Stoptober – don’t swap, stop!

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Oh! Joy! We no longer have to give up smoking, the electronic ciggy is here to save us!

Or is it?IMG_1080

The foul and offensive habit, or addiction, of smoking is gradually being replaced by the equally foul and offensive trend of ‘vaping’. Instead of setting alight a short paper tube containing the dried leaf of the nicotiana tabacum plant, part of the nightshade family, users suck vapour, and inhale the fumes, from a concentrated nicotine fluid that is heated over a battery powered, electric element. So the vap-er is not exposed to the harmful tar residues from the natural product – they are instead inhaling super concentrated, poisonous nicotine fumes*, plus all the heavy metal contaminants, including arsenic, from the decomposing electrical elements*. And they are still nicotine addicted.

Sadly there is now a whole lifestyle growing around this revolting habit. High street shops are pushing it with such claims that it is ‘socially acceptable’. The NHS are even advocating them as a way of quitting tobacco habits, and the tobacco companies are still hauling in vast profits.

I’m not sure who they asked, but it certainly is not socially acceptable for some smelly fumeur to blow the second hand contents of their contaminated lungs in to the air that I have to breathe. The habit is as offensive as smoking cigarettes, particularly as the vapour clouds are denser than the smoke. I regard it with the same distaste as smoking.

Luckily these vap-ers have their habits governed by the same restrictions as smokers – perhaps both could be banned in all public spaces …

So don’t swap – stop!

Just my opinion, of course. What about you?

*nicoctine has been used as an insecticide.
*Tests have found heavy metal contaminants are released from from the elements as they are heated.

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Deep and meaningful

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I’m not known for my deep, philosophical thinking, but sometimes things strike a chord.

You may have noticed that celebrity status doesn’t carry any weight with me. Mostly, I either don’t recognise them, or have never heard of them. For me most modern celebrities have personalities that are so shallow that you couldn’t get your feet wet.

corsablurAnyway, a friend was preparing to go on a road trip to see her mother, half a day’s drive away. Her idea of preparing the car was to have it valeted. The paintwork gleamed, the wheels sparkled, and the upholstery was freed from its protective coating of dog hair.

Just before she left she knocked on my door. “Could you have a look at the car, the engine sounds funny.”

“Are there any warning lights on the dash? Have you checked the oil?” I asked.

After a quick inspection of vital fluids, and a listen to the gentle purr of the engine, all seemed to be well. I set her mind at rest that the noises she could hear were the general mechanical sounds of an idling engine, poised to whisk her away to mother’s.

The moral of my story? For my neighbour, appearance, and what other people thought of her car were her top priority. In reality, it is the inner workings – the soul – that is the part that will carry her on her journey.

Like celebrities, pretty, shiny, and polished on the outside – cheap, empty, and uninteresting on the inside. They are fine as arm candy, but could you endure a long journey with someone who has difficulty stringing a sentence together?

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.

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!