Monday, 29 August 2011


I was four when the mom-bot was returned to the Yard. I can remember coming home from school and running into the kitchen excitedly waving my painting around, and skidding to a halt as I realised that the mom-bot wasn't there. I started crying then, because the mom-bot was always in the kitchen when I came home from school. Sometimes it would be stood at sink, irradiating the dishes or the vegetables, and sometimes it would be stood at the cooker stirring things in pots. Often it was pasta, which was my favourite meal. My father hated the mom-bot's pasta though.
I was still crying twenty minutes later when my older brother came in to the kitchen, looked around and then punched me in the ribs. Unsurprisingly that didn't stop me crying, but spurred me on to greater volume, and I found some more tears to dribble down my cheeks.
"Shut it!" he said. "What have you done with the mom-bot? Where's tea?" He scuffed his shoes on the black and white checkered linoleum floor and looked ready to punch me again.
"The mom-bot's gone," said Dad from behind me. "Stop crying, Kirstin, the mom-bot's not coming back."
This time I did stop crying, but mostly out of shock. I turned to stare at him, and he did this funny shrug thing with his shoulders while there was a strange smile on his face. "It was defective," he said. "It didn't do things right. If the Yard can fix it, then we'll get the mom-bot back. Otherwise we'll have to make do without it."


The mom-bot never came back. It was odd being the only family on the street without a mom-bot, and at first, quite hard at school. No-one expected you to be missing both a mother and a mom-bot, though it was the lack of a mom-bot that always got attention first.
"You poor thing," murmured teachers when I told them. "It must be very hard for you. My own mom-bot is... well, I couldn't do without her."
That was the first time I noticed that everyone else called their mom-bot her, but we'd always called ours it. I was sixteen before I realised that Dad must have been responsible for that.
At the same time, I'd been taking a lot of mathematics and computer science courses at school, and so when I realised that the Yard had a substantial online presence, I decided to do some snooping. I stole Dad's National Security number and used it to access the Yard as him. His personal questions were easy to answer, and soon I had a record of all of his interactions and requests to the Yard. They were, to my surprise, encrypted, but using a simple Playfair cipher that I cracked in half an hour.
And there is was, in white-on-black on my screen. The reason for the return of the mom-bot.
'It does not make pasta correctly. It consistently adds the sauce to the pasta instead of the pasta to the sauce.'
Below that was a question from the Yard: 'Requested action?'
And Dad's reply: 'Destruction. This is a crime against humanity.'
I laughed, and then stopped, and then laughed again. Surely this was ridiculous? No-one requested destruction of a mom-bot, let alone for the way it made pasta! Then I wondered; why on earth had the Yard complied with Dad's request? A mom-bot was an expensive piece of equipment; most families spent years paying for theirs, it was like a mortgage. All the upgrades came at a cost too, to have a truly up-to-date mom-bot required a high-paying job and a willingness to make personal sacrifices. Dad was just... what was Dad? I suddenly realised I had no idea what Dad did for a living.
Well, I was in his files, all I had to do was call up the personal identity section, which I did. And then I turned the computer off, opened up the case and pulled the memory chips from the board and hacked them apart with scissors. There was no way I wanted any proof I'd looked at Dad's account to be anywhere, even if meant not being able to do my homework until I'd replaced the chips.
At dinner that evening, my brother served up the meal with a smile on his face.
"Pasta!" he said, "Just like mom-bot used to make."
I couldn't bring myself to look at Dad's face, but I heard him whisper, so quietly that he thought we wouldn't hear, "Oh dear, oh dear."

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Lemon Juice

"Darling?" My wife's voice came from downstairs, echoing a little through the stairwell.
"Coming, dear!" I called. I pulled my tie from round my neck and tossed it onto the bed, and looked down at my shirt. The blood spatter had pretty much ruined all the bits of it that hadn't been under the tie or my jacket, and though it made an interesting Rorschach pattern, I couldn't see cleaning it being more than a waste of time. I picked up the stiletto from the nightstand and slipped it down the front of the shirt, cutting the buttons off. They pinged onto the bed, with only one escaping to the floor somewhere, and I shrugged the shirt off, discarding it in the third laundry bin – clothes to be burned.
"Coming when?" called my wife. I put the knife back down and hurried down the stairs.
She was in the study, frowning at the computer screen. On it was the text of a document, something academic judging by the number of footnotes I could already see. Next to the computer screen was the ink-jet printer, its little data light flashing, and I could see a couple of sheets of paper sitting on top of it, obviously a recent print-out.
"Were you using this last?" she said, and now there was a tone of accusation in her voice. "Only it doesn't seem to be working."
"Well, I think I might have printed something out." I was hedging, buying myself a little time to try and find out what I might have done before confessing to it. "It's been a bit of a busy day though...."
"I saw you come in," she said. "Jacket buttoned up tightly on a day as hot as today? That means it got messy, doesn't it?"
"A little," I said, realising I'd rather talk about whatever I'd done to the printer than work. "What's not working, it looks like the printer was printing."
"The printer is printing," she said, reaching out and picking up the pages. "But, as you can see, it's not printing anything other than blank pages." She passed me the pages. "And I really need this document for this afternoon, I'm teaching a class on it and – well, students these days. They'll all turn up with a pdf of it on their iPads, marked up and annotated, and I hate having to ask them if I can share."
"Didn't I get you an iPad last Christmas?"
"Yes, but if I take that into a seminar they expect me to network the pdf, and then all of my notes are visible to them, which makes it very hard to set homework."
"I think I can fix that," I said, "when work calms down a little." I sniffed the pages in my hand.
"Ah, yes, I think this is my fault."
"What did you change this time? Is it the printer driver again? I told you, put the new ones in a sensible directory, even if you have to email me where it is."
"I changed the ink cartridge," I said. "There are fresh ones in the desk drawer."
My wife stared at me as though I'd gone mad.
"You changed it for an empty one?" she asked.
"No, one full of concentrated lemon juice," I said. "Your document's here, you just need to iron the pages."
She stared at me again for a long moment, and then smiled. "What if I held a soldering iron near the page? Would that work?"
"Should do," I said. It was my turn to look puzzled now.
"That should make the seminar a little more interesting then," she said. "Let's see how this iPad generation cope with documents you have to cook in order to read! And it'll bring me on to methods of forgery, which is useful."
She took the pages from my hand and gave me a kiss. "You'll have to burn your own clothes this afternoon," she said. "I have a seminar to host."


Interviewer: We're here in Café Diavolo with noted Auteur Joaquin Felther, who is currently holding a barrista hostage. Joaquin, is this behaviour entirely normal?
JF: Who's to say what's normal? These people, here, they say that it is not normal to want coffee as black as the souls of men, and they insist on adding milk to it. I will hold out until I receive my coffee the way I like it.
Int: Well, there is some frenzied activity behind the counter now, so perhaps they're seeing to it. The reason we're meeting here today, of course, is not so that I can witness you flirting with arrest, yet again, but to talk about your career to date and your new film.
JF: Ah yes, my new film! Love-song for an Elder Horror. It drove part of the test audience mad, you know.
Int: There were stories to that effect, certainly. Do you think it might be a little irresponsible to release a film that has been shown to induce insanity?
JF: People must always make the decision themselves. I do not conceal the nature of the film, and I make no recommendation that people of a susceptible disposition, or the feeble-minded, should go and see it. Indeed, I feel that these are people who very definitely should not see this film. Or any of my films. I despise these people!
Int: Well, you're no stranger to controversy, certainly. You notably once wrote a love letter to Gabriella Puccilini and published it, if that's the right word, by printing it onto banners that you hung in every public square in Trento.
JF: Yes, it was a beautiful letter and I meant every word of it.
Int: The imagery was stunning, certainly, and led to your arrest and subsequent trial on a charge of 'causing decent people to think indecent thoughts and to suffer a loss of innocence.' You plead not guilty at the time–
JF: And I would plead not guilty now! I did not make people read these words, I offered them up only as an honest depiction of my feelings and let people decide for themselves the truth of my emotion. I stirred the anthracene souls of men and women and invited the noxious vapours of self-awareness to rise.
Int: Gabriella Puccilini had been dead for thirty years when you wrote your letter. There was a discussion during your trial of whether you intended either necromancy, necrophilia, or both.
JF: And as I said at the time, my words do not advocate these things! If this is how you feel after reading my words, then you must ask yourself why you want to do these things.
Int: And recently there has been a repeal of certain laws regarding necrophilia in a number of municipalities. Do you feel that you are somehow contributing to moral decay and turpitude?
JF: Of course not!
Int: You are also famous, of course, for your interpretation of Snow White, in which you cast a prostitute as Snow White and found seven young men whose upbringing had resulted in stunted growth. The film was set in a truly brutal concrete housing estate, and Burberry sued you on release of the film for bringing their brand name into disrepute. What are your feelings about this?
JF: That was the cheapest film I ever made. The dwarves all lived in that housing estate anyway, so much of the action was shot in their own homes, and the prostitute gave us a discounted hourly rate when she realised how many days we were booking her for. Our biggest problem was her insistence on seeing other clients when she wasn't in the scene, but we solved it finally by breaking open an abandoned flat and letting her set up shop there.
Int: Critics suggest that a prostitute cannot truly be 'Snow White' and that you might have got your characters mixed up.
JF: We did consider calling her Rose Red for a while, but then we'd have had to cut the scenes with the apple.
Int: Which caused religious riots due to the biblical imagery....
JF: Hah! The symbology of the scene says even worse things, but only fusty academics noticed!
Int: Ah, your coffee has arrived. Will you let your hostage go now? It's time to conclude this interview anyway; thank-you for your time, and your typically indiscreet comments.

Sunday, 21 August 2011


That punch knocked Sweet off of his chair and knocks the chair after him and on top of him, but he just pulls himself up off the floor, rights the chair like a man who's just slipped and sits himself back down again. Then he smiles that sweet smile at Cracker, spits his candy out past him, and says,
"Guess you've not had the time yet then."
He leans round Cracker, who's staring at him like a dog that's up and spoken complaining about the food, and waves at the woman in the car; a nice, polite wave, that's almost a salute the way Sweet does it. Cracker's still staring, but he manages in a voice that sounds like someone's strangling him,
"Don't you go waving at my woman."
"As your wanting," says Sweet. "She don't seem much friendly to me anyway."
"That's 'cause you're dirt," says Cracker, his mouth setting into a thin line. "And dirt belongs on the floor."
Sweet might have been expecting another punch, but if he was then he was surprised, because Cracker kicks his chair, breaking a leg and pushing it back, and Sweet lands on the floor again. This time he sits there, pushing the chair aside and tilting his head back to look up at Cracker.
"Seems like that chair must have right upset you," says Sweet, "though it doesn't seem quite right for a man to pick on them that can't fight back like that."
"You keep your thinking to yourself," says Cracker, and his fingers are flexing again, not knowing whether they're hands or fists once more. "What happened to Sheriff Donny's kid then?"
Behind his back, across the road, the good ol' boys are exchanging glances now, and there's little whispers passing back and forth between them. Cracker can't see them, but his woman can, and she calls out from the car in a Yankee screech that can etch glass.
"Cracker!" she yells, sounding like a train entering a tunnel, "Cracker, them boys over by the store know what you're talking about!"
Cracker turns and looks them over, and you can see that he's not scared even though there's six of them and only one of him. Then he pulls this gun from his pocket and points it back behind him so that it's aiming at Sweet, and he says,
"If'n one of you gentlemen doesn't help me out here, then I'm pulling this trigger to make a start, and when I'm finished you'll all be sorry."
That sets up a muttering and a mumbling among the boys, but Cracker has to pull the hammer back on the gun before one of them pipes up and offers as how he might have seen Sheriff Donny's boy back by the fields, working on the harvest. Cracker lowers his head and raises it again slowly, in what might just be a nod if you think he was capable of courtesy, and then he pulls the trigger and the loudest damn bang the town's ever heard goes off, and the bullet speeds away from his gun.


They called him 'Sweet' on account of his sweet tooth, seems like there was never a time when he didn't have a candy or six hanging around in his pockets, but Jim Mahan was also the sweetest tempered man you'd ever meet. When Clyde, who'd eat raw onions for his lunch every day and then breath over you when he met you, got right up in his face, Sweet never even wrinkled his nose; just smiled his simple smile and carried right on with business. And when Jessica, who ran the general store back then and had no idea that the good ol' boys out front called her 'Vinegar-knickers' when they thought there was no-one but the kids around, told him that he couldn't have credit no more on account of her having heard tell that he'd kicked a dog, well he just smiled that simple smile and quit his smoking just like that. Even when she relented, after she found out that the dog was rabid and the size of a sheep, Sweet never went back to the store while she was there. And he never smoked a cigarette or cigarillo again, neither. The man had principles.
It was pretty much a good day when Cracker came back to town, driving up the highway in a dusty open-topped car with him at the wheel and a woman that looked cheaper than dirt sitting in the passenger seat, her blouse open and a red bra showing, one leg thrown over the car door all casual like, as though waiting for the next man through the door. The sky was blue, the wind wasn't blowing much, and the grit from the last dust storm was mostly swept away, so as Cracker roars in, the engine throbbing softly, hinting at power, all of the mothers appear from somewhere, and God knows but I never saw them coming, and the children are swept off the street and found tasks to do that'll keep them away from the windows and seeing Cracker and his woman.
Well, Cracker pulls up outside the bar, and Sweet's sat outside on a chair, balancing it on three legs and sucking on some candy or other. On the other side of the road, outside the general store, ol' Vinegar-knickers is closing the door and putting up the shutters and generally doing all that of locking up that means she's just locking up until Cracker's gone away again. The good ol' boys are still sitting there, watching what's going on, and more than one of them had their eye on that woman, though in all fairness she was pretty distracting.
Cracker gets out of the car, walks over to Sweet, and then spits on the floor at his feet.
"Where's the Sheriff?" he says, and Sweet can see that his fingers and clenching and unclenching all the time like he can't make his mind up if he wants a hand or a fist.
"Dead," says Sweet. "Died eight months ago now. Crabs, I think it was."
"What?" Cracker looks taken aback, and his hand settles on fist. "Sheriff Donny? Dead?"
And of course, that's what Cracker's come back for, 'cause of Sheriff Donny being the one who dragged him out of the barn he was hiding in and sent him off to the State for trial there, and they're the ones who locked him up for the last three, and told him to his face that he was a twisted, stub-souled son of a bitch.
"Ayup," said Sweet, mimicking Cracker's accent what he didn't leave town with. He leans around Cracker, peers at the car, and then returns his eyes square to Cracker's face. "Did you go and get yourself married then?" All sweet and innocent, and there's nothing in those words that could get a man all excited like it got Cracker, 'cause Cracker steps forwards and swings, and punches Sweet right in the side of the face.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Hutch cookery

My secretary placed the printout of the email on my desk, front and centre. He stood back, eyed it critically, then nudged one corner a little; I guessed it must not have been quite precisely square. I coughed.
He jumped, his shoulders coming out of their usually rigid level alignment, and only when he'd got himself back under control did he turn round. I smiled from where I was sat, in the armchair behind the door.
"Hello," I said. "Have you ever studied Desert Cookery?" I indicated the book in my lap, taken from the dusty shelves behind me, and my ostensible reason for hiding behind the door of my office. Though in actual fact I was pretty certain that my secretary had been avoiding me and was only coming into my office with mail, post, and parcels when he thought I wasn't there.
"," he said, his voice low and shaking very slightly. "Is that a mishearing of Dessert Cookery? Did you – did we publish it?"
"No and no," I said, my smile widening. "It's actually rather rare and is a collection of recipes that the feral chef-author Chihuahua put together after spending eight weeks in the Gobi with a handful of slightly odd tribes there. Not everything in the book sounds edible, but she swears she's seen people eat them."
"...while out in the desert?" He sounded mournful.
"Funnily enough she always evades that particular question," I said. I stood up, carrying the book with me. "Ah, you've brought me a message. An important one, too, by the look of it."
"I should be getting along," he said, "I have other things to be doin–"
"Not at all," I said quickly. "I've not seen you all day," or all week, in fact, I added mentally and I have a number of things I wish to discuss with you."
"I am quite busy," he tried, but I was ready for that.
"And you work for me, so it's me that's keeping you busy," I said. "I've approved your days off, by the way. The funeral's tomorrow."
He nodded, and I left it at that. My mother had died, and his relationship with her had been something I hadn't wanted to know about or even be reminded about so I was pretending to myself that he was just a friend of the family. I was also working quite hard to keep him from finding out that she'd died after trying recipes from our Trench Cookery book. It turned out that the author, in a misguided attempt at WWI authenticity, had included a recipe that released phosgene gas during the cooking process.
"Ah, Hutch Cookery," I said, reading the memo he'd placed on my desk. "How's that coming along?"
"I've sent out the emails and memos," he said, still sounding despondent. "But... are you sure it's a good idea to deliberately get it wrong? Surely Dutch Cookery would be the best thing to tell people."
"Every time so far someone's misheard, or mistyped, or misthought when we gave the a title in this series," I said. "So let's give them the opportunity to mishear it as the title we're actually after. After all, even the nitwits we work with are likely to think twice about 'Crutch cookery' given that crutches don't cook well. Or photograph well." I had a momentary flashback to the Gerbil Cookery tasting session and had to sit down again.
"I'm more worried about 'Putsch Cookery'," murmured my secretary, "and the fact that we're both out of the office tomorrow."
"We're not," I said with a smile. "Just you. I'm not going to the funeral."

Friday, 19 August 2011

The Judas Caste

"'Scuse me, buddy, but can you spare a leg?"
I barely glanced down, I was leaving the station and the entrance hall always had one or two zombies begging there now. The police tended to leave them alone, and though the station staff were under orders to move them on, most of them didn't like going near the zombies so they could stay and panhandle as much as they liked.
"I'm using both of mine," I said in a clear voice. The zombies didn't much seem to like having attention drawn to them, so the best way to refuse was to do so loudly so everyone could hear.
"Timeshare, then?"
That halted me, it was almost a joke. And zombies had no sense of humour at all; one of the things death took permanently was an ability to see the funny side of things. I looked down.
The zombie was a woman, sitting cross-legged on the floor with a flat cap in front of her containing a handful of coins, some bottle tops and a health-care token. One of her legs ended just above the knee, and I could see the end of the bone, with scraps of sinew and tendon still clinging to it. It looked a little chewed, which could be rats, or could be other zombies. Above that she was wearing a blouse that looked new. Her face stopped my breath though. It was Tasha.
"Hi Rube," she said when our eyes made contact. "You're blocking the way."
I shuffled to the side, and held out a hand to help her up. She nearly pulled me over – I'd heard that zombies were strong, but this was the first time I'd ever touched one – and leant on me so that her short-leg was supported.
"Where are you going to take me, Rube?" There was a hint of laughter in her voice.
"There's a café," I said. "Just outside. They'll let you sit at the table so long as I'm ordering."
"How blesséd I am," she said, but left at that until we were sat down and I had two cups of coffee in front of me, the waitress insisting that everyone who had a seat should have a drink.
"What happened, Tash?" I said, staring into the black depths of my Americano. "Last time I saw you you were still dancing."
"I died," said Tasha, staring at me. I suddenly realised that zombies don't blink. "We were doing West Side Story up at the Cotillion and one of the props came lose and hit me."
"Yeah, the prop manager was drunk that morning, didn't check all the ties properly. Just my bad luck it was the wrecking ball. Bad for the theatre too, took out a supporting wall and collapsed the east side of the upper circle."
"How did you...." I tailed off, not knowing how to ask the question.
"Become a zombie?"
I nodded.
"I was lucky, the ball hit me and knocked me over instead of pasting me up against the wall, the unlucky bit was being run over by the ambulance when it arrived.
"The Judas Caste?"
She nodded. "Yeah. They were only too thrilled to conceal the evidence of their crime and hand me over to the resurrectionists. Three days on a cross, a tattoo that looks suspiciously like a barcode, and now a lifetime of spite and hatred from the living."
"Don't the resurrectionists like you?"
"Not in ways you'd like to hear about," she said.
"So why are you...." Still here, I wanted to say, but it seemed too cruel.
"Still here? Because I have a bill to pay for my return to this life, and if I kill myself, they'll wake me up again and add the new bill to the old."
"How do you pay the bill?"
"We're back to those things you don't want to hear about," she said. "But, there might be a way out of this, if you could do a thing or two for me?"
I raised an eyebrow and discovered that zombies don't have very good eyesight.
"Well? Will you help me?"
"What do I have to do?" I asked.
"First of all, meet me in the Popham graveyard at midnight tonight."

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Burnt potatoes

Geraldinium Holmes crunched a potato crisp thoughtfully. Her hand reached out without looking for another, and her fingers dipped neatly into a freshly-made cup of coffee. She pulled them out, and looked round. The newspaper reporter whose drink she'd just turned into a finger-bowl tried not to look reproachful.
"You?" she said, contriving to suggest that she was taller than him and looking down dismissively, despite the fact she was at least three inches shorter. In her heels.
"Miss Holmes, it's a pleasure to meet you again!"
"You sound desperate."
"No! No, I just didn't want you to think you might have offended me by putting your fingers in my drink...."
"I didn't think that. Why are you here? Why do I keep finding you under my feet whenever I turn round?"
The reporter shuffled back a little, as though apprehensive that she might attempt to trample him, but kept smiling. It was a little manic, thought Geraldinium. If he could keep it up for the whole conversation she might have to photograph it and use it as the basis of a painting. Something with clowns.... Abruptly she realised that he'd stopped talking and she'd not heard him start.
"I wasn't listening," she said, opting for honesty. "I doubt it was worth listening to."
"I came to view your exhibition," repeated the reporter. "I didn't actually think you'd attend."
"He ain't got no choice, 'as 'e?" said an elderly, obese woman who was rubbing vigorously at a canvas with a cloth that smelled of turpentine. "He's under contract to appear with all 'is paintings at this gallery." She darted off with surprising agility as two security guards raced towards her.
"Your landlady?" asked the reporter politely, and Geraldinium just nodded. "I mean, ex-landlady, of course," he added. "You're contractually obliged to appear here?"
"No," sighed Geraldinium. "She's just insane. That painting she was trying to deface? It has a herbal varnish on it, to protect it from just that kind of attack. The little plaque beneath the painting even explains it, because it gives the painting a special kind of smell."
"Burnt potatoes," said the reporter smiling.
"What?" Geraldinium looked mystified.
"I've been smelling burnt potatoes all round the exhibit," said the reporter. "I thought that must be the herbal varnish."
"No. That's the sculpture made from burnt potato crisps," said Geraldinium. "Be careful with it though, I had to use an arsenic-based glue to hold them together with enough structure soundness."
"Isn't that sculpture being installed in an infant school?" The reporter looked shocked.
"I believe so," said Geraldinium. "I can't imagine why, though. What child understands art, really? Just look at their television programmes, they're devoid of any intellectual creativity!"
"Is that why one of your paintings depicts the Teletubbies being hanged?"
"You spotted that one?" Geraldinium looked pleased.
"Yes, even though it's the size of a postage stamp."
Geraldinium's smile got broader. "I had to make a brush out of ant-hair to paint that," she said.
"Ants don't have hair." The reporter realised what he'd said, and went bright red, but Geraldinium ignored him. "Any others you spotted?"
"Um, well, yes, but I think the police have spotted it too."
"Which one?"
"The one that's your orphan servant girl leaping off the roof in that bizarre Batman costume."
"Why would the police be interested?"
"You noted it was painted from a photograph, and that suggests you knew it was going to happen...."
"Why are you telling me this now?"
"I'm the distraction." The reporter hung his head, looking thoroughly miserable, as two burly police officers stepped silently up behind Geraldinium and seized an arm each.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Sick Transit, Gloria Monday

Gloria Monday poured the bottle of nail varnish over the head of the woman standing behind the counter. The woman said nothing and didn't move. The nail polish – Rotten Plum, Gloria thought – pooled on her scalp and slowly coated strands of her long, unwashed brown hair.
"Get out, please," said Gloria. Her voice was pleasant, low, and she'd been told by many people, lots of them members of her extended family, that she should get a job on the phone sex lines. She told them she preferred working as a travel agent, that it was respectable and something her someday-children could tell their teacher about, and she didn't tell them that she did the phone-sex telephone work in the evenings. Or that she'd recognised several of them when they called.
"But I want a holiday," said the woman, still not doing anything about the nail polish. "Johnny said that you give out holidays here. He said I just had to put out."
There was a moment of clarity between them as Gloria realised that her boss probably did accept such an arrangement, and the woman realised that someone as neatly dressed as Gloria probably didn't accept sex for holidays.
"I want my holiday," whined the woman, clearly too stubborn to give up just yet. A grubby hand with bitten fingernails scrabbled at the collar of her raincoat and Gloria had a prescient moment, realising that the woman was probably naked underneath it. She looked around the counter wondering what else she could use as a deterrent and spotted the stapler. She snatched it up and leaned forward, grabbing the woman's raincoat and pulling her in to the counter. The woman gasped, a little "Oooh!", and then looked slightly shocked as Gloria stapled her raincoat down its length, just below each button.
"Get out," said Gloria, letting go. "No holidays, no sex, no nothing."
"Now there's a shame," said a deep voice with a broad, southern accent, and both women looked towards the door. It was held open by a tanned hand attached to a tanned, muscular arm, which is turn belonged to a broad shouldered man with blonde hair and an insolent grin. "Isn't this the right place to come to pick me up a little something to take on holiday with me?"
"Not you, sweetheart," he continued as the raincoated-woman opened her mouth. "I have standards."
Gloria half-smiled but shook her head anyway. "No," she said. "We sell holidays here, nothing else."
"Well now," drawled the man, "that might be mostly what I want anyways. See, I have a busload of ill children I'd like to take down to Mexico for a few weeks. Get them some sun, sand, and kiddie-tequila, make 'em all feel a little bit better about knowing how they're going to be dead this time next year."
"Do you have a licence?" Gloria's hands were already moving over the keyboard, inputting Mexico and selecting for the cheapest available flights.
"For what, little lady?"
"For the children," she said. "They're ill, and terminally so, by the sounds of it. Technically you'll need a licence covering the transport of biologically hazardous material."
"Y'all think the custom's guys'll accept that?"
"It'll confuse them for long enough for you to get the kids through. Try to cover up any that have suppurating wounds or open lesions."
"You know, y'all, I like your attitude! You're a can-do little lady, aren't you?" The man's smile was infectious, and Gloria found herself smiling back.
"My name's Gloria Monday, not little lady," she said, but without rancour.
"Mine's–" said the other woman who was trying to unpick the staples from her coat, but the man cut her off.
"Gloria Monday it is," he said. "And thank-you very much for your help. Most other people don't seem to care about these poor children."
"Or they care too much about the Mexicans you'll be infecting?" She raised an eyebrow, but he just burst into laughter.
"I like y'all, y'all know," he said. "And in your honour, I shall be naming this little trip after you."
Gloria raised her other eyebrow, unaware that this made her look like a well-dressed but rather startled chihuahua.
"Sick transit Gloria Monday!" he said.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Right or happy?

Well hello there once again! I heard that you've been missing me when I'm not here; I have to tell you to stop that. Stop it at once. Naughty boy! Bad!
It's like this, you see, I'm not your own personal Buddy. This isn't a Depeche Mode song, you can't put my picture in the little pocket in the sun-visor on the passenger side of your car... well, I'm afraid you'll have to take it out and give it back to me. How did you get hold of it anyway? Look, we can do this the easy way or the hard way, but either way I get my picture back and you get something broken.
But like I said, this isn't a Depeche Mode song, and you should probably do something about your hair. That much grease can't be good for it, even if it is Premium Lard. Actually, no, I don't think Asda do Premium Lard. Well, at that price, it has to be their Economy lard. You have to scrape it out of the hole yourself? Then I think it's just fat from the sewers and it's probably hazardous to your health even to collect. I certainly wouldn't put it in my hair. Definitely not my chest hair. Nor even – actually, I think you should stop talking now. And sit further away from me.
I'm Buddy, I'm your guardian angel, at least as far as corporate culture goes, and I have wisdom to impart.
Would you rather be right or happy? Obviously we'd all like to be both, all of the time, but that isn't always possible. Being right can make us very unhappy, and being happy is often a consequence of being oblivious to what's right. Let me explain with a simple parable. Ok, koan then. I didn't know you even knew that word.
Once upon a time there were two worker bees who were tasked with taking the toxic waste from the hive and disposing of it. The first worker bee was cheerful and always looked on the bright side of life; for him the glass was always half-full and the clouds had solid silver linings that could be sold for drug-money. He picked up the first of the barrels of toxic waste and flew happily away, pleased to be helping to clean the hive and make it a better environment for everybody to live in. But when he arrived at the designated dumping site he realised that it was a children's playground, and when he saw that his instructions were to put the old, leaky barrels into the paddling pool where the water could cool them he saw that the barrels wouldn't stay cool enough, and that the children would be poisoned by the gradual seepage.
And so he flew away and took the barrels home with him, hoping to find somewhere else to dump them, or to change his boss's mind about the dumping ground. But because he needed to fill his quota to get paid, he had to keep more and more barrels at his home, and eventually he got sick and his wings fell off, at which point he also lost his job. And so he ceased being happy, and the knowledge that he had done the right thing was no comfort to him at all.
The second worker bee was morose and grumpy; for him the glass was always someone else's and they were demanding to know why he'd been drinking from it and wanting him to compensate them for their loss. He also picked up a barrel of toxic waste and flew with it to the children's playground, and there he was cheered up by the realisation that children would sicken and die and there would be other people in the world as miserable as he was. And so he flew back and forth with alacrity, the smile on his face getting wider and wider until he'd met his quota and exceeded it and was, for possibly the first time ever, ecstatic with joy. So he was happy, but only because he knew he wasn't in the right.
The moral of this tale, is, of course, that when you buy a house you should always make sure it has a deep enough cellar to store barrels of toxic waste safely.
Now, which of those worker bees would you rather be?
Really? Well, that is interesting. I have to go now, and if you should happen to see me talking to a policeman, well that'd be about a completely unrelated matter. You can trust me. Really.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Cooking the book

Right, so like, I'm totes going to do this this time. I figured out that what all you lovely readers want, out there in reader-land with your glasses and your flat shoes and your hair all tied back in buns like sexy librarians but without the sexy. You want a blogger (bloggette maybe? Or bloggess?) who's going to take a major cookbook and cook their way through it, one recipe at a time, telling you all about the trials and tribulations along the way. That's like, so radical. I remember when I first starting watching Sex and the City, that's just so the kind of thing that the ugly girl would have done. Oh, get me! What would SJP say!!
But then I totes had a look around on the intertubes thingy, and there's so many people already doing it! And they've picked such weird books too, like they've gone for books that make food that only poor people eat, or books that only cook things that aren't food. There's this one blog where the poor women spent four and a half-day using a hair-dryer on this paste of olives and anchovies that she'd made and then foamed using hydrogen gas that blew part of her kitchen up! At the end of it she keeled over dead with exhaustion and now her husband's continuing the blog in her memory, only he can't cook properly and doesn't know how to use a knife, so his spelling's getting worse and worse and he keeps chopping fingers off and he's worried he's going to lose his job as a concert pianist soon, and... wait! This is my blog, not his-hers! They can go and buy google ads to bring people to their pages just like all the rest of the poor-people.
So I needed something different, something that would stand my blog out in exactly the way I stand out in a nightclub, or SJP stands out in every scene she's in in SATC. So I figured I'd pick someone else's blog and cook everything they do, and then explain how they got it all wrong. Darryl says it's a meta-commentary and a sad reflection of the parroting parity of modern life, but I think he'd been eating the cleaner's brownies when he said that, and she makes them with things I don't think are ingredients. Bless her, she thinks she's Mexican too.
So I had a look around and I found this woman who says she's on television and cooks there, and she does all this "semi-homemade" cooking which is like where she buys the stuff from the supermarket (oh my god!! Who goes to a supermarket themselves?! That's what Rosalita, the cleaner is for, when the catering company have underdelivered!!) and then hides all the packaging. And I'm like, I can totally do this.
So, on her blog she makes this "semi-homemade" beans on toast, and this sounded like a good place to start. I got my coat, got my servant-beating stick, and headed to F&M.
"Make beans on toast!" I said imperiously to the girl behind the counter, who looked at me like she was going to answer back. I thought quickly, what would SJP do? So I smacked her with the servant-beating stick and repeated my demand.
It turns out that they don't do that on the shop-floor, so they took me into the manager's office and I told the security guard to jump to it and get it done. He's left to go and do that, and I'm taking this opportunity to write all this up for you. You lucky, lucky, unsexy librarian readers you!

Monday, 1 August 2011


"The Necrobot 2000," said the salesman proudly, "does all your dying for you!" Then he sneezed, spraying the Necrobot with a fine mist of saliva, mucus, and germs.
"When you say dyeing," said my wife in a tone of voice I mentally thought of as uh-oh, "you do mean that it'll take clothes, hair, and other suitable textiles as instructed and change their colour on as near a permanent basis as current mordant technology will allow?"
The salesman's eyes bulged slightly at the half-way point of her sentence, and by the end he looked like he had high blood pressure and was making an attempt at a stroke.
"Uh... mordant?"
"Yes, you know, such as tannic acid."
"Uhh... you could certainly feed the Necrobot tannic acid," said the salesman. I folded my arms and smiled inanely, refusing to help him. His eyes darted around.
"And that would help him with his dyeing?"
"I should think anyone would die after drinking tannic acid!"
"Hmm, I wonder if you're being deliberately obtuse," said my wife. Her tone was gradually shifting towards pedantic. "You told me that the Necrobot ca–"
"Necrobot 2000!" The salesman looked both pleased and desperate at the same time as he interrupted.
"Whatever," said my wife with withering scorn. "You nevertheless told me that this... thing... is capable of dyeing, and I asked for corroboration of the implications of your statement. I suspect that your levels of comprehension of my interrogation were as acute as they are of the wherewithal of this sentence."
"" said the salesman, and I laughed. My wife half-turned to me, a questioning look on her face.
"It's the most intelligent thing he's said," I said to her. "He doesn't know it of course, to him it's just a random phoneme escaping his lips in lieu of anything with semantic content, but it's the Buddhist refutation of your point."
"I don't hold with Buddhists," said my wife, which fact I already knew. "They keep reincarnating. They're a bugger to eradicate."
I nodded, and looked at the salesman who had clearly given up following our conversation and was now on full-random mode.
"The Necrobot 2000 is perfect for Buddhists! If you never die, you never need reincarnate!"
"How does that help?" I said. "Part of the reincarnation cycle is to learn from the actions of one lifetime so as to improve the next, and thus ascend gradually from this plane of existence to a better one. If I never get to reincarnate, how can I benefit?"
"No-one wants to die!" said the salesman, though the look on his face gave the lie to his words.
"How about the terminally ill in chronic pain?" asked my wife. I thought she was being a little cruel now, but I still couldn't bring myself to help the salesman out.
"The Necrobot 2000 can die for them?"
"Can it feel the pain for them instead?"
"Why are we looking at the Necrobot anyway?" I asked my wife, rapping my knuckles on its shiny surface. "What's the point in a robot that takes away death from a person?"
"I actually want to know how it works," she said. "I suspect that there's a small thanatophage inside it, and I checked the other day; they're on both the endangered species list and the forbidden-to-export list."
"I didn't know there were any thanatophages outside of the laboratory," I said. "Aren't they difficult to look after?"
"Quite," said my wife. "So that's why I want to know how these things work."
"Right." I looked at the salesman, wondering how they'd managed to find someone so clueless for the job, and said, "We'll take one. There's no need to wrap it, we'll just take it out to the car-park and extract the bits we're interested in."
"Bleh?" said the salesman, and a thought struck me. I looked at my wife, and said,
"You don't suppose they've just put a mnemophage in there do you? So that people who attempt to use it end up so mentally deficient that they believe it's died for them?"
"It's always possible," she said with a half-smile.