Monday, 28 September 2009

Women, equality and brunettes

Women have been culturally, socially, economically, mentally suppressed by men for centuries. Aren't they expecting too much for all this to disappear in 40 odd years?

I was reading something today which highlighted how far women still have to go to acquire equality in, at least, Western democracies. In a lot of places around the globe they have even further to go; a lot further!

Despite enacting rafts of legislation, which make it illegal to discriminate against people based on gender, race, physical condition, age and/or the distance from your crotch to the ground, it hasn't actually seemed to have changed very much, in some respects it may have made matters worse. What it has done is drive the discrimination 'underground'; made it more subtle (sort of). Don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting we repeal the legislation, it is necessary. What I puzzle about is: how do you change men's attitudes at a fundamental level and could it be done in the forty or so years since Dworkin, Millett, Greer et al first waved their bras in the air and demanded equality. (And no, that last remark is not sexist, it was the feminists themselves who used the slogan and it was meant to be extreme, being moderate seldom gets you anywhere.)

You see, the legislation is constantly being undermined by the media, the advertising industry. They continue to bombard their audience with a host of insinuations which simply perpetuate pre-1960s attitudes. Why are woman constantly referred to by their hair colour? As though this were their most important feature? Why does no word exist in English for a brown-haired man? Blond? Simply co-opted for men as it is the name of the hair colour, not a noun to denote the individual who is blond (adjective) as 'blonde' is. (The 'e' is there because that's what you do in French to denote an adjective defining a feminine noun and therefore the form of the noun you 'make' from the adjective becomes feminine.) Why do we not refer to men as 'a Brun'? Not too mention that brunette is a diminutive, a 'little brown (haired individual). And why don't the media talk of men as 'baldy'. Well they do, but only when trying to insult. Why does it not occur to them that brunette is just as insulting as baldy?

Well, unfortunately they do understand. Only too well!

Why is women's underwear still advertised on perfect '8's (don't know what the equivalent size is in the US) with long legs and no waist? Um, this is not the bulk of your buyers, guys. No, it's intention is (a) to make size 14 women who may have a gained a few inches over the years, haven't we all, feel inadequate but also to make them feel that if only they bought Sloggi underwear, Pretty Polly stockings or a Triumph Wonderbra, they'd suddently recapture an allure they've been deliberately made to feel they've lost and (b) to sexually tittilate men! Advertising hoardings are the modern day equivalent of the renaissance nude. The artist who created the painting in 1520 may have felt they were saying something about the essential nature of beauty but the men who bought them were most definitely not buying, commissioning, them for their intellectual worth! The sixteenth century's answer to hard core pornography was the nude! Just ask John Berger!

As MG may have made clear when he ruined my blog earlier in the year, it is hard for him to 'buy in' to such an idea since as a 'victim' of a sort of 'discrimination', it is hard for him to see others as anything else than simply other human beings; not male, not female, not Christian, not Muslim, not black, not white, just another person.

But western society doesn't want him to behave like that. It wants to plant ideas in his head that conform to whatever it is the 'ruling class' believe he should believe. And the ruling class is not the government nor the aristocracy. It is the vested interests that are neither elected nor accountable, for anything! Until you change them, or divest them of their power, you will change nothing at a fundamental level and change at a superficial level is not worth the paper it is not printed on.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

We've got spam, eggs and spam, spam and eggs and spam

What? Sorry, eggs is off!

If you have a web presence, you get spam all the time. It's the price you pay for exposing yourself to the bots and spiders that make their vast, intricate way around the myriad different spaces that make up the web. Most times I don't even open them, even the ones I originally signed up for; I just drop them in the trash. I am not sure why this one intrigued, but it did and it's the best since the lovely Elena last year; it has profoundly affected the way I look at attempted phishing scams (which this clearly is). The message reads:

"- From the Desk Of MR. LORD ADAIR TURNER CHAIRMAN, FINANCIAL SERVICES AUTHORITY (FSA). It has come to our notice via our central monitoring computer that a huge fund has been credited in your name for transfer with a London Bank. Under the stipulated enabling Law of the Government of Great Britain and Wales and other Commonwealth States, any huge fund that has been found in ourcomputer system waiting to be transferred without claims for a period of 6 months or less,shall be confiscated and forfeited to the Government of Great Britain and Wales.We do hereby ask you to contact this office immediately for ratification within the 3 days of this notice or consider your fund confiscated. We appreciate your urgent co-operation. Respond to my alternative; MR. LORD ADAIR TURNER. CHAIRMAN, FINANCIAL SERVICES AUTHORITY (FSA).LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM DIRECT TELEPHONE: (44) 7024020559"

Now this is such uninformed claptrap, it almost beggars belief; whatever happened to Great Britain and Northern Ireland? When did Wales acquire its 'elevated' status? Why would someone who purportedly works for the man not know that 'Mr' is a no-no? It's 'Lord Turner' or 'Adair Turner, Baron of Ecchinswell' not all of it run together like some German portmanteau word, dummies! And three days notice? Even the current British Government wouldn't enact such draconian legislation; my solicitor would have a field day! The FSA doesn't monitor that stuff anyway, the Bank of England does; and why doesn't he have a address like everyone else? Why is it in Hong Kong?

But you see, they don't want vaguely intelligent penguins like me replying, do they? They know I'm going to ask questions about why they need my login credentials to transfer money TO me. They know I'll just ask them to send me a cheque and I'll bank it. So all of this is not, as you might think, to make it all sound legit. It's there to ensure that whatever replies they do receive come from the immensely stupid, naive or just plain toooooo greedy.

Think how that must cut down on the overhead. No tying up valuable time on the phone 'non-answering' relevant questions, no running up expensive mobile (cell) phone bills. Why pull resources away from your next scam when you can get the audience to self-select? Works for iTunes!

Nonetheless, it made me chuckle. A rare occurance in these troubled times.

I dropped past someone's blog today and found this about a 'relationship', "Why do I care?" The relationship is 4 days old, is a kind of teacher/underachieving pupil one, and is no doubt merely one of many formed in the last few days. So why care? Is that merely the only instance or are there others and, if there are others, why that one?

It's strange sometimes the bonds we form, penguin or human. What makes one penguin or human of more concern to us than another? And why? What makes the initial connection that ties us to them rather than another? It cannot be just their situation or cicumstances or we would feel the same way about similar individuals in similar circumstances. (I am disegarding sexual attraction here since it has no place in the discussion. Of itself, it will provide all the incentive for 'caring' required; there could be a pay off!;)

It's not that we don't care about the others, it's just for some reason we don't care as much.

Now it would be nice, I think, if we could postulate a concrete, biological reason for this; pheromones, body language, neural wiring in either brain but I cannot believe that it is so simple or could be so simple.

They say, you fall in love with someone in seconds, at most minutes (I know I do. I was attracted to the convent schoolgirls even before I knew it, although not before the nuns who would spot it weeks before I even knew it might be there :), otherwise why would you waste your valuable time and effort in investing that time and effort in trying to develop the relationship; it would be just one of many,wouldn't it? Of no more import than any other. (I am also disregarding 'blood ties' here as well, for pretty much the same reason as sexual attraction. There are other forces at work there which have little to do with mutual attraction. I DO NOT HAVE AN OEDIPUS COMPLEX, right?)

So what is it? It can't be physical, we form relationships with people or penguins we have never met, never seen, never smelt, although the bond is often closer if we have. So what, then?

As an atheist, I find it difficult to talk about or write about my SOUL but in one sense it's the only word that will do. We, for the most part, if we are honest with ourselves, open up a window on who we are, what we are, what or who we would wish to be and who or what we have been. If the other person has eyes to see, we are as transparent as the shop fronts at Macey's or Harrods. It is this that attracts, makes us care. When we see WHO is in front of us, not the WHO that they present to the world.

Anyone who has ever been through difficult times, for whatever reason, wants the world to care. But we don't want the text book care. We want them to really care. Only those who make it past the shop front can ever be of any use. And yes, that is selfish but are we not all selfish? We live to survive, else there is no tomorrow. And when others see through our windows, as we wish them to do, is it not then beholden on all of us to try to see through as well, as best we may?

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Fare Well Anora!

"The long expected day arrived on Friday. After months of: 'Is it on'? 'Is it off'? 'Has it stalled?' 'Do we need to jump start it?' the lovely Anora finally gave away her last free drink, her last free food; finally gave up trying to make a precarious living in a stagnating economy and shut up shop. The bar will re-open on Monday, same as usual, same booze, same food, same decor, though my Ruppel's Griffon will have gone from the wall, same staff but it won't be, can't be, the same place. And in a month or two, even the staff will have moved on; it will not be the same place for them either.

Strange, the effect one person can have, ay?

It is always difficult to express why one bar/pub is preferred over another. It is seldom the quality of the food or the variety of the booze on offer; there are intangibles at work here which are not just down to the character/persona of the people behind the bar. It is more to do, I think, with the character of the bar itself, which the owner/staff only in some way contribute. It is their ability to attract similar kinds of people which lends the place its 'atmosphaer', its sense of being a place where, whoever is there, there will always be someone this side of the bar who shares a common interest, a topic of conversation, which is not sport.

For certain the absence of a TV or satelite deterred the more moronic, interested only in the latest football or the test at the Oval, and attracted a more discerning crowd, a crowd more interested in talk, discussion, debate than on watching Thierry Henri slot another one past the goalkeeper. It was a place where what you paid for lunch was arbitary, though never more than the 'real price'; a place where you asked for another brandy to drown the sorrows and a bottle would be set on the table with the words, 'help yourself I'm going upstairs for a cigarette!' Who will now get me my Krug from the cash and carry?

There was much alcohol induced merriment that night but such an underlying current of sadness at the loss of what had been so familiar and this was not cured by the attempt of all and sundry to reduce the stock taking exercise on the Monday to the bare minimum (I went for the Maker's Mark and when that ran out started on the JD - I'm nothing if not consistent. That was after the champagne of course. I well remember when JD was such a rarity in UK pubs; mind, no-one still stocks Old Granddad, overproof or otherwise!)

I went in for lunch today and it was already different. True, D is still there's strange to see a male behind the bar. It's only half the bar it was. When D has gone, as she will be, it will no longer be the place I spent every lunchtime for five years and I will have to find another way to spend that hour of the day. Even the space on the wall where the Griffon used to be spelt the end!

So Anora,

For all the cheap food, thank you!
For all the free booze, thank you!
For leaving, only tears!

Good luck, Daisy, whatever and wherever and however you choose to do!"

It would, I think, be easy to consign this to the over-sentimental bin. But MG is seldom so emotional. Humans always find change hard to deal with, perhaps we should have some compassion here. Fat chance! :)

Sunday, 16 August 2009

St Francis, a dog and redemption

The words are mine, the idea, Karel Capek's. I here recreate a pale simulacrum of an out of print story by the author of R.U.R. and War with the Newts. It is done out of respect not cheating. This comes nowhere close to Kapek's prose, even in translation, but the idea is so endearing.

It is a feeble effort but perhaps it will move.

The farmer paused to mop his brow with the soiled towel hanging from his belt. Wiping his forehead and cheeks, he rubbed his naked chest, tanned to the colour of tree bark in the summer sun, and then his arms and, as he folded the towel back into his belt, gazed into the distance along a winding path that led from his smallholding to the next. As he peered at the panorama spread before him, he made out a small figure; a figure the colour of the earth from which the farmer ground out a meagre existence for his wife and family.

“Another mendicant friar,” he thought. As if life were not precarious enough in these foothills with never any certainty that there would be food on the table for those he loved, hours of backbreaking toil in the baking sun from dawn until dusk and beyond; and these friars had the cheek to beg from him! He, who had too little of almost everything, and too much charity. “There is little to complain about, I suppose,” he muttered to himself. “To devote oneself to God, to willingly dispossess oneself of all that is desirable in this world, a wife, children, a place, however small, that one might call one’s own; to do this for the love of God is perhaps a truly wond’rous thing deserving of our charity. For although I love my God with all my heart, this I could not do, and I hope He does forgive me for this.”

The image of the friar grew larger in his sight and he began to discern details: the straw, wide-brimmed hat, which cast a long shadow across his face; the aquiline nose, a rudder steering the friar along his course, along the strait but winding road to salvation. Dust lay thick and heavy around the plain brown cassock, a cord loosely knotted around his middle, the underarms stained a deep brown, almost sepia.

“Come, wife! Bring some food for we have a guest,” the farmer called loudly towards the hovel he called home. A plump woman with long, flowing, black hair appeared in the doorway, a small raven-haired child hanging at her breast. “Bring water too,” the farmer called. “He will no doubt be thirsty and wine, though cheaper, these friars will not take, except at mass!” The farmer’s wife disappeared from whence she came just as the friar approached the gate.

“Hail to you, child of God!" the friar called. "Would you have a crust perhaps to share with an itinerant friar who has yet to break his fast this day though I have been many hours on the road since dawn did first break? It is of no matter if the crust be stale and, perhaps, a flagon of water?” The farmer smiled. “Come, father, we will share what little we have.” The friar opened the gate and stepped up to the farmer and grasping his hand declared: “God bless you, my son! You shall reap many rewards in heaven for the kindness you show.”

“You have a name?” the farmer asked. “Brother Francis, I am called by my brethren and Francis of Assisi by others.” the friar replied. It wat at this point that a small dog, whippet like, its ribs starkly outlined against its chest, hearing the friar's soft voice, crept from behind a barrel, its tail between its legs, its head bowed in submission. The farmer raised his fist and lashed out with his boot. “Begone wretched cur! Begone! Do not torment us so, spawn of Satan!” The farmer aimed another kick at the dog. “Brother!” exclaimed the friar. “Do not treat God’s creatures so! It is needless! What can this poor creature ever have done to you that would make you even contemplate such behaviour. He is, like all of our God’s creatures, innocent.”

The farmer’s wife re-appeared in the doorway, a small muslin bag of bread and cheese in one hand, a flagon of water in the other. She hesitated on the small porch, as though in fear. “Get him away from here!” she screamed. The dog cowered behind his barrel, his body shaking as though a fit were upon him. “Sister,” the friar said, “what has this animal done? Why do you punish him so? He is a creature of God, as you are. Why such scorn? He surely cannot deserve your hatred.”

The farmer beckoned to his wife to come to him and the friar who was now kneeling so as to present a less imposing and threatening figure to the trembling animal before him. As she handed the food and water to Francis, the friar could see that she was crying. “You must forgive us, friar," she said gesturing towards the dog. "Although we have no forgiveness for that in us, yet still we ask. He is our dog, these five years past but we cannot bear him to be here, around us, not now. However he will not leave, whatever violence we do him. He runs but ever he returns, whimpering in the shadows. We only wish that he were gone.”

“But he is your friend, my daughter, a creature of God. He was created especially for his devotion and trust. Why do you wish him gone?” the friar asked . The farmer laid his arm across his wife’s shoulder and quietly spoke. “It is my wife's niece. She left home not 10 miles from here to visit us and help my wife with the baby. A comely child and ever willing to help, she was. Her laughter was like unto a trickling stream, ever bubbling. She did not arrive at the appointed hour and although we searched and searched for days, from dawn until dusk, no trace of her did we ever find. Most like, set upon by brigands, or worse. Her loss was felt by all in these hills.” At the sound of his master’s quiet, calm voice the dog once more crept from behind his barrel, his legs bent, scraping the earth with his belly.

“Then three days ago, that wretched cur returned with a bone. It was an arm bone of a child, slivers of her fine new smock still attached.” The friar gasped. “No, friar, we do not think that the dog was responsible, but how could he? How could he do such a thing? To treat our niece’s sacred body so? To return to us with such a thing? Does she not deserve to have a burial, in the sight of God? To know that she has been ripped apart by scavengers!” The friar hung his head. Moving to one side, he looked into the dog’s eyes. “That was not well done, little one. To so defile an innocent child’s body. To so treat one of God’s own children. That was not well done. She was innocent as you were. Come!” Francis held out his hand and proffered some cheese to the cowering dog. Slowly, the dog raised himself from the ground and, quivering, his tail between his legs once more, slowly walked towards the friar.

His head lowered, ears back, the dog slowly fed from the friar’s hand. “There, little one,” the friar softly said, gently stroking the head between the ears. “You were not to know. How could you? We cannot expect the beasts of the earth to command the wisdom of men. Come! I will forgive you, as God will.” As the friar removed his hand from the dog’s head, it was replaced by one smaller, softer, more gentle.

The dog capered around the ankles of the friar, his tail wagging with pleasure, and the friar smiled.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Guitars, Guitarists and luthiers

Now MG and I and I both share a love for guitar music. We both adore Segovia, Paco Pena, Julian Bream, the flamenco of Manitas da Plata through John Martyn, Richard Thompson and onward to Michael Hedges, taking in the pyrotechnics (literally and metaphorically) of Jimi, the enormously expressive Paul Kossoff, Joe Satriani on a melodic day, the three magi, BB, Freddie and Albert King, Robert Johnson, the list is almost endless. Only almost. Steve Vai sucks!

Well he sent me a link to a piece by a French Canadian, Erik Mongrain, called 'Airtap'. Obviously a party piece, but none the less impressive for that. Reminded me of Stanley Jordan the first time I heard him play. The idea that there was a different way to play.

Well the Mongrain video put me into 'search' mode and off I went. It seems that there is a record label in Canada that specialises in the most amazingly gifted guitar players. For your edification, pleasure and amusement, I cobbled together some of what I think are the best. If you were on the original 'global' for Erik you may want to check some of these out. For the guitar freaks watch and listen and be inspired or primed to throw your guitar in the dustbin and go into Albanian zinc; for the non guitar freaks just be amazed :) (If you have an orgasm, it's not my fault, OK? Just clean up the way you usually do. You are used to it by now, I hope!)

First up, Mongrain for anybody that did not get the email (oh those hatrmonics!)

Next up, Antoine Dufour, French Canadian, listen for the 'tap' 5th harmonic after the 12th harmonic in the chorus, so sublime; will only work when the string is 'ringing' with the 12th (or 7th) and bloody difficult (so MG says, I only have flippers/wings!)

Next in line 'Lindisfarne Lullaby' by Andrew White. A perfect title, especially to those of us who hold 'Lady Eleanor' (by Lindisfarne) in our hearts.

For a 'straighter' approach, Rylynn by Andy McKee (the doyen of the label), prodigious technique (and huge hands!)

Classical influence, yep! You will find it difficult to play like this without Andres' technique - overuse of harmonics, yes, but listen to Pujol transcriptions, they're all over the place! I love the way they have integrated a 'classical' formula into a 'groove.'

And the man that started it all, the great Don Moss!

Oh well he didn't! Here's the one and only! The man that proved that you could tap on an acoustic! The late, great Michael Hedges!

Oh OK, classical guitarists have been hammering, pulling off, tapping, for centuries, harmonics, pinch harminics, tap harmonics, you name it, it's been there for ages! Just sometimes, it all has to be relearnt.

Like life!

And Luthiers? They make lutes! Funny how such an old craft should now be applied to the making of their successors :) The old adage is true. A lutenist spends half of his life tuning the lute and the other half playing out of tune! They used to take them to bed with them to try to keep them in tune. Opens up possibilities for a menage a trois, no?

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Dreams, illusions and beautiful cannibals!

I had this from MG the other day:

“They are strange, those worlds of dreams. The places we go when our eyes close and oblivion takes us. And yet, sometimes that oblivion dresses itself in a different suit, a multi-coloured suit, of psychedelia and presents an altogether strange take on the reality that makes up the waking part of our lives.

I do not, on the whole, remember my dreams. Perhaps once a month, often less and many times those dreams are the same or the same but from a different angle, perspective. The same unknown places, the same unknown faces. Is it possible to dream of places you’ve never seen? Faces, people, you’ve never met? Are these amalgams of different experiences which our brains coalesce into new forms or are they in some sense real? Virtual lovers, friends, enemies just waiting for their opportunity to wink into existence when the energy becomes available only to return to their nether world of possibility when the time comes to pay back what has been borrowed from the energy pool of the universe.

I had a strange dream last night. I was in a world of two three-part dioramas. I was in one diorama and all I could see was the other diorama in front of me. Behind me was only solid rock and beyond each part of the diorama to the left and right was nothing.

What was strange was that although I could pass to the left and the right and in front, only the middle section of the diorama I was in, I realized, after some time had passed in the dream, was ‘real’. Everything else was a simulation of reality. I could touch the people, the artefacts, the stone of these simulations and they felt and sounded and smelt real and yet I knew they were just illusions. It was like being stranded on a desert island with nowhere to go but into the sea.

And yet. At one part of the dream an old (malicious and conniving) colleague appeared in the company of a man I do not/did not know. As the unknown man turned and ran, I levelled a rifle with a glass magazine of large ball bearings at my erstwhile colleague and pulled the trigger. The steel ball missed him by a wide margin and followed a trajectory towards the running, unknown man. It missed him too and bounced harmlessly into the sea where it bounced across the ocean like Barnes-Wallis’ bomb or the pebbles we bounce across a lake.

For reasons that I do not know, or at least cannot remember, I pursued the running man stopping every so often to aim a ball bearing at him from my strange metal and glass gun. Each one missed, bouncing wildly into the sea and careering across the ocean in leaps and bounds just as the first one had. Finally as I looked below and saw the top of his head no more than 12 feet immediately below where I was standing, I saw that the magazine was empty.

It was at that point that a strange creature, in the guise of a young woman approached me and offered to guide me back to where I had come from. Reality? I’m not sure. I do not know how I knew that she wasn’t human, such things are seldom explained in dreams, but as she took my hand and raised it to her lips, It was clear that I was going to be dinner! “I will guide you when I have eaten,” she said. “In which case, let me buy you lunch,” I replied. She dropped my hand and we retraced the steps I had taken in pursuit of the unknown man.

We arrived back at the diorama where I had first taken a pot shot at my old colleague but it had changed. It was however the same place. Everything was different but it was the same place. As I stepped from the first part of the diorama into the centre section, I knew that part one with my cannibal guide was but an illusion and the lion sleeping in the cave to my left was likewise unreal, although I tossed him a toy rabbit just in case he awoke and became peckish.

The gift-wrapped presents in front of me in part 3 of this weird diorama were likewise unreal but I unwrapped them nonetheless. Small packets of fruit, blue shelves from Tescos, a chocolate glued to a pretty greetings card, a spray of lavender . As a small woman walked passed me, I do not where she came from, only that she was only about a metre tall and greeted me with a smile, I woke up.

Now I’m sure we could all play amateur Freuds with this one and I am sorely tempted to do so, especially with my carnivorous guide, but I will not. I will leave it as an insight into a diseased mind and hope that one day/night I’ll get to buy my strange little friend lunch!”

Sometimes I do wonder about what all the booze and fags is doing to his brain :)

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Closing Down Sale! Everything Must GO!


Thank you for shopping with American Discount. We hope that you found the experience pleasurable. In order to protect and take full advantage of your investment, please take a few moments to complete the warranty registration and brief questionnaire below. Please complete all parts marked '*'. You do not need to complete the questionnaire but by doing so the information you provide will help us develop new products that will best meet your needs and desires.


Please tick the term(s) that best answers the question for you.

About you:

*What gender are you?

  • Male
  • Female
  • Cross Gender
  • Don't know

*What is your full name..................................................................

*Do you have a code name or alias?

  • Yes
  • No

If yes, what is it?.....................................................................

About your purchase:

*What model of aircraft did you purchase?

  • F14 Tomcat
  • F15 Eagle
  • F16 Fighting Falcon
  • F18 Hornet
  • F117A Stealth
  • A10 Warthog (Thunderbolt)

*Date of purchase: (YYYY/MM/DD).........................................

*Serial Number
(you can find this on the underside of the port wing)


Where was the product purchased?

  • Catalog showroom
  • Independent arms broker
  • Mail order/
  • Discount store
  • Piggly Wiggly
  • Received as a gift/part of aid package
  • Classified

How did you become aware of your purchase?

  • Heard loud noise, looked up
  • Store display
  • Espionage
  • Recommended by a friend/relative/ally
  • Political lobbying by the manufacturer
  • We were attacked by one

Please check the three most important factors that influenced your decision:

  • Style/appearance
  • Speed/maneouverability
  • Price/value for money
  • Comfort/convenience
  • Weapons payload
  • Kickback/bribe
  • Recommended by salesperson
  • Manufacturer's reputation
  • Backroom politics
  • Negative experience opposing one in combat

Please check where this product will be used:

  • Home
  • Office
  • Iraq
  • Iran
  • Georgia
  • Asia/Far East
  • Iraq
  • North Korea
  • Syria
  • Iraq
  • Iran
  • Classified

Please check the products which you own or intend to purchase in the next 12 months:

  • Home cinema
  • iPod
  • DVD recorder
  • Inter Continental Ballistic Missile
  • iPhone
  • 'Killer' satellite
  • Home computer
  • Nuclear weapon
  • Surround sound system
  • Biological weaponry

How would you describe yourself or your organisation? (Tick all that apply)

  • Communist/Socialist
  • Terrorist
  • Crazy
  • Neutral
  • Democratic
  • Dictator/Dictatorship
  • Corrupt
  • Primitive/Tribal

How did you pay for your purchase?

  • Deficit spending
  • Cash
  • Suitcases of cocaine/heroin
  • Oil/gas revenues
  • Personal cheque
  • Credit Card (Please tick, American Express, Diners Club, Visa, Mastercard, other)
  • Ransom payment
  • Traveller's cheques

What is your occupation?

  • Homemaker
  • Sales/marketing
  • Revolutionary
  • Clerical/white collar
  • Mercenary
  • Middle/senior management
  • Tyrant/dictator
  • Manual/Blue collar
  • Retired
  • Defence Minister/General
  • Student

To help us better understand our customers' lifestyle please indicate the interests and activities which you, your spouse and your colleagues engage in on a regular basis (more than four times per year)

  • Golf
  • Boating/sailing
  • Sabotage
  • Running/jogging
  • Propaganda/disinformation
  • Going to the gym
  • Defaulting on loans
  • Gardening
  • Black market/smuggling
  • Collectibles
  • Watching sport on TV
  • Interrogation/torture
  • Playing sport
  • Household pets
  • Espionage/reconnaissance
  • Socialising over a drink
  • Crushing rebellions
  • Arts and crafts
  • Border disputes
  • Eating out
  • Mutually Assured Destruction

Thank you for taking the time to complete this questionnaire. The answers you have provided will help us to help you better in the future. If you do not wish for your details to be passed to other governments, extremist groups, mysterious consortia or other companies then please indicate below.

  • I agree/I do not agree

As a bonus for completing our questionnaire, you will be entered into a sweepstake to win a brand new F22 Raptor stealth fighter bomber, complete with 50 sidewinder missiles and four 'smart' laser guided bombs FREE!

Please note that the F22 will only be delivered after we have developed technologies to counter its threat.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

How much of a bastard can a human being be?

Those of you who know this blog, will know that sometimes I rant against the arrogance of the human race; I am after all at the thin edge of the wedge! But what I learnt today makes you despair of the 'ordinary' human being. Makes you despair of finding solace in the idea that Hitler, Pol Pot, Kim, whether father or son, are aberations, not normal. That the vast bulk of human beings are caring, loving, considerate entities, with compassion, empathy for their fellows.

One of my e-chums is selling her business. It's basically been eating into her assets for a while now and while it's quite successful, things look like they will get worse before they get better and she doesn't want to throw any more money at it in the hope that things will get better. She has a buyer and a fair price and has got guarantees about the staff, who will be kept on. All fine and dandy, no?

Now while she herself is not gay, she attracts gay men, what the gay community call a 'fag hag' (a term of endearment, not an insult). Now a few weeks back, she took one of them to task for potentially embarrasing one of her staff (who is also a friend) with a customer by openly stating something which was not true when the member of staff was not around to defend herself. This seems to me to be quite reasonable behaviour on her part, defending someone who was not there to defend herself. He has, by and large, not spoken to her since. So what does this slug do in retaliation?

Some weeks later, he is talking to the member of staff he'd maligned. Does he apologise for his inappropriate comments? Excuse himself on the basis that he was a little on the 'tight' side? That he was only having a joke, however much in bad taste? No, he tells the member of staff that the reason her boss is selling the business is because of all the mistakes she makes! What? She is the only efficient member of staff in the place! It's difficult to see that it would make any money at all, if she were not at the sharp end. So why would anyone say something like that? Even if it were true? And more especially when it's not?

It's hard for me to see the motivation for this except attempt to sow discord between two people who may be 'boss' and 'staff' but are also friends. To drive a potential wedge between them. The member of staff was obviously upset and raised it with her boss the following day. Despite all the reassurances in the world, you're still going to have that teeny, nagging doubt, aren't you? That maybe, just maybe, even though you tell yourself a hundred times a day that it isn't, can't be true.

I just don't see how someone could sink to that level, can you? Why? Because you've fallen out with a friend so you get back at them by hurting an innocent thrid party? If you're not their friend anymore, you'll try and make sure that no-one else is? It all seems so pointless and even childish. The kind of behaviour that those who know no better might engage in before they learn what the repercussions are. Before they learn that there are acceptable and non-acceptable ways to behave. That you don't spend your life gratuitously stabbing people in the back.

Ah well, you reap what you sow, they say. As much as I hate to say it, I hope they're right!

On a lighter note, I found this about game theory on yesterday. Don't know why but it touched a chord :)

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Orcas, Love, and I will DIE for you!

I was reminded today of something I wrote almost at the beginning of this blog: "Talking of Orcas, Havelock tells a great story about how some killer whales who were wave hunting him and a seal on an ice floe - they swim around creating waves so you end up getting washed off the floe by the waves - washed them both off only to put them back on the floe and do it again. They weren't hunting, they were teaching the youngsters how do it, he said. Havelock says it was the luckiest day of his life and he's never, ever having lunch with a seal again!"

Well I found this today, not brilliant quality but so little on YouTube is! Be amazed!

There's nothing like a little practical demonstration and participation to get your message across to the young ones.

I was thinking about love today :) Not the parental love that adults have for their offspring not the love the offspring have for their parents. This seems to me to be fundamentally different to the love you have for another, unrelated individual. A young child's love, it seems to me, is firmly rooted in instinct. The primeval attachment that young have for their parents, especially their mother. An imprinted love almost. Once acquired during the brief months following birth, it is never lost. It may be altered, it may fade as the child grows into adulthood and they acquire their own children but to lose your love for your parent, or for a parent to lose their love for their child, this is surely an aberation?

No, the love I was considering was the love between unrelated individuals, whether child or adult, whether same sex or different sex. What makes the bond? And how tight is it? While there are quite sound evolutionary and biological advantages to forming lasting pair bonds in a social community, whether as an aid to the survival of the social group or the raising of offspring, is that all it is? Would you steal for love? Would you abandon your parents for love? Would you kill for love? Would you die for love? Most of us, thankfully, will never have to make such a choice but, nonetheless, what would you do?

These are not fanciful ideas. History both recent and ancient, literature both recent and ancient, are littered with examples of the depths people will sink and the heights to which they will rise, in the name of love! Are these people merely deluded? Or are they expressing an emotion which we all share but seldom if ever get the opportunity to express in such a fundamental way. And if we gained the opportunity, how would we react?

Would we admit to a crime we did not commit so that a true, but misguided, friend might go free? Or would we ask that they take reponsibility for their actions? Would it be noble to kill your wife's rapist if as a result of the violation, she took her own life? Or would just one more crime in an indifferent world be sufficient to prevent another? Would you steal because the only thing that made your loved one happy was to shop at Blumingdales? Or would you accept an unhappy partner? Would you ruin a women's reputation just because you wanted her husband so badly it squeezed your heart in a vice? Or would you accept your lot and 'retire to the country'?

You see, I think humans have elevated 'love' to such a pedastal, that anything is possible, and dare I say, acceptable in its pursuit. The French even have a crime on the statute books, called 'crime passionelle', a crime of passion, which invariably means that you CAN GET AWAY with bloody murder!

So, have I ever been in love so much, am I so much in love, that I will die for it? Yes! But I know I am/was misguided!

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Brown, Chaos and Oliver Cromwell

It was nice to finally get the fairy story up, however late! Thank you, MG. Always to be relied on! Actually he did me a favour really because in going through each post before I uploaded it, I was able to add little bits, an adjective here, a sentence there, even a whole scene , which were not there before and they make the drivel marginally better in my very humble, very very 'umble, opinion.

All of the gang managed it back this year but guess what? The tub of lard got himself hitched for the season! Cozy's got an egg to hatch! Ha! Mind you, I think's he's let himself in for a turbulent spring if the past few weeks are anything to go by. He's been pushed, shoved, pecked, brow beaten AND winged and all by this harridan of a penguin who is almost as fat as he is! All Cozy can be heard to say at the moment is "What I do to perpetuate the species!" It's all in a good cause, Cozy!

With no Havelock this year, I thought my blogging might have come to a very rapid close but Sparky and Fricka's sister, Sieglinde, who is not breeding, have offered to help. There was quite a surplus of females and Sieglinde took to none of the males at all this year, well except for me and she knows she can't have me :). They have offered to stay for the winter. "In memory of Havelock," they said. You can tell Fricka's parents were Wagner freaks, can't you? Always in the thick of it when the good Frau Doktorin would give us a blast of 'Der Ring des Nibelungen' to drown out the noise of the wind.

I am so laughing, well cackling would be closer to what I'm actually doing, at what is happening in British Politics at the moment. It is hard to feel sorry for their beleagured Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who plotted and schemed with Tony Blair to ensure an uncontested move in to the leadership role, over which, incidentally, the British people had no say. While Barak bathes in the adulation of an adoring world, 'poor' Gordon is shot full of so many holes that he surely cannot last much longer. Only sheer bloody mindedness can keep him in the pole position surely. To have waited so long to take over the reins and then have the horse shot out from under him; well, one ought to feel sorry for him. But I don't! In fact, I think the only people who feel sorry for him at all, anywhere, are his cronies who stand to lose out on top posts if Gordon falls.

I mean, seriously, how can someone be said to be running the country when 4 of his cabinet resign in two days? How can he possibly survive the 'expenses' fiasco? And with his Chancellor set to go in the next week to be replaced by Gordon's long standing psychophant, Ed Balls, (brilliant name that!) this is turning into a 'trousers down' Whitehall farce. Brian Rix for Prime Minister, anyone? Yes, I know he is dead but he surely, even dead, would be better than Gordon, wouldn't he? The problem, in my estimation, is that he believed his own 'puff'. Riding the crest of an economic wave of prosperity, enjoyed by most of the western world, from the late nineties until the past year or so, he actually believed he was responsible! No, Gordon, it's easy to look good when everyone's doing well and you'd have to be a dingbat to do badly, it's an awful lot harder when things aren't quite so easy! It's what separates the wheat from the chaff.

The only honourable thing to do is resign. "Sorry, guys, I fucked up a wee bit". "I'll go, write my memoirs and get a few directorships." After all, large British companies have a habit of putting incompetants on their boards, witness the last nine months! And what then? Peter 'Mandy' Mandelson? Oh please, if there is a God, he will surely be axed too! Pompous, conniving, unscrupulous, self serving, the list is endless. Do we really want such people running the country? No! Not that the rest, bar a few, are any better but he epitomises all that is rotten about British politics. Another champagne socialist! MG once shared a railway platform with him, standing, silently self important, nose in the air, surrounded by so many dark suited men with bulging armpits, talking into their cufflinks that MG just wanted to push him in front of the incoming train, just for the fun of it!

So, take to the streets, Brits! Reclaim your glorious heritage! Invade France, you haven't done that for a long time! Have fun! In the words of that arch-goat, Oliver Cromwell, as applicable now as it was then "It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonoured by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money; is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? is there one vice you do not possess? ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter’d your conscience for bribes? is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth? ye sordid prostitutes have you not defil’d this sacred place, and turn’d the Lord’s temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress’d, are yourselves become the greatest grievance. Your country therefore calls upon me to cleanse this Augean stable, by putting a final period to your iniquitous proceedings in this House; and which by God’s help, and the strength he has given me, I am now come to do; I command ye therefore, upon the peril of your lives, to depart immediately out of this place; go, get you out! Make haste! Ye venal slaves be gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors. In the name of God, go!

He may have been a warty goat but he could sure deliver a reprimand!

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Another fairy story! Fit the last

The Princess returned to her room to find Melissa sweeping the floor with a long handled besom.

"Welcome back, my sweet,” the maid said. “I had not expected you to return so soon. Come, sit on the bed while I finish my sweeping. Does all go well with you today? How is the King?"

"No Melissa, today has been an ill day," she replied. The Princess vainly tried to smile but the effort was too great. "My father and I are estranged, perhaps forever. I have tried to find it in my heart to forgive him but I cannot. My mother will not let me. I must leave today. I cannot stay, not here. It is all too painful." The maid laid down her besom and wrapped her arm around the Princess' shoulder.

"You must, as we all must, do what you deem is best," she said. "But one so young should not be bereft of both parents, even though only one is truly dead. Can you not find some forgiveness in your heart for our King? He has an onerous task and he has need of your support and your love." The Princess started to weep.

"I have tried, really, I have tried. It will not come," she sobbed. "It will not come! No, I must be away! Perhaps elsewhere I will find some contentment, some peace. Perhaps in time, the pain will lessen?" She paused. "No, I think not. I am sorry that our time together has been so brief, Melissa. I so see my grandmother behind your eyes and I would have liked to see more of her. I have missed her wise counsel these past days but, alas, I shall be gone in little more than hours." She sobbed again, her body shaking. "Come for a visit when you are able,” she continued through her tears, placing her arms around the maid. “If you wish me to pass word to the overseer, I will. I am, after all, still a Princess and I have some rank here. A sojourn in our little village would suit you well, I think. I will leave directions so that you may find my humble dwelling.

"It is doubtless a long way to go and my frail, old body will stand the rigours of travel much less than yours, my lady," the maid replied, a glimmer of a smile across her lips. "And alone? In these troubled times? No, it will be pleasure enough to dream, I think." Melissa wiped the Princess' tears from her cheeks with her forefinger. "Come, my sweet. If you are to be away a-horseback, such finery as you wear now will be ill suited to the journey. Wash and change, while I finish my cleaning; though of little use will it be now."

The Princess washed and changed into the garb in which she had arrived while Melissa finished her final sweepings. When the Princess was satisfied with her attire, she walked across to Melissa and wrapped her arms around her so tightly that Melissa gasped.

"I shall miss you, Melissa," the Princess said.

"And I you, little one," Melissa replied. They both laughed at the self same memory.

"Must we always repeat ourselves?" the Princess asked.

"It would seem so," Melissa softly replied, as the tears fell slowly and openly down her cheeks.

Taking her leave of Melissa, the Princess strode purposefully towards the stables near the gate tower. The walk was not short but eventually she found Bull and Toad waiting in the farrier’s yard, the two roans laden with their saddle sacks and her grey, as before, between.

"Bull and I have been remarking," Toad said, as the Princess approached. "We led them out and that's the position they took up. It would seem that even our mounts are on guard duty!" The Princess laughed.

"So Bull, do you know of an inn we might reach by nightfall?" She asked.

"Do bears defecate in the woods? Begging your pardon, my lady," Bull replied.

It was beyond nightfall when the three riders came upon the sign of ‘The Raven’, the inn Bull had chosen for their overnight sojourn. As they rode through the gate in the wall before the inn, the courtyard within was faintly illuminated by the glow of the lamps hung inside each of the windows and by the faint moonlight which filtered through the thin clouds which hung, as though suspended from heaven on gossamer threads, far above their heads.

The courtyard was bounded by three high walls set at right angles to each other, each with a large arched entrance with thick, wooden gates, which had been thrown back parallel to each wall, and a small postern set into the stonework. The three-storied inn itself made up the fourth boundary.  Bull dismounted from his horse and, drawing his bare sword from his belt, placed it into the scabbard which now hung from his saddle. He gently waved his hand to the right of the inn and the Princess was just able to discern what appeared to be a small stable, set a little way back from the courtyard next to the inn.

“Toad,” Bull said. “Wake the farrier from his slumbers and quarter the horses, if you please; I will go and re-acquaint myself with the innkeeper and find some rations and some beds for this night.”

“It is not the best inn in these parts,” Bull said to the Princess apologetically while Toad dismounted. “However, I know the innkeeper and his wife and they are wont not only to keep their ale fresh and sweet but the food, though plain, is always most handsomely prepared and cooked to perfection. The rooms are small and the beds somewhat hard, which the meagre palliasses do little to lessen, but with ale and good food, this is but a minor, insignificant irritation.”

“I bow to your superior knowledge and wisdom, Bull,” the Princess replied with a grin. “I could care not a jot were I to sleep on the bare stones of the castle keep, so weary am I after hours in the saddle.”

The Princess dismounted in turn from her horse but was unsure of who she should follow, Toad or Bull. As she stood there, clearly at a loss, Bull waved her to the right.

“You will want to be ensuring that your horse is settled and comfortable,” Bull said. “It is not your own horse and, were it me, I would wish to take especial care that he was in the best of hands.  Go with Toad, he will surely protect you from any untoward advances from the farrier, and settle your horse.”

Bull strode off towards the entrance to the inn, a low wooden door but bound with iron to protect it if the inn should come under attack from the Incursors out of the Far Reaches. Bull paused at the threshold and turned briefly, as if to make certain that all was still well, before unfastening the latch and stepping inside.

“Come, my Lady,” Toad whispered. “I have Bull’s mighty steed as well as mine. You need only lead your own.” Toad smiled.

In truth, Bull’s horse was no more, and no less, a mount than either Toad or the Princess possessed but Bull was wont to inflate both the horse’s size and his prowess as a Percheron when in conversation with strangers or pretty women. The pair walked in silence towards the stable. The Princess had become genuinely fond of the two soldiers who had ensured her safety on her journey to her father’s castle and from there to this inn and she felt that this silence did not become her. It made her feel as if she were a true, high-born Princess, unaccustomed to speaking to low-born soldiers, except perhaps to give them orders or instructions, which she felt certain was not how she wanted to be. She had, since her arrival at Natalia’s cottage all those years ago, believed herself, in spirit, to be a peasant girl first and foremost and a Princess only by default; a mere mischance of birth.

“It is very mild tonight,” she said suddenly to Toad. “I do hope that it will not be too warm for sleep of which I am, truly, in sore need.”

Toad called out to the farrier.

“Raise yourself, oaf,” Toad bellowed. “I have three of the King’s horses here and a Princess to boot, although happily you are only requested to house the three horses!” Toad turned his head towards the Princess and smiled. “Step lively, man, we are waiting!”

The farrier appeared at the doorway to the stables, a small side door alongside the closed gates to the actual stabling area itself. He appeared, as Bull had foretold, to have been abruptly awakened from slumber and he rubbed his eyes wearily as he sought to gain command of his wits. The farrier was a large man, a head taller than Toad, the Princess thought, and girt in a leather apron which came down to his ankles. His broad chest was bare, no doubt as a result of the mildness of the evening, as were his feet; further evidence of his recent slumber. His arms and shoulders bore witness to the many hours labouring under the hammer and the furnace.

“Aye, hold your horses, man!” The farrier said and smiled at his own lame pun. “A prial of the King’s horses, you say; we are honoured to put our humble premises at your disposal; and a Princess to boot, you say. Is that her?” He said pointing at the Princess. “Looks more like a serving wench, if you ask me, beggin’ your pardon Miss, if indeed you be a real Princess.” Toad glared at the farrier and made a move towards both him and to his sword, which still hung scabbarded on his belt.

“No offence meant, really, beggin’ your pardon, kind Sir. It’s just that she don’t look much like a Princess, beggin’ your pardon, Mistress. I thought Princesses, well I thought they were all dressed in silks and gold and dainty slippers and such like; never seen a princess decked out like a serving wench, what with the linen trous and a shirt and boots, beggin’ your pardon, Mistress, your Highness, my Lady.”

“Oh, you are forgiven, kind farrier,” the Princess said. “I must confess that I do not feel much like a Princess tonight. We have ridden far today and our horses need rest and good food and fresh water, as I do. Will you not make haste and open up the doors so that we may bed the beasts down for the night and also be away to our supper and our own beds soonest.”

The farrier disappeared into the stable the way that he had came and, with much cursing and shouting to himself, finally managed to unbolt the main stable doors and to fling them wide open.

“Please to bring your horses inside,” the farrier said. “These three stalls are the best that I have to offer,” he said, indicating three stalls to the rear of the stable, away from the draught that must surely come from the ill-fitting doors. “I will fetch fresh hay and water while you prepare the horses for the night.”

As the farrier disappeared once again into the depths of the stable, Toad led the two horses into the two stalls which he had chosen while the Princess led her own into the one remaining, empty stall.  As she undid the girth, unbuckled the crupper and slipped the saddle from the horse’s back, the horse tossed its head to the side and caught her a glancing blow on the jaw. She dropped the saddle which made a loud ‘thump’ as it hit the ground.

“Are you alright,” exclaimed Toad, wheeling around from his own horse. “Are you hurt?”

“I am well, Toad,” the Princess replied. “I should pay more attention. It is one thing to be able to ride but I forget that horses are ten times more dangerous when you are standing beside them than they are when you are bestrides them.”

“Just like Bull,” muttered Toad beneath his breath.

The Princess picked up the saddle and laid it over the rail at the side of the stall. Removing the bridle and bit, she hung it from a hook on the very same rail. She turned and gave the horse a few pats across the cheek under the eyes and a few hearty slaps across the croup for good measure. Unexpectedly, the farrier suddenly appeared out of the gloom of the stable,  a mere shadow of a man away from the dim light coming through the doors, for all his height, and threw bales of hay into each of the feeding troughs which lay at the far end of each stall. Running a hose from a standpipe by the entrance to the stables, he filled three buckets to the brim and placed one of them in each of the three stalls.

“There, me beauties, all set up for the night, they is,” the farrier said. “Now, you just get along, missy, your Highness, I’ll keep watch over them, never fear. They won’t come to any harm while they’re in my stable!”

The Princess held her hand in a raised salute and bid farewell to the farrier. Turning to step away from her horse, she collided heavily with Toad who was standing directly behind her. Shaken by the impact, she leapt away from him as though she had been stung.

“My Lady, you are not hurt, I hope,” said Toad apologetically. “It is never wise to leave too great a distance between your charge and the outside world of danger but I fear I have erred in standing too close this time; my sincere apologies, m’Lady. Please forgive me.”

“You great, big lummox,” the Princess exclaimed. “No, I am not hurt, merely surprised; I did not expect you so close. However I am glad to see that you take your duties so seriously. However, a little more distance would be nice next time that you feel that I need to be protected.  Besides, standing so close, how would you draw your sword?”

“Ah, you can leave that to me, my Lady,” said Toad as he drew his sword vertically in front of this face, brushing his breastbone and his nose with the fuller before extending his arm to the side to wave the blade. “As close as we were, my Lady, your back wouldn’t have felt even the wind of my blade’s passing.”

The Princess laughed. “I had forgotten that there are swordmasters who have yet to learn what you have already laid aside, Toad. Forgive me, you know your own dexterity; I will put my trust in that skill, ever my trust in that.” She laughed once again and prancing round to the other side of the soldier, she wound her arm around his free arm and gambolled her way to the doors of the stable, leading the helpless soldier in her wake.

As they started to make their way across the courtyard and towards the door to the inn, Toad scabbarded his sword once again in one easy movement as if the point of the blade knew its home so well that no mind need to be given to its housing. He tried vainly to disengage his left arm but the Princess had locked it firmly by now clutching her other hand around her right wrist.

“Princess,” whispered Toad. “This is unseemly, to be so entwined like foolish lovers besotted with wine. I think you should unhand me before someone sees you cavorting with a lowly foot-soldier.”

“Oh Toad,” the Princess said with a disappointed sigh that seemed all too deep for the emotion that she felt. “I will unhand you, of course I will, it is but friendship, although I do not know why you should be so concerned.  I am not, after all, in my father’s house, am I? You will not suffer an untimely death at the hands of the palace guard for such presumption, although the presumption is not yours; nor, worse still, a marriage unlooked for. Moreover, I do not consider you to be so lowly, man of infinite skill! However, I should, if I were in your boots, consider myself fortunate to contract to such a seamstress as I.” The Princess laughed again but released his arm and, swinging her arms now to and fro like some soldier on the parade ground, she sauntered up to the door of the inn.

Toad opened the door and, with his back against the iron which bound the wooden planks, bowed low and waved her into the inn with a flourish, as though he were ushering her into a stately ballroom courtesy of the King himself. Toad stepped away from the door and was surprised when, all of its own free will, the door closed behind him. He thought at first that some charm or other had been placed on the entrance by some elf, more knowledgeable than he, but, in glancing upwards towards the lintel, he descried the spring that was the real instrument of this magic. Disappointed, though he knew not why, he turned sharply back to take in the ambience of the room and saw that it was almost empty; just a few lonely souls sitting alone at scattered tables nurturing their isolation in between gulps of ale. Looking around, he could see Bull standing at the oaken shelf that served as a bar in this inn, propping his elbows on the glazed surface as though he could no longer support his own weight. The Princess was already moving towards him; Toad decided to join them.

“Well met, again, Princess,” Bull shouted. “Holla, Toad, your turn to stand the round, methinks!  Too long have you kept your silver coins in your purse, Master Pinchpenny! Barkeep, two flagons of ale!  And what of you, my good Princess? Some of Master Elias’ fine matured barley wine, or perhaps some Korn tempered with a little water; what say you? Be not slow otherwise my good friend Toad will surely pass you by and leave you thirsty.”

Toad was smiling as he approached the bar, his hands rummaging in the small money purse hanging at his belt. He had become accustomed to Bull’s accusations of miserliness and he paid it no more heed than he had done on countless occasions before.

So, what is it to be, my Lady?” Toad said as he came up from behind the Princess. “I will surely not pass you by and yet you had better be quick, else Bull and I will have finished and you will scarcely have started.”

“Innkeeper, Elias, do you have any mulled wine?” The Princess asked. The innkeeper nodded. “A glass of mulled wine then please. Do you have a cinnamon stick to spare that you may add it to the wine?” The innkeeper nodded once more and turned to enter a narrow door that led to the kitchen and the kettle of steaming wine. He returned a minute or so later and laid the two flagons of ale and a pewter goblet of steaming wine, with two cinnamon sticks, onto the bar.

“That will be four groats, Master Toad. Will you pay now or shall I tot it all up for when you are so far into your cups that you will have forgotten all that you have done this night and I shall have to sweep you up the stairs to your beds with my besom!”

“Oh, just as you wish,” said Toad, feigning exasperation. “We will pay later when we have finished for the evening, or perhaps tomorrow morn’. No doubt, you will diddle us, as is your wont, but it is of no matter. Tonight we sup with a Princess and that is a tale to tell for such as I and worth every silver penny, I’d wager.” The Princess flushed and rapidly took a sip of the hot wine.

“Tell me, Master Barkeep,” said Bull. “What do you have for supper? Something toothsome, I hope; we entertain royalty tonight! I have assured my good Princess that the food here is as good as, if not better, than that at the King’s own High Table. Do not disappoint!”

“Ah, you have the very luck of the Dark One tonight,” replied the innkeeper. “My wife has prepared venison stew with bay, garlic and the blood of the stag for a party coming in later this evening. Needless to say, she has produced enough to feed a regiment of hungry soldiers even though only sufficient for eight was required. We have taters, carrots and turnip to accompany. Will that do for your Princess, do you think?” Toad and the Princess nodded enthusiastically.

“Well, I suppose it will have to do,” Bull smiled. “Enough to feed a regiment, you say? Then bring it on, man, and extra gravy; a soldier needs to feed on blood every once and a while and stag’s blood is just as nourishing as an Incursor’s! We will sit over there, by the window; it will be cooler, methinks.”

The three hungry guests, each carrying their own drink, made their way to the table that Bull had indicated. Sitting themselves down, the Princess took a deep breath and asked, somewhat apprehensively:

“You don’t really drink Incursor blood, do you, Bull?”

“No, it would taste fouler than the most noisome beast but it never hurts to spread a little mischievous rumour. News and rumour travel fast, especially so in the direction of the Far Reaches. Perhaps, the tale does need a little embellishment; what say you, Toad? Shall we put it about that not only do we drink their blood but we do so only when they are still alive and conscious! Lapping it up like bats from the open artery.” Toad guffawed.

The innkeeper brought a large tray to the table and started laying out the plates and the cutlery while his wife, a large and robust woman with child bearing hips and thighs that looked to Bull as though they would crush the life out of him in two seconds should he decide on a brief dalliance, laid out two huge tureens and a basket of bread. As she removed the lids of the tureens, the heady aroma of venison blood could be smelt intermingled with the sweet scent of carrot and minted potatoes. After the meal had been laid out, the pair bowed gracefully as though this were a much practised act for which they perhaps wanted some applause but, in its absence, they left the travellers to dine in peace.

As the three spooned large gobbets of venison onto the plates, it became clear that the innkeeper had been too frugal with his list of ingredients. In addition to whole cloves of peeled garlic, there were shallots, gently sweated whole before joining the stew; bite sized pieces of celeriac; broad beans; courgettes, sliced thickly to preserve the flavour and finally a kind of fungus that only the Princess had any knowledge of; ‘little pigs’ they were called, she had said, but difficult to find. She had once found them by a tree in Natalia’s garden but that was the only place that she knew that they grew for certain. Old Ramly, the Spicemaster in the village, had told her that they were safe to eat and given her a name to call them by; their flavour was richer, darker and more intense than other fungi and was made all the more powerful when dried when they soaked up whichever sauce might be in the stew.

As Toad called for more bread, the party, to which the three weary travellers owed such a sumptuous meal, came into the inn.  They quite clearly had been visiting other ale-houses in the area and the innkeeper visibly raised his eyes to the ceiling as if praying for some divine aid or succour.

“Well met,” cried the innkeeper, although he did not think that these fellows were indeed ‘well met’. “Come, your table awaits you. Wine is laid upon the board and your meal will be served as and when you please! It simmers on the hearth as I speak.” The innkeeper grimaced as one by one the party made their way over in his direction, some more unsteady than others. Two of the females could barely stand and yet the only support which they had was the other; the remaining members of the party had clearly decided to disown them. As the party eventually attained some kind of equilibrium on the chairs around the table, after much changing of seats and raucous laughter in between, the innkeeper was already beginning to seriously regret having accepted this party, for all that it had paid well; in advance too.

The Princess found the interruption to her meal somewhat annoying. She was enjoying the food and, if truth be known, the two soldiers made excellent dining companions; much better than their captain she considered.  Her thoughts were interrupted as a young girl, little more than perhaps seven or eight summers old, appeared suddenly at the side of the table carrying a basket of bread, although where she had come from and who she was, the Princess did not know; perhaps a daughter of the innkeeper, a tiny helpmate if the inn became too busy for one man and his wife. Toad turned around on his chair opposite the Princess to accept the basket from the girl; her eyes were barely level with the table. As he took the basket from her hands with his left, he tousled her hair with the other.

“You have keen ears, little one,” he said. “To hear my call over such din and clamour as that rabble is making. Thank you, I am much in your debt. Here’s a groat for your trouble; buy yourself a little treat in the village when next you go, some candied fruit or other such sweet trifle. Now run along and get back to your mama, she is missing you already.”  The child, clearly elated at such a vast sum, to her, as a gift, disappeared behind the bar as quickly as she had appeared, if not as mysteriously.

“Heaven, they’re a pain in the rump, make no mistake, Princess,” said Toad, as he tore off a huge chunk of bread and dipped it into the gravy on his plate. “Twill be no better if we retire to our rooms, I fear; they are immediately above them if I am any judge. Let us finish our meal and retire to the open air; I am sure that the innkeeper will not mind us taking the chairs outside. The noise might somehow be bearable in the courtyard and it is still a mild night; there is little chill in the air.”

The Princess and Bull both nodded, although perhaps all the Princess wanted was her bed; still, in this Toad was right, they would get no sleep while that party remained in the inn. At last, there was nothing left in the tureens, Bull had used a spoon and the last of the bread to mop them dry and was leaning back, his hands clasped behind his head, a grin of extreme satisfaction on his face.

“Go,” he said. “I have some business with the innkeeper that will not keep until morning. Go take the night air, I will join you shortly. Perhaps you would check on the horses also, while you are out there, I never trusted, or trust, that farrier, although, in truth, I had and have no reason. Go, gather up your drinks and retire to the night air; I will return shortly with more ale, have no fear.”

Bull rose from his seat and walked off in the direction of the bar, and the innkeeper, while Toad swept up both his own chair and Bull’s in his hands and, bidding the Princess to carry what remained of their drinks, went out into the balmy night air.  Casting around for a suitable place to sit, Toad espied a small feed station, for horses or mules, which was partially covered by a plank set over it to keep the rain out. Thinking that it would make a makeshift but excellent trestle, Toad laid the chairs at the side of it and bade the Princess to sit.

“If Bull wants to go and check on the horses, let him go himself; I have no such worries about our good master farrier!” Toad said as he sat down. “Besides, it would be an insult to the poor man to wake him yet again from his slumber for such a paltry reason as mistrust, wouldn’t you agree, Princess?”

“Most certainly, Toad!” she exclaimed, smiling. “A grave insult, to be sure!” She chuckled but just at that moment, as she began to relax into her chair, a chill gust of wind made her shudder, as though someone had walked across her mother’s grave, and she felt the gooseflesh slowly creep all over her body.

“You are cold, m’Lady?” asked Toad. “Come, let me offer you my jerkin, I have little need of it.” Toad took off his leather jerkin and laid it across the Princess’ shoulders, fastening it around her throat with the two small, fine leather straps that made the only closure.

“I thank you, Toad, for your kindness,” the Princess said. “Perhaps you would gather me closer to you; I feel somewhat more chilled than this night air should warrant; perhaps I am sickening for something or evil, perchance, is afoot.”  The soldier laid his arm across her shoulder, as gently as he might, and gathered the Princess as close as he thought decorum would allow. As she laid her head onto his shoulder, the door to the inn swung wide yet again. However, instead of Bull’s re-appearance with ale and wine, the two females, who had earlier relied so heavily upon each others’ support, came into view, no less in need of support. As they stumbled away from the door, the taller of the two looked in Toad’s direction.

“Well, what have we ‘ere,” she bellowed. “Two young lovers, a-billing an’ a-cooing; ah, ain’t it sweet.” Toad immediately took his arm from around the Princess’ shoulder and quickly grabbed hold of his flagon of ale.

“You’d think she could do better than some old battle-scarred soldier to go-a-romping with, wouldn’t you; she ain’t what I would call, well, beautiful, especially in those clothes, but I doubt that even she could be so desperate!” She gulped at the bottle of wine that she was clutching to her breast. “ My, my, what a sight! He surely couldn’t have come out from between his mother’s legs like that, the midwife would still be in shock! Perhaps she still is!”  The woman cackled. As the laughter took hold, she lurched forward and her companion barely caught her in time before she nearly pitched headfirst into the well-pounded dirt which made up the floor of the courtyard. Regaining her balance, the taller of the two continued with her diatribe.

“Perhaps she is blind, my sweet, my good friend, my partner-in-crime and can no more see the face of her beau than I can see the inside of the King’s citadel. Yes, that must be it! Blind, and stupid too, if I am any judge.  To walk beside such as he, even if besotted by wine, would be more than I could bear. Heavens, it would fair shame me, have no doubt!”

The Princess bristled with anger at such an affront to her integrity but more so, if truth be known, for Toad; he who risked life and limb every day in the protection of their people, and herself, and merely on the command of a Captain and his own sense of duty; what it was to do right. She felt genuinely sickened by what she was hearing.

“Pay it no heed, Princess,” Toad whispered. “It is merely the bravado of those all too far into their cups to notice what it is that they say. It is of no import; do not trouble yourself with this. It is all but wind, no more.” However, the taller of the two women, despite her companion’s attempts to calm her down, would not be quietened.

“Hah! Do you think he has to pay for the privilege, I wonder? Not for all the cinnamon tea in the world would I step out with such a one. Fair makes my eyes bleed just to consider it! Still, once a doxie, forever a doxie; just close your eyes now, dearie, it will all be over in a trice and then you’ll be that silver penny the richer!”

As the door opened once more and Bull stepped into the gloom, his arms laden with a tray of ale and wine, the Princess launched herself away from her chair and positively vaulted over the feed stall. The chair clattered behind her as it turned cartwheels across the courtyard. With her fist held high, she bore down on the two women as though she was a banshee sent from the Dark One himself; and there was murder in her eyes.

Toad sprang from his chair, upsetting the flagon of ale which fell, emptying its contents and soaking the parched earth of the courtyard and went in pursuit as fast as his long legs could carry him. Bull let the tray that he was holding tumble to the ground as he too made to head off the Princess in her rage. Mere inches away from the hapless pair of women, Toad managed to grasp the Princess’ wrist and spun her around just as Bull made fast her other arm.

“Let me go!” the Princess screamed. “She will pay for what she has said; and pay dear! I am a Princess and he is a noble and courageous soldier. By his skill, and the skill of him and his companions only, are you protected from the Incursors; I will have just recompense for this affront!”

As Bull and Toad struggled to hold the Princess in check, the two women cowered in the doorway, retreating there in the face of the Princess’ onslaught. As inebriated as they were, still they possessed enough wit to be frightened and both tried to make profuse apology to the Princess, claiming ignorance or jest as a way of mitigating the insults whilst fumbling in vain with the latch of the door.

Bull, still with both hands clasped around the Princess’ wrist spoke calmly, a voice like gilded draperies gently fluttering in the breeze; a voice which the Princess had never heard before and so unlike the Bull that she thought that she had come to know.

“Get along inside, you two, or better still, be off to your beds. She is indeed a Princess and a better blade than you will find in all the kingdom of the Elves. As angered as she is, it would not be wise to anger her still further by your pathetic whining, lest she take my good friend’s sword and skewer you where you stand.” He paused briefly. “Come, Princess! Toad will fetch us more ale, for I fear that what I have brought has come to naught, and we will sit again and speak of ‘cabbages and kings’. These sad wretches do not deserve even the anger of the fairest of the fair, whatever their fault.”

As Toad released the Princess’ wrist and released the latch, the two women passed back inside of the inn, Toad  followed, and closed the door behind him; off for some more of the ale that Bull had so wantonly poured into the earth of the courtyard. The Princess snickered as Bull let go of her wrist, which bore the marks of how tightly he had held her and the strength of her struggle to release herself.

“A better blade than in all the kingdom of the elves,” she said with a smile. “I wish it were so, Bull. You tell a fine lie, a pretty story, so you do; oh, and how I wish it were true!”

“Come, Princess,” replied Bull. “I know not what occasioned this outburst but warranted I fear it was. I have never seen you so incensed unless it were after your audience with the King and yet, that was tempered by sadness, by regret. Here was only blind rage, I think. It would be imprudent to ask why you should thus take matters so far into your own hands. Is that not what Toad and I were sent on this journey for; to prevent any peril befalling our good Princess? Perhaps we have been remiss, Toad and I; perhaps the greater peril lies within, not without.” He smiled. “Still, nicely done, m’Lady, whatever the reason; I was almost frightened myself!”

Bull led her to the feed stall, their makeshift trestle, and righting the chairs bade her to sit. As she sat down, she peered up into his eyes and then away to the door and back up into his eyes. As she looked to the door once more, she could see Toad appear; he was carrying a tray laden with ale and wine and oaten cakes topped with cream.  As he started out on the short walk across the courtyard, towards where she was sitting, she hung her head and averted her eyes, as though in shame, although she felt none, merely a sense of pride at what she had done.

“I understand, Princess,” Bull whispered. “Yes, I think that I may understand. Come, let us wait on our drink, and lo, what do I espy? Cakes and cream, Princess! And a pot of strawberry preserve! O, good man, Toad, good man. A fine dessert, a drink and then we shall be off to bed as soon as we may. It has been a long day, and a long night, and we have still a way to go tomorrow.”
The return journey was as uneventful as the outward and, as they arrived at the outpost, the Captain was surprised to see the Princess so soon after her departure.

"Nothing went ill, I hope, Princess?" he asked, as the Princess dismounted.

"Nothing that your two gallant guardians could have prevented," she replied. "Captain, your elves have done sterling service and had little more reward then a sore rump from days in the saddle. May I join you in your quarters, I wish to propose something to you." She smiled.

"Bull! Toad! Dismissed!" the Captain said.

Seated at the same small table as before, the Princess sipped the small glass of wine the Captain had provided. "Captain,” she said. “I would like Bull and Toad to escort me for the rest of the way to my cot. “When I am safely home,” she said. “I will return them to you. I would then like you to send them with a carriage and this letter to the ‘overseer of maids’ at the castle. They may stay at the castle, free of all duties, until the appointed day contained in the letter, two sevendays hence. I would then like them to escort the carriage, its occupant and themselves to my cottage. There you will give them a further sevenday to make themselves acquainted with the local flora and fauna." The Princess smiled. "They will then be returned to you. Is this acceptable?" She asked.

"I think that I might be able to accommodate your suggestion, Princess," the Captain replied. "Some more wine?"

After another small glass of wine, the Princess made her farewells to the Captain and left for the short journey to the village.

As the trio meandered along the winding paths towards Natalia's village, the Princess turned to Toad. "Toad,” she said. “When we reach the village, I must return this horse to its rightful owner. May I ride your roan for the trip from village to cot? It is not far."

"Gladly," Toad replied. "My mount would not forgive me if I did not allow him such a privilege, gelding though he is!" He laughed.

"Do not tarry on the return journey, Toad," the Princess said. "The Captain, and I, have another errand for you." She smiled.

The ostler was astonished to see the Princess in the company of so fierce a duo of warriors as they stood in front of the stable; Figo's grey was loosely tethered to a post, and the Princess was mounted on a roan, Toad's horse.
"Your weskit! I have not forgotten! Bring me the skins on the morrow," she cried and Figo knew that there was no need for concern for her safety, however fearsome her companions may have appeared. The trio turned, Toad striding by the Princess' new mount, and they continued down the lane that led to the seamstress' house. At last, Natalia's cottage came into view. The Princess smiled, something, which despite her sadness, had happened all too frequently these past two days. Pausing at the gate, the Princess dismounted.

"Toad! Bull!” She said. “You were well met indeed! Take good care of our kind and, please, no foolish, suicidal squabbles over poor and innocent maidens; our people have need of you! Fare Well!"

"And we you, my lady! Fare Well!" The pair replied in unison.

The Princess walked the short path to the door under the gaze of her erstwhile guardians and, pushing it open, declared with a flourish:

"Well, I'm back!"

Thanks, acknowledgements but no royalties to:

Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention and Fotheringay for ‘Fotheringay’
‘Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves’ for Bull
Jean Anouilh and ‘Antigone’ for the climax
J R R Tolkien for the last words
The Elfin Princess for the story. I hope that you find a better resolution.

Any other indebtedness is shameless plagiarism and I await the solicitors’ letters with eager anticipation!

Ever tried to sue a penguin?