Granny Knows Best – Scented Toilet Roll

Coming from the kind of family that was not arsed about what to wipe it’s collective arses on, I was blissfully unaware this even existed.  Until I was invited to a “soirée” – and don’t get me started on people who use posh words for everyday things – by a cousin who’s no better than she should be and really should know better.

To be honest, I only knew it was supposed to be scented bog roll because it said so on the packet.

When I needed the loo, the holder was empty except for wispy scraps of tissue clinging to the cardboard tube. No other rolls were in evidence and I had to search around until I found it hiding in plain sight beneath a cloth cover with a tassel.

The packet declared it was floral scented so I gave it a whiff and at close quarters it did pong a tiny bit of cheap rose perfume with overtones of soap and talc.

But the thing is, why? Who’s going to sniff it? Your bum won’t care and you’re hardly likely to have a sniff at it during or after use. And unless you know it’s supposed to be scented you won’t stick your nose near it before either…

So what is the point?

You can now have a collection of Granny’s inimitable insights of your very own in Granny Knows Best.

Piglock Homes and The Dartymuir Dog – Part the Fifth

Join Piglock Homes and his sidekick Doctor Bearson as they investigate the strange affair of the Dartymuir Dog…

Bearson reached into his capacious pocket and pulled out a packet of hunny sandwiches. He unwrapped the greaseproof paper and handed them around, frowning a warning at Homes who seemed about to question Yore.

“Leave the man be, Homes. He needs to eat before he talks.”

Homes glowered, but buried his sharp little teeth in a doorstop of brown bread liberally spread with butter and hunny.

After he had eaten his sandwich, Yore looked a little better and he turned his long mournful features to where Homes sat licking hunny off his trotters.

Once Yore was satisfied he had the pig’s attention he put a hand in his inside pocket and withdrew a newspaper which he passed across. The headline across the front page was smudged but readable.

‘Fearful Haunting. The Dartymuir Dog strikes again.’

“What has happened, man?”

“Yesterday the old Lord Sleepytown went for his morning walk on the muir. When he didn’t return, his heir went looking for him. The old man was found fallen in a bog, he had suffered some sort of a seizure. The young one carried him home on his own broad back. The doctors say the old one is close to death. He has only spoke three words since they laid him on his bed…”

“And what were them three words.”

“Orange bounding dog.”

“That was very much what I feared.”

Homes hunched in his corner of the carriage, looking, Bearson thought, like a wizened old crab apple hanging from a tree.

For a very long time he said nothing. But when he did speak, his words were utterly unexpected.

“Bearson, old chap. Do you recall the name of that rogue whose circus was accused of harbouring known criminals?”

“The man whose name you so cleverly cleared?”

Homes puffed out his skinny chest. “Yes. Him.”

Bearson closed his eyes to better think, calling to his mind’s eye the hulking brute who swore to be Homes’ servant for life. For a moment his brain paused among the tattoos that liberally decorated a torso rippling with muscles. And then the name came to him. 

“Crispermeadow. The man’s name is Arnold Crispermeadow.”

“Well done old man.”

Homes scrabbled about in his many pockets, coming up with a pad of telegraph forms and a purple indelible pencil….

Piglock Homes and his sidekick Doctor Bearson will continue their investigation into The Affair of the Dartymuir Dog next week Jane Jago

The Best of the Thinking Quill – Splitting Infinitives

Good morrow my little scholars.

It is your beloved pedagogue.  Yes, one is here, Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV, creator of that seminal work of epic science fantasy ‘Fatswhistle and Buchtooth’ and all-round genius. One lifts one’s head from contemplation of the sheer beauty that is one’s own sun-bronzed torso merely in order to assist one’s spiritual children in their search for narratorial clarity and shine. Lazing as one does today with one’s head in the shade and one’s body soaking up Helios’ health-giving rays always makes one consider the immutable rules of grammar. And with a muted ‘pfft’ of disgust one seeks to debunk one such piece of iconic mythology…

But why then, one hears a voice from the back of the class speak up, are you troubling to teach us about these grammar rules at all? Detention on the naughty step for backchat. If one is to write with the flow and perfection of the greats, one needs to know the expected rules – and learn which one must observe and which may be discarded at will, oh foolish neophyte!

Now, read and learn.

How to Write Right – Lesson 4. The Write Infinite Splits

Grammar has about as many rules as there are stars in the gleaming firmament. And most of those rules were put there by grumpy old men in long dresses with unkempt beards. Men whose sole function was, it often appears, the rendering of language impenetrable and the making of writing the blandest and least appetising porridge imaginable.

Let us consider an example. The split infinitive.
You don’t know what an infinitive is?
Very well.
 Permits oneself a small sigh of utter weariness.
Those who are unaware of what constitutes an infinitive can just remove themselves to the naughty step immediately, taking with them their copy of ‘Practical English Usage’ and studying same until they can at least reliably identify the parts of speech.
The rest of you can jolly well stop flicking ink pellets at Metheringham Minor and pay attention or one will be amongst you armed with malacca. Better…

Hands up those of you who are ‘Trekites’, as we cognoscenti in the science-fiction world call fans of ‘Star Trek’. No. Do not disagree with your master, as his patience for such things is thin. However, you are all of you familiar with an iconic infinitive split: ‘to boldly go’
Wonders idly if there is such a thing as a grammarian Trekkian or if that might be a truly alien race.
Turns attention back to bewildered class.
The infinitive of the verb is – to go. The word boldly inserted between to and go splits the infinitive.
Not allowed.
In order to achieve strict grammatical correctitude, Captain Kirk and his chums should have been adjured to go boldly, which, in one’s exquisitely tasteful estimation has not nearly the same impact. And perhaps even feels as if the meaning is not quite the same.

Consider the following
To walk quietly
To quietly walk

In theory, these mean the same. But do they conjure in the inner theatre of your mind’s eye the same result? Most certainly not! Knowing the mode in which the action is taken helps prepare the mind to add that action upon the screen of that inner theatre more perfectly than if the action is known before how it is being performed. Simple.

Think on this as you write: ‘To split, or not to split. That is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outraged grammar Stasi…’

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to cleverly write, to eagerly learn, and to humbly accept.

Nanu-Nanu.

Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV

You can find more of IVy’s profound thoughts in How To Start Writing A Book courtesy of E.M. Swift-Hook and Jane Jago.

Coffee Break Read – Star Dust: 1100

Built upon an asteroid, these mighty habitation towers are the final stronghold of humanity in a star system ravaged by a long-ago war. Now, centuries after the apocalyptic conflict, the city thrives — a utopia for the rich who live at the top, built on the labours of the poor stuck below. Starway Pathfinders is a science fiction show that entertains the better off and brings hope to the poor…

It was the following day Joah found the new paper bird pinned to the board in her booth, just like in the old days. With careful fingers she released it and cupped it in her hands as if it were a living thing. Then she reached out to re-pin it gently, flying with the rest. She was almost smiling as she sat down and started work. Trust and hope carried her through that day, and the next, and the next; she even weathered the suspicion, and the second police interview, without cracking, but it was hard to be alone with the mounting pressure of doubt and fear. Surprisingly, it was Heila’s unobtrusive support that pulled her through. The actress knew precisely when to be silent and when to put in an acidic comment that stiffened Joah’s spine.

She was working in the sound booth, adding some Zarshay words synthed by her modulator to go with the virtual Science Officer Xexe Chay. She didn’t hear any footsteps, but she knew without hearing. Maybe it was the slight trace of a scent or maybe it was something deeper and inexplicable. But she was already turning her chair and getting to her feet when Zarshay came into the booth.
For a moment her intense anger and anxiety reared up between them and Joah felt frozen to the spot. Then Zarshay closed all the distance that created the division and Joah’s arms opened by an instinct so much deeper than those emotions that they no longer mattered. Nothing did, except that they were there, together. They clung to each other for what seemed forever.
“I’m sorry,” Zarshay whispered “I had to wait for it to be safe. If I had even tried to contact you—”
With an effort of will Joah released her and stood back. She knuckled a wayward tear and wondered what had changed, what to say, but was saved as the studio door burst open.
“Did you get to hear the news?” Dog called out sounding excited.
Joah gripped Zarshay’s hand and the two turned to face him. “Hear what? I’ve been setting up here so not checked my feed in a while.”
“Oh hello Zarshay, glad you’re back. It’s all over the media that the last big business backer pulled out and the President’s office has said the project is being ‘postponed indefinitely’.”
Zarshay was grinning. “That’s political speak for ‘cancelled’, Dog.”
Heila’s sharp tapping footwear could be heard on the studio floor approaching the booth, just ahead of her voice.
“It’s the most dreadful news isn’t it, darlings?” she said as she joined them. “That stupid curse thing — and all those idiots believing it too. And of course, no one will back the project; who wants to have their brand linked with something everyone is calling unlucky?” Her expression was serene and smiling in direct contrast to the fretful sound of her voice. “But the good news is our ratings are rocketing with the free publicity. Starways Pathfinders is even getting viewers from the mainstream demographics now, and I have been asked to do a round of chat shows to talk about it.”
Dog made a sound suspiciously like a growl.
“Bastards just want to watch to see one of us have something bad happen.”
“Don’t be silly,” Heila said, taking his arm almost possessively. “We are not a live show.”
“You try telling them that.”
“Not our problem, darling. Besides, now Zarshay is back I think the curse may have just run its course,” Heila said, drawing him away towards the studio door. “She is our lucky charm. But what is our problem is all this publicity. You need to come with me so I can talk you through what you and I will be doing for the next few weeks. We have chat show couches to decorate, darling.”
She paused on the threshold to glance back and drop a conspiratorial wink at Joah and Zarshay, before herding Dog through the door and letting it close behind her, leaving them alone together.

Star Dust by E.M. Swift-Hook, originally appeared in The Last City, a shared-universe anthology. This version is the ‘Author’s Cut’ and differs, very slightly, from that original.

Lost in Life

Once I strode along the road
Tall and proud and in control
Life as it is sold to be.

Then I fell.

Lost in curling chaos
Crying in confusion
Making senseless, unfinished…

Driven by dark winds to dark places
Ripped by strong tides
Not me, not I
A stranger in my own flesh

Lost.

Broken.

I landed hard, torn in tears,
Wrapped in shreds of self
Tattered banners of lost pride
Here there is no sanctuary
No place of peace
Fear stalks darkly
Sorrow talks starkly
Each time I try to stand
The earth shakes beneath me.

Above, the road of the world
Stately, unheeding, strolls on…

E.M. Swift-Hook

Weekend Wind Down – Sky Painting

Breakfast was a happy meal in the tiny apartment. Although the three of them could barely fit around the table they always managed to eat and laugh together. First up from the wreckage was twelve-year-old Tanith, who stuck a pink tongue out at her father.
​“You are outnumbered Dad, so just give up.”
​Tom waved a lazy arm. “School, child. At least you are outnumbered there.”
​Tanith grabbed her school bag.
​“I need a coat, Mum?”
​“Not today. But tomorrow you will want your high boots…”
​The door banged behind their beloved child and both parents watched indulgently as her coltishly long-legged figure leapt gracefully onto the private walkway that would take her to school.
​“Do we do wrong not the have a sibling for her?” Anna wondered softly.
​Thomas smiled his kind and reassuring smile.
​“She is happy, well adjusted, and loved. So no.”
​Anna briefly touched his face then got up and stretched until her bones cracked. ​“It’s going to be a long day. Overtime. I’m called to the centre of the Dome to do a sunset. Spectacular of course. One of the wives is having a barbecue (whatever that might be) and a beautiful sunset is essential to the endeavour.”
​“You be careful then. I know what the rich are like..”
​“Oh. I’m not pretty enough or young enough. And they badly want this sunset.”
She picked up her work bag and sauntered off.
He watched her with a little worry at the back of his eyes before clearing up the slip of a kitchen and setting out to his own place of work.
Much later in the day, Anna’s identification was being carefully checked before she was permitted to leave the central walkway. She was escorted to the weather station by a couple of respectful security operatives who were darkly suited, but with suspiciously bulging armpits.
​“What is it precisely that you do madonna?” ​The question was phrased politely, but Anna was in no doubt that her reply was essential to her wellbeing.
​“I’m a sky painter sir. The astral plain above our heads is merely the underside of the Dome. We control the weather, and we control how the ‘sky’ looks. Normal skies are computer programs. And I write the algorithms. For special occasions I can create a skyscape live.”
They still looked a bit pensive.
​“Can you show us?”
​She nodded. “See that perfectly plain blue sky over the purple-leaf trees.”
Anna tuned her light brushes to the frequency for just that square of sky and began the exquisite dance that is sky painting. What she did not see was how her work lit her small, plain face and how the beauty of her movement was enough to steal the breath. By the time she had finished, the men were enchanted – both by the artist and by the tiny skyscape she had created just for them. The larger of them bowed his head.
​“I think I am your slave forever madonna.”
​Anna blushed. “I thank you sir. It is enough that my work is enjoyed.”
The guards allowed her access to the slave computers, and took their station either side of the doors. At the appointed time, Anna began her dance, painting the sky over one very wealthy woman’s garden with a golden glow and a falling orb of flaming red. She had just about brought the ‘sun’ below the horizon, when she was jolted from her dance by flashing lights and screaming klaxons. The two guards barrelled into the room.
“What is it, madonna?”
“Cyber attack. Something is attacking the weather computers.”
“What can we do?”
“You can let me into the room where the master computer lives.”
The two men exchanged a look and the older nodded an infinitesimal nod. Each man pressed his palm to a plate high above the doors, then inserted a slim metal rod he wore on a chain around his neck into the slots barely visible beneath the palm plates. The doors shushed open and Anna dashed in. She put her own palm on a plate beside the darkened touch screen. It lit and she input her personal codes.
“Hurry up computer,” she muttered.
Then, in front of the astonished eyes of an increasing number of panicked security operatives, the most secret of human/computer interactions, the interface, begun. Anna began to glow with an unearthly bluish glimmer, and every nerve pathway and synapse in her body was outlined with crackling light.
“What occurs?”
The voice that spoke from the doorway was well-bred and accustomed to being obeyed.
“We don’t know monsignor, the alarms started to scream and we deemed it prudent to allow the sky painter who was working here access to the weather computer.”
The tall aristocrat came forward and peered shortsightedly into the computer room. He nodded briskly. “You did right. The computer was under cyber attack. Somebody had to go in. The operative is interfaced. All we can now do is hope for her safety and guard her physical body.”
“Is she in danger?” One of the original pair of security operatives spoke with great daring.
“Very probably. But we can do nothing except keep guard.”

From ‘The Sky Painter’ one of the incredible short stories in pulling the rug iii by Jane Jago

Granny Knows Best – Remotes

Everything today has a remote and I for one am delighted by that. From the comfort of my arm chair I can control the world, and that’s without having to put up with what I call a sycophantic smartarse – and my technologically enthused great-niece refers to as ‘Alexa’.

But remotes are a bloody pain at times because…

They. All. Look. The. Same.

How often have I reached for the device to control the TV and found I was changing the temperature in the room instead?

I suggest standardised colour coding to avoid all possible confusion.

Black and white for the telly (obviously), red for the thermostat (self-explanatory), blue for the radio (get it?) and so on.

In the meantime, until the designers catch up to the needs of their customers, stick something on it yourself so you don’t wind up answering a call on your land-line by talking into your Amazon Fire Stick…

You can now have a collection of Granny’s inimitable insights of your very own in Granny Knows Best.

Piglock Homes and The Dartymuir Dog – Part the Fourth

Join Piglock Homes and his sidekick Doctor Bearson as they investigate the strange affair of the Dartymuir Dog…

The train huffed and puffed across the quiet countryside and Piglock sat huddled in one corner of the carriage. He was obviously deep in thought, and Bearson managed to ignore his rumbling stomach while hoping Homes would remember Mrs Miggs’ pies before they went cold. Fortunately for Bearson’s  temper, Homes lifted his face from contemplation and thrust a trotter into the bag and passed out an oozing pie.

Bearson sunk in his teeth into the pastry and groaned silently as the gravy ran down his chins. By the time he had finished his pie, Homes was halfway through his. The great detective belched discreetly and threw the second half of his pie to Bearson. 

The rattle and groan of the express train lulled Bearson to sleep, while Piglock Homes pondered the problem they were speeding towards.

The great train groaned and shrieked its way into the station concourse at Brizzle. Homes leaned out of the window and studied the press of humanity on the platform.

“I say, old chap,” he ejaculated. “If it isn’t our old friend Yore.”

The inspector was pushing his way through the crowd towards the train, but the guard was already slamming the doors closed.

Homes poked the top half of his body out of the window.

“Guard,” he shouted. “Hold the train. There’s a guinea in it for you if my friend there catches the train.”

The guard slowed his progress along the train while Yore increased his efforts to reach the express before it slid out of the station. Homes threw the carriage door open and, as Bearson dragged the inspector aboard, flicked a coin into the guard’s horny palm.

Yore just about collapsed onto the faded plush of the seat. He was obviously exhausted, his limbs were shaking and his face was grey and drawn. Although, to be brutally honest, Yore’s face was always grey. He appeared to be struggling for breath and Bearson hurried to feel his pulse.

Homes looked concerned, but Bearson smiled. 

“He’s fine. Just over exerted.”

Bearson reached into his pocket and brought out his hip flask. He put it to Yore’s lips. The inspector drank deeply.

“Ye gods Bearson, what is that?”

“It’s creme de menthe and Irn Bru.”

“It’s vile. But I’ll have another belt if it’s all the same to you.” He drunk again. “I’ve been waiting for you. Homes. But I’m afraid we’re too late…”

Piglock Homes and his sidekick Doctor Bearson will continue their investigation into The Affair of the Dartymuir Dog next week

Jane Jago

The Best of the Thinking Quill – Superlatives

Tally Ho Yoiks!

It’s holidaymaker hunting season, and one disposes oneself decoratively in one’s hammock whilst idly listening as Mater offers increasingly incomprehensible directions to passing motorists. She seems to revel in giving minor misdirections which she knows will have them fully engaged on the ring road for at least a couple of hours before they find their turn off.

Though, truthfully, any time after 11am and the woman is apt to be languishing under the influence of a summer cocktail of Brandy, Pernod, Fernet Branca, and Cab Sov. So it might well be the misdirections are far from intentional. One has not asked. She is utterly incorrigible and it’s too warm to squabble with her – so one merely giggles and fans one’s heated cheeks with an exquisitely painted pleat of Chinese paper.

However. To one’s muttons.

It is one. Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV. Author of the acclaimed and lauded ‘Fatswhistle and Buchtooth’. Raconteur. Lover. Adventurer. Bon viveur. And beloved tutor to a whole generation of putative writers hoping to touch the coattails of one’s literary skill and share a glimmer of one’s outrageous genius. The first, one strives to impart in a manner that even the dullest brain may access. The latter is unique to oneself and is what sets apart the truly great from the merely aspiring.

So listen up mes estudas. Today we have a Very important lesson.

How to Write Right – Lesson 3. It’s Very Upsetting – or The Write Way to Write Bigger

Today we assault the word ‘very’. We make of that little quatrain of letters public enemy number one. We hurl it screaming from the rooftops never to be seen again. Or to paraphrase my particular friend Stavros:  ‘Don’t say ‘very’ Moony my love-button. It’s boring and undescriptive. Just don’t fu****g say it.’

‘Very’ is like the colour grey. It is flat and flaccid, sucking the vibrancy from whatever luxurious descriptor you use it to modify. It pales your prose and dampens down your descriptions. It takes the very depth from dialogue and can make of your writing a desert.

I hear, with the acute sensitivity of my mind’s ear, as you – my poor pupil – cry and scream and declaim it to be ‘vewy diffy’. With what can it be replaced? What other word so succinctly sums up the notion of ‘very’? Do not struggle and rant against the way of the world, dear disciple. Acknowledge the truth. Accept the challenge. Of course it is ‘diffy’. Which is why I am here to offer you a modest list of synonymous sayings to help you on your way.

Very hot: Volcanoesque
Very angry: Viragoesque
Very beautiful: Venusesque
Very fat: Junoesque
Very stupid: Moronesque
Very ugly: Gargoylesque
Very sexy: Marilynesque
Very fast: Ferrariesque
Very graceful: Ballerinaesque
Very humble: IVyesque
Very talented: Moonyesque

And if you, my little cupcakes, have yet to fathom your way through the maze of very hunting, then one despairs.

Think carefully, and for homework write your own list. If you are proud of your novice endeavours, then make good use of them in your writing and banish the vile word to the ‘very’ pits of hell.

One has a date so. Au revoir and ecrit bon

Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV

You can find more of IVy’s profound thoughts in How To Start Writing A Book courtesy of E.M. Swift-Hook and Jane Jago.

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