Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Love is a temple

"Love is a temple," said Bill. He was leaning his chair back on two legs, staring up at the ceiling and tapping his pen against his teeth.
"A temple to which god?" I asked. The espresso machine was whistling oddly and I tapped the pressure gauge.
"Um, the god of love, of course."
"Which one? There are a few."
"Well...," Bill shrugged, nearly catapulting himself backwards off his chair. "Cupid then, he's the one you get on Valentine's Day."
"The little kid with wings? That doesn't sound like the kind of love I'd want to see."
"Hey, not like that!"
I tapped the pressure gauge again and the little needle rose. I thought it might be sticking. "Look, if you want a temple to kiddie-fiddling, be my guest. Just don't invite me to come and watch. Or worship, for that matter."
"It's not a kiddie-fiddler temple!" Bill's chair came back down onto four legs with a clatter. "It's a temple of love, pure and unsullied."
"Involving children."
"NO! Look, it's from a song, alright? You know, 'Love is a temple, love is a shrine,'?"
"You get yours at the five and dime," I continued, nodding my head and checking the pipes at the back of the espresso machine. They were quivering, which seemed like a bad sign.
"Well, you do," I said. "That one last week, for example."
"Morel, you mean."
"She has a name now? Well, she must have given you change from a ten, or she was ripping you off. Hang on, a morel's a type of mushroom!"
"Shut up. Just shut up, and don't pretend you don't hire the odd working girl now and 'then."
"Of course I don't, I don't like girls that way." I tapped the pressure gauge harder; the whistling's pitch was increasing and making me uncomfortable. "And yours aren't just odd, they're factory rejects. Morel looked like she had to shave places humans don't have hair. Is she going to be in this temple of yours?"
"Look, there's no damn temple any more, ok? Just shut up about it."
"Closed down already? That's the problem with organised religion these days, there's no staying power. Now, you take your classical Judaistic beliefs... ok, actually I think we should leave."
"My coffee?" Bill stood up, and I dodged past him, heading for where we'd forced the coffee-shop window.
"Something's blocked in there," I called, as he realised what I was doing. "I'm pretty sure it's like Morel!"
"Like Morel?"
"Going to blow!"

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Think of the children

The Blonde wanted to go out and celebrate. I had just put on some Argyll socks that her mother had sent me for Christmas and put my feet up. I looked up, trying not to rustle the newspaper angrily and asked her what we were celebrating.
"Did you forget my birthday?" she cried, her eyes opening wide and a recently-manicured hand flying to her mouth.
"No," I said. "It's in two months time, just before we go to... somewhere."
"Oh." I could tell she was put out that the ruse had failed because she ask where I was going to take her for her birthday.
"Well, it's our five-year anniversary."
"Not for another four months," I said, raising the newspaper again and relaxing. "It's the day after Bonfire Night."
"You seem to know these dates awfully well," she said, the tone of doubt in her voice warning me to slacken my grip on the paper. She whisked it out of hands, and peered at my lap, looking for the calendar, smart-phone or PDA she suspected I was using, and found nothing but my paint-splashed jogging pants. "You can't go out wearing them!"
"I wasn't going to go out at all," I said. "I was going to read my newspaper and wear these socks your mother sent me."
"But we're celebrating!"
"What are we celebrating?"
"My... my period!"
I considered telling her that I knew her schedule as well because I'd synchronised the mortgage payments with it, but I could see that she was determined that we were going to go out and celebrate something. So I smiled and said,
"Is that such good news, dear?" and left her worrying about me wanting children while I got changed.


We arrived at I Bambini Grigi slightly later than I like to visit restaurants at, and stopped at the front door. I frowned, and the eight-year-old child in the ill-fitting tuxedo with a thin, wasted face frowned back.
"We have a reservation," I said, though in fact I was acquiring more the more I looked at him. "For nine."
"There's only two of you!" he said and giggled as though this was the funniest joke ever. I smiled as politely as rictus will allow, but the Blonde tittered a little too, and nudged me to tell me I should be laughing. I allowed a mirthless "Ha. Ha." to escape my lips.
"This way, Sir and... Ma-dame," he said sounding forty years older than he looked all of sudden.
We were seated, and a waitress brought the menu. Behind her lipstick and ill-applied make-up she could only have been six, and she was in a wheelchair. I tried not to stare, and the Blonde asked her if she'd mind if she gave her some make-up tips. As the girls got it on, I checked the menu, and noticed immediately that all the dishes on there were either invalid food or involved very young animals: week-old lamb, veal blanc, duck foetus. I flagged down another waiter, this one being probably twelve and looking like a heroin addict and asked him to send me the manager.


"And what seems to be the problem?" said the manager unctuously. His name-badge said he was Oliver, and he at least seemed to be an adult, if only just.
"Your staff," I said. "Have you ever heard of child-labour laws? Oh, and the menu too. This food is disgusting, and that's before I try eating it!"
"We're not breaching child-labour laws," said Oliver smiling. "None of these children are actually employed. All of them have expressed a wish to the Make-a-plea foundation to work in a restaurant before they die. They're all terminally ill."
"Right," I said. "Right. All terminally ill. That doesn't include the chefs, does it?"
"But of course! Children wish to cook as well, they watch Nigella and Jamie and Gordon--"
"I hope these kids don't watch Gordon! I have enough swearing at home, without going out for some more."
"They cook. Which, to some extent, explains the menu, they cook what they're used to."
"Duck foetus?"
"We had a shipment, we can't afford to waste food."
"Look," I said, "this is ridiculous. You might have got round the child-labour laws, but there are food hygiene laws too!"
"We're completely kosher," said Oliver quickly.
"Leprosy," I said. "Where do you put the lepers? And the kids with infectious diseases?"
"The salads and the cloakroom," said Oliver. "Hang on, what's the difference between a leper and a caper?"


We left without eating, and without paying, since Oliver wasn't paying any of his staff. On the way home, as the Blonde was choosing between Burger King and KFC, I made a few notes. After all, if I write it up, it becomes a work expense.

Monday, 27 June 2011

I'm back!

Gosh, it's been so long since I posted anything on this blog, lol, I hope you all totes didn't die while waiting for me to update! I'm sure you all remember that I've decided to become a food blogger, and that it all got a bit derailed when I had to move house just as I started blogging. Well, it's been a manic mess for the last six months! Honestly, every day I just sit there in bed after Darryl's left and think "What would SJP do?" Well, that's not completely true, before Darryl it was James, but I was still wondering what SJP would do. And before James it was Matt, but I never had much time to wonder what anyone would do then if you get my drift! How do I giggle girlishly in a blog?
So anyway, Jordan's gone off to do something with motorcycles somewhere, and he looks just so yummy in those leathers of his I almost made him come back and spend the morning with me, but then I remembered that Darryl might be back this afternoon so I didn't. But right, anyway, Jordan said he didn't feel like eating out again tonight, and when I offered to order in he looked a bit taken aback and said that he'd quite like to try my cooking. And at first I'm all like shocked and wondering what he thinks I am, and then I'm wondering if maybe the maid died and no-one told me yet, and then, right, I totes remember this blog and all you wonderful readers waiting on the edge of your chaise longues (I had to look that word up in the dictionary! I'm such a scholar!) and so I said yes. And then I phoned mummy, because those cookery books were just so heavy and such a drag; they're all "do this, then do that!" and there's no room for creativity.
"Samantha," said mummy, "I'm at a day spa with Maurice. He's called social services and had them take the children away for a week, and we're touring the Shetland Islands in an aquavan. I don't have the number of the catering service with me, you'll have to do it yourself."
Well, I don't mind telling you that I threw a little bit of a tantrum then, but I calmed myself down and thought of you wonderful readers waiting on tent-hooks (is that right? It looks weird...) and decided to man up. Bitch up. That's better.
The counter-girl in F&M looked a little like SJP before her nose job, so I figured I could trust her.
"Cook book!" I barked, gesturing with my handbag and concussing some wretched orphan child running loose in the store. She produced this brick of a book called Bocca and pointed me at the Food Hall, while some irritating poor woman clutched at my sleeves and bewailed some child she had. I shook her off, walked over the concussed orphan, and found myself a personal shopper. She didn't seem very grateful, but she carried the basket and found the ingredients for the recipe I picked, and that was good enough. Naturally I had the food delivered home so as not to have to carry any bags that don't contain clothes.
Jordan and Darryl came home together, so I chastely kissed them both (less than a minute each! What would SJP think!!) and showed them what I was going to make.
"Bone marrow risotto?" said Jordan. "Is that peasant food?"
"I'm trying veganism," said Darryl, looking thin and waif-like. My heart went out to him. "I don't think I'm allowed to each risotto, isn't that made from parrots?"
"It says here that there's a restaurant called Bocca," said Jordan looking at the book. "Why don't we go there and let them do the cooking?"
And over dinner I found out how Darryl and Jordan already knew each other really quite well and...
but that's not for this post, that's for the tv mini-series!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The Mermaid

"Don't call me that."
"Phlebby, look what we caught in the net!"
Phlebitis looked over. His first and second mates, Christian and Haregebo, were sorting through the fishing net on the deck. Seaweed and clumps of sea-slime were scattered here and there, and Phlebitis allowed himself a small, tight smile knowing that neither man had realised that their next job was now going to be cleaning the deck down. A couple of silver fish wriggled, gasping their last in the bright, clean suffocating air. One was as long as his forearm, though he had no idea what species it was. A little further away were a handful of mackerel that he did recognise. The thought of kippers made him instantly hungry, and he wondered how hard it would be to smoke the fish at sea.
Then Haregebo shouted and jumped back, his foot landing on a patch of sea-slime and skidding out from underneath him, landing him heavily on his bum.
"Deck-cleaning," said Phlebitis instantly. "Clear those nets away, get the fish down to the cook, and get scrubbing. I want you to eat your dinner off this deck."
"But Boss!" Christian was pointing at something still caught in the net. "You have to see this."
Phlebitis sighed and locked the wheel in place, automatically glancing to the sky to check that no clouds were about to materialise overhead and ruin his day. He walked over to Christian and punched him hard on the shoulder.
"You call me Captain," he said. "Not Boss, and especially not Phlebby." He punched Christian in the same place again, slightly harder this time and was gratified to see a wince of pain. "Now, what's the fuss about that you're not doing as you're told?"
He looked down. Not so much wriggling as curling and uncurling slowly, still caught in the net, was something about as long as his arm. It had the tail and lower-half of a fish, shiny, iridescent scales that shimmered in the sunlight and looked somehow muscular and powerful. The upper-half though was almost human. The scales gave way to skin, fish turned into defined abdominal muscles and a thin, almost concave chest. The head was that of a screaming, red-faced baby, with straggly black wisps of hair clinging here and there. Clutched in one reddening and blistering fist was a short spear tipped with coral.
The thing opened its eyes and saw them, and its whole body seemed to contract. For a moment it was there, and then there was a beautiful woman, long blonde hair cascading down her shoulders and over her chest to protect her modesty. With a toss of her head and a twinkle in her eye she indicated that she wanted to go back into the sea. A breath of fresh salt air seemed alluring, and Christian moaned, reaching towards her, his eyes glazed over.
Phlebitis punched him again, and waved a hand in the mermaid's face, breaking the illusion and revealing the half-fish, half-fetus thing slowly dying on the deck of the ship.
"Boil it up with the frogs," he said. "And get this damn deck cleaned up!"

Monday, 20 June 2011


We'd expected a bit more excitement from the bride burning, but it was a bit of a damp squib. Joaquin had given her a box of fireworks to clutch, telling her that it was a chest containing relics that his ancestors had brought back from a Crusade and Michelle had been soaking her clothes in ethanol overnight, so we were quietly optimistic that things would go with a bit of a bang. Sure enough, around about 11am Gorman chased her out of the house, screaming imprecations at her again, and then dashed into the garage. He returned with a can of petrol which he started throwing at her, and she started screaming, knowing what this portended. While Gorman rummaged in his pockets for his lighter, which most evenings he left in the pub anyway, Joaquin nipped forward and gave her the fireworks, and then retreated to a safe distance. Gorman found the lighter, stepped forward and touched the flame to the hem of her dress.


"You're the wrong ethnicity," said Jules, eyeing Gorman cautiously. "You can't go burning your wife and calling it a bride burning. It's just murder."
"She's my wife, she's my property," said Gorman draining his double whiskey and picking up Joaquin's shandy.
"Arson then," said Jules rolling her eyes. "Either way, you can't go doing it."
"She gets the bacon wrong," said Gorman. He always sounded petulant after his first pint, this far into the evening he was onto sulky and childish. For probably the eightieth time I wished that he wasn't Joaquin's housemate, or that he would find some other people to drink with.
"Isn't she Muslim?" said Michelle. "I thought that's why you married her. What would she know about bacon?"
"I make her sleep with it so she learns it!" Gorman spat the Shandy out. "What is this filth?"
"I'm driving, aren't I?" said Joaquin, who wasn't. I was. "Get your own drink, you pikey."
"Why did he marry a Muslim?" asked Jules as Gorman lurched towards the bar.
"To punish her," I said. "At least, from all the answers he's ever given, that's the one he's avoided and fits his behaviour."
"Can't we do something? Get the poor girl away from him? There are hostels for abused women...."
"Could be tricky," said Michelle, who made no secret of the fact that she thought she should have married Gorman and was still sleeping with him. "She's kind of illegal."
"I don't think immigration would be a big issue--"
"She's eight."
That silenced Jules, and most of the rest of us in fact. Until Gorman came back with eighteen pints and tried to force Joaquin to drink them all.


The flame touched the hem of her dress and there was a brilliant white light that seemed to blaze out straight towards me. Everyone else says the same thing, so I guess it was emanating in all directions at once. I got the impression of something moving in the light, something tall and beautiful, something that might have had enormous wings that reached from high above its shoulders down to its feet. I think it was picking someone up.
Michelle screamed. Gorman screamed. Joaquin was praying, and I couldn't have moved or spoken if I'd tried.
The light faded and my vision went stripy, all colours of the rainbow in thick bands. It kind of faded and swam as my eyes tried to adjust back to normal, and I realised that Michelle was burning in a pale blue flame, thin trickles of smoke wreathing around her head. Then there was a pop and a crack, and fireworks started erupting from Gorman's body, soaring overhead splattering us all with gore and exploding in the sky. After a few of them I realised they were spelling out words, but I only managed to make out "Bacon." I was too busy dodging the splatters and gobbets of flesh.
When it all died down, I looked at Joaquin who was on his knees, his eyes tightly closed, still praying. I bent down, lifted him to his feet and hugged him. Behind us, the cratered remains of Gorman still popped and hissed a little, and ahead of us, Michelle had mostly melted into some kind of human wax-work. Her eyes had run and melted and made me feel nauseous.
And Gorman's bride... well, I sincerely hope she and her protector have gone. Else there might just be more fireworks to come.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Reconsider Phlebitis

The statue of the long-dead king had three legs. Phlebitis looked at it and counted again, but it definitely had three legs. It towered above him, easily four times his height and carved, it seemed, from a single block of stone. Stone like no other stone he'd seen down here in these gloomy caves. On its head was a crown with jagged points, it wore a carven robe that drew back at the waist; there was a real leather belt wrapped around it there holding nothing up. And there were three legs. Still having trouble convincing himself of what he was seeing, Phlebitis climbed up on to the statue's dais and touched each leg in turn, checking that he wasn't getting confused with a stone scabbard, or that part of the statue had broken off leaving just a spare leg behind.
But no. This ancient king had had three legs, and had commanded enough respect from his craftsmen at least that they'd created this statue of him to celebrate the fact.
Phlebitis sighed and sat down on the dais, wedging the pitch-soaked torch into a convenient gap between two of the statue's three legs. It guttered briefly and then recovered, its smoky yellow flame making shadows dance and jump all around. It stank of pitch as well, but Phlebitis preferred this to the smell of boiled frogs he'd had to breathe during the sea-voyage.
The map was in his pocket -- the treasure map was in his pocket -- so he took it out again and smoothed it out. He'd found the cave system, found the waterfall in the first cave that was actually a true cataract and had nearly drowned him. He'd made it past that to the beach of golden sand that had turned out to be quicksand and had nearly drowned him again. Then there was the limestone cavern with the pools of milky water that he'd carefully avoided in case they tried to drown him too. Now, here, in this vast cavern with the three-legged king of some ancient people there was supposed to be treasure. And apart from the statue he'd found nothing. Not even an IOU.
Something sproinged above him and he got hurried to his feet, worrying that the statue was somehow going to spray water at him and attempt to drown him. Whoever had lived on this island had, in his opinion, had an unhealthy obsession with water. He looked at the statue, and saw that the cloak had somehow popped out slightly above the waist. Touching it he found that the stone was warm and deduced that the heat from the torch must have been the key to opening it. His heart now feeling as though it was in his mouth, he braced his feet, stretched up and gripped the cloak, and pulled.
The cloak moved only a few centimetres outwards but there was a loud grating sound, a gust of air like something very large had moved like a piston, and the ground in front of the dais sank gracefully into the ground. Water gurgled and hissed and bubbled over the descending land creating a large lake. Phlebitis's mouth turned up at the corners in a wry grin; exactly where everyone but the statue-molester would have been standing on a proper expedition was now a steep-sided lake of water that smelled rather putrid. These damn people were still trying to drown intruders.
There was a clunk and then a whooshing sound and another gust of air but in the other direction. In a spray of water that nearly extinguished his torch, a small island, barely big enough for a man to stand on, rose out of the lake. On it, though it was hard to tell in the gloom and with a sputtering torch, was a wooden crate of some kind.
The treasure.
Phlebitis looked at the lake and sighed, certain that the only way to get to the crate was to swim, and equally certain that there would be something living in the lake that would attempt to grab him and drown him.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011


Geraldinium Holmes hummed quietly to herself. She was past her kitten phase, as she now liked to think of it, and the hate mail was dying down to just one or two sacks a week. On her desk, next to a stack of hate-mail she was replying to, was a cup of herbal tea that she had the orphan-girl make for her hourly. It was a simple tisane with an herbal extract added; Geraldinium made the extract herself using ethanol and window-box-grown herbs. It was both delicious and refreshing, but she found that she wasn't get a whole lot of work done after mid-afternoon and was considering going back to coffee. She rubbed the inside of her elbow absently as she thought that.
She picked up a strip of synthetic cat fur, dipped it in the bloody juices from a slice of freshly-cut liver and put it in an envelope to send to the next hate-mailer in the pile. Then she put a slip of paper in there with it, on which she'd neatly written "Adolphus, aged 3. Bled out." She had plans for making a collage of any replies she got.
"Miss Holmes?" The orphan-girl behind her sounded sad and plaintive. Geraldinium sighed.
"Orphan-girl," she said firmly without looking round. "What have I told you about speaking?"
"Er, there's been a couple of things actually," said the orphan-girl. "You've told me only to speak when you've said something interesting that needs acknowledging, not to speak unless the pan's about to boil dry and ruin a new artwork, and if I have to speak then always to sound so happy that people want to kill me."
"The last one," said Geraldinium licking the envelope and sealing it. She licked her lips and made a moue, liver juice had dripped on the glue-strip.
"Miss Holmes!" The orphan-girl sounded bright and lively, the kind of person who's enthusiastic at stupid-o'clock and trying to be helpful to people who are just feeling murderous.
"Yes... oh, my." Geraldinium turned round this time, and her words died on her lips. The orphan-girl had found some leather and plastic from somewhere and put together what she could only hope was supposed to be a super-hero costume. It didn't fit well, and generally covered those parts that super-heros traditionally exposed while not covering those parts that any decent person would want covered up.
"Oh... my." said Geraldinium again, wondering if English actually had any words suitable for this occasion.
"I'm Batman," said the orphan-girl. "I'm going to be a superheroine."
"Bats...," said Geraldinium slowly. "How? I mean... how?"
"Well, Batman's parents were killed when he was young," said the orphan girl, a leather strip uncoiling around her leg and falling around her ankle. "And he lived a strange life alone except for the help and was incredibly clever, and when I thought about it, that's just like me."
"You thought?" murmured Geraldinium who had killed the orphan-girl's parents in order to acquire an orphaned servant girl.
"I've put together the costume, and now I'm going to go around saving animals and avenging them!"
"And who am I in all of this?" said Geraldinium.
"The help, silly! You're Alfred, Alfred."
"I think you should go and check on the animal cages in case there are any trapped animals," said Geraldinium, still mesmerized by seeing all the wrong bits of her servant girl.
"Oh!" The orphan girl turned and tried to run, tripping over the loose leather strap, getting tangled up in the rest of her mess of a costume, and banging her head on the floor.
"Some Batman," said Geraldinium, not unkindly. Then, remembering that she was supposed to be Alfred, she got up and kicked the girl in the kidneys.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Consider Phlebitis

Boiled frogs. More bloody boiled frogs.
Phlebitis hated boiled frogs more than he hated his name, and more than he hated the mother who had given him his name. Yet the boiled frogs were considered a delicacy in the Meliphasic isles and they traveled well, so every summer Phlebitis spent four months sailing back and forth across the stretch of water that was called the Meliphasic Sea on one side and Big-Wet-Salty on the other. He had to boil the frogs himself, en route, because the frog farmers believed that their frogs were sacred. He'd tried asking them to boil the frogs and they'd almost refused to trade with him any more. He'd not wanted to risk boiling the frogs on the beach in front of them after that.
So, he constructed large iron barrels that were raised slightly off the deck and the frogs were put into spring water in the barrels so that the frog farmers were happy they were being cared for and respected. If they'd got their language far enough to describe love they'd probably have insisted that Phlebitis love the frogs too. Once they'd set off, Phlebitis would clip his nose shut and light the fires beneath the barrels, and the frogs would boil from noon until sunset.
The Meliphasts would trade trinkets for the boiled frogs; trinkets that they either carved from local jade or amber, or sculpted from a kind of white rock they made beneath the banks of willow trees. The amber and jade fetched prices that would astonish (and enrage) the Meliphasts, especially considering they got barely a bucket of boiled frogs for each little objet d'art, but the sculpted white rock was in even higher demand. It dissolved easily in water and could be administered to cure fevers, mental weakness and a host of other things besides. And of course, the Meliphasts considered the white rock sacred, so they wouldn't increase production of it, explain how they produced it, or sell it in anything other than elaborate carvings that took months to create.
"Can't you carve me little discs, perhaps with a symbol engraved in it?" Phlebitis had asked. "The letter E, for example?"
The Meliphasts were slightly less angry than the frog farmers had been but Phlebitis had still twisted both his ankles trying to get away from them and back to the relative safety of his ship.
And so, he had a sea-voyage back to sensible, enlightened lands where he was trying to keep precious white-rock statues from dissolving in the wet atmosphere, waves and rain so that his profits didn't run into the sea and cure headaches in all the fish.
For now though, he was on his way to the Meliphasic isles and the stench of boiled frogs seemed to both pre- and suc-ceed his ship so that he was forever moving in a miasma of amphibian stink. The cook, a short ugly man whose mother had apparently called him Adonis in a show of irony so large that the Gods were still discussing who had priority for striking her down, had just told Phlebitis that they were out of meat, unless he counted the boiled frogs. Phlebitis, his head in his hands, had sent him to do just that while he tried to find out if they'd ever stocked a net or fishing lines on the boat. It was, he felt, an omen, a sign that this voyage was not going to be one of the wildly successful ones like the one where a giant squid had attacked them just hours out of harbour, and they'd pretty much just dragged it ashore losing only four men and a mast in the process.
Boiled frogs. He hated boiled frogs.

Monday, 13 June 2011


We were having problems with the robo-shopper. Three times this week Dad had been called at work, by the police, because the robo-shopper had been stood in the middle of the supermarket checkout queue screeching "EXTORTIONATE!" at the top of its voice. At first we'd laughed it off as one of those endearing little errors that robots are prone to, but the police were quite severe with their ticking off the third time, and Dad came home looking angry.
"I'm going to reprogram it," he snarled, swinging Timmy's baseball like a bailiff with a grudge. "Percussionistically."
"That's not a word, dear," said Mum going through the carrier bags of shopping and putting in the fridge and cupboards. "Does anyone know why it bought Marmite?"
"Timmy's got Home Ec. tomorrow," I said, dodging the bat and trying to stay between Dad and the robo-shopper. "Maybe he needs it?"
"Move," said my father, the glint in his eye suggesting that he was going to reprogram the robo-shopper whether it was in English or his own Esperanto.
"That's not a word, dear," said Mum, absently.
We all looked at her at that point, and Dad even stopped swinging the bat.
"What's not a word?" he said. "Move? It's not a sentence, granted, but--"
"It's not a word," said Mum again.
"Er... what is it then, mum?" I asked.
"It's a collection of syllabaries incorrectly intoned in a non-functional Hegelian quasi-sense," she said, and fell over.
The robo-shopper retreated into its recharging cupboard while we called for a robo-medic and had mum taken to the hospital.


The next day, while we were waiting for the diagnosis on mum to come through, the robo-shopper sneaked out of the house and into the neighbour's back garden, where it chased their cat for an hour shouting "EXTENSION-CORD!" erratically. Mr. Heygate finally brought it an extension-cord, and it fashioned a lariat from it and roped the cat in. Trussing its legs about a fence-post it left it mewling pathetically suspended between two patio chairs and retreated to its charging cupboard. Dad locked the cupboard and hid mum's diagnosis.


The robo-shopper broke out of the cupboard while Dad was out at the garden centre and I was balanced on a chair stacked on the table trying to get at mum's diagnosis. By the time I'd got the page, read it, put it back and put the furniture back to rights, the robo-shopper had disappeared.
Dad came back early, with the robo-shopper in tow. He'd been called by the police again, who were quite blunt in what would happen in they were called out to our robo-shopper once more. This time it had been found at a Catholic Seminary chasing would-be priests and screeching "EXCOMMUNICATE!"
I didn't care. Mum's diagnosis was 'Rust'.


Timmy, it transpired, hadn't ordered the Marmite at all. In fact, he turned out to be allergic to it. They put him in the hospital bed next to mum's.
Someone pushed me down the stairs. The house-cameras don't show anyone doing it, but they do record me suddenly flying forward as though something struck me in the small of my back. I broke a leg and both arms. I ended up in the bed next to Timmy.
Dad was electrocuted by the toaster, which somehow ended up in the jacuzzi with him. There was a debate for a while about putting him on the suicide-watch ward, but finally they put him on our ward, on the other side of mum.


Everyone else took the drugs and is asleep. So there's only me awake, and I can barely move with all these broken limbs. All I can do is lie here, and listen to the squeak of the robo-shopper's wheels as it heads down the ward, clutching a pillow, and whispering "exterminate" to itself.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Homeopathic child rearing

Miss Smith gazed at the parents in front of her. Mr. and Mrs. Grahamly had a daughter, Liver, who was in Form 2G, and were sitting on chairs nearly four feet apart. They would occasionally look at each other and share a smile that hinted at a very special bond. And then they'd shuffle their chairs slightly further apart. Miss Smith felt like she was umpiring at a tennis match.
"Your daughter," she began again, looking at the desk to avoid having to keep turning her head to look at the other parent.
"Liver," said Mr. Grahamly.
"Yes. Yes." said Miss Smith. "Right, fine, let's start with that. Why did you call the poor girl Liver? She's getting a fair amount of bullying and torment on account of it, and there are limits to what we can do to protect her from it. I've tried keeping her in the classroom during playtimes and breaks, but she get upset. If I let her out with the other kids, they tease her and she gets upset."
"Liver's a nice name!" said Mr. Grahamly. "And it's a very useful organ. I would be proud to be called Liver."
"And what's your name, Mr. Grahamly?" said Miss Smith, realising that Mrs. Grahamly wasn't going to say anything.
"Appendix." He hung his head a little, and his wife shuffled her chair away from his again.
"Yes. No. Oh for fu--" Miss Smith mumbled inaudibly under her breath, and regained her composure.
"Liver tells me that she doesn't spend a lot of time with either of you. She said, in her last essay," and here Miss Smith brandished a piece of paper with childish scrawl on it running across the lines, "that she spends two days a week in the airing cupboard cuddling up to the hot-water heater."
Mr. and Mrs. Grahamly exchanged glances, and Miss Smith was pleased to see that they looked worried. Then they shuffled further apart.
"WHAT is going on?" she demanded, her voice much louder than she'd intended. "Why is she in the airing cupboard? Why are you edging further and further away from each other? What is the problem here, really?"
"Well you see," said Mrs. Grahamly in a gentle, polite voice, "we believe you see in homeopathicism you see."
"No, I don't see." Miss Smith was beginning to hate the couple. "Explain to me, in simple words. Without forever asking me if I see."
"You see," said Mrs. Grahamly ignoring Miss Smith's snarl, "you have to keep diluting the concentration of things to gain maximum effects. That's homeopathy, you see. So you see, when we feel affection for each other you see we dilute it a little to make it stronger you see. We've never been more in love, have we?"
"It's true," said Mr. Grahamly, as the couple shuffled still further apart. They were now both well beyond their respective ends of the desk Miss Smith still sat behind. "And we apply the same methods to our children, we homeopathise our love for them. Though it sounds like Liver needs to start doing that with the airing cupboard now."
"You dilute your love for your children?" Miss Smith was now staring at them with the same look she normally reserved for Miss Devenport who taught Religious Instruction. "You're utterly, contemptuously, crackers. I'm calling Child Support Services."
Mr. Graham stood up and approached her desk, and she felt a sudden frisson of worry. He was a tall man with broad, muscular looking shoulders. At her desk, he reached into his pocket, and Miss Smith flinched. Out came a thin white rectangle of card.
"My card," he said gravely, and went and sat down again.
Miss Smith looked at it. It announced Mr. Graham as the Head of Social Services and Child Care.
"Right," she said with a sigh. "Homeopathically speaking then, I think we're done here, probably for the next couple of years."

Friday, 10 June 2011


"Davidson says that there's going to be a Rapture," said Miss Smith to the staff-room in general. A couple of the other teachers looked up, all from marking papers or books. Those who were doing something more interesting ignored her.
"Did he say when?" Miss Devonport sounded genuinely interested, and Miss Smith tried to remember what Miss Devonport taught. Something objectionable, she was sure... oh yes! She taught Religious Instruction.
"In about three minutes," said Miss Smith looking up at the big white clock on the staff-room wall.
"That's a bit soon! I won't have finished marking all these essays by then." Miss Devonport looked genuinely upset. "What if I go in this Rapture? What will happen to the children then?"
"They're learn to inquire into the nature of things and cultivate independent thought?" Miss Smith could never pass up an opportunity to twist the knife about Religious Instruction.
"I'd finish the marking for you," said Mr. Bellows, his smile disappearing beneath his walrus moustache, which seemed to move of it's own accord. Miss Smith thought there were things living in it.
"Oh, but I'm sure you'd be enraptured too," giggled Miss Devonport, and got an encouraging, enthusiastic smile back from Mr. Bellows.
"Just the two of us?" he said, a twinkle in his eye. "Surely there are some others who deserve heaven as well?"
"Maybe," said Miss Devonport.
"I'll be going," said Mrs. Leach, the senior gym teacher. Her arms were folded across her voluminous chest, her legs were spread far too far apart for decorum, and her tracksuit, grey and sagging, smelled faintly of garlic. "Gym teachers get a free pass into heaven on account of having to teach gym class."
"Which scripture?" said Miss Devonport, her voice suddenly prim and proper, but most of all, disbelieving.
Before she could answer though, there was a large crash from outside, and then a sudden silence. Everyone in the staff room looked at everyone else, and no-one made a move towards the door. Finally, Mr. Bellows, who was closest to the door, opened it and stood quickly aside. Only the wind came in.
"Where is building three?" said Mrs. Leach quietly.
"And the students!" said Miss Smith, a little quicker on the uptake.
"I think they've been raptured, said a woman, appearing in the doorway to the staff room. "There was a bright light, some oddly-shaped people walking about, and then the children and a large, squarish building were all taken into the light and away."
"How can Form 3B be part of a rapture?" said Miss Leach. "I'm not even sure they're all human."
"Perhaps they're rations for the long journey ahead?" said Miss Smith.
Miss Devonport worked this one through in her head twice and then shook it. "I don't understand you," she said.
"That's probably for the best, said Miss Smith quickly. "Who are you?" she said to the helpful woman at the door, but as all eyes in the room turned to look at her they found that she had gone.
"That was odd," said Mrs. Leach, still sounding thoughtful. "Less a rapture than a rupture, if you ask me."

Monday, 6 June 2011

Newspaper man

"Why don't you read a newspaper?" My father sounded exasperated but looked calm, stood in the doorway sipping intermittantly from his coffee cup. I hurled another cushion at my brother, who ducked, and replied,
"I don't want to be the kind of person who reads newspapers. I want to be the kind of person that newspapers write about!"
"You remind me of your mother," he said, sighing just a little, and turned away. Only after he'd left did I think to wonder if he meant because I was wearing her navy blouse and skirt or because of my attitude to life.


I was playing with my lego when my father walked in. He looked at the Millenium Falcon I was half-way through and snorted. At first I thought I knew why -- one of the wings had been trodden on in one of my sibling-fights and did not look capable of supporting a craft in flight -- but then he walked off. I put the craft down, wondering if I'd done something very wrong, but then he reappeared with a heavy coffee-table book and threw it at me.
I caught it easily -- in my sibling fights we were now throwing cast-iron pots and pan at each other -- and looked at it. It was an architecture book, featuring the works of Frank Gehry.
"You want to be in the newspapers," said my father, "you'll need a worthwhile talent. And while your drag is good, it'll only get into the locals. For the nationals you'll need something better."
I opened the book and stared at the pictures inside, and something inside me reached out, wanting to build. When my father returned twenty-five minutes later to ask if I'd seen the weed-killer, I had changed out of my mother's clothes and into a crisp white shirt, smart trousers and polished shoes. I hadn't seen the weed-killer.


Three years later and the coffee-table book had been dismantled, the pictures pinned up on the walls of my room. More technical and complicated books were stacked on the desk and the drawing board next to it. I had annexed all of the lego in the house and used it to build models; then I'd constructed paper models based on what the lego suggested would work. Diagrams and blueprints occupied the drawing board, and my fingers had near-permanent blue stains from the fine-nibbed graphing pens I used.
My brother ran past the door, screaming. A few seconds later a blast from a flame-thrower roared down the corridor, and a few seconds after that my father bellowed,
"Not in the house!" There was an oily, greasy smell that drifted into the room, followed by my father. He looked around him at everything I had and walked out again. I was sure I heard him mutter,
"I think the drag was safer."


My father looked on as I hammered the last couple of nails in above the window and stood back. Two-thirds of the tree-house was now complete, and I'd finished the conservatory. I smiled, pleased with it.
"The reporters are here," he said. "You made it into the papers. By the way, have you seen your brother?"
I shook my head, and headed out to talk to people about my tree-house, which was the size of a small bungalow, built across four trees, had a conservatory, a solarium and would eventually have solar-powered showers and a jacuzzi. The outer design was all curves and twists that drew the eye in and then confused it, leaving it lost in what might be an optical illusion. And it was all constructed from natural materials.
The reporters started up a clamour when they saw me, and I smiled a little. I was going to be one of those people in the newspapers after all.
As for my brother... well, he was one of those people in the foundations of the treehouse.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Interview with a bus driver

"You got up at 5am? Why did you get up then?"
I had to get to work, didn't I? The company wants you at the depot a half-hour before you take the bus out. 'Cos they're cretins, innit? None of them get into that office till 9.
"What did you do after you got up?"
Shit, shower and shave. It's not a Tuesday, so there's no Spunk.
"Ah, thank-you for that. 'Ablutions' would have been just fine."
A blue what?
"After you had... made yourself ready, what did you do then?"
Bleeding Nora, you're worse than the wife was when she was alive. Why do you keep asking all these stupid questions, eh? I had breakfast, which, 'cos I know you're only going to ask, was a scotch egg I found in the fridge. No, I don't know who put it there.
"Your wife, who died after being hit by your sit-and-ride lawnmower two years ago?"
Yeah. Dunno how it happened, but your lot came round and asked a bunch of bloody stupid questions and all. I wasn't here, and she was supposed to sitting on the bloody thing, not playing chicken with it. Can I borrow your hanky?
"How did a scotch egg get into your fridge if you didn't put it there? No, you can keep the hanky."
I didn't say I didn't put it there, I just said that I didn't know who put it there. It might have been me. You sure about the hanky guv, it's got this embroidered letter here, looks pricey, like.
"Really, it was very cheap. You keep it. Why wouldn't you know if you put a scotch egg in your fridge or not?"
I forget things, ok? The wife used to keep track of all that kind of stuff, but now... now I come in and find I've bought toilet roll again, third time this week it looks like. I've got the EU toilet roll mountain in my downstairs shitter.
"How did this scotch egg, of let's say indeterminate origin, taste? Did it seem off at all?"
Tasted like an egg with a bit of old sausage round it. Pretty much what you'd expect.
"And how did you feel after eating it?"
Less hungry. Do you have go to university to not know this much?
"...look, yesterday morning you drove a bus into a graveyard and waited patiently while a number of corpses dug themselves out of the ground and got on board. You then took them to the local swimming pool, where they forced their way through the reception desk and went swimming. Where most, but not all, of them dissolved. We're concerned about why you did this, but we're a lot more interested in how you did this. So, please, co-operate a little more before we get the bloody thumbscrews out!"

Apocalypse 7am

The checkout man in the DVD rental store frowned at the woman stood at the till. He picked up the DVD cover that she'd selected, and pursed his lips.
"This isn't a very suitable film for young children," he said. "I don't mean to pry into your life, but store policy is to remind customers with small children-"
"I'm not babysitting my child with your film," said Mummy briskly. "I'll be watching it after she's gone to bed. But that said, if I want to introduce my child to masterworks of film, or to explain to her what war is really all about, what concern of that is yours?"
The man looked a little taken aback. "This is really quite a violent film, and for a small child-"
"I said IF, and my question was actually about your right to stick your nose in where it's not wanted." Mummy's voice was growing icy, and Toddler, near her ankles, started giggling.
"I did a degree in social work," said the man in a much quieter voice. "That'll be three pounds, please."
Mummy paid, and the checkout man found the right disc and slipped it into the cover. He didn't dare say goodbye.
"Silly man," said Mummy on the way out, ostensibly to Toddler, but just loud enough to be overheard. "He's not wanted for his opinions."
Mummy had a few other shopping errands to run, and by the time they got home it was just after 9pm, so Mummy slipped the DVD into the player, left Toddler on the couch in front of the television, and went into the kitchen to prepare dinner. The budgerigar, a school pet that Toddler had been tasked with looking after for the week, squawked from its cage on the counter when she came in. Mummy glared at it until it put its head under its wing, and unpacked the shopping, putting things into cupboards and the fridge. Deciding that after all that she didn't much feel like cooking, she called for pizza.
Back in the living room, she found that Toddler had already started the film playing and was sat attentively in front of it. She smiled, she'd always found the start of the film boring, and sat on the couch. Toddler could watch until the pizza arrived, then she'd turn it off.
When she woke up again, it was 4am and Toddler was curled up next to her asleep and the film was playing through again, somewhere near the end. She yawned, stretched, and took them both off to bed.
In the morning she discovered the pizza on the front step, with an apologetic note saying that pizza delivery boy had rung eight times to try and get her to take the pizza. She checked her phone -- yes, he'd rung there three times too. And the note looked like he'd written it in his own blood, so she'd accept it was her fault. She picked it up, and went back into the kitchen.
There was the fragrant smell of olive oil in the air, so she looked around, just in time to see a bedraggled-lookie budgie flinching away from a lit match. The oil caught and the budgie disappearing in a column of fire and a single, despairing squawk.
"I love the smell of napalm in the morning!" giggled Toddler, waving the match excitedly.
"Oh good," said Mummy, catching it and blowing it out. "No more pets for you, little man."