Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fiction: Love

Hello there. A person I know is running a writing competition at the moment. You can find details of it here: @DustandLove's Competition. Should you wish to enter, I'm sure that would make him very happy indeed.

Here is my entry to the competition. It weighs in at 300 words exactly, although it was originally quite a bit more. Apologies if there are now bits which don't make sense, though I think I've made it so there are not.


Brian, across the road, lives alone. His wife’s dead, and his son moved out long before we moved here. He doesn’t see him, or even speak to him. Hasn’t for years, apparently.

Like most lonely old people, Brian loves a chat. He doesn’t need much of an opening to tell you about his army days, or the many years he spent with his wife. The one thing he doesn’t often talk about is his son. The one time he did, he described him as “a little shit”, but didn’t say why.

There’s a sadness in Brian’s face, a permanent feature, sitting beneath the white beard and deep within the wrinkles. I wonder whether it was one specific thing which put the sadness there, or many. I don’t suppose I’ll ever find out.

Most evenings I watch the news. Tonight, the headline story is a violent armed robbery in the city, the CCTV footage grainy but dramatic; the perpetrator remains armed, unidentified and uncaught. Police advise nearby residents to keep their homes secure. Don’t allow entry to anyone you don’t know. I’m not worried, but I check the house just in case, it’s only sensible.

Later, as I’m going to bed, a car comes into the road at speed, its tyres barely maintaining traction as the driver hits the brakes. Peering out of my window I see a man emerge. He doesn’t look grainy now, even in the poor light. It’s the fugitive, and he’s approaching Brian’s house.

The old man comes to the door, and I’m terrified for him. Why open it? But the two men embrace, before Brian furtively ushers the man inside. He looks up, sees me. I drop the curtain quickly, but not before I’ve seen that the sadness is gone from his face. Brian is smiling.


I would love to receive feedback, good or bad, on the story in the comments area below. Go on.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Would you mind helping me out with something, oh reader?

I'm not sure how I feel about something, and I'd like to canvass some opinion. 

Here's the thing: every month, a direct debit for £89 whooshes silently from my bank account and into the coffers of NPower. In return for my £89, I have sockets which dispense electricity, lights which illuminate my family's home when we flick the switch, and toasty warm radiators when the temperature plummets in the winter months (for the record, it's not on yet, I've only got back into wearing trousers instead of shorts in the last fortnight).

A lot goes into that bill, you can see what proportion is spent on what by looking here.

Eighty-nine pounds. On the face of it, that doesn't seem too expensive for such a crucial product: energy. And it's not. When that bill lands on the mat, I groan, but not because it's really expensive. Just because it's a bill, and the only post I ever get is either telling me how much money is going into my account (not enough) how much is coming out (plenty) or how much is left (less than nothing, generally).

But we all need energy. Heating and lights are not things I would ever want to have to make do without (although there are those who do, and that's another blog post entirely). Energy is an essential. 

A socket, in my house, right now.

The thing I'm unsure of is this: do I think it's okay that the suppliers of our energy are making a shedload of money by selling it to us?

Today, Ed Milliband gave his speech to the Labour Party conference. In it, he said a Labour government would freeze the price of energy until 2017. Almost immediately, the Guardian (yes, sorry, I'm a bit lefty) comments section was full of people saying things like "it's a nice step in the direction of re-nationalisation" and others saying "re-nationalisation is just a return to the outdated politics of the 70s, when Labour fucked the country right up and there were power shortages".

Thing is, I don't remember the 70s, because I hadn't been born. I can well imagine that it was a bit shit, three day working weeks, strikes on all days ending in y, that sort of thing. But is there a reason, intrinsic to nationalisation, that the supply of energy couldn't be publicly owned? I don't know. What do you reckon?

What I see at the moment is a few, very large, companies who can pretty much charge what they want for energy, because what are we going to do about it? Unless we want a return to using candles to light our homes, to using an open fire to heat them, we can't decide we won't give one of the energy suppliers our custom. They can charge what they like, make as much money as they see fit, and we have very little say over it. That doesn't seem fair to me. 

But maybe it is. What do you think?

Friday, September 13, 2013

Fiction: Voyager

I wrote the following bit of fiction after reading about the Voyager 1 probe leaving our solar system, I'd love to know what you think of it, even if it's really bad (which it might well be, I've never written anything sci-fi-ish). Cheers.

A picture of Voyager 1, courtesy of

“Let’s start with a question: which single person is responsible for the greatest number of human deaths in our recorded history? Here’s a little clue, in case you’ve been asleep for the past few years: it’s not any of the first few names you’re thinking of. Hitler? Too obvious. Pol Pot? Ditto. None of those depraved motherfuckers managed to rack up as many corpses as this guy. Worst thing? Dude wasn’t even trying to be a killer, he was just an explorer.”

Ian’s finished, and he’s looking at me for an answer, his usual smug grin spread across his face. He knows I don’t know, and he loves it.

I shrug, “Man, you know history ain’t my thing, it could be Elvis Presley and I wouldn’t have heard. It’s got to be whoever you’re holding responsible for all this though.” I wave a hand in the direction of the armoured glass window separating us from the outside world. Earth, and that’s about all that’s left out there now. Barren and scorched, there’s nothing left of the lush, green world I grew up in. Everything’s grey now. At least it makes camouflage easy.

The grin gets wider as Ian soaks up this tiny victory, uses the feeling to nourish his soul for a moment. “Sorry man, trick question. No-one even knows the guy’s name. Whoever signed the order to go ahead with the old Voyager program. Death warrant for humankind that one, not that he ever could have known. Or she. Could have been a woman. Not sure NASA was much into the equality struggle in the sixties though. Leave that to the hippies I guess.”

So it’s going to be a Voyager day. Great. Ian’s favourite. I’ve heard it all before, more times than I can remember. Still, if it keeps the conversation away from some of the other great debates (Slayer or Metallica, Android or iOS) I’m not about to complain. Not that it would make a difference whether I complain or not; Ian is a great talker, but listening isn’t a strong suit.

“Anyway, mister or missus NASA signs the papers and Voyager is go. The scientists and engineers beaver away for a while and in ’77 the thing’s ready to be flung out into the abyss. Past Saturn and Jupiter, sending us the digital postcards as it goes. That big red spot on Jupiter? A storm big enough to envelope Earth, made of superhot gasses. I tell you man, that film Twister? Would have been a lot shorter if they’d been chasing that storm! But photos of Jupiter and Saturn were just the starters for Voyager, it’d been built to last, and the NASA boys wanted it to keep on going. So they aimed it at the edge of the solar system and away it went.”

I’ve got pretty good at looking like I’m interested in what Ian’s saying, when I’m actually keeping an eye on the monitors for any hostile movements outside, so these history lessons really just wash over me now. That’s good, as they tend to last a while. I don’t have anywhere better to be right now, or ever, and most of the time the background hum of Ian talking is preferable to the background hum of the micronuclear generator keeping this place going.

“It’s sort of funny when you think about it, some people worried about the gold disc on Voyager being an invitation to any megalomaniac aliens to come and get scrappy with us, in the end it wasn’t what we had to say that mattered, it was where we were saying it.”

He’s stopped talking, and is staring at the semi-automatic rifle he has in his hands. Before all this happened, he’d have loved to get his hands on something like that. Ian had been one of those guys who really enjoyed a bit of simulated war. Airsoft, paintball, Call of Duty online with a battalion of other players who were well off enough to know damn well they’d never be called upon to look down the barrel of a gun that fired something more real than a plastic pellet, thimbleful of paint or a collection of visually accurate pixels. Until now. And that same semi-automatic weapon, the pinnacle of human design, full of carbon composites and Computer Aided Death, suddenly looked like bringing a knife to a gunfight once the BHLs showed up.

That’s Beyond Heliosphere Lifeforms, by the way. Named after the theoretical limits of the Sun, our sun’s, influence on space. Once you’re out of the heliosphere, you’re really in outer space. You can also stop worrying whether you’ve applied suncream. A tan is the least of your worries though, because it turns out there’s a whole lot of other intelligent life in the galaxy, and they’re mostly just as capable of being nasty fuckers as we are.

The only reason we didn’t hear from the BHLs before is because of Interstellar Law. Any species with the capacity for interstellar travel is forbidden from entering another inhabited solar system, until such time as the inhabitants of that system send something physical outside of its boundaries.

Something like a 700kg, nuclear powered space probe called Voyager, with a gold disc attached to it which spells out just what galactic n00bs we are.

The rest of the universe gave us just over a year to get ready, and turned up on the same day that those cheerful, clever bastards at NASA proudly announced to the world that Voyager had left the solar system a year before. It was Friday the 13th too. Typical.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Breakfast - Pancakes with Maple Syrup and Bacon

Breakfast, apparently, is the most important meal of the day. What you eat when you get up sets the tone for the coming hours.

My usual breakfast is a bowl of Tesco Value Cornflakes, drowned in about a pint of milk. I think the flakes are made by collecting the dust which falls from the overalls of the factory workers and squishing it together with a bit of glue. But at 31p for a big box that lasts me a week, I can't really complain about their relative lack of quality.

This morning I thought it'd be nice to have something a little less dull.


Pancakes are ace. Everyone KNOWS this to be true, and yet most people in this country still insist on eating them just once a year. This is one area where Americans are better than us. They understand that pancakes are not just for using up the flour, sugar and eggs before lent. Pancakes can, and should, be eaten whenever the mood takes us.

Quick. Cheap. Tasty. What's not to love?

Here's a recipe which my mum gave me, for Scotch pancakes. I don't know where she got it from originally, I just remember it being scrawled on a Post-It note in the kitchen of the house I grew up in. It's probably the exact same recipe as everyone else already uses, but I'm going to tell you about it anyway.


9oz self raising flour
2oz caster sugar
Pinch of salt
2 eggs
Some milk


Put all the ingredients, apart from the milk, in a big bowl, like this:

Now, add a bit of milk. Not too much. You want the batter to be quite thick, so take it easy. A little splash, then do some whisking. Like this:

You're aiming for a batter which is thick enough to drop off the end of the whisk slowly, but which does drop off. Like this:

The bottle of wine in the background is for when you add too much milk and need to drown your sorrows.

Once the batter is the right consistency (or it's the wrong consistency, but you're drunk enough that you don't care) you're ready to make the pancakes.

I use our Cuisinart sandwich press/contact grill/cook everything thing, heated to 180 degrees centigrade. If you haven't got something like that, just heat up a big non-stick frying pan with a good flat area. Don't use a wok. That would be silly.

Pour the batter onto whatever hot thing you're using. A blob about 6cm across will spread out to make a good size pancake:

Leave them on the hot thing until bubbles start appearing and popping on the surface of the pancakes:

Once those bubbles are there it's time to flip them over. They ought to look something like this:

You should have enough batter to make about 12-14 pancakes. Depending on how gluttonous you are this will serve anywhere between one and four people.

Once all the pancakes are cooked pile them on a plate while you cook some bacon.

Stack the pancakes on top of one another, with the bacon sandwiched between them. Pour some (lots of) maple syrup over the top. If you're feeling particularly healthy, as I was this morning, maybe pop a little bit of butter on the top of the stack too.

Here's what mine looked like this morning, just before I devoured it:

Hot damn. That's a good breakfast.

In the unlikely event that you don't want bacon with them, these also go really well with some fresh berries, or you can throw a handful of dried fruit into the batter before you cook them. Whatever really, the pancakes themselves are just the start. They're definitely a better start than a bowl of nasty cornflakes.