Box.

"Oh, it was Wood," replied Box, "after Ronnie Wood from the Rolling Stones. He was a huge fan of theirs, always playing their stuff while we were working. Boy, if I never have to hear Rip This Joint again it'll be too soon."

Othello's fingers tapped keys and brought up Agent Wood's file. An image of the agent stared out at him from the screen. Othello frowned.

"What's up?" asked Box, seeing the change in Othello's expression.

"It's probably the tiredness kicking in but there's something really familiar about that face and yet I'm pretty certain I've never met this guy."

"Well, he does resemble his older brother, Jonathon." said box, "You've probably seen him in the media about a million times."

"I suppose that could be it," said Othello, "But I'm sure I've seen a face like this just recently, but I can't put my finger on who it is or where it was." His fingers drummed lightly on the table as he tried to remember. "Nope," he said, after a while, "It's not coming back to me."

At that moment, the doorbell rang.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Saturday Wordzzle 122

I really struggled with Harold's story this week, which is why I'm relatively late posting my Wordzzle.  I've recently been reading a book called How Not to Write a Novel, by Sandra Newman & Howard Mittelmark, in which the authors tell you all the stupid mistakes you need to make to make sure your novel gets rejected and never sees the light of day.  It's very amusingly written, with pretend excerpts from dodgy novels by way of illustration.  I was hugely depressed to see just how many such mistakes my own writing contains.  Sheesh!

To read Raven, instigator of Wordzzles' post and see the other wordzzlers, go here.

Words for next week are curtesy of Don't Feed the Pixies.  Who is KILLING ME with his Rolling Stones words!

10-worder: rocks, rip this joint, casino, tumbling dice, frayed, angel, cup, on the run, ventilator, face
The Mini: wine, plundered, signifying, river, survivor

But on with this week's fun.

The Mini (gradual, eagle's nest, martyrdom, pizza, pugilist)

It was Jimmy "Hammer of God" DeCampo that ended Teddy's glittering career as a pugilist. Somehow though, even before setting foot in the ring, Teddy had known it would be his last fight. Oh, it wasn't that he wanted to lose – far from it! No, he'd done his best to make sure that DeCampo didn't walk away with an easy victory. Thing is, he'd had this dream the night before. He'd seen himself lying out cold on the canvas with DeCampo dancing around above him, proclaiming another 'martyrdom', the idiot. 'Hammer of God', indeed! The Eagle's Nest stadium had been packed to capacity that night with baying fight fans. The referee had given the usual pre-fight peps and warnings, the bell had sounded, and the rest was a grey fog. One of DeCampo's fists had connected with Teddy's left temple and he had gone down in the ninth, just like in his dream. He never fought again after that. He bought a boxing gym and presided over its gradual decline into bankruptcy, worked step-and-fetchit jobs to make a few bucks, and now here he was at nearly fifty, waiting for the doorbell to ring, waiting for the pizza boy. He hated pizza, but this was a special order. "Hello, Jimmy." he'd say, opening the door, "How's the martyrdom business going?"

The 10-worder (summer time blues, glasses, google, pregnant pause, integrated, suit and tie, parallel parking, shimmering, post card, slam dunk)

New to Harold? The story so far is here.

Mr Teeth placed his glasses on the desk as Harold sat down opposite him. They'd been an impulse purchase when he'd stopped at the drugstore for some whey powder on the way here. Far from fixing his reading problems, however, all the glasses had done thus far was to give him a headache. He resisted the urge to rub the spot between his eyes.

"You can leave us," he informed the two fake UPS guys. "Tell Mr Peck to send me his final bill."

The one called Jeff grunted assent and the two men left the room, closing the door quietly.

There was a pregnant pause as Mr Teeth regarded Harold for a moment, noting the latter's change of clothes since the last time they'd met at Baron Samedi's. The little punk was still going with the scruffy look, it seemed, in contrast to his own businesslike dark suit and tie. Over the years, Mr Teeth had come to believe that his hugely muscular frame made much more of an impact on people when he dressed smartly. Jeans and t-shirts were all well and good when putting pressure on some kid in a back alley, but Mr Teeth himself rarely needed that kind of muscle these days - not that he didn't like to keep up the training, of course.

He leaned forward, steepling his fingers. The desk creaked slightly as he rested his elbows upon it.

"I've gone to a lot of trouble and expense to get you here," he said, "So I'll cut to the chase: I can see why you'd want to torch the club after we threw you out, but what have you done with my boss?"

So that's what it was all about! Harold was relieved. It seemed he wasn't about to be 'disappeared' after all. He remembered seeing Mr Teeth on the TV news saying he thought he knew who had burned down the club, but had never for a moment thought he was actually going to follow up on his suspicions – especially not to the extent of hiring people to kidnap him. He decided that the truth would be the best bet in this situation.

"Well," Harold said, "first of all, I didn't burn down your club and I have absolutely no idea where Baron Samedi is or what happened to him. I was actually in the middle of trying to find that out when your people waved guns at my friends and dragged me over here."

"You expect me to believe that?" said Mr Teeth.

Harold shrugged, "It's the truth. I wasn't even in town that night."

Mr Teeth did vaguely remember Mr Peck telling him that Harold had been seen getting on a train the day of the fire, but had decided that the little punk must have sneaked back into town on a later train or something. Who else could it have been?

Before he could pursue this line of thought any further, the silence was broken by the voice of Eddie Cochran singing I'm a-gonna raise a fuss, I'm a-gonna raise a holler.... It was Mr Teeth's phone. He picked it up, glanced irritatedly at the caller id and shut it off, putting an abrupt end to Mr Cochran's summertime blues.

"Look," said Harold, "I can prove I wasn't in town,"

So saying, Harold twisted his wrists apart, snapping the already weakened plastic cable-tie securing them. Seeing the sudden movement, Mr Teeth jumped out of his chair, gun in hand, pointing at Harold's head. Harold quickly held up his own hands to forestall any unpleasantness. Mr Teeth couldn't actually kill him, of course, but he'd already had to repair a considerable amount of damage to his vessel recently and he doubted Mr Teeth would be understanding enough to offer him pizza like the Reverend Box had.

"I'm just getting something out of my wallet," He said.

Mr Teeth lowered the gun slowly,

"You should have said what you were doing first," he grumbled, sitting down again.

Harold fished out his wallet. If he remembered rightly, it should still be in there tucked behind the bills. Yes!

"Look at this," Harold said, holding out a crumpled piece of paper.

"What is it," asked Mr Teeth, taking it.

"The bill from the Motel I was staying at that night."

Mr Teeth unfolded the paper and studied it for a few moments.

"You could have got this anywhere, it doesn't prove anything."

"You could always call them. I'm pretty certain they'll remember me, I left in rather a hurry and there was some damage." One kicked-in door, one smashed bathroom window...

Mt Teeth picked up his phone and, keeping a wary eye on Harold, dialled the Sleep-E-Zee Motel.


The Listener was awake again. No, that was too strong a word. The Listener was aware again. The voices were back, just on the edge of its hearing.

"If you don't believe me, just google 'parallel parking accident', the video's hilarious!" This was a new voice, quite deep and clearly amused at something.

"OK, if we can just focus on the job here please, people," This was the mosquito-voiced Dr Flowers, the Listener seemed to remember. "OK, careful now. Haynes, bring that dolly a bit closer will you? That's it. OK. Now lift."

"Ok, Doc, this'll be a slam dunk!"

There came a metallic whining noise and the Listener felt an unpleasant change in its world. A sort of slow invisible shimmering ran through its being like ink diffusing languidly through water. The whining stopped abruptly and the shimmering began to subside.

"Easy there," said another voice, deeper this time, "it's not quite centred. Haynes, move it a bit to the left will you?"

The machine-whine came again and with it the unsettling swirling feeling. Each swirl was almost enough to scatter the Listener's consciousness to oblivion. It was all it could do to hold on to the tatters of its self, to keep them integrated. The Listener wanted the swirling to stop. There had been a time when it could have made it stop, it thought. When was that? Memories hovered just out of reach, each one a faded postcard too indistinct to make out. Given time, though, the Listener felt sure it could make sense of them. Given time.

Suddenly, the Listener's world lurched and the voices were all shouting at once.

"Haynes, you idiot! I said LEFT!"

"Watch it!"


The whining noise cut off.

"Sorry, Doc, the damn tank swung when I wasn't expecting it," said a voice (Haynes's?), "I've got it now. I've got it."

"Alright," this was the Flowers voice again - it sounded very nervous. "Just slide the dolly a bit further under and let it down more slowly this time. There's absolutely no rush."

Another whine and swirl, albeit much shorter this time.

"That's got it," said one of the deeper voices, "Dead centre now, Doc."

"OK," said the Flowers voice, "Now unhook the chains and let's get it loaded into the truck, but for goodness sake, take it slowly!"

The world moved again, in a different way this time and, exhausted, the Listener allowed the swirling to carry it away into the dark.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

A New Home in the Sky - Beggars Belief

Well it turns out that Terry, our ex-SAS/Black Ops/Poundland IL-4 killing machine has not actually rubbed out Spare Change Guy after all. No, the local Police have decided that our town would be heaps better off without any beggars importuning strangers and generally making the place look untidy, so they've rounded them all up.


Spare Change Guy was inoffensive enough, never actually asked for money – unlike that other guy. That other guy who dresses in a suit, has what looks like a corporate ID hanging round his neck and gives out a sob story of being stranded so please could you spare a quid for the phone? Yeah, that guy! Soft-hearted numbskull that I am, I believed him and gave him some money. Next day, I run into him again, playing exactly the same script word for word. It's enough to give beggars a bad name. I suppose I should admire his ingenious use of costume and props, but I'm too small-minded and bitter to do that.

I don't mind begging as such, it's a hard world out there, but I won't be made a fool of. Spare Change Guy was pleasant and friendly and always wished us a good day even if we didn't give him anything (I actually did on a few occasions - soft-hearted numbskull, remember?). But Fake Stranded Guy is just annoying and deceitful, so let's hope the cops swept him up good.

In other news, the word is that we are all to be given a second laptop to do our super-secret IL-4 work on. Niiiiice. I like to walk the three-and-a-half miles to work, so now I'll have to carry two computers on my back.  Plus, the IL-4 laptop has to be kept in a lockable metal box when not in use.  That's going to be heavy and a tad awkward to fit in my backpack, methinks.

Maybe I could hire one of these beggars to be my porter.  Not Fake Stranded Guy though.  No job for him, the toe-rag.

Monday, 9 August 2010

The Poetry Bus Summer Edition

This week, the Poetry Bus is being piloted once more by the learned Professor Jeanne Iris over at Revolutionary Revelry, where the challenges - for there be three of them - have been set.

I chose the prompt about summer.  Now, my ticket may not be entirely valid for this journey as we were supposed to write about a sensory experience connected to a summer memory but, being a bit rubbish and a bit rushed, I thought I'd write about something a friend and I did when we were twelve, maybe thirteen.  It is a summer thing, it is a memory, and it contains the word hottest, so I just hope the ticket inspector doesn't choose this journey to come and inspect our tickets.

Summer Quest

It was the brightest day of the hottest summer ever.
We were thirteen and we had a plan.
We had talked of it, thought of it, imagined it,
And now it was finally to be. Finding Day,
The day we were going to search for it.

We had seen it from the bus,
We had seen it from the road,
Peeking above the distant houses,
Geodesic, white and mysterious.

Avid devourers of Asimov, Wells,
Arthur C Clarke and all the Science-Fiction rest,
We dreamed our own purpose upon the dome,
Alien, faceted, and gleaming white
Amid the Gasworks' grimy grey pipe and clutter.

Armed with our wits and tepid orange squash,
Unhindered by the gluey tar of melting roads,
We navigated back-street and waste ground.
Then, through chain-link diamonds, we gazed in wonder.

We had got as close as mere mortals were allowed.
The dome loomed silent over us, forever beyond reach.
This was a place hallowed to Authorised Personnel Only.
KEEP OUT signs and padlocks were to defeat us in the end.
That, and the fact it was nearly teatime.

To this day, we never got any closer to our dome.
To this day, its purpose remains a mystery.
To this day, we get together for lunch sometimes
And laugh about our Summer Quest.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Saturday Wordzzle 121

Wordzzle-day comes but once a week - which is probably just as well, really, since I don't think I could do this more than once.

Head on over to Raven's Nest, for rules, guidance, and other players.

Want to play next week?:

Pick a challenge or two (or do all of them if you like) and write a piece which uses the words below.

10-word challenge: summer time blues, glasses, google, pregnant pause, integrated, suit and tie, parallel parking, shimmering, post card, slam dunk

Mini-challenge: gradual, eagle's nest, martyrdom, pizza, pugelist

Mega-challenge: Combine all 15

Now on to my efforts:

The Mini (pepper, island, quintuplets, organic, treaty)

I am the last of the Peppers on Pepper Island, the youngest by fifteen whole minutes of quintuplets – the last fertile hurrah of a family already dying out. My older siblings have all either moved away or died long since. The island was granted to my ancestors by some obscure, half-forgotten treaty a couple of hundred years ago and there have been Peppers here ever since. But, as I say, I am the last, and I think I will not likely see out the winter. I won't starve: between my stores of dried and tinned goods, plus the few crops in the garden – organic by necessity since I can't get hold of any chemical fertilisers – I'll have enough to eat for as long as I need. The well provides fresh water and my faithful little wind turbine turns out enough power for my meagre needs. No boats come here any more and I doubt anyone will miss me when I'm gone. No, I'll just slip away and leave Pepper Island to the birds, the rabbits and the busy insects, and to the wide, wide, restless sea.

The 10-worder (swiss cheese, operation, frantic, quizzical, control, shallow, wedding, paranoid, orange, marginal)

New to Harold? The story so far is here.

The UPS truck rattled to a halt and the driver turned off the ignition. After the racket of the truck's diesel engine, the quiet was sudden, and Harold was surprised to hear birdsong coming from somewhere nearby. They were here, then – wherever 'here' was.

The back doors of the truck were opened and the occupants got out. Wherever here was, it was certainly nice. A long curving gravel drive wound its way up from the main road through a grove of scented orange trees. In front of a large house, fountains played noisily up and down in a large shallow pool the size of a small lake. The house itself looked like one of those experimental projects that architects like to feature in their portfolios to impress rich clients – it was a bold statement in wedding-cake pink stucco. Here and there, circular windows had been dotted, seemingly at random, giving the whole thing a curious Swiss cheese look. As he was marched up the gleaming white marble steps leading to the house's huge front doors, Harold could not help but think that there were worse places to end one's days – if it came to that..


Teatime worked on the delicate operation of freeing the stupid human OGS leader with as much speed and as little blood-loss as possible. Once or twice, he had to control a sudden desire to bite the man's hand – the old un-reconstructed monkey in him coming out, no doubt. He hated being this close to humans, they smelled horrid and had big, frightening hands that could grab and hold onto a little monkey like him and do whatever horrible pointless experiments they wanted - and had done just that in the past.

Finally the last bit of plastic parted and the job was done. Mercury briefly rubbed his wrists where the cable-tie had dug into his skin, thanked Teatime, and went into the kitchen to find some scissors or a knife to free the others.

Teatime looked up to see the other agents looking at him with a quizzical expression.

"What's the matter?" he asked. "Have I got something in my teeth?"

"Oh, nothing, "said Prada, "We just didn't realise monkeys could growl, that's all."


The interior of the house was cool, pale and fashionably minimalist in decor. The tasteful monotony of cream walls and blond wood floor was relieved here and there by vividly–coloured abstract paintings. To Harold's untrained eye they looked more like the frantic daubings of a chimpanzee than the subtle expression of some deep artistic truth, but then Harold would be the first to admit that his knowledge of painting was marginal at best.

'Jeff' the fake UPS worker, knocked politely on one of the pale wooden doors leading off the hallway, then opened it to allow Harold and the other UPS guy to enter.

Whatever Harold, in his current, rather paranoid state had been expecting, it certainly wasn't the sight of an african-american man-mountain sitting behind a desk, a pair of steel-rimmed spectacles perched with incongruous delicacy on his nose, fingers tapping away on a computer keyboard.

Mr Teeth removed his glasses and used them to point to a chair.

"Siddown," he growled, "You got some explainin' to do."

Wednesday, 4 August 2010


It's a truism that sometimes the most well-meaning acts can have the most unfortunate consequences.

The patient before me is one Andaz McClintok, although he doesn't answer to that name – none of my patients will answer to their birth names – but I will not humour him by addressing him the way I know he wants me to, the way he is used to being addressed. This is not spitefulness on my part, believe me. Andaz and the other thirty-three like him have got to adapt to their new lives now, whether they like it or not, and part of that adaptation involves having and using a personal name.

A course of intensive physiotherapy has reversed some of the severe muscle atrophy in this patient, but underneath his white hospital gown, his arms and legs are still stick-thin and he cannot as yet walk unaided. His skin is still dead-white and it will take some time for the pigment to build up enough for him to go outside safely. His hair will never grow back, of course - all his hair follicles were destroyed to prevent hair growth interfering with his Interface. His scalp is a smooth white egg apart from the tracery of thin red scars spidering over its surface where the Interface connections were surgically removed.

He eyes me dully as I sit down opposite him and wish him a good morning. His breakfast tray lies nearby, untouched. His gaze drifts down to his hands folded neatly in his lap - still thin and clawlike despite the therapy.

"Andaz. Andaz?" I repeat his name until I manage to break into his reverie and he looks up at me – either that or he's just fed up of hearing his name over and over, "Andaz, you have to eat. We talked about this, didn't we? You agreed to start taking your meals last time I was here. Don't you remember?"

He looks at the tray with the same lack of interest as he looked at me – and at everything else, then allows his gaze to settle once more on his folded hands.

"Andaz, look," I say, trying to bring him back to the here and now once more, "I know you're not used to eating. I know it must be strange and distasteful, but this is how things are now, you have to accept this. Dr Maddizon says your digestive system is fully functional now so please, at least try something."

I place the tray in front of him. The food's not bad, actually, and smells appetising even to me. Maybe the smell gets to Andaz too because, after a minute of so of incurious staring, he gropes for the plastic spoon next to the bowl and guides a wavering spoonful into his mouth. I can see his jaw working as he moves the food around inside his mouth, getting all the different flavours – or so I think.

He lets the spoon fall back into the bowl and pushes the tray away again.

"Don't you like it?" I ask, "I can get something else brought in?"

"No flavour," he replies. His voice, so long unused, is hardly more than a croak.

Suddenly, he buries his face in his hands and does the most human thing I have observed him do so far – he begins to weep, his body convulsing with great wracking, utterly abandoned sobs.

On an intellectual level, of course, I know perfectly well what this poor shrivelled man must be going through – I am a trained psychologist after all - but it is only now that the full force of the loss he has endured, and the utter hopelessness he must be feeling, really hits me.

The Compassionate Uses Act of 2657 was meant to do good. It was meant to put an end to what was essentially a form of slavery.

It had long been the case that only the human brain possessed the necessary complexity and processing power required to navigate a starship safely across the void – and only the rarest type of brain, at that. Children were tested at age seven – and those precious few who passed the tests were Interfaced, becoming, in effect, a starship's living heart and brain. Their frail human bodies were replaced by a sleek metal hull, as their ears and eyes were replaced by long- and short- range sensors, able to scan the full width of the electromagnetic spectrum, not just the tiny slit of the visible available to ordinary humans. Their limbs were replaced by Tachyon-Ion converters and all of space was theirs to roam.

They had had no choice as children.

We gave them no choice as Ships.

With the advent of sufficiently advanced neural net AI to replace them, it was decided that we, as a society, would undo the injustice we had perpetrated against the ship-children as they were called. We would free the poor creatures "trapped" inside the remaining thirty-four starships still in existence.

The ships were ordered home and, once there, their human pilots were disconnected and brought here. The ships themselves were dismantled.

As I say, sometimes the most well-meaning acts can have the most unfortunate consequences. We have freed their bodies, of course, but in so doing, we have deafened, blinded and crippled them.

How can the flavour of a bowl of soup compare with the subtle 'taste' of millions of different particles as they stream through your detectors?

How can seeing the most beautiful landscape compare with being able to survey the majesty of the very stars themselves in all their glory?

How can walking or running compare with gliding along the curve of space at near lightspeed?

"Oh, Ship," I whisper, "What have we done?"