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Thursday 31 January 2013

A Different World

There is a story circulating the net that was so thought-provoking I decided to contemplate it a while before blogging about it. The story is of a young man in China who was paralysed after a motorcycle crash. Some sites report that he received compensation, but it was so meagre it soon disappeared. Compensation or not, his family could no longer afford the medical bills and were forced to take their son out of the hospital.
The son could not breathe unaided so they took turns using a plastic ventilator, pumped laboriously by hand, to keep him alive. This went on for two years, then they built a homemade ventilator which they ran at night to give themselves a break. They couldn't afford the electricity to run it all the time, so during the day they went back to using the hand ventilator.
Their plight recently came to the attention of the Chinese media and prompted donations to the family, as well as a proper ventilator, and hopefully now their lives will be a little easier. The story is being broadly used to highlight the inadequacies of the Chinese health system, but beneath the propaganda runs the story of the deepest love and commitment, and the lengths a parent will go to for their child. It's as heartwarming as it is astounding that these people were forced to struggle alone for so long.
Such a situation could not arise here, I hope. A UK hospital would not have turfed him out, the compensation would have been much higher, the state support, even in these straitened times, would have been more than adequate to provide care.
I'm not sure what moves me the most about the story: the extraordinary love, or the difference between our worlds.

Wednesday 30 January 2013

Young at Heart

Our daughter was telling us last night about a recent birthday celebration for one of her housemates. Apparently the evening had begun with a group meal out. They had then returned home to play ... hide and seek. I complimented her on her increasing maturity and remarked how proud we were that she was growing into such a well-rounded and socially assured adult. I'm actually rather jealous. Hide and seek sounds so much more fun than another evening in front of the telly.
But her and her friends' childish games pale in comparison to that of the group of friends who have been playing 'Tag' for the last thirty years. As the group has grown and dispersed across America the ongoing game has required a certain level of commitment and ingenuity, it has also meant that 'Tag' season has to be restricted to the month of February. Devious tactics have been deployed, even including housebreaking. After all, who wants to be 'it' for eleven months?
I applaud all the grown-up kids out there: TAG! You're it!

Tuesday 29 January 2013


It may have been noted that I take in a keen interest in other people's homes, particularly any that fit firmly in the 'unusual' category (i.e. Spitbank Fort which I mentally moved into at the end of last year). Well, the Mail and the Telegraph have got me thinking again today.
The Mail tells the story of a family of fourteen (yes, fourteen) who sold up and moved the whole family (all fourteen of them) into an R.V. and now spend their days touring the states, home schooling their children and doing pretty much as they please. It sounds idyllic.
There is a part of me, admittedly kept firmly under control, that would love to shrug off the chains of convention, sell up and take off in a motorhome. I can just imagine it: me writing whenever the muse strikes, the computer fixer bashing out complex code on his laptop to sell to the highest bidder, while we watch the moon's reflection in the sea, or the sun rise over the mountains, or sip wine in the vineyards of Europe, or ...
Of course, it's fun to dream, but there's something reassuring about bricks and mortar and your own plot of land. With that in mind, I might be tempted by a few of the homes featured in the Telegraph's gallery. I'm particularly struck by the Lime Works, but I'd only be interested if the two water towers on either end are, in fact, giant funnel slides.
The question is, fort, water tower, cricket pavilion or motorhome? It's so hard to choose. And would our conventional home become unconventional if we stay here long enough?

Friday 25 January 2013

New Story

Another writing challenge set by Richard has prompted a snowy story for the QT website. This one is called 'Forecast Fears' and is about one elderly lady's reaction to a heavy fall of snow.
Richard's response to his prompt is available on his blog, it's well worth a look.
Hope you enjoy both stories!

Thursday 24 January 2013

Guard Duty

The Huffington Post has a video on its site today of a hapless tourist being bellowed at by the Queen's Guard when he tried to pose for a photo right in front of them. It's amusing, but scroll down to the second video in the article for the recently rediscovered Morecambe and Wise video for a bit of real comedy.
Any day that starts with Morecambe and Wise has to be good, even when you have just discovered your watering can has a hole in it (nothing to do with guards or comedians I know, but I liked that watering can and I felt I had to mark its passing).

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Mixed News

The news today announces that us women look our oldest at half-past three on Wednesday afternoons (I shan't even dignify that with a response), the prime minister wants to have a referendum on the EU, but only when he wins the next election (again, probably better to say nothing to that), and most parents routinely lie to their children (I thought we agreed to keep quiet about that?).
Not exactly riveting news, but there is one intriguing article on the BBC news site. Someone with rather too much time on their hands has taken the photos sent in by viewers and made a photomosaic out of them. It's fully zoomable, so you can look at the individual pictures, or you can sit back and take in the overall effect.
All clever stuff, but it can't rival the item brought to my attention by none other than the wise one. He emailed me a link to a winter maintenance message put together by Torfaen Council. I'm not sure what we learn from the video, but I love it anyway.
See how a bit of creativity can liven up the news?

Tuesday 22 January 2013

The Stubborn Getaway

So, you've planned the perfect heist, you've taken the time to properly surveil your target, you know exactly the right time to strike, the game is afoot. Or at least that's what three aspiring robbers in the Caribbean thought. In hindsight, a donkey was probably not the best getaway vehicle.
Apparently the donkey had been stolen earlier in the day in order to carry the loot away from the shop they robbed at 2am. The donkey, being a law-abiding soul, or possibly just grumpy about being kept up all night, let his displeasure be known by braying loud enough to alert nearby police.
Should have chosen a Mini, lads. They seem to work pretty well in the movies.

Monday 21 January 2013

Recycled to Fiction

The two day promotion for the second QT Anthology seems to have gone well. Thanks to all those who have downloaded the book, I hope you enjoy the stories.
But it seems I may now have even more competition in the fiction stakes.
Apparently a notice in a library in Australia announced that following Lance Armstrong's belated admission of doping during his cycling career all his published works will now be transferred to the fiction section. The notice was created as a prank by a student working part-time in the library and quickly went viral. Sadly, senior staff spotted it and removed it and, according to the council spokesman, 'a little review' will now be taking place. Sounds sinister.

Saturday 19 January 2013

New Story

Prompted by a topical writing challenge by Richard, of Café ThreeZero/ Richard's Riting Blog, I have a new story for the Quirky Tales Website today. Titled 'Gourmet', it's the story of some back room deals in the butcher's shop.
Hope you enjoy it.

Friday 18 January 2013

Snow Day

The forecast had led me to believe I would wake to a thick blanket of snow swept into drifts by a howling wind, but morning dawned with just a rather pathetic sprinkling. I think it got held up at Bristol. But it's here now! The birds are out there digging in the snow for scraps of food, throwing accusing looks my way. I'm expecting demands for a snow shelter soon!
The local 4x4 Response team were on the local news night, carefully loading their vehicles with emergency supplies and preparing to head out into the blizzards to provide transport for nurses and doctors. All boy's own stuff. In fact, impressed by the idea of such heroics, he who fixes the computer started muttering about trading me in for a 4x4. I pointed out that he'd be unlikely to get much of a Landrover out of such an exchange, but he still had a contemplative look in his eye this morning. He was joking. I think.
So, I hope you're all safe and warm tucked up by a fire, or at least a piping hot radiator. Don't forget, if you can't get out, The QT Anthology, Book Two, Unseen Stories will be available free this weekend. I'm not certain what time the promotion will start as they do vary, but it's scheduled to run on the 19th and 20th.

Thursday 17 January 2013

Unseen Stories Promotion

Sorry, you just can't shut me up today!
This is a quick notice to let you know that the second QT Anthology will be available on free promotion on Amazon this weekend, 19th and 20th January 2013.
So if you received an e-reader for Christmas, this weekend would be a good time to add 'Book Two, Unseen Stories' to your collection!

The Changing Face of School

When I were a lass school were really borin'! Not at all like school appears to be for the pupils and staff of the Hans Price Academy in Weston-super-Mare. The academy is due to be demolished and rebuilt so, as a fond farewell to the old buildings, the whole school came together to make a video.
Had school been like that back in my day I might have paid a little more attention! Good luck to Hans Price Academy, hope the new build goes smoothly.
(Canoes! They have canoes! In school! Why couldn't I have gone to a school that had canoes?)

The Changing Face of Work

I walked to the supermarket this morning to get a few essentials, just in case the forecast deluge of snow does arrive (I'm off out shortly to do my snow dance). My return journey took me past a shop with a large inflatable hippo outside (don't ask me - I thought they sold carpets, but what do I know?). This hippo, perhaps in protest at being forced to stand outside in the rather brisk weather, was giving three employees the run around. They were attempting to secure the poor thing with heavy duty webbing tied to two bollards and an unsuspecting rubbish bin. It seemed an odd way to sell carpets, but I must admit to having very little experience of retail. Maybe hippo wrestling is an essential skill.
But for one rather enterprising software engineer it would seem that outsourcing is key. It emerged that the software engineer, who had been widely praised for the quality of his code, had been using part of his salary to outsource his tasks to a company in China. He then spent his days surfing the net and generally idling about, safe in the knowledge that his work was being done by a tidy coder on the other side of the world. It came to light when the company he worked for noticed that someone in Shenyang was accessing their secure systems. It's been suggested he was operating the same scam with several other companies, taking a tidy income for getting others to do his work. It might have been unethical, immoral and generally a bit naughty, but there will probably be a few programmers reading about it wishing they'd thought of it.

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Computer Fixer Crashes

He who fixes the computer fell off his bike last night. Don't panic, apart from a rather colourful bruise on his left hip he's fine, though he does admit to extreme embarrassment.
He has been cycling to work for more years than I can remember, and every day I worry that he'll be knocked over by a careless driver (which did happen once, though the lady in question was very decent about it and scraped him and his bike off the tarmac, brought him home and duly paid for the repairs).
But on this occasion I suspect I may have been slightly less than sympathetic. It was his own fault, he'd made it all the way home safely only to fall at the last turn. Basically he tried to turn into the drive too early and, instead of gliding easily up the dropsets, crashed headlong into the kerb.
He claims he was distracted by a dog. I didn't ask if the owner of the dog was a young, nubile blonde in skimpy clothing because to be honest we don't get many of them in our village, especially when it's three degrees out there. In fact, I have my doubts there even was a dog. I think it may have been an invention to distract attention from the fact that he who fixes the computer forgot where his own drive was.
Tonight I'm going to stand outside with glow lights, aka those chaps on the aircraft carriers, and wave him safely into the, frankly, fairly wide driveway. I'm also going to instruct all dog walkers to find an alternative route, for their own safety!

Monday 14 January 2013

Dreary Day

I looked out during the night to see a beautiful snowy scene. This morning all that was left was mush, and rain, and more rain. For heaven's sake, how's a person supposed to build a snowman around here?
The news doesn't help. I'm looking for inspiration, something to ignite my creative fire. Failing that, I'd just like something funny. Nothing. Just the same old boring politics and gloom.
I needed something, anything, to put a little colour into an otherwise dreary day. And then it came to me, a blast from the past: Ok Go's video for 'Here It Goes Again'.
And Mother, please do not try this at home. I don't want a call from the Wise One saying you're in A&E.

Sunday 13 January 2013

Time for Wasting

I've had a few complaints about a post from a short while ago. There have been reports of much time being lost, work not completed, dogs not walked and dinners left uncooked, all thanks to the Live Ships Map (link provided for those of you who missed it the first time around, I'd hate to think I might have failed to corrupt someone!).
Well, just to show how sorry I am, and that I do truly listen to the comments and observations made about this blog, I'm going to direct you to another spectacular time-waster: this one is a live map of the London Underground! The explanation at the side of the map does warn that the trains may occasionally appear to do strange things - while I was watching a train en-route to Borough Station diverted to take in the Bankside branch of Lloyds TSB (other banks are available) and the Little Dorritt Park. Indeed I suspect there's a whole new sport to be found in searching out the train that strays the furthest from its actual route.
And just in case you find yourself with a few minutes left to squander, there's a partial live map of the wider rail network, though in truth, that one is rather less exciting.
I await your complaints with great anticipation!

Friday 11 January 2013

Feeling the Heat

On a day when the Great British MPs have announced that they should be given a 32% pay rise (we're all in it together, you know!) and a Metropolitan Detective Chief Inspector has been convicted of trying to sell information to the press, it's probably worth pointing out a story that makes living in Britain seem a little less wearisome.
On the other side of the world, the good people of Australia are having a brutal time of it at the moment. As if being scorched by a record-breaking heatwave and fleeing for their lives from raging forest fires wasn't enough, they now have to contend with the mother of all dust storms. The town of Onslow had been bracing itself for the arrival of a tropical cyclone when the enormous dust storm blew up.
The Daily Mail's coverage of the story has some amazing photographs and a video of people standing on the beach calmly watching as the storm heads towards them. They're a tough bunch, those Australians. I'd be running at top speed in the other direction, and I wouldn't be wasting any breath screaming either!
So, the UK may be run by wretchedly greedy politicians and corrupt police, but at least the air is cold and clear. This is probably one of the few times when Britain looks a better place to live than Oz!
My heartfelt good wishes to the people of Australia. Hope things cool down for you soon.

Thursday 10 January 2013

Ice Whale Update

It's been reported that those canny whales broke free from their icy Hudson Bay trap without the assistance of puny axes or mighty ice breakers. A change in weather apparently broke up the ice and the killer whales are now free to roam the open seas.
(In other news: the local seal population has launched an angry protest about the early release of mass killing orcas. They are also demanding stronger ice and less changeable weather patterns.)

Breaking the Ice

There's news today that makes me want to grab my pen to write an ending. I refer to the story of the killer whales trapped beneath the ice in Hudson Bay. Apparently they're surviving at the moment by using a small air hole in the ice, but the hole is shrinking as the ice spreads and the poor whales are getting a wee bit panicky. So would I be. Well, I wouldn't, because I wouldn't be swimming in the Hudson Bay at the warmest of times, let alone now, but you know what I mean. The local people have appealed for help for the whales, but nothing short of an ice breaker is going to work, and they are evidently pretty busy rescuing trapped ships at the moment.
To be honest while it might not be fun being stuck on a ship in the ice at least there would be plenty of fresh air, unlike whales without a breathing hole. So in my ending for the story, the good people of Inukjuak labour away with their puny axes and knives to keep the diminishing hole clear for as long as possible then, just as it's all looking hopeless, to a great fanfare (please supply your own as I don't know how to begin spelling one) along comes the mighty ice breaker. Cue the sentimental music, much cheering and a dozen very happy killer whales (who quite possibly go on to sink the aforementioned ice breaker in the exuberance of their celebrations - that's the non-Disney version obviously).
Please feel free to invent your own ending for the story as the UK news will doubtless now forget all about it and we'll never know the real outcome. Let's hope it's a happy one for the whales, and the people, and of course the ice breakers.

Wednesday 9 January 2013

'Back' in Business

I must apologise for my prolonged absence, it's entirely my own fault - I put my back out moving half the contents of the house back into place after Christmas. I've had trouble with my back since I was a teenager, but in my head I'm strong as an ox and don't need to ask someone else to lift, fetch and carry for me. Whatever my head thinks, an ox I most certainly am not. Having spent the last three days flat out on the living room floor unable to manage anything more than the occasional self-pitying groan, I think my days of denial are now behind me. No more heavy lifting for me.
Today, however, I can sit for long enough to check out the news and catch up. My standard trawl of the Mail's site took me, rather dispiritedly, through their usual pre-occupations, but it did turn up one gem. It might end up costing me though, because now I want to replace all our furniture. The gem in question covers the work of  'Straight Line Designs', creators of some of the most innovative and imaginative furniture I've ever seen.
'Straight Line Designs' own website has an excellent gallery, but if you wish, here's the link to the story on the Mail's site.
I want 'Bug Street' because it looks like a giant play set, 'Bad Table' because it's so irresistibly mischievous, 'Raymond' for his laid back style, 'Sobey' because it's simply beautiful, and 'Beaver' just because it made me laugh.

Wednesday 2 January 2013

New Year Lock-In

For one 73 year old lady in France, New Year's Eve turned out to be a rather solitary and definitely unusual experience - the poor woman got stuck in a supermarket for the night. Apparently she had been shopping and felt faint, so had taken refuge in the toilets, but when she emerged everyone had gone home leaving her trapped inside.
As she wondered around the shop she triggered the alarms, but all the staff were evidently busy celebrating and nobody realised she was there until the morning.
According to the BBC she was too honest to help herself to a New Year's treat from the shelves. Had it been me, I would have made a beeline for the wine section and would have been found in a happy little curled up ball the next morning, sleeping it off.

Tuesday 1 January 2013

2012 ... I mean 13!

So that's it then. Nothing left but the recycling. Advent, the 24th and 25th December are easily my absolute favourite time, the 31st is my absolute worst. I hate, loathe and detest New Year's Eve. I know, I know, what a grump, but don't be fooled by this deceptively happy day. New Year's Eve is the full stop at the end of Christmas, the giant ugly raspberry marking the end of the get-together. In comes the new year and down come the decorations, turn off those happy cheery fairy lights. Everyone back to work/ school/ university. Back to grey, dreary everyday.
Yes, New Year's Eve is the headteacher of dates, pointing a great warty, chalk-coated finger at us, telling us the holiday is over. And then there's the added irritation of knowing I'll spend the next three months constantly writing the wrong date everywhere. I'd just got used to it being 12, now I have to adjust to 13, and 13's unlucky you know!
Still, for those of you of a different persuasion, here's some footage of the budget going up in smoke. I'm off to stare at the fairy lights for a couple of hours.
Happy New Year!