Tuesday, 28 June 2016

It's not much, but it's home

I'm still really finding my feet again with writing after a three year gap (was it really that long?) so it's been a real morale boost that the local community newspaper picked up one of my articles about something in my home town. It's just really nice seeing it in ink and paper!


PS: I did a much longer post (with pictures) already on the blog here.

Guest Contributor: Celeste Chapman

My Story by Celeste Chapman (aged 2 1/2): Celeste and the fairy were friends and went up into the sky like airyplanes. They went straight ahead into a cloud. They found a balloon and went to see the satellites. They came 'bump' back to the ground. 

As told to my Daddy (with no prompting, but a little grammatical editing)

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Celeste at the Ballet

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of watching Celeste at her dance class, a pleasure not diminished by the temperature of the room (slightly less than the surface of the sun) and the humidity (Bangladesh in monsoon season). Given all the trouble that her hypermobility's given her with getting on to her feet and moving, seeing her enjoying her baby ballet was just wonderful.

Time to wave some ribbons around!


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I think she's more interested in looking after the dolly than tiptoeing around it


Putting her dance partner to bed


Her reward for all her hard work!


As Celly's dad, I think the thing that's made me happiest is how she's trying out all the dance moves at home. I know she's behind nearly everyone in her balance and co-ordination, but things like this will help so much. Roll on next weekend!

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Cooking with Daddy

Please follow all steps closely.

Step 1) Decide to make French Onion soup from scratch while your spouse is elsewhere and you are in sole charge of the toddler, otherwise known as Trouble.

Glitter? Glue? Bucket? See you in 10 minutes


Step Two) Chop a biblical amount of onions (Note to self: check for onion quantities in Bible)

After chopping all these, I never want to be near an onion again


Step Three) Gently cook the onions for ten minutes.

That the onion barely fits in the pan will definitely not be a problem later


Step Four) Realise that your toddler's gone very quiet and go to investigate.

Glitter stuck successfully to the bucket, but also to carpet, nostrils, pyjamas, etc


Step Five) Smell burning onions, return and pick out the burnt bits.

'Burnt' is valid as a flavour, isn't it?


Step Six) Try to make a ridiculous amount of stock, realise that the situation is rapidly spinning out of control and breathe a sigh of relief when your wife arranges to run distraction.

Shh...she's forgotten all about you...


Step Seven) Realise that there's no way that all of the stock you made is going to fit in the frying pan.

Uh oh...


Step Eight) Keep pouring in the stock anyway until it overflows the pan onto the hob.

Cleaning the hob is a problem for future Mike!


Step Nine) Serve with bread and cheese and look on in horror as your toddler just eats the bread and cheese.

Was it worth it? No. No, it was not.

Vintage January 2012

This Sunday, another old bit of writing recovered from a flash drive, but I think this one went through the washing machine by accident, given how clean it is. I stuck it somewhere safe, moved twice and forgot all about it. I've not read "Building the Road" for four years and it's not actually too bad. It's a bit cliche in places and the descriptions a bit heavy in others, but I still quite like it for all that.


Building the Road



There was a grinding noise as the giant machine gently lowered another colossal slab into place. The segmented claw lowered it centimetre by centimetre, slowing as it approached the sandy desert floor until, with a deft flick, the fingers of the claw sprang back and the stone dropped the last gap, thumping solidly to the ground and raising plumes of reddish dust.

The tall man standing on top of the contraption looked on with satisfaction and made a tick on his clipboard. He looked minuscule on top of the machine, a faint speck on the roof of crudely bolted plates, framed by the glacial movement of giant articulated claws against the dull, milk coloured sky. Occasionally, the view of the man from the ground was obscured by a jet of dirty white smoke that erupted through a crack in the machine’s carapace.

The tall man retreated back from the edge and returned to the cabin, pulling the door closed behind him. A small man sat in one of the chairs and looked up in annoyance at the swirl of sand that followed his compatriot in.

“Done,” the tall man said definitely and sank into his own chair. The short man reached over lethargically and pressed the scuffed button on top of a clock with a cracked glass face. The hand began moving very slowly round again.

Silence returned to the cabin, spoiled only by the sounds of the machine as it went about its preprogrammed business. At the moment, it was reconstituting material for the next slab, so this was as quiet as it ever got. Both men stared out over the desert, examining minutely the flowing red sand of the plains and the delicate, distant spires of purplish rock, carved into unusual shapes by the endless wind that swirled across the plain.

“The next un’s yours,” the tall man continued in his slow drawl.

The short man replied without ever taking his eyes from the desolate, slowly progressing desert.

“Nope. You lost at cards, so you gotta do it.”

The tall man frowned and protested lethargically.

“Nope. You lost at cards to me six weeks ago, so you gotta do it,” his companion retorted.
Silence fell again as both men listened to the seismic rumbling coming from the machine’s heart as it processed the materials in its holding bay into slab material. According to the clock, the next slab would be laid in an hour and the gigantic mechanism would creep another five metres forward.
“You ever get sick of this?” the short man asked, still not turning his head.

Both men had, like every other topic they had ever thought of, discussed this to death.

“We shouldna backchatted the Boss like that. I think we got off light with building the Road,” the tall man replied, as he always did.

The machine began to ponderously crawl forward. The Road had to be built his way, the Boss explained, even if it took tens of thousands of years.

“Bit much for a first offence,” the small man said. “I don’t want to be on this rig forever. I’ve done one ice age and I don’t want to do another.”

The men slipped into silence again, their recital finished again, but today, unlike nearly all of the other days, something different happened.

An alarm bell rang loudly, indicating a jam in the processing plant. Both men unsuccessfully concealed their surprise from each other and headed down into the belly of the machine.

The steps wound down and round, deeper and deeper. The atmosphere became thick and humid with the tiny steam jets that sprouted from the snake’s nest of pipes lining every wall.

The men found the problem quickly. The arm which carved characters into the slab had jammed when it encountered an area of unusual density. Their scrutiny was interrupted by a terrible wailing cacophony leaking through the wall behind them; the sound of the desperation of thousands. Irritated, the tall man banged the wall hard, bellowing for silence until the cargo sank into miserable submission again.

“Do you ever feel sorry for them?” he asked once the arm was repaired.

“Nope. They know why they’re here.”

The freed arm finished carving the words, “But I thought you’d like it!” into the white bone slab and retracted smoothly again.


Soon, the slab would be laid and the machine would move on, always building the Road.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Eggs and bakey, eggs and bakey...

I know that I'm a terrible person, but winding up Celeste from time to time (especially when she's being bossy) is tremendous fun. Currently, the best one is singing the wrong words to "Frere Jacques". I sing:

Eggs and bakey,
Eggs and bakey,
For your tum,
For your tum,
Yummy little breakfast,
Yummy little breakfast,
Nom nom nom
Nom nom nom

The results...well...you can see for yourself below:



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She's got no chance of growing up normal

Wait for it... wait for it...

So Celeste's toy hoover ran out of batteries this morning. We've got loads of AA and AAA batteries, but none of the big ones that it uses. Unfortunately, it was too early to go to the shops, so we were a bit stuck - obviously Celeste wasn't happy.

Luckily, I had an idea. One of my friends always has that sort of thing hanging around, so she met me at the park.

You might say that...

*dons sunglasses*


She sells C-cells by the seesaw.


Boom boom.


Thank you for your time.

Friday, 24 June 2016

What a Diff'rence Some Grey Made

Dad and Celeste, 2016 


Dad and Me, circa 1990

Wow. Now even I have grey hair, though I think that's a combination of a toddler, a career in teaching and a Scottish spouse. Isn't it amazing that the pictures are only nearly three decades apart?

No?

Suit yourself.

Also, have you noticed that it's never sunny at the English seaside? Top tourism tip!

A disturbance in the force...

Actual conversation between Trouble and one of Celeste's nursery workers (who, for anonymity's sake, I'll call Jemma) when they were doing imaginative play at nursery this afternoon:

Jemma: Let's play with the mud Celeste. Can you make me fish and chips?

Celeste: No. Make sausage and mash.

Jemma: Well...I did have that for dinner last night, so...

Celeste: Just pretending.

Jemma: Oh...we're just pretending?

Celeste (wearily): It's only mud.


Ouch!


In other news, I felt a dark disturbance in the force around the same time. He who lives by sarcasm...

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Thursday, 23 June 2016

Speaking in tongues

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Who let her have that whistle to bang on things? Cut!


I think Celeste has now surpassed my grasp of the French language.

Note to Social Services: it may look like she's about to drive off in my car, but I assure you it's only because I was over the legal blood-alcohol limit at the time and could not drive back to the off-license myself. Please do not visit.

Further note to Social Services: clearly that was a joke. Please do not visit.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Radio silence

I've been very quiet on the blog this week so far. This is for three important reasons:

1) To meet a deadline for submissions to an anthology I've been keeping my eye on, I decided to shave an hour off my sleep in the mornings and an hour off in the evenings for the fortnight approaching the deadline. This left me approximately 4-5 hours of sleep per night. As I'm in my thirties and no longer in my twenties, this was a terrible idea - doubly so with a full-time job and a toddler. I manage to totally exhaust myself.

Yep


2) On my birthday night, a school night, I had too much to drink. I drank wine and beer, in the wrong order (not 'wine before beer', more like 'one after the other'). As I'm not a fresh-faced trainee teacher, this made recovery much slower. I was, to quote a colleague, like a bear with a sore head. I did not want to do anything apart from recover. Heavy drinking on a school has always been a no-no, now it's doubly so.

Yep


3) My school's doing a marking check this week. I'm usually pretty good at keeping my books marked, but now they've all drifted about two days out of the acceptable range and need marking again. I can't mark during in school hours because:



And I can't mark during Celeste hours because a red pen and some paper is irresistible to a toddler:

Enjoy your feedback


Marking time has been taken out of writing time, so between teaching, marking and toddler, I've written about 100 words over the last few days.

Stephen King never had to deal with this.

Oh.

Wait.

He did.

I have no excuse. Oops.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Early birthday\Father's Day treats

To celebrate the last few hours of Father's Day and my birthday tomorrow, Lyn had a few more surprises left in the bag:

 Birthday steak

Birthday cake

I love this woman!

PS: The cake recipe's below - Pimm's Cake! Lyn got it from the Tesco's magazine, June 2016. Would definitely recommend.



Father's Day Photo Shoot

Thank you very much to my darling wife for suggesting an impromptu photo shoot in a photobooth. The pictures came out great!




I love being a dad.

Right in the emotions

I know it's not my birthday until tomorrow but Celeste...*starts tearing up*

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#OhGodTheEmotionsTheEmotions

You can never go back...

More personal archaeology from me today: I found the first piece of flash fiction I ever wrote hiding on a memory stick in the bottom of my drawer. I recognise that it's not as good as I thought at the time, but it raises an interesting quandary,

Do I fix this story?

On the one hand, I'm much better at writing now - hundreds of hours of frustrating effort will do that for you. You'll have your own opinions reading it below, but personally, I have two major criticisms:

1) The number of adverbs I've used would give Steven King a heart attack. I count over 20 and the whole piece is only 700 words long!

2) The atmosphere gets so laboured that it spoils the ending (you'll see what I mean).

So...there are a few good bits in it, but overall it's not great. A typical first effort, I guess.

Do I fix this story then?

I could. The adverbs could go for starters, but the structure is wrong - like I said in point 2. I suspect that no amount of effort will make it good and certainly none will ever make it saleable.

If I dug up an old, clumsily made pot, would I break it up and try to remake it because we can do better now? No. I'll let this story lie, I think. I can always look back at it and look at how far I've come, that all those hundreds of hours have actually had an effect.



The Conductor


The Conductor, dressed in his favourite shabby dark coat, slowly ascended the steps of his podium and surveyed his orchestra, who were illuminated by the brilliant midday sunlight pouring majestically into the room. Squashed into the dusty hall of the Miskatonic Orchestral Hall were his team: the string section, the brass section, the wind section and the percussionists. Throughout the bent old figure’s tenure, they had been argumentative and sloppy, resisting everything that he had tried to do but now, finally, they no longer argued and instead were a harmonious whole. He cast an evaluative eye over the assembled instruments. They all seemed to be in excellent condition; something that he had only recently been able to boast.

The Conductor turned and faced his audience. Their silence filled the space as they waited for the performance to begin; confident that yet again the Conductor would eke out another outstanding performance from his newly quiescent orchestra. The bent, elderly figure ran his withered fingers through his off-white hair and bowed stiffly.

Without waiting for any applause, he turned back to his orchestra. He tapped his baton twice on his podium. It echoed as loudly as pistol shots in the utter quiet. The small man nodded with significance at the cello section. With an energetic flourish of his baton entirely out of keeping with his decrepit physique, the Conductor began the concert. The recital was excellent: exactly how the piece had sounded in his mind – played with passion, conviction and confidence. His eyes welled with tears at the sublime beauty as the music ebbed and flowed, surged and whispered around his frail form.

At the conclusion of the piece, the Conductor wiped the corner of his coat sleeve across his damp eyes. In previous months, the orchestra might have mocked him for such an emotional indulgence, but no longer. The Conductor turned to his audience, bowed once more and limped down the stairs and through a recessed door at the side of the stage, eager to find his lunch.

Unfortunately, the electrical supply to the ovens in the cafeteria had failed, so the Conductor had to satisfy his hunger with some simple canned meat. Although the poor food was a little frustrating, he had been able to reach the counter without having to fight through hordes of well-wishing audience members and got his repast with the minimum of fuss. Usually, the lunch attendants provided a snide comment or two along with his meal, but they hadn’t bothered him like that for weeks now.

The lights in the cafeteria were similarly affected by the power failure, so the Conductor chose to consume his meat in a little park nearby. The summer wind gusted through the trees and the faint rustling noises only highlighted how quiet the city was today. The Conductor sighed in satisfaction. Although the years since the death of his wife had been very hard and people had used his emotional weakness to be extremely unkind to him, finally life was looking very good; his fortunes were in the ascendant. Even the timing of today’s concert was such a blessing. He’d repeatedly pleaded with the Director of the Miskatonic to move the timings of concerts from late evenings to midday, a performance time that his declining stamina could accommodate, but had been rudely rebuffed each time with contemptuous comments about revenues and senility. Now that the Director no longer raised those objections, the recitals had been moved to a midday slot without complaint from members of the orchestra or public.

The Conductor conscientiously placed his rubbish in the bin and ambled leisurely around the pond in the park, smiling in half amusement at the quacking of the ducks as they squabbled over this and that. Very few people ever visited the park but recently it had been deserted. The Conductor didn’t mind; the company of others did not improve his experience of his park.

He drove home from the Miskatonic Orchestral Hall in his little car and sighed in satisfaction because, despite the number of cars on the road, he encountered very little trouble with traffic and reached his little house in record time.

The little old man sat in on the beach in his garden, smelled the perfume of roses in bloom and sighed in satisfaction once again.


Ever since mutated influenza had wiped out every other member of humanity but him, life had been very good indeed.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

The Home Dome is dark and full of terrors

Help, help, help. Due to a line fault, my internet's been reduced to 0.1Mbps - a 50th of what it was a few days ago. It's being repaired Saturday morning, but until then...no internet TV.

Now I appreciate that this is very much a first world problem, but it had two serious knock-on effects:

1) No Game of Thrones - the internet, Twitter and Facebook are minefields of spoilers. I am giving those (slowly loading) threats a wide berth.

2) Much more serious - no evening Teletubbies for Celeste. It's a little ritual that we watch Teletubbies after dinner but with no internet TV, I'm forced into using the one episode I accidentally downloaded on one of my tablet's apps. I have watched this one episode again and again until my brain is starting to melt.


I  hope you all choke to death on Tubby Toast

"Again! Again!" spake the Celetubby as the episode mercifully ends.

If this guy can't fix the internet on Saturday, I'm going to drown myself in Tubby Custard.

The Links Defect

Mum and Dad have bought Celeste a little golf set. She loves it very much, though she'll no longer be told how to swing a club.

I'm not sure why the Frozen dress is important to the process, but apparently it is

I dropped her off at Mum and Dad's the other day and she immediately wanted to play. I told her that'd I'd love to, but that I needed to get to work pronto. This didn't cut much ice and she set us up for a game.

"Celetste go first!" she announced happily, before using the club one handed to hit the ball three metres away (the hole was a metre in front of her).

"Daddy's go!" I was told.

I gave my ball a gentle tap with the cheap plastic club and...it bounced twice on the hard floor and went straight into the hole.

Uh oh...

Celeste fixed me with a steely gaze.

"Again," she commanded, no longer smiling.

"Sweetheart...I really..." I tried.

"Again," she commanded in a voice like ice.

"I don't think that..."

"Again," she demanded, shoving the ball back into my hand.


I was late for work.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

For the Good of the Many


I’ve been thinking about the near-destruction of the Night Garden by the Haahoos again (I have a boring commute). For those who haven’t read my other thoughts on BBC’s delightful “In the Night Garden”, I have a sneaking suspicion that it is actually a bleak depiction of a post-apocalyptic society, where carnivorous inflatable monsters eat anyone who strays from the “safe zone”.


At least Patrick McGoohan only had to deal with one!


Specifically, I’ve started thinking about housing. The Gazebo is one of the few remaining structures, leading me to believe that the Haahoos have destroyed the rest. 


Sanctuary?


How did the nascent Upsy Daisy junta deal with this situation? Shelter would have to be rationed, obviously The Pontipines and Wottingers, both large families with eight children, each have one of the two remaining houses and are all crammed into the one bedroom in each. Clearly these two families are used to larger housing – perhaps even a mansion. Their diet of blancmange suggests former wealth; their current status suggests refugee.




Mr and Mrs Pontipine lose their children so often that I suspect both they have PTSD



Makka Pakka lives in a cave. It may lack furnishings, but at least it’s dry and the entrance is too small for a Haahoo to enter.


He lost his teddy bear during the evacuation



The three Tombliboos are reduced to living in a bush.


Tombliboos, form a line. Now just wait, it’s rations time



Iggle Piggle just has a boat to sleep in, suggesting that he’s either a guerrilla or that perhaps he’s fallen out of favour with the Daisy-ist regime.




The episode where Iggle Piggle dies of exposure is especially harrowing


That just leaves Generalissimo Daisy herself. Obviously as the leader of the struggle against the Haahoo menace, she has awarded the nicest bed to herself and, most importantly, only Upsy Daisy’s allowed to sleep in Upsy Daisy’s bed.