Birthday Season

If there’s one thing guaranteed to make you do a double-take and wonder where the time went its the realisation that your children are all grown up – or at least have hit eighteen. 

We’re right in the middle of a short cluster of them with one of my neices, my daughter and my daughter’s best friend all reaching their majority within the space of a few short weeks of each other. The Charleesi is yet to have hers, but this weekend we had a gathering to celebrate her cousin’s birthday.

Surrounded by the extended family, she endured us with good grace, and it was a pleasant few hours on a gloriously sunny day.

And of course it’s a wonderful thing, but for myself and my brother B there was one short moment of looking at each other at the bar with a shared bemusement of “how did this happen?” There was self-conscious eye rolling, and a bit of shoulder shrugging, and then we got the drinks in to return to everyone else. 

I’d love to report that I was a sparkling addition to the party, but between the various strains going on and my perennial feeling of being the outsider I mostly people-watched and blended into the background. My neice seemed to be having a good time, and that was more important.

Another few weeks and, right in the middle of her A-Levels, it’s the turn of the Charleesi. We’ll see then if I’m any more used to the concept

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Uncle Ranty’s Assistants Speak Up

You may be wondering why we’ve called you here today. Some of the more alert among you may also have noticed that we’re not Uncle Ranty. It’s the hair, isn’t it? No, Uncle Ranty can’t come to the keyboard right now. We kind of wish we could say it was because he’d been locked up for eating his third least-hated editor – but there’s no evidence of that, so we’re stuck with him for now.

Truth be told, as of the last time we saw him, he’s locked himself in the bathroom with a water resistant games console to play Skyrim. His last intelligible words were: “Screw this, I’ve had enough of this garbage. I’m off to live in a fantasy world to rival that of any poxy reader of a right wing UK newspaper.”

He also said something about forcibly extracting editors’ heads from tax-evading owners’ rectums, but we’re not entirely sure what he means by that. He seemed to be deeply annoyed by the wall-to-wall intrusive horror-porn reporting on the Manchester bombing this week.

Now, that last is a bit of a conjecture because by then he was also muttering about eating a TARDIS at the weekend, and threatening to go back and cancel our mothers if we didn’t bring him pizza.

From a quiet sit down with his scribbled notes, screen captures from his phone, and some of the less colourful swearing it looks like he was going to, uh, discuss the tabloid calls for suspension of the presumption of innocence, as well as their use of the phrase ‘final solution’.

Uncle Ranty may return soon, but from the noises coming from the other room he’s preferring to shout at virtual dragons and limit his weapon brandishing to the virtual realms. We’ll keep him distracted so he doesn’t make things worse.

As his assistants, we’d just like to say: be kind to each other and yourselves, and be a force for good just like all the amazing people who have rallied to help in Manchester. Don’t be a dick, it really doesn’t help.

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Fiction Fragment: Band Night

I started this last night but wasn’t quite sure where I was going to go with it, so I’ll stick it up here as a fragment – and if inspiration wanders back I’ll develop it further:

The band played on. That was what stuck with him as a memory later. In the middle of all the unfurling chaos; the explosions and sparks, the screams and shouts; the band played on. Their clothing was pristine and uniform. Their hair gelled and teased to coiffed perfection, they looked like they had stepped off an album cover, or a promotional photoshoot.

Even when a seven foot biker was bodily tossed at the stage, the lead singer merely swayed his upper torso a lazy few inches out of the way. He didn’t break a sweat, the beat, or his rhythm. The drummer broke the biker’s neck instead as he tried to clamber back upright on the drumset.

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Short Story: Things That Go Drip In The Night

“That shower is dripping again.” It was three o’clock in the morning, and nobody was in the mood for it. I certainly wasn’t.

“I did it last time.” Kay’s grumpy half-assed voice was surprisingly clear for someone who had been snoring mere seconds ago.

“You’re nearer. Go on, won’t take a second.” I pretended to be barely conscious, slurring my words slightly.

“No. Your turn. I told you to fix it when you got in and you wanted to curl up on the sofa instead.” Kay’s back was curved aggressively at me as she hugged the armful of duvet to her chest and exposed me to the night air.

“Ahhh! Bitch!” I yelled – though only half-heartedly – as goosebumps broke out up and down my skin. I tried without success to haul the covers back, but my wily woman had already rotated like a spindle to cocoon herself. She glared sleepily out at me, face framed by tousled hair that was well on its way to being the poster-child for bed head.

“Go on Dorian. You can have the covers back when you’ve sorted it.” She affected a stern tone, and then promptly ruined the effect with a giggle and by sticking her tongue out at me. I sighed dramatically and pulled my t-shirt back down to at least try and preserve some body heat. At least the carpet was warm enough when I swung my legs round and sat up.

The ensuite bathroom was only a half dozen steps or so away as I walked round the end of the bed. In general principle I tried tugging the end of the duvet as I passed, but Kay drew her feet up and there was no give in the material. I pulled a sad face at her on my way past; she farted in retaliation.

“Charming!” I called, and flicked the light on in the bathroom suite. All the better to glare at the shower head which was stubbornly dripping every twenty three seconds. I knew that because I’d been lying in the dark counting the intervals for what felt like the last half hour or so. I’d been having a particularly nice dream about an ex just before waking, so that hadn’t put me in the best of moods to start with. I certainly wasn’t going to throw that into the debate about why I didn’t want to get up either.

In the warm light of the spotlights it took me a moment to spot the tiny water elemental curled in the tray of the shower. Each drop that fell replenished the mass lost to the drain in a slow pulse in the battle of surface tension against gravity. I sighed and turned the shower head on and off, making sure to tighten the valve properly this time. The small puddle of water at my feet seemed to grin through its ripples in response.

“Right,” I said, “no more of this, it’s making us both cranky. You can stay the night if you’re quiet, but it’s straight down the drain in the morning. – sooner if you wake either of us before dawn.” I reached to the shelf by the shower hose and selected a large pink sponge. I placed it right in the middle of the puddle and made sure it overlapped where the drips had been falling. Then I stomped back out into the bedroom. Kay had already restored the duvet evenly over the bed and was busy snoring again.

“I’ll call a plumber in the morning.” I said. I curled up to spoon behind her and kissed the tip of one pointed ear.

“Thank you darling.” She said, and squeezed my hand. Sleep came quickly.

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Short Story: In At The Deep End

On the seventh day after gaining physical access to humanity’s shared subconscious, the contractors announced that they had killed God. Of course, three days after that he rose again and forgave them, and from there on out it started getting strange. Well, stranger than it already was.

The whole thing had been designed as a preemptive strike to mold the general populace into something more malleable for the big businesses sponsoring the project. The discovery of applied branches of multidimensional mathematics and physics in the banking sector had taken a while to be smuggled past non-disclosure clauses and appropriated by rival research teams in a number of agencies. It hadn’t then taken long before productivity consultants had begun to get very excited about concepts such as description theory and psychodynamic modelling.

The thought of being able to edit their own workers, let alone potential customers, had been a siren call to the usual suspects. Given the projected financial gains, the research teams working in these fields were showered with budgets and carte blanche unseen since the Space Race and the Cold War. The Information War soon outstripped the simplicity of fake news and net traffic manipulation into far more esoteric realms.

As usual, nobody wondered what was watching from those realms. The shadows of these computations played like firelight on the walls of these sideways cavern’s and fields and curious intellects answering to alternative laws began to huddle round the brightest spots to push back.

In retrospect we can ask why nobody queried the higher incidence of unexplained phenomena like temperature changes or visual distortions in the research labs. Perhaps they did, but they were quietly edited out of the recorded reports dutifully spooled out to corporate masters. Nastier minds than mine have suggested that such editing may have come from The Other Side, just as the research teams were affecting things Over There.

Either way, nobody’s talking. Certainly not these days, anyway. The breakthrough event had a body count as the contrasting laws of competing realities twisted and pretzelled around each other’s event horizon and scythed a zone clear each side to a distance of precisely ten kilometers radius. We know this because the gateway on our side was in the heart of Wall Street. In that moment, we all knew we’d need something more effective than Ghost Busters to push back.

Given the generally pugilistic nature of both politics and corporations in search of recovered revenues, it wasn’t too surprising that a military response was made, despite the pleas for a more scientific investigation. A rapid corporate tendering process resulted in an outsourced security bidding war breaking out, and then the troops went in.

Human minds, even bolstered by drones and telemetry are not equipped to interpret other-dimensional spaces. Our brains are designed to approximate inputs they have no frame of reference for, so the intelligences on the other side were reported in terms that the troops brought with them – as the gods and devils that they believed in below their ostensibly rational fronts.

Over there apparently can be the nearest thing to heaven or to hell, even within a few steps of each other, so when someone tagged Over There as being our subconscious, it seemed to stick. The standing instructions from the corporate owners of the security teams became a mission to take down anything that might inspire the masses – which is why the biggest entity they could find was codenamed God, and taken down with extreme prejudice.

Of course, the entities over there were as affected by us as we were being by them. That’s why God rose again, a near infinite number of virgins began camping outside the Staging Area, Kali began reaping lone travellers, and new arrivals are now interrogated by Ganesh.

Suffice to say, all involved are desperate to find a way to disengage from this holy mess, church attendances are up again, and mathematicians are now on hit lists around the world. Strange times are back; now can I interest you in some prayer beads blessed by Buddha and Pikachu?

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Blurt Boxing

“Be Your Own Super Hero” Starter Kit

Between Lady M’s current health, my own sideways brain, and some other things that have affected us on a personal level over the last month or so, we’ve needed something to cheer and distract us. 

A sponsored post on my social media field caught my eye last week – so I invoked my personal mantra of “What’s the worst that could happen?” and ordered a Blurt Foundation Buddy Box.

If you’ve not encountered the Blurt Foundation, they’ve been sending out monthly care packages for a while now. A British charity set up to support, help and inspire people affected by depression – whether as sufferers, or their supporters – they raise money by selling subscriptions for little care packages of… nice things to distract and inspire. They’re usually themed, and everything I’d seen suggested they were fun. I just didn’t necessarily fancy taking out a subscription.

The advert I saw though offered the option of buying a standalone box as a one-off. This particular advert had the tagline of being your own superhero, and being the unashamed geeks that we are, I knew this would make us both smile.

We weren’t disappointed in any way. It’s simple enough in some ways – printed cards, a bath bomb, a scented aromatherapy spray, a small booklet, and a sewing kit with instructions for making your own superhero (sleep)mask – but there’s some clever and positive use of language that has indeed put a grin on both our faces.

And this is the great thing about this box. At no point in the process of ordering, receiving or opening it has the language and tone in any way felt condescending, or sickly, or anything other than a slice of positivity. It’s been nice just to sit down together and coo over the contents as we unboxed it and read bits to each other.

And sometimes that’s all we need: a little distraction, a little levity, something to engage creativity and inspire.

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Eyestrains and Exhaustions

I’ve hit one of those lulls in productivity recently that we all get from time to time. In part this has come from needing to take a breath from the sheer pace of short stories every day. I’m sure there are those on my social media feeds who are glad of the  respite. 

That said, I am still writing things every day. I’m just learning to not beat myself up if they aren’t complete (or even coherent) pieces. I’ll likely do a few fiction fragment posts for some of them rather than labelling them as complete items. The goal of the challenge is to write every day, so while I would prefer to create whole pieces at a time, I have to be realistic about my time, energy, and other commitments.

I’m also forcing myself, on a related note, to be kinder to myself when my weird and wonderful brain decides to go non-linear for a while – mostly because that isn’t helping as I ebb and flow between having focus and energy, and dullness and lethargy.

I have also had to admit to myself, in the same virtual breath, that my tendency recently to write stories and blogs purely on my phone has been hamstrung a little. My recent retinopathy test highlighted that my diabetes is now starting to affect my eyesight, so I forced myself to have my first eyetest this last weekend.

Whether it’s due to diabetes or age, I now know that I need reading glasses – at least for close-up writing and drawing – which explains some of the blurriness and throbbing aches in my eyeballs I’ve had recently. One big gulp and a perusal of frames later, we put in an order…

When they’re delivered, I’ll no doubt post a reasonably appropriate selfie and start practicing my “angry writer/library manager” glaring over the top of his spectacles pose.

In the meantime I shall continue my current side amusement of posting pictures on Instagram and Twitter of the covers of books that have caught my attention. They can be found on Twitter under @timmaidment and Instagram as ludd72 – come take a look.

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