Fiction Fragment: Best Laid Plans

I’m sitting in a coffee place, and this little fragment that may end up in the book came tumbling out:

I phoned Kay to see how she was getting on with the grimoires, and to let her know we were going to try our luck at the house. As ever she was the voice of reason and pointed out it was “the middle of the bloody night,” and asked “what part of Powers of Darkness is failing to register” in my plans.

If you ever wonder why I love that woman, I give you Exhibit A in her continuing struggle to get in my way of becoming a horror story case study.

Little Lifts

Earlier this year I purchased a Buddybox from the Blurt Foundation as something to lift both Lady M and my spirits. It was a one-off, and I’m still undecided about subscribing for regular deliveries. They’re nice, a bit of fun, and yet there’s still that debate about whether a regular expenditure on them is something I can afford or justify.

At the same time I signed up for self-care tips and a bit of marketing – and this has turned out to be regular emails that challenge the worries and dark thoughts. I don’t read them all – sometimes I don’t even notice them in my inbox – but every now and then something nags me to take a look.

It’s a simple enough concept, and yet it’s surprisingly affecting and effective. A simple message with my name inserted in it shouldn’t make me pause, but it does, because it is unconditionally positive.

Today’s was about compliments and gifts, and daring to accept them without trying to qualify or downplay them. For many this won’t be particularly groundbreaking advice – and if you’re one of them then that’s actually great to hear. The rest of you – of us – are nodding, and cringing slightly already.

The paragraph that spoke to me particularly today was this:

DEPRESSION IS LYING TO YOU. The good stuff? It’s for you, just as much as everyone else. It’s not limited It’s not conditional You don’t have to *earn it*

Whatever depression keeps trying to say Whatever low self-worth is making you feel.

The good stuff is for you, too.

And I needed to hear that this morning. So thank you Blurt, and I’m sharing it because I think at least one person here needs to read it too.

Adopted For The Weekend

We had Lady M’s neice and nephew to stay over this weekend – just in time for all the rain. It’s the first time that this has happened despite talking about it for ages. The kiddos live with their other aunt, because Reasons, and we all live busy lives so the stars haven’t aligned until now.

They’re wonderful kids – eight and nine, and face the world together even while asserting themselves with each other in a beautifully complex dynamic that sometimes feels like a dance, and sometimes like a shoving match.

We took them to Legoland, and out to see the deer in Bushy Park, and played a variety of games round the table – and while there was no homework or daily life complications to deal with, it was still full of the non-stop details of living with small people:

Has everyone eaten? Have we cut off the sugar intake in time? Is everyone having enough to drink? Does the toilet need a surreptitious flush and clean? Provision of non-disclosure clothing to change into after a day in the rain; and no one drowning in the bath? Check! Oh, and the need for night-lights and a proper bedtime routine too – I remember all this from when the Charleesi was young.

Suddenly realising that all the fairy tales in your house are translations of the original Grimm and Andersen versions means a sudden casting around for anything suitable as a substitute, and was an interesting moment.

One young person seems wired for waking with the dawn, the other not so much. Even with all the walking we’ve done, I don’t remember physically aching like this for ages.

Lady M was shattered by the end of it: “I kept worrying about them, all the time!” I had to break it to her that this is normal – and that even now the Charleesi is an adult and about to fly off to university, I still do that every day. Furthermore, both my parents have confided that they still do about me and my siblings too – welcome to parenting Lady M (even if it is just for the weekend)

Short Story: The Mystery

The radio was tuned to some talk show or other – a health programme or something similar talking about body image. The anchors sounded young and enthusiastic, possibly to mirror their intended audience. They certainly didn’t mirror either me, or my mood.

I stared at the mask on the table. It, in turn, stared back and was stubbornly uncooperative in revealing its secrets. It had turned up in the flat a couple of days ago, but where it had come from remained a mystery. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d found bits of costume or items without context among my possessions.

I mean, let’s face it: everyone has those moments where orphaned objects turn up: whether as left-over detritus from parties and nights out, or scooped up by mistake, or left behind by visitors. They just don’t normally make an appearance neatly presented on top of a pile of fresh laundry. If anything they’re normally under a pile of laundry you’ve dumped somewhere while wrestling to assemble a wire clothes horse.

It was a simple enough item. A plain red whole-face mask with no mouth. There was a slight contour to accommodate a nose, but nothing defined beneath it. It was light, and made of some kind of molded fabric. Kay swore she knew nothing about it.

I was inclined to believe her. Utterly incapable of telling a lie, she was not averse to running loops with half-truths and misdirection around me, but a flat denial left little wriggle-room.

There were no maker’s marks. No embossed “Made In China” or designer label as clue. There wasn’t even elastic to fasten it. There was no way I was putting it on. Quite aside from not knowing what the inside had been in contact with, I’ve seen too many films and TV shows with possessed masks.

But Dorian, I hear you say, they’re just stories – stop being a wuss. The answer is still no. There’s no benefit to wearing it, and I don’t like messing in the narrativium. If it’s a story waiting to happen, full of magic and intrigue, betrayal and doom, it can wait until after supper at the very least.

I carefully lifted it in both hands and watched the light shimmer across the satiny surface. No, I thought. We’re not playing that game, you can cut that right out. From this new angle the cut of the eyeholes seemed sad, like a puppy in the rain. Shameless.

The mask went on the arm of the sofa, well out of the way. Supper first, I resolved. This mystery can wait a bit longer. Kay brought plates and cutlery through from the kitchen, and I fired up Netflix.

What? You thought I was going to explain it all away? Some of us have self control, I’ll have you know. Stop laughing at the back. Half the horror stories in the world start with someone fiddling with a seemingly innocuous mysterious object of unknown origin. I’m having a night off.

A Wizard Weekend

We seem to have a growing tradition round here of not doing birthdays per se, but more birth weeks. It seems to match everyone’s busy lives and schedules, and is a great excuse for extended celebrations.

This week is my ex-wife’s birthday – the Former Lady M – and we decided to lay on a bit of a surprise for her – namely a visit to the Harry Potter Studio Tour just outside Watford. She thought we were meeting for a Sunday pub lunch, so the arrival of a few friends at the venue was her first clue that we were up to something.

Particular thanks has to go to the Charleesi, who steadfastly headed off enquiries about where the pub was, or suggestions that they drive themselves to meet us. Only the fact that she was ready before we got to the house raised the slightest suspicion.

In the end we had a lovely wander round. The Former Lady M started off with an attempt to look cool and collected and not at all geeky – but fortunately that didn’t last.

As things always seem to be developed or changed every time we go, there’s usually something new every time. This time there was a special focus on fashions and design in various smaller displays throughout the tour – leading to more than one cosplay-related conversation along the way. They’ve also just opened the Forbidden Forest, complete with weather and lighting effects, and one or two animatronic moments.

Along with the Platform 9 3/4 section, this demonstrates what I hope continues to be a continuing immersive and interactive flavour to the tour’s development. I shall observe future expansions with interest.

Proud Gamer Dad

I’ve had a lovely day off today (okay, I’m unable to sleep right now so this bit isn’t so lovely, but that’s neither here nor there). It’s mostly been lovely because most of it was spent with my daughter, the Charleesi. I had a day off, and now that she has finished her A-Levels, so did she – so we planned to meet in Kingston to just… shop and wander.

And so we did. Book shops were perused, market stalls peered at, street food consumed, and together we wandered into Game and had a look for bargains. And that’s where the cherished memory was formed.

We talked about games and her preferences, and things she’d seen me play that she fancied a go at – and then she picked out something to buy. With her proof of ID in hand, she bought Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate – her first 18 certificate game, and one that I have thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Then we went and had a chat in a comic shop about Inhumans, new shows, and cosplay designs. 

I am a very happy geeky parent this evening

Gaming Chez M

Last month I was locked in to Skyrim as game of choice. I haven’t completed the game by any stretch when talking about the DLC options, but I think I reached saturation levels recently.

That’s why I took advantage of a recent sale and bought Mass Effect: Andromeda. I have to admit I didn’t buy it when it came out for two reasons. Firstly it was bloody expensive. Secondly my news feeds were full of muttering about animation glitches and lackluster reviews.

This sale brought it down to half price for one of the digital deluxe editions, so I thought it would be rude not to now, especially when there had been ample opportunities for patching updates. 

We also found a gift card that Lady M had got from work, so we picked out a couple of games for her – one of which was Steep (and it’s Season Pass) – a snow sports game with more than few nods towards her favourite game series: SSX.

As I am currently working a bit closer to home this month, I’m often back before she is, so I’m grabbing an hour or so of Andromeda a day. Then after we’ve eaten and caught up on some shows, it’s Lady M’s turn to create some virtual havoc of her own.

So – Mass Effect is… Rather appealing actually. I’ve described it to a couple of people as space opera with heart – not just for the usual Bioware diverse dating options for characters – but for its themes of family, loyalty, and building a future. This (so far) is in stark contrast to the original stories with had an almost Lovecraftian horrors to the struggles of the characters against literally monolithic and uncaring alien entities intent on consuming whole species without care for the individual.

In this iteration there’s more of a Wild West feel of building from the rubble of shattered dreams and the formation of new chances. Yes there are uncaring lyrics aggressive alien machines and a mystery of godlike technologies to unravel, and all new alien races adjusting to your arrival on the scene. At every turn you are reminded that humanity is the invader here and it’s your choice as to how you take things from there.

And that appeals to me – along with the hugely open world maps that are, frankly, gorgeous and full of things to discover.

Yes, there are elements that bug me: not all scene animations are skippable, but enough are to not be too much of an issue. In addition, unlike many games, it’s not possible to boost past dialogue to get tot the decision points. I read a lot faster than the characters talk, and so while it’s a minor gripe it has got me sometimes tapping my fingers and willing the characters to just hurry up – oh and some of the idling animations while characters talk are a bit limited and don’t seem always suited to where they are and what they’re doing. It’s small things that generally I can handwave, except when I can’t. 

No biggie.

Steep, by contrast, caters to Lady M’s adrenaline junkie side with snowboarding, skiing, wingsuits, sleds, and more all available for her to use to throw herself down virtual mountain tops. It’s an unforgiving game with some truly unpleasant sound effects and ragdoll animations when her avatar hits the ground/snow/rocks/trees/buildings at speed, awkward angles, or both.

But visually it’s a feast, and when she overcomes the urge to rage-quit the skill challenge has her gripped and determined to win.

Which frees me up to write more. Because I’m not too proud to distract her when a story is rattling in my skull…

So yay, gaming wins all round at our place.

What A Glorious Wedding

One of my cousins got married on Saturday. My own journey to the church bore more than a passing resemblance to the opening sequence of Four Weddings and a Funeral, up to and including driving past the church, last minute course corrections and getting there just before the bride.

Still, the service was good, the hymns melodic and the bride glowing, and with only a small amount of nervous map reading and navigation of one-way systems we were soon on to the reception. There, good food and drink and an increasing circle of new acquaintances was waiting – and hardly anyone got hurt or their food ruined when everyone realised their place holders were functional card planes and began throwing them everywhere. 

It was a grand evening, and I only had one mild anxiety attack midway through the evening as I became over-saturated with people. A short walk around the gardens, a contemplation of the empty swimming pool and the trampoline next to it, and I was back on track to be able to be sociable again.

It was one of those rare occasions when the whole family was in attendance – a gathering of the clan as it were – and I’ll have fond memories of the day for quite some time.

Edward and Rosie – congratulations, thank you for having us, and see you soon we hope.

A Naturalisation

Last year, as weird and wonderful election results gave everyone adrenaline dumps for a variety of reasons, two things happened: 

Happy July 4th
I spent a lot of time swearing under my breath, and on one memorable occasion here. And, by way of contrast, Lady G decided that after nearly thirty years in the UK she should probably get around to applying for British citizenship. A year of application forms, a written test, a number of expenses, and a few worried evenings of nerves later, she received the news she had been hoping for – and so yesterday Lady M and I were invited to support her at her Citizenship Ceremony. The irony of a US citizen becoming a British citizen on July 4th was not lost on any of us.

I’ve always felt a bit bemused by the concept – unlike Lady G’s native USA, we’re not generally fond of flag-waving nationalism bar a bit of silliness at The Proms or events like The Olympic Games. Walking into a room adorned with the Union Jack, gold-trimmed chairs and fittings, and a selection of traditional martial music was therefore both a little surreal, and yet…

…it was also deeply fitting, for a given value of Britishness.

The Deputy Mayor, in full regalia, presided over the ceremony – the candidates could choose to swear by a deity of choice, or affirm for themselves – and the people taking part were all ages. Everyone had family and friends with them, and yet what could have been a deeply informal and uncomfortable ceremony somehow retained both lightness and gravitas.

My only real snark was that a lot of the address felt like a tourist board advertisement for the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead. I’m a harsh critic perhaps. 

This is beside the point though. Lady G was beaming and practically floating through it all. Her face lit up the room when presented with her medal and certificate. Everyone taking their oath that morning was similarly energised and enthused by the moment. I am at one and the same time a hardened cynic and a hopeless romantic, and that latter side resonated enough to make the former admit the value of the moment.

And then we had tea in the mayor’s chambers – and true to local government tradition it was the worst cuppa I’ve had in a long time. I’m including in that scale the diner near The Lizard which hadn’t changed its burned coffee filter in a decade. 

Welcome, Lady G, to Britishness.

And Now, Fun

It’s been an exhausting week, mostly because it’s been one where work has successfully thrown a rapid barrage of changing priorities, personnel challenges, and personal frustrations at me – and that’s not even included customer interactions.

Now though, it’s the weekend. There’s an afternoon planned helping Demonic start to celebrate his birthday, and Lady G undergoing her British Citizenship ceremony. At the end of next week I have a cousin getting married, and a trip to Thorpe Park with Body Balance/Yoga people.

What’s the worst that could happen?