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Another Brilliant Review for the Christmas Compendium!

I'm really pleased that people seem to like the new collection of seasonal stories 'A Christmas Cracker ' .  This latest 5 sta...

Sunday, 23 March 2014

I hurled it down the lane, fine - Part 3

The third and final part of the story - sequel to I hurled it down the lane, fine - Part 2 unsurprisingly ;-)


Which brings me neatly back to the start of this story.  An abiding memory of my ten-pin bowling days was one Friday afternoon, following an ‘outdoor activities’ session.  Most of the other pupils had taken the opportunity to clear off home early in the absence of any teaching staff and so there were just a few of us left, stretching our game out and enjoying the relative freedom to chat, lounge, smoke and pretend to be grown-up.  The place was pretty deserted apart from us remaining schoolchildren, but the first few teenagers of the evening were beginning to drift in.  At that time, the only musical entertainment came courtesy of a juke box situated near to the control desk and bowling shoe counter.  I had often browsed this (the juke box, not the bowling shoe counter, even I’m not that strange) but had never had the courage to select anything, for two reasons:

(a) I never had any spare cash, and (more importantly)
(b) I was always too embarrassed to inflict my choice of music on everyone else in case it proved to be a crashing mistake (previous listeners to my attempts as a DJ and as a Presenter on Phoenix Hospital Radio might wish that I’d stuck with this embarrassment)

I always had this feeling that, like the man in that recent ‘macho’ crisp advert (can you really have ‘macho’ crisps?), any attempt to pick a ‘cool’ track would be wrecked by my choosing the equivalent of ‘Puppy Love’ by Donny Osmond and I would end up praying for the ground to open up and swallow me.  I think all of this was based on an incident in the Blackpool Inn some years before.  My dad gave me sixpence (which dates this rather) to go and put in the juke box, essentially so that I wouldn’t keep nagging him to go home.  The pub was empty apart from a couple of old blokes and a dog enjoying a quiet ‘early doors’ pint (the blokes, not the dog obviously).  I spent some time considering my choice before eventually selecting “I’m a Believer” by The Monkees, which was No. 1 at the time.  Unfortunately, the volume of the juke box was still set at the right level for a crowded pub and I cringed with embarrassment as the bright and chirpy sound of Micky Dolenz et al bounced off the walls and the old blokes, and the dog, stared at me with barely disguised loathing.

On this occasion, one of the newly arrived teenagers strolled over to the juke box and made his selection.  Then, soaring around the lanes and stilling the crash of the pins, or the muffled oaths if there wasn’t a crash of pins, came the haunting opening bars of Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”,

Dum, dum de dum dum, dum de dum dum,
Dum, dum de dum dum, dum de dum dum

followed by the wail of the horn section and then Marvin himself singing about treachery, disappointment and heartache.  I knew nothing about these things, but the tune, the production, and the atmosphere it evoked, sent shivers down my spine, as still happens, even now. 


The teenager concerned must have been a Motown fan because Marvin was swiftly followed by the manic drumming and yearning vocals of The Isley Brothers’ “Behind A Painted Smile” and, from then on, I was hopelessly lost to the sounds of Tamla Motown.  This was music that filled the vastness of the bowling alley, that gladdened the heart, even if the lyrics were all about good love gone bad, and which brought the magic of downtown Detroit to the drabness of Burton’s Bargates’.  So, for everyone who has had my Motown selections forced upon them, time after time, now you know why!

You can find this, and a lot more like it, in the bumper book of 'nostalgedy' - Crutches for Ducks.


Saturday, 15 March 2014

I hurled it down the lane fine - Part 2


The second of three parts, sequel to I hurled it down the lane fine - Part 1

Digressing for a moment, I used to know someone at my local whose wife had grown tired of his predilection for spending his nights in the pub.  She had decreed, in an effort to curb his intake, that he could not go out until 10.25pm.  Unfortunately, this bright idea merely proved the law of unintended consequences, as his desire for intoxication was greater than any artificial time constraints.  On entering the pub, this quiet, well-spoken, mild-mannered individual, would order 4 pints of Pedigree, which he would then proceed to consume at an alarming rate.  By 10.50pm he was almost totally incoherent and ready to fight anyone in the place.

Anyway, this stultifying regulation not only hampered the enjoyment of the pub customers.  It made life pretty tiresome for the landlords and landladies as well.  For a few years, in the mid-1960s, we kept a pub in Burton.  In a perfect world, the pub would have kept us, but it didn’t quite work out like that.  By the time we had closed the bar, emptied the pub of customers and generally cleaned up, there really wasn’t anything interesting available to do.  The evening’s television programmes had long since vanished into that white dot in the centre of the screen (which will completely baffle readers of a younger disposition) and every entertainment venue was closed…until the arrival of the ten-pin bowling alley.  You see, I do get to the point, eventually.

I can still picture the scene as my mum and dad and me, plus a possè of like-minded pub customers, drove rapidly, and probably illegally, across town to Bargates’.  I would be about 11 years old and there was something impossibly exotic and intoxicating about being able to enter this exciting world of music, noise and laughter at the unearthly hour of 11.00pm without anyone tapping their foot and looking sternly at their watch.  I can’t remember much about the actual games on those first visits, which I suspect involved more enthusiasm than skill, other than mum giggling helplessly as her ball made a bee-line for the gulley time after time, but I do remember the overwhelming feeling of excitement and liberation.

Unfortunately, visits to the bowling alley were, by necessity, limited whilst we were at the pub and remained a rare treat for the next couple of years.  My only other contact with the game consisted of a toy version I received as a Christmas present, which I had completely forgotten about until I started to write this.  It consisted of a quite realistic looking bowling lane, about two feet in length and six inches high (sorry, I don’t do metric), complete with all of the relevant logos and markings.  At the far end was a covered area housing the ten pins, which were suspended from the roof of this area by lengths of thread and which could be lowered to the lane floor by means of a handle and pulley system.  At the base of each pin was a small magnet which connected with a corresponding metal dot on the lane.  Thus the pins were kept in place, theoretically, until a marble was rolled down the lane.  As it struck the pins, they would spring to the roof, leaving the remainder for the next ‘ball’.  It was great, albeit slightly unrealistic and dependent on the continuing effectiveness of the magnets.  It even came complete with proper scoring sheets.

My next encounter with ten-pin bowling proper came via my school.  As I said in the previous chapter, in a sudden bout of uncharacteristic enlightenment, my school had realised that not all of their pupils were enthusiastic devotees of football, cricket, hockey, netball or gymnastics.  Therefore, more engagement might be achieved if the students had some choice about how to spend their recreational time.  I’m not at all sure that this was really the ideology behind the strategy, but you’ve got to admit, it sounds convincing!  Anyway, ‘outdoor activities’ as it was inaccurately termed, ran on a Friday afternoon and gave pupils the choice between a whole range of sports and activities, including the usual suspects of football etc. but also some less well-worn options such as cycling, which can wear your options down quite considerably, badminton, table tennis and…ten-pin bowling.  The only catch was that you had to continue with your choice for a whole term and you were unable to repeat your choice in the same school year, the idea being to broaden the student’s horizons – which brings us back to cycling.

As soon as possible, I signed up for the ten-pin bowling option.  My decision was based on various, carefully considered, criteria:

1. It took place indoors, in a nice dry, warm environment
2. It didn’t involve kicking or being kicked, or throwing or catching anything
3. It didn’t require the participant to jump, leap, run or swim over, under or around any object

In addition, because it was subsidised by the school, it was affordable whereas, in the normal way of things, it would have been an expensive luxury.

To my surprise and delight, not to mention the shock of my compatriots and teachers, I discovered that I was not too bad at this game.  That is not to say that I was good or excellent, just not too bad.  This was in sharp contrast to my endeavours in every other sporting discipline, where I had consistently proven to be a one-youth disaster area.  Suddenly, I found I was an asset to the team rather than a liability.  Flushed with success, a group of us formed a bowling team, sponsored by a local butcher, and played in the mid-week league.  We didn’t win many games, but at least we weren’t a laughing stock.


I can still remember the mounting excitement I felt each Friday afternoon as we climbed the flights of stairs up to the bowling alley, chattering optimistically about scores we would achieve and techniques we would apply.  With each step, the rumble of the balls in the alleys and the crash of pins would get progressively louder, until you opened the double doors at the top and were overwhelmed by the wall of sound.  Balls making their hopeful journeys down the aisle, the crash of pins or the rattle of the ball in the gulley, the clanking and whirring of the pin stacking mechanism and the subterranean rumble of balls making their way back to the playing area.  Over and above all of this, there was the sound of the juke box playing the hits of the late 1960s.  It was like entering another world.

You can find this, and a lot more like it, in the bumper book of 'nostalgedy' - Crutches for Ducks.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

I hurled it down the lane, fine! - Part 1

Dum, dum de dum dum, dum de dum dum,
Dum, dum de dum dum, dum de dum dum.

Doesn’t quite capture it, does it?  You see, ideally, this article would be coming to you in surround-sound, with all hisses and crackles suppressed and the bass enhanced (as opposed to having the Bass enhanced which would probably involve a barley wine and a whisky chaser).  All of this will hopefully make sense in a little while.

This article was prompted by news of the closure of the Superbowl in Bargates’ (as I and legions of others have always known it, despite valiant efforts to rechristen it as the Riverside Centre) prior to the proposed demolition of this little-loved 1960’s development to be replaced by….? (Probably a little-loved 21st Century Local Government ‘vision’). 

Bargates’ was one of those developments that probably looked really great in the architect’s drawings (like those optimistic artist’s impressions of your Mediterranean hotel that cunningly miss out the building site and the 8-lane toll road outside your window).  You know the type of thing, sparkling clean buildings framing wide walkways in which two or three impossibly beautiful people stroll along in the blazing sunshine.  Bargates’ was always good at the ‘two or three people’ bit, but ‘impossibly beautiful’ and ‘blazing sunshine’ was always going to be something of a challenge, particularly on a wet Wednesday in November.  Allegedly unloved by the town planners (who, in turn, are hardly dear to the hearts of the Burton citizenry), the development was left to wither far from the hub of Burton commerce and transport links.  The arrival of the town centre’s own original concrete wind-tunnel (which was laughingly termed a shopping precinct) pretty much put the tin hat on Bargates’ future, presaging the long, slow decline to a boarded-up eyesore and now a vacant lot.

Originally, Bargates’ held the promise of modernity, excitement and sophistication.  Remember, it was born in the optimism of Harold Wilson’s “white hot heat of the technological revolution” when everything seemed possible, if only we could be persuaded to let go of the old and embrace the new.  Many towns and cities took the opportunity to redevelop their bomb sites and slums using modern architectural principles.  Burton, having escaped the worst excesses of the Luftwaffe, decided to do the job for themselves.  Modernist concrete buildings with their clean lines and logical structures would sweep away the cramped and quirky illogicality of such remnants as Bank Square in the old town centre.  Of course the ‘blazing sun’ concept of architectural design seemed to blind the designers and planners to the likely appearance of grey concrete in a predominantly grey climate, particularly after a few decades of grimy rain and the enthusiastic attention of hordes of loose-bowelled pigeons.

Bargates’ had restaurants, supermarkets and a rotunda (for no apparent reason other than architectural ‘joie-de vivre’), but most importantly, it had a ten-pin bowling alley at a time when a night’s entertainment consisted of a visit to the pub or the cinema.  Interestingly, in those puritan days, it was difficult to combine a visit to the cinema and then the pub unless you were a world-class athlete with a comprehensive knowledge of the bus timetable (or, if you reversed the order of attendance, someone with an Olympic standard bladder).  In case this vision of night-time entertainment perplexes our younger reader (if such a being exists), you have to remember that the typical cinema performance finished at some point after 10 pm (variable and very dependent on whether you watched all of the credits and stood for the National Anthem or said ‘stuff this for a game of soldiers’ and made a mad dash for the exits at the first sign of the swelling chords of the closing theme music), whilst pubs were obliged to close at 10.30pm.  Not for us the languid discussion, stretching into the early hours, of the night’s entertainment over a pastis and Gauloise like our continental cousins.  Oh no, in my case it usually involved a sprint in the driving rain up Guild St. to the Transport Club, arriving wet-through and weary at 10.25pm.  The languid discussion would usually consist (after the downing of the first pint) of:

          “Good film, wannit?”
          “Yeah, fancy another?”


When you’ve only got five minutes in which to cram an evening’s boozing (plus ten minutes drinking-up time) something has to give and, in this case, it was the cut and thrust of intellectual debate and witty repartee (not to mention the pastis and Gauloise).

You can find this, and a lot more like it, in the bumper book of 'nostalgedy' - Crutches for Ducks.



Saturday, 8 March 2014

Introducing Jim Webster - from one Slightly Odd world to another

Today I'm venturing into the unknown!  Never before has this blog hosted a fellow writer...but here goes.
Please welcome to my Slightly Odd World, Mr. Jim Webster:





When as guest on somebody else's blog there's always the feeling that you've
got to be on your best behaviour. Obviously on your own blog you can slouch
about in your vest, unshaven and with your hair uncombed, but here, where
the bright light of the world shines in (if only because Philip keeps the
windows nicely cleaned) I feel I have to be that little bit on my best
behaviour.

You see, what I'm doing is luring you into buying a book. Not one of Philip's
books, I assume that you've already bought them, but my book.



http://www.amazon.co.uk/Justice-4-1-Tsarina-Sector-Webster/dp/1908208236
(This is for the paperback, there's an e-book as well)



Justice 4.1 (The Tsarina Sector), it's a Science Fiction story, a detective
story and something of an adventure story as well. Given that there is a
blurb it would be silly not to let you read it.



"When a journalist is shot down in a backward area of Tsarina, Haldar Drom
of the Governor's Investigation Office is sent to investigate. He uncovers a
hidden medical facility dedicated to the production of Abate, a drug used
for population control, as well as evidence of the implantation of
pre-created embryos in women brought to Tsarina for the purpose. He also
discovers a deeper plot with far reaching political ramifications. A senior
member of the Governors family, Doran Stilan is running a personal feud with
the major pirate/Starmancer Wayland Strang. Indeed he begins to suspect that
Stilan may even be angling to take Strang's place. The medical facility is
destroyed after it is attacked by mercenaries hired by Strang, and Drom has
to travel off world to untangle the treads of the conspiracy. Arriving back
on Tsarina, he has to deal with a failed Starmancer attack, punish the
guilty and arrange for Doran Stilan to get what's coming without undermining
the position of the Governor. To do this, he'll need skill, know-how and a
whole lot of luck to ensure that the guilty face justice."



Now one thing I like about Philip's writing is he is so good at observed
humour. He spots the amusing in the way we interact with other people as
part of our normal life. For me I love the dry banter you often get between
men.

"George opened another box. "Self-heating ration cartons."

Haldar leaned over his shoulder to look. "Military surplus? I always liked
the ones which included chicken; even if the 'chicken' was really
 gastropod."

George shook his head. "Local manufacture; they use a carton rather than a
can. You can use the cartons as kindling to light your fire." He looked at
the labels. "No chicken, just a hundred different ways to cook elderly yak.
You might find them a bit heavy on the sauce, and a bit light on the meat,
but between ourselves, once you've eaten the meat for as long as I have, you'll
prefer it that way round."

Haldar took a carton and read the nutrition information: "May contain trace
quantities of hallucinogenic lichen?"

"There was an unfortunate incident some years ago. Elderly yaks of the sort
which tend to grace ration cartons will survive the winter by eating the
lichen off a rock-face. Some of the lichens have strange properties, but
yaks have a high level of tolerance."



So there you have it, welcome to Tsarina



I've been told that people like to know a bit about authors as well. Don't
know why, pretentious and self regarding bunch if you ask me but still it's
not my blog and I've got to be on my best behaviour.

My, I'm fifty something; live just outside Barrow-in-Furness, between the
sea and the English Lake District. I farm, have done since I was old enough
to walk, I've been a freelance journalist since the 1970s (the hourly rate
isn't wonderful but the return on capital is great). I started writing
novels because there's only so much EU regulation and animal health stuff
you can write about. I've written five well regarded fantasy books (e-books)
which you can find on my Amazon page, and when Safkhet said they were
looking for someone to write Science Fiction, I jumped at the chance.

So there you are, if you want to find me on the web try looking at




The book can be found on Amazon

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Justice-4-1-Tsarina-Sector-Webster/dp/1908208236



http://www.amazon.com/Justice-4-1-Tsarina-Sector-Webster/dp/1908208236



But also from Waterstones,
http://www.waterstones.com/waterstonesweb/products/jim+webster/justice+4-1/10052927/



There's also

Blog:     http://jandbvwebster.wordpress.com/
Facebook page:         https://www.facebook.com/TsarinaSector
Goodreads author page:
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/22998.Jim_Webster
Twitter:        https://twitter.com/JimWebster6
Amazon:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jim-Webster/e/B009UT450I/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1
Smashwords:   https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/fjpwebster


Safkhet publishing  http://www.safkhetpublishing.com/authors/Jim_Webster.htm


cheers

Jim

And for those who can't wait, here's the start of the book:

The flitter was hardly luxurious. It was a spacious workhorse with just enough concessions to comfort to deter personal injury claims from those who hired it. At the moment, it loitered over the northern highlands of the Border Kingdoms at a safe altitude. To their north, the highlands rose steadily until they became snow-capped and were lost in the clouds. Below them was a jumbled badlands of gorges and ridges, twisted rock, frost-shattered and crumbling. Wheeling below them was a pair of great four-winged aradons, keen-eyed carrion feeders. In the distance, perhaps five miles away, Kilonwin Kardoverin could just make out what might be another pair. As far as he could tell, they were the only signs of life in sight. He looked down; even with vision enhancers, the ridges showed virtually no sign of life. He counted three stunted bushes with occasional blades of grass poking through the loose scree.
Kardoverin strapped himself into the co-pilot seat and fiddled with the camera array, determined to get as much footage as possible. Kardoverin had a reputation in the industry as one of the best documentary makers in the sector. This reputation was based on arrogance, a casual disregard for personal safety, and painstaking camera work. He was reputed to get five times as much material as was needed, even for top quality holo work. He turned to the pilot. "Can we get lower? I'd like to film into those gorges."
"Why?"
"Well, there's damn all up here."
"Why not zoom?" The pilot sounded nervous.
"They're in heavy shadow."
"Look, this is the Border Kingdoms, it isn't safe."
Kardoverin adjusted the central rig and raked the peripheral arrays so that they covered both flanks.
"Take us down fast; we'll be through and out."
"They're barbarians! They shoot at people."
"With black powder weapons." Kardoverin's tone was dismissive as he checked the satellite relay. It seemed to be working perfectly. "Look, just go in, one quick fly-through. It isn't as if I'm asking you to land, or even hover."
The pilot muttered something blasphemous under his breath and brought the flitter round. "I'll take us up that gorge on the left, it's narrower. Being so overcast, it's less likely to be inhabited."
He opened the throttle and brought the bow of the flitter sharply down. The clumsy craft accelerated rather faster than Kardoverin had expected, and he hastily checked the camera focus. This model of vehicle was effectively a rectangular box which flew and had little consideration of style. But for his purposes, the open top meant it had been comparatively easy to fit the cameras. The pilot brought them down sharply, heading south, gaining speed as he lost altitude. Then suddenly, he spun the controls and the flitter turned and banked so sharply Kardoverin felt himself hanging in the harness. Then the pilot pointed the nose of his craft straight into the mouth of the gorge, still dropping and gaining speed. As they entered between the towering rock walls, they were barely twenty feet above the ground and moving faster than Kardoverin would have believed possible. Kardoverin kept his eyes on the monitors, running his fingers over the controls in front of him, altering the zoom, the angle, the filters. They were deep in the gorge now and the boxy craft was travelling at breakneck speed. Kardoverin constantly re-adjusted the controls. "Isn't this a bit fast?"
The pilot's answer came through clenched teeth. "If I could go faster, I would. I want us out of here and—" He paused. "Oh hell, we are in deep—"
There was a staccato rattle of automatic weapons fire from one side. The burst struck the pilot, jerking his body against the seat harness. Kardoverin tore his gaze from the monitors and looked towards where the noise had come from. The second burst hit the front of the flitter, and the engine began to whine. Kardoverin frantically unbuckled his harness and stood up to reach over the pilot's body for the controls. The third burst struck him in the chest, spun him round and left him draped over the side of the flitter. Thirty seconds later, with no one at the controls, the flitter struck the rock wall of the gorge and exploded.