Thursday, 31 December 2009


He was drunk. He had a fistful of my hair and there was murder in his eyes. I would have been a skinny sixteen or seventeen and I had just seen him punch my mother in the face.

He drew back his fist...

He was never Daddy, only Dad. There were no hugs and kisses (apart from one clumsy drunken buss on the cheek one New Year) and he didn't dandle us on his knee as babies – indeed, for all that he was a bit handy with his fists as a young man – he hardly ever touched any of his three daughters. My brother wasn't so lucky though and, as it turned out, neither was my mother.

It was 1979 and they were just dragging tiredly on the spent fag-end of their marriage – twenty-five years of it. She had wanted her freedom for years but there were the kids to think about. He went to work, came home, read the paper and went to the pub. He was about as disengaged from family life as a man can be, living in the same house as his own wife and kids.

But then he got the idea that she was interested in some other bloke and that's when the fighting started. You see, although he wasn't that bothered about his family, he could not – would not - have anybody think him a fool or a cuckold.

He hadn't hit her for years – oh, he had done it a fair bit in those first years of their marriage, to teach her a few things, you know. Then his duodenal ulcers kept him off the drink for years and things settled down into a fairly safe if rather loveless routine.

Then the doctors fixed his ulcers, which meant he could start drinking heavily again.

And so here we were.

Seeing him lash out at my mother, I had grabbed his arm – a real tiger-by-the-tail move – and pulled him away.

"Get upstairs and mind your own bloody business!" he roared.

But I wouldn't, even though by now, he was dragging me by the hair towards the hall door.

His fist was drawn back. This was it. I was going to get it now for sure.

So I did the only thing I could think of and, to this day I don't know what made me do it.

I drew back my own skinny fist and looked him in the eye, all terrified defiance.

I could almost hear the terrible grinding noise as the cogs in his head failed to mesh properly and his thoughts crashed to a dead stop. This was not what was meant to be happening

We looked at each other for just a moment – father and daughter. You could say that it was the only time we ever really saw eye to eye.

He lowered his fist and let go of my hair. "Think you're a bloody tough guy now, do you?" he muttered.

"No!" I shouted, breathless with adrenaline. "But I'm not standing here, letting you hit Mum."

Wordlessly, furiously, he pushed past me and stamped upstairs to bed.

Looking back on it now, it's almost laughable to think that I stood up to him like that. What was I thinking? One blow of his fist and that would have been that. He wasn't a big man but he was strong and fit. My mother's eye was black for days after.

Perhaps even in his drunken state, he realised the whole situation was ludicrous and that's why he stomped away. We never ever spoke of it and he's been dead years now so I guess I'll never get his take on it.

So why am I posting this now?

Honestly, I don't know. Maybe to get it out of my system for good and all, who knows? All I can say is that this story has been an insistent pushing at the back of my eyes today and so here I am tapping away at the keyboard.

Sorry if this is all a bit heavy – Lord knows, this blog is usually full of trivial froth. Anyway, better out than in, as they say.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Stop that Go-Kart!!

The Lord High Eejit has invited us for a one-off Santa's Poetry Go-Kart Ride.

I thought I'd brain two turkeys with one stone and do mine as a Poetry in Shops as well.  I ended up putting it in a quiet corner of Waterstones Bookshop, having bottled it completely in Marks & Sparks and Tescos.

The carol-singers are getting closer.
Their Away in an off-key Manger
Is heading towards my door
Like some yuletide smart-bomb,
Inevitable and jolly deadly.
Ho, ho, ho.

It'll be kids – it always is, these days.
And they'll be wanting money for their
Half-hearted, half-learned efforts.
A sort of festive mugging, I suppose.
If the light's off, they'll think I'm out.
Ho, ho, ho.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Saturday Wordzzle 93

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

These were tough words this week - I had to resort to having somebody do a crossword to get rid of some of them.  Worst one was All My Children.

You can go to Raven's Nest for the original rules of the game and some excellent advice.

The Mini (deals of the week, Nobel Peace Prize, sleep deprived, cauliflower, practice)

I'm feeling a little sleep-deprived. I had to get up really early to catch the train up here, and being out of work for so long means I'm out of practice at getting my sorry ass out of bed of a morning. This little town is amazing, though, so pretty. There's a single high street with a few shops and none of them are chain-stores. The Grocer's shop even has a hand-lettered sign advertising cauliflower among the deals of the week – and no barcodes anywhere! It's like stepping back in time thirty years. The local paper is a breath of fresh air as well: no stories about robberies, murders, economic doom and gloom – in fact, the only international piece in it was a bit about President Obama getting the Nobel Peace Prize. I think I'll have a quiet night in the hotel tonight and then tomorrow I'll take a wander out to Gerrard's Folly – it's some old stone tower that some rich Victorian with more money than sense built back in the day. I don't know why my anonymous benefactor gave me this holiday, but now I'm here, I'm glad he or she did.

The 10-worder (woe is me, mythology, avarice, windy, pathetic, paper towels, water, all my children, books)

New to Harold's story? The summary is here

India took a sip of water to wash down the last of her doughnut. Othello had grumpily fetched a box for them from a nearby store – anything to quiet Prada's rumbling stomach. For someone so image-conscious, she can certainly eat, thought India, watching Prada fussily wiping her hands with one of the frustratingly inadequate paper towels from the doughnut shop. In the front seat, even Mercury had resorted to doing a crossword by torchlight to pass the time. They had been here for hours - or so it felt.

"Woe is me, 4 letters." Mercury sighed.

"Alas," replied Othello, staring through the window at a deserted and windy street.

"Did Opal say when this guy was going to show up?" asked Prada.

"Nope." replied Mercury firmly, "What's another word for greed, beginning with 'a'?"

"Avarice," Othello could not keep the boredom from his voice. Like all of them, he just wanted to get in there and deal with the demon they had followed here, once and for all. Having to wait was maddening.

"Doesn't fit,"

Othello glanced over at Mercury's paper, "Spaghetti ends in an 'i' not an 'e'." he grunted.

"Oh yeah, thanks." Mercury's pen scratched the paper.

Outside in the street, nothing was still doing its best to happen.


The armoured figure facing Harold was like something come to life from one of those old mythology books. It topped Harold's six feet by a good head, and was broad of shoulder and narrow of hip. Its flowing golden hair framed a bronzed face of such surpassing beauty that, if it had smiled, it would have lit up the whole alleyway.

It was not smiling, however.

"You!" cried Harold in disbelief and not a little trepidation.

"They told me that one of the First Order was roaming around on Earth," said the armoured figure, "Imagine my surprise when they said it was you." He took a step closer and in so doing, brought the flaming tip of his sword close enough to make the front of Harold's jacket begin to smoke a little. "Do you not remember me warning you what would happen if our paths ever crossed again?" The perfect grey eyes were ablaze with anger.

"Of course I do," answered Harold, his voice calmer than he felt.

"And yet you still come up here to the world of men to make mischief."

"That's not what I'm doing here, Baruthiel," Harold protested.

"Oh?" the angel (for such it was) raised a perfect eyebrow, "So you got Lolita LaChaise to sign away her soul for her own good then, did you?" Even dripping sarcasm, the voice was lovely. "You are truly pathetic!"

Harold had no answer: he had indeed ensnared that young actress with a promise of a major part in All My Children, but that was before – and she had been drunk at the time, so even the best of the Basement's lawyers (and there were plenty to choose from) would probably not be able to get the Contract to stick. The Contract had to be signed knowingly and willingly. Harold doubted that would cut any ice with Baruthiel the Reckoner, though, and prepared himself for a swift and painful trip back home. It was a pity really, things were just getting interesting.

"I would love to deal with you as you deserve, Fallen," continued the angel, "but fortunately for you, there are more important matters at hand. I assume all this amateurish skulking in alleys is your way of investigating the disappearances?"

Harold was stung by the angel's scathing tone and, with the threat of imminent Dismissal having receded, somewhat irritated by his holier-than-thou (though technically quite true) manner.

"What's it to the Penthouse if there are a few less Fallen?" he retorted, "I would have thought you'd be pleased."

"Oh, we would be," Baruthiel assured him, "Except that some of the Loyal have also disappeared."

Even Teatime, who had been uncharacteristically still and silent up to this point, gasped.

So angels were disappearing too!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Christmas is...

My Dad giving my Mum a tenner for a Christmas present and, when she started to talk about all the things she was going to buy herself, saying that she should steady on and remember that she had to buy the Christmas dinner out of it.

Getting up at 2 am Christmas morning, creeping downstairs to play with our presents (no wrapping paper in those days) and my little sister waking up our irate parents by playing with her noisy new toy telephone.

Mum’s Christmas cake!

Feeling (ever so slightly) guilty because I did not give my brother a present. I had actually got one all wrapped up under the tree – a Mars bar – and a few days before the Big Day, he had upset me in some way and I had, with due ceremony, unwrapped his present and eaten it in front of him.

My Grandma’s present of a rag doll she had made herself, complete with all the clothes.

My Dad losing patience with any “bloody junk” that required assembly or batteries.

Getting a watch! An actual working watch of my own! Well, “working” until my brother played with it and over wound it.

Knitted things!

Not getting an Action Man of my own. I had to put up with my brother’s old one with the taped-up legs that didn’t bend at the knee.

Selection Boxes!!!!

My sister giving me an advent calendar – for the cat!

My Mum having really bad flu, but still managing to do all the shopping, wrapping, cards and whatnot – and, on the day, making Christmas dinner for 6 people

Buying yet another jumper for Dad because he is a man with no hobbies or interests… and finding them in his wardrobe after his death - still in the packaging.

Visiting my hubs in hospital on Christmas Day and being glad that he was alive.

Family trivial Pursuit

And finally….

Not having done a thing towards getting ready for this year. I mean, come on, it’s not like it’s a surprise or anything! Get a grip!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Now, where did THAT come from?

Last week, I wrote a song - the first complete one I've managed in ages.  Hooray, for me, then.  There's a sort of catch, though: it's just about the most depressing thing I've ever written. I have no idea why I wrote it, except that it's winter maybe, and my worklife has changed completely and I miss my old friends or something.  I'll try and record it and post it.  I'm quite happy.  I am.  Honest.

Below Bones

I close my eyes
The bubbles rise
And go whirling into black.
The ecstasy
Is filling me
And I am never coming back.

I filled my pockets full of stones
And now I'm sinking below bones.
As if the universe would care
If I am, or am not, there.

The silence here
Makes it so clear
The light above is fading out.
I'm sinking down,
Feels good to drown
All I ever cared about.

The water's cold
But it will hold
The only answer I can see.
The light goes out
So does the doubt
This is the best, the best for me.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Saturday Wordzzle 92

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

The words weren't too bad this week – I had to research the "Yes, Virginia" one though, it's not something we have over here in goold old Blighty.

You can go to Raven's Nest for the original rules of the game and some excellent advice.

The Mini (tomatoes, turtles, basement apartment, circumference, make my day)

I have just received a call from Mr Merryman. The young man came into his office yesterday to ask about the free vacation and has accepted it with some alacrity, it seems. It would certainly make my day if someone were to offer me a free vacation away from this dump of a basement apartment which is damp enough for turtles to live in. If it were hot, I could at least grow tomatoes, but it's always freezing cold here. There's no chance of moving away now though: as a blind person, it's taken me a long time to learn to navigate around the local streets. Ok, so it's only an area with a circumference (or do I mean radius?) of about half a mile, but I don't have the energy to start again somewhere else. Besides, all my savings have gone on paying for a trip to save a complete stranger from the man with the salt-and-pepper beard!

The 10-worder (sugar, mortgage, logical, roller skates, outlandish, Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, cumberbund, unexpected, photo album, scarecrow)

New to Harold's story? The summary is here

An obsequious waiter in a cumberbund brought the bill. Harold looked at it and gave a low whistle.

"I think that waiter should double as a mortgage advisor, these prices are crazy – they've even charged for the sugar in my coffee!" he said, aghast, "Good thing Ray gave me some money or I'd be washing dishes for a month!"

"Indeed," agreed Teatime, "And the fruit salad wasn't as fresh as it ought to have been. Still, time we were off, old bean, work to be done and all that. Make sure you don't leave a tip, that'll teach them."

"No tip?" cried Harold in mock horror, "Is there no end to your evil schemes?"

"None whatsoever," replied Teatime without a trace of humour.

The two made their way out of the Nirvana Cafe and into the gathering gloom of the evening city streets.

- 0 - 0 - 0 -

India felt as awkward and outlandish as a scarecrow on roller skates in her makeup, wig and heels. A picture in this get-up would definitely not be one for the photo album. She glanced at her watch: 20:34. How much longer would they have to wait?

"Target's on Fletcher Street, where that jazz club was," said Mercury, watching the GPS display. "Wonder why it's gone back there? It said it had nothing to do with the fire, yet here it is all the same."

"Well, we used to suspect that Baron Samedi was a demon, didn't we?" said Prada, "Maybe that's why."

"We never managed to get any proof, though," replied Mercury, "and now the Baron's vanished, so I guess we'll never know."

"Bit like the wild goose chase we were on before this." Othello chimed in, "Agent Domino swore there was a demon working in that soup kitchen, ensnaring down-and-outs, but when we got there, nothing."

"Well, I wouldn't be sorry if all the demons just disappeared. Good riddance!" declared Prada.

India was intrigued: when Demons managed to get to earth, they never left voluntarily, so had to be Dismissed. So far as she knew, only OGS agents had the necessary faith to do that. So if Baron Samedi and that other demon hadn't left on their own and hadn't been Dismissed....

- 0 - 0 - 0 -

Harold and Teatime were in the alley behind the club. It was the logical place to start - the front being far too public. There was a fire exit here with no lock or handle, one of those opened by a push-bar from inside. Harold did a quick survey of the area: there were no handy windows left open or inviting ventilation grilles like in the movies.

"You'll have to open the door yourself, old shoe," whispered Teatime, "You do remember how to do that kind of thing, don't you?"

"Yeah, I remember," sighed Harold, "I just haven't done it lately."

"You really ought to practise these things more," scolded Teatime, "It's like what I said about your shape-shifting. That could have been very useful – and still could be, if only you'd put some effort in."

"Ok, ok", Harold raised his hands in mock surrender, "I'll try harder. Now let me see if I can..."

He placed his hands against the door and concentrated. For a minute, nothing seemed to happen. He was about to give up when a disused circuit in his brain suddenly lit up and, yes, he could sense the push-bar. Now, just a little pull...

"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!" he breathed as the lock clunked.

"Well done, old fruit!" applauded Teatime, "I had every faith in you!"

"You're a terrible liar, Teatime," laughed Harold, really pleased with himself for having got something right at last. He pulled the door open. Inside, it was pitch black but Harold could see perfectly well.

"Breaking and entering now is it?" said a deep melodious voice from behind them.

Harold whirled round so quickly at the unexpected sound that Teatime was forced to grab a handful of hair or be summarily thrown off Harold's shoulder. He chittered sharply: sometimes only monkey expletives would do.

The owner of the voice was about 10 feet away, clad in radiantly shining armour, and held a huge flaming sword pointed directly at Harold.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Saturday Wordzzle 91

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

You can go to Raven's Nest for the original rules of the game and some excellent advice.

The Mini (bees, crackling, wooden, staple, earful)

I don't have a computer and no reference books in my flat to help me decipher the Braille message. Luckily, the local library is not far, so I wander over there. I've walked past this little wooden building more times than I can remember but have never ventured inside until now. Inside, all is quiet, apart from the occasional crackling noise of a page being turned and the odd cough now and then. I walk past a colourful display about bees that some local schoolkids have put together and make my way to the counter. The librarian is very helpful and it's not long before, between us, we have the message deciphered. It says:

You don't know me but I have arranged for you to have a free vacation for two weeks in Yorkshire. Please go to Staple & Whitlocks Solicitors and ask for Mr Merryman, who will provide you with all the details.

A Wellwisher.

How strange! Still, it can't hurt to go and see if all this is genuine – at least get some answers from this Merryman. I thank the librarian and hurry out of the library. In my haste to leave I bump into a kid in his late teens and he gives me an earful, but I don't care. This is getting interesting now.

The 10-worder (edge, haven, sunglasses, sprightly, telling, frazzled, juicy, quartet, tied, necklace)

New to Harold's story? The summary is here

Ray pulled the car over.

"Well, here we are, my Lord," he announced, somewhat unnecessarily. "And here are the things Mr Teatime asked for." He handed a carrier bag to Harold.

"Er, thanks," said the demon, "Well, it was nice meeting you and thanks for the lift."

"It was our pleasure, my Lord," said Nicole, "If you ever need us again, our number is in the phone."

Harold and Teatime got out of the car and watched for a few moments as it pulled away and disappeared into the traffic.

"Nice people," said Harold.

"Actually, old bean," Teatime corrected him, "they're not – at least by most people's standards. Now, let's find somewhere for a drink and a bite, after that long drive I'm feeling a bit frazzled, I don't mind telling you."

After the noise and bustle of the city street, Cafe Nirvana was a haven of cool and calm. In the corner, real live musicians were playing Beethoven's String Quartet No 1 in F major. While he and Teatime waited for the food and drink to arrive, Harold cocked an appreciative ear in their direction.

"The allegro in this is so joyful," he commented after a few minutes, "so sprightly, it's like a bright necklace of notes winding into your ear. You know, Ludwig has such a light touch here, compared to some of his other stuff. Why I remember - "

"Yes, yes. If you say so, old shoe," yawned Teatime, music appreciation not being one of his specialities, "Now let's have a look in Ray's goody bag."

Harold emptied the contents of the carrier bag onto the table. There was a mobile phone (a Rainbow Industries Edge-5100T, no less, with solar charger), a wallet full of money, some sunglasses and a baseball cap. Harold laughed at these last two items.

"The old disguise kit, eh?"

"Well, it pays to be circumspect, old fruit," said Teatime, "The human police are still looking for the man in the CCTV film, you know – which is you, in case you'd forgotten."

"I haven't forgotten," replied Harold, "But why don't I just talk to them and tell them I had nothing to do with the fire anyway? That way, the problem is removed altogether."

At that moment the food arrived – a nice juicy steak for Harold and a fresh fruit salad (and wedge of chocolate cake) for Teatime.

"Such naivete," sighed Teatime when the waitress had gone, "Just telling the police you weren't there won't be enough, there'll be questions and we'd be tied up for hours or days even. They might even try to take your fingerprints and we can't risk that."

This was true, for while Harold had been kitted out with a basic set of earthly credentials: Social Security number, birth certificate and driver's licence courtesy of the Black Sheep working in the SSA, IRS, DMV and so on, Harold did not have fingerprints or DNA. This was not a crime, of course, but was bound to raise questions if discovered as part of a police investigation.

"I think," said Teatime, changing the subject, "we should wait until this evening and then take a look around Baron Samedi's then. I doubt we'll find anything, but we must be thorough."

"Indeed we must," agreed Harold happily. In the meantime, there was food, drink and glorious music.

Agent Mercury's phone rang. He picked it up, listened for a short while, grunted occasional acknowledgements and then hung up. He turned to the others.

"That was Opal," he said, "Someone's coming to meet us and we're to wait for him before moving in."

There was a collective groan of frustration from the other agents: they were so close to their target, just a block away in fact, and now they had to wait, maddening!

"So, who's coming?" asked Prada.

"Someone from the Penthouse, apparently," replied Mercury.

There was a stunned silence in the car. The Penthouse only ever involved itself directly with earthly affairs in the most exceptional of circumstances – and the apprehension of one rather puny demon didn't qualify as exceptional, surely!

Thursday, 26 November 2009

In praise of little knobs

For our American friends, it's Thanksgiving, and at Toastmasters last night, this was a topic upon which I was required to produce an impromptu speech (something they will keep picking on me for, gobby show-off that I am!).

Anyway, I was asked to describe a single experience this year for which  I was thankful. Now, this was quite difficult for me, not because there weren't any, but because there were loads. Don't panic, I not about to bore you with some soppy list of stuff for which I'm gushingly grateful (health, family, friends, a job, the internet, cheese, yadda, yadda). Just take them as read, OK?  In the end, I talked about blogging and not being fired and produced two minutes of purest drivel, but that's by the by.

What I am grateful for is something I didn't even know existed until today.

I was out walking with my good friend Don't Feed the Pixies when we came to a busy road junction. Now, in England, we have pedestrian-controlled traffic lights where there is a little box with a button which can be pressed to get the lights to change and stop the traffic. This is one of the finest inventions ever in my book, but that's not what I'm on about.

For me as a partially-sighted person, crossing the road is really tricky so these crossings are a real boon. Sadly, I can't usually see the green walking man sign light up - they're usually positioned on the opposite side of the road, beyond my visual range. I generally have to peer at the "wait" sign just above the button on my side until its backlight goes out, then I know it's safe to cross. Some crossings have beepers for visually-impaired folks, but most do not. On sunny days, it can be really hard to tell when the wait sign has stopped being lit up – that's assuming some idiot has not vandalised the thing in the first place which is all too common.

Now here's the thing.

DFTP mentioned that underneath all the button boxes on these crossings there is a little knurled knob which rotates when it's safe to cross. If you place your fingers on it, you can feel it turn and feel confident that you can cross without becoming strawberry jam.

So, today, I'm thankful for a friend thoughtful enough to relay this information and also for whoever it was that came up with the idea in the first place.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Saturday Wordzzle 90

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

The words weren't too bad this week – worst ones were organic and identical

You can go to Raven's Nest for the original rules of the game and some excellent advice.

The Mini (the nature of the beast, identical, charcoal, braggart, vacation)

That old braggart Time is taunting me again, daring me to try to change the fate he's prepared for that young man, but such is the nature of the beast, I suppose, or maybe it's just my own self-doubt. Either way, it's all in the man's own hands now. Maybe he'll make the effort to decipher my message, maybe it's already turning to charcoal on the back of the fire. It has not been given me to see this part. Even if he reads the message, will he take up the offer of a free vacation? If I were in the identical situation, I'm not sure I'd be taking up offers by anonymous Braille-writing strangers. I can but hope.

The 10-worder (love is a many splendoured thing, trucks, inspector, symbols, rising, organic, liberation, costly, smug, naughty)

New to Harold's story? The summary is here

"I look like a streetwalker!" gasped Agent India in dismay, as she surveyed her image in the mirror.

"Oh, nonsense!" soothed Agent Prada, brushing the last few wisps of India's platinum blonde wig into place. She stepped back, a smug look on her own immaculately made-up face. "You look classy, but slightly naughty, which is the effect I was going for. Now, try these shoes on."

India tried to quell her rising feeling of acute embarrassment. She had never worn make-up in her life and Prada had applied plenty of it – at least that's what it felt like – and a blonde wig, for goodness' sake! Now, to India, things like make-up, high-heels, overly-fashionable clothes (her bright red T-Shirt had Liberation!!!! blazoned across it, complete with exclamation marks) were all symbols of a very secular and worldly existence - of which she usually wanted absolutely no part. She had to admit, though, under Prada's skilful hands she had been transformed – even her own mother wouldn't recognise her now, let alone a none-too-bright demon who had only met her a couple of times.

The none-too-bright demon in question, along with his talking monkey, was speeding along the highway in the back of Ray's car once more. The sound of Andy Williams's honeyed tones singing Love is a Many Splendoured Thing floated out of the costly Bose sound system. Harold would have preferred some nice Louis Armstrong, but he had to admit Mr Williams could certainly carry a tune pretty well for a human.

Thinking this, Harold felt a familiar pang of sadness. His own music had been warmly appreciated once upon a time, long ago. His talents had been much in demand back then. That was over for good now though and he'd never get to play for that audience ever again. To think he'd had it all: a purpose to his music and an eternity to play it in. and now it was lost to him forever - and it had been his own stupid fault.

"Take it easy, Ray!" Harold's maudlin reverie was broken by Nicole's sharp voice from the front passenger seat as Ray accelerated past a couple of big semi trucks, "We don't want to get pulled over for speeding like last time."

"Aw relax, woman," Ray grumbled, "It's not like we can't afford the odd speeding ticket now and then, sheesh!"

He did slow the car a little though.

"So how are we going to get into Baron Samedi's?" asked Harold, "Oh wait, I know, we could make out I'm some sort of sanitation inspector or something. How to explain you, though?"

"My dear fellow," replied Teatime somewhat acidly, "in your relatively brief time here, you seem to have managed to fill your head with an alarming amount of television nonsense. We'll go and see how the land lies first, then decide what to do. Sanitation inspector, indeed!"

"Well it works in the movies," shrugged Harold

"But this is real life, old sock." Teatime reminded him.

"Is it?" mused Harold, "Sometimes it feels like a badly-written novel, I mean, where's it all going anyway? Supposing we do find out why demons are disappearing, what then?"

"That, old button, is a very good question." replied Teatime, "And one to which I'm afraid I have no answer. Now, hand me one of those bananas, will you? I need some thinking fuel"

Harold did so. Teatime looked at the little label stuck to the yellow skin and made a face.

"You'd have though Nicole would have bought organic," he grumbled, "These pesticide-ridden things have no flavour whatsoever."

Agent Othello popped his head round the door.

"Target's on the move," he announced, "We have to go now."

India and Prada picked up their bags and trotted (or in India's case, tottered) after him. Those high heels would have to go. Honestly, the things you had to do in the eternal battle against evil!

Monday, 16 November 2009

The Poetry Unicycle: Part 1 - Going Solo

Seeing as how I've nearly frozen my chewbies off waiting for a bus that's not giving any sign of wanting to show up, I've no choice but to unlimber my handy-dandy foldaway totally-undetectable-in-normal-use Poetry Unicycle!

This week's wobble was written in 1985. I wanted to use it on da bus when we had the Ted Hughes thing going on, but it was too much like his poem, so I didn't.

I still sort of like it though, so here it is.

The Horses

They come every morning
Galloping from the far downs,
Drawn in charcoal with precise even strokes
Onto a parchment sky.
They run ahead of the dawn light,
Lest its radiance catch them
And pain their night-black bodies
With day's lesser colours.
Their hooves, lost in the haze
Of the early morning mist,
Do not touch this earth.
The horses themselves breathe
The air of some other world
Or some other time.

Before man came to this place
With fence, crop and bridle
The horses were here,
Rolling the round green world
Like a huge circus ball
Under their ebony hooves.
Now they only come at dawn
To look upon the world of man
Before it stirs to wakefulness.
Then, tossing their ancient heads,
They leave with spirited dignity.
When men have all gone
And the timeless downs are free again
The horses will be here.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Saturday Wordzzle 89

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

You can go to Raven's Nest for the original rules of the game and some excellent advice.

This week's words were a mixed bag. Worst one: cats-in-the-cradle.

The Mini (paragon of virtue, cats-in-the-cradle, swamp, sprinkles, garbage)

I ran my fingers over the Braille message, the dots feeling like tiny sprinkles all over the card. I was unsure whether or not to throw it in the garbage. I thought it might be a promo for some ultra-trendy downtown restaurant, like the one sent out by the Cats-in-the-Cradle bar last year – a cute little ceramic cat in, guess what, a cradle. I gave mine to my little niece, as I recall. But what if it wasn't that? Maybe it was an awareness-raiser for some blind people's charity or something – at least it wasn't a crappy pen or set of address labels like they usually liked to swamp me with. Now, I'm no paragon of virtue where it comes to charitable giving, but I do my bit and I don't like to be badgered into it. The card dangled from my fingers over the garbage bin, but I hesitated. What the heck, I might as well try to find out what the message said - I had nothing better to do, after all.

The 10-worder (officer, candid, drowning, turtles, sugar-coated, prospecting, shame on you, recliner, luggage, brains)

New to Harold's story? The summary is here

Director Opal regarded the hand-held GPS tracker with its steadily glowing red dot.

"Turtles Wood Heights." he mused, "Nice address these black Sheep have. Good work, Agent."

As India's supposed superior officer, Agent Mercury felt mildly envious of the praise India was getting. As a far more experienced agent, he should have thought about the tracker himself, but hadn't. He shook off the unworthy bad feeling with a finger-wagging mental reprimand: shame on you, you know she deserves it, now learn from it and move on.

"We'll need to move quickly," said India, "the battery in the Ladybird won't last forever,"

"Indeed," agreed Opal. "We'll need a different approach this time, though: we can't just bust into a private residence – especially one in that particular neighbourhood. They'll probably have private security and everything. Thinking caps, people!"

"So," said Harold, now ensconced comfortably in one of Ray and Nicole's expensive electric recliner chairs, "If you're on a mission and I'm supposed to be helping you, why did I have to waste my time working in a bar all those weeks, why didn't we meet sooner? And what was that all about me finding a job and slumming it when we could have been as snug as bugs here all the time?"

So many questions, thought Teatime, as he wracked his brains for a quick answer. He had not been completely candid with Harold about the latter's purpose on Earth. Oh, yes, it was true he was here to assist Teatime in a way, but (and there really was no way this could be sugar-coated) he was here because his father considered him completely expendable.

The original plan had been for Teatime to follow and observe Harold covertly to see if his naive bumbling about on the Brightside would attract the attentions of whoever (or whatever) was making demons disappear. When, after a few weeks, this hadn't happened, Teatime had decided to make himself known to Harold and encourage him to be a bit more proactive to see if that would do the trick. It was still early days on that one, and the run-in with OGS hadn't helped matters. He had to admit, though, a charismatic "human" would probably be useful in the investigation for the reasons he had told Harold earlier, so if the plan didn't work out it didn't really matter, and if it did, well... Having never once come close to drowning in the milk of human kindness, Teatime was not the most soft-hearted of creatures, but even so, he couldn't really bring himself to tell Harold that he had been basically set up as bait.

"I was busy with other matters, old sock," he prevaricated, "Took a while to sort things out, but I came as quickly as I could."

"But why didn't you tell me straight away that all this stuff was going on?" persisted Harold,

"Er, well, I wanted to see what you were like for a bit first." replied Teatime, wishing the demon would just let it go. "Getting to know someone is a bit like prospecting for gold: not to be rushed into without a proper survey, as it were."

Harold shrugged and was silent for some time after that, but Teatime could see that he was not altogether satisfied by the answers he'd been given. Perhaps he wasn't as big a duffer as Teatime had previously thought.

"Right, well, anyway," declared Teatime brightly, "I think it's time we packed our luggage and made a move. I think we should go and take a look at the crime scene, so to speak. What say we go and have a look around Baron Samedi's?"

Friday, 6 November 2009

Saturday Wordzzle 88

Each week, Raven gives us a set of 15 words - 5 for the mini, 10 for the 10-worder or all 15 for the mega challenge. The idea is to create a passage which includes the words
You can go to Raven's Nest for the original rules of the game and some excellent advice.

This week's words were quite diverse and challenging as a result.

Most awkward: Canada Geese

The Mini (curiosity killed the cat, charming Victorian, railroad tracks, tower, salt and pepper)

I wonder what he will make of the message I sent him. I daresay he'll be interested to know why he's been sent a message in Braille – it's not like he's blind or anything. He doesn't know me – has never seen me to my knowledge. Nor I him for that matter, not physically, anyway. Curiosity killed the cat, they say, but as kids we used to add "yeah, but satisfaction brought it back again!" Silly, really. I just hope he's cat enough to decipher the message. I just had to let him know, let him know what I've seen for him: the charming Victorian tower, the old man with the salt-and-pepper beard, Oh, beware of him, beware! The future's not fixed, you know. We're not running into it on railroad tracks, we can change direction. Cliche? Yes, of course, but no more so than the cliche of a blind seer like me.

The 10-worder (Cute, come with me to the Casbah, bloodhound, respiration, Facebook, Canada Geese, modern, gravity, spider webs, sea shells)

New to Harold's story? The quick summary is here

Harold stared up at the bathroom ceiling, marvelling at the rather bizarre repeating seashells-spiderwebs-canada geese decorative motif running around the edges. He wanted to slide down under the water and fully immerse himself, just to see what it felt like. Needing no oxygen for respiration, he could submerge himself for as long as he liked. Teatime wanted to tell him something, though, so he had to content himself with floating in the hot scented water, deliciously defying gravity.

"You're probably wondering," Teatime began, "why your father, after leaving you in peace these many millennia, has suddenly seemed to take an interest in your education."

"I wish he hadn't," replied Harold, reaching out to fiddle with some distinctly modern-looking controls on the side of the bath. "Hey, I wonder what these do." He turned a gold-plated knob (the initials RD were engraved on it) and the water began to bubble energetically.

"Oh! Wow! A fizzy bath!"

"It's a jacuzzi," sighed Teatime, "Now do pay attention, old sock, this is important."

"OK, OK," sighed Harold, turning it off, "Sorry, you were saying?"

"There's something strange going on up here on the Brightside."

"Only one thing?" laughed Harold, "I could name at least -"

"Yes, yes, very funny," interrupted Teatime, "The thing is: demons are disappearing."

"Really?" Harold replied, "I bet those OGS guys are responsible, they seem pretty keen to get rid of our kind."

"No," contradicted Teatime, "It's not OGS. They can send you back to the Basement, alright, but this is different."

Harold sat up a bit and began paying attention properly. This was getting interesting.

"Different, how?"

"Well, as I said, demons are disappearing, and have been for a while. Baron Samedi is one. The demon that those frightful OGS goons that nabbed you were going after is another, and there are at least three others before that. Your father is very concerned"

"How do we know they've actually disappeared?" Harold asked, "It's not like we all keep in touch on Facebook or anything, is it?"

"Your father always knows where his children are, as you know – and he can't find Baron Samedi or the others anywhere."

This was shocking news indeed, unheard of.

"So where do I come in?" asked Harold. "I was told to come here and ensnare souls. I got one, you know? A young film star, I think she was - Lolita LaChaise. Signed up soooo easily...."

"Yes, yes, well done and all that, old bean," said Teatime dismissively, "But the real reason you're here," said Teatime, "Is to help me find out what's happening."

"Me?" Harold laughed, "Help you? That's rich, when all I seem to do is blunder straight into trouble at the first opportunity: first I manage to antagonise Baron Samedi, then get grabbed by OGS. I'm not sure that's the kind of help you need."

"I daresay we can put the former down to inexperience and the latter down to just plain bad luck." said Teatime, soothingly, "Who could have known that an OGS Spotter would just happen to be hanging around the railway station as you came through. The odds against that were pretty enormous."

"Even so," said Harold, "I don't have much real knowledge of how this place works."

"No," agreed Teatime, "But you look like a human so you can go wherever humans go. I can't wander around on my own: humans don't take kindly to animals running about the place. But if I'm with a 'human' I can be his cute pet monkey. D'you see?"

"Aaah, right!" cried Harold, "So you'll be like a detective, a bloodhound on the scent and I'll be your faithful assistant! Oh, now this could be interesting! We could have secret codes like come with me to the Casbah or something!" This looked to be way more fun than trying to get humans to turn away from the Light – as if they needed any help from him to do that, anyway.

Teatime rolled his eyes. It was going to be a long mission.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

The Little Things

An elastic band, some paper clips, two keys, some buttons, three charity badges, a referee's whistle... these are just some of the stupid little things I came across when clearing out the room I'm going to use when I'm working from home.

OK, paper clips and elastic bands, I have a home for them where they can be returned to the bosom of their families. These two were obviously seized with a fit of wanderlust, wanting to see some of the world before settling down to a nice steady job, holding documents together. Maybe they eloped. I don't think it will work out though, they're just too different.

And what is it with keys? One is a Yale-type key that does not fit a single one of our locks. Maybe it was a spare we were keeping for my mother's house or something, but she's moved since then, so I bet it doesn't fit. I should throw it away, but what if it turns out to be for something I desperately need to open? Yeah, but it hasn't been needed these many years, has it? No, but still... And so it goes, the key-separation anxiety. The other key is small, for a desk drawer maybe, or a particularly useless bike lock. I have no idea what it's for but I can't chuck it just in case....

Buttons. Loads of clothes I have bought in the past have come with a little plastic bag with a spare button inside, which I have dutifully removed and stored safely against the Day of the Great Lost Button Catastrophe – which has never yet happened, Not once, I might add. The clothes themselves have probably been passed on by now but the buttons remain, pristine in their little baggies. What on earth to do with them?

These little charity badges are fun but ultimately useless. You pay a quid and you get a fun little badge. But just how many badges can a person wear at any one time? My other half keeps buying the Comic Relief Red Noses each year. What the planet of heck are we meant to do with them once the Comic Relief thing has ended for the year? There's a bunch of them in one of my drawers, taking up space and doing no good whatsoever.

The ref's whistle was bought for the lanyard attached to it, which I use for my monocular.  What use is it to keep the whistle in a drawer?  It's not like I could use it to quickly summon help in an emergency situation.  By the time I manage to rummage through the star-crossed stationery, buttons, etc, the house would have burned down/I'd have been hacked to bits by the axe-murderer or whatever.

Maybe I could make an art installation of all these objects. Yes, that's an idea, I could call it something pretentious like Noetic Concordance or Asymptotic Fusion. Maybe next year's Turner prize will be mine.

Why do I hang on to keys that don't fit anything? Store buttons for clothes I don't own anymore? What on earth is wrong with me?

I wish I just had the courage to simply chuck it all away and be done with it

But I don't.

Ideas anyone?

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Saturday Wordzzle 87

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

You can go to Raven's Nest for the original rules of the game and some excellent advice.

This week's words were not hard in themselves, but when I first read them I did not think they would be very easy to weave into my ongoing story.

Most awkward: surface tension (had to include a whole bath scene just for that one!).

The Mini (Free estimates, French fries, carpet, Braille, silver-tongued bandit)

The greasy smell of French fries, wafting up from the burger place below my tiny flat, woke me from a light doze I hadn't realised I'd slipped into. At least, I assumed that was what had happened, but actually, it hadn't been the smell at all. As I looked around, somewhat groggily, I noticed a flyer had been pushed through my letterbox – the rattle must have been the thing that woke me. I padded across the worn carpet and picked up the postcard-sized thing. I was going to chuck it straight into the bin as it would most certainly be a pizza menu or an offer of Free Estimates! by some silver-tongued bandit of a tradesman or something. Now that it was in my hand, though, the flyer – if such it was – was none of those things. In fact, it had no printing on it at all, just a load of raised dots. It was a message in Braille. But who would have sent such a thing to me, and why?

The 10-worder (plumber, autograph, Florence Nightingale, a chill wind’s a blowing, watering hole, sleek, triplets, backwards, surface tension, parrot)

New to Harold's story? The summary is here

"Ray used to be a plumber, you know," said Nicole, as she bustled backwards and forwards about her huge kitchen with its impressive array of sleek-looking modern appliances. Harold and Teatime were seated at the kitchen table. Ray had just gone out with the dogs to the local watering hole, as he called it, to get some celebratory alcohol.

Ever since they had arrived, Nicole had not stopped fussing over Harold and Teatime like some modern-day Florence Nightingale. Were they hungry? (A definite yes in Harold's case, Murder at the Blood Drive being neither appetising nor sustaining) Thirsty? Too warm? Too cold? At first it had been a bit of a novelty to be so nicely treated, but now her and Ray's overly solicitous attentions were beginning to grate just a little. Harold half-expected her to ask for his autograph.

She plonked a generous plate of trail mix down on the table in front of a somewhat bemused Teatime (who had been hoping for cake, to be honest). "Ray calls this stuff 'parrot food'", she laughed, "But the kids used to love it so I keep some around for when they visit. Have I showed you Cathy, Caitlin and Carrie - my triplets, my Lord?" she asked, and when he didn't answer immediately, "My Lord?"

To distract himself from Nicole's inane chatter, Harold had been thinking of triplets of an entirely different kind: in his head another new piece (he was going to call it A Chill Wind's a-Blowing) had been getting born just nicely, but it disappeared with a disappointed silent pop as he realised that Nicole was actually addressing him directly and that she actually expected an answer of some sort.

"Er, yes, I believe you did." he answered, lamely, "Fine-looking children, they were too."

"Tell Nicole you want a bath," whispered Teatime. If there was not to be cake, then they might as well get down to brass tacks and start getting organised.

"But I don't need a bath, Teatime," said Harold, somewhat puzzled. Demons' vessels did not sweat and bacteria could not live on them in any case, so bathing was rarely necessary. Surely Teatime knew this?

"I know you don't, old button," replied Teatime patiently, "but we need to talk – preferably in a quiet place where we won't be disturbed. Honestly, old shoe, do I have to explain every little detail?"

Harold shrugged, "Er, Nicole?" he said.

Back at Aunt Aggie's, Agent India was almost ready to hug herself with satisfaction. She had been absolutely on the money. OGS had been a little lax and had not followed its own procedures properly. India liked procedures, they minimised the variability of human decision-making and kept things nice and controllable. Now India knew that the slip-up was probably because of the last-minute change of plan imposed upon Joshua squad by Director Opal, but all the same, procedures were meant to be followed even if – especially if – something unusual cropped up. In this instance, however, she was pleased to note that, just as she'd thought, the demon's bag had not been searched very thoroughly at all. She looked down at the device in her hand. On its screen, a little red dot was glowing steadily.

"Bubbles are always perfectly spherical, aren't they?" mused Harold as he soaked in the scented water of Ray and Nicole's massive marble sunken bath. He'd seen people bathing on TV and had had the odd shower himself, but this! This was really pleasant. No wonder humans enjoyed it.

"Yes, it's because surface tension exerts an equal force in all – " Teatime stopped himself, mid-lecture, "Look here, old sock, I didn't mean for you to actually have a bath, merely to ask for one."

"I know," said Harold lightly, "But now I'm here... Anyway, how come we were slumming it at the Sleezee when we could have come here and lived it up?"

"That's part of what I want to talk to you about," replied Teatime, "Now listen."

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Goodbye to all that...

At the end of this week, the project that I have been working on in various capacities for more than severn years will finally come to an end. Most of the people I have been working with will disappear, transferred tp the rival company that it taking over the contract. The offices will be emptied of all furniture, fixtures and fittings and will be closed down forever.

So this is my list of goodbyes.

Goodbye to the staff restaurant with its peculiarly variable food quality. No more pastry that you could pave a road with, no more curry that, regardless of what meat is in it, will otherwise contain mostly tinned tomatoes. Goodbye to the shocking pink sausages (what the heck was in them?) Goodbye to the Sting-inspired, burnt-on-one-side-white-on-the-other toast.

Goodbye to the dreadful paintings (if we could call them that) on the walls of the landings. Don’t Feed the Pixies has remarked on these before and he is on the money: they are soulless and unpleasing to the eyein the extreme.  I wish we could burn them in the carpark, but I doubt they'll let us.

Goodbye to the smokers’ spot on the pavement leading into the campus, may your blue smoke never stink up my clothes again.

Goodbye to the 06:30 text message from the Mumbai Massive (Indian Help Desk) telling me that all was or was not well with the systems overnight. Goodbye to the middle of the night calls from said Massive, asking me to check why the call centre is experiencing slow response from the computers.

Goodbye to having four machines on my desk – yes, four! Desk space – at last!

Goodbye to the morning walk and twelve minutes homward one (blogged about some time ago). I’ll be home-based so my commute will not be through leaf-carpeted streets, just real carpet.

Goodbye to the many good friends I’ve made over the years. It’s been a blast!

Sunday, 25 October 2009

The Monday Poem

A real challenge from TFE this week.

We were to listen to a 10-minute piece of music by Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, called Threnody for the Victims and write whatever it inspired in us.

The Fundamental Inscrutability of Musical Sensibility

Now, I like a good tune, me, Dad said.
Something can I bawl off-key
And bounce off every steamy bathtime tile.

Volins scream a hard knife-edge
Across the horizon of my hearing.

You can't hum this on your way to work,
Nor tunelessly whistle what hasn't got a tune.
How do they even know they're playing it right?

I'm chilled to the bone by notes on taut leashes
Gnashing their teeth at each other, barely a semitone apart.

And what's all that jungle-banging drums malarkey?
It sounds like an old tin dustbin
Tossed down a light of concrete steps.

Now comes the hollow bass, a dark cavern,
A pit yawning wide at my feet.

Aye, it's a moving piece right enough, he laughed.
When I heard it I started moving away at once.
My Dad, the music critic.

Their screams, I hear them now.
Now and probably forever.

I have to say I dislike this kind of music intensely (my own modest efforts are slightly less edgy than Barry Manilow, which explains a lot) but there is no denying there is power in this piece - power and terror.

Great challenge, TFE!

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Saturday Wordzzle 86

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

You can go to Raven's Nest for the original rules of the game and some excellent advice.

This week, I only had time for a mini and a10-worder.

Most awkward: Haz-Mat and Sidewinder

The Mini (abstemious, chlorophyll, origami, cheerleader, dung beetle)

Jake stared morosely at the brick walls of his cell and sighed. It was all his own fault, he supposed, taking the kid's stuff like that. He'd sold the camera and watch quickly enough but why, oh, why, had he kept the wallet? He could have taken the money out and just tossed it away. Stupid! The young female cop with her cheerleader good looks had not liked finding a wallet on him with someone else's id in it. She had stared at him like he was some species of odious dung-beetle instead of the poor drunken homeless man he was passing himself off as. She had not been impressed to discover several bottles of the chlorophyll-green Dr Evergreen's Efficacious Elixir either. The kid must have ratted him out good: she had known just what to look for in his stuff. Memories unfolded in Jake's mind and took flight like so many origami birds: the kid, with his sandy hair and college-boy good looks, almost a man. The kid, a dimple-cheeked toddler, running up, arms outstretched to be picked up and swung as high as the moon by his daddy. Ah well, a more abstemious life now lay ahead of Jake and the thing was, the kid would probably never know.

The theft referred to in this story is recounted in the Mega here (scroll down to the bottom).

The 10-worder (Incensed, sidewinder, bogus, conniption, Haz-mat, conniving, customize, perforated, zeal, rolling off a log)

New to Harold's story? The summary is here

"Easy as rolling off a log!" crowed Ray, as he finished checking the duct tape binding India's and Mercury's hands and feet. "I can't believe you fancy-pants OGS agents with all your special training, Captain Midnight decoder rings, silly names and whatnot fell for the ole' bogus 'couple in distress' routine, I really can't".

The two agents glared at him in incensed silence. They had little choice: Ray had pressed a strip of tape over their mouths once Mercury had (reluctantly) uttered the formula that would release Harold.

"Right-ho, old shoe," declared Teatime, "Time we made ourselves scarce, I think.""

"You sit tight now. I'm sure someone will come along – eventually - and find you." Ray sniggered. "Agent Dumb, Agent Dumber, it's been a pleasure." He sketched a mocking bow to the two agents, and walked back to his car.

"Where to my Lord?" he asked Harold.

"Oh, mm," Harold hadn't the faintest idea where would be a good place to go but Ray and Nicole were looking at him expectantly. Fortunately, Teatime had an idea.

"Your house, I think." he said, "We can plan what to do from there."

"My Lord?" Ray looked to Harold for confirmation.

"Yes," declared Harold, "let's do that." One of these days, he was really going to have to start making decisions for himself.

When they had gone, the two agents immediately began to try and free themselves. Ray had been pretty thorough, however, and they made little headway. Eventually, they gave it up as a bad job. When they missed their nine o'clock check-in, someone would be despatched to investigate. Until then, there was little else to do but wait.

"The look on those OGS agents' faces!" laughed Nicole as they sped along the road. "They must have thought they were being sooo good-Samaritan-like, rescuing us!"

"Yeah, and when Mr Teatime started talking I thought they were going to have a conniption," Ray chuckled, "Bet their fancy training manuals didn't cover that!"

Meanwhile, in the back seat, Harold was trying to make sense of it all.

"Teatime," he asked, in Infernal, so as not to be overheard, "Who are these people and, come to that, who are OGS?"

"These, dear fellow, are Black Sheep, our little helpers here on the Brightside. In exchange for a life of wealth and comfort, they do odd jobs for the likes of you and your father."

"I see," said Harold, "But how did you manage to call them?"

"I was fortunate enough to find a public telephone and, one quick reverse-charge call later...." Teatime looked very pleased with himself.

"Ok, but what about this OGS thing?"

"Well," explained Teatime, settling comfortably into his role as tutor, "OGS stands for Order of the Good Shepherd. They're committed to the cause of Light and work to protect human souls from us – well, you demons, specifically. They are, shall we say, somewhat noted for their zeal"

"But, how come you know all these things and I don't?" Harold wanted to know. "I know I wasn't always paying attention, but I'm pretty sure no-one mentioned this stuff."

This put Teatime into an awkward position: he knew perfectly well why Harold hadn't been told anything about OGS, Black Sheep – or plenty else that a demon needed to know before venturing to the world of men – but wasn't about to let on, not yet, anyway.

"I'm sure it was an oversight, old sock. Anyway," he continued brightly, "That's why your father sent me along to help out, I expect. Oh look, I do believe we're here.""

Ray and Nicole's home was a magnificent sprawling mansion set in its own grounds. The gates, huge steel things, perforated in a beautifully intricate pattern, swung silently open as the car approached, courtesy of Ray's remote control.

Hearing Harold's low whistle of appreciation, Ray laughed. "It certainly is something, isn't it, my Lord?" He stopped the car in front of the magnificent front doors and they all disembarked. Harold gazed at his new surroundings. This was certainly a whole lot nicer than the SleepEZ Motel!

"Ray had the architect customize just about everything," Nicole said proudly, "Even the bath-taps!"

"Woman, will you ever shut up about them taps?" Ray pretended to grumble, "Can't a man have his initials on something without hearing about for the rest o' his life?"

They walked into the cool spacious elegance that was the house's hallway. Ray's two huge dogs, Haz-Mat and Sidewinder, bounded up to them, barking joyfully. What do you know, someone's actually pleased to see us, thought Harold. That makes a change.

Eventually, Agents Prada and Othello arrived to free India and Mercury. When they heard what had happened, they shook their heads wearily.

"It constantly amazes me that people are willing to risk conniving with demons when it could cost them their very souls." said Prada,

"True," agreed India, massaging some feeling back into her hands, "But they probably don't think it'll ever come to that. They just see the benefits they're getting right now."

"Well," sighed Othello, "I guess we lost this one, I don't suppose we'll be seeing that particular fiend again anytime soon."

India was just about to agree when an idea struck her. If it checked out, they'd be seeing that demon again soon enough – and this time they'd be sure to nail that perishing monkey as well.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

The Monday Poem

Well, it's here at last, the much-anticipated Garage/Plath poetic dichotomy.  I went down the Path of Plath as I broke down in my attempts to get to the Garage.

You can find Sylvia Plath reading aloud her poem, Lady Lazarus, along with its words here.

Now, Ms Plath's poem is really strong medicine all the way through, but one line just jumped out of it for me and so became the basis for this week's bus ticket.

Dying is an Art

Dying is an art.
You have to get it just right.
There's no point
Landing gently in the grave
Leaving life half-lived behind you
Like a half-eaten sandwich
Going stale and curling up at the edges.

Dying is an art
Few are they who manage it well.
That good night beckons us all
But only angels rush in
Where fools fear to tread.
But, some do not go gentle or timely, you say?
True, but being killed is not the same as dying.

Dying is an art.
Dying is an act.
It screams to be
It needs to be
The triumphant coda
To your life's music.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Saturday Wordzzle 85

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

You can go to Raven's Nest for the original rules of the game and some excellent advice.

I left it a little late to begin writing this week, so only managed a 10-worder and a Mega.

Hardest word of the week: Pinocchio

The 10-worder (early morning light, Pinocchio, mist, leaves, sandy, coffee, walking, traffic, pray, stomach)

Through my open bedroom window
Early morning light through early autumn mist
Steals in uninvited, but nonetheless welcome for all that.

Sounds of distant morning traffic come floating in.
Postman walking up, whistling, rattling the letters in
To fall like leaves upon the waiting mat.

The smell of coffee lures me downstairs
And bacon stirs my stomach awake.
I stoop and scoop the mail.

One sandy envelope peeks out sheepishly
From amongst the busy whiteness of bills
I clutch it and let the others drop, a snowy paper trail.

My fingers barely know how to tear, to open
My heart barely knows how to hope, to pray.
Like Pinocchio with cut strings, I'm falling
My boy is wounded, but he'll be home today.

New to Harold's story? The summary is here

The Mega (early morning light, Pinocchio, mist, leaves, sandy, coffee, walking, traffic, pray, stomach, train, art, admirable, cotton, fluffy)

The early morning light was burning off the last few wisps of mist, giving the day a washed-clean look. Overhead, the light edged what few clouds there were, turning them into fluffy cotton wool balls. It was going to be a glorious day.

There was little traffic on the road and, with Agent India at the wheel, they were making good time. So good in fact that, upon hearing India's stomach growling, Agent Mercury had allowed a brief stop to pick up coffee and muffins for them both.

Needless to say, they didn't offer any to Harold, which the latter thought was a bit mean since he hadn't eaten anything since the previous afternoon. Maintaining a physical vessel here in the world of men took energy, surely they knew that? Oh, well, if they weren't going to give him proper food, he'd have to improvise. He reached into his rucksack and pulled out one of his paperbacks. It was better than nothing, he supposed. He tore out a page from Murder at the Blood Drive, screwed it up and popped it into his mouth.

Agent Mercury caught the movement in the rearview mirror.

"What are you doing?" he demanded. Harold chewed quickly and swallowed, so as to be able to speak.

"Having breakfast," he said, tearing out another page. He glanced at it briefly, "Oh, what do you know. Looks like the janitor did it." He screwed up the denouement and ate it. It tasted like wet leaves, but it was an energy source of sorts. Agent Mercury shook his head in disgust and turned back to face the front once more.

Up ahead, there was a car parked on the shoulder with its hood up. A sandy-haired man stood looking into the engine compartment, scratching his head, clearly baffled. On the grassy verge at the roadside, a young woman with a swaddled baby in her arms looked on anxiously. As the van drew near, the couple waved frantically at them to stop.

"Shall I stop" asked India.

Mercury sighed, another delay! Still, all they might need to do is phone for a tow-truck or something, he couldn't in all conscience just pass by without helping.

"Yeah, pull over," he said, and India did so.

As the van stopped, the woman ran up to the nearside, a look of relief and gratitude on her face. Mercury wound down the window.

"Oh, thank goodness!" the woman cried, "I thought no-one was ever going to stop!"

"That's alright ma'am," replied Mercury, "what seems to be the trouble?"

"The engine just cut out on us. Please, could you take a look? Ray's not really very good with cars and I'm sure it's something simple. Please?"

"Well, OK," said Mercury, "But I'm no expert either. Mechanics is a bit of a dark art to me." He turned to India, "I'll just be a minute." then to Harold, "You stay put and don't try anything."

Harold shrugged and carried on eating.

As Mercury was walking towards the other car, Ray turned towards him. He had something in his hand, a tool of some kind, Mercury thought. As the object came into full view, however, Mercury realised it was actually a gun.

Agent India was surprised when the woman suddenly let her "baby" fall to the ground, revealing a gun of her own, pointed straight at her.

"Everyone out of the vehicle!" shouted Ray, his gun levelled squarely at Mercury's chest.

Moving slowly, India complied. No matter how much they train you, she thought, there are always things they don't prepare you for.

Harold reached for the door handle but immediately felt the warning prickle of Mercury's Binding. Stay put, he had said. That was pretty unequivocal, and to disobey would be painful. The thing was, if he stayed put, Ray might react badly and start shooting. Harold had no affection for these two humans after the way they had treated him, but he didn't particularly want them to die either. He stalled in indecision, feeling like Pinnochio with his strings cut.

Mercury, seeing that Harold hadn't moved, called to him to do as the man said, which he did.

"You must be the one who did the Binding," said Ray. "You have until a count of three to release my Lord."

Now Mercury realised what these two were.

"No chance, Black Sheep" he snarled. The man laughed.

"Your bravery is admirable, my friend," he said, "but, pray tell me, are you willing to let your lady friend die because of your stubbornness?" He called out to his wife. "Nicole, shoot the girl"

"No!" cried Mercury and Harold both together. "No shooting!" added Harold. If he was their Lord, they should obey him, right?

"Sorry, my Lord," said Nicole, "we have orders not to do anything you say until you're released."

"Whose orders?" asked Harold.

"Why, mine, of course, old sock, whose do you think?"

Harold looked down in astonishment to where the voice was coming from. Teatime shook off the baby blankets and climbed nimbly up to his usual place on Harold's shoulder.

"You didn't think I'd abandoned you, did you?" he said, grinning.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

The Monday Poem

Time for the Monday poem challenge, set here by TotalFeckinEejit.

This week was a quick photo challenge, while we loyal sons and daughters of Eejit toil over our Garage or Plath-related oeuvres for next week.

This delightful image was one of three supplied by TFE and here is what I did with it.

These are the things that get left behind.
When they've moved out, or moved on.
Lover's bed and loving hearth
Are become filthy mattress and busted cooker.
This is the mess they make of your life
When they leave for someone younger, thinner and prettier
Than you are.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Saturday Wordzzle 84

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

You can go to Raven's Nest for the original rules of the game and some excellent advice.

This week's words were challenging, to say the least! I said this last week, but boy!

Most awkward words this week: blood drive, powder puff

The Mini (the sky is falling, variations on a theme, bravery, powder puff, empty soda bottles)

Powder Puff was not known for his bravery. In fact, he was afraid of just about everything, including his own shadow.

Mophead and Haggendass, who were old enough to be orange, would tease and bully poor little pink and fluffy Powder Puff mercilessly. Their pranks were always variations on a theme. They would lie in wait for Powder Puff behind a pile of old tin cans or inside an old cardboard box (the dump where all the gribbles lived had plenty of these) and they would then jump out at him with ear-splitting yells, pulling hideous faces. They would then fall over laughing as their victim shrieked and ran off in terror.

Eventually Powder Puff had had enough. He trekked across the dump to the Westinghouse Snow Palace where the Great Gribble lived. The Great Gribble was old and very wise so Powder Puff hoped he would help him deal with the problem of Mophead and Haggendass once and for all.

Eventually he obtained an audience with the Great Gribble, who was so old he looked for all the world like a rather large untidy dust bunny. His two little black eyes, though, were bright, kind and intelligent. Once Powder Puff had explained his predicament, the Great Gribble thought long and hard before giving his advice. Powder Puff listened intently. Yes, he thought, it just might work.

"The sky is falling! The sky is falling!" Yelled Mophead and Haggendass, leaping out from behind a pile of soggy newspapers. Despite being really quite scared, Powder Puff bestowed upon them his sunniest smile.

"That's OK," he said sweetly, "the Mighty KolaMonster will save me."

"What?" cried the two bullies in consternation. This was no fun: where was all the shrieking, the running, the laughing?

Powder Puff gave a shrill whistle and from around a great big pile of old TV sets lumbered a hideous beast. Its head was covered in shining, clanking metal plates, its body was covered in thick hairs of all different colours and lengths and the beast was making a shocking racket with its tail.

Mophead and Haggendass took one look and ran for it.

Now it was Powder Puff's turn to fall over laughing. The KolaMonster was in fact a stray dog that had recently taken up residence in the dump. Powder Puff had made friends with it and over the weeks had trained it to accept having flattened tin cans, old electrical wire and whatnot tied to its head and body. He'd even trained it to wag its tail, rattling two empty soda bottles, now half full of old washers and nails to make a fearful din.

Powder Puff had not been altogether certain that the Great Gribble's advice would work, but the old fluffball had been right: bullies are cowards at heart and all you needed to do was stand up to them.

The 10-worder (plaster, cottage cheese, hallowed, hard working, food for thought, blood drive, broken finger, ceiling fan, pastry chef, production)

Betty had a great idea to get people to come along to the local blood drive, she organised a promotional event called Food for Thought. People could come, donate their precious pint and then they could stay and help themselves to food and drink, and watch a light-hearted stage production featuring songs, sketches, poems and whatnot all on the subject of blood.

She managed to rope in a friend who was a pastry chef to create some delicious pies and cakes, while she and a team of hard-working volunteers put together all kinds of buffet dishes - vol-au-vents filled with cottage cheese, sausages on sticks, vegetables and dips, sandwiches, chips, nuts and suchlike. Meanwhile, the performers had been diligently rehearsing their show.

Eventually the hallowed day came and they were all set. Fortunately, it was a fine evening and lots of people showed up to donate, most of which stayed around for the food and the show.

It was during the final rousing song-and-dance number that disaster struck. The cast had been encouraging the audience to stamp and clap along to the music - which they had been doing with great gusto all evening. Unfortunately, the building was old and the plaster had weakened over the years. All the bumping and stamping jarred loose a large, old-fashioned ceiling fan which crashed down onto the stage in a great cloud of dust.

All was dead silence for a few seconds then a lone voice piped up.

"I think I've got a broken finger"

It was Mr Henderson. Everyone burst out laughing and a spontaneous round of applause followed: Mr Henderson had been wearing a huge papier mache costume in the shape of a hand. The fan had sliced clean though the outstretched "index finger", missing his head by inches.

It was the best blood drive ever!

The Mega (plaster, cottage cheese, hallowed, hard working, food for thought, blood drive, broken finger, ceiling fan, pastry chef, production, the sky is falling, variations on a theme, bravery, powder puff, empty soda bottles)

New to Harold's story? The story so far is here  Apologies in advance for the length of this post.

Mr Teeth was not happy at having to meet Mr Peck so early in the morning, but the latter had insisted as he wanted to provide an update before leaving town for a couple of days.

The two men met for breakfast in the Mayflower Hotel. Mr Teeth didn't go in for the sort of fancy breakfasts these places dished out, usually contenting himself with some crackers with cottage cheese and a protein shake. He had to admire the artistry of the pastry chef here though. His creations, all variations on a theme, were little short of stunning. Glazed pastry animals of all kinds were set out alongside the more usual fare of bacon, eggs, beans, toast, fruit salad and whatnot. They must have had to set up a veritable production line to turn these things out in such numbers. Hard-working waiters bustled about the place, getting coffee and toast for the patrons while overhead, an old-fashioned ceiling fan turned lazily under the intricately moulded plaster of the ceiling.

"What have you got for me?" said Mr Teeth, setting aside his orange juice.

"Well, the person we're looking for left town by train at about four in the afternoon, the day of the fire." replied Mr Peck, flicking a pastry crumb from the sleeve of his Armani suit with a perfectly manicured fingernail.

"You sure?" asked Mr Teeth. Mr Peck looked at him in silence for a few moments before replying.

"Yes. I have seen camera footage taken at the train station which confirms it. I have some still images if you wish to see them."

Mr Teeth waved the offer away. If Mr Peck said he'd seen that little trumpet-playing punk get on a train, that that's what the little punk would have done, you could bank on it. That's what fifteen hundred a day bought you: certainty. So he was probably out of town when the fire got started – unless...

"Maybe he snuck back into town later by bus or something," he rumbled, "keep checking."

"As you wish," said Peck smoothly.

The little trumpet playing punk in question was passing time mentally composing his latest jazz piece. He was going to call it The Sky is Falling and it would feature some deliciously creepy harmonic minor scale runs. Yeah that ought to do it. Harold wondered if these hostile, hard-eyed humans would actually let him have his trumpet back any time soon. Probably not, but at least composing music kept his mind off what was probably coming.

If he had understood the situation correctly, they were going to send him back to the Basement. Most demons really hated this, it was a badge of abject failure to be so summarily ejected from the world of men and, because of the way a Dismissal worked, they could not return for at least a year and a day. Harold knew that his father would be furious with him for messing up so spectacularly after such a brief spell on the Brightside - and Harold's father's wrath was legendary. Demons with more bravery than Harold possessed had withered under it.

It wasn't entirely his fault though, surely. After all, no-one had told him about the crazy humans and their crack-of-dawn raids. Come to think of it, he had not really been told that much at all about what to expect once he got here. Harold was self-aware enough to know that he was not the most attentive and focused pupil that had ever lived, but he could absolutely not remember anything about these agents with their tasers and hallowed words of power. Food for thought, indeed! He made a mental note to ask Teatime about it if they ever got the chance for a private talk.

Agent Mercury appeared in the doorway to the break room.

"You." he barked, pointing at Harold, "With me."

Harold followed Agent Mercury out of the room. Agents India and Othello fell in behind him, tasers still drawn although there was no need, Harold wasn't about to try any "funny business". Teatime, perched now on Harold's shoulder, took the opportunity to have a good look around as the little group walked through the operations room to Opal's office. It didn't look good though, he had to admit: these Shepherds were annoyingly vigilant and well-prepared. Escape was going to be extremely difficult.

Director Opal was a distinguished-looking African American man of late middle age and if he was surprised to see a little monkey perched on Harold's shoulder, he didn't show it. As Harold and the others entered, he pointed wordlessly to a seat in front of his desk. Harold sat down and saw that they had emptied his rucksack onto the desk for some reason. There was a small pile of spare clothes, his shoes, a couple of paperbacks - The Case of the Broken Finger and Murder at the Blood Drive – that he hadn't got around to reading, two empty soda bottles and (hooray!) his trumpet. Opal leaned forward and indicated this last item.

"What is the purpose of this?" he demanded. His dark eyes boring into Harold's baby blues.

Harold was nonplussed, of all the silly questions to be asking! Surely the human knew what a trumpet was? Did he think it was some kind of secret demonic weapon? Its music could be beguiling for sure, but honestly, it usually took more than a pretty tune to ensnare a soul. OK, not much more in some people's cases, but still. As he pondered these things, Harold became aware of an unpleasant prickling sensation which was gradually worsening: a warning from Agent Mercury's Binding that he'd better play nice and answer the question.

"It's a musical instrument. I enjoy playing music." Harold explained. The prickling receded. "Would you like to hear something?"

Opal looked at him as though he had suggested something incredibly filthy. That would be a no then, thought Harold. He was beginning to wish that they would just do the ritual and send him back home already, if that's what they were planning. This relentless suspicion and hostility was getting old! Oh, wait, the human was speaking again.

"What do you know about the disappearance of the demon, Baron Samedi?"

That was an easy one for Harold. "Nothing at all," he said, "Except what I heard on the news." Opal frowned.

"You're in the club's CCTV film, what were you doing there?"

"I went to see if the Baron would let me play at the club, it is the best jazz club around, you know – or was, anyway."

Opal grunted, "And the Baron said 'no', I take it?"

Harold nodded. He was not proud of the stupid blunder he had made in trying to set up shop in another demon's turf.

"OK," said Opal, leaning back in his chair, "We're done here. Mercury, you know what to do."

"Yes, sir!" said Agent Mercury, pleased to be doing something at last.

Oh well, this is it, thought Harold. Back to the Basement. If he was lucky his father would get over his rage in a couple of hundred years or so. If he was lucky.

They had ordered Harold to pack all the stuff on the desk into his rucksack and bring it along. On leaving Opal's office, Agent Mercury took the little group towards the double doors leading to the reception area and the outside world. Seeing Harold's look of surprise, Mercury couldn't help himself.

"Bet you thought we were going to send you home, didn't you?" He said, "Well, we were going to do just that, but it seems that HQ has requested the pleasure of your company."

On Harold's shoulder, Teatime stiffened. Oh, this was terrible news! He would definitely have to do something now.

As they got outside the building, the first light of dawn was just beginning to creep across the sky, edging the powder puff clouds with pale light. Well, it's now or never, thought Teatime.

All of a sudden, the little monkey leapt off Harold's shoulder and was away around the corner of the building in the blink of an eye. Harold was about to go after him but Agent Mercury would have none of it.

"Get in the van!" he ordered.

"At least let me try and get him to come back," pleaded Harold. The prickling sensation was beginning again.

"Now!" insisted Mercury.

Harold reluctantly got into the van.

He hoped that Teatime knew what he was doing.

Monday, 5 October 2009

The Monday Poem

This week The Lord High Eejit has set us a photo poem challenge (you can see the challenge here).  We were to choose one or more photos supplied by his good self and create..... 

I chose this photo.

And here is what I did with it.

Novice Jogger

The dark-light, dark-light, dark
Of this fence's strobing shadow
Stripes my pounding feet
As they beat this aching street.
Five miles or fifty, it's all the same.

The slap, pant, slap, pant, slap
Of my forty-something progress
Echoes wall-to-wall
An acoustic rubber ball.
Five miles or fifty, it's all the same.

The tick, tock, tick, tock, tick
Of molasses-mired stopwatch
Slices seconds like a knife
I am running for my life
Five miles or fifty, it's all the same.
I can manage neither.

Then there was the whole Tommy Tucker debacle.  I thought that was what we were going to have to do, so I made this....

Little Tommy Tucker

Little Tommy Tucker
Went and took up with a hooker
But the hooker was no looker
So he callously forsook her.

Seeking consolation
She then sued for compensation
But it went to arbitration
She was filled with indignation.
And such terrible frustration.

She felt dissatisfaction
At the judge's poor reaction
And she wowed to take some action,
Put an end to her distraction.

Rigged his pressure cooker
To blow up the feckless sucker.
And now little Tommy Tucker
Rues the day he crossed that hooker.

(Or he would do, if he had lived)

Sunday, 4 October 2009

PJ's Old Stamping Ground

This is the third and final post about my friend PJ (you can read the two previous ones here and here).

It's the week before Christmas 1999 and we are scrambling up a steep, rock-strewn Welsh mountainside.  PJ is with us but is very quiet this day.

"There you go," I say, handing back the Tesco bag of classical CDs I have borrowed.  PJ takes them and invites me in for a cuppa.  I don't have time today, so we shoot the breeze for a few minutes, and then I'm away.  He seems happier of late than he has been in a while, which is a good thing.  Maybe he's staying off the weed a bit - it always seems to make the shadows deeper for him, that stuff, and I wish he'd pack it in altogether, but while he shares a house with JH, that's never going to happen.

"There's an awful lot of Geology hereabouts, isn't there?"  I joke in a lame, Terry Pratchett kind of way, as I haul my spectacularly unfit body up yet another mini-cliff.  One the Ms - MG, I think - laughs far too much at this, really.  I suppose it's the oddness of this thing we're doing, taking PJ for a climb in the middle of winter, in a place he used to always love rock-climbing in as a younger man.

My Other Half and I get into the house, shopping bag-laden.  The kettle's on and, oh look, there's a message on the answering machine (nobody called it voicemail in those days).  It's from JH, PJ's housemate, asking us to call back as soon as we can.

There's ice on some of these rocks, making it more dangerous.  If I'm honest, though, I really shouldn't be doing this: clambering about the scenery in the dead of winter.  The sky is a dead lead-colour and it's pretty cold.  We were due to make this trip a week ago, but one of the cars broke down on the motorway and it poured with rain so much that we had to give up in the end.  PJ didn't mind, though, and today he's not bitching either - but then this is his old stomping ground and he's used to this kind of thing.

We call PJ's home number and JH answers.  He's in a panic, can we come over straight away?

We reach the top finally, a place of sere, wind-swept grass, unforgiving boulders and patches of startlingly  white snow.  There's just myself, my Other Half, the two Ms and, of course, PJ.  JH, KP and one or two others should have made the trip with us - it had been their idea in the first place, after all - but when we had turned up at their place, they were all so wasted on drugs that we had to leave them - only PJ came with us in the end.

JH is sitting in the back of a police car outside the house when we arrive.  What the hell...?  We manage to snag a detective who is milling about with the handful of uniforms, going in and out of PJ's house.  The detective won't say anything to us about what has happened here.  I immediately assume the worst: PJ has finally managed to take his own life (he's tried this at least twice before).  I give the police what little information I have about his family, his grownup kids' names, his sister's in Kent.  In the end, we have to leave with no information - they won't even let us talk to JH.

"So, who's going to be first?" 

We all look at each other a little sheepishly.  I think we all want that honour.  Both of the Ms have known PJ longer than I have, so it should be one of them, I suppose.  They seem a bit reticent, though, so in the end I put out my hand.

I unscrew the lid, tilt the black plastic container and the wind immediately starts hungrily grabbing the fine grey powder, pulling it out over the dead grass and away, away to the mountains.  One by one, the others take their turn and we each say goodbye to our old friend PJ.

It turns out, PJ had had a massive heart attack in the early hours of the morning and his housemate had found him slumped at the bottom of the stairs.  The kittens, which PJ had loved, had been playing on and around him, which would have amused him hugely if he'd known.  I hope he does know.

So long, old friend.