Author Archives: Dan Ladle

About Dan Ladle

Part Man, Part Machine, All Diabetic. 1 Wife, 1 Son, 1 Daughter, 1 Cat, 1 Insulin Pump, Type 1 Diabetic, Writer, Musician, Web-Monkey, Idiot.

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!

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Checking It Twice – Short Story

I wrote this recently in response to a request for stories to be included in an online magazine. It didn’t quite manage to make it to publication but it was fun to write so I thought I’d share it here.

The theme of the issue was Lists, and this is what came to mind, about as far through the year from Christmas as you can get!


The list got longer every year but his patience seemed to get shorter.

‘Have you seen some of these?’ His huge voice bounced off the log cabin’s walls as he flailed a letter in front of her face. ‘I mean, what possible reason could there be for a five year old to ask for a sunbed?’

‘Maybe they have a lizard?’

‘A two metre long sunbed!’

The fire crackled in the hearth. ‘It could be a big lizard?’ The small woman was wearing a jolly green suit, which almost matched the current colour of the big man’s face. ‘How many times have you checked the list, Father?’ She used his honorary title, as it often helped calm him down when he was in one of those moods.

‘I think this is the third, but what with one thing and another it’s a little hard to tell. Look at this,’ his ample white beard seemed to grow more imposing as he quoted the words written on the cheery yellow piece of paper. ‘Ahem…’

dear satna

could i have a fluffy tedy bear that talks, the new leggo set i want and the last sereis of HOUSEWIVES OF ARIZONA on blueray happy crissmas

Cortnee age 7

‘…Do they not teach spelling and grammar these days? And that show is M rated, shouldn’t the parents at least have a look before these go up the chimney? And talking of the parents… What’s with that name, did they never watch Friends?’

The woman looked into the old man’s face, having to crane her neck up to do so or she would have been staring into his ample stomach. ‘I think you need a break, Father, I’ll get you a nice warm mug of cocoa.’

‘No, Adelaide, I’m finding the complex carbohydrates are affecting my waistline, can I have a glass of water please?’

Adelaide backed out of the room with a concerned look on her thin face. The elves had been helping out round these parts for thousands of years. Just because the festival had rebranded a few times and swapped icons occasionally didn’t mean that someone wasn’t needed for the production and logistics side of things.

In fact elves was a bit of a misnomer, the race was more akin to gnomes, who had excellent fine-motor skills, especially in the footwear department, and a fondness for shiny objects. The historical records suggested the race had been slowly edged out of their natural habitat in the northern hemisphere’s forest tundra, because of man’s ever increasing hunger for land and resources. Eventually they found themselves living in caves carved out of the permafrost and subsisting on a diet of boiled extremophiles and the occasional directionally challenged, and subsequently, extremely frozen avian.

When The Big Man took up residence the gnomes decided that a well stoked fire and as many marshmallows as you could eat were preferable to another night of Burkholderiaceae soup, Sphingomonas stew or freeze dried ivory gull with an aperitif of not-quite-thawed ice.

The ancient spirit’s eyes, so dark as to be indistinguishable from the final midnight at the end of time, stared forlornly at the boxy shadows in the corner of the room. His gaze was still fixed on them when Adelaide returned carrying a tray almost as big as she was. On top of it rested a large mug of, oh yes, cocoa and a plate with a bonsai mountain of mince pies.

The elf followed the burning trail of his gaze then looked back at his worried face. ‘It isn’t as scary as it looks, Father. I can help you get started, if you like?’

The machine had been provided by The Authorities to “Improve Efficiency and Help Provide a Better Standard of Customer Service to Believers”. For some reason the higher powers believed that messages had more impact if Written In Capital Case! The old man tried to calm down when he saw his friend and co-worker riding on a knife blade at the edge of terror. ‘I’m not averse to technology, Adelaide,’ he conceded, ‘it’s just that I’ve been working this way for as long as I can remember. The letters arrive, I check who’s been good or bad, the naughty list gets transferred to the vault, the good list gets dispatched to the workshop manager, and we’re good to go on the 25th. A “computer” will just make things more complicated.’

‘But Father,‘ Adelaide put her hand on his knee, ‘when you started you only had a handful of believers, even at the height of Saturnalia there were only about 60 million Romans! These last few decades have seen the whole world start believing in you, there are seven billion children to cater for now, how do you expect to even carry a list that long? The reindeer would have trouble getting airborne.’

‘You’re right, of course.’ The Big Man rubbed his red gloved hands through his mass of white hair and stood up, then walked over to the foreboding machine and pressed the power button, something went “ping”. ‘Show me how it’s done then, my young friend.’

Adelaide nervously climbed into the special chair, “With Six And Five Eighths Degrees Of Freedom”, which had mysteriously arrived when the computer turned up. The screen was already showing a friendly looking greeting, written in Comic Sans:

DeiOS 4.2 – Soul Control from Home.

She tapped a few keys until another pleasant message was displayed:

WishScan DDR: Digitising Dreams into Reality.

‘All you need to do is put the letters in here.’ She inserted one of the wish lists into the hole on the front of the machine, ‘and they’ll be scanned in and automatically categorised and added to the list.’ A message flashed on screen: Scan Complete – Behaviour Checked – Gifts Assigned.

‘Seems simple enough. Can I have a go?’ He picked up one of the letters and fed it into the opening. There was an electronic sound, a bit like vzzt, and the letter was spat out of the same opening onto the floor at his big black boots. The screen showed:

Orientation Error – 0x07338D93 – Change Position And Try Again.

‘Was I standing in the wrong place?’

‘No, Father, it means the paper was the wrong way up. Here see, put it in as if you’re about to read it.’ Adelaide showed him the correct way and, once again, the document disappeared in a small puff of enchantment.

After a few more attempts, some head scratching and a few choice words, some of which were new to the gnome, The Big Man finally managed to get his first letter to go in the hole without being spat out, shredded, turned into a lace handkerchief, or set on fire. ‘Ah, I think I’ve got it now,’ he said, ‘would you mind staying while I try a couple more, please?’

An hour later, Adelaide finally closed the door behind her. She had shown him how to view the scanned letters, look at the lists and search through the names or gifts. He told her he was just going to try a few on his own before he went to bed.

***

The next morning Adelaide prepared the Chief’s breakfast, placed it on a tray and proceeded to his office. Opening the door she was surprised to find him crouched over the machine, ‘Come here, Adelaide, this is amazing.’ The letters, which were previously in two piles almost to the ceiling, were now all but gone. The old man fed another in and watched it disappear into the device. As he turned to Adelaide she saw that the whites of his eyes were tessellated with tiny blood vessels and there were dark rings round them the colour of coal. It was obvious that he hadn’t slept.

‘How are you feeling, sir?’

He fed another letter into the machine and watched with wonder as it was added to the gift list. His bleary eyes juddered slowly towards her as his booming voice vibrated the fixtures and fittings, ‘On top of the world, my friend. You know, I don’t think I’d have managed to get through these before the big day if you hadn’t shown me how this contraption works.’

He fed another letter into the machine and gave a satisfied smile as it disappeared into the mystical ether. Adelaide watched as he continued to robotically insert the wish lists and checked the Naughty List, the Gift List and the occasional letter for scanning errors, to make sure a recipient was going to get what they had asked for, rather than a toy house (horse!), radio controlled chipper (chopper!!) or a solitary parrot (Monopoly!!!).

Eventually the final letter was entered and the machine made a satisfying bing noise as the old man turned it off. He slurped the steaming hot mug of cocoa and took a bite out of the cold turkey and stuffing sandwich, ‘Delicious!’

The gnome lifted her own cup from the tray and took a sip, ‘So, what are you going to do now, Father?’

A number of looks rolled across the old man’s face, like a series of 15,000-pound bombs detonating around a rural village in Kentucky, as he realised he had done himself out of a job until the big day. ‘What do you do around this time of year, Adelaide?’

‘Well, mostly bring you mulled wine and mince pies, sir. I could fetch the newspaper, if you like?’

‘No, no. I think I’ll just have a bit of a sit down for a while.’ As Adelaide pulled the door shut he collapsed into the comfy chair next to the fireplace. After a few minutes there was a deep breath and then snoring. In his dreams lights flashed and speakers blared, a series of terrifying machines marched through his mind, electronically yelling a chant which sounded, for all the worlds, like “we’re going to take your job old man”.

He woke up with a start and involuntarily declared, ‘I’m still useful.’

Adelaide had just entered the room, ‘Yes Father, you are. Here, have some roasted chestnuts and a hot chocolate.’

He took the proffered food and drink and sat in front of the computer again, scratching his bearded chin and looking thoughtful. ‘Who sent this device, Adelaide?’

‘The receipt states it was from,’ she searched in her pocket and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper, ‘Minerva – Virgin Goddess of Wisdom, Handicrafts, Strategic Warfare, and Trade.’

‘Hmm, takes all sorts,’ the old man said. ‘Could you get me some parchment and a stylus, please?’ When he had thought for a minute he started scratching out some beautifully choreographed words on the page.

My Dearest Minerva,

For Christmas this year I would like an automated present delivery system that can be used to ensure that each girl and boy get their allocated gifts, both on-time and to agreed service levels.

If this could be delivered before the commencement of my activities on December the 25th I would be in your debt for the next millennium.

Yours sincerely

Utu, Xipe-Totec, Ekkeko, Ptah, Odin, Zeus, Sancus, Nicholas, etc., etc.

He left the room as Adelaide read the note. When she was done she turned round to find him in a noisy Hawaiian style shirt and shorts. She said ‘Um…’ as that was all that came to mind.

‘I’m going on holiday, somewhere hot! Could you hold the fort please? You seem to have the hang of all this technomancy. I’ll leave it up to you to get the deliveries and gift receipting done. I’m sure you’ll be fine.’

Adelaide stood in stunned silence as the door was shut. Her face was a picture of consternation but eventually she rubbed her hands together and said, ‘Right, there are going to be some changes around here!’


The Glorious 25th

Just a quick post in my lunch break today, If you were drawn here by the title then you already know what I’m talking about.

If not, suffice to say, it’s a reference to a series of events as outlined in Night Watch, one of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. It’s a much darker story than many of his other books and recounts a few days around the 25th of May, 1957, 30 years before the present time (in the book’s timeline).

There are many places you can find out about what happened, but this is a good place to start.

In some ways it seems ridiculous to memorialise something that didn’t really happen, but many religions have survived this way for thousands of years, so if a bunch of Discworld fans want to make the world a better place because of some fantastical fictional events then I say, good luck to them (us!!!).

For my part this year, I have created the following image:

25th

However there are many ways to help raise awareness of the plight of the people who lost their fictional lives that day, and if you are a bit tech savvy, then you can take a look here (although the GNU Clacks codes are actually taken from a much later time in Discworld history, but as we’re all friends I figured that doesn’t really matter!).

Anyway, for those of you who want to remember the Glorious People’s Revolution of Treacle mine road, and those who made it into a lot less of a massacre, I salute you comrades.

#GNUCecilClapman

#GNUNedCoates

#GNUDaiDickins

#GNUJohnKeel

#GNUHoraceNancyball

#GNUTerryPratchett

#GNURegShoe (Temp)

#GNUBillyWiglet


Chris Cornell – 20/07/1964 – 18/05/2017

Update: I wrote this before I heard the circumstances of Chris’s death and considered altering it to make it feel a little more sensitive, however I think that depression is often not faced head on and, although my eulogy below doesn’t specifically talk about Cornell’s mental illness, I am going to leave it as I wrote it and let you find your own meanings in his words!


When I was a teenager I taught myself to sing by turning my stereo up loud and joining in. This is how I got to know Soundgarden, and Chris Cornell so well.

That was the 90s, around 25 years ago. Today I don’t sing so much but I still listen to many of the bands I picked up through my teenage years – Soundgarden included. Their most recent album, a bit of a surprise when it was announced because they hadn’t released anything for 16 years, was King Animal. There was nothing particularly surprising about it, it was still very definitely Soundgarden, but with more experience and insight into the workings of the modern world.

My favourite track from the album is Black Saturday, an incredible journey through old age and euthanasia, a subject which has been on my mind since Terry Pratchett covered it so eloquently in his documentary Choosing to Die. Sadly now, though, this is something that Chris Cornell will never have to consider.

Promise something,
Kill me right away if I start to get slow
And don’t remember
How to separate the worm from the apple
Don’t wait ’til tomorrow,
Kill me right away if I start to listen
To the voices
Telling all the mouths what they need to swallow

The thing I always found impressive about his lyrics was the way he managed to take everyday phrases and twist them round to make them mean something completely different, or nonsensical. For instance, in Superunknown he faced psychological issues head on.

If you don’t want to be seen
Well you don’t have to hide
And if you don’t want to believe
Well you don’t have to try

Which resonated with 17 year old me in a way I couldn’t quite put into words myself.

Now, as a forty-something year old man, I still listen to Soundgarden for their incredible guitar riffs, clever use of words, unusual time signatures and rip-roaring solos, but after today the songs will take on a new meaning for me and fire off memories of another talented life cut short and sorely missed.

Apologies if this isn’t the most coherent eulogy, but because the songs are so closely intertwined with my persona I find it difficult to untangle my feelings and thoughts.

I’ll leave you with a song of my own, one I’ve talked about before and the one, I think, in which I came closest to equaling Chris Cornell’s use of language.

Open

Open your mind,
What do you see?
Place your head in your hands,
And give it to me

Open your eyes,
What do you feel?
How can I show you,
That my love for you is real

Open your hands,
What do you know?
My deepest desires have chosen,
Now to show

Open your heart,
What do you say?
We cannot take it back now,
Come what may

Open your mouth,
How could you tell?
I took you to heaven,
And now we’re going to hell

Take my love and wrap it around,
Together we’ll get high but then we’ll come down,
You can take my world apart,
Or when life’s left we can try and start again

Open your mind,
What do you see?
Place your head in your hands,
And give it to me

Open your eyes,
What do you feel?
Now more than ever,
My love for you is real

Open your hands,
What do you know?
My deepest desires have chosen,
Now to show

Open your heart,
What do you say?
We’re going to be together,
Come what may

Open your mouth,
How could you tell?
I took you to heaven,
And now we’re going to hell

Take my love and wrap it around,
Together we’ll get high but then we’ll come down,
I can take your world apart,
Or when life’s left we can try and start again

Take my love and wrap it around,
Together we’ll get high but then we’ll come down,
You can take my world apart,
Or when life’s left we can try and start again


Music Review – The Love Junkies – I Had A Party Once

I liked this song!

As always, original is here.

 


 

 

I had a Party Once should have a warning on it to ensure that agoraphobic morose teenagers don’t inadvertently listen to it and start self-harming.

The rough and ready guitars drive the song along like a bulldozer, smashing anything that gets in the way and demolishing any chances you might have had of actually enjoying your next soiree. It feels a bit like The Love Junkies once had a bad experience at a social gathering and want to make sure everyone else gets to share the hurt.

Like the bastard child of Weezer and Lesley Gore, this single holds your attention through the medium of grabbing you by the throat and beating your head off the nearest pointy rock. If you don’t listen to the words it sounds fairly cheerful in a minor key, dropped beat kind of way. But tuning in to any particular line will bring words like “funeral”, “masochistic”, “alcoholic”, “lonely” into focus and make you wish you hadn’t concentrated as hard.

Mitch McDonald seems to be really enjoying himself, in an extroverted introvert kind of way and you just hope that he isn’t drawing on his own experiences when he puts pen to paper.

So, in conclusion, this song is amazing!!!

The only thing lacking, in my opinion, is a really rip-roaring solo which could happily be plugged in before the middle eight gets going, but even so I Had a Party Once is a stonking three minutes and twenty six seconds of math rock which I would take great pleasure in turning up loud the next time I throw a party of my own.

 


 


Music Review – The Desert Sea – Elevator

My first ever rock concert was at the tender age of 16. Me and my best friend were, at the time, big (but not in stature) fans of the fundamental heavy metal band – Iron Maiden. As I recall it was very loud and Bruce Dickinson accidentally got himself stuck on top of the massive amplifier stack and had some trouble getting down again.

Now, 26 years later and my tastes have moved on somewhat, I still occasionally fire up some Living Colour or Megadeth, but Maiden – although talented – just don’t really seem to have moved on very far in the 41 years since they formed, so for me at least they just don’t really do it anymore.

The above goes some way to explaining why I chose to do this review, I couldn’t believe that anybody could be so fixated on 80s heavy metal that they try to reproduce it, down to the last screeching guitar solo hammering-off-and-on.

 


 

Starting off like they fell over a Japanese Voyeurs track then remembered they really like Iron Maiden – The Desert Sea’s latest single, Elevator is Proper Metal in the greatest eighties; not certain I should be taking this seriously?; is that Robert Plant?; I thought The Darkness weren’t playing anymore?; sense.

Hailing from Sydney, this hasn’t stopped the band gathering inspiration from every single Heavy Metal icon from the beginning of time to the present day. Their influences are listed as QOTSA, The Raconteurs and Soundgarden which, to a degree, I can agree with because all three of these heavyweights’ influences come from the heyday of long haired guitar screeching chug rock and blues.

Don’t get me wrong, this sounds fresh and interesting but is also reminiscent of so many other bands that it’s hard to identify where the originality takes over from the genuflection to days gone by.

This is the kind of track I could imagine lots of (very) young people jumping about to in a rock club while the more mature metal-heads look on, bemused, from the side lines nursing their bottles of Hahn Super Dry and mumbling about Led Zeppelin.

The solo sounds very much like Dave Murray was pointed at a guitar and told to “just do what you do”. The rest of the song doesn’t deviate too far from the basic heavy metal archetypes of twiddly guitars and throaty choruses.

That said, if you like Metal you shouldn’t be disappointed. Rock on!

 


 


Short Story – The End of Politics

II just wrote this. It doesn’t make a lot of sense but I had to do something to help me process today’s rather odd events.

It’s a Discworld story based in Ankh Morpork, one of the fantastic locations from the mind of Sir Terry Pratchett, by the way!


The quiet leaked out of the palace grounds like a cold, heavy blanket, the city ground to a halt beneath the desolate wave of silence, as if Old Tom was ringing in the end of the Universe. Traders halted mid-holler and barking dogs suddenly seemed to think better of their wolf heritages and sit down in contemplation.

At the Watch House, Vimes’s pen stopped scratching signatures out on paperwork he didn’t really trust and definitely didn’t enjoy. He dropped the pen on the table, stood up, leaving the chair at the jaunty angle where its journey ended and went down the stairs and past the front desk. The watchmen were mute, Cheery watched him go without asking why, Carrot stood in the doorway like a statue, but one of those really good ones by Leonard of Quirm – with rippling muscles and an expression that you couldn’t quite place but which made you wonder why the Disc wasn’t a better place.

He proceeded along Lower Broadway and across the Brass Bridge, the feel of the cobbles through the paper thin soles he had somehow managed to acquire without Sybil finding out wasn’t giving him that warm comfortable feeling it should do.

He managed to get to the palace without anyone interrupting his journey to ask why the pigs hadn’t been rounded up after the cart accident in Sator Square, or what he was going to do about the one which had escaped into the Unreal Estate and was now floating merrily over the Butchers’ Guild and taunting the red-faced meat merchants.

The guards at the palace gates stood aside to let him through without threatening him with their halberds or proffering any sarcastic and misjudged comments about the men and women under his command.

He climbed the stairs and walked straight past the Oblong Office, opening the door of the next room without knocking. The small bed at the far side of the room was shaded but the shape under the sheets was unmistakable. Drumknott was standing beside the bed, Vimes had always considered the clerk to have as much emotion as a stuffed herring but when the man’s face turned towards him it was clear that the deathly calm that was smothering the city had started in this room, and was deathly for a reason.

The walk across the minimal bedroom seemed to take much longer than the dimensions would have suggested but finally Vimes stood next to Drumknott and looked down to see the face he knew so well, only slightly paler post-mortem than it had been pre-mortem.

Vimes knew that no crime had been committed here, other than the one which ultimately lies in wait for any mortal being and sings with the swish of a scythe blade. He reached down and placed his fingers on the incumbent’s throat, an action which he had done more times than he wished to remember in the course of his duties, only this time the lack of any blood flow seemed to make his own pulse ring in his ears.

‘You know,’ Vimes said after catching his breath again, ‘people always said that he was a vampire, and I almost believed them. I guess it was just a good way for the city to avoid facing this possibility.’

***

In the corner of the room another conversation was taking place, but not one anyone would hear unless they were gifted in certain thaumic arts.

‘I expected you to be taller.’

I AM EXACTLY SEVEN FEET TALL, IS THAT NOT QUITE WELL ENDOWED IN THE SIZE DEPARTMENT?

‘Perhaps, perhaps!’

There was an awkward silence, as if something was meant to be transpiring. ‘What happens now?’

The skeleton shrugged his shoulders, I WOULDN’T NORMALLY SAY, BUT I GET THE FEELING YOU ALREADY KNOW. GENERALLY THE NEWLY DECEASED MOVE ON TO WALK THE ENDLESS DESERT UNTIL THEY REACH THEIR PERSONAL IDEA OF THE AFTERLIFE. BUT YOU SEEM TO BE UNUSUALLY EXTANT.

‘Yes, I don’t think I’ll be doing that. There are so many places I’ve wanted to go but you know how it is what with one thing and another?’

NO, NOT REALLY.

‘I think I might go fishing.’

I WOULD SUGGEST GETTING AWAY FROM THE ANKH THEN!

To Death’s surprise, without moving a muscle Havelock Vetinari was suddenly not visible. Being of the omnicognisant variety Death knew he was still there but was having some difficulty placing his exact location, WELL, I’VE NEVER SEEN THAT BEFORE.

“It’s a talent.’ Said the voice of Vetinari as Death resheathed his sword and mounted Binky for his next appointment.