Saturday, 26 May 2007

The Miller-Collins scale

I scored 72 out of 80 on the Miller-Collins scale when I was tested. The testers, two youngish men with facial hair more suitable to people thirty years older than them (when I'd walked into the trial lab I thought I'd walked onto the set of the Open University) looked extremely nervous when they told me the result.
I asked them what it meant. I had a pretty good idea, but they were looking nervous and I was feeling mean, so I made them explain it.
Well, they said, the Miller-Collins scale measures deviancy from social norms and mores, and the higher you score, the more deviant you are. You, they said, are so deviant that we're not comfortable being in the same room as you. Next to you, corkscrews look untwisted. If you'd scored just 2 points higher standard procedure is to shoot you with a tranquiliser dart and transfer you to a secure mental institution.
I nodded and smiled. I see, I said. And how will this affect my application for a mortgage?
Since your mortgage lender required that you take this test, said the first of them, we think you'll probably be turned down.
Hopefully with extreme prejudice said the second one.
I nodded and smiled again. As my mortgage application was for the purchase of a fully equipped S&M dungeon with a business licence I rather thought I'd be accepted joyfully. And I had recognised the second one already, as a regular visitor to one of the dungeons I already owned.
Odd how everybody's normal until you label them....

Monday, 21 May 2007

Waiting for the punchline

'Are those bruises on your arm?'
'Oh, yes. Look, they form the constellation of Orion!'
I stared at her in mild consternation. 'Jill, they're bruises,' I said. 'They're not supposed to form star maps. How on earth did you get them?'
'Ducking and weaving,' she said. Her eyes met mine daring me to ask more. I'm a coward though, and so I fell silent.
'See, I've got the belt and everything,' she said, grinning brightly at me.
'I suppose it's a bit like a tattoo, when you put it like that,' I said. 'Only not so permanent.'
'Quite a lot like a tattoo!' said Jill. 'What do you think I should get on the other arm?'
'The Queen's head?' I suggested. 'You know, like a postage stamp?'
We split off at that point and went our separate ways; Jill walking over to the applied physical sciences building, and me heading downhill to the aquatic studies blocks. It was a standing joke that if the water table rose or we had heavy rain that the aquatic sciences building would be underwater in less time that it took to say 'Jiminy Cricket' (who says such things anyway?). It was slightly less funny when you learned that the building actually had sets of scuba gear in each of the labs....

I caught up with Jill again that afternoon. An email had gone round announcing that the campus coffee-shop was having a three-for-one sale on quad-espressos. I was going to be working until early into the morning studying phospholuminence in undergraduates and felt that the caffeine boost would probably be useful. Jill loves a bargain -- she only buys food at the supermarket that's been reduced, all of her dresses have come from either a warehouse sale or a charity shop; even her husband was a jilted groom who 'looked sort of lost, all stood at the altar like that, so I took him.' I still wonder about that.

She had a set of bruises on her other arm now, that were fresh, but were still recognisably in the shape of the Queen's Head. I stared at it in shock.
'That was a really good idea!' she said happily. 'We think that it should look like a second class stamp for the first couple of days and then lighten into a first class stamp after that! Everyone will want one soon!'
'I don't think people will want to collect bruises quite like that--' I said, but Jill cut me off.
'Not everyone, silly, but the bodymod people will. After all, this is much less permanent than a tattoo or a piercing, and so much easier to do as well.'
'How are you doing this?' I said. 'How did you get it done in such a short time?'
'Oh, it's the latest application of the physical sciences,' she said, 'We've got in a case-load of wife-beaters and we've trained them to lash out on certain keywords. They're all quite predictable, so all you do is go and have a carefully scripted conversation with a room full of them, and you come out with the design you want!'
I was shocked into silence. Jill picked up her three quad-espressos and looked back at me. 'You're very quiet,' she said, 'are you that surprised?'
'No,' I said, finding it hard to speak. 'I think I'm just waiting for the punch-line still.'

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Monsters and Poodles

'Your monster ate my poodle!'
I looked up. Mrs. Kapolski, my short, white-haired, eighty-three year old landlady was stood trembling at the doorway of my living room.
'That's what monsters do, Mrs. Kapolski,' I said patiently.
'They eat poodles?'
I nodded. Mrs. Kapolski looked confused and I couldn't honestly say if the cloudiness in her eyes was tears or cataracts.
'Oh,' she said, 'right you are then.' She walked away, slightly hesitantly. I felt momentarily guilty and sorry for her, but that was swept aside by my annoyance that my monster had eaten her poodle. I had thought it had been abnormally quiet in its room since I came in, now I knew it was waiting to be punished. Well, it could wait. The most effective punishments were, in my opinion, psychological anyway. Of course, if I went into its room to confront it and punish it, I might find out what else it had done while I was away, and I had learned to treasure my ignorance. Sometimes it is better to curse the darkness than light a candle; less dangerous too. Instead of a trembling pool of light that may serve only to show you how lost you really are, an ill-timed gas leak may leave you at the centre of a vast, expanding explosion of light and heat: a beacon to every monster around to come and enjoy your fresh, char-grilled flavour...

St. Theresa's Prayers

Mother Superior stared at the heavy paper she held in her trembling hand.
'It says that they've canonised Theresa,' she said at last. 'She's now St. Theresa.'
'Doesn't she have to be dead first?' asked her adjutant, a young muscular woman with large hands.
'It would seem that they've left that up to us,' said Mother Superior, refusing to look her adjutant in the eye.
'Leave it to me,' said the adjutant cracking her knuckles.

When she'd left Mother Superior stood alone, listening to the muted murmur of the nuns at prayer from the chapel below her office, and wondered which of the voices was Theresa's.
Almost as she wondered it, the vioces grew louder and more distinct, until she could hear Theresa as clearly as if she were in the office with her.
'Heavenly Father, forgive not those who trespass against me and conspire to kill me. Upon my death bring fire upon this nunnery and curse all who dwell here--'

The papal paper slipped from Mother Superior's fingers.

A sublime idea

'It's like licking a leprechaun,' said James as I came into the room carrying a fresh bottle of Tequila.
'What is?' I said, puzzled. 'What does a leprechaun taste like anyway?'
'Green!' said Susan at the same time as James held up a small, plastic bag half-filled with red crystals.
'Oh.' I said, nodding at James and then rolling my eyes at Susan.
'We can use it instead of salt in the slammers,' said James enthusiastically. 'Just wet the rim of the glass and dip it in this.'
'Won't work,' said Susan promptly, gathering our empty glasses and putting them on the table. 'It needs acid to set it off, it won't work till it's in our stomachs then.'
'Oh,' said James. 'That's no fun.'
Susan frowned, her face crinkling like a three-day-old puppy's. 'Although,' she said, 'if we put the crystals in first, then the lime, then the tequila and put salt on the rim of the glass...'
'Ah,' I said smiling, pulling the limes from my pockets, 'a sub-lime idea!'

On the use of mirrors in the game of chess

For the second game I moved the mirror. When she arrived, she looked nervously at the mantlepiece and seeing the mirror's absence sighed very gently. I guided her to the chess table, noticing that the collar of her dress was embroidered with white pawns. She took Black this time, as I had expected. I sat opposite her and advanced my Queen's pawn. I could see her both before me and reflected in the mirror. Her hand hovered like an albino hummingbird over her pawns.

She played cautiously as before, and again the careful placement of the mirror was to my advantage. Her tells were shown as clearly as any amateur poker player's, and I discerned her strategies effortlessly. As her attack splintered against my artful pawn formation, I saw her grow agitated, and again her reflection in the mirror took on an opalescent lustre. Abruptly she sacrificed a rook, and in the mirror her reflection turned and snarled soundlessly at me, crimson lips curling away from white teeth, and her eyes as brilliant and green as new-cut emeralds.

Numbed, my hands moved of their own accord and i rejected her sacrifice, counter-offering the lynchpawn of my defense. Her reflection returned to normal, but it was too late; I crumbled and resigned a few moves later.

She sat back and smiled slightly and I caught the briefest possible glimpse of a flash in her hand. Instantly I understood. I was not alone in employing the art of mirrors to chess.