Friday, 11 December 2015

Buffy goes to Highbury

It was largely agreed that Miss Woodhouse's party was a resounding success, right up until the moment when a large object smashed through the drawing room window and landed with a thud on the buffet table.

Emma's face was crestfallen as she hurried over to the mess. 'No no no,' she thought to herself. 'This is not at all the impression I wanted to make on Mrs Elton.' Fragments of glass were strewn across the carpet and a sharp breeze entered through the now uncovered window. 'Does nobody appreciate how hard it is to get a glazier in Highbury?' she muttered.

Her startled guests made their way over to the buffet table. They were led by Mr Elton, who pointedly avoided looking at Harriet Smith as he passed her. Before long, the crowd had gathered around the object whose intrusion had interrupted their evening.

It was human in shape, except that it was far larger than the average man, with green and scaly skin, and large spikes on its back and elbows. 'I say,' exclaimed Mrs Elton. 'My friends in Bath will be most amused to hear about this. I never expected such extraordinary entertainment, Miss Woodhouse.' Emma's face fell even further, and she looked to Mr Knightley for assistance.

'I shall fetch a broom,' announced Mr Knightley. 'Come, Miss Bates, you shall aid me.' He strode from the room, followed by the spinster who, for once, had no comment to offer.

The partygoers were so intent on the strange sight before them that nobody noticed when a young blonde woman entered the room clutching a small sharp stick. The woman pushed through the throng and examined the scene.

'Excuse me,' said Emma. 'Who are you?'

'Hi. I'm Buffy.' She gave Emma a sheepish smile. 'I'm really sorry about the mess.'

'Do you mean to tell me that you are responsible for throwing this dummy through my window?'

Buffy frowned. 'Dummy?'

Emma held out her hand towards the buffet table. 'This thing.'

'Oh that. That's not a dummy. Well, he wasn't the sharpest tool in the cupboard, but no – that's a body. Of a demon.'

Mr Elton drew back and, forgetting for a moment that he was not a Papist, crossed himself.

Emma sighed. 'Don't be ridiculous, Miss … Buffy. Do you have another name?'

'Summers?'

'Miss Summers. I demand that you explain yourself. Preferably without resorting to absurdities.'

'Right. I was on my way here, to this party, when I found this guy outside. Anyway, we got into a fight, I kicked him, and he flew a lot further than I was expecting. Never mind though, he's dead now.'

The body on the table groaned and raised its head. Emma and her guests drew back and gasped. Buffy raised her stick and stabbed the creature in the throat. It let out another groan and its head fell back onto the table. 'Like I say, dead.'

'But what are you doing here?' asked Emma.

'She's from the former colonies,' said Jane Fairfax.

'That would explain her outlandish attire,' added Mrs Elton.

Buffy shot a withering glance at Mrs Elton. 'Hey, corset lady, I want your opinion on fashion, I'll ask for it.'

Harriet Smith smiled. 'I rather like this Miss Summers,' she said.

Emma crossed her arms. 'I'm still waiting for an explanation.' 

'Right. Quick version: I've been sent here to kill a vampire. I hate to break it to you, but one of your guests here is a creature of the night.'

Emma raised her eyebrows. 'So let me get this straight. You kick a half-dead demon through my window and now you want to kill one of my guests. I can see why you have to turn up at parties unannounced. I can't imagine you receive many invitations.'

'Oh, you'd be surprised,' said Buffy, and began peering at the people standing around her. She walked slowly towards Mr Elton, narrowing her eyes.

'I recently had a very bad experience with a clergyman,' she said. 'Had to cut him in half with an axe.'

Mr Elton laughed nervously. 'You can't possibly think that I'm a vampire,' he said. 'I'm a pillar of the community.' Buffy's eyes narrowed still further. Mr Elton continued: 'Really, young lady, your search will be much more fruitful if you look to people who are less – respected, shall we say.' His eyes sought out Harriet. Buffy's eyes followed.

Mrs Elton sighed. 'Truly, Miss Summers. Do you honestly believe my husband to be a craven, blood-sucking beast?'

'Yeah, I do,' replied Buffy. 'But he's not a vampire. Just a weasel. You're safe for now, preacher boy.'

Buffy moved on and crouched next to Mr Knightley, who knelt on the floor, sweeping up the glass. He stood up, brushed himself down and held out a hand. 'Mr Knightley,' he said. 'Pleasure to meet you.'

Buffy shook his hand. 'I see you got the clean-up job,' she said. 

'It's really no trouble at all,' he replied, 'I do like to be helpful.'

Emma walked over from the table and touched the man's sleeve. 'My dear Mr Knightley, you've cut yourself.'

He looked down. 'So I have. Not to worry. I shall clean myself up later.' He smiled broadly, his perfect teeth glimmering in the lamplight. Only they weren't entirely perfect.

'You been sweeping up with your mouth?' asked Buffy.

'Excuse me?' said Mr Knightley.

'Only I can't help noticing you've got blood on your teeth.'

'Oh dear,' said Mr Knightley. 'I was hoping it wouldn't come to this.' His forehead furrowed; his eyes turned amber and feral; his still bloody canines grew until they protruded below his lips.

Mr and Mrs Elton fled from the room; the remaining guests huddled by the doorway. 

'Where is Miss Bates?' cried Jane Fairfax. 'We must find Miss Bates.'

Buffy punched Mr Knightley in the face, then kicked him in the chest, sending him careening into the opposite wall. He got up and charged at Buffy. A flurry of punches, kicks and chops ensued. The flurry ended with Mr Knightley holding Buffy in a close grip and preparing to bite into her neck. Her stick lay on the carpet behind Mr Knightley, far out of her reach. Harriet picked it up and kicked Mr Knightley in the back of his right knee. He let go of Buffy and fell to the floor. Harriet threw the stick to Buffy. She caught it and plunged it into the vampire's heart. He exploded in a cloud of dust.

Buffy rubbed her hands together and grinned at Harriet. 'Thank you,' she said. Harriet replied with an awkward curtsey.

Miss Fairfax entered the room dragging a barely conscious Miss Bates, who was mumbling to herself: 'Always thought him such a gentleman, terribly handy with a trowel, shall never recover from the shock…'

Mr Weston coughed. 'Indeed. I should never have believed it of Mr Knightley,' he said.

Emma's face was more crestfallen than ever. 'And yet, only now, I realise that I loved him,' she cried.

Buffy sighed. 'You were in love with a vampire? Tell me about it, sister. Been there, done that, actually got two T-shirts.'

'I suppose I ought to thank you,' said Emma, 'but whatever shall I do without him?'

'Not bleed to death when he's thirsty, for a start,' said Buffy. 'Look, I know it's hard, but you'll find a way. I had to send my boyfriend to Hell once. That was tough. I mean, he came back and it was all OK in the end, which I don't think is going to happen here, and I'm really not helping at all, am I? I think I'll just – you know – shut up and leave.'

Emma sobbed.

'Back to the Americas?' asked Jane Fairfax.

'Something like that,' replied Buffy. She jumped onto the table and threw the demon's body out of the window. 'Oh, one last thing,' she said, turning around.

'What?' said Emma.

Buffy pointed at Harriet. 'You. I think you should have this.' She tossed the sharp stick; Harriet caught it and stroked it gently. 'You could save me a lot of work in the future by hanging around graveyards at night. Just be careful.'

'Why thank you, Miss Summers,' said Harriet, but it was too late. The young blonde woman had leapt through the window and disappeared into the night. 




Sunday, 22 November 2015

My fervent hope

[Originally posted on Facebook]

It is my fervent hope that, one day, we will learn to see people and respond with compassion, instead of seeing labels and responding with fear and hatred.

To be clear, I mean that whether the label that arouses our hatred is "Muslim", "Republican", "Democrat", "liberal", "Conservative", or "left-winger". Or anything else.

I include myself in this wish, because I too am capable of labelling and responding with fear and hatred.

Sometimes fear is justified, but often - arguably mostly - it isn't. And hatred only ever leads to destruction, not least of our own goodness.

Now that I've probably pissed off 2/3 of my friends list, I'll go and write an article on the Modern Slavery Act 2015. It won't be nearly as tub-thumping as you might imagine.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Yoga troubles: a straw poll

The scenario

You are at your very first yoga class. You felt a little queasy on the way into the leisure centre but now, sitting on your mat, you feel really quite vomitacious.
The teacher asks you if you have done yoga before. You say no and explain that you are feeling a little unwell and may have to leave. She asks if you are worried about something. You shake your head, even though the truth would be "yes, I'm worried I'm about to re-enact the pea soup scene from The Exorcist".
As the yoga teacher makes her way to the front of the class, you are overcome by a fit of dry-heaving. You get up and fetch your bag. You are still retching, only now it is not so dry.

Question 

Which is the greater social faux pas?
A. Dashing out of the class to make sure you get to the toilets in time, leaving your mat for somebody else to put away?
B. Rolling up your mat and puking on the studio floor?


Readers, I took option A. I think it's safe to say I was not in a position to make a good first impression. I have, however, learned two things:
1. I care far too much about what strangers think of me.
2. I need to stop buying coffee from the Costa machine in our local Co-op. Seriously, it's not the first time I've felt grim after drinking that stuff.

Friday, 23 October 2015

In Praise of Hopelessness

Friends: if you ask me to meet you and I say no, it isn't because I don't want to. It's because long experience has taught me that unless I can get to our meeting place within half an hour, chances are I won't be well enough to come and I'll let you down. Or, if I do make it, I'll need a couple of days to recover.

If you know me (or have read the rest of this blog) you'll know I've had three kidney transplants. I've never had very much energy: whether this is connected to my kidney problems, 25 years of immuno-suppression or is something entirely separate, I don't know. But it's got worse over time. I sleep 10-12 hours a day - sometimes more. When I'm awake, I'm mostly foggy-headed and tired.

I've also had back pain for the last 15 years or so. Despite spending thousands of pounds on different treatments, this too has got worse. There's nothing structurally wrong with my back and the pain specialists at my local hospital say that I'll probably always have it. The exercise regimes prescribed for me sometimes reduce the immediate pain but have not produced any long-term improvements.

At this point, I'd like to say that yes, I know I have a lot to be grateful for and yes, I know that many people have things far, far worse. Including some of the people who are likely to read this.

But the pain and the tiredness have increasingly restricted my ability to live the life I want. When people say "I hope you feel better soon", I know they mean well but it feels like yet more pressure to achieve something that I have been chasing fruitlessly for almost two decades.

So I'm giving up hope.

To devotees of positive thinking, this sounds defeatist.

It really isn't.

I'm giving up hope because I'm tired of bashing my head against the walls of reality and blaming myself for being unable to punch through. 

Because I'm tired of fighting to maintain a hope that is tantamount to delusion.

Because as long as I'm gazing over the rainbow and dreaming of Oz, I'm not making the most of Kansas.

Because as long as I'm yearning for the landscapes beyond my prison walls, I'm not seeing that my cell is actually quite spacious and comfortable. I'm not seeing all the things I could do in here. I'm not contemplating the possibility that, even if I can't do very much, maybe that doesn't necessarily mean I'm a waste of space whose life is worthless. (My mind really rebels against that idea: THOU SHALT ACHIEVE, DAMMIT!)

Because sometimes the best way to hold things together is by letting an unsustainable reality fall apart.

And because, sometimes, giving up hope is the most optimistic thing you can do.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Call My Bluff: 'deskill'

My writing group has disbanded for the summer. At our last meeting, we played Call My Bluff. I wrote this definition of 'deskill'. If you're a big fan of Margaret Thatcher, you may not like it. Or you might. Who knows?

* * * * *

The verb 'to deskill' was coined by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, who was horrified to see that members of the working class (and even people from the North) were rising through the ranks of society to take jobs that properly belonged to their betters.

I may be a grocer's daughter, but daddy was a very big cheese in the world of food retail, and his Granny Smiths were enormous too. No, no, Denis, don't make the Cox joke.

She realised that if nothing were done to stop this, it wouldn't be long before Parliament was overrun by MPs who were the children of secretaries. Or worse - miners.

She devised a plan.

People with a working class background, or from the North, were to be restricted to trivial tasks. Lawyers should spend all day photocopying; surgeons instructed to scrub operating theatres with a toothbrush; and if these upstarts could be partially or entirely replaced by machines, so much the better.

What do I mean by 'northern'? North of Grantham.

'But how shall we sell this to them, dear Maggie?' cried the employers, puffing on cigars that had been hand-rolled by four-year-olds manacled to a workbench in Havana. 'Sooner or later, they'll notice what we're doing and go on strike. We need a positive spin.'

'I wouldn't worry about them getting involved in collective bargaining,' said Maggie, and cackled. 'But you're right - we need a neutral-sounding name for it.'

She sent her minions to the United States, to ask George W Bush for his thoughts, even though, back then, he was a young buck with a cocaine habit, and no-one had heard of him.

'Deskillification?' he suggested.

Maggie pondered this. No, that's far too long. it's not like there's a tax on syllables, though that's not a bad idea - write that down, Denis.

And so the word 'deskill' was born. Employers were not trivialising people's jobs, they were generously making them easier by taking away all the challenging bits and, wherever possible, giving them to machines.

Maggie was slightly worried that Mr Bush might one day rise to prominence and attempt to claim credit for the word, but reassured herself that nobody with that degree of ineptitudinessnessness would ever amount to anything.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

That awkward moment when the person you're talking to online tells you Louis XIII is her boyfriend. Yes, *that* Louis XIII

I lurk on various blogs. I seldom post, because that might result in me being drawn into a debate and I have a pathological aversion to anything that might conceivably be construed as confrontation, if you stand far enough away from it. In a bad light. While squinting.

A regular on one of these blogs refers to her boyfriend as Louis and her avatar is of a striking middle-aged man with hair (both head and facial) that does indeed make him look like Louis XIII. I assumed that the chap in the avatar was her boyfriend, that they shared an interest in Louis XIII and that they had a sort of role-play thing going whereby he styled himself (and, if the changing avatar pictures are anything to go by, sometimes dressed) like the Bourbon king. Eccentric, but cute.

Anyhoo...

The other day, in a conversation about books, one poster mentioned having enjoyed a series of supernatural romance novels. The regular poster commented that she had her partner were well into that. Supernatural romance fan (or "SRF' for short) asked, with some astonishment, if the regular and her other half had read the books in question, because they'd never met anyone else who had. (From this, you will gather that we're not talking about the Twilight series.) The regular replied that no, they hadn't, but that the two of them were fans of supernatural romance because her lover had crossed over some time ago. I felt saddened by this news and so, apparently, did SRF, who duly expressed condolences. The regular then explained that it was all right, her lover was Louis XIII, so he had died long before she was born.

At this point, SRF vanished from the conversation. Did they simply think, "I shall pursue this line of inquiry no further" or did they "nope" all the way to Antarctica? Who can tell?





As delusions go, this one is pretty harmless and seems to make the regular poster happy, so although I was a bit "Okaaaaaaaaaaaaay" about this revelation, it's not something that's going to keep me awake at night. (I hope you will forgive me for assuming that the relationship is imaginary and that she is not genuinely getting freaky with a dead French monarch. It just seems an awful lot more likely.)

However, I'm now left wondering about the man in her avatar pictures. I mean, unless photography was invented a lot earlier than I thought (or the regular poster has been time-travelling with a camera), he must have lived much more recently than the seventeenth century. So who is he? I'm reluctant to ask, because I rarely post on that forum and blundering in to put the question directly would be rather blunt. Or worse: it might lead to a debate, and we know how I feel about that. The thing is, his face is sort of familiar; I feel like I should recognise him.

Anyone know who it is? Stolen picture below. I apologise that it's so small - I can't find anything bigger. I realise that the head is almost certainly 'shopped onto the body, but the owner of the face must nevertheless have existed some time in the last century. I also realise that this picture was probably created by the regular poster and I feel a bit naughty using it here, but I can't think of a way of showing it to you without 'outing' the poster in question.