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?