Are You A Priest?

This is the question that was fired at me without warning this afternoon. It came from a child of around six or seven years, who peered at me around the corner of the desk. We were in the library, and I was sorting something out for his uncle. The child’s siblings were running merry havoc around the building – mostly dismantling displays – and I have to admit I was contemplating trying for a field goal with one of the little treasures at that point. I was just fondly imagining drop kicking one of the bundles of joys when the quiet question was posed.

It flummoxed me a little, I suspect it would make most of you at least pause a half second while your brain devoted a quick boost of concentration while it processed the question (I’m not including any of you who may, actually, be priests in this supposition). I blinked, and said “no”.

image

“You look familiar, are you sure?” he replied. I told him I live nearby and he’s probably seen me in the shops, but I was sure I wasn’t a priest. He didn’t look convinced.

In the back of my mind, the immortal words from Ghostbusters started to reel out: “If someone asks you if you’re a god, you say YES” and wondered if there was about to be an explosion beyond the sound of falling books from the next aisle, where his baby brother was trying to climb the shelves. There was no explosion. His puzzled face remained; and then his uncle apologised and dragged him away in the direction of the Children’s Library.

I wasn’t even wearing black today! Those who know me will recognise this as highly unusual, and I’m sorry if I’ve shattered the illusion that I wear nothing but deepest sable, cloaking myself in shadow. It just felt like a day for blues and greys. Must have been the bright autumn sunshine when I got up this morning or something. I’m sure it’s just a phase.

I’d like to think it was some incipient awareness in the child of the sacred nature of books and learning, and my role in their preservation, promotion and sharing their importance that prompted the question, but the context of the encounter suggests otherwise. Perhaps his household religion is one where only priests have beards – or in my case a sort of half-hearted goatee and associated scruff – and that’s what caused the concern. Maybe he thought I was about to lecture him from holy scripture about how he should respect the library and behave with due care and attention to those about him. That might explain the look of wide-eyed fear and awe.

Either that, or my secret desire to pick him up and tryto kick him straight across six lanes of traffic was a lot less subtle than I believed. I wish I had started channelling Hunter S Thompson and launched in to a long inventive diatribe laced with venom, vision, and violently obscure imagery to scorch the eyeballs… but sadly I was too bemused and disarmed.

Perhaps next time, I shall say yes, and see what happens.

Round The Houses

image

The last forty eight hours have been a gloriously chaotic experience that has seen me cruising motorways to the sound of Orbital; sitting in a Children’s Library voting on the 2016 Carnegie and Greenaway Awards; and arguing politely with doctors in the local A&E department. That doesn’t even include networking with librarians, breakfast conversations with my best friend’s daughter, career advice from an author, or patching up aching hearts.

I’d travelled down to the outskirts of Brighton on Sunday night so I could be relatively fresh for a CILIP event in the Jubilee Library. Librarians and Library Staff (yes, there’s a difference) from the South East of England were meeting to discuss and vote together the candidates for next year’s Carnegie and Greenaway Awards, epitomising the best in children’s fiction and illustration. Whichever way you cut it, this is a big deal, and very cool. I am very proud of having been able to take part in this process.

It was a good distraction from quite a severe mood dip that was partly fuelled by Lady M being unwell. When I got home and found she had spent a good portion of the day in the local A&E and was still in distress, the worry came flooding straight back. They’d discharged her without being sure what was causing her constant pain and things were not getting better. I knew I wouldn’t be able to rest, despite her saying she would have to see the GP in the morning, so I took her back.

We spent seven hours in A&E (that’s the ER for my US readers), and got home at about half five this morning. Lady M is recovering, so there’s a positive result, and we’ve been sleeping most of today to make up the sleep debt. We also had a visitation from Lady P, whose own illness has led her to do some dumb things recently. A quiet evening of tears, Netflix, and a hastily cooked meal followed.

And so, back to bed, and the hope that some relative normality will soon return. Well, normal for us anyway…

There’s This Week Gone?

Not working on Monday has totally thrown my sense of where I am in the week out the window. I’ll get used to it, but the rearrangement of library hours seems to have thrown my planning out. As a result it feels like I’m chasing my own tail a bit.

image

It doesn’t help that I’m feeling a bit under the weather. There’s a stomach bug doing the rounds, and even my cast iron stomach seems to be twitchy. I’m hoping that it doesn’t develop into anything, especially as I have Rhymetime tomorrow. I somehow doubt that my popularity as a singer will survive my trampling toddlers in an emergency rush to the loo, let alone the alternative!

Still, much to look forward to this weekend. We’ll be at the Wessex Pistols album launch on Friday, and the Charleesi is staying over too, which is always a pleasure. Then I’m in Brighton on Monday for a CILIP Carnegie event, so friends have offered to put me up for the Sunday night so I don’t have to battle commuter traffic.

I suspect I’ll need to cancel the upcoming Monday game, thinking about the timings. That’s a pain, but on the plus side Lady P returns from another con on Monday, so fingers crossed our schedules allow a catch-up. We’ve had a fairly fraught few weeks between us all, but things seem to be settling down again, so definitely looking forward to opening some wine up soon. We may even see her return to the pub on a Tuesday soon: stranger things have been known.

Speaking of which, we’ve just started saying “Tuesdays” as a catch-all response to shenanigans on our nights down The Plough. It saves trying to explain certain jokes and references to cheese and Disney songs to the resident musicians. The respective Ladies M, and Lady G are certainly getting a bit of a hellraising reputation.

New Rotas

Another week, another Monday – oh, wait, now this is new: my library rotas have changed. Mondays are the new Wednesday and I’ve suddenly had the equivalent of a weekend, even with working on a Saturday. How very civilised…

Speaking of civilised, we even did semi-domesticated things this weekend, such as getting colour swatches for a potential repaint and decorate in the flat, and meeting friends for Sunday lunch. We even took our life in our hands and went to a pub in Twickenham during the opening weekend if the rugby World Cup. Admittedly it was the other end of Twickenham from the stadium, so was hardly overrun, but it sounded impressive and/or foolhardy for a moment, didn’t it?

It’s up there with announcing you know the lyrics to Duelling Banjos while it’s being performed; something we did the other week while down The Plough, and then went ahead and sang them. It nearly made the musicians crack up laughing, so was totally worth it.

So, a new week, new patterns, hopefully better news for those we know who have things to cope with, and hopefully better health all round. With any luck I’ll manage to stave off the worst of the grimness with humour and irreverence.

Oh, those lyrics? “Two pints of lager, and a packet of crisps!”

I Read Your Blog

If there’s a phrase that puts me on edge these days, its someone that I’m talking with face to face suddenly saying: “I read your blog.” There’s often a pause straight after. There’s usually a slightly guilty look on their face at the time, because they’re about to ask a question about some of the more personal information that I’ve posted here.

image
Keep Calm and Use the Konami Code

Sometimes there’s a carefully neutral expression, akin to the one I used to wear as an IT Systems Administrator when in conversation with someone while I was wearing my “I read your email” t-shirt. It can feel that either phrase can be an implicit threat at the same time as a helpful acknowledgement. It is often not until we get to the next sentence that it becomes apparent which way the conversation is going.

These days it’s usually one of three topics: my gaming write up pages, my mental health posts, or allusions to my love life. Well, there’s also one person who picks me up on the WordPress app’s ability to “autocorrect” my apostrophe usage to interesting effect occasionally (looking at you here, Lady G).

In each case I’m usually doing a lightning fast fight or flight calculation. This often manifests as my responding with an “oh yes?”, or possibly a more drawn out “yeeeesssssss?” if there’s something in the tone of the original comment that rings mental alarm bells. More often than not, the next sentence is generally supportive, or picks out a turn of phrase that has put a grin on their face.

These last ones are, admittedly, some of the nicest conversations. That’s because I get to see someone’s joy as provoked by my writing. That’s a huge ego boost, and particularly helps if I’m having a doldrums day. (Sir S was the most recent of these, telling me of the sheer joy he got from recognising himself in the blog – there’s always one 😛 )

To date, the other topics have either prompted grimly supportive statements like “you know you can talk to me about anything”, or semi incoherent reassurances along the lines of “if you’re happy, we don’t give a flying f**k”. I await with interest the day someone tells me, to my face, to lighten the hell up – and engages in a long and in-depth discussion without a look of terror or utter confusion on their face.

Well, there’s one Dangerous person who does, but he’s usually very, very drunk at the time and shows no subsequent sign of recalling the conversations afterwards. This may be a blessing in disguise.

I wonder how many other bloggers encounter this. Many people blog under an assumed name or title of course, but there are many who, like me, blog under their own name. Is this sense of trepidation when talking directly to your audience just a figment of my overactive imagination, or something we all struggle with (even if only briefly?) What approaches do you adopt when the virtual and real worlds coincide?

Games Round-Up

I’m dividing my time between too many games at the moment – I’ve been playing Destiny (I was curious to see the changes served up before the Taken King expansion), Forza Horizons 2, the Forza 6 Demo, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Rise of Berk (on the tablet), Fallout Shelter (on the tablet), StarWars Uprising (also on the tablet), Minecraft XBox One, and Deer God. There have probably been more, especially with the Free with Gold games on the XBox, but it has largely been Destiny of late.

So, I’ve decided to hold off on getting Taken King until after pay day at least, and focus on Dragon Age Inquisition now that I’ve got past a bit that had been stymying me a while. If nothing else, playing a game that isn’t multiplayer (mostly), gives me the option to pause and attend to other things as needed. There’s little quite as irritating as being called to from another room while playing a game that you can’t pause. It’s why I generally try to avoid buying games that have sacrificed their single player campaigns these days. I enjoy playing online, but I’m horribly antisocial and so tend to both dip in and out and rarely use voice chat – if only because it feels rude to anyone else who might be in the room with me.

And if I focus on just the one game, there’s half a chance I’ll actually finish it. If I can slog through Dragon Age 2, I can slog through this and get my money’s worth – and it is a very pretty game.

Detonate The Focus

No, this is not the latest battleplan from my gaming group, but instead what seems to have been the danger posed by my car the last few days. I’d be the first to admit that I’m not really a petrol-head (that appellation definitely belongs to Lady M), but I’ve had a bit of a steep learning curve recently. In times gone past, when I earned a lot more money, I just had my car serviced several times a year and let the mechanics at the dealership worry about oil levels and coolants. I don’t have that luxury these days, and so I’d completely forgotten to check the oil. I say ‘I’ as I’m the main driver, even though the car belongs to Lady M.

image

Prompted by various odd noises made by the car (a Ford Focus, hence the blog title today), we checked the levels on Friday last week, and I bought some extra oil when I realised that there didn’t seem to be any oil on the dipstick at all. On Sunday, just before heading out to go see Demonic for lunch, we topped it up. Well, I say topped up – as the levels didn’t seem to be rising on the dipstick when I tested it, I ended up overfilling the reservoir. We only noticed this when we got flashed by another driver about five minutes into our journey and I realised that I could only see white smoke out the back window. There was also a rather worrying burning smell.

Reasoning that this was a small overfill and that it would eventually burn off, we nevertheless doubled back to the flat and swapped over to Lady M’s hire car. This has been provided by her work place to cover her until her company car gets delivered. We duly sped over for Sunday lunch with my brother and his family, and I spent some time in the evening trying to burn off the excess.

By Tuesday there was still no improvement, and the burning smell kept coming back (obviously, because it’s oil that’s getting fried off as the engine heats, leading to a last minute cancelling of our usual evening jaunt to the pub because I didn’t feel safe driving down busy roads in a cloud of partially burnt oil and water vapour. So this morning I steeled myself to call the RAC to come and have a look. By now we were half convinced that we’d done permanent damage to the car, possibly cracking a gasket, and that we’d either need to buy a new engine, or a new car.

My relief, when the engineer arrived and confirmed that there was no permanent damage but we really had very much over-filled the oil reservoir, was immense. Almost as immense as the three excess litres of oil that he had to drain off. I’ve now spent a reasonable portion of the afternoon running the engine and quietly driving around the estate and the local carparks to finish burning off the excess still in the pipes.

The ultimate test has been driving over this evening to see the Charleesi, using the heavy spray from the rain to disguise the vapour and enjoying the relative anonymity of the autumn evening light. I’m only slightly exaggerating, as the smoke seems to have largely subsided. I’ve also been encouraged by how many other vehicles have been pouring forth equivalent amounts of smoke from their exhausts on my journey. Hopefully this means my confidence will start to reassert itself soon – I’ve felt rather more shaken by the whole experience than expected.

Oh well, I’ve at least had the opportunity, while peering over the engineer’ shoulder, to learn a bit about my engine’s layout. If I ever need to rev my car’s engine from the outside, I now know what to pull on to make it happen.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Freeform Monday

image

Today’s been one of those days that has at times felt like neither one thing or another, and at the same time has been productive. There’s even been a few insights along the way. We’ve just finished the Summer Reading Challenge at the library, following a two month frenzy of acting as traffic control for children and families with varying degrees of enthusiasm (both for them and us). With a full house of staff for once, I was able to concentrate on taking down all the promotional material, as well as the charts and interactive displays used to track the readers’ progress. I don’t think I’d quite appreciated how much I’d put up around the place until I saw how bare the walls, doors and windows suddenly looked.

It’s amazing how quickly such things blend into the background, and aren’t readily acknowledged until suddenly they’re gone. Now the challenge will be to see what the next displays to fill all that space will be. Or rather, it will be someone else’s challenge: Lady P is returning to work after an extended illness, and will be given the job of setting up displays as part of her phased return to work. I’m kind of looking forward to stepping back into the background for a while on that front.

image
Keep Calm and Use the Konami Code

We’ve not seen much of her in her illness, and I think she’s the first to admit she’s still on the road to recovery. One of the insights it has given me has been a reminder of how frustrating I must be when I retreat into myself when I’m on a low ebb or actually unwell. It’s almost certainly a significant factor behind how much I try and make up for it with the people in my life – and in accordance with the “if you spot it, you got it” principle, it is much more noticeable to me when people around me go quiet. So my challenge to myself is to adopt the F**k It approach and not let myself obsess and catastrophise while still keeping channels open.

Sounds easy doesn’t it? It’s up there with trust falls and letting someone order for you at the bar.

Still, it is a trust that my Monday gamers extend to me every week when they enter the arena and try to double guess what direction the narrative is going. This week was a good example of one of our more freeform sessions. It almost qualified as downtime after the horrendous traumas of their recent exploits, and introduced a new area of operations. So new, in fact, that I had to draw a map on the fly in our virtual space. It worked reasonably well, so that was reassuring to know that as and when they go totally off piste to areas I haven’t expected, I’ll be able to fudge it.

What’s the worst that could happen?

New Game Write-Ups

StatueAt long, long last, I’ve got the Eberron game write-ups completed to date with weeks fifteen and sixteen.

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster, and I’m sure the group is glad to have escaped the claustrophobic ghoul warrens. There’s chaos, mayhem, death and discovery – and at last the group has some idea of the stakes involved in this adventure.

Right, I’d better get on with drawing some new maps for them to explore.

Queue Thoughts

image

I’ve been back to Thorpe Park today along with the Charleesi, and that has inevitably meant the occasional time spent queuing for some of the rides. For me, that’s meant ample opportunity to people watch and to try and capture some of the random bemusements that have flowed through this weird and wonderful brain of mine.

Some of those thoughts have been, admittedly, surreal: “have I ever seen a dolphin without a smile?”, for example. Others have actually been about my surroundings: ” I wonder what Swarm would be like if the direction of travel was reversed instead of just a few seats?”

Fortunately the Charleesi has a similarly inquisitive mind, and so we debated a few of these, at least in passing. The widening circles that began to appear around us were a happy side effect that made the waits less cramped. Charleesi remarked that it was nice not to have people trying to talk to her in multiple languages for once. A number of people believed her to be German while we were at Disney last month, much to her confusion. She’s usually content to quietly observe the world around her, so not being interrogated seems to be a luxury to her…

I’ve needed a day off like this more than I realised: after such a horrendous month, I’ve allowed myself today to think “well perhaps the sparkle may be coming back.” There’s hoping…