Weekend Wind Down – Sea of Stars

You can listen to this being read on YouTube.

When Cargo Freighter Zulu/973 found it, the sleek little flitter was floating aimlessly in space, sort of halfway between the mining belt at Beta#32 and the transport station that orbited Jupiter II. It was much more elegant and aerodynamic looking than the ugly cargo hauler that nudged it with an armoured loading claw. The claw poked a bit more firmly and it drifted, with no more sense of direction than any of the other bits of space junk the traders had amassed on their journey.
“Seems dead.” Captain Clearwater remarked to nobody in particular. “Let’s have a look then.”
His communications officer turned the cargo hauler’s docking camera to face the wreck. She seemed to be in going on for perfect condition – clean and shiny and with some sort of earthside oriental script scrawled across her slightly flared bow.
“Get Leah up here.”
Somebody scrambled. Clearwater wasn’t a man to be kept waiting. Leah Su arrived promptly. She was as poised and unruffled as ever, but her bulky escort was red-faced and sweating.
“Su reporting for duty, sir.”
“You’re the nearest thing to a linguist we have hereabouts. Can you read the writing on that ship?”
“More or less, sir. It says something like ‘sea of stars’. Very roughly. I guess it is the name of the vessel.”
“Probably is. Can you see an identifier?”
“No sir.”
“Me neither. And I reckon that makes it fair game. Whatever spoilt rich boy lost his toy out here, I’m thinking finders keepers. Even if nobody has put a bounty on her, she should fetch a few bob for salvage. I’m going over to have a look. Take the con Su.”
Clearwater may have been greedy and even unprincipled, but he wasn’t fool enough to go and inspect a possible salvage vessel on his own. He gathered up a sizeable force, and broke out the blasters.
In the end, there were a dozen space stevedores, wearing their exoskeleton work suits, in the airlock, along with the captain, his first officer and the ship’s metallurgist. The inside door sealed and they put on their helmets before Su began pumping out the air. It took a good ten minutes before it was safe to open the big doors into the blackness of space.
As the doors slowly slid back into their pockets in the hull, Clearwater straddled a jet scoot and headed for the flitter. First officer Ganges clutched the sissy bar behind his captain’s ample backside, and the rest formed a chain behind Ganges clipped together by lanyards attached to their tool belts. It wasn’t the most comfortable way to travel. But it wasted the least energy and Christopher Clearwater abhorred waste. Particularly if he was paying for whatever was being wasted.
The jet scoot gently nudged against the silent craft. Clearwater’s voice rasped in the ears of his party.
“Anybody have any idea how we get in?” Then. “Let’s at least look for a door before we break out the cutting gear.”
Nobody moved or spoke. Before the captain had chance to get properly irritated, Leah Su broke the silence. “Our docking camera view shows a touch plate about two metres to your right.”
Clearwater grunted and edged that way. He slapped a large gauntleted palm against the shiny ochre-coloured plate. To everyone’s surprise, the three leaves of an oddly shaped and almost invisible portal slid silkily apart. Clearwater engaged the electro-vacuum parking brake and effectively suckered the scoot to the side of the flitter. He climbed carefully off his seat and made his way hand over hand to the open portal with his crew following him.
Inside the portal was the expected airlock although the controls were rather closer to the ground than would be normal.
“You. Gamble. Stay with the scoot. The rest of you get away from the door. I’m going to try and operate this airlock.”
Being known as a bad-tempered bastard with heavy fists gets you obeyed speedily, so Clearwater didn’t even bother to look around before crouching by the control panel.
“Pictograms,” he grunted, “that’s handy.”
He touched one and the outer door closed tidily. A second button had air being pumped into the chamber.
First Officer Ganges fiddled with his meters and gauges. “Seems breathable, sir. A bit heavy on the oxygen but nothing problematic.”
“Okay. But we keep helmets on until we are inside. Officer Su. Can you hear me?”
There was no response.
“Gamble. Do you copy?”
“Sir.”
“Right. Open a channel to Su on the mother ship. I’m gonna be using you as a bounce station.”
“Done, sir.”
“You got me now, Su?”
“Yes sir.”
“Okay.” He turned his attention to the boarding party. “Right you lot. Blasters out. And stay alert. Opening inner doors now.”
Back on the cargo hauler the bridge crew heard a gentle hiss.
“We’re in. Seems deserted. Air is breathable if a bit oxygen heavy. We are removing helmets.”
The sound of heavy booted feet and muttered conversation went in for several minutes before the captain spoke again.
“This is a rum old vessel. Everything is of the most modern and the very highest spec. But it seems to have been built for dwarves. And not very bright ones of them. Every control has a pictogram. Makes it easy for us, though. I reckon I can manoeuvre this baby alongside you and dock her. Standby docking grabs.”
“Aye, aye sir.”
“Closing door and pumping out airlock.”
The next sound the bridge crew heard was a wet gurgling groan followed by what sounded like something heavy hitting a hard floor. Followed by silence. As Su frantically toggled the comms button the flitter disappeared. One second she was there, the next gone. For an instant there was an eye-wateringly bright bluish outline on the blackness of space, then even that was no more. Su knuckled her eyes.
“What the frag?”
“Continuum Drive maybe?”
“Too fast even for that…”
The helmswoman kept the levelest head of them all. “Some odd sort of drive sir. Pushed us three parsecs.”
“You sure helm?”
“I’m sure. My gauges are going apeshit.”
“How long to get us back?”
“About two days sir.”
“Gamble’s a dead man then.”
“Not necessarily, sir.” It was the comms officer who spoke in a very shaky voice. “Look out of our starboard window.”
A figure in a spacesuit floated just outside the metre-thick plexiglas waving its arms frantically.
“Fetch him in,” Su said, “let’s see if he knows any more than we do.”
He didn’t. So there seemed no point in going back to where the flitter had been. Instead, Su was elected Captain and life went on much as before – if with less enthusiasm for ‘salvage’.

On a barren lump of rock on the other side of a foreign galaxy there was unbridled joy among the arouraios kin. Those whose bones had been close to coming through their skin were now fed, and the freezers held enough sustenance to carry the whole colony through at least two turns of the mother planet. Captain Skrzzt looked at his mate and smiled to see the gleam returning to her dark fur and the sparkle of fun illuminating her eyes.
Not only was the colony saved, the big bipeds also had surprisingly tender sweet flesh and the idea of another raid into their space was already being mooted.
Skrzzt ordered his ship to be camouflaged with a wrap of dull-coloured polymer while he chose a crew from the hundreds who volunteered.
The last thing he did before turning his trusty ship back towards the areas travelled by the food creatures was to require the name to be painted on the bow.
The Marea Celestia winked out of the sky above her home asteroid…

© jane jago

Granny Knows Best – Technology

One of the inescapable facts of being a twenty-first-century pensioner is that you have to deal with technology.
Oh yes you do!
Don’t try to tell me you live techno free. 
You need a bank. You need a phone. You watch television. And I bet you even FaceTime your grandkids.
Unless you live in a mud hut somewhere, with twenty cats and an effective system of barter, you are rubbing shoulders with technology every day.
And if you weren’t doing techno you wouldn’t be reading this erudite treatise.
*stops to light a ciggy and take a strengthening glug of Jim Beam*
So. Technology. I bloody hate it but I have to deal the same as you do. 
What’s to hate?
Numero uno. Too many choices. Mac or PC? Apple or Android? Laptop or tablet? Trackpad or mouse? The list is right about frigging endless.

So what to do about it if you’re over the age of *coughs* and technology might as well be magic for all you can figure it out?

One: everybody has a grandchild, nephew/niece, child of a friend who is a geek. Have this young person brought before you. Give them a budget (twenty per cent less than you want to spend because the little shit will overspend) and tell them to go to it. And when (s)he has spent your hard-earned (s)he gets to set up the system and teach you how to use it.
At least that is what I did, got my nine-year-old great grandson and his dad along to sort me out…
Had to call young wossname (poor little sod has some schoopid middle-class name like asparagus or something, so him and me agreed on wossname)  back a few times until I got the hang of it but we are mostly okay now.
What did he get me? Laptop and dimphone. And a sinister looking thing with a blue light in it that sneers at me from behind the telly.

Two: do not be sweet talked into buying a smart phone. They are fucking expensive and you WILL break it. And the monthly contracts are eye-watering. My dimphone was twenty quid from a leading supermarket and it’s pay as you go. So I stick in a fiver now and again, and I wasn’t too bothered when I got wazzed and dropped it down the john.

Three: passwords. Do not use the same one for everything. That’s dumb. Do not use your name and date of birth. Only twats do that. Finally. Do not assume you will remember them. You won’t. Keep a hidden list. 

Four: Do not allow yourself to be talked into one of these streaming services. Unless you really do watch a LOT of television/movies/musicals. In which case discuss it with your geeky niece or nephew not the pimply excuse for a human bean behind the counter at computersrshite 

Five: whenever your broadband contract comes up for renewal refuse to pay whatever they are asking. If you can’t get it below last year’s price you haven’t whined enough.

Six: have unlimited broadband. You might think you  can never use forty-three helicopters (or whatever the things are called), but you will and then the grabby bastards will want your firstborn child and a Lamborghini to pay for the two days you ran over.

Six-point-one: do not buy an ‘upgrade’ it will make your laptop explode and your geek will sigh at you…

Right. That’s all for now. I’m going down the pub to see the male stripper 

Coffee Break Read – Truant

The feeling of grass between her bare toes encouraged the young girl to run across the sunlit meadow, laughing for the sheer joy of being alive.

The black-clad child hunter watched her from beneath his woollen cowl and smiled thinly. The girl would be an easy capture, he thought, and would suffer greatly for her truancy and the pleasure she was feeling now. The equally dark-clothed woman at his side exuded menace and gloating pleasure in about equal parts. He placed an admonitory hand on her muscular arm.
“Wait,” he ordered in sibilant tones. “Waiting will make your pleasure even greater. And will increase tenfold the shock and shame she will feel.”

Although vibrating with anticipation, the woman did as she was bid, contending herself by watching the girl with hot, hungry eyes.

All unaware of what was happening behind her, the young girl sunk to her knees in the flower-strewn grass and raised her face to the cerulean blueness of the afternoon sky.
“Thank you, lord,” she said softly. “Thank you for joy, and beauty, and for each day.”
She thought she felt a breath on her cheek and a hand at her forehead.

“Enough now,” the man whispered. “You may go and fetch the child to face her punishment.”
The ugly-minded raw-boned woman strode across the grass towards the kneeling figure, with a rope halter in one hand, and her lips pulled back from her yellowed teeth in a travesty of a grin.

She reached the kneeling girl and stretched out a bony hand to grasp her prey. But she found herself holding only a sleeve of rough homespun cloth.

Her scream could be heard for a very long way and it brought the cowled figure running.
“Gone,” she bewailed, “my pretty is gone.”

For a moment, the air shimmered with the laughter of an unseen entity that seemed to have nothing but contempt for the ugliness in the souls of the black-clad man and woman.

Under their feet the white flowers opened to the sun and a butterfly took flight.

© jane jago

Life Lessons for Writers – Eight

Yes, it’s me, Jacintha Farquar, the unfortunate mother of the abominable Moons – that’s Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV to officialdom and ‘IVy’ to those fools who think him capable of stepping out of his self-centered and self-satisfied little world long enough to offer them some tenuous parody of friendship.
Well as always I have to go around behind him like the proverbial pooper-scooper cleaning up the mess he makes and, specifically, I have been asked to contribute to this blog to try and remedy some of the dreadful drivel he spewed here in the past about how to write.
He has no fucking clue – seriously!
Go read his book if you don’t believe me, no not that god-awful supposed sci-fi thing ‘Fatswhistle and Bucktooth’, I mean the laughably titled How to Start Writing a Book . I did my best to try with that too, but you’ll see if you take a look at it.
Anyway, back to the task in hand and one thing I see many of you writers struggling with is people having social intercourse. No, get your minds out of the gutter the lot of you! That means conversation, discussion, argument – communication between people.

Life Lessons for Writers – Eight: Social Intercourse

In the world of writing you don’t call it that of course, probably because the schoolboy giggles would get the better of you and then you’d not write a bloody word for the next week. You lot call it ‘dialogue’.
Do I really need to take you back to school, sit you down and explain simple things like where to put commas in dialogue and the difference between a speech/dialogue tag and an action tag? I hope not, but if you need that then stop trying to pretend you are writing a book and go and look them up so you have the faintest notion of what I’m on about.
Let’s assume you are over the baby gate and romping along at least at school pupil level here.

First thing to remember is to avoid ‘talking head’ syndrome when the reader has no idea of where/how the conversation is taking place. Begin by setting the scene, tell us where the chat is happening and who is present:

Mary and Tom sat down for dinner at their dining room table with their daughter Ella and her new boyfriend Paul.

Next important point ‘said’ is good. Consider:

“This tastes lovely,” Tom exclaimed.
“Thank you, dear,” murmured Mary.
Ella tapped her plate with her fork. “Well done, Mum,” she cheered.
“What is in the pie?” Paul wondered.

You get the point. Of course you wouldn’t just put in ‘said’ for all those which brings us to the third point, use action to indicate who is talking where you can:

Tom smiled across at his wife. “This tastes lovely.”.
“Thank you, dear.” Mary blushed, she had been working on the meal all day in honour of this special occasion.
Tapping her plate with her fork, Ella drew everyone’s attention. “Well done, Mum.” She lifted her glass in a toast.
But Paul didn’t seem to notice, he was poking at the food on his plate. “What is in the pie?”

Hardly brilliant prose, but you can see how it brings the conversation to life.

Next point, try to keep your conversation appearing real. Now that means you leave out all the repetitions and ‘um-ing’ and ‘er-ing’ that we all do in natural speech, but it also means you don’t have your characters declaiming speeches full of posh words at each other either. If you have a character who does that they will seem like a pompous twat to your reader!

Oh yes, one more thing. Don’t do this, it drives me bloody potty, like scraping a fork over a plate:

After the happy couple had left Mary and Tom cuddled up together on the sofa.
“Oh Tom, do you think they will be as happy as we are?”
“I’m sure they will, Mary, they seem made for each other.”
Mary sighed and looked thoughtful.
“Well, Tom, I am not so sure of that as you seem to be.”
“What do you mean, Mary?”

People do not use each other’s names all the time in conversation when it is obvious who they are talking to.  Do. Not. Do. It.

Alright, that’s your bloody lot. I’m not paid by the word for this you know, so bugger off the lot of you and let me get back to Netflix and pernod – one of my favourite cocktails…

Coffee Break Read – Urban Wizardry

Being a wizard in a world where magic wasn’t supposed to exist wasn’t easy. His studies took all his time and left little for earning the money he needed to support himself. So home for Brandon Grey was a rented bedsit on the second floor of a converted suburban house. He was very tired having been up since dawn to practice a new incantation and then an afternoon stint as an Uber driver had tested his goodwill to humanity to its limit.
“Mr. Grey?”
Brandon hesitated between steps and resisted the impulse to swear. Instead, as he turned, his face was already wallpapered with a polite smile.
“Mrs. Howard!” His tone made of the name an answer to her question.
Mrs. Howard was his landlady. She lived on the ground floor. A big-boned thirty-something divorcee with a pack of rude children and a permanent short temper. From the open door behind her he could hear sounds of youthful discontent.
“It’s mine!”
“Gerroff me!” Then an ear-piercing shriek of protest.
“Mum – Shane’s taken the controller again!”
Despite the title being given three distinct syllables of intonation, ‘Mum’ seemed not to hear.
“You put out your rubbish Mr. Grey? It’s bin day tomorrow.”
Brandon maintained the smile and broadened it.
“I’ll do that as soon as I have got myself in,” he assured her. 
“Great and can you wheel the bin ‘round the front when you’re done?”
His smile still fixed Brandon assented. But his thoughts were traitors to the smile. He was getting fed up of being used as an odd-job man for the Howards. Seemed not a day went by and he was asked to do one job or another. Another yell of protest from behind Mrs. Howard decided him.
“But you know, your Shane is a big lad now. He could do with that kind of responsibility. Why don’t you get him to do it?”
As he spoke he added a small push of willpower. But Mrs. Howard had seen off two husbands and the bailiffs. She stared back nonplussed.
“I don’t think so. It is a heavy job.”
Brandon held her gaze and tried harder. No words were spoken. For a moment the woman looked perplexed, then her expression cleared. She half turned her head towards the open door and called out.
“Shane, you stop playing that video game and go do the rubbish!”
“But mum you said you’d get the poxy old lodger to do it!”
It was a red rag to a bull and Brandon was forgotten as she stormed back into the lower apartment yelling loudly and apparently adding to the chaos rather than resolving it in any measure at all.
Allowing himself a moment of satisfaction, Brandon opened his front door, dropped his jacket on the couch and made a coffee.

E.M. Swift-Hook

How to Cook Like a Toff – The Garden Party

Prunella teaches you how to cook like a toff!

You know there is something seriously wrong when the Hon Rodney comes home with the following: flowers, champers, chocs, and a guilty grin. If it isn’t April he probably doesn’t want you to do your wifely duty in the bedchamber, so you should be prepared for the worst. 

The silly ass will have volunteered for something that he knows you are not going to like. It could be any one of many things, but my particular bête noir is the fundraiser in the garden.

My garden is my pride and joy, and it is famous across three counties for the wonderful collection of camellias, and, later in the year, my cherished roses. And then himself comes home, all pink jowls and pinky ring and only bloody well wants to host a garden party in June. Not unnaturally, one’s first reaction is profane in the extreme. However when one digs beneath the belly fat and the little vanities, the Hon. Rodney isn’t such a bad spouse so one is obliged to make the best of a bad job. As our daughter, Caroline, once said: ‘Taken by and large men are at best unsatisfactory and at worst complete wastes of oxygen. On that scale the Pater wasn’t such a bad bargain.’ But I digress. The garden party.

Having firmly established that there is zero chance of anyone setting foot in the rose garden, one needs to make a plan. Not anywhere near as simple as it sounds. I have known women whose gardens have been so far decimated as to be unrecognisable. 

I have been through so many incarnations of this horrible possibility that I feel qualified to offer the following advice. If you have a room that opens out onto the lawns, so much the better (if not a marquee on the tennis court is your only viable option). Fortunately for me, the Hon. Rodney’s billiards room has a wall of roll-back glass doors (erected in the roaring twenties for his sun-mad grandmother – who ended her days looking like a walnut with dyspepsia and was living proof that you can be too rich and too thin). Be that as it may the room is ideal, and it has a wide terrace which commands views of my precious roses. Note: do not provide chairs otherwise the assembled company is likely to remain until the sun goes down. Indoors, the billiards tables can be moved to the sides of the room and covered with plywood and large cloths to serve as buffet tables. He doesn’t like it a bit, but a certain sense of justice makes him admit the fault lies with himself and the hypnotic appeal of the bosom of the yummy mummy whose fundraiser we are suddenly supporting.

So far so good. Now to the food and the drink.

Food.

You could spend three weeks concocting pretty finger food. Or. Go to your nearest supermarket and grab a very large trolley full of ‘Party Food’ plus olives, cheese, and an assortment of potato-based snacks – I will leave it to you to decide what my plan of action might be. While you are shopping don’t forget paper plates, disposable serving dishes, and paper napkins. Never mind the environmental objections to disposables. Look at it this way. The amount of power and water the dishwasher would use to clear up after a hundred middle-class oiks will more than offset the throwaways.

Drink.

This is not the occasion for cocktails or punch. Send the Hon Rodney to Oddbins (other purveyors of wine and beer can be found dotted across our fair country) with a shopping list and instructions to hand same to the employee who offers to help him.  If left to his own resources the booze would cost thousands of pounds. While he is there he gets to hire wine glasses by the box. Do not risk the Waterford crystal on fundraisers; some will get broken and it’s all but irreplaceable. When the HR arrives home, a little worried that ‘nothing over a tenner a bottle’ may mean undrinkable, open a random bottle and drink it between you. He has no palate, and as far as most women are concerned, a glass of wine is a glass of wine.

And that is how it’s done.

Important notes: One – this is a very good time to obtain a nice new diamond, or that good looking hunter you’ve been pining for. Two – do not forget to place Mellors in the entrance to the rose garden with a shotgun and instructions to repel boarders (there is no need to insist that he puts in his false teeth).

Look out for more tips on how to cook like a toff!

Weekend Wind Down – Wyvernvale

“Did you really kill a dragon, Gran’ma?”
Hepsy had to hide a smile and scooped her youngest grandson into a hug. It was the end of his fifth birthday party and he had been running around waving the wooden sword his grandfather had made for him, pretending to kill imaginary monsters in the vegetable patch. Now the family sat at table eating a simple birthday meal. Hepsy and her husband, Poll, their middle son and his wife and five grandchildren ranging from mid-teens to the birthday boy.
“Who’s been telling you tales like that?” she asked.
“Was Da. He said you killed a dragon, you and Gran’da. Is it true?”
Something in his tone made her realise it was not just a question wanting a story. She released her grandson and caught her son’s eye. He swallowed the mouthful he was chewing and sat back in his chair.
“Word is there’s a dragon back on High Top. Been taking cows from Vasserdale and burned a farm to the ground. Shal willing, it won’t fly this way.”
“Dragons don’t just turn up places,” Poll said. “They have to be hatched and that takes a lot of magic. It means they will have a master.”
“Or a mistress,” Hepsy put in. “Is there any word of a dragon being seen on Prank’s Peak or Scale Height?”
Her son shrugged.
“Those places are the other side of the mountains. We don’t get word from there often. Was a minstrel up from Durmouth though. Seems there’s war over the Marches again. Hobs and trolls.”
“When I’m grown up I’m going to fight hobs and trolls.”
Hepsy mussed her grandson’s soft hair.
“That’s just what your da said at your age, and now look at him, the finest carpenter in Wyvernvale.”

After the family had gone, Hepsy went into her still room where she made potions and poultices, pickles and jams and pulled out the chest from beneath her work counter,  where she pushed it away over thirty years before. Opening the lid she took out the two pieces of her staff and fitted them together, murmuring some words as she did so.
Then she went out and stood in their small garden, shielding her eyes from the low sun to look towards the mountains. High Top could be seen piercing the sky with its needle spire of rock. What she could not see from below though was the steep path that wound up to the plateau from which the steeple of stone began. Nor could she see the cave mouth that led to the lair. But memory told her they were there. Memory and loss.
A sound made her turn.
“You gave me a promise you’d not be using that anymore,” Hepsy said, as Poll came out of the house, her gaze rested on the sword he held in one hand, it’s blade shimmering with a blue light so the runes etched into it stood out. Then she gave a little sigh. “But then I gave you a promise I’d not be using this.” She hefted the staff and small sparks shimmered like dust motes in the air around it. “Looks like we both done broke that vow. But the big question is, what should we be doing?”
“We knew it would happen again,” Poll said, his voice heavy with sorrow. He slid the sword home into the loop on his belt and the blue light faded. Hepsy noticed the buckle was three notches up from the mark showing where he used to wear it. It was not all that had changed since he last took up that sword. His hair then had been thick and black, now it left the top of his head uncovered and was thinning and grey. But then her hair had once been the colour of a wheatfield before the harvest and now was nearly as white as the melting snows.
“We knew,” she agreed. “But I’d not thought t’would be in our lifetime. I thought we’d won the right to have our peace. We’re too old to do it all again. Not now.”
Poll put his arm around her and held her close.
“If not us – then who? The children? The grandchildren?”
Now that was a thought too terrible to dwell upon and Hepsy shook her head. “No. But it’s a dreadful long walk up to High Top and my back and your knee…”
“My knee will bear my weight long enough for what we have to do,” he said gently. “Besides, we’ll take horses this time. Hue owes me for last winter still, he’ll let us have two of his hill ponies.”
Which was a comforting thought because it really was a parlous long way and a terrible steep climb up the mountains. She shivered slightly at the memory and Poll hugged her.
“Less of that, woman. You pack what we need and I’ll go see Hue. We can set out tomorrow with first light. We’ll have to try to find the others and that won’t be easy.”
Hepsy nodded and he released her, his gnarled hands gripping her, work-worn fingers for a moment as he did so.
“They might be dead,” she said. “Do you think we can do it without them?”
Poll drew in a deep breath and looked out towards the mountains, his gaze homing where hers had, to the needle of stone above High Top. “I don’t know, love. I think we need four of us to unlock the seals, but… Well, let’s put out that fire when we can see if it’s burning.”
He was right. Of course. Which left just one question in Hepsy’s burdened heart.
“What do we tell the children?”
For a moment she wondered if he had heard her. She hadn’t spoken loudly and his hearing was no longer so perfect. But then he looked down at her and smiled sadly.
“I think we should tell them nothing,” he said. “They wouldn’t understand.”

The next day they were up before the dawn and Hespy fed the chickens a final time and explained to them that Hue’s wife had promised to come feed them in her absence. That done she went inside and searched deep in her clothes chest. It was still there. At the bottom. She looked at the long robe with its split skirt and fingered the heavy fabric, embroidered with gold and silver symbols with regret. She would no more fit that any more than she would the wedding dress she had given to her eldest daughter. Instead, she chose her most practical clothes and a pair of Poll’s old breeches and decided that maybe looking the part wasn’t so important anymore. She put her hair into a braid and studied the weather-worn face that looked back at her critically from the small hand mirror.
“Still as beautiful as ever,” Poll told her and for a moment his face and hers were captured in the same glass. This mirror never lied and it showed him as he was, which was always a reassurance.
“You and your silver tongue.” She laughed, slipping the mirror into the pouch at her belt where she had already secured some of her most potent potions. You never knew, after all.
They rode out under cloudy skies without a backwards glance.
The countryside swept down from their village to where the River Wyvern wove its way along the bottom of the vale. It was the picture of peace and rustic harmony, with cottages and houses dotting the landscape, roofs tiled with the blue flecked slate from local quarries and walls built from the dark grey rock brought down from the mountains. 
The mountains themselves lurked like ominous misshapen giants, stretching fingers or lifting shoulders towards the sky. From the gentle slopes of the vale, they rose to bleak and desolate heights.
The two barrel-shaped hill-ponies seemed happy enough to set a smart pace. Poll had managed to find his old dragonhide targe which he looped over his back and Hepsy was pleased to see the gemstone set in the pommel of his dagger was not glowing. Maybe things were not so desperate as they thought? Maybe it was all rumour and no truth? Maybe…

E.M. Swift-Hook

The artwork was inspired by a description in this piece and is by Ian Bristow. You can view the creation of it here and enjoy the music he composed that the story also inspired, perhaps whilst reading…

Granny Knows Best – Senior Citizenship

This might be better titled ‘how to get away with being an old bat’ or ‘things you can say in your ninth decade without being arrested’.

There are absolutely no circumstances under which I am prepared to divulge my precise age but I’ll give you a clue. When I was a girl a ‘glory hole’ was a cupboard into which one crammed everything that didn’t belong anywhere else, and there were twenty shillings in a pound, and people with orange skin would be either ridiculed or hospitalised.

But I digress. Today is not for reminiscence. No. This week’s lesson concerns the things you can get away with under the umbrella of being old and a bit odd.

You can:

  • Make constant reference to your age as if it were an achievement. As in…
    “I’m eighty-five, you know.” (Those of us who are only too aware that your state of decrepitude is actually down to seventy-one years and a lot of spliffs will, of course, adhere to the crumbly code and not contradict you.)
  • Go to the supermarket in your slippers and a large red hat.
  • Spend your pension on fags, alcohol and Belgian chocolate.
  • Eat the whole of a big bar of milk chocolate/bag of doughnuts/family pack of cheese and onion crisps/whatever. When asked why you are so gluttonous you merely have to say you are old and there may not be a tomorrow.
  • Flirt with twenty-year-old builders.
  • Ignore all ‘authority figures’. Never be unpleasant though. Vague, slightly tearful and full of reminiscences of the war works for me. 
  • Call your doctor ‘kiddo’ and refuse all forms of advice.

If a person with a clipboard approaches you in a public place it is perfectly in order to do one of the following:

  • Develop strategic deafness 
  • Shout for help and claim to have been sexually propositioned 
  • Answer all their questions as randomly as possible
  • Grasp them firmly by the wrist and drag them to a cafe with outdoor tables where you can keep them talking for at least an hour and wrangle them into buying coffee and cake.

And finally. It’s at last okay to air your opinions. You can say the prime minister/president/crown prince/chairman of the board/whoever is a nasty, ignorant, grabby little bar steward. That the latest fashionable television ‘presenter’ is incomprehensible and about as funny as herpes. That quinoa is just middle class rice. And so on. Be the person who says what everyone else is too polite to mention… 

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