The neighbour’s cat

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I’ve got no desire for a pet. Neither parrot, goldfish, gerbil, snake, praying mantis, cat, nor dog; as much as they are cute and cuddly (except for the mantis, perhaps) I am happy to enjoy them from afar.

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Next door’s cat eyeing me, suspiciously.

Dogs, I suppose, are the most populous of pets, yet they can be the most objectionable.

Dogs that ignore even the simplest of commands, and run around sniffing each other’s – and humans – bits, jumping up, licking their butts, then licking faces, barking, poo-ing randomly, are annoying in the extreme. But is it their fault?

The fault is with the owner. The one who treats their dog the same as their child – with a ‘coochie-coo, little sweetie can do no wrong’ approach. What is really needed is some military-style discipline, simple, one-word commands, and a stern voice. Kids and dogs can be trained with the same methods. (May need a slight variation with feeding and toilet procedures.)

Cats, on the other hand, control their owners. They also have a pretty good idea how to get the best out of their neighbours. Take Casper and Spookie, for example. We feed them while the neighbour is away, they (the cats) reward us with purring, nuzzling around the legs, and rolling over to accept a tummy-tickle. But, once the neighbour is back, it’s as if we have never met. They, especially Spookie, rebuff our advances, and ‘here puss, puss’, sashay along the fence, then scuttle away, as if we are after their pelts.

So, we remain a pet-free zone. Although, we are always under scrutiny, observation from a discreet distance – just in case we can be of use … or have food.

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Inspiration Monday – new assignment – part 2

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Last month the assignment was to create a list of titles, for inspiration, the way Ray Bradbury did – look back and see my list. This month, part two of the assignment is to write between 100-200 words inspired by one of the other participant’s titles. I found two that inspired. Read on …

From Aku’s list – A Ukelele

He waited at the corner of 42nd street and 5th Avenue. He leaned on the lamppost and looked at his watch. She should be there soon. It wasn’t the rendezvous he would have chosen; too much light, too exposed. But that’s the problem with foreign agents, they are too romantic, no sense of danger.

She appeared out of the darkness on the opposite side of 5th Avenue, next to the wall surrounding Sunset Park, and crossed towards him. The collar on her raincoat was turned up, casting a shadow across her face.

“I wasn’t sure I’d get away, but I managed.” Her French accent was out of place in the middle of NewYork. She handed him the package. It was smaller than he expected.

“What the hell is this?” he growled.

“A ukelele,” she purred, “… a special ukelele.”

He unzipped the case; inside was a cheap plastic uke with coloured strings, a kid’s toy.

“Now look here, little lady … ”

But she was gone, except for the memory of her perfume, and the tip-tap of stiletto heels in the darkness.

From Stephanie’s list – The Forest

Most of Britain was covered in trees, but King William Rufus’ favourite area for hunting was the Nova Foresta, the New Forest. It was an area designated by his father, also King William – the bastard Duke of Normandy who invaded the islands in 1066 – where the deer were protected for the benefit of the king, not the peasants. Taking a deer was punishable by death, and Rufus took great delight in reminding the forest folk how serious he regarded the offence. Rufus was not a popular king.

Late in the summer of 1100, the king’s hunting party was midway between the hamlets of Minstead and Brook, a part of the forest dense with oak trees. The king and a couple of his seconds headed down a slope where the proud buck had last been seen. The rest kept to the higher ground and circled around. One member of the party held back. Sir Walter Tyrell waited near the tall bracken where he could keep watch on Rufus’ progress.

Later that afternoon, Purkis, the local charcoal burner, found the king’s body. His horse was standing nearby. The arrow in the king’s chest bore the fletchings of Sir Walter.

Was it an accident? It is said that Sir Walter’s arrow glanced off a tree and struck the king. Was it murder? Sir Walter was an expert with the long bow, there are doubts that he would have taken such a shot if there was any risk. Why was the body left for an old charcoal burner to discover, and transport to Winchester? Rufus’ brother Henry was keen to be king himself, was there a conspiracy? We’ll never know.

© 2017, K Patrick Moody

Inspiration Monday – new assignment – part 1

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Last month the assignment was to create a list of titles, for inspiration, the way Ray Bradbury did – look back and see my list. This month, part one of the assignment is to write about 300 words inspired by one of the titles. I had a long list, so I’ve used two of the titles. Read on …

1 – The Rusty Blade

There were only a few houses in the village, back then. Each one stood alone on its own plot, built with the local deep red bricks, two floors, and black slate on the roof. The curtain-less windows, framed with flaking cream paint, stared dark across the long, weedy garden, watching over a black stained, wooden shed.

We were a pair of lads, eight years old, with nothing much to do but be guided by our curiosity and imagination. We hadn’t taken much notice before, but this time the gaping door to the tumble-down workshop seemed to call. Nobody had been to the house since last year. The only sign of visitors was the track through the long grass made by the local cat – or maybe rats.

It took a few minutes for our eyes to get accustomed to the gloom, and as the darkness retreated, a solid wooden bench loomed to our left. The air was stale, damp and musty; the only sound was the autumn breeze scraping the brambles against the wall. A whole mess of rusty hand tools were spread around, most I could name; grandad’s shed had a load just like them. We pulled open the drawers, heavy with nails, screws, more smaller tools, all covered in the dust of time.

In the far corner, covered with old potato sacks, was a shape. It hunched about waist high. Resting on the top of the sacks was a tool I had not seen before. Forged from iron bar, it had a loop handle – big enough for a man’s hand. The shaft ended in a long spike, like a shark’s tooth, curving slightly back towards the handle. I know now it was a logging hook, but then, this fearsome weapon, with its evil point, blood red with rust, set the hairs on my neck a-tingle.

I reached for the handle. My foot caught on the sacking. The shape lurched at me, and sent me sprawling backwards – the spike clattered between my feet. The log pile rattled across the floor. Then silence.

2 – The Old Straight Path

The path ran down from the edge of the village straight to the white bridge, and over the river where we used to swim in the summer. Farther on it reached the next village across the water meadows.

The path was old, very old, dipping down below the level of the fields either side, and the trees meeting over the top, formed a tunnel.

Most times we walked the path in a group, laughing and playing, with our bathing trunks rolled in a towel. But later in the year, when it wasn’t warm enough to swim, and I was alone, the path had a darker feel; long shadows, chill breezes rushed between the branches, chasing the fallen leaves.

As I looked into the slow running water below the bridge, shapes would drift past behind my reflection – but when I spun round only the branches stirred overhead.

Now that I have found out about ley lines, funeral, straight, and coffin paths, I understand why such a path endured centuries of foot traffic. It lead directly from a village with no church, to ours, where their local dead could be could be carried along a ceremonial route, to be buried in the consecrated ground. This route crossed the river, and ensured that when the funeral party returned to their village, the spirit of the deceased could not follow.

The path is gone now, buried beneath a sprawling industrial estate. The white bridge is still there, and the river swirls under it … and the path on to the distant village can be made out crossing the meadow.

I wonder, how many lonely and confused souls still wait at the bank, unable to return?

© 2017. K Patrick Moody

 

 

Inspiration Monday – a new assignment

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I follow Stephanie Orges’ blog – Bekindrewrite – and each month she sets a writing challenge, Inspiration Monday. This month we are trying something different, using ideas from two of her wring heroes; Miss Judy, her writing teacher, and writer, Ray Bradbury, of Fahrenheit 451 fame.

We will list headings, phrases, or potential book titles that come from our own experience. Something that has been lurking since we were children, waiting to be brought out in to the light. We’ll compare lists, then next month – using something from the list – write a piece to fit.

Here is my list:

The Open Window
The Old Straight Path
Home Alone
The Pressing Crowd
The Disappearing Parent
The Rusty Blade
Dead Dog’s Eye
The Darkness Beyond
The Pit
Quicksand
The White Bridge
Hall of Mirrors
The Solitary Chair
Face Paint
The Clown
Old Saint Nick
Martin’s Garden
Grandma and Vera (Giles cartoons)
Fester Bestertester (Don Martin character, Mad Magazine)

Parallel universe

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Have you ever felt that perhaps you are on a different planet, or even in a different universe, to everyone else?

Over the past week or so I’ve tried to make contact with a couple of organisations but without success. I even tried contacting one of the officers of one of them with a personal message. All to no avail.

Here we are, in the twenty first century, with technology that can send spacecraft beyond Pluto, and still get messages across the void, people living on the International Space Station can post pictures to Instagram, and I can see the contents of my fridge while in a meeting in a different city – but to get a human to reply to an e-mail seems to be impossible. May be I’ll have to go back a couple of centuries and try sending a letter – you remember – paper, ink, licking the envelope, adding a stamp, walking to the mailbox, letting Royal Mail perform their magic – and waiting for a reply …

Anyway, if there is anybody out there, please let me know – or am I really alone, on a different planet?

All at Sea

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Back in May Julie and I went to the Nelson Gin School, there we made our own gin. We chose the botanicals – the natural flavourings that give each gin it’s individual taste – and used them in a small table-top still to produce … gin.

Part of the fun is to give your product a name, Neil Harrison (Mr Nelson’s Gin) suggests you design a label, too.

So, Mr H, here is the label for our ‘All at Sea’ Pirate Gin, Batch #6, 20 May 2017, 45.2% ABV …

(of course, this design is copyright © )

Nelson’s Gin School

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Victory – a glorious piece of 21st century steampunkery

‘Mother’s ruin’ – gin is going through a bit of a renaissance – it’s a bit trendy.

As I’ve sampled a few(!), Julie thought it would be a good idea to see how it’s made, so she took me to Nelson’s Distillery and Gin School, in Staffordshire.

Our collection of botanicals – at least 40% Juniper berries (or it’s not gin)

We started by browsing cocktail books, history books, and recipe books, and the rows of herbs, spices, and other botanical samples – just to get our gin-brains going. Then we spent the day blending and distilling our own bottle of gin. We each had a mini desktop copper still, chose our own blend of ‘botanicals’ and were steered through the process by the owner, distiller extraordinaire, Neil Harrison.

Neil, the man himself, supervises the fine art

Julie and I were a little concerned that the amount dripping from our still was not going to be enough to make a bottle, but once the specific gravity (a measure of the strength of the alcohol) was checked, it was apparent that we were going for quality, not quantity. We achieved a maximum of 89% ABV (alc. by volume). As the strength of the final product would be adjusted so each bottle was around 40 – 50% there would be no issues for us.

While we waited for the gin to ‘appear’ we were introduced to ‘Victory‘, the special, one-off still produced specially for Nelson’s – a glorious piece of 21st century steampunkery, in gleaming copper and stainless steel. A real beauty.

We also got to try the company’s mainstay product, Nelson’s No 7. A suitably large sample appeared and was consumed without complaint. The tone of the gathered would-be distillers became a tad more boisterous after that.

Nelson’s also produce a ‘Navy Strength‘ gin. By tradition this has to be at least 57% ABV as it was stored next to the gunpowder, and if a spillage should occur (heaven forbid!) the gunpowder must still ignite when soaked with the gin. Seemed like a good plan.

With our gins bottled, it was blended with pure water to bring it to the required strength. We called our product, ‘All at Sea’ to maintain the maritime tradition. It was finished at 45.2% ABV. The strongest in the class.

Anyway, my task now is to design a suitable label for the bottle. I shall partake a small measure as inspiration. Watch my other blog for the nautical artwork to appear …

[Visit nelsonsgin.co.uk for the full story of the distillery, school, and their gins]

Getting the bird

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There’s nothing like a nice day out with the family. Round up the kids – and their kids – bundle them all in to the car and head off to the countryside for a picnic. So we did.

But that’s only half the story. We spent the day at the Hawk Conservancy Trust, near Andover, UK. It’s a great place to visit, there is a full day’s entertainment and it’s all for a good cause.

Did you know that for every elephant or rhino that is killed for its tusks or horn, up to 50 vultures, or more, can die at the same site? Because the circling vultures give away the location of the carnage to the rangers, the poachers spread poison over the carcase to kill the vultures. This, together with those killed by the poisons in the preventative medication given to roaming cattle, has reduced them to a critically endangered species.

Not only are there vultures at the Trust, but hawks, owls, and many other birds all presented in different flying displays throughout the day. In each arena birds are flown and swoop low – head height – into the audience. You duck or wear a bird shaped bruise.

That was the American bald eagle …

Of course, my favourite is being buzzed by the massed vulture display – oh, and watching the American bald eagle fly in from a village on the far side of the valley, but the most impressive is the fish eagle.

The fish eagle glides down from the beech trees and plucks a ‘fish’ from the tiny pool just a few feet from where we are sat. I waited, camera poised, focussed on the pool … click!

Got ‘im this time – sorry about the quality. Don’t blame the camera.

Luckily, for us less-than-professional photographers, he does a second run. I hope you like my action shots – I did get the bird – just!

Inspiration Monday – Dying Art

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Christmastide at Steph’s InMon! I’ve missed a few Inspirational Mondays lately, but here is my seasonal flash fiction offering …

***

T’was the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring  … except for the creaking of floorboards from down in the hall.

That’s the trouble with old houses, they have real wood floors. They swell and shrink with the weather; when it’s dry you have to tippy-toe carefully because they make enough noise to wake the dead.

It’s a dying art, y’ know – a’burglin’. Back in the day you’d be in and out and they’d hardly know you had been there – ‘cept their valuables had gone, of course. You’d look for a window that was ajar, or may be a door that was unlocked. Sometimes you’d have to resort to the ‘tools’ – perhaps a little light work with a jemmy, or may be a few moments with the skeleton keys, but you was soon in.

The idea was to disturb as little as possible. After all, it was someone’s house you was in and you didn’t want to mess it all up. You knew where to look. Creatures of habit is humans. Sometimes they would surprise you, like a roll of tenners in the sock drawer, or a nice diamond ring in the medicine cabinet. But usually the same old stash in the tea caddy, nice watch on the dressing table, necklace in the knicker drawer.

Of course, you always wore gloves. Only a complete divvy would leave finger prints. But nowadays there is no skill, no finesse. Smash a window, rip a door off its hinges. Then once they’re in they blunder about like a chimp at a tea party. The place looks like it’s been hit by a tornado. And they aren’t fussy about what they take, neither. Anything that they think the pawnshop will give them a couple of bob for, they’ll have.

No pride in their work, that’s the trouble with the youth of today. Once upon a time they used to learn the trade proper – like an apprenticeship – but now they thinks they know it all, and just won’t listen.

Like getting nabbed by the Old Bill. We’d always say, “It’s a fair cop, guv.” Give ’em a bit of banter down the nick, and get off with a warning, but these youngsters gotta put up a fight, and struggle, and bleat. Then they are surprised when they wake up in the cell, with bruises. They don’t realise the rozzers is only doing their job – just like us.

It’s a dying art, y’know.

***
© 2016, K Patrick Moody

Inspiration Monday – Written Radio

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Kristallmottagare

Crystal radio using cat’s whisker technology

Another late entry for InMon! When will I learn? Anyway, from this week’s list of words, ‘written radio’ grabbed my imagination.

(‘Bertie’ was the name his friends and family called H G Wells)

***

There was a gentle tap on the door of Smythe’s workshop.

“You in there, Sam?”

“Yes, come on in. You’re just in time.”

Sam indicated a knot of electrical wiring and other pieces of equipment on his bench.

Joshua knew he need not ask …

“I’ve been interested in this radio phenomenon for a while, and I think it has great potential.”

Joshua nodded, technology wasn’t really his forte.

Sam continued, “The work of that chap Morse in the United States fascinates me. Listen.”

He held up the headphones and Joshua put them to his ear.

“All I hear is blips, Sam. It is meaningless.”

“They are not just ordinary blips, there are short ones and long ones – it is a code – and messages are being sent – it is transmitted information.”

“I can’t see there is a future in it.”

“But what about this, Joshua … ?” Sam twiddled and adjusted the tiny wire touching the small piece of crystal, “ … listen again!”

Joshua held the apparatus to his ear.

“Tell me what you hear!” Sam was almost bursting with excitement..

“Just crackling …” Sam fiddle again with the device he called a cat’s whisker.

“Now what can you hear?”

“Is it a voice? It’s got a strange tone – and it’s not a language I recognise.” Joshua was non-plussed with the whole thing. All this was playing with dangerous, new fangled, electricity. The stuff was unpredictable – you couldn’t see it, unless it was leaping across the bench as a blue flash; you couldn’t smell it, until it set fire to Sam’s wires. At least you knew what was going on with gas lamps and candles.

“That’s just it!” Sam was waving his arms about – he was about to launch himself in to another project that would cost Joshua dearly. “I don’t know where the voice is coming from. Nobody is transmitting anything other than the telegraph signals!”

Joshua was getting a vague interest now there was some mystery mixed in.

Sam continued, “Oh, I’m sure it will happen in time – but there is years of research needed yet.”

“Right, let’s keep it logical.” Joshua tried to keep the matter grounded, “Who is likely to want to get ahead of the Americans?”

“Well, I know the Tzar has a whole range of scientists at work – but the voice is not Russian.”

“Pretty much likely to be them, I reckon.” Joshua looked smug, and rocked on his heels as he lit his bent briar.

“But …” Sam gave a dramatic pause, “ … what if Bertie Wells’ story about Martians isn’t a work of fiction – what if he was trying to warn us? These blighters would have technology far superior to ours.”

“Nonsense!”

“No! We must locate the source of these emanations! It is of national importance, Joshua! I need your assistance, and that of your colleagues at the Ministry!”

Joshua hid his face in his hands – here we go again, he thought.

***

© 2016, K Patrick Moody