Monday, December 28, 2009



"Yes father?"

"Come with me outside, I have something to tell you."

"Ok," his son replied in a sunny and buoyant tone.

The two of them slowly padded into the bright light of the day, with the son following to the right side and a few steps behind his dad. They went in silence with only the sound of their bare feet on the hardened ground of the earth interrupting it. The father stopped as they reached the edge of the patch of grass outside their home.

"Now Varan, you've lived with me here for all your life and we've done much together," the elder pauses as he looked the younger Varan over, "We've learned much as well. Not just you learning from your dad, but you've taught me many things too."

Varan's modesty had to interrupt at that point, "But father it is you who is known and revered in the villages for miles around. Everyone in this kingdom knows the name Rodel Agamidae."

Rodel let out a throaty chuckle at his son's loyalty, "Perhaps, but I suspect you might be exaggerating slightly," he paused and then raised a hand and waved it towards a darkened patch of earth near the horizon. "I suppose that Jack Wakefield certainly knows of me at least," as he said this Rodel gave a sly grin to Varan.

"I'm sorry dad, you know that I didn't mean to anger him."

"Yes, yes, I know that it was all just a misunderstanding about how some of his sheep had gone missing."

Varan interrupted again, "It wasn't me, I didn't steal any of them, I just happened to be walking past his field that night when we was trying to catch the culprit."

"Son," Rodel stared him straight in the eyes, "I believe you."

Varan smiled weakly at his father before quietly replying, "Still, I'm grateful that you burnt down his farm to stop him from coming after me. I'm only sorry that I didn't think to do the same instead of running in fear."

"Oh son," replied Rodel as he shook his head, "You don't need to apologise for that. The times have changed since I was a youngling. You're part of the next generation, part of the next part in the turning of the wheels of the world. While you are still very much my son, never forget that you are still different from me; you'll never be able to live your life like I've lived mine. And you shouldn't try to, not in every exact detail.

"The sad fact is that the world has changed so much since I was born. Everyone now has steel, machines and, perhaps most frighteningly, gunpowder. If you tried to just live my life again you'd surely be dead within a year or two. Too many heroes, or at least people who seem themselves as heroes, are around these days. Everyone is much more connected, they know much more and they want to control every part of their life now. The funny thing is that they probably can; especially if they can find at least a handful of like minded individuals.

"So no son, you shouldn't try to just repeat all that I've done in my life, you should forge out your own path. Your own future and way of life." He glanced over at his son and was saddened to see Varan's down trodden face. He'd hoped that this conversation would liberate his son, but instead it seemed to have made him more morose. He tried his best guess at what might have been bothering his son, "Are you worried that you don't know what to do instead?"

Varan just looked back at him and slowly nodded his head.

"Don't worry about that," Rodel responded while trying to show his friendliest smile, "You're a smart lad, you'll find your calling."

"But," stuttered Varan, "but what about all this land, all of your territory."

"Ha, are you just worried about what's going to happen to the family home and estate?" snorted the father. His snort turned into a couple of hacky coughs and a few small puffs of smoke escaped from his nose.

"You have worked hard for it all your life and I," Varan lowered his eyes to the ground as he spoke, "I was hoping to be able to carry on your legacy."

"I'm touched, honestly Varan, I am. There's nothing a father could want more than for his son to respect and admire him so much that he wants to follow him. However you will need to adapt and be different from me. Surely the incident with Mr. Wakefield showed that?"

With a shrug of his shoulders Varan looked over his father's body in silence. He slowly watched his dad's scaly skin rise and fall with the rhythm of his breathing. "I understand dad, it's just that I'm worried about moving on and changing. I don't want to leave you and I don't want to leave your way of life."

"Sadly nature and time aren't giving you, or me, that choice," another fit of coughs interrupted Rodel's speech and he lay down on the ground to try to ease the strain on his ageing bones. "No, don't try to help me, there's nothing you can do for me."

"Father, don't say things like that!" replied Varan in a distressed tone.

They looked into each other's eyes in silence for a while. Rodel knew that there wasn't much more he could say to Varan and that he'd just need to work the rest through on his own.

"Don't worry son," said Rodel as he lifted himself up onto his creaking legs, "I've still got a few months fight left in me. Look I can still do all the things which make me who I am." To demonstrate he pointed his head at a near by shrub and let a stream of dragon's breath from his mouth singe the bush into charcoal. He grinned at the smile on his son's face before continuing, "I've still got all my skills and magics, as strong as ever. Just don't ask me to fly anywhere too far away, my wings aren't as aerodynamic as they used to be. And anyway I much prefer walking these days anyway, gives me more time to think.

"You've got just as many skills, most of them far more developed than mine. My fierce breath is no match for the subtly of your polymorphic abilities. That was one of your mother's greatest skills, I'm glad that you inherited it, it'll be of far more use in these modern times than huge displays of physical power. With it you'll be able to take human form and walk among them with no fear.

"I was never able to do anything as gentle as that, fear and destruction were my only options. You probably didn't know this about your old man, but the reason you've never seen me in my human form is that," he went to a conspiratorial whisper now, "I'm not very good at it. My skin was always slightly green and scaly and I'd have little stumps on my back where my wings should be. Bit of a give-away around humans."

"Really dad?"

"Really. Still I never let it hold me back, but I was always a bit jealous of you and your mother. The two of you were always able to just walk into town and not have people run away in fear. Underneath all the fire and violence I've got a bit of a soft spot for humans."

The two of them sat in silence as the grass around the burnt bush crackled and smouldered quiet, both staring at the village on the horizon and thinking about what they'd discussed.

It was Varan who was the first to speak, "I know you're right, I just think... I just don't want to admit that you and your way of life is going to be gone one of these days."

"As long as you're still around and can still remember me then there's nothing more that I could ever want. You don't have to be a copy of me to do that." Rodel paused as he thought about if there was anything else he could say. "Anyway," he continued, "I'm still here and the afternoon is still young: do you fancy going for a flight to find some lonely cow somewhere that we can hunt for dinner?"

Varan visibly perked up at the suggestion, "Oh yes, that'd be great. Lead the way father."

With a couple of powerful beats of his wings, Rodel stretched his ageing muscles to ready them for take off. He walked forwards a few steps and then pushed off the ground with his thick claws as he launched himself into the air. After Rodel had got up enough speed with his wings so that his flight was stable he glanced over his shoulder to see his son gracefully launching into the air. "He'll be ok," he thought to himself, "he'll do just fine on his own."

Monday, December 21, 2009

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Biscuits and alcohol

This is a discussion about biscuits and alcohol.

"Why do we have a packet of biscuits?" my house-mate asked me.
I paused for a moment and went for the most direct answer, "I needed to buy some wine at lunch." The confused expression on his face caused me to elaborate, "It was so that I didn't get IDed like last time."
"Did it work?" he asked, still eyeing me with suspicion.
"Yes," I replied, "I just put the bottle of wine and those chocolate digestives on the belt, paid the person at the till and left."

If I had just gone into the supermarket and got a bottle of wine at lunchtime, I expect I would have been asked to prove my age, like the time previously when I'd got a bottle of port in my lunch break and been asked to show that I was over eighteen. I assume it might be something that cashiers are trained to look for; a lone purchase of alcohol implies that it's your only concern at that time. It is almost certainly an unusual pattern but one which has likely been identified as behaviour of under-age and problem drinkers.

Biscuits are another matter though, they are usually had during the day and generally with tea, which just oozes normality for 1pm in the afternoon. By including biscuits in my purchase I didn't look like a booze fiend just looking for the next drink, I looked like someone planning their evening while also getting some biscuits to have during tea. No-one who drinks tea could possibly be anything but respectable, therefore I was trustworthy and didn't need to have my access to alcohol restricted, so no need to ask for identification.

I placed the basket containing the loaf of bread, the pot of hummus and the bottle of Rioja on the side by the till. I suddenly remembered that I'd not got any biscuits this time, but hoped that the buying of other food would be sufficient. For good measure I smiled at the cashier as he picked up the loaf of bread and scanned it. The pot of hummus quickly followed as I picked up the loaf and placed it in one of the carrier bags on the other side of the till.
"Have you got any proof of age?" he asked as I picked up the hummus. I looked up to see him holding the bottle of wine tentatively over the scanner.
"Erm. Yes I do, hang on," I stumbled through my words as I dug out my wallet and fished around in it for my photo-card from my driving license. After pulling out a loyalty card for a different supermarket and a telephone banking details card I finally found my driving license. "Here you go," I said as I handed it over.
He examined the card carefully and then handed it back to me with a quiet thank you. The scanner beeped as the bottle was scanned and he handed it to my waiting hands.

I felt validated in my theory of biscuits preventing me from requiring to prove my age. Here I was, clearly buying lunch as well as alcohol, yet still I was required to show that over eighteen years had passed since my birth. Here I had gone and purchased items which were similar in value to biscuits, both nutritionally and financially, and yet I was still asked for identification.

Bread, a component of the typical lunchtime sandwich, clearly isn't enough to show that the alcohol will be consumed sensibly and in a refined manor. Without the trustworthy associations of biscuits with tea, the assumption must have been that the wine would be drunk with the bread, probably just outside the store. The till-operators training manual clearly must highlight that some people will try to buy cheap items such as bread to try to distract from the alcohol being purchased.

I was determined not to get asked for proof of age this time so I had got a packet of custard creams to add to my two bottles of beer and bottle of South African white wine that I had in my basket. I walked towards the tills and scanned up and down the length of the shop to find the shortest queue. As luck would have it the till just in front of me had only one person who was just finishing packing while their payment was processed, so I walked straight towards that and unloaded my four items onto its belt.
"Good afternoon," said the cashier to me as she picked up and scanned my biscuits.
"Afternoon," I replied as I pulled out a carrier bag to put the biscuits into.
The bottle of wine and bottles of beer slid past the scanner one by one and I carefully placed them into my bag.
"That'll be £11.39," said the till operator in a friendly voice.
I reached into my pocket and handed over a crumpled twenty pound note and she turned to put it into the cash box. As she counted out my change I picked up my bag of biscuits and booze, proud in the knowledge that I'd avoided getting asked for proof of age.

Through a series of tests I was now confident that my theories on biscuits avoiding the need to show proof of age were valid. I now had a system I could use in the future and avoid all those slightly embarrassing times I have had to find some way of proving that I am really as old as I should be to buy alcohol. No longer will I be implicitly accused of trying to purchase items which I'm legally forbidden from buying.

The biscuits must inspire a feeling of trustworthiness in the till worker that other food doesn't. This might at first seem slightly counter intuitive, as some might think that biscuits have a juvenile association, but the homely image of sitting on a sofa drinking tea with a biscuit to munch on must override the young associations. These findings are shared so that others might have hassle free alcohol purchasing experiences in shops, regardless of the time of day that they are buying the beer, wine or spirits.

This was a discussion which was not entirely about biscuits and alcohol.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Pebbles on a Dark Beach

Janos turned over in his bed and slowly became aware of the world around him. He knew it was still dark and call he could hear was the slow rustle of the wind in the trees outside his open window.

'Urrggg,' he thought, 'it must still be early. Two, maybe three AM.'

He stayed laying on his side and desperately tried to not try too hard to get back to sleep. He knew that if his brain got back up to speed that he wouldn't be able to get back to sleep. It was too late though, he knew he was too awake now.

Rolling over onto his back he kept his eyes closed in one last attempt to drift back into sleep. It was no good and he let out a long sigh while his spirits sank.

Clunk. His ears pricked up at the loud banging sound from downstairs. His hard thumped in his chest.

'Probably the washing machine,' he explained to himself, 'it's probably still on it's cycle from when I put it on before bed.'

'But,' continued Janos's thoughts, 'it should have finished by now.'

He held is breath waiting for it to happen again. A low throbbing grew in his ears and he felt his chest tightening, still holding his breath. He carried on until he couldn't hold his breath any more and then let it out in a great rush of air.

Thud. There the sound was again, although he couldn't be sure that it was the same sound now. He cursed himself for being so noisy as he breathed out. He opened his eyes quickly and glanced around the room. He couldn't see anything unusual, the same pictures hung on the walls and the same wardrobe sat in the corner next to the same chest of drawers.

Janos moved his hand from under the duvet and felt over on his bedside table for the light switch. His fingers rested on the soft plastic and he paused for a few moments to gather his thoughts before he flicked the switch. He steadied himself for the sudden brightness and pressed the switch softly and slowly.

Click. The room was flooded with halogen brightness and he instinctively shut his eyes. He quickly opened them again, fearing for the dark, and let his eyes adjust painfully to the brilliant light.

'See, there's nothing wrong in my room,' he pleaded to himself, 'absolutely nothing to worry about.'

'Still it might be wise to check downstairs?' was his answer to himself.

His heart thundered at this thought and he quickly thought up an excuse: 'Well, if only to get a drink of water, not because I might find something down there.'

He quickly lept out of bed, quitely landing on the soft carpet with both feet. He adjusted his t-shirt and then opened his bedroom door. The light flooded out of his room and illuminated the landing and down the stairs to the ground floor. Quietly and slowly he padded forward, keeping his weight on his back foot.

'Just to be cautious,' he told himself, 'I wouldn't want to trip and fall while still half asleep.'

As he reached the bottom of the stairs he turned right and looked into the darkness of his kitchen. Reaching quickly around the door frame he quickly flicked the kitchen light switch.

Nothing. The kitchen had the left over roast sitting on the stove from dinner that night. The same pile of used plates that hadn't been cleaned from the same dinner party still sat there, slowly filling the kitchen with the smell of their thick gravy. Everything was how he'd left it.

He went over to the sink, grabbed an upturned glass from the draining board and turned on the cold tap. Flicking his finger under the tap until it was a crisp coldness he then filled the glass. Drinking the water down in large gulps, Janos drained the glass in one go. Placing the glass upside-down on the draining board again he reached over the just checked that the back door was locked.

'Shit!' his mind stammered as the handle moved down and the door opened under his touch.

His hand didn't move as he held the door slightly ajar for a few seconds. The cold outside air rolled over the floor and licked at his toes. Awakening him from his frozen position he pushed the door fully open and stepped out onto the cold concrete squares of his patio.

He raised his head up and looked at the sky. It was a dark and moonless night and the stars were twinkling across the sky. Breathing in deeply he let the cold air fill his lungs, relaxing and calming down as he basked in the moonlight.

'Nothing out here but billion year old stars and some crisp night air,' Janos thought to himself as the wave of relief flowed through all over his body.

As he turned around to enter the house and some movement in the sky to the south caught his eye. He glanced towards it just soon enough to see a long red shooting star streak a smooth arc across the sky. He paused for a few moments and gave the sky a brief nod of approval before resuming his movement back into the house.

Shutting the back door firmly, Janos turned the key in the lock. Happy that it was now secure he placed the cold shaped metal on the kitchen counter and walked out of the door. As Janos passed through the door his hand slapped the light switch, killing the kitchen light. Bounding upstairs he moved quickly down the corridor and into his bedroom.

It wasn't painful. He didn't feel anything, just a slight cold shiver up his spine and a dull thud from right behind his head. As his legs buckled from under him he looked over to the corner to the right of the door, where the wardrobe should be, and where the wardrobe still was.

Through fast blurring vision and with head resting on the end of his bed all he could see was the blackness of the hooded figure and the pinpoints of light in it's black eyes. As dark warmness reached all around him the last he could see was the light of his bedroom light reflected sharply in those obsidian spheres.