Tag Archives: Writing

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


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!

 


 


Music Review – Ali E – We Are Strangers

Getting back into my own territory, Ali E looks like an escapee from two or three decades ago, I was quite pleased when I first listened to this one and made no bones of stating so in the review.

Original is here.


 

Like a cross between PJ Harvey and Kim Deal, Ali E walks her own path. Hailing from Melbourne in Australia, her songs sound like she has let music and events soak her neurons throughout her life, which has created a turbulent mix of 90s post rock and magic summertime vibes.

We Are Strangers starts with a simple two string riff that will stick in your head, it moves swiftly on through the rest of the introduction then quietens down for a laid back verse with minimal guitar, a deep, dark bassline and some whispering drums. But before you know where you are, it mugs you with a noisy pre-chorus, which lasts not more than a couple of heartbeats before it fades back into the verse, leaving you wanting some foreclosure.

After a short verse-like interlude the chorus proper starts and you are rushed through an all too short fist of power chords and split lead vocals. However just because it’s short doesn’t mean it isn’t powerful, dragging you bodily into the next part of the song.

Unlike a lot of bands Ali E doesn’t seem to believe in a verse, chorus, verse structure, going for a more free flowing style of “what do I think will sound nice next?” even bringing some violins in to round the sound out and make the whole thing seem like a slightly surreal bus accident involving The Levellers and Melissa Auf der Maur.

In the grand scheme of things, We Are Strangers may not be introducing us to anything particularly ground-breaking but then, in the grand scheme of things, who cares! This is a fun track that makes you want to get up and dance!

 


 


Music Review – Big Strong Brute – Wedding Pages

This was my fourth review on Semplesize, but the first one that got edited in any way. The main reason being that the “conversation in the pub” apparently wouldn’t have displayed correctly with the way their site was formatted. It’s a bit of a shame ’cause that was my favourite part.

The original is here.


 

This is how I imagine the conversation in the pub went between Paul Donoughue (PD) and His Mate (HM), some time before the genesis of his latest single:

PD: Hello mate.
HM: G’day Paul, how are you?
PD: I’m good. Actually, I was thinking about writing a new song.
HM: That’s brilliant, I was listening to some of your old stuff the other day and I reckon you should do something a bit different.
PD: Oh, really? *hurt look* I was always quite happy with my other songs.
HM: Yeah, they’re great! I just think what you should do is write something anthemic, you know, a song the crowd can wave their hands in the air to. Like they just don’t care!
PD: Well, I suppose I could try, do you think it would work?
HM: With your talent mate, anything is possible…

And so, I believe, Wedding Pages was conceived. The riff at the beginning sounds like it was dragged, kicking and screaming, from The Stone Roses 1989 debut album. The rest of the band come in after four bars and continue solidly throughout the song, until a quiet interlude after three minutes where it pares back to being Donoughue’s voice and his trebly acoustic guitar for the middle eight.

If you fancy something sounding a bit like Thom Yorke suffering from adenoids, over the instruments of Tired Pony or The Reindeer Section, frankly any band containing the musical talents of Gary Lightbody, then this might just be for you.

If the hypothetical conversation between Paul and His Mate was in any way realistic then bigstrongbrute’s new song smashes it. Hopefully the rest of the new album, Good Work, will match up to the brutality and enthusiasm of Wedding Pages.


 


Music Review – Monogem – Silhouette

My third Semplesize review was a bit different for me. I’m a bit of a rocker, but browsing through that week’s tracks I happened upon something a little outside my normal listening comfort zone. However I liked it.

As usual this is the unedited version, the original can be found here.


On their Facebook page, Monogem define their genre as “Electro-Pop/Soul”, some might call it “dance”. I would be so bold as to disagree with either of these classifications. Certainly Silhouette has electronic instruments, pop stylings and soulful vocals…and you could unquestionably dance to it. But it feels like a track which should accompany movements of a more horizontal nature.
The song starts as it means to go on, with Songs of Faith and Devotion era Depeche Mode synthesisers, accompanying an electronic drum kit dragged from Everything Everything’s abandoned basement. The music could almost be classed as Rock, if it weren’t for the fact there isn’t an actual stand behind it and press/hit/strum/blow instrument in site.

Although hailing from the USA, Jen Hirsh’s vocals sound more Southern England than Southern California, sharing tone and intonation with the likes of Kelli Ali (formerly Kelli Dayton from the one-hit-wonder trip-hop sensation that was the Sneaker Pimps), Hirsh manages to pull off seductive not-quite-pop vocals in a spectacular fashion.

Scott Smith’s heavy (synthesised) percussion continues at a steady and unstoppable 148 beats per minute throughout the song, with very little change to the basic dum dum, du dum dum of the bass drum or traversal into the higher registers, but this just goes to enhance the ambience of Hirsh’s voice and takes you on a journey towards nights of passion, possibly followed by some more extreme or unconventional intimate physical pursuits.

While Monogem’s other tracks, like The Glow or Follow You can seem a bit derivative, or just fade (rather nicely, it has to be said) into the general stream of consciousness that is popular culture, this is a track which begs for airtime on any radio station that has its wits about it or values their listeners.
The song is beautifully executed and will stand up to repeated plays and I can imagine people dancing to it in a club. The only issue being that it will swiftly empty the club as they all pair off and rush home to their bedrooms, to carry out the inevitable consequences of listening to Silhouette.


Music Review – Bear’s Den – Think of England

Not so much a new year’s resolution as a non-specific target, my aim this year is to write as much as I possibly can in as many different places as possible.

“Ah”, I hear you cry, “but what about this here ‘blog, that is meant to be all about writing?”

Well (you hear me respond), sadly due to the constraints imposed by the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day and I am unable to utilise the full complement of hours in writing due to having a job, a family, sleep, etc. it means that I have to forego some pleasures (e.g., this ‘blog) to enable others.

However, one of the things I have been doing is writing for a proper website, they do music reviews, fashion and culture, mostly for young people (they don’t seem to have cottoned on to the fact that I’m twice the age of most of their readers yet). I saw the ad for it on a media website I subscribe to job adverts for, just to make sure I’m there if anything interesting ever comes up. Anyway this (unpaid) job did, and I thought, what could be the harm in trying out for it.

I sent an email with a few links to other stuff I’ve written and why I was interested in the role and got a swift response from Laura, who runs the site, offering me a choice of songs to have a go at. So I started writing, finished writing, then sent it off to see what she thought. When she came back saying (and I quote) “Great article!”

I have done about nine or ten reviews now and try and do at least one a week. I wrote to the lovely people who look after the site last week and asked if they would mind me cross posting to this site and they said that the written words belong to me so go for my life.

The full website can be found at http://www.semplesize.com, but the versions I post on LadleWritings will be the original unedited ones, so you might get a few odd tangents or interesting asides than were allowed on the official pages.

My first article was this one, which I thought was rather apt having only immigrated last year! You can find the original article here.


Bear’s Den | Think of England

Taking a more laid back, stripped down approach than any of their label-mates, including Bad Suns and Rubblebucket, Bear’s Den tend towards the introspective. Their new album could quite happily find itself accompanying a TV drama about attractive people in their mid-twenties, who are trying to discover themselves. If a lucky producer did happen to “discover” Bear’s Den then Think of England would probably be the song that accompanied the scene where one of the plucky heroines was going for a job interview, then had to reciprocate a lecherous potential bosses advances. But I digress…
Andrew Davie’s vocals bring to mind Gary Lightbody on gentler Snow Patrol tracks like Set the Fire to the Third Bar or You Could be Happy. Now imagine, if you will, that a Mumford & Sons audience were treated to a gig one night, when the band had forgotten their mandolin, the resulting sounds would have been very much like those accompanying Davie’s lilting tones.
The video for Think of England is a study in understatement. You only ever see one person at a time, even if you occasionally get the odd double exposure with the same person in the foreground and background. That is until the chorus, which ramps it up a bit with a triple exposure of all three band members.
Gareth Phillips, the director, steers the video in his usual inimitable fashion. Anyone who has seen Chocolate by The 1975 or Get Away by Circa Waves won’t be surprised to see slow motion footage in black and white. However the boat, such as it is, gets pushed out for Bear’s Den with the addition of a dancer, who randomly gets to wave her long flowing locks around and ignore the camera in an intense way. If you want to see this kind of dancing done well try searching for Kate Bush on YouTube.

Overall the video is well made and presented, but nothing to write home about. The band can give themselves a pat on the back for keeping their steering wheel centred on their own genre, and Mr Phillips obviously knows how to wield a high speed camera. But overall it was too predictable for my liking, putting far too much emphasis on the low-fi nature of the music. It could really have done with images which counter the sounds, something along the lines of motor racing or a lead character running as fast as they could to get away from some unknown and hideous terror chasing them through an everlasting post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Mix it up a bit Bears!