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Tuesday 30 April 2013

Viral Parking

When teaching me to drive, the Wise One made certain that I could safely park my vehicle by making me practise in Tesco's car park on Sundays (this is back in the black and white days when supermarkets closed on Sundays - yes I know, hard to believe now).
He would select a bay for me to reverse into and then sit beside me, quite calmly pointing out that I had just taken out the front wing of the Mercedes on the left, the passenger door of the Porsche on the right, and the bumper of the BMW behind me. The fact that these cars were imaginary did little to diminish the terror, but it did instil a firm understanding that the white lines marking the bays were there for a reason.
Back then, as long as you didn't crash into a wall when you got back to the test centre it was assumed you could park. Nowadays new drivers have to prove they can park as part of their driving test, which perhaps explains why the students who filmed the video featuring a woman having an epic parking adventure were so incredulous. True, she was pretty disastrous, but it's clear from her efforts that she hadn't had a wise one teach her how to do it. Apparently it took her 30 minutes to park her car, and the students were there for every torturous moment, laughing, commenting and filming.
One of them eventually went out to help and seemed quite shocked when the woman refused his offer to park the vehicle for her. Now quite honestly, if a man came along and offered to park my car for me he'd probably get an earful for his trouble. After all, what's to say he'd be any better at parking, or that he wouldn't just promptly drive off in my car? Okay, so it took her 30 minutes, but she parked it in the end, and all credit to her for sticking with it. I'd have given up and found somewhere easier to park elsewhere - like a field perhaps!

Monday 29 April 2013

In Bits

Mum taught me a great many things as I was growing up. Because of her, I can happily tackle cooking/ baking without (too much) fear, I can probably still shoot a netball through a hoop despite being hopelessly unsporty (she was the volunteer netball teacher at our school), and she instilled in me an unwavering belief in the importance of family.
But she also taught me to be a jigsaw addict. It's desperate. Our spare room groans beneath the weight of puzzles, all of which have been completed more times than I count. She taught me the importance of preserving them by always using zippy bags to store the pieces inside their boxes. The wise one even made me my own jigsaw board (which is used for jigsawing of course, but also for a variety of craft projects and now sports stains from paint and glue splodges and even the odd hint of glitter). I'm totally and irredeemably hooked. I'm a jigsaw junkie. There is no cure. Or is there?
A man from Weymouth had spent 200 hours creating a 40,000 piece puzzle, carefully cutting out the pieces and assembling the 150 sq ft jigsaw. The puzzle was complete, he was just making some final adjustments, when it all slid to the floor and landed in a crumpled heap. The puzzle is due to go on display at Sandringham next week before being auctioned for Help for Heroes, so he's now frantically trying to reassemble it and has appealed for volunteer helpers - I suspect he probably doesn't even want to look at it himself right now!
Me? Well, I'm quite tempted to jump in the car and drive down to Weymouth. Nice place, Weymouth. And if I happened to be passing it would seem churlish not to offer assistance ...

QT One Promotion Ending Soon

Just to remind everyone: the first anthology 'Tales from the Web' is still on free promotion at the moment, though it will end at some point today (Mon 29th Apr) - sorry I can't be specific, Kindle close the promotion at a time of their choosing. So if you haven't already downloaded this introductory collection, hurry over to Kindle to get it now!

Sunday 28 April 2013

QT One Promotion

As promised, the first of the QT Anthologies, 'Tales from the Web' is available free today (Sun 28th Apr) and tomorrow (Mon 29th Apr). This is a short introductory collection of favourite stories from the QT website. If you haven't already downloaded your copy, why not take a look today!
I hope you enjoy it.

Saturday 27 April 2013

Iron Man

I've finally realised what's missing in my life: my very own supersuit! I mean, how's the world ever going to take me seriously in boring old cloth clothes, I need steel, flashing lights, lasers and ... stuff. But help may be at hand. For the paltry sum of $8,500 I could have my very own Iron Man suit, complete with light up eyes, palms, base and arc reactor!
Doubts have been expressed over the suit's ability to render the wearer capable of flight, and there have even been suggestions that it might not actually be a wearable suit but rather a statue, but I don't plan on listening to the nay-sayers! I'm raiding the savings account on Monday morning and putting my order in.
For my first act of superheroness, I plan on flying to Barbados. After all, what sort of hero would I be without a suntan?

Friday 26 April 2013

QT Anthologies

I have spent the day trying to organise my plans for the third QT anthology. I currently have eleven stories on the go, some are finished, some are almost there, and others still have a long way to go. But I do at least have a plan now! I don't currently have a title for the book - any suggestions will be taken into consideration!
To celebrate my astonishing, and unprecedented, organisation, I have set two promotional days for the first anthology, 'Tales From the Web'. The book will be available to download free from Kindle on Sunday 28th and Monday the 29th April 2013, or this coming Sunday and Monday!
Don't forget, the second anthology, 'Unseen Stories' is also available from Kindle for £1.02 - I have no idea why it's £1.02, I still haven't got to grips with the pricing structure, but it's still a bargain!

New Story

There's a new story on the QT website today, just in time for the weekend (hooray! It's Friday!). 'The Shepherd and the Wolf' tells how one man's long running battle with an old adversary takes a strange turn.
Hope you enjoy it, and have a great weekend.

A Well Balanced Dog

Jack the Balancing Dog has been featuring far and wide across the internet this week. Jack is an Australian cattle dog who has a talent for balancing things on his head. There are pictures of him balancing balls, eggs, biscuits, a can of soup, even a frying pan on his head, often sporting a snappy bow tie or neckerchief. Apparently he happily performs his balancing tricks for cheers and praise from his audience - and a bit of international internet stardom doesn't hurt either! I wasn't sure what I thought about it at first, which is why I didn't instantly include it in this blog, but then I saw picture 11 in the Telegraph's gallery. That's one happy looking dog.

Thursday 25 April 2013

Leaky Lakes

A disused mine shaft has collapsed in Stoke-on-Trent. Nobody would have known about it, but for the fact that it occurred beneath a lake, which subsequently drained. I'm currently picturing some very confused fish and possibly even the odd unwary duck who've suddenly found themselves living in a strange new subterranean world.
Forgive the shameless plug, but it puts me in mind of a story I wrote for the QT website some time ago. The story was 'The Drought' and was about a walker who happened across some mysterious goings on at a dried up lake.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Fundraising Update

Alexander's Fund is now getting close to its target, thanks to the incredible efforts of his local community, social networking and national press coverage. As I write this post, the fund stands at £241,790.000, which is 94% of the required amount. It's an amazing achievement in such a short time.

Recovering Einstein

I like this story. In a sea of grim news of people being rotten, economies failing, politicians utterly failing to grasp fundamental concepts of human dignity, and other such miserableness, this story literally swims to the top:
Einstein the fish developed swim bladder disease, turned upside down and sank to the bottom of his aquarium. His owner, distressed at seeing his pet so afflicted and looking so depressed, crafted a flotation device out of tubing - a sort of life jacket for fish. Now Einstein is swimming once more, albeit looking a little odd.
It's amazing how animals bring out the best in humans.

Ugly Journalism

The singer Katherine Jenkins has been forced to defend her appearance during the London Marathon after a Daily Mail columnist criticised her for, well, basically looking lovely.
As a very amateur and uncommitted runner, I admit to being green with envy when I saw the photos of Ms Jenkins. After just five miles of running I look like I've been pulled through a hedge backwards: my skin will be flushed, I'll be sweating, my nose will be running, and my hair will have surrendered totally to its natural inclination of messy curls and snarls. Ms Jenkins still looked gorgeous after twenty six. It's called nature. She was blessed with beauty and a fantastic voice, I was blessed with flushing skin and messy hair. Such is life.
Running a marathon is, in itself, an incredible achievement. Running one whilst raising £25,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support and still looking stunning, is an outstanding feat.
This whole episode says a lot about both Katherine Jenkins and the Daily Mail. I know which comes out best.

Monday 22 April 2013

Bird Bullies

This may not be the most coherent post I've ever added to the blog. I had a bad night. I saw 3am, 4am, 5am ...  By the time the blackbird started bellowing his morning bulletin from the hedgerow outside our window I was in a dangerous mood. It's now the afternoon and I've reached that sickly, zombiesque state of tiredness where I'm completely harmless and largely insensible.
It occurred to me, as I listened to him joyfully trilling away, that the birds are ungrateful little blighters. We battle outside in all weathers, snow, wind, rain, to ensure they have a steady supply of food, we clean their little bird bath, we choose plants that encourage insects. In fact, the only thing we haven't done is supplied them with a house like those made by Clas Ohlson. Even if we did, the birds would still insist upon bellowing at us through the bedroom window at unseemly hours, lining up on the kitchen windowsill to stare in at us balefully when we're up a little later than normal.

Saturday 20 April 2013

Plea for Help

There is a young boy in need of help. He was recently diagnosed with a brain tumour after he collapsed at home. Delays in diagnosis meant that by the time he reached the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, his condition had become critical. His only hope for survival is Proton therapy, only available in America where specialists at the Massachusetts General Hospital are confident the treatment has a good chance of working for Alex.
The sticking point is, the family needs to raise £250,000 in order to fund Alex's treatment, and they only have a couple of weeks to do it.
The Daily Mail has run a piece today highlighting his cause, and his family have set up a JustGiving page for donations. As I write this post, the fund is at £103,000, so they're doing well, but they still have a little way to go. Whilst the QT blog can't compete with the Mail's readership numbers, the more people who can cover his story the better the chances that his desperate family will reach their target. Let's spread the word.
Good luck, and a speedy recovery to young Alex.

Friday 19 April 2013

Silly Stuff

It's the weekend, so I make no apologies for opting for the sillier stuff today (which I realise could in itself be interpreted as an apology, but hey).
Firstly, I must draw your attention to a new shop that's opened near Times Square, sadly quite a trek for me, but maybe they'll do so well they'll expand across the pond. This shop sells nothing other than Duck Tape, but in every colour and pattern you could imagine. So now duct tape really can be used for anything, you can even make flowers with it. No, I don't know why either, but it looks fun.
Then there is the bus driver who drove a bus load of schoolchildren back from a trip to Paris, delivering them safely to ... the wrong town. I feel a good deal of sympathy for the poor chap, it was an error of communication, the spoken word versus the written. I have a strong suspicion that I would have done the same thing.
And lastly, and it's a bit of a biggy, is another challenge set by Buzzfeed to test if your smile is fully functioning. A lot of it's pretty daft, but it's worth looking through just for numbers 3, 9, 18 and 27. I personally found 13 #2 hilarious for some reason, though I'm at a loss to explain why.
Anyway, I'm happy to report that smiles are fully functional in the Quirky Tales lab this morning - as well as smirks, grins and the occasional snort of laughter.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

New Story!

I've been a bit remiss lately. I suddenly realised I hadn't added another story to the QT website this month, so here it is, albeit slightly delayed: 'Seasonal Adjustment' is the result of a flash fiction challenge set by the CTZ Writer's Club. The prompt was 'long winter' and my response is, in part at least, an examination of the British reaction to the weather.
Hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Happy Tuesday!

Gosh the news is depressing today! Too close a study of the news would drive the most optimistic of followers to despair. Fear not, brave followers. Help is at hand. There's always a funny picture to cheer you up - it's just that sometimes you have to search really hard for them!
Hope you're all smiling now.

Thursday 11 April 2013

Mixed News

There's a couple of news articles for today's blog so I'll start with the more serious one first, which highlights the plight of residents on the North East coast. It's a coastline that has long been receding, but the erosion seems to have accelerated in recent years. The BBC article has some rather haunting images of collapsed roads and houses perched perilously close to the crumbling cliff edge.
I remember as a child visiting Blackgang Chine on the Isle of Wight (far from the NE I know, but its plight is similar) and seeing the remnants of a house, scattered at intervals down the cliff. My abiding memory is of a white porcelain toilet on a section of tiled floor, halfway down. It was an image that somehow made the demise of that poor house more real. Tragic though the pictures are, they do get my creative muscles twitching. I can feel the first threads of a story weaving through the old grey cells - I hope anyone who has lost their home to the sea will forgive me.
But now to the happier article. This one is from the Mail - no, it's not all right wing propaganda and bigotry, they do some interesting stuff too - and it features an ongoing 'war' between two neighbours. It's a shame Kim Jong-un doesn't take a leaf out of these people's book, because a foam fight sounds a lot more fun than thermo-nuclear war.
I'm almost tempted to move. I think neighbours like them would be fun.

Wednesday 10 April 2013

Number Jumble

I'm not good at maths, I think I've probably mentioned that before. Numbers jumble, dance and twist in my head in much the same fashion that letters do in the head of a dyslexic. It's been a source of tremendous annoyance over the years, but I think I could forgive it if it caused the same mistake as the Canadian lady who was celebrating a 40,000 dollar lottery prize, only to find out she had actually won 40 million.
Apparently the lucky lady is planning a honeymoon, 30 years after her wedding. Well, she can probably afford it now.

Tuesday 9 April 2013

But Politics Goes on ...

One political figure, very much alive and very much continuing to divide opinions, is Boris Johnson, mayor of London. He was filmed on the South Bank promoting a basketball tournament. In the footage on the Telegraph's site, he was handed a basketball which he managed to put through the hoop despite shooting backwards. He'd be hopeless prime minister, he certainly hasn't the composure of Baroness Thatcher (she would never have dangled from a zipwire waving two Union flags to promote the Olympics for instance), but there's something irresistible about him. He just offers himself up as a buffoon so willingly. You've got to admire that in a politician!

Baroness Thatcher

It would be impossible for me to allow the passing of the Iron Lady to go without comment on this blog. She was the prime minister for most of my childhood and, though I found her unutterably posh, under her stewardship I never for a moment doubted the strength and resolve of my country. She may have made a lot of enemies with her uncompromising attitude, but she was principled and dedicated, and she loved this country in a way that hasn't been seen in subsequent prime ministers.
Watching news footage of people dancing in celebration at her death, stamping on her image on front pages of newspapers, and blaming her for everything wrong in their lives, I was reminded of extremists burning flags, chanting and stamping in the grip of religious fervour. It struck me as grotesque, and it undermined the point they were trying to make. Decorum and respect, perversely, carry more volume than shouts and catcalls.
So my over-riding feeling today is grief for a lady of devotion, principle and dedication. Her politics can and will be argued at another time. Rest in peace, Margaret Thatcher.
The Wise One has provided this tribute, which gets to the point far better than mine:

Tribute 8.4.2013

What sad news we heard today,
A great British leader has passed away,
Whatever we thought of her leadership views,
I was still very sad to hear on the news,
After a stroke, Maggie Thatcher has gone,
Leaving the rest to try to go on,
You may not think she was always right,
But she did show the world that Britain had might,
So we await a strong leader, yet to appear,
I say farewell Maggie, we miss you old dear.

                                                (by P. Richardson)

Monday 8 April 2013

Just to Make You Smile

It's nothing to do with writing, not exactly news, and I can't see it inspiring another story for the next anthology, but it made me smile on a dreary Monday morning: just take a look at the pictures in this article on the Mail's site today and you'll understand.
(Actually, I can feel the wisps of an Enid Blyton-esque story about a young foal and the resident old shire horse working together to save the day when dastardly thieves strike their farm ... )

Thursday 4 April 2013

Favourite Subject

Firstly I must apologise for returning to a much recurring theme of this blog, but when you follow the link, I think you'll forgive me. I'm back on treehouses, a subject that is in danger of becoming an obsession with me.
The Daily Mail has an article today on the work of James Curvan, a retired architect who now spends his time designing and building treehouses. If the one featured in the article is anything to go by, he must have known great success during his working career. That tree house is nicer than our actual house. (Sorry house, maybe if you had a platform, walkway, slide ...)
Of course, no child in Britain would ever have such a thing because a) planning permission would be required and refused, and b) in the unlikely event that pp was granted, there would be a besuited health and safety official who would disapprove of the fireplace, or the stairs, or the dog house, or the window boxes, or ...
Anyway, who needs a fancy pants treehouse? When we were kids the Wise One built us a ship, treehouse, space ship, aeroplane, car ... Actually it was all the same thing, a climbing frame cleverly constructed out of plumbing parts and painted sky blue, but its bizarre shape and our imaginations allowed it to be whatever we wanted.
So, as nice as Mr Curvan's work is, us Brits can do just as well with old pipe and leftover paint.

(Hm, if we did away with all the plants, the pergola, the table and chairs and the washing line, we might just be able to fit a small one in ... ooh, ooh, I know, we could knock the house down and then we could fit in one of the really big ones, with a platform and slide and walkway and everything. Where's my sledgehammer?)

Tuesday 2 April 2013

Another Great Ad

It's no secret that this is very much an Apple household. Apples featured early in my computing career, and subsequent experience of Windows and it's endless updates and inevitable slowdowns confirmed to me that Apple was better. It's a matter of opinion, and many people hold the reverse opinion just as vehemently. (I'm right and they're wrong of course, but as long as they're happy who am I to judge?)
But there is one thing I've never understood about all things Apple, and that's the habit of its diehard fans of queueing for hours, sometimes days, outside their shops to be the first to purchase their latest gadgets. I don't get that. Not least because I hate shopping, but also because I would rather wait until a gadget has been out for a while and all the bugs have been ironed out. I'd rather let the gadget junkies deal with issues of exploding batteries, dodgy aerials, and software glitches. Some people want to own the first one, I want to own the one that works.
Enough already, the point is, all that silliness obviously confounds other people too. So much so, that when Somersby Cider decided to make an advertisement, they came up with a spoof of an Apple launch. Of particular note are the docking system and interface.