Saturday, 20 October 2012

Assuming anyone's still around to read this....

It's been a while and I've no credible excuses either.

Anyway, here's an old Wordzzle:

Words to include: Speech, local, crowd, rock fall, back-scratcher

Sam did not consider hismself a hero – local or otherwise, and eyed the front page of the Town Gazette with distaste.  ‘Local hero saves OAP from rock fall!’ screeched the headlines.  A small crowd had formed outside his house, which was very annoying when, hero or not, he still had to get to work.  Headlines didn’t pay the mortgage after all, did they?  Sighing, he pulled open the front door and tried to push his way through  to his old car.  “Speech!  Speech!” chanted the crowd.  “Unctious! Dish-mop!  Perfidy!  Herringbone! Back-scratcher!” he shouted back at them.  Startled, the people quieted immediately, then began to mutter in puzzlement to one another.  While they were thus occuppied, Sam jumped into his trusty old Volvo and executed his getaway,  which while not exactly speedy, was at least effective.
And some more Harold - almost there now, folks!  Catch-up, top right.

At the far end of the hall from where Harold, India, Box and Mr Teeth were grouped, a set of steel security doors swung open and a small group of Infinity employees trooped out, led by a middle-aged,  clip-board wielding woman, sporting a hastily-donned hi-vis vest blazoned with the words ‘Fire Marshal’.

Harold and India, invisible still in their suits, instinctively shrank back against the wall as the small group passed, no doubt heading for the door to the underground parking garage, which would be the nearest exit.  The fire marshal, seeing Box and Mr Teeth making no apparent move to exit the building, halted by them and began to insist that they leave with her group.
This was a tough one for Box: if he and Mr teeth failed to act normally and leave, suspicions would be aroused.  On the other hand, if they did as they were told, the demon and Agent India would be left on their own.  There was no way he could even tell where those two were right now, much less get any kind of signal to them.

“It’s probably just a drill,” he said quite loudly, ostensibly to the woman, “we’ll be all trouping back in here again in a minute, I bet.  Nothing to get worried about.”

She gave Box a slightly quizzical look and held out an arm in an ‘after you’ gesture.  Box and Mr teeth reluctantly turned and started walking.

Harold and India had discovered early on that they could see each other whilst the suits were powered up, even if nobody else could see them – a most sensible feature for a suit with military applications.  As the group of employees filed past, Harold beckoned to India and began running towards the security door, which was beginning to swing closed.  He had noticed that the doors were very thick steel and beyond them was a large, well-lit area.  Perhaps, he thought, Agents Mercury, Othello and Prada were being hed in there somewhere.  Not knowing what better to do and very keen not to get separated, India trotted after him.


The door to the conference room opened and four grim-looking guards stood in the corridor beyond.  The nearest of them barked at Mercury, Prada and Othello to accompany him and no nonsense.  The three agents did as they were told.

“Where’s Moon?”  Mercury asked the guard.

“Not here.” Replied the man, in a flat voice.

Outside, in the hallway, there was a quiet orderly bustle as the relatively few employees present in the building at this time of night made their way to the nearest exit, just like they’d no doubt drilled.

Pretty soon, they were in the Infinity parking lot.  The guards ushered them to stand apart from the main body of employees.

Mercury looked around, eyes narrowed, seeking possible escape opportunities.  There weren’t any but as his eyes swept over the small crowd of Infinity people, he was astonished to see….could it be?  Reverend Box and the big enforcer, Mr Teeth, dressed in something that looked like what the guards that captured them had been wearing.

He nudged Othello and gave a slight twitch of his head.  The other agent glanced casually over to where Mercury had indicated and his eyes widened slightly, but that was all.  He was not going to do anything to alert the guards.
Mr Teeth felt the vibration of the phone in his pocket.   He pulled it out and held it to his ear.  It was Pauli, asking for instructions now that things had apparently changed.  No part of their plan had included an inpromptu fire-drill after all.

“Wait ‘till we’reall  back inside, then carry on as agreed,” He said. 

Monday, 13 August 2012

Why You Should Clean Your Keyboard More Often Than You Do

Keybaords are seriously disgusting.  I cleaned mine a short while ago and was horrified at the astonishing diversity and sheer volume of crud that came out of it.

I'm sure I never ate THAT much crumbly cake while sitting at the computer.

Anyway, here's a cartoon about it.

Tip: kids' paintbrushes are excellent for the purpose.

Friday, 27 July 2012

The Curious Contingency of Human Happiness

What a difference a day makes.

On Tuesday, I was working on a piece of code for a client, a piece of code that should have been easy.

Should have been.

Thing was: no matter what I did with it, the darn thing Just. Would. Not. Run. 

I eyeballed it line by line, I printed it out and scrutinised it line by line (for some reason, printouts seem easier to read than screens) but, for the life of me,  I could not see where the problem was.

Now, this kind of thing really bugs me.  Being able to cut code is one of the things that I feel proud of and it’s kind of central to my image of myself as a competent techie (OK, I acknowledge the fact that most people wouldn’t WANT that to be part of their core belief about themselves, but there it is).  Like it or not, it's a key part of my self-worth.

This, of course, fuelled my mule-stubborn refusal to admit defeat.  It was after-hours, so bugging someone else with the problem wasn’t really an option either.  I was getting increasingly angry with myself for not being able to fix this stupid bit of code.

After a while, the insistent sound of my own fool head knocking against a brick wall finally woke me up to the fact that I was getting nowhere and, after a long day (getting longer with each resounding thud) the likelihood of a breakthrough was becoming increasingly remote.

So, with a heavy heart, I logged out and went home. 

It was not the search for the Higgs Boson.

It was not the search for the cure for cancer

It was just a stupid bit of code to allow some people in a stupid call centre to see potentially challenging cases coming up. 

Big Whoop.

But it had beaten me and I felt rubbish. 

The people in my head smelt blood in the water: my inner child threw itself on the ground and unleashed an epic tantrum while my inner critic got out his Big Book of Everything that’s Crap About You and began to read it in his foghorn of a voice.

The bad feelings pervaded the the evening at home like a kind of vile octopus ink; sometimes seemingly gone, only to swirl in and darken the water unpredictably the next moment.  It was nearly bedtime before the passing of time (assisted by a good session on the ukulele) diluted it.

I know I was ascribing way more importance to the incident than it deserved. 

I know there are millions starving and homeless in the world. 

I know I should be grateful for the good life that I have (and am, actually, very).

All good reasons to stop whingeing and get on with my life.

But reason doesn’t enter into it.

Next day, as you might guess, the problem could not have been more obvious if it had been waving a red flag whilst riding a white elephant at the head of parade featuring the massed marching bands of the Royal Marines.

And the sun was shining.

Maybe it was because of that, or maybe my inner child and inner critic had simply taken the day off to go to the beach or something, but either way, I felt good all of a sudden.

Friday, 6 July 2012

A New Home in the Sky - Nowt as Queer as Folk

My boss and I have many things in common: same number of legs (two, in case you were worried); we went to the same school/terror training camp, and we both enjoy eating our breakfast granola dry – no milk, no cream, no crème fraiche, no yoghurt nor any other dairy-based contaminant.

This fact in itself is not hugely important, but I needed something to start this entry off with, right?

Anyway, the other day, we just are about to tuck in when we discover ourselves to be spoonless.  I duly volunteer to rectify the situation by means of a quick raid on the staff kitchen.

“Don’t get any of the spoons with the blue handles,” says the Boss.

I should have been a bit suspicious at this point, but OK, no spoon with a blue handle it is.  He’s da Boss, after all.

Trouble is, I’m totally colour-blind, so I have no idea which of our many and delightfully diverse collection of Spoons Through the Ages have blue handles.  So, upon arriving at the kitchen (which has a pool table in it, incidentally) I cleverly decide to duck the issue by bringing back an all-metal spoon.  No colour means no BLUE colour, right?  

Damn, I'm so sharp it's a wonder I don't cut myself!

I sashay back to the office, smugly bearing a couple of metal spoons as if they are some kind of breakfast-y Olympic Torch.

Pride goeth before a fall…

Boss looks at the proffered utensil and shakes his head.

“But it’s definitely not got a blue handle,” I protest, “You said no blue handle, this has… no blue handle.”  I wave it about a bit for emphasis.

“Yeah,” he sighs, “But I have this phobia about all-metal cutlery.”

You see what I have to put up with?

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

When Cakes Square Off...

I'd like to introduce this cartoon with some intelligent, witty commentary about how I thought it up, but I can't.  I was eating cake, that's all.


Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Finally - A Harold Episode

If you've not been following this story, you can catch up using the Story So Far link, top right sidebar.

The van rumbled to a halt at the security barrier outside Infinity Recycling. A uniformed guard emerged from the gatehouse and approached. Box nudged the barrel against the van driver's ribs and hissed at him not to try any funny business. The driver wound down the van's window as the guard approached, and held up his id.

The guard examined it briefly, checked the photo against the driver’s face, nodded and went back into the gatehouse. A few moments later, the barrier swung up and the white van rolled into the compound.

'Take us to where you'd go if your mission had been successful,' ordered Box.

The driver nodded and swung the wheel around, piloting the vehicle around to the back of the building. He drew to a halt facing what looked to be a blank wall. Box looked at him quizzically. the man shrugged and pressed a button on the van's key fob.

Ahead of them, two sections of the wall slid apart, revealing a well-lit tunnel within.

'Wow, that was certainly well disguised,' murmured India from the back of the van. The vehicle jolted into motion once more and they headed into the tunnel which curved away to the right and sharply downwards.


Prada was pacing the room once more.

“It’ll be light soon,” she said to no-one in particular.

No-one bothered to answer her. Mercury was slumped in his chair, eyes closed, while Othello stared out of the window. A few triangular sandwich packets littered the long conference table, along with a few cans of drink.

Since a silent guard had dropped off the food and drink, they had been left to themselves. Prada sighed and moved to stand next to Othello at the window. There wasn’t much to see; the window looked out into an internal courtyard which boasted a patch of grass, some planting and a few seats – presumably for the Infinity staff members to take breaks.

“I can’t help feeling we should be doing more,” she continued.

“Like what?” asked Othello. “We can’t get out, we can’t contact anyone. Best we wait it out for now and see what happens.”

Prada sighed and turned to face into the room once more. Out or boredom, she let her eyes wander where they would, although she didn’t expect to see anything she hadn’t seen before: long, polished conference table; squeaky leather conference chairs, cupboards with nothing in them. Her eyes wandered to the ceiling. It was the usual suspended affair made up of tiles interspersed with long fluorescent light fittings.

“Could we get out through there?” she wondered aloud.

Othello turned to see what she was looking at.

“Doubt it,” he said, “The space above isn’t that big and I don’t think the structure would bear any of our weight.”

“Pity,” Prada sighed. Then she drew in a quick breath, before speaking in a low voice. “What about that?”

She pointed at the centre of the ceiling where a small round smoke detector protruded from the middle of a tile.

“Interesting,” agreed Othello, also in a low voice “but unless you’ve got some boy scouts to rub together…”

“I just might have,” grinned Prada.

She grabbed her jacket from where it hung on the back of one of the chairs and began ferreting in one of the pockets.

“A-ha!” she whispered, triumphantly, holding up a small, flat square of folded cardboard.

“Who knew a hole in one’s pocket could actually be useful?”

Othello stepped over to get a better view as Prada opened out the cardboard.

“Thank you, Crazy Jake’s Bar and Grill,” she breathed.

Inside the cardboard there were two matches


They left their erstwhile chauffeur gagged and bound in the rear of the van. There was a solid-looking door set in one wall of the basement car park and Mr Teeth and Box headed over to it. A few steps behind them, Harold and India followed.

A quick swipe of the Infinity goon’s id card resulted in a most satisfying clunk as the door’s locking mechanism disengaged. Box pushed the door open to reveal an empty, brightly-lit hallway leading away into the building’s interior.

“Looks clear enough,” grunted Mr Teeth.

He went through the door, followed by the others. Behind them, the door swung closed on its spring, locking with a click. Box glanced at his watch.

“Five minutes,” he said quietly.

Mr Teeth grunted acknowledgement.

The little party made its way along the hallway, Mr Teeth and Box leading, followed by an invisible India and Harold. They soon reached an intersection of corridors. There was nothing much to indicate the best way for them to go to find Mercury and the others. The goon hadn’t known – or had pretended not to know – where they would have been taken.

“There are some stairs through those doors up ahead,” said Box, indicating a set of double doors, above which someone had helpfully placed an emergency sign.

They began trotting down the corridor towards the stairwell.

Just as Box reached out his hand to push open the double doors, the air was split by the wail of a klaxon.

“Too early!” yelled Box above the racket. “Go to plan B!”

Thursday, 31 May 2012

I can do THIS with my thumb

This is the text (more or less) of a speech I gave last night at Toastmasters. 

It was an ordinary day.  I woke up late with a massive hangover, dashed to work, ducked into the ladies to tidy my hair and found my comb was missing.

Now, there are two things about that morning - one strange and one annoying.

The strange thing was that I had a hangover.  True, I had been at a works party the previous night – old Professor Farnsworth’s leaving do - but I was sure I'd only drunk lemon and lime all night.  My memories were strangely hazy though.

The annoying thing was that my comb was missing.  I was annoyed about that because I hate losing things generally and it had been a gift from an old friend.

Anyway, it couldn’t be helped, so I smoothed my hair as best I could, and got on with my day.

This was my first job.  I was a lab assistant at the prestigious Wissenschaftler Institute for Genetic Research, not far from here.

Then a few days later, my supervisor told me to take Professor Wissenshaftler his afternoon tea.  This was exciting and scary as I hadn’t met him before.
I knocked politely, entered and set down the tray.  As I did so, I noticed something sticking out from a pile of papers on his desk.

My Comb!

He’d.  Got.  My.  Comb.

I wanted to ask him about it, but I was very young, very nervous and he was a very intimating figure –a sort of dyspeptic Albert Einstein with the kind of hairstyle you get by sticking your fingers in a plug socket.

So I didn’t dare.

I decided to wait until everyone had gone home and then get it back. 
Eventually the time came. I peeped out and sure enough all was deserted, dark and silent.  I crept to the professor’s office.  Luckily, it wasn’t locked and I was soon once more in possession of my precious comb.

I turned and hurried back out.

It could have been the dark, it could have been my unfamiliarity with the place or even my giddy euphoria at getting the comb back, but I must have gone through the wrong door from the office because I now found myself in a different lab entirely.

I turned round to retrace my steps, but the door had clicked shut  behind me and for some reason didn’t open from this side.

In the dimness, I could just make out a door and window at the other end of the room.  I hurried over.  In case it was a dead end I risked a quick peep through the window to see what lay beyond.

And nearly fell over backwards when a pale face suddenly appeared on the other side of the glass.

I gasped in shock!

It wasn’t just a face it, was MY face!

Then I laughed.  The “window” was obviously a mirror, of course.  It’s your own reflection, idiot! I told myself.  Phew!

When my “reflection” started banging on the glass and shouting Get me out of here, I almost fainted.  I rushed to the door and unbolted it. 

My double emerged.

She really was just like me.  If you’re born a twin you’re probably used to seeing your double, but suddenly to become a twin is eerie to say the least.

She really was my double - even wearing the same green scrubs that we were obliged to wear in the lab. 

We had just a few moments to ponder this before all of sudden the lights came on.
“What do you think you’re doing here?” came an angry voice from the doorway behind me.  It was professor W, and he had a gun pointed at us.

“I got lost,“ I said lamely.

 “Well now you have to die!”

“What?” I cried, “I was just getting my comb back.  Can’t you just give me a written warning or something?”

“No, you have discovered my illegal secret human cloning experiment”.  He readied the gun.

“Wish I’d not bothered about that blasted comb now.” I said.

“What?” he said.

“The comb I bet you stole from me to get my DNA – I saw it on your desk and was just trying to get it back.”

“You imbecile!”  he laughed.  “I didn’t take your comb, you dropped it at Farnsworth’s leaving do, I kept meaning to give it back to you.”


“Besides, I needed more than a few stupid hairs.  I drugged your drinks at the leaving party, took the samples I needed then popped you back into bed at your house, none the wiser.  Now stick out your right thumbs!”

“Why?” we cried in unison.

“Because I only need the original one of you to continue the experiment and I can spot the clone by the extra thumb joint I gave it.”

“But you must know which is which,” I said, “I’m the original, the one that’s been living out in the world, she’s the clone, surely!”

“Not necessarily,” said the prof.  “I had a few drinkies at that party myself and can’t remember which of you I kept and which I took back home.  The clone has an extra thumb joint.  Now stick em out!”

We extended our trembling thumbs and he looked at them for a moment before raising the gun.

I snatched up a nearby Bunsen burner and hurled it at his head as he fired.
The shot went wild and smashed into a bunch of chemical jars which promptly exploded.  There was a blinding flash and a thunderous roar.  I felt myself flung across the room and everything went black.

I woke up in hospital with concussion and no major injuries other than a crushed right hand.  A concret beam had fallen on it apparently.  The surgeons fixed it up almost perfectly – apart from the thumb.

They said the explosion at the lab was a gas leak and even though the ruins were carefully searched, no trace of the professor or my twin was ever found.

So, am I the original me – with a broken thumb?

Or am I a clone – complete with the professor’s modification?

Even I’m not sure now.

All I can say is:

I can do THIS with my thumb.

(reveal strangely bendy thumb)


This is my actual thumb and it does bend back in an odd way.  It does this because as a child I used to make a kind of bridge with my hand on the table and lean my head on it when reading.  Over the years of pressing down, the joint acquired a larger range of movement.   

That's not as interesting though. 

What all this does demonstrate I think, is that you can make a story out of just about anything.

Monday, 21 May 2012

A Little Optimism

Not to try and be too diabetes-inducingly sweet or anything, but it strikes me that cats are a lot happier than people most of the time. 

Jus' sayin'.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012


This came out of nowhere this morning.


The thought of leaving here,
Leaving you,
Leaving this life,
Rolls around my head.

Like a brand-new gob-stopper.
It holds the promise of long sweetness.
It has not yet lost its bright colour.
But it’s still too big to swallow.

Maybe I’ll just suck on it for a while.
Feel it click against my teeth,
And when it’s small enough.
It’ll go down easy.

Not sure what our American friends call gob-stoppers.  They're a big ball of hard candy you suck on, they change colour as you suck.  They have a kind of aniseed-y flavour, usually.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Blessed Are the Meek

Recently, I was asked to write a short meditation on one of the Beatitudes.  This was the best I could do, cynic that I am.

Blessed Are the Meek

Blessed, you say. 


Blessed, because I stand aside while others get their way?
Blessed, because I put their needs first?
Blessed, because I can’t say ‘no’?
Blessed, because I don’t blow my own trumpet

Even though I do have a few good tunes?

Blessed are the doormats, for they shall be trodden on.

I just hope the Earth is worth it.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

A New Home in the Sky - So THAT's why he gets the big bucks!

Le Boss sashays into the office and up to my desk.

“Can you do me a favour,” he asks. Tiny tinkling alarm bells begin to sound in the empty, echoing recesses of my mind.

“Maybe,” I say as guardedly as if I were surrounded by a 10-foot-tall barbed-wire fence, a dozen machine gun nests and a regiment of Gurkhas. “What is it?”

“Can you take my place on a conference call tomorrow morning?” 

“Probably, what’s it about?”

“It’s to do with the Honest Bob the Plumbers contract.”  Now, we do a managed service thing for HBtP: call centre, website, etc. This is not my area at all; I only know from Klueless Support; I talk to machines all day, not people.

“But I don’t know anything about that,” I point out.

“Don’t worry,” he replies, “Just go on the call and listen to what everyone’s saying. You won’t need to do or say anything or make any decisions.”

I make a “what-the-flip?” face at him.

“It’s what I always do.” He says, and wanders off to find the kettle or engage in some other similarly critical, high-flying activity..

This is why he's paid more than me, obviously.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

More Magnifier Mumblings

I have written before about a software magnifier for the computer screen (you can read the piece here, if you so wish).

I thought at the time that the open source magnifier I had found was the bee’s knees, and, in fact, it was a very useful tool. As I continued to use it, however, I began to notice a few annoying quirks. Sometimes, for example, the movement of the’lens’ around the screen would become very jerky, which was very distracting. Also, the image quality degraded somewhat as the magnification increased (not hugely surprising, but not exactly desirable either).

So I more or less stopped using it.

Recently, I had occasion to buy a new mouse, as my old one kept acting like it was possessed by the devil, jumping around the screen on its own and so on.

I duly dispatched the Other Half to the local mouse emporium and he came back with a Microsoft mouse – a Wireless Mobile Mouse 3500 – to be precise.

Reading though the quick-start guide that came with it, I noticed that you could configure the scroll wheel so that if you clicked it, it invoked a magnifier. Sounded good, but I was never impressed with the magnifier that comes with Windows because it just gives you a fixed window which does not move around the screen with the mouse, which was the thing I wanted.  I thought I'd try it out anyway, just in case.


The magnifier (presumably a doctored version of the actual Windows one, but which moves around the screen with the mouse) is brilliant.

The image quality is excellent, and the movement so far has been flawlessly silky-smooth every time. You can toggle the magnifier off and on just by clicking the scroll wheel. With the open source one, you have to press CTRL-ALT-G on the keyboard to achieve the same effect.

You can also vary the size of the ‘lens’ by holding down the scroll wheel for a short time, whereupon you can drag the window border to the size you desire.  A larger 'lens' appears to give a larger magnification too (or it could just be my imagination).

This handy functionality is actually provided by the Microsoft Intellipoint mouse driver and I imagine anyone using this driver, regardless of the type of mouse, could configure their mouse to make use of it. I did try to see if I could achieve the same effect with a non-iltellipoint driver, but it did not work.

OK, I appreciate that screen magnification is probably of only tangential interest to most people but, if you’re getting on a bit and find reading the screen more of a struggle than you used to, this represents a fairly low-cost (my mouse was less than £30) visual aid.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Ludic Listening

I love reading.  Now, before you get the wrong idea, this is NOT going to be a post eulogising the joys of relaxing with a good book; we all know that’s a very satisfying and calming thing to do, so ‘nuff said.

No, as I said, I love reading, but of late it’s becoming more and more difficult.  I used to be able to spend several languid hours at a stretch with my nose between the covers and my mind off somewhere completely else. Now (I suppose it’s a function of aging) my eyes just can’t sustain that level of concentration – not to mention the monkey in my head that won’t sit still for anything, curse him! 

So, reluctantly, I have turned to audio books.  I say ‘reluctantly’ because in the back of my mind, on a high shelf next to the Bumper Box of Regrets, there’s a nasty little idea that having a book read to you is cheating somehow; little kids have stories read to them, not adults – at least not adults that can see.

This is nonsense of course; that venerable institution, BBC Radio Four, has ‘Book of the Week’ and ‘Book at Bedtime’ which is exactly that – someone reading a story.  Radio Four is definitely not a station for children.

Anyway, I’ve started listening to audio books and have discovered a few ways that they are actually better (dare I say it) that reading a print book.

You can enjoy the story while you are doing other things like cooking, exercising, doing a crossword or constructing a scale model of St Paul’s Cathedral out of matchsticks.

Sometimes, the makers will add a little music here and there which can, if done properly, really enhance the atmosphere of the story.  With a print book, you’d have to add this for yourself in your head and who thinks to do that?

The reader, if they’ve been well chosen, can bring the story to life with just a few differences in emphasis or vocal tone and pitch.  Actually, here’s a question: when you are reading to yourself, do you ‘hear’ your voice in your head reading the story or do the words just somehow flow into your head and create meaning?  I personally ‘read’ to myself.  My husband does not and, as a result, sometimes does not see puns and other word-play jokes in the text.  What do you do?

More than one person can enjoy the story at the same time.  My hubs and I are currently working our way through a series of audio books – The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher – and it is so gratifying to turn off the TV and just sit quietly together listening and responding to the stories.  This is a bit harder with a print book!


Any of the Jeeves & Wooster stories by P G Wodehouse as read by Jonathan Cecil.  These are just hilarious!

The Harry Potter books as read by the ubiquitous Stephen Fry.  Mr Fry’s rich, plummy voice is just right for these and there’s loads more detail in the books than the films.  I’m fairly sure I don’t have to explain the whole Harry Potter thing by now.

The aforementioned Dresden Files books as read by James Marsters (Spike from 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer').  These are also about a wizard called Harry, but one who happens to be the only Wizard Private Investigator listed in Chicago’s phone book.   The world that the author describes in these stories is our own, complete with mobile phones, cars, guns, etc.  The stories are fast-paced and tightly plotted. Harry Dresden and the other main characters are sympathetic and believable.  Well worth a go in print or in audio form.  Mr Marsters’s vocal talents are just perfect for this gritty series.

So yeah, I love reading, but now I’m learning to love listening too.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Wordzzle Gummidge

Yes, Top Gear's on the telly, so naturally I'm writing a blog.  Am I mad?  Top Gear's on!  The best car-related entertainment show EVER!

Anyway, to business.  Go to Raven's Nest for the rules and suchlike.  Join in already!

This mini may be from a coupla weeks ago, can't remember and am too idle to check.

Challenge words: melody, crank, broken, space, chill

The melody repeats itself in my head over and over and over like a broken record. It was playing on the car radio as I drove into work and has attached itself to my every thought like some kind of musical limpet. The annoying part is that it was not the complete song that is lodged in there, just a chunk of the chorus – something about joy in space. Appropriate, I suppose. The night air is crisply chill, as I wind the crank. Above me, a segment of the domed roof slides creaking back, revealing my night’s work.
The stars.
Joy in space.
Oh, yeah.

And this week's dollop of Harold (catchup link top right)

“Well, I hate to say it, old button,” said Teatime, “But I did tell you so. These OGS types are putting up with you only for as long as takes to resolve the current situation. I must say I’m glad you’ve finally seen it for yourself. Mind you,” He paused for a wicked moment, “I’m surprised that Agent India waited this long before using her taser on you again.”

“Oh, ha, ha,” replied Harold sarcastically, “I might have known better than to expect sympathy from you, but I really thought we were finally getting somewhere here. She even agreed with my idea of getting Mr Box out of the hospital. I’m such an idiot.”

“For the record,” said the little monkey, “She was acting for the good of the mission, if what you have told me is true. I’m sure she took no pleasure whatsoever in it.” He could barely keep his little mouth from stretching into a grin as he said this, however.

Harold knew the little fellow was right of course – he usually was, the smartypants. That didn’t make it any easier to accept, though. He sighed to himself. Why, oh, why did he always have to crave everyone’s friendship and approval? You’d have thought that after all these years he’d have grown out of that particular weakness, especially since that was precisely the character defect that had got him banished to the Basement along with the rest of the rebels all those long desolate years ago – as his father never tired of pointing out.

Live and learn?

Apparently not.

“What are you two talking about?” asked India. Harold and Teatime had been talking in low tones in Infernal for privacy.

“Nothing,” replied Harold curtly.

India raised an eyebrow: clearly the demon was still ticked off. She didn't care.  It wasn't like she needed its forgiveness anyway.

Harold, Teatime, Mr Teeth and India were travelling in the back of the Infinity Recycling van. Driving the van was a very morose member of unit four, whose cooperation was being encouraged, so to speak, by the gun that Box was pointing at him from the passenger seat. As an additional assurance of his good behaviour, the other members of the team were being held – after some rough but effective first aid - at Mr Teeth’s house by some of Pauli’s men. The rest of Pauli’s people were following on in their own vehicle.
Box was wearing a silver suit cobbled together from the least visibly damaged bits of the suits that the intruders had been wearing. That the ski mask-like headgear that went with the suits obscured his features was an added bonus.

Mr Teeth had not been happy to have one of the Infinity Recycling people drive the van but, as Box pointed out, they would need someone with valid credentials to get past the security guard at the gate. What happened after that… well, any battle plan was only any good until the first encounter and everyone had their part to play and all they needed was to get inside the compound.

“Ok, we’re getting close now,” said Box from the front, “Demon, you’ll need to switch on your suit.”

Harold did so. He had no idea whether the invisibility suit would prevent Infinity’s detectors from registering his presence – they only had India’s experience (and Box’s when they had tested it again to be sure) to go on.

Once again, the world seemed to switch to bizarre hues and all sounds became slightly muffled.

India, sitting opposite, relaxed slightly, the constant irritation of Harold’s presence having ceased the moment he had activated the suit. She took this as a cue and activated her own suit.

This had been the weirdest mission; working with demons instead of banishing them, fancy invisibility suits… They never covered any of this in training. Maybe she should request an extra module to be added in future… As things stood, she could not wait to get this strange mission over and done with, could not wait to get back to the everyday business of spotting the Fallen and despatching them back to their accursed home where they belonged. Well, the way things were turning out, one way or another, she would not have much longer to wait for that happy day.

The van bumped and swayed a little as it made a right turn onto the business park that housed the buildings belonging to Infinity Recycling.

“Get ready, people,” said Box, his voice tight with excitement. “We’re almost there.”

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

CAT Scanner

A most lame jest, but in truth, I could not resist...

Happy middle-of-the-week, everyone.

Monday, 30 January 2012


Yes, it's jolly old Wordzzle time again.  As I donated the words this week, it behooves me to take part at least.

The creator of Wordzzles lives here.

The mini - challenge words: mode, bread, blues, epic, tripod

Arvind was going on and on about how epic he was sounding on his guitar lately.  Apparently, his teacher had just taught him to play blues tunes in the Dorian mode and he was completely smitten with the idea of his own brilliance.  I grunted now and then during his peroration, and adjusted the camera tripod for the umpteenth time, trying in vain to get a really good position from which to film the stage.  Suddenly, I got the perfect placement and locked off the legs with a triumphant grin. ‘Awww, man!!’ groaned Arvind, suddenly. ‘Look what you’ve done!’  I looked to where he was pointing; the leg of the tripod had neatly impaled the little plastic baggie of bread and cheese that was to be Arvind’s lunch.  The ratbag wouldn’t even let me leave it there until the show was over.  Shame, because it gave the perfect angle.

The 10-worder - challenge words: nickel, banshee, render, foil, noodle, aggressive, smooth, hat stand, cat, treat

“He’s gone as mad as a hat stand,” said Gerry into the pretty young reporter’s out-thrust microphone. “Last night, he made himself a hat out of foil - to keep the government out of his noodle, so he said.”  Gerry took a pull at his cigarette and blew out the smoke.  The young reporter’s smile didn’t falter for a moment, even though most of the smoke went into her face. 
“Has he been aggressive?” she asked, “Has he attacked anybody?”  This was the kind of detail her viewers wanted: violence – that or sex.  And today, Nigel Render, lead singer of Smooth Banshee, out on tour for the first time in seven years, had handed her the scoop of a lifetime by having a very public meltdown on stage.
“Nah, he’s a cool cat,” replied Gerry, the band’s drummer. “He wouldn’t hit anybody.  He’s too laid back.  He’s just sitting in his room, flipping a nickel over and over again, muttering to himself, saying we should all treat him with respect.  He’ll come out of it in a bit-”
From somewhere behind him, there came the sound of a single gunshot.
“ – or maybe not.”

And, of course.... Harold.

(Story so far can be read by following the link, top right)

Teatime was still some distance from the house when he heard the sound of Mr Teeth’s shotgun.  He scampered a bit more quickly through the leafy darkness of the lower branches of the many ornamental trees surrounding the property. The scent of oranges hung distractingly in the air, but there was no time for such things now. He got to the edge of the trees at last and peered towards the house.

The security lights at the rear of the property had come on and in their fierce white glare, the little monkey could see two men sprawled on the ground near the open patio door. They appeared to be wearing silvery suits, whose metallic sheen was now being spoiled in places by trickles of blood from the men’s wounds. The men were still moving feebly, and Teatime could hear their faint cursing.

Abruptly, the sound of another shot rang out – a different weapon this time, by the sound of it. This was followed by the sound of something smashing and tinkling inside the house, but Teatime could not see who had fired. It certainly hadn’t been the two men on the ground, so that must mean there were more invisible types about. How jolly annoying! If it weren’t for the fact that the demon and India needed the invisibility suits that Harold had liberated, he was all for going back and advising that they drive away and leave Mr Jackson to sort things out himself.  He seemed capable enough.

The suits were needed, though, and they were in the house. Teatime scratched his chin thoughtfully for a moment. If Mr Jackson could see the intruders properly, he could probably deal with them: he’d probably faced worse odds in his time on the streets as a young man, and he clearly had no qualms about shooting people.

As he gazed around for possible solutions, Teatime’s eye was caught by something over at the base of the back wall of the house. An idea suddenly sprang into the little monkey’s head. It would be risky, as he would be in plain sight if he went over there. Still, he was confident the two wounded intruders were in no position to interfere with his plan, and he was willing to bet that any others would be intent on the doorway into the house.

There was no time to lose. He leapt from the tree, landing lightly upon the smooth green expanse of the lawn, and raced for all he was worth towards the thing he had seen.


“I should have gone with him,” Harold said, as the sound of the second shot came to their ears.

“No,” said Box, firmly, “Those people are bound to be looking for you, and we don’t know if they have any more of those freezing machines. You’re best staying away from them.”

“But what if he gets hurt?” protested Harold, “You humans seem to have no qualms about shooting each other for the slightest reason – a little animal isn’t going to be very safe, is he?”

“He’ll be OK,” said Box, “He’s a smart little creature; he won’t take any unnecessary risks.  Just sit tight.”

Harold slumped unhappily back into his seat. Box was probably right, but if anything happened to the little fellow....

He drummed his fingers.

He tried to think calming thoughts; usually, a nice piece of music would pop into his head to do the job but, tonight, his mental orchestra seemed to be gigging elsewhere.


It was no good.

Harold flung open the car door and jumped out.

“What in the name of Zeus are you doing? Get back here!” barked Box, opening his own door. He and India exited the car as Harold set off down the street towards the high wall encircling Mr Teeth’s garden.

The other two set off after him, India lugging out her taser as she ran.

Harold was already astride the top of the wall when they reached it.

“For pity’s sake, come down!” urged Box, his voice ragged from running.

India didn’t say anything, she simply whipped up her taser and fired.


Teatime covered the ground between the trees and the house in several nerve-wracking seconds. Banking on the idea that the intruders would be looking anywhere but into the garden, he ran in a straight line across the lawn, veering off as he reached the edge of the pool of radiance shed by the security lights. Here, he ran round the edge of the lighted area so as to remain invisible as long as possible.

A low stone balustrade ran round the edge of the patio, which was a stone-flagged area slightly higher than the lawn. Teatime kept this low barrier between himself and the area of the doors as he scrambled quickly round to the house’s rear wall.

Another shot roared from within in the house; the first weapon Teatime had heard had evidently been discharged again. Although the weapon made a terrific racket and shot peppered the area, it had no other effect. Teatime hoped fervently that this did not mean that the other intruders were inside the house already.  If they were, his cunning plan would be to no avail.

Crouching as low as possible and thanking the universe for his grey colouring, he made his way to his objective. At the base of the wall, there was a hinged metal cover. Teatime flipped this up, glancing around nervously to check that he was not being observed. Idiot! He chided himself. They’re invisible. How in the name of all that’s unholy are you going to know if they’re watching you?

Having no means to prop the cover open, Teatime resorted to the undignified expedient of resting it on the top of his head. Behind the cover was a simple control panel, whose controls were labelled in Spanish. Teatime pressed the large green ‘Activar’ button and the ‘sistema de aspersión‘ sprang into life.


India skipped smartly out of the way as Harold hit the pavement with a crunch that made even the grizzled Box wince.

“Are you out of your mind, Agent?” Box whispered furiously. Somewhere over the wall, another shot rang out.

“Sorry, didn’t exactly have time to discuss it,” she replied, rolling Harold onto his back with her foot. She leant over him. “Listen, demon. Believe it or not, I did not want to have to do that, but I am not going to let you ruin everything by running off and getting yourself caught. I get that you’re concerned for your little monkey-thing, but he’s way smarter than you are and knows how to keep his head down, which is more than can be said for you.”

The effects of a taser are more severe and longer-lasting for demons’ vessels that they are on humans. This was just as well, because if Harold had been able to move right then, he would have liked very much to throttle Agent India on the spot. She was right, of course – at least in part – which was pretty annoying in itself. Teatime was smart and quick. The thing that really galled him, though, was that India had used her taser on him – again! He hadn’t been planning to just go running in willy-nilly; he had learned that much from recent events, at least. But the fact of the matter was, she clearly still didn’t trust him or respect him at all.

After all they’d been through. After all he’d done to convince her that he was on her side!

What did you expect? said a cynical little voice at the back of his mind. Did you really think they would ever see you as part of their cosy little team and all go running around having jolly adventures together? Wise up, dummy! They’re just using you, and when this is over, it’ll be back to the Basement like nothing ever happened.

“We don’t have time – “ India’s voice trailed off. 

When she’d shot Harold that first time, his eyes had displayed shock and surprise more than anything else.

This time, however, they were absolutely ablaze with anger.


Mr Teeth’s expensive garden sprinkler system came to life.  From many artfully concealed nozzles, jets of water gushed out and began to play over the garden, soaking everything in sight – including the patio.

The state-of-the-art Rainbow Industries camouflage suits were fantastic pieces of technology. Although they were sufficiently waterproof to keep on working perfectly well as the sprinkler water landed on them (they had been developed for the military, after all), they – and the men wearing them – still provided a physical obstruction to the water’s inexorable journey to the ground. At once, two intruders were outlined by the water, sparkling silver in the glow of the security lights, splashing off them. From inside the house, Mr Teeth’s deep bark of laughter came to Teatime’s ears, followed immediately by the roar of his shotgun. The blast caught the two men, who had been crouched close together by the doorway, obviously looking to creep into the house and take its owner by surprise.

As the buckshot tore into them, the hi-tech suits immediately stopped working, leaving two more sprawled silver-suited bodies on the patio. Teatime pushed a large red button on the control panel and the water shut off. He watched as Mr Teeth strode out through the ruined patio door and deftly disarmed all four intruders, before turning to where he was crouched.

Seeing that his saviour had been none other than the tiny monkey, the big man’s eyes widened in surprise.

“Thanks, man, that was good thinking – and good timing.” he rumbled, “I owe you. Never would have thought of using the water like that." His voice turned thoughtrful, "Pity the fancy suits got wasted, though.” Setting his shot gun against the wall, he checked the four men’s injuries – the buckshot had left multiple wounds, but none appeared life-threatening.

He retrieved the gun again and leaned up against the wall where he could see all four downed men.

“What now, Mr Jackson?” asked Teatime.

“Now we wait for Pauli and his boys and then we’ll figure out what to do with these guys.” He waved the tip of the shotgun’s barrel at the erstwhile intruders. Where are the others, anyway?”

“They’re waiting in the next street,” Teatime replied, “I’d better go and fetch them I suppose.” He scampered off into the trees once more.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

It's a sausage roll, so sue me!

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” The voice was metallic, slightly grating.

“Huh?” I said. I was just reaching into the open fridge to grab the last sausage roll for my lunch.

“The item you are currently engaged in extracting is of low nutritive value, and contains more than your recommended daily amounts of fat and salt.”

“So?” I retorted, somewhat defensively, “I’m in a hurry, I’ll eat some fruit later or something.”

“Based on records of your past behaviour in this regard, the likelihood of your consuming fruit or vegetables today is calculated to be approximately .02034543%.” I’m sure a note of smugness had crept into the voice as it said this.

Approximately?” I said, sarcastically. My hand hovered over the inviting little plastic tray with its lone occupant – the last survivor of six siblings. My fingers twitched, undecided.

“Yes,” the voice replied, “I am capable of calculating the odds to 20+ decimal places, but given the element of uncertainty inherent at the quantum level, coupled with the element of irrationality with which humans are wont to pepper their decision-making, a calculation even to this level of precision is at best an approximation.”

“Poor you,” I said, picking up the pastry delicacy.

“No,” said the voice, “Poor you. Consumption of that sausage roll will increase the probability of your premature death or disablement by heart disease, cancer or stroke.”

“But it’s just one little…” My voice trailed off.

There had been six rolls a few days ago, now there was just one.

I lived alone and the cat didn’t care for pastry.

My clothes had been feeling a little tight lately.

Sighing, I dropped the sausage roll into the bin. I seemed to remember there being some cottage cheese and celery in the back of the fridge (I have no idea how it got there; I’m sure I didn’t order it. Maybe the cat did it for a joke).

The bin lid thunked closed and I turned back to the fridge and my gastronomic equivalent of a hair shirt.

The voice spoke again.

“The item you have just consigned to the trash was still within its best before date and was undamaged and free of contaminants. According to the government’s policy on domestic waste reduction, I am required to deduct 200 green points from your household account. Your current balance is minus –“

“GIVE ME A BREAK!” I yelled.

Damn SmartHouse(TM)!




Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Seriously, Amazon?

The other day, a friend of mine told me he’d found a Kindle book which told the story of one of the schools we both attended as young ‘uns. As its cost was less than one of your English pounds, I thought I’d track it down for myself.

I duly logged into Amazon and, as I didn’t know the exact title of the book, I just typed the school’s name - ‘Copthorne’ – into the search box.  I'm happy-go-lucky like that.

The results page is reproduced below. The first three results are eminently sensible, but what’s going on with result number four?!

I'm guessing this masterpiece of cinematography had a director whose name was Copthorne or some such.  I note it's listed as currently unavailable - as if there might be stocks of it in the future.  Can't wait.

I'm tempted to wonder what you'd get if you ask Amazon for 'asian ravers' - a book on 12th Century Ecclesiastical Architecture, perhaps, or a treatise on calculus.

Search engines, gotta love 'em!

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

First Wordzzle of 2012

It's been ages, I know.  For newbies around here, the idea is to use the random set of words you're given in a piece of writing.  The inventor of Wordzzles is here.

A couple of left-over mini challenges.  These are good little kickstarters for creativity.

Challenge words: wonder, wing, flowers, drunk, purpose

Vroo was having the time of his life. 

The sun was shining, food was plentiful and even the puddle water had tasted extra good today.  He adjusted his wing feathers and began a lazy turn that would carry him across the garden and up onto the roof of The Joneses’ shed, from where he planned to spend the afternoon soaking up the warm rays.


He smashed into unyielding glass, knocking himself senseless.  Luckily, the flowers under the window were there to break his fall.

He lay there for a short while in a state of semi-concussed wonder, one of his wings hurting like crazy.  How had he managed to hit the window? He'd been banking in good time, he was sure, so he should have missed it.

The crows on the fence just about laughed themselves off their perches. Their wicked plan had borne fruit. 

Earlier that day, they had - accidentally on purpose - knocked over a discarded can of beer, spilling its contents into the pigeon's favoured drinking puddle.

There really was no funnier sight than a drunk pigeon.

Challenge words: sweet, whimper, orange glow, flute, dose

The sweet, sad notes of a flute woke me.  Through the window, the dawn sky was lit by an orange glow.  Red sky in the morning, I thought, shepherd’s warning.  The flute died away and was replaced by the tiniest whimper from Mattie, my old king Charles spaniel.  He sat next to his bowl, brown eyes large and liquid with supplication.  I looked at the clock: 18:45.  Not sunrise then but sunset!  Poor Mattie, I had slept the day through, missing his breakfast.  The bottle of cold remedy sat on the dresser where I had left it and next to it lay the spoon I had used to dose myself.  I must have been in a bad way last night – the directions had said 1 TEAspoon.  I picked up the tablespoon and headed for the kitchen, waggy-tailed dog in tow.

And, inevitably, more Harold (see the Story So Far link top right to get caught up)

“Drive on past and don’t slow down” barked Box from the passenger seat.

They had just turned into the road that led to the gates of Mr Teeth’s swiss-cheese-windowed mansion. A white van bearing an Infinity Recycling logo, its lights out, was parked so as to block the gateway. The gates themselves stood ajar. There was no sign of anybody around.

“How on Earth did they find us?” India wondered aloud.

“No idea, but they obviously did.” Box exhaled heavily. “This is not good. We’ll have to assume that Mr Jackson won’t be able to help us now, I think.”

“We can’t just leave him, surely?” said India.

“I’m not sure we have a choice,” replied Box, “We don’t have any weapons apart from your taser and we have no idea how many or how heavily armed the Infinity Recycling people are. Our best bet is to get ourselves away from here. I’m betting the Infinity goons aren’t looking for Mr Jackson anyway, so once they find out we’re not there, they might well just leave.”

“We have to get into the house, anyway, though.” Said India.

Box frowned. “Why’s that?”

“The invisibility suits are in there. We need them if we’re going to get into that building. Plus, if we just wait around for them to go, they might find the suits and take them back. We didn’t exactly hide them.”
Box rubbed his brow.

“OK, ok, drive slowly and let me think.” He sighed.

Harold, Teatime and India waited in tense silence as the little brown man cogitated.

“Alright,” Box said, at length. “The first thing we need is information. Mr Teatime,” he said, turning to the little monkey, “would you be willing to go on a information-gathering mission?”


Mr Teeth woke with a start. He’d been dozing at his desk, waiting for the OGS people to come back from the hospital with their colleague. He cast a bleary eye around for the source of the insistent beeping that had awoken him. On his computer screen, a message balloon had popped up, informing him that the front gate had been opened without authorisation.

Mr teeth had grown up on the streets and had a very keenly developed survival sense. He knew that the OGS people had the code to get in the gates legitimately, so whoever had triggered the alarm was no friend of his, that was for sure.

Silently blessing the foresight that had made him spend so much on his security system, he pulled up the feed from the gate camera.

The gates were ajar. A truck was parked across them, but of its occupants there was no sign.

He flicked through the feeds on all the other cameras around the house and grounds.


He stood up and operated the combination lock on the silver-grey metal cabinet behind his chair. The lock gave one final click and he swung the door open. From inside the cabinet, he took out a pump-action shotgun which he quickly loaded and cocked. He grabbed a handful of extra shells and stuffed them into his pocket – you could never have too much ammo as far as he was concerned.

He made his way out of the study into the unlit hallway, pulling the door closed behind him. He stopped to listen for a moment, at the same time allowing his eyes to adjust to the darkness.

No unusual sounds came to him, but then it would take anybody a little while to reach the house from the gate – even running.

He fished his mobile out of his pocket, quickly thumbed through the contacts list and selected one.

“Pauli, this is Elroy,” he said quietly when the other person picked up the call. “Got some unwelcome visitors here, gonna need you and your boys sooner rather than later.”

“Be there in twenty.”

Mr teeth grunted, ended the call and dropped the phone back into his packet.

There were three ways into the house: the front door, the patio doors at the back, and the door from the garage. Mr Teeth didn’t think that the intruders would come in the front door. The garage would be problematic too, as the intruders would have to get it open, then skirt the car to get to the house door, which was an extra obstacle if locked – which it was. No, too much could go wrong with that, and it would take too much time for them.

That left the patio doors.

With the house empty but for himself, only Mr Teeth’s study had been lit.

Keeping out of direct line of sight of the living room doorway, he moved quietly along the dark hall until he could stand to one side of the door to the living room and look in.

A rectangle of pale moonlight marked the position of the patio doors. Through them, Mr teeth could see a smooth expanse of lawn running down to the trees and the ornamental pond. Nothing moved out there; not even the wind stirred the tree branches tonight.

After about a minute, Mr Teeth became aware of a soft sound, a kind of metallic clicking, coming from where the patio door lock was located. Someone was trying to pick the lock. So, whoever it was had elected to take a quiet approach.

Mr teeth steadied the barrel of the shotgun against the doorframe assumed a more balanced stance. He could still not see anyone out there – and his PIR-activated lights had not come on either, which they most certainly should have done by now. Clearly, whoever was out there had access to one of those invisibility suits that the OGS girl and the demon had been going on about.

This was a problem: there was no telling how many people were out there. The van he had seen on the camera feed looked like it could hold half-a-dozen people at most. Six to one were not great odds and when the six were invisible….

Part of Mr Teeth’s brain kept trying to tell him to exercise that particular type of discretion which is the better part of valour and beat feet out of there. A more stubborn part of it, however, put its fingers in its ears and hummed loudly; this was his home after all and he would not be driven out of it.

A soft click came from the lock area. Mr Teeth angled the barrel of the shotgun towards that spot.

The patio door began to slide open – all by itself, apparently.

Mr Teeth fired.