Quoit (Unquoit)

Quoits

To every man there comes in his lifetime that special moment when he decides that he needs to buy a Quoits set.

Quoits, innit?  Sort-of like hoopla or ringtoss.  Wooden pegs (called hobs, motts or pins), on a crucifix arrangement, that you throw rope hoops at from a distance.  A game to be played in the garden, ideally with a jug of Pimms.  Pictured above.

I didn’t set out to buy a Quoits set, but I was noodling around on Amazon and they were selling them on special; £9 instead of the usual £30.  And it was a very nice compact set, manufactured by Jaques of London.  Jaques of London have been crafting handmade Quoits sets for over 100 years (at least that’s what they claim and I can’t see why they’d lie).  Suddenly I realised that – yes – I really needed a Quoits set.  Perhaps I was seduced by the sunny weather, but I could really see myself playing Quoits on a summers day.

Also it would be something for the younger guests to play at my birthday party, so they could leave me alone to barbecue meat and drink myself into a giddy stupor.

The set has arrived and it’s very nice.  The rope quoits have a nice wait to them and the pins (or hobs or motts) were easy to assemble.  I’ve had a go, practicing my quoit-tossing action, and I feel that it’s something I could excel at.  Perhaps I could start a local Quoits league?  The nearest extant one is in Essex and that’s a bit to far to commute.

In America they have a United States Quoiting Association (USQA).  Of course they have.  I don’t know why I ever doubted the possibility.  That’s for Traditional Quoits, though.  Not Indoor, Slate-board or Trenton-Style Quoits.  It’s a can of worms and no mistake.

As for the manufacturers, ‘Jaques of London’ I’ve had a look on their website to see what other traditional English outdoor games they offer.  They offer Boules sets (although that’s French, obviously).  ‘Bat and Trap’ sets (no idea).  Three foot tall “Tumble Tower” sets made from New Zealand pine (and advertised as “Tumble Towers” not “Jenfa” so as not to attract the attention of Hasbro’s lawyers).

We have a giant Jenga set at work we used to take to local community fun days until it toppled over onto a toddler and we faced a threat of legal action.  A frankly spurious one really as the bloke who knocked it over was the father of the toddler.  Still, it’s been gathering dust in a cupboard since.

Jaque’s of London’s pride and joy are their croquet sets.  They claim to have invented croquet 1851 and have been selling quality croquet sets.  They do beginners croquet sets for £55, an “Olympic” set for £850 and the “Sandringham” set £5000.  The latter is their “finest set to date”.  You’d hope so, wouldn’t you?  It’s a symphony of brass and mahogany.  I’d expect it to be made of unicorn ivory for £5K.

So don’t expect crochet at my birthday barbecue.  It’s a rich man’s game.  We’re strictly a Quoits household.

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Cat-a-Flog 31

Frog

We’ve had some frog-related issues.

On Tuesday Sage delighted Caroline by bringing a frog in from the garden.  Not a dead frog, I should explain, this one was still in full possession of the spark of life and its internal organs.  It was breathing; merely stunned or in shock.  Caroline rescued it from Sage and deposited it up on the lawn.  Sage skulked off into the house, so the frog presumably survived the scrape (unless it ran into Tarragon after; in which case we can say it’s luck was out.

Caroline might have thought she’d had all of her frog-related woes for the week.  Not so.  Wednesday was a triple-frogger.  It was a complex day anyway, cat-wise, as she was due to take the cats to the vet for a 9am weigh-in.  Unfortunately she let the cats out first thing, out of habit, and then had a nervous wait to see if they’d return in time.  Tarragon returned soon after, on the kitchen roof, mewing at the bathroom window to be let in.  Sage trotted back in through the cat flap with, you guessed it, another frog.

This frog was stunned and/or in shock like the other one, though.  This frog was very animated.  Sage was pleased as that presented him with something to chase round the kitchen.  Caroline was less pleased.  I was up in the showed at the time, but the level of her displeasure was audible over the rush of the water.  I was called downstairs.  She had the frog trapped in a ladle, under a fish slice, but she needed me to shut the cats in the kitchen and open the front door so that the frog could be ejected.

I left for work.  At 8.39am I had a test from Caroline: “Fuck!!!  There’s ANOTHER FROG!”

Apparently Sage had trotted back into the kitchen, from inside the house, with another frog in his jaws.  A bit worrying as he hadn’t been allowed back outside side, due to the vet appointment, so there where had he got the frog from?  Did he have a stash of them somewhere indoors?

The frog was alive, again, so Caroline had to hurriedly throw it out before trying to confine the boys in their cat carriers.  Sage happily acquiesced to his confinement, he actually seems to quite enjoy going to the vet’s surgery, but Tarragon struggled free and hid.  Caroline had to take him to the appointment of his own.  He’s put on a tiny amount of weight.  It must be all the frogs.

There was a third frog, mid-afternoon.  I don’t know many details about that one, Caroline only really mentioned it in passing, conversationally, when I got home from work.  Frogs had become the norm by that point.

We’ve managed three days, so far, frogless since then.  Maybe Sage is frogged out now.  Or the frogs have got wise to him.  It’s difficult to tell with frogs.

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In Praise of the Swinge.

Swinge

Please forgive the lack of bloggery of late.  I’ve been busy, occupied and otherwise engaged.  The Swindon Fringe – a.k.a. ‘the Swinge’, which sounds like some sort of muscular ailment – was on and I was attending in my guise as roving theatre reviewer for The Swindonian website.

I was more sensible this year.  Last year I was probably a bit too keen, being new to the job, and I trotted out to see as many shows as I could.  This year I knew that there would be others reviewing the shows so I felt that I could pick and choose a little more.  I saw three double bills; six shows in total spread over the fortnight.

And I chose shows that I felt were a little more…  I don’t want to say ‘quirky’.  I’m not sure I necessarily like the word ‘quirky’.  There a suggestion of ‘What am I like?  I’m mad, me!’ about the word quirky.  It’s nearly as bad as ‘zany’.  Anyone who self-describes themselves as zany should be asphyxiated in a damp pillow case.

No, I was looking for shows that were outré.  Arcane.  Idiosyncratic.  I saw a performance bsaed entirely around Ordnance Survey Maps.  A maths-folk-comedy act.  An ex-psychiatric nurse recounting his times on the Psych Ward.  A poet speaking about her relationship with money and debt.  A hyperactive comedian presenting three “Plays for Marvellous People” and an hour of monologues big and small.

I can honestly say I enjoyed each and every one.  Even the mathematically-themed comedic folk musician.  Which is just as well as I’m too much of a coward to slag off anyone in print. Well, not on the Swindonian website at least.  My keyboard heroics on social media are well-documented.  I like to think my reviews err on the side of constructive criticism.  I dare say that if I were forced to review an Ed Sheeran concert for The Swindonian I’d find some crumb of praise for the man.

That or take the old “asphyxiation with a damp pillow case” route.

I’ll be honest, this blog contains at least two more references to asphyxiation with a wet pillow case than I expected it would before I started writing it.

Now three.

It’s nice, though, that Swindon has it’s own little Fringe Festival; small, but growing in scope every year.  I think this year’s was definitely more ambitious than the last.  And it’s even nicer that it attracts decent audiences.  The shows I went to were well-attended even when the weather was doing its worst.

Sometimes we long suffering Swindonians are allowed nice things.

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Ben-Time Stories part 3

Old typewriter

Okay, last one of these as I’m sure you’ll all be delighted to read.  I’d have written it earlier but I’ve been incredibly busy reading watching old episodes of Jonathan Creek on Netflix.  Series 3 in case you’re curious; the last one with Caroline Quentin.  They don’t write them like that any more.  Neither does David Renwick if that last series with Sarah Alexander was anything to go with, sadly.  They never should have moved him out of the windmill.  Jonathan Creek, I mean, not David Renwick.

It’s not been all about locked room mysteries and duffel coats, I’ve also made Tikka Masala curry paste.  I’m multi-faceted, I am.

I think that’s enough preamble; I’d hate to overwhelm you.  On to the origins of the last four stories on my short story blog (https://bentimestories.wordpress.com/) so far.

As before; spoilers:

The Wicked Queen and the Poison App

Mirrors are inherently magical, aren’t they?  It’s bad luck to smash them and there’s the old thing about them capturing your soul.  So I knew I’d probably get on to them as a topic eventually.  Being inherently lazy I took the laziest option and went for a rip off of Snow White.  I’ve seen people use the cameras on their phones to check out their appearance, so it wasn’t a massive leap to imagine a magic mirror with apps.  The reason why the mirror’s a pedantic bugger is because I Googled the word “fairest”, to double-check on the spelling (farest/fairest), and the definition online said that using “fairest” as “prettiest” or “most beautiful” is technically obsolete.  It’s just that we’re all familiar of that usage from the Wicked Queen in the fairy tale.  I personally think that this story drags a little, but then I started it not really knowing how I was going to end it.  It needs taking in a bit around the crotch.  ‘Baggy’, is the word.

Ēostre and the Hare

I wanted to write a story about Easter because it was Easter.  I think that’s reasonable, don’t you?  My first instinct was to do something with rabbits in it, but we’d already had rabbits in “Hannah and the Gurglers”.  I did a bit of research online.  It was very in depth; I typed “Easter” into Google and pressed enter.  As a result I discovered that a lot of people think that Easter was originally a pagan festival dedicated to Ēostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, whose consort was a hare, the forerunner of our Easter bunny.  However, a lot of experts now think that there never was a pagan goddess called Ēostre; the only historical mention of her and a link to Easter are in the writings of a 7th century monk called Bede who lived up in Northumbria and historians now think he was either mistaken or he made it up.  Still, let’s not be churlish, aren’t all Gods and Goddesses made up?  Whether or not she was a real pagan deity there’s a story about her turning a bird into a hare that could lay eggs, so I thought I could do something with that.  After all, a hares are different to rabbits, aren’t they?

The Philanderer and the Vagrant 

This one was a bit of a cheat, really.  It’s based on an idea I had for a short horror film a year or so ago.  My mate Tristan had appeared in a low-budget horror short called ‘Bad Acid’.  It had done well and the people involved were keen to make more, so he encouraged me to have a think and see if I had any ideas for future projects.  I came up with an idea about a man trapped, by dark powers, in an empty multi-story car park after stealing change from a dead tramp.  Empty car parks at night are creepy; this is a fact.  Tristan and I talked the idea over in a beer garden, but we ended up bickering over a pedantic point relating to the parking ticket and matters went no further.  I still quite liked the basic concept, though, so I fleshed it out into a short story.  I still think it might work as a short film.  I might mention it to Tristan again next time I see him, although we’ll probably wind up arguing about the fucking parking ticket again.

The Factotum and the Peacock’s Curse 

Last one: I fancied doing a story set in an old theatre.  That led me to read up on actors superstitions.  There are lots of well known ones (don’t whistle, don’t say Macbeth, etc.) but I didn’t know it was considered unlucky to have peacock feathers on stage.  I don’t think I knew about “ghost lights” either.  There’s a story that they’re left on overnight so that the theatre ghosts can perform onstage during the night, but the more prosaic truth is that having a light left on means that the first person into the theatre in the morning can turn the proper lights on without tripping and breaking their necks.  I was originally going to have the tragic young actress kill herself with bleach, but I changed that to throwing herself into the Thames.  I needed a bridge for her to jump off that was around in the late Victorian era.  London Bridge was a bit too obvious, so I did some research and settled on Blackfriars.  And that led to the introduction of the ghostly Black Friars to the story.  “Abraham Stokes” is named after “Bram Stoker”, the writer of Dracula, who was also the personal assistant of the famed actor Henry Irving.

Okay, all done.  You can relax for now.  I’ve got some other ideas so there will probably more stories.  I’m thinking about a mysterious sofa, a man made of ice and a visit from the rival of the Sandman.  We’ll see.

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Ben-Time Stories part 2

Quill

Right, I’ve had a break, a glass of wine and a nice lamb and gravy supper.  Caroline’s back from Telford (where is Telford?  I keep meaning to ask) and the cats are slumbering around us on various comfortable surfaces.  I’m again ready to continue to delve into what was rumbling through my diseased mind when I can up with my silly stories (all available via https://bentimestories.wordpress.com/)

I forgot to say earlier that one of the reasons I started to do the stories was that I was spending far too much time noodling on the internet and getting wound up and angry about all the collected knee-jerk overwrought dumb-fuckery on the web.  So I thought I might better spend my time creating something rather than giving myself an ulcer.  And maybe I’d be able to add something nice on the internet to try to balance out all the trembling indecency on there.

It’s a dream.

Again; spoilers:

The Dowager and the Rock Garden

This one was initially inspired by a bottle of ‘Enliven Cucumber and Garden Mint Hand Gel’.  Yes, I am being serious.  No, you shut your cakehole.  I was washing my hands in the work toilets, trying to think of an apt location for my next story when my eye alighted on the word “garden” in the legend ‘cucumber and garden mint’ on the bottle of hand gel.  And I thought: ooh yes, a garden, that’s a tidy idea.  What type of garden though, I mused.  A rock garden, maybe?  A literal garden made of rock?  Why’s it made of rock?  Because the person who tended the garden had their heart broken, that’s why.  Obvious, really.  For a big old garden you needed a big old house, so that suggested the aristocracy.  By the time I’d got to that point the story had nearly written itself.

The Sawbones and the Uncanny Invalid

I think it was the Terry Pratchett book “Witches Abroad” that suggested that anyone who was actually stupid enough to wear real glass slippers was going to end up with severe foot lacerations in their near future.  And I remembered that in some of the older iterations of Cinderella the Ugly Sisters cut off bits of their feet to try to fit the glass slipper touring the land.  So I went through a load of famous fairy tales looking for other hospital-worthy injuries.  Truth is: there aren’t that many.  In fairy tales you generally either get killed stone dead or you live happily ever after; there’s very little middle ground.  It turned into a bit of a chore in the end.  Still, I found some; enough to fill a bit night at Accident and Emergency at least.  Oh and the doctor is called “Andersen” after “Hans Christian Andersen”, but I expect nobody noticed that.

Hannah and the Gurglers

I really enjoyed writing this one.  I got the idea when I was babysitting a friends son and their central heating was knocking and clanking ten-to-the-dozen.  It reminded me of when I was little and the airing cupboard and immersion heater (or whatever you call it) were in my bedroom.  The noises it made used to keep me awake in the night.  And maybe it isn’t trapped air making the noises in the system.  Maybe there are imps in there, up to mischief.  Originally it was going to be a far darker tale; the Gurglers were going to be far more monstrous and the story was set in a Victorian orphanage, but the setting was throwing up far too many issues (not least that I know fuck all about Victorian orphanages) so I set it in an ordinary more-or-less contemporary house and it all took a far more whimsical tone.  Hannah needed a side-kick in the story who wasn’t an adult and so “Bump” came into being.  I don’t know (or can’t remember) why he’s called “Bump”.  Deal with it.  What I do know is that “gurgler” is an Australian-English term for a toilet, as in “down the gurgler”.  That is completely why they’re called “Gurglers”.  It had to be.

The Barkeeper and the Wolf

Setting this in a New York bar rather than an English pub made for a completely self-flicted ball-ache.  I tied myself in knots fretting about trying to get the character speaking in at least a vague New York/New Jersey flavoured manner.  Why?  There’s no good reason why I chose to set it in a bar on the upper East Coast; the issue is entirely self-inflicted.  I’m a knob.  Otherwise it’s a bit of fun, really.  Telling a fairy tale from the wolf perspective is quite a well-worn trope.  I tried to write a children’s book once, set decades after the “Red Riding Hood incident” where the protagonists were Red Riding Hood’s granddaughter, a young wolf and the youngest of the Three Bears working together trying to catch a wolf-murdering copy-cat serial killer.  That influenced this story, actually.  Never throw any ideas away, they’ll always come in handy.

Right, only four more to go.  I’ll probably do those in the morning.  And by “morning” I mean “after I get up” which probably means “the afternoon”.

 

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Ben-Time Stories part 1

Story

In case you haven’t noticed I’ve started a little writing project on the side; a short story blog.  It had occurred to me that I hadn’t attempted to write any fiction of any sort in far too long and I rather fancied finding out if I could still do it.  I wrote one short story, and that seemed to go reasonably well, so I wrote a few more and now I’ve got 12 of the buggers written.  The blog’s here:

https://bentimestories.wordpress.com/

My mother’s been reading them and she’s asked me on a couple of occasions where I get my ideas from for them.  She fears for my sanity, I think.  I suspect she’s looking to have me sectioned, but needs evidence.

In most cases the answer is rather dull.  Usually I get an idea, I start writing and I see where the story takes me.  However, something usually sparks me off in the beginning (which is a very good place to start) so I thought I’d use my other blog here to waffle on about what initially inspired the initial dozen potted tales that I’ve written so far.

Spoilers, obviously:

The Platypus and the Merman

It was the first story and I wasn’t sure what to write about.  After a little musing I thought  that the best starting point was “The something and the something” in the mould of an Aesop fable.  Old Aesop had most of the animal kingdom covered in his works, but I was pretty sure he hadn’t touched upon Ornithorhynchus anatinus; the Platypus.  I needed someone or something for the Platypus to meet and as they’re a kind of duck/beaver mash-up I thought another half-and-half creature like a mermaid would work.  The mermaid became a merman.  Not Ethel Merman (although that might have been amusing).  My original idea was that the Merman would end up cooked on the hot rocks and the Platypus would eat him, however I started writing and things took another turn.  It happens.

Old Ma Nature and the Stork

For the second story I looked to old folk tales and legends as a starting point.  The idea of storks delivering babies had fascinated me as lad.  But why would they do that?  Maybe there was a few bob in it for them?  But could storks organise themselves like that?  Perhaps there was a Faginesque figure behind the scenes?  Old Mother Nature for example?  Originally Old Mother Nature was a far nastier piece of work, which was when she became Old Ma Nature like something out of the Krays, but as the story took shape she softened.  Hard-nosed and not above violence towards her storks if they crossed her, but with her heart in the right place.  Old Ma Nature’s little sayings gave the story structure as well.  It came together in no time, really.

The Bank Manager and the Toad

I started looking at fairy tales for inspiration, principally The Brother’s Grimm.  The story of the Frog Prince came up.  I mean, who kisses a frog, honestly?  That’s one persuasive frog, that’s for certain.  My thought was that word about this had got around the global amphibian community and an enterprising young frog might use this to try and make himself a couple of quid.  The bank manager, Godfrey Morgan, was named after an old manager of mine at Zurich Insurance.  He was Welsh and an ex-bank manager.  I think he was probably one of the best manager I had at Zurich.  He liked a drink.  We had a work night out once and I was helping him get a round in.  There were a lot of us and it was taking a while to pour the drinks, so he suggested he buy us a couple shots “to pass the time”.  The rest of the party couldn’t work out why we came back from the bar so much drunker than when we left.  Good old Godfrey.

The Lonely Fox and the Longest Night

I got the inspiration for this one in a pub.  I’d gone out for a drink on a rainy night and, as the Plough was busy, I travelled a little further round the corner and settled down in the snug of the Wheatsheaf Alehouse on Newport Street.  I glanced behind the bar and there was a poster advertising “Reverend James Ale”.  How about a vicar as a protagonist? An elderly Reverend who’s been saving the world all of his life, but who has grown old with no off-spring to pass his mission on to as his father had to him?  I’d already been mulling over a story set during the winter solstice.  What if, during the winter solstice, the very nature of the world frays and wears thin?  I posited that when this happens someone needs to watch over the world during the night so that nothing escapes through.  Taking the Reverend’s wife made him vulnerable.  And where there’s God you have to have the devil, don’t you?  Even if he is disguised as a goat.

God, these it going on longer than I intended.  This is going to have to be part one of a couple or two.  Back in a bit.

 

 

 

 

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The Coate Water Monster

Coate Water

We have this Senior Manager, a nice chap, who works out of our office on a semi-regular basis.  I have no problem with him at all, he’s a likeable sort, but I do think he struggles to get his head around some of the things that my team come out with.

Take yesterday for example: he’d popped down to our end of the office near the end of the day to check up on how we all were and ask us if we’d had a good Easter.  He told us that he’d spent the long Bank Holiday weekend in Salisbury.  Apparently a lot of shops and eateries in the area are still closed in the aftermath of the nerve agent attack on ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.

While he was  in Salisbury the Senior Manager ate at Cote Brasserie where Skripal was a regular customer.  He got chatting to the staff and asked if business had suffered in the wake of the attack.  Far from it, he was told.  Business was booming as Salisbury was full of ITN reporters, and other national and international news agencies, filling the hotels and stuffing their faces in the local restaurants on expenses.

The staff weren’t keen on the Sun “reporters” who’d visited the Brasserie, though.  They said the Sun journalists had hassled the waiting staff and tried to get them to falsely claim they’d seen Skripnal eating there with a man suspected of being his MI6 handler.  The had staff refused so the Sun apparently went ahead and printed it anyway.

I’m sure employees of News International would never consider behaving in such a dishonest, underhand and rat-bastard manner.

The Brasserie waiting staff were, however, very taken with Jon Snow.  The Channel 4 News anchor Jon Snow, not the Game of Thrones one.  He was utterly charming and a delight, by all accounts.  They love a bit of Jon Snow in Salisbury.

So we started talking in the office about how the nerve agent attack had, in a roundabout manner, attracted a lot of business and international attention Salisbury’s way.  And that was when one of my colleagues piped up that what Swindon needed was something like that to put us on the map.

The Regional Manager looked slightly startled at that.  My colleague was quick to clarify that she wasn’t inviting a nerve gas attack on Swindon, that would be going slightly too far, but it would be good for the local economy if we could engineer something that would attract attention to the town.

So we batted a few ideas back and forth and I suggested that we falsify a “Coate Water Monster” at the local water park.  It worked for Loch Ness, didn’t it?  If they could attract a bit of tourist dollar with a fake dinosaur then why couldn’t we?  The water in the lake was nice and murky, you could easily hide a small Ichthyosaur in its depths.  All you need is a few fake a few sightings, a couple of faked pics and some claims that we’d found a few chewed up pike in the water; job done.  It’s all about the #fakenews these days.

The Regional Manager listened to this evenly, even managing to nod haltingly at intervals.  And then he said: “Right, I suppose I’d better be getting on” before walking back up through the office, slightly glass-eyed.

We don’t mean to upset his equilibrium, honest we don’t, but we just start talking and all the crazy shit starts tumbling out.

On a completely unrelated note:

I happened to be in our office reception earlier today when this chap wandered in rather furtively.  A foreign gentleman with a pronounced accent.  He saw me and smiled:

“Hydrogen shop?” he asked.

I looked at him blankly.
“This hydrogen shop?” he asked again.
“I’m sorry?”
“My wife.  Hydrogen shop.”

What did he mean hydrogen shop? Who was this man, where was his wife and why did he need hydrogen so urgently?

It wasn’t until he mimed a pair of scissors with that I realised what he was asking:

“Ah…  You mean the hairdresser? The hairdressing shop, yes?  They’re next door.”

“Ah,” he grinned apologetically, “most sorry,” and departed.

Thanks to that interaction I think I now have some idea what our Senior Manager goes through when he engages my team in ill-advised small talk.

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