Advice to New Bloggers (from Bob)

Bob has decided to go into journalism. Did I have any hints, he asked me? How should he go about it? In the end, I suggested he write a guest post for me.

‘What on?’ he asked.

Oh, I don’t know, I replied, possibly a little too casually. How about blogging?

‘Okay,’ he said. ‘I’ll do that.’

Over to you, Bob:

‘Right, so…why do we follow blogs? Obviously, it is so we can read the pearls of wisdom they scatter before us mere mortals. And if every post is a literary delight, then how much better would it be if we could get twice as many? Or three times? Or more? Everyone wants to read 20 new posts a day from their favourite blogger, all the more so if they receive email notifications of each one, as they get the added frisson of a ‘ping’ every few minutes as another notification arrives; an anticipation of the huge pleasure they will get when they read the new post!

‘Black print on a white background is so yesterday! Experiment with colours – green on blue, perhaps, or if you must use black, try it against a dark grey background. This ensures the reader gives your post the attention it deserves, rather than perhaps just scanning it quickly and moving on to something else.

‘But don’t stop there! Times New Roman and all that ilk are boring, boring, boring! Fonts such as Blackadder or Edwardian Script make it so much more fun! Again, your reader must work hard to prove how much they adore your posts if they are going to get to the point of posting any sort of relevant reply.

‘Size is everything. there is nothing better than a 4,000 word post to read because, let’s face it, your readers have nothing better to do with their time than read your post. After all, it’s probably the highlight of their day, so why skimp on their reading pleasure? Especially so if you have employed fonts and background colours similar to those mentioned above!

‘Is that okay, Mick?’

‘It’s a bit short, Bob. I thought you were in favour of long posts?’

‘Um…I ran out of stuff.’

Thanks, Bob. I’ll let you know.

Bob’s New Hobby

Bob’s wife has been urging him to do more work around the house.

I don’t mean things like the washing up or vacuuming the carpets – God knows, she tried that before, and it ended with her drinking an entire bottle of gin in one sitting – no, I mean the ‘little’ tasks such as putting up shelves or fitting new internal doors or hanging pictures.

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Just why anyone would encourage someone like Bob to engage in activities that involve sharp edges, high speed motors, cutting blades, heavy blunt instruments or pointy pieces of metal is totally beyond my comprehension, but who am I to judge these things?

I had occasion to go round to their house recently, and was startled when Bob proudly showed me the shelves he had recently put up in the alcove in the living room. Now, I am certainly not someone who regards himself as a handyman in that respect, and my opinion of DIY is that it is something to be avoided at all costs, but even I could have made a far better fist of it than Bob did.

The shelves contained a few books and two or three very large ornaments which, I suppose, had been chosen due to their shape and mass being such that they were unlikely to slide off of the shelves, despite the unusual slope of those shelves.

‘What do you think?’ he asked, proudly. ‘Gina is very pleased with them.’ He indicated his wife who was standing in the doorway. As I glanced at her, she gave me a look that was nothing if not inscrutable.

‘I’m quite impressed, Bob,’ I said, which was true, since I was unaware of him even changing a fuse before. ‘Is this the first time you’ve put up a shelf?’

‘Oh, no,’ he said, looking slightly hurt. ‘I put a shelf up in the garage, last week.’ I raised my eyebrows.

‘You’ve found a new hobby, then.’

‘I can’t think why I haven’t done this before.’ His enthusiasm was obviously sincere. ‘There is so much to do around here. We’re getting a new kitchen cabinet next week, which will need putting up, and it would cost a fortune to pay some bloke to come and do it, so if I do it we’ll save that money.’ I stared at him, quite unsure what to reply. ‘And Gina wants me to cut the hedge this afternoon,’ he continued. ‘I’ve never really been into gardening, but I’m rather looking forward to it.’

From the living room there came a crash! and the sound of heavy objects hitting a carpeted floor fairly hard. ‘What was that?’

‘Nothing,’ said Gina, mildly. I looked at her sharply, aware that she was usually Bob’s fiercest critic, but she merely smiled at me and sipped her tea. A little later I went out to the garage with Bob.

‘This is the shelf I put up,’ he said, proudly, indicating a plank of wood somehow clinging to the wall just below the ceiling. To get anything down, Bob would clearly have to use a step-ladder.

‘Why so high up?’

‘Gina suggested that it would be a good place to put some of the bigger tools, so they weren’t in the way. I stared up at the shelf from the opposite side of the garage. I could make out a heavy hammer, an electric drill, and…

‘Is that a chainsaw, Bob?’

‘Yes. Gina wants me to take down that old tree at the bottom of the garden. It was a real bargain.’ I stood silently for a moment, as a thought struck me.

‘A bargain? Where did you get it?’

‘At the Saturday market in Umbridge.’ The market was notorious for selling cheap imported electrical goods from the far east, most of which had faulty wiring with no earth, and dubious import licenses, and other, heavier, tools that had been chucked out because they were no longer reliable.

‘Right. Your idea?’

‘No, Gina’s. A friend told her about them.

‘Right. Um. And the hedge this afternoon?’ He indicated a hedge-trimmer that lay on the workbench. It was big. Very big. I don’t really know about such things, but it looked as though it was designed for seriously heavy work. ‘Is that electrical?’

‘No, petrol driven. Same as the chainsaw.’ I scratched my chin thoughtfully, and as I did so I gradually became aware of a muffled sound that was not unlike that of an electric drill, coming through the wall from the house. Bob seemed not to notice it, and I decided not to mention it.

‘Bob, were there any instructions with that?’

‘No, but it’ll be easy enough to operate. These things are all quite similar to each other,’ he said, confidently.

‘Do me a favour,’ I pleaded. ‘At least get a book out of the library on this, and learn how to use it before you start.’ He shrugged.

‘If you think it important.’

‘I do, yes.’

We strolled around the garden, and Bob pointed out the jobs and ‘improvements’ that he had been asked to do. Eventually, and much against my better judgement, I have to say, I offered to come and help him, or to at least keep an eye on him. He smiled broadly at this.

‘Great! I’ll get a few beers!’

‘We can have them afterwards,’ I said, hastily.

We went back indoors. In the living room, the shelves were still up, and still filled with books and ornaments. In fact, Gina was in the process of adding more books as we came in. I stared at the shelves, and I stared at Gina, who returned my stare coolly.

The shelves were now perfectly level.

In Which Bob’s Wife Goes on Holiday for a Week.

Bob phoned me up.

‘Gina’s gone off on holiday and left me to look after Duncan.’ Duncan is not their pet, although you might assume that from the way he said it, but their son. Now, when I heard that, several questions popped up in my mind. Namely, why had Gina gone off without Bob? Why had she left Duncan with Bob? But mainly, how on earth was Bob going to survive a week looking after himself and Duncan?

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Some celeriac. Very nice but totally irrelevant.

There are husbands who are less capable than Bob, but there are not many of them. At least, I think there are.

‘That’s fine, Bob,’ I said, my voice oozing false conviction. ‘You two can have a great time bonding over boy things.’

‘Bonding?’ he wailed. ‘He’s already said he wants me to take him to the football! And he’s hungry!’

Well, Bob does not like football. Basically, he does not understand football. But rather than pursue that line at that point, I said ‘Uh, hungry? When did Gina go?’

‘Monday morning.’ It was now Wednesday.

‘Monday?’ I asked, in genuine surprise. ‘What have you been eating?’

‘Well, we found enough stuff in the larder for lunch – you know, bread and stuff – and we ordered pizzas for supper. I had cereal this morning for breakfast, Duncan wouldn’t eat anything.’

‘Why not? What’s wrong with toast?’ There was a brief silence.

‘Well, actually, the toaster…um…you know…caught fire.’

‘Oh.’ A thought struck me. ‘And yesterday?’

‘Er, cereal, and, er, sandwiches…’

‘And supper?’

‘Oh, we both fancied pizza again, you know. Really fancied it. Um, they’re very good, those ones…’

‘Bob…’

‘Yes?’

‘Would you like one of us to go shopping with you?’

In the end, we both went round. The kitchen looked as though it belonged in a student squat. The draining board was temporary home to four pizza boxes, several bowls and plates and a host of dirty knives, forks and spoons. There were also three pieces of burnt toast and two pieces of very burnt toast.

The toaster was sticking out of the top of the bin, and the air was perfumed with the delicate scent of smoke.

There was no sign of Duncan.

For some reason, my wife never really seems to have taken to Bob. She narrowed her eyes and fixed him with what I can only describe as displeasure, and suggested that if he would like any help at all with the bloody shopping list, then he might clear up his bloody kitchen immediately, a tactic that actually proved most effective.

He had finished that, and the shopping list had been compiled (No, you can’t possibly live on pizza for a week!), when Duncan walked into the kitchen.

‘Oh, hi!’ he said to us, in a friendly, distracted way, before looking at Bob. Duncan is a perfectly affable fifteen year old, who unfortunately takes more after his father than his mother. He had an instruction book in his hand.

‘I’ve got it Dad, look!’ he said, pointing to the open page. ‘You can do toast under the grill – it’s that thing at the top. I’ve seen Mum using it for something or other – cheese on toast, I think.’

‘Well done!’ said Bob. ‘How does it work?’

‘Um…’ Duncan stared at the page for a moment, turned it over and looked at the other side, and then turned back. ‘Not sure. You’d better take a look.’

We slipped silently out of the house while they studied the booklet.

That week, Bob seemed to drop by our house an unusual amount, generally just for a chat – just to pass the time of day – but there was always an odd question somewhere in the conversation.

‘Where has Gina gone, Bob?’

‘She’s staying in Oxford. Wants to see lots of the churches around there, apparently.’

‘Pity about the weather.’ Outside it was bucketing down. ‘The forecast is for more of this all week.’

‘I know. I’m surprised she didn’t take her waterproofs. They’re still hanging up under the stairs.’

‘Perhaps she forgot.’

‘I expect so. Er, if you were Gina, where would you put spare batteries?’

The day before Gina was due to return, Bob decided to clear up the house. To be fair to him, we didn’t prompt him this time. I think it might have had a little more to do with fear of what Gina might say when she returned to something that resembled a municipal rubbish tip under her own roof. But it all seemed to go well and when he nervously asked us to have a look, clearly worried he might have missed something, we were surprised to see the house had even been vacuumed.

‘That was Duncan.’ The boy went up in my estimation.

‘The only thing that didn’t go right was the washing,’ Bob said reluctantly.

‘In what way?’

‘Well, I put the wash on (he seemed proud of having mastered the terminology), but something went wrong.’ There was a washing basket in the corner, the floor was covered in water, and the clothes it contained were clearly still soaking wet. My wife picked out a shirt and held it up.

Not only was it still dripping with water, but appeared to be for a small child.

‘How did you manage that? Those clothes are completely ruined!’ He looked hurt.

‘Don’t blame me, it was the damned washing machine! I left it on whatever setting it was that Gina last used, put the clothes and a washing tablet inside, and just switched it on.’ He pointed at the offending appliance.

‘Even I know that’s the dishwasher, Bob.’ I said. Inexplicably, he looked relieved.

‘Oh, that’s okay, then. I was worried it might have been on the wrong setting.’

Gina came back in the evening. Despite the week of heavy rain, it must be said that she had somehow managed to pick up a most impressive suntan.

Danger! Natural Selection at Work!

Bob has a new mobile phone.

Do you remember Bob?

Some of you may remember him from when he and I went on a mighty expedition together. The report can be found here. And, as an update to that report, I can now reveal that Bob eventually found his way back home, much to his wife’s chagrin as she had already cashed in his life insurance and taken up with a new man.

But that’s another story.

Anyway, Bob has a new mobile phone. And, being Bob, he was insistent that it be the latest, most up-to-date, all-singing and all-dancing mobile phone, with more apps (whatever they are) than…something that has lots of apps.

He has an app for everything; an app for navigation when he is out in the countryside (naturally!), an app to help him choose whatever he is going to buy if he needs to go shopping, an app that gives him a weather forecast. He even has an app that tells him when he needs to eat or go to the toilet.

Heaven only knows how he managed to cope with life before the phone.

But, there is a downside to all this.

We went for a walk and, sure, we didn’t get lost. This was because Bob had his head over the phone the whole time. We didn’t get lost, but Bob bumped into twenty seven trees, fell in two streams, had an altercation with a herd of cows, tripped over almost fifty tree roots and finally walked into the bus stop.

And he had no idea of where we had been or what sort of countryside we had passed through. Rather a waste of time, really.

Now, Bob is not unique in this, oh, God, no.

The sidewalks in our town have become dangerous places since these phones became popular. I’m beginning to get seriously cross with the number of pedestrians who march towards me, head over their phones, and not even walking in a straight line, so it becomes quite difficult to avoid them. And should I have the temerity to perhaps cough discretely to let them know I’m there, or even to feebly call ‘look out!’ or ‘excuse me!’ I invariably get a glare and perhaps a few muttered words about not looking where I’m going.

And it appears to be an almost universal phenomenon now.

We get more and more news items about these people walking into the paths of vehicles, or off the edge of cliffs, or finding other similarly stupid ways to get killed.

Perhaps it’s a modern form of natural selection? I don’t know. Large numbers of idiots seem to kill themselves the same way taking ‘selfies’ (what a f*cking irritating word that is!), so perhaps there is something in that.

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Jaipur – a random photo. Don’t try it here! 

I first became aware of the truly frightening potential for these sort of incidents a few years ago in India. Some of the driving on the switchback roads in the Himalaya is notoriously terrifying in any case, but to then see these fellows also using their phones while driving just made it even more frightening.

And then there was the girl I saw with a mobile phone ‘doing a Bob’ across an extremely busy Calcutta street.

Yet, she survived.

If there is anything in the theory of natural selection, then the future belongs to her!

Trapped!

It’s snowing here, and I fear we are completely cut off from civilisation.

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Well, this is the UK; we don’t exaggerate a great deal, but our experience of bad weather, especially here in our little corner of the country, is not quite as extreme as in some other places, so cut us some slack, will you?

Now, if it was raining hard, we wouldn’t bat an eyelid. Or eyelids…there could be a grammatical issue here, but I’m not going to pursue it right now. This is the UK, so we do rain. We may not get a monsoon, but, hell, we get more than enough of the stuff. We get floods and high tides and days and days of it pouring out of leaden skies onto us. We get so much of it that if we ever get a period of more than a week without rain, we officially declare it a drought and order everyone not to use hosepipes and make it compulsory to take baths with a friend, and ration it so severely that all we have to drink is beer.

Actually, we should declare a drought most weeks, I reckon.

But back to the present. I had been planning to walk to the nearest large supermarket to do our regular shop for large items, but now this doesn’t look nearly so attractive. And, quite frankly, nor does the thought of the return trip with a rucksack full of catfood and soya milk and other heavy bulkies.

And what is worse, we are running low on essential supplies; eggs, bread, beer…you know, essentials.

Of course, we can get some of these round the corner at the little shops in our own little high street, but because of the severe arctic conditions prevailing outside, we have been reduced to glowering at each other and using psychological warfare;

‘I thought you wanted a newspaper.’

‘I do. I thought you might go and get it.’

‘I’ve got a blog post to write and, anyway, I’m not worried whether we get a newspaper or not.’

‘We’ve got no eggs. Don’t you want an omelette this morning?’

‘I’ve had cereal.’

‘You always have an omelette on Saturdays.’

‘Not always. We need milk soon, too. I only put a splash in my tea, you use much more than me.’

‘Grrr’

‘Snarl’

But you can get everything delivered, now. Perhaps we could get our eggs delivered by Amazon drone, since this is the coming thing. And Amazon sell everything in the world now, or will do soon.

‘That doesn’t sound a good idea,’ says my wife (we’re talking again, although we still haven’t gone to the shops) ‘perhaps they will just put a chicken on the drone, instead, and when it reaches the customer’s house the drone could automatically give it a hormone injection to stimulate egg laying, then return to base afterwards.’

Of course, the calculations would be quite complicated; they would have to take into account the weight and body mass of the chicken, the number of eggs required…heaven knows what else. But I like the idea of parachuting in emergency chickens.

I’m a little worried about the larger items, though. Crates of wine or sacks of rice might pose an altogether different and somewhat stiffer test. How big are the drones? It’s all very well in theory, but none of want drones the size of a 747 landing in our streets with a new refrigerator and a week’s worth of potatoes for the neighbours.

Oh, it’s stopped snowing, now.

Three Weeks in Middle Earth

This is a re-post of something I put up not long after I had started this blog. Since I now find that I am read by many more people than I was then, I thought I’d revise it a little and bung it up again.

With grovelling apologies to J R R Tolkien…

***

Our holiday began with a couple of days home stay in Hobbiton, the only settlement of any note in the Shire. Unfortunately, this rather set the tone for the rest of the trip. Immediately, it proved impossible to pick up a mobile signal of any kind, a problem we were to encounter time and again throughout Middle Earth, which made trying to alter our travel arrangements extremely difficult.

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Our host claimed that we had been given what he called ‘the best room in the house’. Hole, more like, in every sense. One could be forgiven for thinking that flush toilets had never been invented. Admittedly, it was pleasant in a rather rustic, bucolic sort of way, and the meals were everything that we could have wished for, but the beds were a nightmare – ours seemed to be made for a child, and Cheryl and I lost count of the number of times we banged our heads on the low door frames.

Then, looking for entertainment, we visited three of the bars in the village, all of which advertised themselves as gastropubs, and I’m afraid that each was full of tobacco smoke and were quite simply too noisy. Incidentally, it was in the third one that we visited, that this guy we spoke to slipped me some odd ring, and since then a whole lot of strange dudes seem to be following us around.

The courier seemed a little surprised at our complaints, the following day, claiming that for most tourists Hobbiton is one of the highlights of their holiday, but agreed that we should move on a day early, if he could not find better accommodation for us. As a result of this, we went on to Lothlorien, which could not have been a greater contrast. Two days there at least made us appreciate Hobbiton – where that had been rather rough and ready, noisy and dirty, Lothlorien was simply bland, boring and anodyne. Entertainment seemed to consist solely of rather highbrow concerts and book readings, restaurants were all rather expensive and uninteresting and we felt that we should be tip-toeing around the whole time, hardly daring to speak other than in whispers. At least, though, the oddballs that had been tailing us disappeared for the duration.

But forgive me if I say little of the journey from Hobbiton. Several days through a bleak, cold and windswept landscape, with nothing to see and no accommodation other than our tents. The last part was the worst part, though. We travelled through some ghastly, cold tunnel, where we felt threatened by attack from bandits at any moment, and all sorts of dreadful noises kept happening. It was simply awful, but the courier insisted that it was normal and quite safe. I will be putting in a strongly worded complaint about him after we return.

And the problems we then had at the border were simply unreal. It seemed at first that they were not going to let us into their wretched land. The ringleader appeared to be a particularly unpleasant and overweight, orange-haired elf who was waving his arms around in a strange fashion and shouting, with a horrible bright red face. ‘Were we Dwarves? Had we not just come from Moria, which was one of the restricted lands?’ Were it not that there happened to be a judge in our caravan, I don’t think they would have let us in. As it was, the red-haired elf muttered something about locking us all up and making Lothlorien great again and stared at us most aggressively until we were out of his sight.

However, I don’t want it to sound as though it has all been bad, and that we have done nothing but complain. Possibly the best part of the trip so far, certainly for Cheryl, was staying in the eco lodge in Rohan. She was delighted that we were so close to horses the whole time, and the lodges reminded her strongly of the yurt that she stayed in on a previous trip away. Our hosts were friendly and happy to indulge us in our whims – mine to sit outside the lodge at sundown with a glass or two of the local (admittedly rather rough) ale, and Cheryl’s to help with the mucking out in the stables.

Personally, I definitely preferred Gondor, a modern, forward-looking country with a booming economy. Although some border regions are still occasionally subject to unrest, the capital, Minas Tirith, is considered by the Foreign Office to be safe to visit, although I was less than impressed when our caravan was attacked by a lone Nazgul, which succeeded in killing two of the armed escort that the travel company had provided for us for this stretch of our journey. Our courier, however, assured us that this was an unusual occurrence and that all steps would be taken to ensure that there would be no repeat. It was after this, though, that they suggested we abandon the day trip to see the ruins at Osgiliath, which was rather a disappointment, and something that we had both been looking forward to.

It was equally disappointing to find that they absolutely refused to take us to Mordor. We met a number of folk in Gondor who assured us that it is completely safe to travel there now, and that visas could be easily obtained at the border crossings. So eventually we booked a couple of nights on a houseboat there, through one of them. We did do our research, and after speaking to several of these guys, we are happy that what we are paying is a reasonable sum. After all, it may not seem much to us, but it is a lot to people living in these third world places. This did entail us having to make our own way there, but it proved easy enough to book a place on a caravan leaving tomorrow morning, through a friend of the houseboat guy who we met in a nearby bar.

One great plus here, is that the authorities apparently consider it vitally important that a good signal is available for everyone, which is very welcome after a couple of weeks of mobile coverage that has been, at best, very patchy. I would have been in touch sooner, but that has proved impossible. One consequence of this is that it has taken us some twenty minutes or so just to update our profiles.

Ah, the guy on the front desk has just called to say that these caravan dudes are here to meet us. We are packed ready, and just need to slip away without being seen by the courier. We have left him a note. I’ll keep you updated what happens!

Darren

Sent from my iPhone, Minas Morgul.

The Christmas Story! 3rd and Final Part.

They could see at once that something was very wrong.

There was no movement from the child in the bed of course, since they were within TimeShift, but the agonised rictus on his face, the distorted jaw and neck, and the twisted body lying half in and half out of the bed, immediately made them freeze and stare in horror.

A snapshot…a cruel statue…tiny hands caught in time, clawing desperately at a heaving chest…bulging eyes…

Henderson actually thought he could hear a terrified scream, somewhere in the air in that suddenly awful room.

‘Shee-it!’ Said Edwards, softly and slowly.

Nobody moved.

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After a minute or so, as if by comment consent, they opened the door and slowly went out to the landing, each of them reluctant to leave the child – it felt like they were abandoning him.

‘Try that door.’

Lesley was the nearest. Raising his fist he began to tap gently at the door, then realised what he was doing and shrugged, pushing the door slowly open.

They faced a woman frozen in the act of throwing a dressing gown around her shoulders as she stepped towards them, the dressing gown caught billowing like a hero’s cape, although her face was frightened and staring. Instinctively, they all took a step back.

‘She’s heard him,’ muttered Edwards. ‘She’ll make sure he’s okay.’

But none of them believed it.

‘She’ll get an ambulance, for sure.’

‘But what about all that fucking snow? How will they get through that?’

‘What can we do?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Seems blindingly obvious,’ said Edwards, after a couple of moments. ‘We just pop him in the sleigh and take him to hospital ourselves.’ Henderson looked grim.

‘It’s really not that easy, I’m afraid. We’re in TimeShift, but he’s not.’

‘So? Just bung him in the sleigh anyway, and off we go.’

‘No, we can’t. When you’re inside TimeShift you can’t move any other bodies that are outside. It’s impossible. And even if we could, what about his mum? She’d just find him gone.’

‘So to get him to the hospital, we have to do it outside of this TimeShift thing?’

‘I think we’ll have to do everything outside of that. First we need to find out what’s wrong, which means we have to get outside of TimeShift straight away. Talk to his mother….’

‘…won’t she sort of just freak out when she sees us?’

‘We can’t worry about that. We just need to work out how to do it.’

‘Don’t you know, then?’

‘Er, no. When it happened last time, I don’t know how it worked.’

‘Can you call the office and ask them?’

‘Only in real time. But there is one way I can think of. One or both of you will need to stay here, whilst I take the sleigh and come back in…what, one minute? Will that give you long enough to speak to her and find out what’s happening?’ They both looked doubtful.

‘I’m not sure that the sight of us appearing in her house at the dead of night will really help. Ain’t there any way you can stay here? At least she’ll know who you are.’

‘I don’t think so. Neither of you know how to operate it.’

‘No, we don’t. Okay, come back in a minute or two, and we’ll tell you how we’re getting on.’

***

There were four figures on the landing when he returned.

Lesley and Edwards were standing either side of the woman they had seen in the bedroom, who had her hands to her mouth in shock, whilst the fourth was a man in pyjamas who was lying stretched out on the floor A cricket bat was lying a short distance from his outstretched right arm.

‘What the…

‘Sorry, I had to biff ‘im.’

‘Why?’

‘He was attacking us.’

‘Oh, for…

‘But the boy’s having a fit, and needs to get to hospital. And, shit, that was weird.’

‘What was?’

‘The way she stopped moving the moment you appeared.’ Henderson looked at him, and then went back into the child’s bedroom. He was still lying in that awful, contorted, position, but now there was just a hint of dark blue in his lips. He returned to the landing.

‘I think he’s dying. We don’t have much time.’

‘Have you got a plan, then?’

‘Just to get him to hospital as fast as possible. If I go and get that programmed into the SatNav, then we just have to come out of TimeShift and get him on board as quickly as we can and…’

‘Oh, bugger it! It’s obvious!’ shrieked Lesley suddenly.

‘Eh? What are you talking about?’

‘Well, instead of pratting about here, why don’t we just go and get a doctor and bring ‘im here? We can stay inside this TimeShift bastard thing until the last moment, then.’

‘Yeeess…that might be the answer. It’d probably be quicker. Although, we might have a problem if they don’t believe us. We can’t afford to spend too long trying to persuade them; the boy mightn’t last that long.’ Edwards narrowed his eyes.

‘Don’t you worry about that. The doc’ll come with us!’

***

Finding the hospital proved to be the easy part.

It was a small hospital, and at that time of night there were a mixture of sleeping and wakeful patients, nurses doing rounds and writing in folders and dealing with a number of minor crises, but it seemed impossible to find a doctor. They stood at a doorway staring into a restroom where a nurse was sitting with a half empty mug of something and a pile of papers. She looked tired.

‘Don’t they have doctors here at night?’ asked Edwards.

‘I suppose they must have, but I don’t know where we’ll find them.’ They looked at each other.

‘Well, why don’t we just take a nurse?’

‘Well, why not? Come on.’

They hurried back to the sleigh, and as soon as they were aboard, Henderson switched off the TimeShift.

‘Right! Let’s go!’

They ran through the entrance and down the corridor, ignoring the shout from the desk porter, and burst into the restroom.

‘We’ve got a boy dying out there!’

‘What? Who are you? Where?’

‘I don’t know the address; you just need to come with us. He’s having a fit.’

‘I can’t just go…’ Her voice faded away as she took a proper look at the elves.

‘You’ll come with us,’ said Lesley, in a voice that said very clearly that she was going with them. ‘You need to bring anything?’

‘Er, yes…a couple of things…I’ll need a hand.’

‘Right, come on. We’re in a hurry!’

There was plenty of room on the sleigh, with most of the sacks now lying empty on the floor at the back. It took a couple of seconds to deploy the new ramp and push the trolley of equipment on board, and then they were up in the sky again, the nurse in the front seat beside Henderson. As soon as the reindeer started up and they were back in TimeShift, he felt himself relax.

‘Right. Sorry about this, but there’s a boy having a fit, and the ambulance would never get through this snow.’ She nodded.

‘Okay, I get that. I understand that you’re Santa Claus…I suppose. But,’ she lowered her voice and jerked her thumb backwards, ‘who on earth are they?

‘Elves.’

‘They look a bit rough for elves!’

‘I’ve had worse.’

‘You want a beer, love?’

‘What? I…’

‘We’re here!’ said Henderson, hurriedly. This time he managed to bring the sleigh down in the road, squeezing in between a couple of parked cars.

‘Let’s get the trolley off first.’

They pushed it through the snow up to the front door, and then Henderson switched off the TimeShift.

‘Okay. Hurry!’

They hammered on the front door.

***

It was two hours later.

At least, in some ways it was, but just at that moment it was really a hundred and eighty-nine and a bit years earlier.

‘And you’re sure the little feller’s alright, now?’

‘The nurse said he’ll be fine. And we’ve only got two more drops, then we can go home.’

‘Right, I think we need some more beers, then.’

‘Hey, these are good ones!’ Henderson said in surprise. Edwards looked hurt.

‘What was wrong with my lagers? You seemed happy enough with them earlier.’

‘Oh, nothing. No, they were great. I mean, these are pretty expensive ones. Where on Earth did they come from?’

‘Oh, they were in the lounge in that house. I’m sure no one will mind.’

‘No,’ Henderson agreed, ‘under the circumstances, I’m sure they won’t.’

***

If you’ve read this far, and my thanks for doing that, then you might like to read last year’s Christmas short stories:

First one

Second one

Third one

Fourth one

The Christmas Story! Part 2

‘Right,’ said Henderson, ‘here we go.’ He pressed the big green button and the reindeer burst into life. Less than ten seconds later, they were cruising through the sky just below the clouds. The TimeShift had kicked in, and, looking down, they could see they were passing over what appeared to be a small town, nearly every chimney of every house belching smoke, and the few roads between them devoid of traffic. Then the air around them crackled slightly, and instantly they landed on a rooftop in a modern day housing development. It was night time.

307a

Henderson glanced at the elves and nodded. ‘Okay?’

‘Nah, you’re the Big S. Best you do it.’

‘You know the rules!’ he said, in a passable imitation of Nicol’s voice. To his surprise, they looked at each other, grinned, and then got out.

They all stepped forward together, and found themselves in the middle of a darkened room, although each of them was able to see as clearly as if it were daytime. There was a single bed on either side of the room, each containing a sleeping child. On the end of each bed lay a large bag shaped like a sock, made from red material and embroidered in white with ‘Merry Christmas.’ A card table had been set up at the foot of one of the beds, covered with a small white cloth on which there was a small glass of sherry, and a plate with two mince pies and a carrot. He popped the mince pies and carrot into a small bag he was carrying, and poured the sherry into a flask. While he did that, the ‘elves’ put the regulation number of presents into each bag.

‘Dunnit.’ Said one of them. Henderson nodded, put a tick against the first name on his list, did that thing with his fingers he had to do, and then they were back in the sleigh. He turned around and put the bag and the flask on the floor behind the seat, and pressed the button.

‘Mind if we have these?’ said a voice behind him.

‘Go ahead.’

‘Cheers. Saves on lunch, anyway.’ He paused. ‘They don’t mind you eating one or two, do they?’

‘No, eat as much as you want. They don’t much care what happens to them anyway.’

‘What do they do with them when we get back, then? Do they just throw them away?’

‘They used to, but it goes to a food bank, now.’

‘What about the carrot? Can I give it to the reindeer?’

‘No, these ones can’t eat carrots. Don’t try it, whatever you do.’

‘Oh. Right.’ There was silence for a moment, then he heard a fsshh followed rapidly by two others, and then a hand suddenly appeared over his shoulder holding a tin of lager.

‘There you go, Big S. There’s a spot of Christmas cheer. It’s a bloody long day, this.’

‘Oh, thanks,’ he said in surprise. He took a sip, and then shivered slightly. It tasted pretty strong. ‘Better than that bloody sherry, anyday. Cheers!’

‘What happens to that?’

‘The sherry? Biofuel. That’s all it’s good for.’

A couple of hours into the shift, Henderson found he was beginning to relax. He was beginning to relax quite a lot, actually. He took his hands off the controls and turned around, leaning one elbow on the back of his seat.

‘I know one of you guys is called Edwards,’ he said, conversationally, ‘what about the other?’

‘It’s Lesley,’ the bigger of the two said grimly, clenching his fists belligerently. Henderson smiled.

‘Oh, right. Lesley, then, pass me another of those tins, would you?’

He reckoned they must be about halfway through the shift. It was always difficult to tell, what with their bobbing backwards and forwards randomly through the last two hundred years or more, and because of that it seemed somehow ridiculous to start worrying about whether it was two o’clock or three o’clock.

And at the moment, it didn’t seem to matter anyway.

But gradually they were working their way through the list; each name was ticked off in order, and the sacks that held the presents in the back of the sleigh were slowly emptying.

He thought he’d drunk three of those lagers, although there was a little voice somewhere inside him insisting it was four, and was just thinking it was a jolly good job that he didn’t actually have to drive the sleigh, when…

Crunch! Sssssssccccrrrrrsssshhhhhhh! Whump!

It took a lot to get reindeer to crash, but it seemed he’d managed it.

‘Where are we?’ Henderson slowly wriggled up from the foot well and got back onto his seat. He pulled his list out from his pocket and stared down at it.

‘Err, just outside Huddersfield. Probably.’ They had landed, but for some reason instead of coming down gently onto the roof of the house they were to visit, the sleigh had rushed down through the falling snow until it had collided with a hedge of conifers. The impetus had taken them through the trees, although they seemed to have a fair amount of snow and twigs over them and on the floor of the sleigh, then they had bounced a couple of times on the ground and come to rest against a low stone wall that formed part of the rear boundary of quite a large house.

He felt a little shaken, but nothing worse than that. He looked round at the others.

‘There’s a fair bit o’ the white stuff here, ain’t there?’ said Edwards, rubbing the back of his head,

‘Yes. Are you both okay?’

‘Yeah. Let’s get on with it.’ They all stood up, and Lesley picked up one of the sacks.

‘Right.’ They stepped forwards, but all that happened was that they found themselves standing ankle deep in fresh snow. ‘Oh.’

‘That’s not meant to happen,’ put in Lesley.

‘No,’ Henderson looked up into the sky, where the clouds were continuing to release a fair amount of snow, ‘and nor is that.’

‘What?’

‘Somehow, we’re in real time. Get back in the sleigh.’ They jumped in, and Henderson sat staring at the SatNav with its large red over-ride button, wondering what he should do now. He had a feeling that he’d been told about this the previous year, but the alcohol had made his thoughts rather woolly. As he hesitated, though, he heard a shout and looked up to see a couple of figures running towards them.

‘Oh, shit!’ Quickly he pressed the start button, and the reindeer roared into life. Seconds later they were up in the clouds again, and then they were down and sitting on a snow-covered roof. He looked at his list, then looked suspiciously at the co-ordinates showing on the SatNav. It seemed the program had reset itself automatically and they were now at the correct house.

Inside, he checked the list again. One child, boy, aged eight. Name of Dylan. On top of a chest of drawers was a hand-written note beside a mince pie and a couple of chocolates that read ‘For Santa, love from Dylan.’

That seemed okay then. He put a tick next to the name and they returned to the sleigh.

It was another short hop to the next call; the sleigh had barely risen to the clouds before it was down on a roof again. This time, the snow was seriously thick, and the flakes hanging silently around them were very big and very fluffy. It was remarkable, he thought, that the reindeer didn’t feel the cold.

But they wouldn’t, of course. Not these ones.

‘Right, come on. Only a few more to do, now.’ They stepped forward into the snow and materialised in a small bedroom.

And froze in horror at what they saw.

***

If you’ve read this far, and my thanks for doing that, then you might like to read last year’s Christmas short stories:

First one

Second one

Third one

Fourth one

The Christmas Story!

 

Well, it’s now December, so I suppose it can’t be too long before we begin to see the first of the Christmas decorations going up in the shops, and then, ooh, another week or so and we’ll start seeing some Christmas adverts on TV.

I said I definitely would not do another Christmas short story this year, so here it is. Part one of three. Probably.

In a way, this continues on from last year’s Christmas stories; I’ve put the links to them at the bottom of the page if you’d like to refresh your memories!

358a

It was almost the end of another tough year, another year of scrimping and scraping and just getting by. It didn’t seem right, somehow, that Santa should be on the breadline for most of the year, for that was how Henderson thought of himself now; Santa.

He didn’t really think they would take him on again this year, though. Not after what had happened the previous year, that is. But to his surprise, Nicol had smiled at him and said ‘Yes, it’ll be great to have you back on board again,’ without the slightest trace of sarcasm in his voice.

‘How have you been?’

‘Well, my back’s a bit stiffer than it was last year.’

‘You’ll welcome the new changes, then,’ he said, bitterly.

‘Changes?’

‘Yes. I’m afraid the government has taken an interest in us this year. That could spell real trouble in the future – if you come back next year, I expect you’ll find we’ve been privatised. They’re already making noises about cutting the number of presents.

‘It started last year. The Equality Commission visited us with a long list of what they called ‘positive changes’ that we needed to make.

‘Every single household with children needs to be visited, they said.

‘We do that already.

Each child needs to receive gifts of equal value, so that no one can think themselves disadvantaged.

‘We do. We always have done.

And you need to log each visit.

‘We do, it’s computerised. Has been for years. We have records going back to Victorian times.

‘And more crap like that. It feels like the writings on the wall, now.’ He sighed. ‘Anyway, this year they were back again. So if your back’s a problem, you’ll be pleased to know that all the sleighs are wheelchair accessible now; or they will be,’ he corrected himself, ‘just as soon as we finish making the changes.

‘It was sprung on us at the end of November. Some twat with a clipboard and one of those stupid plastic ID cards hanging on a chain around his neck turned up unannounced in the office. He had come to find out whether our employment record reflected the government’s ‘investment in diversity’ – whatever the frick that means. Had we heard that a shopping mall in the USA had a black Santa this year? Yes, I said, we had. And over the years we’ve had sled-loads of black Santas. And brown ones. Pink ones. One year we even had a yellow Santa. Real yellow, I mean. Jaundice, it turned out to be.’ He sighed. ‘That one didn’t turn out well.

That’s good, he said, and ticked something on his clipboard. Then: What about disabled? You’re Joking, I said. How’s a disabled Santa going to get up and down chimneys?’

‘But I didn’t have to…’ Henderson began.

‘Yes, but he wasn’t to know that. That’s for you to facilitate was his reply, though. Bloody hell, can’t these jerks even speak English? Oh, well, that won’t be a problem, I told him, I’ll just put ramps and a ladder in each sleigh.’ Nicol ground his teeth together and looked really angry. ‘I was trying to wind him up, but the bloody idiot just smiled and said oh, well done. I’ll tick that one off too, then.’

‘If I haven’t met that bloke, I’ve certainly met one or two like him.’

‘Oh, there’s more. I’ll need to come and take a look at your sleighs, now. He said. And I should have seen what was coming, then.

‘What?’

‘Now they’ve all had to go back to the workshops to be made wheelchair accessible. We’ve only got two available at the moment, which means things are a bit hectic.’

‘Does that mean you really have to take on Santas who are…well…in wheelchairs?’

‘Fortunately, not.’

‘I’ll bet that’s a relief.’

‘Just elves.’

‘Elves?’

‘Uh-huh. Elves.’ He shrugged. ‘No reason why not, I guess. You know how it works, it’s just a bit slower than usual. It means I put in a requisition for two more sleighs and teams to cover the timings. Probably the biggest pain is the changes to the delivery program.

‘Anyway, that doesn’t affect your team. Here’s your schedule.’

 

They were both rather thickly built, unshaven men. One was smoking a roll-up.

‘They don’t look much like elves’

‘You don’t look much Santa Claus.’

‘I look more like Santa Claus than they look like elves, though.’

‘Well, I’m sorry, but that’s your team. They are fully trained and know what they’re doing.’

‘Are these guys from the same agency as me?’

‘No, they’re long-term unemployed. From the Job Centre. Another government stipulation, I’m afraid. Forty-two percent of our intake this year have to be candidates who have been out of work for a year or more. But they’re okay. I did a trial shift with these two yesterday and they were, er, just fine.’ Henderson stared at him. His experience with elves the previous year had made the subject a rather sensitive one. Then he looked at the elves, who stared back at him in what seemed a rather unfriendly manner.

‘No need to gawp,’ said one. ‘Ain’t you never seen a bloke in a pixy hat before?’

‘Not for a while,’ he conceded. ‘I’m Henderson, by the way.’

‘Come on then, Henderson, let’s get in,’ said the other. ‘Let’s get this crap over with, so we can go home.’

‘Put that cigarette out first, Edwards,’ said Nicol, sharply. ‘You know the rules!’ Edwards glared at him, then threw the cigarette across the yard.

‘Bastard!’ he muttered, under his breath. Henderson took his seat at the front of the sleigh and waited for the ‘elves’ to get in.

‘This will be fun,’ he thought, gloomily.

***

If you’ve read this far, and my thanks for doing that, then you might like to read last year’s Christmas short stories:

First one

Second one

Third one

Fourth one

I have some news!

I have some news.

I’m sure some of you (especially the writers) will remember that I reported here a week or two back the disturbing news that fictitious characters now have the legal right to sue their creators for defamation of character, or any other hurt (real or perceived) caused through those said creators’ thoughtless and heartless actions.

imgp2288

In case you want to have a look, the link is below.

https://mickcanning.co/2016/10/22/sue-me-and-ill-have-you-killed/

Well, news reaches me this morning of a new grouping of characters, namely sidekicks in detective stories, who have come together under the name of Sidekicks Of Detectives (or ‘Sods’) to challenge their positions as The Most Stupid Person In A Detective Story.

Initially, the group was to have been organised by Captain Hastings, sidekick to the famous Poirot, but after some heated discussion it was agreed that, actually, he couldn’t organise his way out of his own front door without help, and the task was then delegated to Doctor Watson, who arranged a meeting at a coffee shop, one of a well-known chain, in Central London. Unfortunately, he forgot to mention either which branch it was, or the time of the meeting, and so there has only been limited progress on that front, so far.

But, further cases have already come to court.

A number of characters from ‘Three men in a boat’, by Jerome K Jerome, Bertie Wooster and others created by P G Wodehouse, and various characters from books by Spike Milligan began a collective case, but were laughed out of court.

Dan Brown is being sued by every single character he invented.

And there is some confusion in America, where Donald Trump has apparently filed a case against himself on the grounds that he has irreversibly blackened his own character.

I’m told he is confident of winning the case, since the stories he has spread about himself are scarcely believable, and that it is generally held that he must be a fictitious character, since the majority of observers and commentators say they ‘can’t believe this guy is for real!’

The trouble is, all this is symptomatic of our legislative culture. It was the retrospective case brought by Big Ears and Mr Plod against the estate of Enid Blyton that, I think, I found most distressing. By all accounts, they cooked it up over an evening of heavy drinking, after being taunted by the Tubby Bear family, and it is strongly suspected (although it cannot be proved) that much of the impetus came from a third character – possibly one of the Fluffy Cats, since they are known to be bad through and through (it’s okay, I can say that. It was proved in a recent court case of character assassination that the Fluffy Cats brought, and lost, against the estate).

But Big Ears and Mr Plod did win their case, and now not only is it a legal requirement that in future they both be referred to as intelligent, but Big Ears must henceforth be renamed as ‘Graham’. And his ears are officially ‘of normal dimensions’. Or else.

Which brings me to my own characters.

I have decided that I am not going to be dictated to, or browbeaten by, some miserable little…hang on, there’s someone at the door. I’d better just get that. Hello? What? A writ? about what? Oh…

I’m sorry, I have to stop there.