Wednesday, 29 October 2014

In which a young girl causes problems for her mother

Today I happened to be following a small child and her mother as they came out of a supermarket and was close enough to hear their conversation. The girl was proudly carrying an important part of their dinner in each hand, or at least she was till she dropped one of them. Fortunately it wasn't an easily breakable item.
     "Careful, love," her mother said, "that's our dinner."
     The girl just giggled and squatted down to pick it up. Then she dropped the other one.
     "Oh, come on," said her mother, collecting the second item and adding it to the shopping bag she was carrying.
     "This packet is squishy," noted the girl, matter-of-factly. Getting no response from her mother she said it again.
     After the third time her mum replied, "yes, but try not to squash it completely."
     Instead the girl reached out her arm with the packet and ran it along the wall as she walked.
     "Don't do that, love," said her mother, now sounding a little exasperated.
     "Because, that's our dinner, and if you make a hole in the packet our dinner will come out and be ruined, and we don't want that do we?"
     The girl said nothing, but skipped away happily, probably to find some other way of playing with/destroying the dinner. I find that children that age are exceptionally obedient. If an adult tells them not to do something, they don't do it, they just find something else, equally disastrous, to do instead. What happiness!

Monday, 27 October 2014

The Magician

Every year the village of East Sifin holds a Talent show, which people enter from all round the area. They rent out the little theatre and an hour before the start the room is packed with locals out for a good evening's entertainment. There will be musicians, dancers, acrobats and comedians with varying degrees of skill, but each one is applauded with gusto and no one ever feels they performed badly.
     Everyone attending gets to vote for their favourite and so the winner is chosen, but a panel of four judges is also present to provide a few comments after each act. On the panel is Mr Flanagan, current director of the local amateur dramatic society and organiser of the whole event; Mrs Merribold, who years before sang in the London Symphony Chorus;  Lucy Price, a teacher in the primary school and keen dancer; and Reverend Peters, the local vicar, known for being thoughtful and having a good sense of humour.
     There are often more than twenty acts and the evening drags on, but no one seems to mind. On this particular occasion the audience were exceptionally keen, cheering each act more loudly than the one before. It was well after 9 o'clock when the final performer entered the stage.
     "Welcome," said Mrs Merribold, beaming happily, "and what's your name?"
     "Winquist," replied the man. He was dressed in a long, black topcoat and boots and seemed strangely serious.
     "And where do you come from Mr Winquist?" went on Mrs Merribold, "I don't think I've seen you before."
     "I have travelled some way to be here," was the vague answer.
     "Okay, err," Mrs Merribold faltered slightly, "and what have you come to do?"
     "I'm a magician," said Winquist.
     "Oo, good," cut in Mr Flanagan, "we haven't had a magician yet this year. This should be an exciting end to the acts." This was met with a general cheer. The crowd were happy to cheer anything by now.
     "When you're ready then Mr Winquist," said Mrs Merribold, leaning back in expectation.
     Winquist nodded and then addressed the audience. "Thank you everyone." (Cheer) "If you'll just bear with me a moment." Quickly he whipped off his large coat and then, without blinking, drew an invisible hook in mid air and hung his coat on it.
     There was silence for a split second as the audience tried to work out what had just happened and how the trick worked. Then there was a large round of applause and more cheering.
     "Nice," said Lucy, while the vicar leaned forward.
     "Now, I thought I'd start by doing some juggling," continued Winquist as if nothing had happened. "I know you might not think juggling especially magical, but I find it fascinating."
     While he was talking Winquist reached inside his coat and pulled out three ordinary juggling balls and began rotating them through the air. The crowd watched and waited expectantly for the magic, but initially nothing seemed to happen.
     After almost twenty seconds Winquist looked over to the judges and asked, "Mrs Merribold, I'm struggling to remember, how many balls did I start off with?"
     "Three," she replied confidently.
     "Ah yes, I thought one had slipped in there."
     Lucy gasped as she caught on. "There's four now!"
     The audience began to realise what had happened, but then someone called out, "No, there's five!"
     "I can see six," said another.
     The multiplying juggling balls engrossed the crowd as they tried to keep track. The vicar, though, was watching Winquist's hands, trying to work out where the new balls were appearing from.
     The audience became increasingly excited as more and more balls appeared until someone was certain they'd counted ten.
     Winquist suddenly shouted, "This has gone too far, I can't keep up," and in a flash all of the balls were launched into the air and vanished.
     A large "ooo" swept round the room, followed by more clapping.
     Winquist was digging in his coat again and emerged with a shiny, top hat. "I like traditions," he said, still completely serious. "You can't beat simply pulling rabbits out of a hat." To prove his point he reached in and picked up not one but two rabbits and stepping off the stage handed them to Lucy and Mrs Merribold, who were delighted. The magician reached into the hat again and this time pulled out a rubber duck, which he passed to the vicar, who took it and laughed.
     "What do I get?" said Mr Flanagan indignantly, which brought on more shouts from the audience.
     "You," said Winquist, "can have this," and he handed over the top hat. "Now if you wouldn't mind holding it upside down, I think it's time these rabbits went home." Then he clapped twice and the two rabbits sprung up, hopped along the desk and jumped back into the hat.
     Mr Flanagan stared into the hat and then held it the right way up, but nothing fell out.
     "Excuse me," said Winquist, now back on the stage, "how would you like it if someone turned your house upside down?"
     Mr Flanagan looked abashed and apologised.
     "You'll pay for that, you know. You will now have to take part in my final piece of magic."
     The actor looked excited and began to rise from his seat.
     "No, no," said Winquist, "stay where you are." Then to the audience he said, "I feel that my magic so far has been cute and simple, so now I will show you something truly spectacular."
     The audience drew a breath in mutual excitement.
     The magician took a few steps back so that he stood in the middle of the stage. Then without warning he burst into flames. This time the shouts from the onlookers were cries of fear, but the fire went out almost as quickly as it had started. At the same moment there was a loud crack and the stage was empty. No magician, not coat, nothing. Then from the wings appeared a very confused looking Mr Flanagan. Everyone stared, still stunned and confused about what had happened. Mrs Merribold, however, screamed and all eyes snapped to the judges desk. There on the end seat, where Mr Flanagan had been just moments before, sat a very relaxed Winquist, complete with topcoat and hat and applauding loudly.
     "Take a bow then, Mr Flanagan," called the magician, "that was a wonderful act."
     Some of the crowd began to clap too, but the poor director continued to look dazed.

The magician's act was easily the most talked about as the audience refilled their drinks and dropped their voting slips into the box. Most of them were happy enough with the act, although several seemed to think the final piece had been a little disturbing. There were many ideas as to how the coat and the juggling balls and a the hat with the rabbits were done, but no one had a clue how Winquist had vanished from the stage, while Mr Flanagan had ended up in the wings. Some suggested that Mr Flanagan must have been in on the act and just wanted a bit more stage time himself.
     "He is a good actor," said one person.
     "Well I think that's cheating," said another.
     The magician himself, meanwhile, was nowhere to be seen.

After the voting had been completed and the adding up done by the judges, everyone reassembled for the announcement of the winner. Normally this would have been done by Mr Flanagan, but he was still recovering from his part in the magician's act and so handed over the honour to the vicar.
     "Thank you, again, everyone for coming," began the Reverend Peters, gripping a piece of paper tightly. The crowd, who had rediscovered their voice, cheered once more. "It has been another wonderful night. Magical, one might say," he added to a burst of laughter.
     "But now it is time to announce the winner of tonight's contest." The vicar paused slightly. "I can reveal that the champion of East Sifin's talent competition this year is," (a longer pause this time) "Emily Harraday, with her performance of 'Mama Mia'!"
     There was some surprise but it didn't stop the biggest cheer of the night as a blushing, twelve-year old, Emily tripped up to collect her prize.
     Unnoticed at the back of the theatre a man in a black topcoat slipped out of the door, smiling slightly as he pocketed the results of the vote count.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

The War of Jenkin's Ear

On this day (23rd October) in 1739 Great Britain declared was against Spain. A war which was later given possibly the best name of any war in history: The War of Jenkin's Ear.

Robert Jenkins was a Welshman and a sailor, who had his ear cut off by a Spaniard; Captain Julio Leon Fandino, who suspected Jenkins of smuggling. Captain Julio then suggested that Jenkins tell the King (George II) that the same would happen to him if he was caught doing the same.

As it happened Jenkins did exactly that and Captain Julio wasn't laughing so much when the King sent in the Navy. Bizarrely this was eight years after the ear chopping incident, in which time Jenkins had shown just about everybody else his ear (now pickled in a jar), including the House of Commons, who decided that the Spanish should not be allowed to get away with it.

Then followed several years of the British battering Spanish ports (across the whole Spanish empire, including most of the Caribbean) with mixed success. Spanish pirates did quite well out of it too by attacking British ships, which led to the British taking it out on French merchant vessels. The French, however, decided not to join the war, which was probably wise.

Later the British and the Spanish forgot all about it and after 1750 actually became quite friendly.

The only disappointment I have is that the Pickled Ear wasn't used as a sort of trophy, which could be handed over to whichever side was winning. On a happier note, though, the war is still commemorated annually ... in Savannah, Georgia.


Friday, 17 October 2014

Favourites - films

To follow on from my previous post in which I shared some of my favourite books, I will now reveal my favourite films (in no particular order). I noticed that these five fall into very different categories and so that is how I have introduced them. Here they are:

The Epic
Dances with Wolves
As a fan of epic movies and history this easily lands high on my list. It is the story of Lt. John Dubar who chooses to go to a remote civil war outpost which turns out to be abandoned. Slowly he befriends wolves and Indians and turns his back on the military. The film is beautiful, displaying the wide plains of central America in all their glory.

The Animation
Flushed Away
An Aardman creation, which for me always bodes well, this is possibly the funniest film I have ever seen. A posh English rat is flushed down a toilet and finds himself in the underground world of the London sewers, where one fat frog is hoping to drive the rat population to extinction. Outrageous and ridiculous, I don't care who you are, this is brilliant (there are singing slugs!!!).

The Critically Acclaimed
The Shawshank Redemption
A powerful story of a man wrongfully imprisoned and quietly determined to break out. This is a film of friendship and survival and how hope can conquer fear. Wonderfully acted and nominated for seven Oscars, this really is a must see.

The Thought-provoking Drama
Pay it Forward
The intriguing tale of a boy who is challenged by his teacher to find a way to change the world and responds with his idea of 'Pay it forward'. If someone does a good thing for you, it is up to you to pass it on (rather than back), and help three other people, until the whole world has been affected. Gritty and realistic this film never fails to move me.

The Action/Fantasy
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Perhaps not the greatest film ever made, but thoroughly enjoyable. I won't bother describing the story but it is possibly the perfect, all-action, entertainment spectacle and as we know, features Johnny Depp doing what he was born to do. Mad and brilliant.

Other of my much watched movies which sadly haven't appeared in this list include: A Knight's Tale, Gladiator, We Bought a Zoo, Some Like It Hot, High Noon, Bruce Almighty, and the list could go on, but there it is. Feel free to share your favourites or offer me suggestions!

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Favourites - books

To share a little bit about me I thought I'd let you know about my favourite Books and Movies, which I will do over two separate posts.

Immediately this poses problems. Firstly, to pick an out and out top book or film is just too tricky, so really these are a selection that would make it into my Top 10. Secondly, as a big Tolkien fan I should technically include The Lord of the Rings in both lists, but partly because there is more than one film, and because Tolkien produced far more than just the LotR I have decided to omit it from this list.

Here, then, are my favourite books:

Life of Pi - Yann Martel
Martel tells the story of Pi's journey across the Pacific in a life boat... with a Tiger, and uses it to consider life, religion, people and stories. Here is a novel that both messes with my head and yet also makes a lot of sense. It is a fantastic and fantastical story, beautifully described and completely gripping.

A Week in December - Sebastian Faulks
Faulks reckons this isn't his best novel, but it is the one I have enjoyed the most. In it he tells the story of a week in December in London, from the point of view of seven normal, and apparently disconnected, people. However, throughout the story their lives cross in interesting and intriguing ways, which shows just how closely we are connected to people, even when we don't realise it.

The Testament - John Grisham
Not critically acclaimed but one of the biggest selling authors of all time, and not for nothing. Grisham's stories from American court rooms are beyond gripping. This novel is probably my favourite of his in which a billionaire leaves all his wealth to an illegitimate daughter who happens to be a missionary somewhere in the Amazon rainforest. Funnily enough his other children aren't happy and his lawyer has to sort it all out.

Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro
Another favourite author of mine, Ishiguro is well worth looking up if you haven't already. This story of love, friendship and memory is set in a darkly skewed version of modern England and sees a collection of students come to terms with what their lives are really about and what awaits them on leaving Hailsham School.

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
A much loved classic, which I was fortunate enough to study at GCSE. This is a story of morals and how one brilliant father teaches his children to make good decisions. Set against the backdrop of racism this novel reveals different things to each reader, and on each reading, and can be enjoyed by young people and adults alike.

Other books which are high on my list but I have had to leave off include: The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath, Catch 22, Captain Correlli's Mandolin, Three Men in a Boat, Atonement, The Shipping News, Azincourt, and (well I have to be honest) the Harry Potter series, all of which have gripped, thrilled and inspired me. I recommend them all!

Monday, 13 October 2014

Flirting tips from 9 year olds

Overheard a couple of girls discussing ways to get boys to like them. Here's a few of their suggestions.
You don't want to appear desperate so start simple.
Say "Hi" and talk about the weather.
Then talk about things they are likely to know about, such as, 'why do footballers have weird names?'
Or another good conversation starter could be, 'why do footballers earn so much?'
A good sign that they're interested is if they poke you.
Maybe a bit later on you can get his phone number but if you do you should wait for him to text you first, and then leave it a few hours before you reply.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Complaint

Gary had had enough and he grumbled to himself as he stomped his way to the complaints department. Nothing ever seemed to go right anymore and he was determined that he was going to get someone to do something about his latest problem. The complaints department had their own lobby, which was sparsely furnished and had a few boring pictures on the walls. On entering it Gary noticed he was faced with three doors. The first had a plaque that read, “Complaints for people who are just a bit annoyed.” The second door’s plaque said, “Complaints for people who want to have a rant.” While on the third door’s plaque was written, “Complaints for people who have a well reasoned argument.”
            Gary stood for a moment, perplexed; then a voice from behind him said, ‘Are you all right, Sir?’
            Gary spun round and came face to face with a well dressed man of medium height and build, who was smiling at him in a very pleasant way.
            ‘Well, it’s just that,’ began Gary looking again at the doors, ‘this wasn’t exactly what I expected, and I’m not quite sure which door I need.’
            ‘It sounds like you’re just a bit annoyed, Sir,’ said the man. ‘You want the first one.’
            ‘I’m more than annoyed,’ came back Gary, a little more loudly than he’d intended.
            ‘All right, Sir, if you’re angry maybe the second door would be best.’
            ‘I don’t want to have a rant,’ said Gary, ‘I want to make a genuine complaint.’
            ‘Ah, well then I guess you have a well reasoned argument, Sir. It’s the third door for you.’
            Gary looked sheepish. ‘Well, I wouldn’t say it’s that detailed.’
            ‘Hmm,’ replied the man, ‘may I ask what your complaint is about, Sir, maybe I could help that way?’
            ‘Err… I can’t even remember any more.’
            ‘Well then, Sir, I suggest you go away and think about it. If it’s important you could always write us a letter so that we can file it.’
            ‘Yes, that sounds like a good idea, I might do that. Thank you’
            ‘Not at all, Sir. Goodbye.’
            ‘Goodbye,’ said Gary, and left.

The man watched him walk away then crossed the lobby and taking the second door at random entered a large room filled with comfy chairs, tables of food and several guys sitting around discussing the latest football results. He headed for the drinks table and on the way over called out, ‘Oi, David, you lazy git. It’s your turn to head the next bloke off.’

Monday, 6 October 2014

Where the Nimlets live

The land where the Nimlets live is a mysterious place. It is hard to find and little is known about what goes on there. Many people could pass right by and never realise they had missed it. Hidden amongst trees and bordered by green hills the Nimlets live peacefully in their homes in the Neveth. It is only when they leave their country that things change.

The Nimlets dwell mostly around the shores of a large lake, known as Ialtas Mere, in the middle of which is an island. The mere is deep, but the surface is calm, glinting in the sunshine and moonlight. The island, however, is the nerve-centre of the Nimlet’s labours, and although externally it appears just as quiet as the shore, it is there that all important decisions are made.
            Into the lake run seven streams from the hills around, but out of it flows the river Ultilla. As it descends out of the Neveth the river deepens and leads southward towards the desert. For while the land of the Nimlets is fertile and full of life, beyond their borders the ground is hard and barren. The earth is cracked and dust covers everything. Sometimes storms will raise up clouds of sand and bitter winds will stir the stones, but it doesn’t rain. The people there cling to fragile lives and they barely notice anyone but themselves. They have heard only rumours of the Neveth.