Dashing Through The Snow – Short Story

To call this a blizzard was to do it a disservice. The volume and speed of snowflakes had turned the air into the visual equivalent of a milkshake and although Eira’s was the only car on the road she had still slowed to a walking pace, in an attempt not to slide into a hedgerow or – judging from the weather – a passing polar bear.

Each corner in the road was a sharp lesson in the physics of momentum and traction, and the last T-junction had almost resulted in the unfortunate loss of a startled weasel. Country roads were probably not the best place to be on a night like this but Eira’s family had always lived in the back of beyond and as her Dad always said, “it’s good practice for when the zombie apocalypse comes!” So, as ever, she was making her annual festive visit back to the place where she had grown up, before becoming a car mechanic and moving somewhere that didn’t think staring at trees was an enjoyable way to spend your Friday nights.

Her parent’s house was in the middle of nowhere and took up enough space for three normal houses, which meant that it was the terminus for the entire clan to meet up on special occasions. She knew without doubt that there would be several uncles and aunts who had imbibed a little too much sherry, a number of nieces and nephews who would be either shouting, laughing at inappropriate volumes or crying, and numerous multi-generational, cross-family arguments which had started in the mists of time and lost any and all meaning – without losing any of their original vim and vigour.

She estimated that it would take another fifteen minutes to reach ground zero and was just about to turn onto the small lane which led into the big forest where the house was when she noticed a vehicle at the side of the road. There was a figure standing next to it scratching their head. Being skilled in the arts of car repairs, and with Dad’s jokes looming in the immediate future, she decided it would be churlish to leave someone stranded in the snow on Christmas Eve. She gently pressed the brake pedal and her car snaked across the road and slid to an eventual stop five metres past where she had wanted to end up and facing in the wrong direction.

She put on the hazard warning lights then, having come prepared, she reached into the back and grabbed several layers of clothing, pulling them on one at a time until she looked like a furry sumo wrestler, finally a pair of gloves finished the wintery protection and she pushed the door open and shuffled out of the car.

Having been too busy attempting to keep the car under control, Eira hadn’t really noticed what the vehicle was as she glided serenely past, but now, through the haze of snowflakes, she realised that it wasn’t a truck and trailer as she had first suspected. She called out through the snow induced silence, ‘Are you okay? Can I help you at all?’

There was a bump as of someone hitting their head on the underside of their vehicle, followed by some muted but noisy exclamations of discomfort. Eira was about to apologise for surprising the poor person when several things happened at once.

The first thing that happened was that the snow stopped or, to be more precise, it was stopped. She stepped across some kind of threshold between a place where it was snowing and a place where the snow was not there, although she could still see it blasting against the edges of some kind of invisible barrier.

The second thing that happened was she saw the “vehicle” which actually turned out to be some sort of sledge, painted red and with a massive runner under each side that rested softly on the snow as if the whole contrivance was as light as a feather.

The third thing that happened was a noise like eight heavily built mammals with ostentatious antlers snorting and turning to look directly at her, which turned out to actually be what the noise was.

Last but not least was the emergence of a man, who in any other circumstances would almost certainly be described as “jolly”, from beneath the sled. He was dressed in a red velour outfit, complete with a dangly hat bearing a white pom-pom. His feet were protected by heavy, fur lined, dark-black boots which exactly matched the colour of his eyes. His face was mostly hidden by a beard which was whiter than the snow. The picture was only slightly spoiled by the streaks of oil and grease which were on every available surface. ‘ACTUALLY, I COULD DO WITH A HAND IF YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT MECHANICAL ENGINEERING?’

Before Eira’s brain could come to any reasonable conclusions her mouth switched to auto-pilot and said, ‘Actually I normally fix cars, so I might be able to help you,’ and next thing she knew she found herself laying underneath an impossible vehicle, next to a figure whose job title was probably “Seasonal Logistics Distributor”, and looking up into an engine which seemed to inhabit more than the regular number of dimensions.

But even though the engine was of an entirely otherworldly design she seemed to have an annotated blueprint of it hidden deep in her cerebellum. She heard the words come out of her mouth – ‘I think your temporal actuator is interfering with your sublimation valve. That seems to be causing some kind of block in your Angstrom manifold. I think if we just uncouple the amorphous interchanger for a moment it’ll allow the neutrino carburettor to push out the stored antigravity and you’ll be up and running again.’

The imposing old gentleman smiled, ‘HOW CAN I POSSIBLY REPAY YOU, EIRA?’

She thought for a moment, ‘Well, there is one thing…’


There had been the usual ruckus of greetings as she arrived which slowly tailed off into the regular background white noise of family quarrels. Eira found herself a comfortable seat on the outskirts of the sitting room and set about drinking the cocoa her mum had pushed into her hand with a vengeance. She normally found these gatherings incredibly stressful but, for once, she seemed to be the most relaxed person there.

If any of Eira’s relatives had paused in their disagreements long enough to look in her direction they might have noticed that she was sporting a rather snazzy pair of earmuffs, what they wouldn’t have known was that these aural protectors were supernatural in origin and meant that she was unable to hear a single thing which wasn’t said directly to her.

This was, she concluded, going to be the best Christmas ever.


Music Review – Snow Patrol – Wildness (Album)

On the surface, Snow Patrol seem a bit too easy listening to be on my playlist, but there has always been a dark undertone to their words that resonates with me.

Add to this the fact that not all their songs are quite as slow and melodic – take Starfighter Pilot, Wow or Hands Open – this final one being a song my band used to cover; they have a hard edge which occasionally elbows its way through the mildness.

Which takes us nicely to their newest album, Wildness. Going through the gamut of human existence, the first song, Life on Earth, starts with a family memory which tells that there was snow as high as he was during Gary Lightbody’s first winter, some of my own first memories are of that winter and the way the world looks dressed in white.

Almost a concept album, the word Wildness crops up in a number of the songs and seems indicative of the shape of Lightbody’s current state of mind. This isn’t really surprising as he has been having to cope with the onset and progression of his Father’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. This is laid bare as we head towards the last few tracks in Soon, a song which both breaks your heart and makes you proud to be part of our species.

The overall feeling you get from the album is a call to arms and a directive to take life by the throat, for instance Don’t Give In is an emotional plea to not let life get you down, Heal Me is about being broken but doing it together and A Youth Written In Fire is about having someone believe in you. So it’s not all doom and gloom.

While tracks like Wild Horses and A Dark Switch have hints of Songs For Polar Bears and When It’s All Over We Still Have To Clear Up about them, the overall feeling of this album is closer to the “anthemic” feel that Lightbody was going for when Final Straw and Eyes Open were written. The tracks pummel you with their heartfelt intensity and leave you feeling battered and bruised.

If this album doesn’t win awards for its song writing then there is something wrong with the world.

Music Review – Alice in Chains – Rainier Fog (Album)

It was recently my birthday – Yay – and one of the things I tend to ask for is new (or old) music, as it’s a luxury I would probably not buy for myself.

This year I felt very lucky to get five albums by four different bands including:

  • Rainier Fog by Alice in Chains
  • Fallen Empires and Wildness by Snow Patrol
  • Dumb Days by Tired Lion
  • Pacific Daydream by Weezer

If you know me at all you probably won’t be too surprised to find out that the first one I listened to all the way through was the latest Alice in Chains release Rainier Fog. And it is exactly what I was hoping for!

As I’ve mentioned before, Alice in Chains started out in the midst of heavy, hairy metal and, if you listen to their first album and some of the unreleased stuff that came to light when Music Bank came out, you can really hear how close they came to skirting Grunge altogether and finding a place among the other Rock heavyweights of the time.

But they chose a different path and became the leaders of a new style which was much darker and, generally, more depressing than their Seattle based compatriots, comprising such cheery topics as drug addiction, depression, war, loneliness and psychological problems, they blazed their own trail through Rock and spurned a host of copycat acts.

This, their sixth studio album, sits alongside their back catalogue, including solo projects and other bands that have come and gone along the way, so snugly that it is hard not to think that you know some of the songs already.

The opening track, The One You Know, starts like a screwdriver to the temple, which is then joined by a marching squadron of zombies. The percussive drumming continues through the verse then the chorus opens up into a wonderful musical field of primroses, sounding a bit like they got confused and mixed up the order of the parts of the song.

After setting the scene they waste no time reaching into their back catalogue with the title track, Rainier Fog, which could have been a recently discovered outtake from Facelift…but with better production.

Red Giant is a slightly different beast, sounding like the bastard child of Metallica and Layne Staley. The harmonies are so dark you need a match to see the lyrics. At the moment this is probably my favourite track on the album!

Fly, however, sounds like Pearl Jam writing a new track for Jar of Flies. Acoustic guitars and a screeching electric solo really take you back to the nineties.

The next track is called Drone, so you can guess what it’s like without too much effort. Bluesy sludge through the verses with a melodic fingerpicked solo reminiscent of Lies by Guns ‘n’ Roses.

We’re back with Lars and the boys for the intro to Deaf Ears Blind Eyes, but then segueing to classic Alice in Chains territory for the chorus with a minor key harmonic piece of introspection.

Maybe hails back to the 1970s and, strangely, sounds like nothing so much as The Mamas and Papas. Jerry and William work beautifully together to produce something which is more than the sum of their voices. In this case though all the trees are not brown, they’re dead!

Dirt is the album that So Far Under would fit most comfortably on, with a chorus which has been pitch bent until it snapped. Antagonistic sounds are smashed together between the verses and choruses, but make the track into something that is difficult to turn your ears away from.

In Never Fade du Vall takes over. Sounding a little like Comes With The Fall, a bit like Giraffe Tongue Orchestra, and a lot like early Alice in Chains and, as is his way, it sounds like a love song or paean in memory of someone you used to know. It’s a bit of a shame they don’t give him more chance to lead, as he’s quite riveting when he does so.

The final track All I Am does the opposite and hands the reigns to Cantrell. It’s slow, it’s introspective. It could have come straight from Degradation Trip and is none the worse for that.

If you’re a fan then you either have it already or are saving up your hard earned pennies/cents to get it as soon as you can, if you’re not then look them up on YouTube and spend some time getting to know what you’re missing, then buy it and find out what it is to be one of the most popular Grunge bands in the world.

Music Review – Bad Moon Born – Chemical Lullabies EP

It’s been a while since I posted one of my old music reviews, so I thought it was about time I got back to it. This is actually the first one to go up since the sad passing of Soundgarden lead singer Chris Cornell, which just makes it worse 😦

Original was on Semplesize, but the site fell to bits a while back so this is the only place to see this now.



I remember being really excited back in 2001 when I heard Chris Cornell was in the studio with Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk to create something really interesting. When the album came out it wasn’t so much anything new as the singer from Soundgarden doing his thing over the lead and rhythm sections of Rage Against The Machine. Admittedly the three albums were pretty good, but more of an interesting aside than a ground-breaking new genre of music.

Nine years after Audioslave bit the dust, Bad Moon Born are releasing their Chemical Lullabies EP and it’s a shameless and technically less accomplished copy of any of Audioslave’s albums. Frank Lakoudis tries really hard to copy Cornell’s vocal range and presence but falls short most of the time, Voya and Ned Koncar do with two guitars what Tom Morello managed all by himself…without any digital effects, and the drums and bass are just sad imitations of anything by the rock/rap heavyweights.

While this EP isn’t bad, as such, I think your ears would thank you more for searching out things like the Street Sweeper Social Club (Morello’s ongoing collaboration with Boots Riley), The Last Internationale (which Brad Wilk has drummed for on an ad hoc basis), WAKRAT (Tim Commerford’s latest sweary, punky, jazzy explosion) or even the newly reformed Soundgarden (enough said). All four are more interesting than Bad Moon Born’s derivative, middle-of-the-road, decade old sound.

I’ve got better things to do with my time!

Underground, Overground

About 13 years ago I got a job as a team leader for a team of techies at a university.

About one year into this one of the guys was troubleshooting a problem with a user’s calendar and asked me to help out, by giving me full access to his own calendar in Microsoft Outlook.

A week or two later I realised he had forgotten to remove my privileges, and had gone on holiday. I immediately created a recurring event on the second Monday of every second month which simply said:

“Remember you’re a Womble.”

I then removed my access but also sent out an invite from my own account to the rest of my technicians for the same date every two months, to tell him that he is a Womble – all of them accepted without questioning what on Earth planet I was on (I loved that team).

Because of the way Outlook works, after I removed my privileges, he wasn’t able to delete the reminder. Oops!

It is now about twelve years later, he left my team about six months after this incident and we kind of lost touch a bit (you know, work, etc.) even though we were still in the same department. Since then I have moved jobs, and emigrated to Australia.

When I checked my phone after getting on the train to work this morning the self-same techie had tagged me in a post on Facebook. I wondered what it could be. The post had four words in it. Can you guess what they were?

It turns out he still gets bi-monthly reminders that he is a Womble. I suspect he will do until he leaves the university, although it is one of those kind of places where you can have a job for life!

I’m hoping he stays for many years yet, moving up the echelons, eventually reaching some kind of senior management role…and keeps getting reminded that he is, indeed, a small, litter-collecting, sentient mammal who lives on Wimbledon Common!!!


So my wife and I recently bought a house. It’s a lovely little place not far from where we were renting previously. “Why are you telling us this?” is the obvious question. Well, to introduce to you this catalogue of disasters that has been me trying to get iiNet to set up the internet connection at my new address…



To: customer-relations@iinet.net.au

Subject: Activation of service – complaint


To whom it may concern,

Customer number: XXXXXXXXX

Call references: XXXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXX (there were further calls but the iiNet toolbox only shows calls updated in the last two weeks)


I write to ask for assistance in setting up a phone and internet connection, and to complain about the service received so far on this matter.

I first called iiNet on the 16th of November 2017 to inform that I had purchased a property [this is where I gave iiNet my new address]. I told the customer service representative that I would be completing the sale on Wednesday the 22nd of November and moving in on Saturday the 24th of November. I was not required to do anything further and was assured that the internet connection and phone would be switched on and working by the time we moved in.

I was particularly keen to hear our phone would be available as we had previously moved [this is where I gave iiNet my old address] three months earlier, and, despite several phone calls to iiNet to try to sort it out, were without a phone service for the whole period we lived at the address.

I arrived at the new house on moving day, plugged in the NBN box supplied by iiNet to my previous address, and there was no internet. I called iiNet on Monday 26th November to enquire as to why it wasn’t working and was told that it would be live the next day. It wasn’t, so I called again. I was informed that the service was active and should be working.

After three more days it still wasn’t working, and during the ensuing phone enquiry was told that I hadn’t supplied a ‘Proof of Occupancy’ document. Not once in the previous two weeks and four phone calls was this vital document mentioned. I was told it would be ten business days after I submitted the document before my internet would be connected. I submitted the document immediately.

I called again on the 7th of December to be told that I needed to supply the NTD Serial Number and MAC address (again, never mentioned in previous phone calls). It appears (from looking through my call log on the iiNet Toolbox site – see reference numbers above) that the details were added to a separate stand-alone call and none of the previous call logs. This probably explains why, when I called – again – on the 8th December I was told that I hadn’t supplied these details.

However, upon further questioning the customer service representative confirmed that I had supplied the details, but they hadn’t been passed onto the NBN HFC department. I was told it would be 48 business hours before the service went live.

Breathless with anticipation, I was yet again disappointed when, after 48 hours, it was clear the internet still wasn’t live.

Yet another phone call and, after initially being told the internet service was active, I was put through to another representative who informed me that the original NTD box was required to make the connection live.

Just to clarify, it has now taken four weeks and countless phone calls for me to be told this information. The previous owner has, obviously, moved out and I have no way of obtaining this box.

I’m now told an engineer is required to visit my house to install a new NTD. This is apparently not possible until Tuesday the 19th of December. As I am at work that day, I will need to arrange leave in order to wait four hours to allow the engineer to carry out the works.

Assuming the engineer is able to set the new NTD up without issues, the whole process will have taken 33 days. My parents live overseas and we use Skype to contact them. They have now missed seeing their granddaughter opening her presents at her second birthday, my wife’s birthday party and our new house. My children have missed seeing their grandad on his birthday. These events are important to us, and are the reason I contacted iiNet so early so that we would have the internet connection active as soon as possible after moving in.

Below is a list of all the phone calls I have made (outgoing) and received (incoming) in relation to the iiNet NBN and telephone services. Over seven hours of my time so far.


Outgoing – NBN

16/11 – 22:09mins

16/11 – 24:23mins

26/11 – 01:47mins

26/11 – 43:54mins

27/11 – 01:52mins

30/11 – 36:12mins

07/12 – 26:08mins

07/12 – 00:55mins

07/12 – 13:25mins

08/12 – 35:22mins

08/12 – 49:01mins

12/12 – 21:47mins

13/12 – 28:03mins


Incoming – NBN

27/11 – 18:55mins

27/11 – 12:22mins

08/12 – 02:44mins


Outgoing – Phone

05/09 – 00:18mins

11/09 – 21:38mins

13/09 – 04:20mins

15/09 – 29:15mins

09/10 – 02:16mins

27/10 – 18:13mins

31/10 – 16:41mins


Incoming – Phone

09/10 – 17:28mins


Please, can you set up our internet and phone service. We have been inconvenienced enough. We are available before the 19th if an engineer can come around earlier than this. Failing that, I would appreciate an early appointment so I don’t have to use too much leave. I can be contacted on [this is where I gave iiNet my phone number] to confirm the appointment.

Finally, the customer service representative offered one month’s free service for my inconvenience, but said that he would also talk to his supervisor to see if he could secure me further compensation. Please contact me when appropriate compensation for my time, inconvenience, lack of phone connection for, now, four months and lack of internet for three weeks has been determined.


Yours sincerely,


Dan Ladle

Read ‘Em And Weep

Anyone who is friends with me on Facebook, follows me on Twitter or, unlikely as it seems, occasionally looks at my Google+ account, will know that for the past two years or so I have been undertaking a reading marathon of Pratchett proportions.

I started with The Colour of Magic and continued with all 41 Discworld novels, as well as the maps, cookbooks, tourist guides, kids books and short story collections. After this I started on the non-Discworld books – Strata, The Dark Side of the Sun, the Bromeliad trilogy, the Johnny Maxwell books, etc.

The reason for this single-minded readathon are numerous, I tend to reread my Pratchett collection every few years anyway, but after his untimely death in 2015 I couldn’t bring myself to pick up a book by any other author.

I assumed this feeling would pass but several months later I was still in the same mood, a year later I felt the same, two years later and I was still in my reading rut.

Seemingly unrelated, about two months ago we got notice that our landlord wanted their house back, which was a bit inconvenient because we were just in the middle of trying to find somewhere of our own to buy. Scroll on to about a week ago and the house is full of boxes as we get ready to move to a new rental. I was packing up my Pratchett collection (shudder) and amongst them I found my Kindle, untouched since I picked up The Colour of Magic.

I wasn’t sure what to do with it so I left it on top of my drawers in our bedroom. Then, last Sunday night I was getting my stuff ready for work the next day and thought “why the hell not” and slipped the e-reader into my bag.

When I arrived at the train station on Monday morning I got it out and started reading (American Gods by Neil Gaiman, if you must know!), and have been doing so on every journey to work and back since. It seems my reading mojo has returned and, with it, my brain has also fallen off a deep precepice into the icy waters of “I Have To Write” again.

Ideas are sloshing around inside my head like a particularly spectacular Formula One pile up and my fingers are itching to type. But what to do first?

I’ve been working on a few things, slowly, for the past few months, a Discworld fan-fiction piece about Rincewind; a comedy fantasy novel about a vampire; a biography about my life as a type one diabetic; a kids book I’ve been working on for a couple of years now.

All these conflicting stories are arguing for precedence, so what I’m going to do is…go to sleep! Life is complicated enough at the moment without worrying about what and when to write, so I just need to put digits to keyboard whenever I get the chance.

Wish me luck!