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Wednesday 31 October 2012

New Story

Well, the weather might be about to take a turn against Halloween. Maybe I won't have to fend off the hordes of trick or treaters after all, but perhaps the event could be marked with a bit of spooky story-telling instead.
With that in mind, I've added a new story to the QT website today. This one is a teeny bit creepy, just right for reading this evening by the light of your Jack-o-Lantern! If you fancy a look, it's called Black Dog.
Hope you enjoy it. Happy Halloween.

Tuesday 30 October 2012

Hurricane Sandy

As I'm sure everyone is aware, a super storm is currently battering the east coast of the USA. The footage on the news is horribly reminiscent of the film 'The Day After Tomorrow'. My thoughts are with all those caught up in it. Let's hope the damage wreaked is nowhere near as bad as feared.

Halloween Preparations

With Halloween looming, I've been looking for easy ways to prepare for the onslaught. Normally I look forward to it, but last year we had so many trick or treaters that within an hour we'd been stripped bare. It was like swarming locusts out there. I know, I know, Halloween is supposed to be scary, but this truly was the stuff of nightmares.
Maybe I could take inspiration from Marc Hagan-Guirey, an artist who recreates scenes from horror films using painstakingly cut and folded card, kirigami (like origami but even harder). Stunning they may be, easy most certainly not.
So, I suppose our carved pumpkin and coloured light bulbs will just have to suffice. This year we've bulk bought sweets from the local cash and carry. As tempting as it is to just to set them out at the front door and leave the trick or treaters to fight over them, a degree of effort has come to be expected of us. So no doubt I'll be knotting black wool into a giant spider's web in the porch again this year.
One year I'm going to go all out and make the house so incredibly scary that the little darlings will be too terrified to approach. I suspect it might take a bit more than folded card and a black wool spiders web.

Monday 29 October 2012

Changing the Clocks

On my morning news trawl I came across the story of a couple who have lived the last six years on British Summer Time. They no longer alter their clocks in Spring and Autumn. It began as an experiment to see if it would help tackle a medical condition, and they insist it works so well they've stuck with it. I find myself doubting. It sounds good, and as someone who finds the time change infuriating, not to mention pointless, I should be all for it. But how could you realistically live your life an hour ahead of everyone else?
I suggest we all just drop the whole nonsense of changing the clocks and keep the whole country in summer time all year round. And don't give me that rubbish about changing the clocks to give us more hours of daylight - the sun doesn't stay in the sky longer because we change the time. You get the same amount of day, just an hour earlier, which means night arrives an hour earlier. I've never worked out how that's supposed to be better.

Blogs of Note

The observant among you may have noticed a discussion between Richard and myself in comments on the post about working for your pension. In closing we both agreed that the topic would be a good one for 'John', which may not have meant much to most of my followers. 'John's' creator/ author, Jim, uses his character to ponder current affairs and political botchings, usually in the setting of a variety of taverns, fuelled by a bewildering array of ales. I'm delighted to say that Jim now has a blog up and running. He only has three stories up so far, but I'm sure he'll be adding more in the coming days. So if you're in the mood for some wry bar room politics, check Jim's blog.
While I'm on this subject, I'd like to put in another shout for Richard's blog. Richard's humour is legendary among the Café ThreeZero members, and is usually much in evidence in his short stories and poetry. Look out for his sea stories - they say write from experience, as a former sailor, these are definitely his speciality.

Friday 26 October 2012

Three for One

I couldn't choose which story to share with you today, so I'm going to share three. Go on, they're only small, and it is the weekend.
I'll start with the slightly sad one, which is the news of the closure of Ford's Southampton and Dagenham plants. The BBC has put together a short gallery of Ford Transits through the years, which is a rather nice way of paying tribute. I especially like the one carrying the dinosaur - transits must have been around even longer than I realised.
Next is a cute one. A bus driver was plagued by a strange noise on his bus, even his passengers noticed it, but he couldn't track it down until he pulled the panels off his dashboard. There, curled up fast asleep, was a kitten who had apparently clocked up some 120 miles as a stowaway. The kitten has now been adopted by a member of the bus company. When you look at the picture of the bus driver holding him, with the kitten's tiny paw on his arm, it's not too hard to see why.
And the last one is a funny. A reporter, whose wardrobe choice for presenting a piece to camera from a small boat is highly questionable, went into a panic when the fish she was holding suddenly started thrashing. She reacted in the only sensible way possible: she fell over backwards, into the arms of a startled official, leaving them both in an undignified heap on the floor of the boat. Sadly, I don't think it ended too well for the fish but, as that wasn't the original intention of those involved, I'm prepared to forgive them. The video clip is at the bottom of the Mail's article.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Working for Your Pension, After You've Worked for Your Pension

Lord Bichard has come up with an idea so typical of the governors of our society that it would be hilarious, were it not for the fact that he appears to be in earnest: he suggests that retired people should have to work in order to continue receiving their state pension.
Bear with me. I'm taking a breather here while I order my thoughts.
Okay, the first thought is: haven't retired people have already worked for their pensions?
Second thought: most retired people I know already help their younger relations with childcare, and their older relations with health care, often leaving little or no time for themselves, or any voluntary work imposed upon them by the distant and rather clueless elite.
Third thought: don't we all look forward to retirement in the hope that we might have a few years of decent health left in us to at least do some of the things we've always wanted to? If we're forced to spend three days a week volunteering, we're not going to have a lot of time left for the hobbies we've always dreamt of.
And lastly, I'd like to deal with the suggestion that the younger generation is subsidising the older generation by paying the taxes that fund their pensions. Erm, I thought that was how it worked. Didn't the current pensioners do that for the previous generation? When you work, you pay taxes that fund pensions, benefits and public services. When you retire, your reward is your own not exactly spectacular pension.
I despair. I'm trying to think happy thoughts. Cute fluffy bunnies. Parties. Christmas lights. Vicar of Dibley. Cake. Aaaagh! It's not working!
Sorry, I was so exercised by the story, I forgot to post a link: pensioners should work for their pension.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Doodles to Artwork

There's something about picking up a sharpened pencil and a fresh clean sketch pad. I love to draw. I'm not especially talented, I don't kid myself about that, but I still find a sketch pad and a good 2B pencil hard to resist.
Having seen the Mail's article about Ramon Bruin's creations, I suspect I shall be raiding the landing cupboard for my art materials this evening. He draws snakes and monsters that appear to leap out of the paper, moving from one sheet to the next. They're fantastic.
To be honest, I used to draw in a similar fashion, admittedly not to the same standard, in my science books at school. For some reason my teachers seemed to lack an appreciation for my particular art, but I maintain to this day that the odd snake or hand reaching out from some of the less exciting aspects of the endocrine system adds much needed interest.

Friday 19 October 2012

Digging out the Happy News

There's been a lot in the news this week, but very little of it has been cheery enough to warrant a mention on the blog. There seems to be an endless supply of gloomy economic news, the ongoing shock revelations about Jimmy Savile (let's be honest, is anyone really surprised?), and ever more tales of the police making mistakes (I don't doubt that they do make mistakes, but the media has a nasty habit of judging hardest those people doing the toughest jobs).
Added to which, there's been absolutely no news on the motorhome front: the dealer websites haven't produced the gem we're looking for yet, meaning that particular thread of discussion remains dormant.
Thankfully the Mail has produced a heartwarming story to cheer everyone up for the weekend. It concerns paddle-boarder Charlie Head, who paused in the middle of an arduous row from Cornwall to London to rescue a poor stranded dog. How 'Bam-Bam' came to be stranded on rocks as the tide came in is a mystery, as is the location of his owner. Thank goodness the hero of the story happened to be paddling past at the right moment.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

My Next New Career

That's it. I'm done with writing, I'm finished with office work, no more computer graphics. I've finally decided. I'm going to be a vicar. Mother, pick yourself up off the floor.
You see, one of my favourite sitcoms is the Vicar of Dibley. If I could move to Dibley, I would. But there is a village that seems to be remarkably similar, and they're so desperate for a vicar they've put together a video advert. It's rubbish. They can't act, they can't hold the camera straight, and at times they can't even stay on their own feet. Basically, they're my kind of people.
I'm off to Google theological college and practise looking holy.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Motorhome Hunting

We recently decided that saving every penny we had to limit the damage caused by our useless endowment mortgage was using up the best of our productive lives. Our other investments will hopefully deal with any overhang from the mortgage, but right now we want to return to motorhoming while we're still young and healthy. It was a momentous decision, more so for me I suspect, as I'm one of nature's worriers.
Since reaching our decision, we've poured over dealer's websites, magazines, even Ebay, searching for that perfect van. We've seen plenty of horrors, a couple of beautiful vans that were just a little too expensive, and a glut of mediocrity. It's taken us a long time to save this money, mediocrity just isn't going to cut it. So, we're still saving, we're still looking, and we're hoping that with winter coming, the dealers might start to lower prices or be more amenable to offers.
One van that is far from mediocre is the Terrawind amphibious motorhome. It's huge, it's ridiculously glam, and you can drive it into a lake and float around in it. The reasoning behind it might be a bit hazy, and the price tag certainly puts our mortgage woes into proper perspective, but once seen it's hard to forget.
I wonder how amenable they'd be to an offer ...

Friday 12 October 2012

Bleeping Alarms

It was a bad night last night. Our burglar alarm kept blipping, waking us up at intervals. Then, having been woken by the blipping alarm, we became hyper-aware of a high pitched whistle coming from the industrial estate across the fields. You know how it is, once you hear a noise, you can't unhear it. We spent some time trying block the sound out, but it was one of those determined whistles that can find its way through double glazing, two pillows or even improvised cotton wool earplugs. Consequently, we didn't get as much sleep as we're used to.
So, when I was doing my usual trawl of the news sites, albeit a very bleary eyed trawl, one story had a particular resonance. It's the story of the couple who spent a year (a year?) being driven batty by a persistent bleeping. Finally in desperation they paid a builder £300 to knock down a wall to try to find the source, only to discover it was a forgotten smoke alarm buried in a drawer.
Now, this raises a couple of questions: first, why didn't they do a more thorough tidy up to try to locate the source before calling in the builders? and second, why would you pay someone else to take a sledgehammer to your wall? Quite honestly, after just a couple of disturbed hours last night my temper was reaching a tipping point. If I'd had a year of bleeping, no wall would stand a chance.
Be that as it may, I'd like to take this opportunity to wish Mr and Mrs Henry many happy, peaceful and entirely bleepless years.

Thursday 11 October 2012

Classic Car

Among my many happy childhood memories are those surrounding our adventures in Mum's 2CV. On our first outing in it I was nearly gassed in the back (I forget why, I just remember feeling peculiar). Then Mum suffered the embarrassment of not being able to get it into reverse at a petrol station - the spare tyre was pressing against something, which was stopping something else moving, which meant she couldn't change gear (apologies for being vague, I didn't really understand it at the time, but it was a deficiency in the car, not Mum's driving).
We did a London to Brighton run in a convoy of 2CVs. We charged around Dorset with the roof rolled back and us kids sitting with our heads out, waving to everyone, until a police officer firmly indicated that we should stop. And then there was dustbineering, the 2CV equivalent of off-roading - it was impossible to get a 2CV stuck anywhere: mud, snow, the steepest gradient, in fact it turned out the only thing that could stop a 2CV was new emissions legislation.
But the 2CV is defiantly clinging on. Its doting fans still bolt on new panels as old ones rust, they lovingly polish the bright paintjobs and patch up torn roofs. And, as documented on the Mail's site today, a company in Bradford, 2CV City, is doing its bit to keep the 2CV on the road, making steady business out of refurbishing them.
So, the tin snail, the upside-down pram, the deux chevaux, call it what you will, is now a classic car, albeit slightly more affordable than a Rolls Royce or Bentley.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Offensive Public Electronic Communications

A 19 year old man has been sent to prison for three months for posting offensive comments on Facebook about the missing girls, April Jones and Madeleine McCann. Now, I haven't read his comments, nor do I wish to. The Guardian offers an insight into what was posted, and it sounds pretty repugnant, but should he be in prison?
A couple of points strike me about this story, the first being the staggering speed with which this case was tried. Normally the justice system moves at little above glacial pace, and yet Mr Woods has been imprisoned within just a few days of the committing of the offence.
The second point is the disparity in the dispensing of judicial sentences. Let's face it, there are a lot of people out there who have committed serious offences, even violent crimes, who have escaped custodial sentences.
We have comedians working in this country who regularly push the limits of decency in their acts, seemingly striving to shock and even appall their audiences in order to secure career success. With that in mind, should this young man, albeit clearly a small-minded individual lacking in common decency and sense, have been jailed?
This is my public forum, my equivalent of a Facebook page. I'm mindful of my audience, and I hope I'm never offensive, I would certainly never wish to be, but I find myself this morning wondering if having a public forum is wise. After all, as a people we have never been quicker to offend. As careful as I am about what I write, I may inadvertently offend someone in a way I hadn't considered possible. And I'm really not sure I'd do too well in prison.

Monday 8 October 2012

Another Lion on the Loose?

You may recall the story of the Essex lion. If you don't, in short, people spotted a large cat in a field and thought it was a lion, prompting a widespread operation by the Essex police. No lion was ever found, but suspicion turned on a domestic cat named Teddy Bear.
Well, now there are reports of a lion on the loose in Bedfordshire, with one spotter claiming to have come face-to-face with the beast whilst walking her dogs.
Teddy Bear, what have you been up to?

New Story on QT!

A writing challenge on Café Three Zero prompted a new story for the Quirky Tales library. The theme was 'regeneration'. The resulting story is a cautionary tale for the sellers of hair restorer. If you fancy a look, here's the link:
Hope you enjoy it.

Friday 5 October 2012

Flash Mob

Okay, I don't want you being too sad for the weekend following the tragic tale of Vicky and Bertie, so here's a soppy one to cheer you up. Cruise ship entertainer Danny Burns planned a flash mob proposal for his girlfriend. There's a lot of these around now, apparently flash mobbing is this season's style for proposals, but what makes this one stand out is that it would seem the entire cruise ship was in on the secret, and the proposal took place in St Mark's Square, Venice, complete with both Mums!
Stick with 'The Proposal' til the end, even if something starts getting on your nerves. If you're anything like me, one of the credits at the end will make you laugh out loud.

Bertie the Love-Rat

Among the stories of broken relationships, cheats and cads, today's break-up story is surely one that will tug at the coarsest of heartstrings. Vicky, in her prime, a nice home, comfortable lifestyle, has been dumped by fickle hearted Bertie, and now a long standing tradition is in peril.
Eh? Well, Vicky and Bertie are, or rather were, the resident swan couple in the moat at Bishops Palace in Wells, and the tradition is the ringing of the bell. The swans in the moat are trained to ring the bell whenever they're hungry, calling the caretakers to throw food to them from a window. It would seem that Vicky and Bertie had struggled with the concept, as well as being rather put off by the resident ducks, and it all became too much for Bertie. He's scarpered, dumping poor Vicky and leaving her to deal with the ducks on her own. The race is now on to find a more faithful suitor for her, or she may have to be rehomed, leaving no swans on the moat to ring the bell.
Oh Bertie, how could you?

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Intergalactic Twinning

During our recent travels, we passed through many towns and villages proudly boasting signs announcing they were twinned with other towns and villages across the world. It prompted a discussion about the value of twinning. On the one hand, it probably does encourage people to look beyond their own restricted borders to the wider world beyond, but how many residents would actually have visited the places their home was twinned with? We drew the perhaps rather cynical conclusion that twinning was more about giving the local councillor an excuse for a jolly to foreign parts than it was about fostering global links.
A story released today has made me rethink, however:
The remote Scottish village, Glenelg, is to be twinned with a valley on Mars. That goes several steps further than fostering mere global links. However, before any diplomatic trips can be undertaken, the Glenelg councillors will need to find a way to transport themselves to Mars, keep themselves alive for the duration, and find a fuel source once there in order to facilitate the return voyage. They might also find the welcoming party a little lacking.
Maybe this is one instance where twinning isn't all about jollies for councillors.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Good Luck J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling has released her first novel for adults. Amidst strict security, legally binding contracts forbidding journalists from revealing details before the book's release, and the mother of all PR machines, 'The Casual Vacancy' was already a bestseller before it even hit the shelves. So far, so good. But from there on the news has been less favourable.
Reviews have been at best, mixed, some have been scathing. As an unknown writer who can only dream of a BBC interview, endlessly repeated on the news channel, I should probably confess here to a degree of jealousy. I'm also ashamed to say that there was a part of me that revelled in the fact that the book might be less than great. Seriously, if even J.K. Rowling can stumble, there's hope for the rest of us. But I also wonder if that's part of the problem. Maybe it just wasn't possible for her to produce a book that wouldn't be ripped to shreds and analysed at the deepest level. How many writers could withstand the kind of scrutiny and expectation she labours under?
She's also come in for criticism for insulting the middle class inhabitants of her childhood village, for being too left wing and prejudiced, and now the Sikh community is apparently deeply offended by her portrayal of a Sikh girl. It's all descending into madness. The idea that authors should tiptoe about the issues, stifling their creative impulse to avoid offending anyone is absurd. Think of the great works that would never have been written if every author worked that way.
The creator of Harry Potter was probably always destined to have a hard time moving on to other projects, not because she is in any way lacking in skill and ideas, far from it, but simply because the media are hellbent on picking fault. So, for all my embarrassing professional jealousy and schadenfreude, I hope 'The Casual Vacancy' continues to sell well and that J.K. Rowling goes on to write many more books. She is, without question, a brilliant writer, and the danger is that if her work is continually subjected to unbalanced examination, we might just prevent her from releasing a story that could rival Harry Potter. That's not something we can afford to do.