Monday 31 December 2012

Lost Words

Playing with Parquet means I’ve been finding all manner of lost or dead words to add to those I’ve long treasured. It’s a good idea when writing not to use a word that no one is going to understand. It doesn’t make you clever; it just demonstrates what a colossal arse the writer is. You do not egress the portal, you walk through a door – even if you have to mention that at all. Nonetheless and for names and for titles, for places or things they can be fabulous as in fictional worlds there is a certain expectation for invention anyway. In the likes of Parquet, an exercise purely to enjoy spinning a world when taking a break from doing that at work anyway, it’s a lot more fun to actually use a  word that means what it says (even if in context then it looks like something made up). So as names, as places, but not as a demonstration of one’s ability to hide what is actually being written.
            These are some of my favourites that can be used in such a way. Many are old slang, some are just dead words. Some just sound good.
Acrasial. Bad-tempered, particularly mean, even unfair.
Altham. A vagabond’s woman.
Barque (of frailty). A wanton, a trollop.
Bawker. A player of games with a strong following, one with fans that howl and deride his opponent.
Belemite. Malingerer.
Bonifate,  Lucky, a fortunate man.
Botcher. Clothes-mender.
Bosky. Drunk.
Callet. Drab, dull.
Calvert. To exaggerate one’s achievements or status,
Clewner. A false scholar.
Castaldy. A position of responsibility over another’s means, the act of a reeve, a steward.
Cit. Derisory term for a trader.
Coxcomb. A fop, a dandy.
Crassulent. Grossly fat.
Crocus. A surgeon.
Crepuscule. Twilight.
Derrick. A hangman.
Dottrel. Easy mark or prey.
Drigger. A thief.
Duckies. Breasts.
Faradiddles. Lies.
Foppotee. A fool, an idiot.
Fustigate. To beat with a stick or club.
Gullgrope. To lend money.
Gully. A dagger.
Homerkin. Seventy-five gallons of beer or ale, a barrel holding that amount.
Jangles. Rumour and gossip.
Jordan. A chamberpot, (oh, the hilarity).
Mingent. One that is having a piss, or the act itself.
Murklins. The dark, in the dark.
Nithing. A weak man.
Palliard. A beggar.
Picaroon. A rogue, a pirate.
Punkateero. A pimp.
Salwog. To chase, to plunder.
Scut. A cut or dent in part of a ship.
Shonnies. Venereal diseases.
Skilly. Broth, thin soup with little substance.
Veney. Sword practise with sticks.

Svetlana Space, Pencil

Sunday 30 December 2012

Inevitably, The Hobbit

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So I got to see The Hobbit. It’s the most grown-up film I’ve been able to see at the flicks for an age, and for this I owe my eldest who at eight years old has firmly become ensnared by Tolkien. At Christmas she got various costumes, a bow and a quiver based upon the cartoon movie Brave. I’ve not seen Brave, but I presume there are cloaks and a bow else the tie-ins are a bit odd. But my eldest therefore was Brave right up until I insisted that we at least watch the beginning of Fellowship on Christmas Day. And soon right there my friends, she was hooked.
            So okay, I had to give a whispered commentary as to what the hell was going on. She saw the first half or so of the first two movies (bedtime beckoned), and then when we discussed what film to see at the flicks she was very firmly in the Hobbit camp. So we went, just her and I, whilst her wicked mother and our youngest sprout went to see something cartoony (and probably with singing animals). Then last night eldest and I got to watch about half of the Return of the King. So it’s all been a bit incomplete for her. But she knows she’s an elf – they share eyes, and there’s been no talk of Brave, and a lot more about Rivendell.
            “The film?” Alf wants to know. He’s been around to see what here I won’t need any longer. He has tea chests. Do they still ship tea like that?
            It was jolly good. I’m glad they kept the songs, I’m glad they used the back story from elsewhere and my earlier mutterings about padding were put in perspective when I considered how much is normally lost when a book is crammed into ninety minutes. I like it that Thorin gets his head kicked in rather than being another Aragorn. I like it that the dwarves had plenty of personality. It was jolly good to see Rhadagast (and that the ring wraith barely appears before it is twatted by the addled chap). I trust Mirkwood will be in the second film. I have no problem with spending ages in Bag End; since the film is about leaving home, and finding one, it’s all rather important to show what that means.
            Yet I had to see it in 3d. My eldest chose to, and who am I to say no?
            But that was the right choice and for one reason. My little girl had worn her cloak (formerly Brave, now Elven) and despite what she thinks she looks a lot more like a hobbit in it than an elf. So when she dashed to the toilet mid film and ran by rows of people all watching in 3d then like some slapstick comedy they all started, some took off their specs, and all wondered at how great 3d was when the hobbit ran by them. Some might even have wondered at why a hobbit darted by during the fight with the goblins.
            But it was certainly realistic. 

Saturday 29 December 2012

Parquet - The Gascon

It surprised Guy not at all that so much of what was great in Parquet was French. Or rather had been made by Frenchmen so many years before, his pride in that only tempered when faced with others that shared his former nationality (for towards them Guy was a Gascon). It had been perhaps ten years since Guy had been washed ashore, the ship broken in a storm returning from the Crimea. He then a young officer blooded and disturbed by a war that had owed nothing to the ideal that had seen the young sous-lieutenant  of chassurs answer the call. Others might be disturbed by finding themselves here. Some sad souls never adjusted. Guy revelled in it.
            He was a picaroon, and in that had found all he had ever wished for. He was also rich, for today at least, with a purse still half full of wooden cogs from saving the life of a fat trader from a gaggle of vicious salteador. Those beggarly wretches that robbed and killed and lived outside the fine wonders of Parquet, and whose clubs and knives had been little match for a picaroon so well set and skilled as himself. With his reward, Guy had paid to have his long bodkin oiled and polished, and even for his wand to be adjusted by the Ordre so that soon it would be a pepperbox of admittedly simple advance. With what remained he drank a very fine wine freshly given by the sea, and he had his eye on a shirt of brushed pearl that would set off his burgundy hat marvellously. By tomorrow he would be again without funds, and knowing this he spent extravagantly. Style and renown got one through times of an empty purse better than a full purse allowed one to endure times of no style and renown.
            As a Gascon he had grown with French as his second language and Spanish a close third. He had then handily adopted the patois of Parquet without any difficulty. So that here amongst his peers, all with less cogs than he  but eager to keep up, they spoke together in that glot of every language and almost always about their selves, but now of what employ there was to be had. All had come from other places, few picaroons were born here, and as a result they scorned and sneered at the very Spanish hand that fed them.
            “The Principe needs a good blade,” said Gus, formerly a Scot, all dressed in stripes. He hid his bodkin within the folds of a very decent cape for Guy knew it needed work.
            “He always does,” laughed Adelle who stronger than any man there drank only the local fiery spirit, “His rival, his lover, his hated competitor the Princeso, who whilst ever more frugal in the purse does set a far better table.”
            They laughed together, pretending that the last mattered more than the first, and knowing that would still prefer the second. They all had standards after all. They all indeed had standing amongst one another that changed daily, and today Guy held court.
            “There are many fine citizens that require a good blade, what with the monstrum...” said Gus. This was entirely true. Someone, perhaps something, was stalking the finer places. It left little sign of its passing and of its victims only a very fine portrait of their agony upon the wall in quickly rendered blood. It was indeed easy to find such work, but it was dull work, having to endure the homes of the grim Ordre or the suspicion of the patron regarding the fidelity of their wives or pretty husbands with such a bravo as they in the house! And work too that soon paled as the patron if not attacked, felt he did not enjoy the benefit of the expenditure laid out by his purse.
            “The Carpenter is looking for one to serve him, briefly,” said Adelle.
            Guy made sure not to show any interest. The Carpenter was an Englishman but admittedly a very rich one. There was no metal in Parquet than what washed up ashore, so they paid in the lowest coin with cogs. Each was taken from the roots of a particular tree, Parquet so much below ground, and a unique tree at that. It made forgeries rather difficult, needing a certain weight, a certain varnish but most especially some means to made sure that the coins they used would shine redly in salt water. The Carpenter had the marque to make them, a precise number, but had a thriving sideline in exchanging the good fakes by the bag for a small number of the true by the handful. The Carpenter was an excellent employer, yet no picaroon would ever indent himself for more than a single job or short service. Guy said, “That sounds unlikely...”
            Adelle bridled. “You doubt me?” the threat was plain.
            Guy who could not back down replied, “I say perhaps you only heard a rumour, and I will doubt you if you wish...”
            It was Gus that brushed aside the quarrel that would otherwise lead to an argument and drawn blades, and first blood, and a stiff fine. Gus rather needed Guy to continue to prove his brilliance today because Gus could not afford otherwise to drink with them. And that would never do. He lied, “I heard that The Carpenter had already filled that role?”
            “Not so,” Adelle said, diverted. “He has one of the dead detecting certain matters for him. He has suspects. He has then a need for such a suspect to be called upon to answer a challenge.”
            All about the dive ears skilled at making one conversation and listening to three more turned about at the words. No one hurried to the door. It would never do to show eagerness, for eagerness would imply that one was rather desperate for employ. Yet already and a dozen men and women, picaroons all, began the lengthy verbal dance that would see them able to leave without undue haste.
            Only then and hopefully alone would they hurry to speak with The Carpenter.   

Thursday 27 December 2012

Parquet Ordre

Knowledge more precious than metal was kept safe with a considerably larger key; and the Ordre made all the keys. Ram always felt the saying to be particularly apt, because Ram as he walked the long benches where his step-children worked, made a very good life from making very good locks. In Parquet anything of any worth that was made, was made by the Ordre. Someone not of the Ordre that might claim to possess such knowledge (or worse, demonstrate it) would shortly thereafter find that knowledge removed from them. There was an Ordre for that. It had sharp and very precise knives for the purpose.
            Ram clapped Par about the ear. The youth formerly adopted in the Ordre Cle – inevitably then in the Delves long since called the Clay – winced more from the attention than the blow. Par’s skull was thick, thick enough even for Ram’s great hand to make little impact. In the Ordre, and with very few exceptions, they were all of the people – all native to the island. Their heads larger than others, they were stronger built, and possessed proper broad noses and brows. They had been here before those that now ruled and littered up Parquet had first been washed ashore, before there had been a Parquet at all. And they had learned much quicker. And more importantly Ram well knew, they did not cripple themselves by fighting one another. They were the people, though the tiny-faced visitors that made up the majority of Parquet called them at best lutin, or lutes, or (more offensively) goblins. In turn and amongst their selves the people called them in return toys. Ram had heard that none of his people remained in the great world he knew to be out there beyond their ocean. Just a year ago however a botanist washed ashore had suggested their bones had been found very recently in a place called Germany, in a valley called Neander.  Par waited for his scolding. The delay had only set him to trembling.
            Ram said, “Do you wish to remain in the Ordre, young Par? Does your adoption by this Ordre offend you?”
            “Oh no, chef!”
            “Your work is clumsy. Have you been in the Delves, acting as young men do when young men wish not to prosper?”
            “No, chef. I assure you.”
            “In the Delves, oh yes. Taking drink and eating rudely? Are you attracted by the wiles of the toy women? Perhaps speaking of what occurs in this Ordre? This house of locks and keys, this body of craft?”
            “No chef, no!” Ram did not look up but worked the harder on the set of cogs each of the stepsons had to produce, and to the exact degree of the masters that Ram would only produce to check at the end of the day.
            “The Delves where with their course tongue they turn Ordre to odour, and call us the stinks?” said Ram.
            “I never would, chef. Not I, not Par!”
            Ram picked up the cog upon which Par worked. In truth it was decent work, half-decent at least. He said nothing as he replaced it and passed on knowing that his back now turned Par would be frantically inspecting the work for some defect only to be revealed at the end of the day. At least for the Ordre the days were long. For a wasted minute was a terrible thing, and a wasted hour then sixty times worse.
            They were the people, they were the Ordre, and their lives like their work had precise standards. And a wasted life was a terrible thing, and wasted work then sixty times worse. Everything could be classified, everything could then be calibrated. Everything improved. Orderly, defined, exact. What worked, was to be worked. Every parent watched their children for signs of abhorred creativity. In the Ordre each that joined was adopted and they watched their stepsons for the same signs of the same frailties.

Tuesday 25 December 2012

A Merry Christmas from Steerpike

There’re enough snowmen, jolly fat men, and tales of whimsy wonder to sink a large boat on this day so at the Slide for a Christmas tale we turn instead to Mervyn Peake. Here Steerpike wishes you all that Christmas you feel you deserve and commiserates with those that very much endure that which they do not.  Although he doesn’t, because he’s mean.

Monday 24 December 2012

A Christmas Ghost

Admittedly the ghost of Jayne Mansfield. Haunting, irritatingly, that gadabout hippie magician Martin ‘Fucking’ Luther.

Sunday 23 December 2012

David Mitchell Denies Pleb Denial

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Senator Davidius Mitchell has hit back at reports today that he never referred to a member of the Praetorian Guard as a ‘Pleb’, “Because as I’ve already pointed out, he is one. Whereas I as a member of at least the Equestrian class, probably higher, am not. Neither have I whined on about an attempt to destroy my political career. It is clearly part and parcel of the Praetorian Guard to do so. Look at what happened to Galba. If that means nothing to you then spend the few seconds it takes to remedy that. Well done, you have learned something.”
            When pushed as to the possible reasons behind such a conspiracy Mitchell, with his matt black eyes never flashing, sneered like every bully he had ever suffered to reply, “It’s what Rome is all about. Conspiracy, battles with that oaf that looks a bit like, but isn’t, Daniel Craig, orgies, and a lot of nipples. Not architecture, a body of laws, or ensuring that fascism however worrying will always be so in shorts. Oh no, or Latin of course. A dead language with more life in it than a big bag full of Dracula at a goth pub when it’s unhappy hour with anything with black in it two for the price of one. But nipples, and conspiracy, and actresses you remember from other things ten years ago, with their nipples. The Praetorian Guard have probably been watching HBO’s Rome series. Which is pretty much EastEnders for us. In Rome.  Hence the conspiracy, because let’s face it, no one wants to see my nipples and least of all me. I have never seen my own nipples, and nor then will you.”
            Mitchell further wished to play down the announcement that Emperor Cameron intends to ‘stand behind’ his colleague. “Because it’s Rome, so you all assume by that, that what he really means, is that he intends to bum me. Because that’s just Rome as far as you’re concerned isn’t it? Although off screen, or at best camply alluded to by Frankie Howerd. Because when you sit there waiting for the inevitable gay love scene what you actually want to demonstrate how very liberal and enlightened you are is Xena being incapable of washing herself without the benefit of several much younger slave girls,” said Mitchell. Then, “Although that’s the other one.”   

Saturday 22 December 2012

Black Tie, White Mischief. 193?

They would dress for dinner if cast adrift in the lifeboats, so still steaming safely to Africa there should have been no excuse. That there was at all was entirely down to my surprising new ally in Henry Lord Rockingham. He says, “Unless black die is tailored it’s worse than...” he makes a pretence of looking for the words before deciding upon, “...You.”
            The men are all in dinner jackets, their patent leather shoes shine, and their wives all alike a branch of gaunt birds stare at me either aghast or amused. Now it’s pointed out to me I can see what Henry means. Formal dress looks very smart, it even suits two of them at the table and one of those is in uniform. I smile at that last in neat red and black. What other job lets you marry in your work clothes? The others either saw their tailor in younger years or bought from the peg, and it doesn’t work as well as they believe. I’m in my usual scruffy layers, and not even the scruffy layers of the time; the father’s suit and stud collar, cap and boots. I have the boots but the Dutch don’t even have paratroopers yet.
            “Are you a pirate? I would have suggested a brigand,” one game old bird says, “But here we are at sea.”
            Henry laughs. “This is Mr. Morgan. He’s a friend of a friend. You must excuse his appearance; he ‘s from the future don’t you know.”
            “The Kent Morgans, farmers?” the old bird asks.
            “Lambeth mostly, music hall.”
            The military gent guffaws, the old bird nods as if time travel is a more preferable explanation. They’re all returning to Africa and being the last of the Empire they’re all proudly dotty. They’re more English than the English but spending their lives far from England they’re both at once set twenty years in its past, and to my ear at least twice that looking to the years ahead.  They talk in their own patois; clipped public school that easily includes phrases from both their own Swahili and others that have spread amongst them from across that continent and through India. They don’t have a look at anything, they have a shufti.  A funny smell is a funk. They say okay, and it rhymes with rocky. It’s a public school version since for most the schools they boarded at were very much their only experiences of England at all. And they all freely admit they’re dotty. Now and then they slip into Swahili without noticing it at all. Curiously they would all consider it presumptive for an African to speak English and so they all speak a half-dozen languages. I presume it’s Swahili. I speak only a little German and bar-Spanish.
            I am seated beside the military gent and opposite the old bird. Henry’s acceptance of me is encompassing. When I admit that I am a writer and an occasional sketcher they all seem much happier. Long hair, dresses like a rogue, needs a shave; all very Bohemian. And as I say they’re all rather dotty too. It’s their nature, their lives, being so very English so very far from home they all go a little strange and are comforted by those that are likewise. It’s not all white mischief with needles and anything-goes, far from it. The military chap, a major by his epaulettes, is a fierce exponent of naturalism. He is very proud of his scratchy little wife whom he introduces with a cannon-flare of a smile, pointing out her fine chest despite her spare frame. “Not dropped more than an inch in ten years,” he tells me, adding that all that attention from the late King (Edward I presume) must have worked some sort of magic. He calls it the ‘royal issue’. He thinks that hilarious and laughs in the manner of a man telling his favourite joke for the hundredth time. His wife laughs gently with him not at all put out.
            “From the future?” asks the old bird.
            “Oh, you mustn’t pay any attention to Henry,” I say.
            She however has, “Do you travel here often?”
            I admit that I don’t. It’s not quite as others do. I at times slip into my former lives, usually at some pinch point. I’m about to enter my third cycle as it were, that’s where I’m going to now. Events repeat themselves and whilst I don’t always remember I do recognise certain things. And that in itself is rare enough. It’s far more common for me to slide, which is sidewise. I realise she is only being polite, so stop.
            The major noticing a gap in the conversation gallops in. “There’ll be war soon,” he says with a bounder’s-relish.
            He snorts at that. “Have you seen the steerage passengers?” I have not of course and say so. He nods, “Italian girls. They’re being sent to Abyssinia to keep their chaps happy. It’s a very unpopular war. They all think it’s a jolly little adventure down there. That won’t last.”
            “So is this when you were younger?” the old bird, ignoring the new conversation, persists with the last.
            “Hardly, I was born in the 1960s,” although only just.
            “So then?”
            “I don’t know,” I admit. “There is a me that travels more at will, but even then not much further beyond that point. That me never had to grow up though. It’s all still sixth-form politics and enjoying himself. I can’t fault any of that. I’m lucky in that I don’t dislike how I was, whenever that might have been. Indeed at times I suppose I find myself having to live up to it. I know people that dismiss their past, even sneer at their former selves. Silly really, I was very good at being a young man, somewhat less so at being middle-aged. Where I’m going now I’ve been treading the same circle for ten years and the footprints worn in it are like inverse stepping stones. I’m going to break the loop. Or rather, the loop has been broken.”
            She understands politely. “But not for yourself? I know your type, young man. There’re a lot like you, though perhaps not enough. You see yourself as honourable. The ends do not justify the means, there is no greater good? There is however right, and wrong.”
            “I had a conversation about that very recently.”
            “That doesn’t surprise me. I would suppose it helped.”
            It did. I say, “I have a daughter. Or two, rather. But the one needs me. She is... odd, and given she can rarely cope with a change to mealtimes what is coming will break her. Or it would, or will, so she needs me. It is none of my doing, but what comes next will be. A pinch point as it were. But things repeat, there are patterns. I am sorry, this must all seem like very small potatoes. Things are going to get very much worse for you, all of you, here and now. It’s all a matter of perspective.”
            The old bird looks at the soup that we have been served. She says, “And being here you have gained that perspective?”
            “You should have your hair cut.”
            I laugh at that. “Last man standing,” I say.
            There is a knock on the door. The hills are dark outside the window. I feel happier than I have done for days.  It’s all a matter of perspective and I need reading glasses.      

Friday 21 December 2012

Mayans, Witches, and the Sunday Papers

Ancient Britain. 90% less great works of masonry, 30% perkier tits.
We'd still choose the tits.

The world ended today, probably, or at least that’s the internet gossip as a thousand kittens can’t spell the jokes that have flowed. Across the country, probably even a chunk of the world (though obviously not those bits where the world might very well end any moment) a lot of people are feeling rightfully smug because an ancient civilisation might, or might not, have got a prediction wrong. Those ancient people, eh? What a bunch of dicks. I have to assume that’s the case because I’ve not actually looked into the source of it all. I don’t have to; the internet is being superior for me.
            It’s worth pointing out that I rather appreciate modern life. The strident advances in medicine get my support every time. The ‘net is a wonder that would have been pure fantasy only a few years ago – or at least to me, because I wasn’t born tech savvy and so admit that I never actually knew it was coming years before it did. The spread of information, the potential for imagination and creativity that needs an outlet has one, and it certainly beats the old days when in order for people to be hateful and awful about absolutely anything then even a megaphone in the back garden at 3am didn’t quite cut it.
I lived for several years near Stonehenge. On the bus people would be disappointed when they came close to it. It did not impress them, being stones, in a field, and without any form of interaction other than being able to look at them. They impressed me. Not because they are a mystical relic of some matriarchal warrior society but like a festival and with adequate birth control (that never existed, sorry witch-fetishists). Nor because they were raised by aliens, because... fuck aliens. No, because, well, you do it. When the best tools you have for shaping rocks are other rocks and the best way of moving rocks is with logs it all took some doing. They did not have the wheel. You would not have had the wheel either. We might have been the ones to push the bloody thing. Mostly we would have died horribly or lived with constant toothache. The past would have been a bit shit.
            But we can respect it. How were the pyramids raised? By very clever engineers and skilled artisans. I couldn’t do it. And hey, I can light a fire, I can even hunt – albeit rabbits. I’ve got a country-boy’s eyesight in the dark and since I don’t stalk anybody that’s only of any real use when I have to walk home from nearby-town in the dark where there are no streetlights. Which is always. And I own a torch. A manly Lenser. So hurray for the modern world, truly!
            So the world did not end. And since I haven’t actually looked it all up I don’t know if it was ever supposed to. But don’t let that get in the way of an easy dig at silly people that were good with stone. At least they had coffee and chocolate, so presumably somewhere nice to sit wondering when someone was going to get around to inventing the newspapers.
            Aliens, probably.   

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Parquet Marquesa

They would so insist on screaming, it rather stained the moment she thought. The Marquesa thought in future she would have the hunters gagged. Or at least castrated and trained to protest any injury as sweetly as those that serenaded her frequent conquests in the bedchamber. The Marquesa was a magnificent lover but did so abhor company. She voiced the suggestion to Parallarap, who as her formal Palindrome attended to her every word (and who exercised it most often without her speaking so much as a syllable).
            He said, “I fear Marquesa that few picaroons would accept your kind and beneficent offer in order to hunt these lordly forests. They are, as a breed, much attached to their genitals.”
            Finding her wishes unlikely, she forgot them instantly. She had been the Marquesa for nearly two hundred years now and consummate to that position was rewarded daily with the waters that maintained her youth - her mind especially. She was a spoiled, vain, and petulant woman having excelled as a girl the highest expectations of her tutors in all three. She had won prizes for the first two and a very fine medallion for the last, conceived (and presented) in all cases by and to herself. “I hope they do not hurt my pets,” she said.
            Parallarap made a small gesture, “The picaroons have been brought here to hunt them, Marquesa?”
            “They have been brought to a hunt, si,” she agreed. She tapped a finger upon her chin. From their perch they could see much of what occurred, reflected on mirrors so that where an inconvenient tree barred the hunt the stalking and sudden fighting could be seen cast upon a panel elsewhere. She did so love Broceliande with its great trunks and canopy, its bushes neat and orderly. At still absolutely not quite two hundred years old her memory was not what it was. And there was little room in it for anything other than herself. Nonetheless she did recall that all the flora here had been grown and nurtured from examples discovered in one of the many wrecks that provided so well for the Marquesa and her hated peers (who were also her closest friends). Like so much of anything of age that actually worked now it was the French that had grown the forest, forcing back the horrid vines and blooms that still crowded hot and jumbled across the rest of the island. It had doubtless been they that had named it. But it had been the Marquesa that had improved it. Even now she ignored the gardeners and landscapists that worked despite the hunt to ensure that Borceliande was a proper, nice sort of forest. In one set of mirrors she spied two picaroons attempting to fire at one of her pets with their wands. She giggled, “Silly boys.”
            A picaroon had the absolute right, indeed the necessity if one was to enjoy that status, to maintain wand and bodkin. The wands each unique and that fired by means of gas compression a dart or pellet to convey a toxin quite as harmful as any arrow. At least that was, to people. Stood on the lower deck of their platform her own protectors bore similar arms though of more uniform appearance and some of which, she suspected, carried a venom that would instead drop one of her pets should it be so naughty as jump up at her. In the mirror she imagined she could see where even had the pellet penetrated the hide of her pet it would leave hardly a scar. Elsewhere she saw how three picaroons, quite against type, had banded together to fight one of her pets, their bodkin blades outward but still held as if to compete with a man. Such bodkins and wands doubtless robbed the picaroons of every wooden cog they earned. There would be purse of which for each that lasted the hour here today.
Metal was terribly rare in Parquet. It only came with the wrecks and the tides. A picaroon with more than wand and bodkin would wear theirs proudly as buckle or broach, if at all. Bone and glass made up buttons, spoons and hooks amongst the common dregs of Parquet, she had heard. The Marquesa thinking this adjusted the butter-supple copper of her toga and admired the sheen of her delicate brass, steel and silver shoes. She had many shoes.
            Bells rang. The ring of glass and the single deep chime of iron. From below her perch servants dashed out and into the trees. In the mirrors the Marquesa watched as funnels forward they pumped spurts the yellow dust that drove back her pets, stinging them and announcing at the same time that their supper was ready in the kennels. She smiled at her pets as they jumped away, their flanks striped and in places feathered. Their snouted heads and their bright, quick eyes, most hearing the bells had already danced away before the powder came and to be first to their treats.
            “I am already bored,” she said to her Palindrome.
            “There is a great deal of duty arrayed before you, Marquesa,” said Parallarap with only a little hope.
            “I am sure that is for tomorrow?”
            “You are of course entirely correct, Marquesa. Today I find instead to be the one day anniversary of the festival of new shoes,” he said.
            The Marquesa clapped her hands together, “Excelente!”

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Top Gear Leaving Europe Special

New plans have been unveiled to answer the call for England to leave Europe.
            Reacting to pressure brought through comments by on every news story on Yahoo (ever) the Prime Minister is rumoured to be announcing a historical break with the continent in the new year. Such plans go back many years of course, with the erection of giant propellers across anywhere in the British Isles (that previously had a good view) now having reached a sufficient number to propel Britain like a colossal swamp buggy about the globe. The idea is said to have come from Live And Let Die, or The Man With The Golden Gun, or Roger Moore anyway – whichever one it was where Bond flew around in a swamp, raft, buggy thing. Unless that was a speedboat (and I quote).
            The monumental cost of the project to move Britain out of Europe and into another continent has been offset by the whole being filmed as the central theme of this year’s (still under wraps) Top Gear special. In the two hour spectacular Jeremy Clarkson grumbles mightily about Europe, Richard Hammond falls off things and won’t eat the food, and in a surprise win for James May the home-counties are moved in a small circle with the aid of the world’s largest elastic band.
            It only remains for the Government to decide which continent Britain will eventually tie up to (and which is not Europe). A further rumour persists however that in the event of none of them being quite right Britain will ‘form its own continent somewhere not too hot, and preferably in the past’.
            Also, we won the cricket.

Sunday 16 December 2012


Like anything of value to him he had lost all hope at sea. His rescue owed nothing to it, it was either fate or a curse that saw him here now; and there was no such thing as fate. It might have been better had the sea taken him too. Or perhaps it had for there was something of the sea story about the den. Dick knew it was 1860, though here it was the year tree scented ducks.
            “Frog,” said his benefactor, Truly.
            “They make most things, do the frogs,” she said. Her accent was the sort of soup that never ran out as each day whatever was to be had was added with more water to the pot. Something Spanish, something of the French, and even a little Dutch (though they spoke in English). Each word smoothed into the next, all the rough edges worn down by so much use and none of the languages her first. “Including time, and certainly the years,” it was an accent that crossed the world and one not unfamiliar to Dick. He had heard it in ports, aboard ship, anywhere that travellers gathered and crossed. And yet quite to the contrary everything he had seen so far suggested quite the opposite. This city, this island, this ‘Parquet’ as it was called kept its people jealously. There had been much here before, but there had been a Parquet for just a little more than three hundred years he had learned. The years descended from then. Trois cent un deux as they called it in the grander quarter Truly had named the Rules. Here in the Delves that made it tree scented ducks. Words were stale bread; they took the shape of the mouth the more they were chewed.
            Dick found by a fishing smack had been brought to Parquet. It’s old harbour overhung by the green rock upon which whose palaces and grandeur he had seen no closer once tossed to the quay with the lobsters. Here, and there was no sunlight. These were the Delves and they stank. And the Delves he had heard were by no means the worst places to be. Truly picking at the catch had picked at Dick. They drank a sour spirit from tiny cups. It tasted of burned paper. She had paid for the bottle with three wooden coins, well milled and thick varnished. The varnish had gone green. The spirit was foul and the light from the fish oil lanterns with their cracked glass cast fractures across the den.
There were only another two like Truly that Dick could see here. Their coats a better cut than the rogues that otherwise crowded, sang, boasted and sneered at one another (though the cut and the cloth made for someone else and shiny at breast and elbow). Those rogues stood apart from Truly not only for the poorer quality of their stained garments, the attempts at bow and frippery that Truly did not concern herself with, but because each and every one of them was armed.
            “They think of their selves as pirates?” said Dick quietly.
            “Picaroons,” Truly said the word with a flourish of her hand. “And once, si, they were pirates. Or not they, but they that were first such a thing. Above and our laws might change daily, but certain tradicion may not change. Picaroons were a part of what made our Parquet. These are those that have chosen that life. They may have either the long wand,” she mimed one of the each-unique guns that most wore at belt or in sash, “and the short bodkin,” this to the sword all possessed and again rarely with two alike. “Or the short wand and the long bodkin. Also you will note the hat? Their hats are very important to them. What wealth they have goes upon their arms, their hats, and the importance of living an outwardly very fine life. They are consequently almost always extremely poor. They might not eat for a day, but they should be seen to drink very well. You should not offer them offence, though not being of their kind they would mostly ignore you. You could not defend yourself and the price of a wound handed down by the Jug would be beyond most of their means.”
            He tried not to stare at them. Men and women, all shirts and britches, bows and sash, ribbons and ornamentation, and of course the very fine hats that could serve no better purpose other than to simply be that. Dick said, “There is war?”
            “There is work for one that would fight, si,” admitted Truly. “And work is what we should put you to. You must eat. You must have the wherewithal to at least take a rope for the night upon which to lean. You are a sailor?”
            “A whaler!” Dick corrected, the distinction was important to him.
            “There is no sailing here.”
            “But the smack that brought me here?”
            “Is owned by those that saved you, and sold you,” she added, “to me. And you must work. If you fall away then you shall be made to work, and for no purse, and that is a trap that once fallen into whose sides are very steep.” Dick thought on that. He made to answer only for Truly to forestall what he had to say with a raised hand. “No,” she said. “Whatever skills you might believe you possess are in the hands of others, of the Ordre. You must, my friend, start at the very most bottom. And what flows there, and from there?”
            “I work for you?”
            “Si, indeed you already do. You look strong enough, so tell me – have you ever shovelled shit?”    

Saturday 15 December 2012

Ghost Writer

I was astonished on my return to find the following waiting for me –‘

Dear, sir?
I say sir because I make that presumption from your pieces. Forgive me if that is otherwise, miss, or mrs. I write because my daughter Anne found my name here, I thought I had been entirely forgotten (which might not indeed be in any way a very bad thing) and it is her account I use to contact you. I am very flattered by what you have written about what were at the time first simple exercises in what we considered then to be a very new wave in art. Later of course it was a means to an end, and I had many debts, and the habit of making more whenever I managed to ruin those I had by paying them! If you have any particular questions I would be very pleased to answer them though you should be aware that I have no use for computers myself and like a letter left at my old address they will reach me whenever I see Anne, which is not as often I find at my age as I would like.
Regards to yourself and your friend Rob,
GD (Holbourne)
PS. You should know that whilst your picture of the foul MF Luther does not resemble the young man that inspired the character I now find I cannot remember him at all and now can only conjour your own image to mind! Please take that as a compliment.

Slide - Frayed String

A twist of dirty string.
            “Back then?”
            Strictly speaking, no. There are times when the slides slip only a little. You know the way it works; there are pinch points in all our lives. I’ve not long slipped back and I surprise myself to remember that I have at all. That’s important I think. It’s also unusual in that by now the threads that make up the string have twisted back together so much that I don’t think about the string at all. Or I wasn’t till now when there’s an inch of twine been left on the table.  It’s because I’ve made no decision, and the pinch point is still here. I have clear choices. I went away to get perspective.
This is something new. This slide is very similar to the last I knew and the changes if subtle are ridiculously profound. For the first I’m not looking forward to Christmas at all. That is so unusual I might as well be on another planet entirely.
“So what will you do?” Mme Roux doesn’t really care. She’s reading a copy of The Yellow Book. Beardsley is so beyond the current troubles that any symbolism is lost on me.
“Stay, go, or leave for good.”
Mme Roux nods. She looks up at last. She smiles, “Fight?”
“Too much collateral damage, as I think is still the current way of saying it?”
She doesn’t agree. She knows I don’t. She says, “Nothing that happens is now your responsibility. You have no blame to take. A choice forced upon you is a consequence of they that make you.”
“Very profound,” I don’t think.
“It is. You have honour. You have a strong moral code. The only person that may adequately judge you darling - is you. You can stay, because that is the right thing to do. You will suffer for that, because it is not the right thing for you from a choice where the wrong thing is not of your making. You can go, because that is the right thing for you. You can leave because that is always your choice, your right. I think you will stay.”
“I have not decided,” and I haven’t. I would always do the right thing, but here that is to give way to a tiny, small sort of tyranny. That is to be manipulated, to do what is right in the face of what is wrong. That is to condone villainy, however slight that might be. That is indeed to give way to a threat; and I never do that.
“You’ll smile, and you’ll nod but you can go one of three ways,” says Mme Roux. She rises to find the kettle. She hasn’t much of a facility with plugs. Not with kettles which should sit upon a gas ring. She calls back from the kitchen, “And what is the limitation of time in all this?”
“You perceive I think why I remember certain things?”
“I do,” she says before adding, “Clever boy.”