Monday, December 31, 2007

Irish Blog Awards 2008

Nominations are being accepted for the 2008 Irish Blog Awards.

Should you think Writing it down fills in Pieces of the Puzzle is worthy of a mention, I should be pleased if you would visit the Nominations Page at this link and follow the onscreen instructions.

Irish Blog Awards
"Go here to nominate your favourite bloggers. You do not have to fill in the form for every category. Just the ones you think you have a suitable blog for. Good luck to everyone.

"There are two judging rounds this year, so every nominated blog will be judged. No public vote means it is about quality, not the number of people who like you. Any nomination that nominates a blog for every category will be treated as spam and that nomination will be deleted. Choose wisely."

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Post Christmas Colours not all Blue

There are few things as colourful, post Christmas, than the local cemetery. That's where Herself and I ended up this afternoon to lay some Carnations in the vicinity of the Mammy's memorial and also to drop a few sneaky sweeties (no doubt she has a packet down the side of her celestial armchair).

There are rows of bright ribbons, green garlanded wreaths, bows, Santa Clauses, windmills, wind chimes, toys and flowers all over Newlands cemetery today as visitors remember their loved ones this Christmas season.

My mother's cremated remains are in a compartment in an eight-foot high wall part way into the cemetery. The lettering has weathered and I spoke with my father this evening about having it renewed, maybe with gold paint. I'll phone the cemetery people next week to ask how it can be arranged.

It brought a lump to the throat, visiting her again. I miss her, especially at this time of the year, which she enjoyed.

We then went on the hunt for some tiles for the new porch. I fancy something rust coloured or reddish, but the prevailing fashion appears to be for non-threatening biscuit. I can see the point.

We came across some dark brown tiles which might have done the trick. But the assistant (I wouldn't call him a "Salesman") pointed under the display to perhaps twenty individual tiles lying on a wooden pallet:

"Those are all there are of that pattern."

"And you have no more in stock?"

"No."

To be fair, he did show us some other tiles on display, none of which were to our tastes. As we left and went back to the car I said to Herself:

"A real Salesman would have persuaded me to buy the display and recycle the tiles on it..."

I suppose there wouldn't have been enough to finish the job anyway. I must look up some other tile outlets this evening before our next sortie into the retail world tomorrow.

Funnily enough, B&Q had no black masonry paint in stock. There were lots of bizarre colours: the types that youngsters in first-time mortgage apartments might paint their walls. There were a couple in their 20s going about the paint aisles arguing over whether or not they were going to repaint at all this season. He was saying that he'd pay for it himself. She was not impressed with the offer, so I guess whatever it was that needed painting she had chosen the original colour.

We looked at CCTV options. There are ones which look like ordinary spyholes in the front door but which are really cameras. Ditto ones which look like ornamental outdoor lamps. The spyhole options start from around €20, which seems cheap and possibly unreliable. But in true B&Q style, it seems that the cheap bit is followed by the also cheap bit cable, connected with the slightly-more-expensive black box bit, connected with the slightly more expensive other black box, and so on and so on until the debit card is slightly melted.

Off to Woodies tomorrow to buy black masonry paint. And an extendable pole to hang Christmas lights which I am going to adapt to window cleaning.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Using Windows Live Writer

I've been dabbling about with Windows Live Spaces (all bow) this morning, mostly to see what can be done with their version of blogging. It kind of looks like a Microsoft version of Facebook. It has a profile section and a facility to Add Friends and so on. And it has a Live Writer application to download which allows one to add to one's blog by writing the blog while offline, then uploading to the blog later. It works for non Windows Live blogs too.

I am presently typing on a background similar in appearance to that used on WIDFIPOTP, which is a bit odd, because the usual Blogger interface is simple black text on white. I'll have to see if it can upload to more than one blog at a time later on.

I like the spelling checker and the familiar Windows stylee menu systems. Tags seem to need a slight bit more research. Blogger isn't included in the default values in the "Insert Tags" menu.

Update: Yes, it is possible to use the Writer to publish to two or more blogs, if not simultaneously, at least consecutively.

Links: Windows Live Spaces; Facebook

Thursday, December 27, 2007

10,000 hits

Congratulations to the airspeed.ie customer who became the 10,000th visitor to Writing it Down fills in Pieces of the Puzzle on December 27th 2007 at 11.40am.

I am sorry I don't have a WIDFIPOTP tee-shirt in your size to present to you, or a jaunty bumper sticker with an appropriate slogan. You will have to make do with my heartfelt thanks for your visit, which appears to have lasted..... 0 seconds.

Ah.

Let's move on then, shall we?

Turkey and whiskey a la mode

When you have been cooking with a bad oven for a long number of years, it is easy for a good oven to become a bad oven. And not in a good way.

Our old electric cooker -- the one with which I cooked our Christmas dinner in 2006, for example -- had a wonky oven seal. It had also given up its internal glass door one day in spectacular fashion, exploding while hot into a million tiny fragments that danced like a netted shoal of fishes on the cold, tiled, kitchen floor. But I was used to cooking with it, despite these flaws.

"Add another hour to the time," I would say, having done all the cooking-time calculations.

This year, 2007, I installed a new oven. Then I uninstalled it and moved the cabinet to another position. Then I reinstalled the oven again. This week, I stuck a 20-pound turkey into its stainless maw and tried not to think about the seven place settings for Christmas dinner. Many hours later, the turkey was not inedible, but to me it was a little dry.

"In the oven too long," I thought.

The old cooker used four large electric elements to heat the huge cauldron in which we cooked the 2006 ham. This year, in 2007, the halogen-heated ceramic hob I fitted into the counter (then uninstalled and refitted into another, permanent kitchen surface) only needed one-and-a-half rings to bring the water to a furious, steaming maelstrom. The meat eventually fell like large pink raindrops off the bone.

"Tender," Herself called it.

"Over-cooked," I said to myself.

But the turkey tasted like turkey and the ham tasted like ham and no-one has been unaccounted for since December 25th with possible food poisoning. We are, however, more stuffed with turkey than the turkey ever was. We have had turkey with ham and ham with turkey. Turkey with gravy and turkey without. We have clawed the last shreds from its bones and served them cold. There was even talk of turkey soup made up from the bones and the last bits of pale flesh. But the ham finally ran out yesterday and the stinking remenant of the turkey walked itself out into the wheelbin today.

I am now replete with good old fashioned pork chops and mashed potato and have no particular yearning to taste fowl until at least St. Patrick's Day -- which, incidentally, is not allowed by the church to fall on March 17th in 2008, so we are shaping up for two days worth of St. Patrick's Day festivities next year. We've done it before. We know it can be done again.

I must ask Herself what became of the jar of apple sauce she dropped into the shopping trolley in Lidl in Ballyfermot this afternoon. I thought it was to feature in this evening's meal.

I am presently having a whiskey and red lemonade (with ice, thank you). It is a hard and unfair life all round.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Dublin indignation

Niall Tobin once remarked that indignation was the particular defining attribute of the true Dublin man. The more I think about it, the more I think he may be right.

This evening, as I thought that the latest free skip bags I had put out on the roadside some days ago were now indeed as ablaze in reality as I had imagined they would become, I was relieved to see the flickering, bright orange light was coming not from flames but from the whirling, cab-top hazard light of the skip truck come to take them away. The man worked his remotely controlled crane hoist expertly and patiently, even when the shuttering for our soon-to-be-built front porch, added atop my neatly levelled household waste by the Window Man only last night, caught in the side of the truck and had to be poked and pulled. He noticed me standing on the doorstep looking on.

"Howerya?" he asked, flicking switches and making the vehicle safe to drive away with my old cooker and washing machine and the best portion of a 30-year-old kitchen in the back.

I waved, then ambled out. He took some complimentary skip bags in their plastic packets out of a compartment and handed them to me without referring to them.

"Were you able to see the flashing lights from the house?" he asked me.

"Yes," I said, not adding that I expected the deisel hum of the engine to be attached to a fire engine rather than a high-sided lorry when I looked out.

"Then let me tell you a good one," he said, in reassuring Dublinese. "I was up in the Pines just now and there was a car in the driveway and another on the road, you know?"

I nodded. I myself had put an entire growing tree in the way of the recovery of a skip bag only a couple of weeks ago and had the broken branches in the back of his truck to prove it.

"Well," he went on. "There was the bag and a car right in the way. Couldn't get near it. I could see your woman in the house. Lights on. You know what I mean. I couldn't do a thing with the car in the way so I went up and rang the doorbell to ask her to move the car. And I could see her, looking out the window, all 'What's goin' on here?' and looking at the truck. And d'you know wha'?"

"Wha'?"

"She wouldn't answer the door!"

I nodded in sympathy and clutched my complimentary skip bags tighter.

"So, I said: 'This one will be calling the office', and I went off. And sure enough, at the end of the road the phone rang and it was the office asking why I hadn't collected yer woman's bag. So I said: 'Do you have her on the phone, now?'. And they said: 'Yes.' So I said: "Then tell her on the phone to move her feckin' car!'"

We sucked our teeth at the intracability of womankind and of customers in general.

"Well," he said. "Have a good one!"

"You too. And thanks!"

I now have five unused skip bags stacked under the stairs, but I haven't yet run out of things to put in them.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Descent into Christmas



Herself and I walked into the local B&Q store last Sunday, December 16th, 2007, to find that Christmas had been devoured by locusts.

Or so it seemed to us, who has been there only a week before and had wandered through a sizeable portion of the store under flashing lights, garden ornaments and various Santa Claus figures in differing embarrassing poses.

This week, there was nothing but a large, empty space awaiting the January sale stock. A few latecomers, like ourselves, wandered about the other aisles of plumbing fittings and kitchen cabinets in a half-hearted manner.

"Christmas is gone!" Herself said to a passerby, who nodded, gloomily in agreement.

It's now the 19th and I have yet to buy a Christmas present. I have warned people not to expect much this year, but on the evidence of our last visit J-Cloths and packets of free-flowing salt are going to feature prominently in my Christmas theme in 2007.

Million to One Chances

"Million to one chances happen nine times out of ten." So says Terry Pratchett in, (I think), his Discworld novel, "Guards! Guards!". And so indeed do many bloggers and fans this week in all corners of the blogosphere.

Yes, I know there are no corners on a sphere.

Unless those spheres are Irish politicians' heads. I have often heard these champions of the one-liner using the phrase:

"We are ruling nothing out. And we are ruling nothing in either."

Thus they turn a one-liner to a qualified metaphor. In any event, I shouldn't like to have been the one to read their school copybooks.

The reason for our distress this week is that Terry has announced he has been diagnosed with an early-onset form of Alzheimers disease. But he has asked us to remember he is still alive.

One of his characters, Granny Weatherwax, used her witch's ability to transfer her mind into animals and go nosing about the woods. While she did this, she left her body behind in her little cottage, her cold fingers holding a hand-written sign which said:

"I ATEN'T DEAD"

If anyone wants to find me an XXXXXXXXXL tee shirt with that printed on it, I should accept it gratefully as a Christmas present and as a continuing reminder of what this breathing-in breathing-out thing is for.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Barry's Tea Radio Advert: Train

Click to Listen (MP3 file)
To Save the file, right-click on the link, above and choose "Save Target As..." to download to your computer (PC/Windows users).

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I know what label this post will have

"No," I say. "There hasn't been a leak from the bathroom pipes. Those puddles are made up of droplets of sweat from my poor brow as I put together the pelmet for under the kitchen units."

Today has involved unscrewing, drilling, screwing (not the good kind), hanging, sweeping, sawing, more sweeping, and more screwing (again not the good kind).

"Do you think the pelmets should be flush with the underside of the unit doors, like you have them, or should they be set back a bit," Herself asks.

We look at a brochure. The kitchen designers have them both ways.

"Must be a matter of personal taste," I say.

Herself rings Herself's Daughter and asks what her kitchen looks like. Naturally, it's the opposite of what I have laboured at for half the day.

I say: "Well, it's better to tell me you prefer it one way or another NOW, before I do any more."

I unscrew the screws and offer up the pelmet in the new, non-flush, just-like-Herself's-daughter's-kitchen position.

"I prefer it the other way," she says.

I'll start over tomorrow.

Guinness Christmas Advertisement

Sunday, December 09, 2007

You can do it....

"Excuse me."
"And then she said... Oh hang on... Yes, sir?"
"Do you have any of the fixings for hanging this moudling on a cabinet?"
"You want a moulding for a cabinet? This type here is it?"
"No, thank you. It's just the fixing. Look underneath on the built one."
"Hmmm."
"See the little yokes with the screws in them?"
"John, do we have fixings for this moulding?"
"Which moulding?"
"This one. Look underneath..."
"No."
"John says we don't have any."
"You have none, then?"
"They'll be in next week."
"They will?"
"Yes."
"Do you have any of the items on my trolley?"
"No. We've never sold them. Look, here on the stock list."
"Even the ones with your logo on them, that I just took off the shelf a minute ago?"
"Sorry, no. Never had them."
"Where can I pay for these things you don't sell then?"
"I'll direct you to the check out. We accept cash or Laser."
"Thanks for your help."
"So, anyway... She said...."

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Future Ireland

An African lady and her wee lad of about five years of age climbed onto the bus one late afternoon as I was slouching home from work. They flopped down into the front seats upstairs among the builders and typists and hospital workers, all lolling wearily as the bus lurched slowly along.

The wee man was in full boyish spate:

"Crrrr-ash! Pu-sssh! Aaaaa-aaaa-ai..."

A McDonalds Happy Meal toy car and a figure were getting the run-over and pushed off a cliff treatment on the ledge by the front window. This continued for some time. The mother shushed him ineffectually a few times. Then she said:

"Now, Michael. If you won't have pity on me, please have pity on that man."

She pointed at a chap sitting in a nearby seat, oblivious to proceedings. His earphones were in and he was gazing blankly out through a gap in the condensation on the window.

"That man and the other men have all been at work and they are tired," she said. "They just want to go home. They don't want to listen to you."

Michael thought this over. His game changed to one with the volume much reduced. When he had had enough, he started poking through his backpack which was resting on the seat between them. The toys went in and a juice bottle came out. He mumbled and muttered through a series of little games as the bus inched along in heavy traffic. Beside him, his mother softly sang something spiritual.

"Do you know," he said, "that when Jesus was small he was lost in the big city and Mary and Joseph couldn't find him?"

His mother nodded.

"When they found him," he said, "he was teaching the teacher."

His gaze went over the stationary traffic, orange indicator lights clicking on and off in the gathering gloom.

"Teaching the teacher," he said again and he laughed.

At their bus stop, the mother and son jumbled their way off the bus, dropping bags and toys, shouting at each other to hurry up, thanking the driver profusely.

On Monday morning last, Michael and his mother were on the early bus as I was travelling to work. He was fizzing. He counted numbers out loud in tens as far as eighty. Then he had an argument with his mother about whether or not a symbol he had seen was a letter "F" or a letter "K". He drew it in the fog on the window. She asked him:

"Do you ever remember meeting a girl named Rachel?"

He sat and thought about this.

"No," he answered. "I don't know anybody named Rachel."

"Rachel was a young girl that I used to know when you were very small," his mother said. "She would have been eleven years of age then, so she must be all grown up by now."

"So, she was bigger than me?"

"Yes. And she is still bigger than you."

The almost-completed roadworks at Firhouse caught his attention.

"Mother," he said. "When all the builders are too old to build.... How will anybody know what the plan is?"

She said: "Other people know the plan too."

"Do you know," he said, "that when they first started building, they only had wood? And then they found metal. And then steel."

"Metal is stronger than steel," his mother said. "You can bend steel."

"Does that mean that the spoon I bent was made from steel?"

"Yes, it was made from steel."

"But can you also bend metal?"

"Some metal can be bent, yes."

"Then how is it stronger than steel?"

At Tallaght, they gathered up their bags and rushed for the top of the stairs again, pushing and pulling at each other, shouting to hurry up. Michael said:

"I am in Jun... no Senior Infants." He grinned.

"Ju'Senior Infants," he laughed.

"Hurry up, Michael!" his mother shouted from the bottom deck.

Michael gripped the bannister rail and descended the steep steps on his way to school. I wonder what he learned that day?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Furniture, DIY, Skip bags and bulbs

I've not been online much recently for various reasons, chief among them being exhaustion. Herself has moved to a new job, which has upscuttled our household routine. I am truely commuting now -- a bus each way, instead of the cushy lift each morning, followed by a bus ride home in the evening -- as she is now working in a place which is in the opposite direction to my morning travel.

Morning travellers are a different lot to the evening varieties I have encountered up to now. And the earlier buses have a few surprises as to routes and to the temper of the bus drivers.

"Do you go to the hospital?" a woman asked from a bus stop, stepping up to the driver.
"No," he said.
The woman stepped back down off the bus and awaited the next double decker.

I thought this one over and decided that the driver was giving a very literal answer to her query. No, the bus didn't go to the hospital. Rather it went to The Square, and the hospital was on the route. So while he was being absolutely truthful, he was not being customer friendly. There is a bus stop right outside the hospital gate he could have dropped the woman at.

The past couple of weeks have been eventful in the search for and acquisition of new furniture for the house. A much hated 1970s dining-room unit, the type that holds drinks glasses and had a little cubby hole for bottles of booze, was remaindered. I quite liked it, but Herself said it had to go. We acquired the mammy and daddy of all dining-room tables and a platoon of leather dining-room chairs to go with it. And some matching -- or nearly matching -- smaller units to store the glasses and ornaments in. We shall not be ashamed of our Christmas dinner settings at least.

I have also been trying to complete the kitchen project, which at this stage requires only some final positioning of some units, a swap of two applicances, and the installation of kicker boards (plinths), and some fiddly bits. B&Q has been unusually unhelpful and I haven't helped myself much either. I phoned the Tallaght store and was told that only two of the four items I need are in stock there. The sprout on the phone told me that they didn't sell one of the missing items, even though I had seen it with my own eyes only a few weeks before.

The problem is the length of the last few timbers, which are not convenient to carry by car. I will have to get them ordered and delivered.

The Liffey Valley branch is under major refurbishment at the moment and their kitchen showroom staff are languishing in a large temporary building in the car park. I phoned two weeks ago and the girl on the switchboard was able to confirm that yes, they did have Item 1 and Item 2 in stock, but by Item 3 she was obviously being distacted by the flashing lights on the phone, and when she said:

"Yes we probably have that,"

at Item 4, I was not confident that she was giving me her fullest attention. She took my phone number and said that the kitchen showroom staff would phone me back to address my queries. No call was ever received.

We drove over to the store later that day in a particularly wintery rainstorm and were told by an assistant that:

1. Items 1 and 2 were in stock.
2. Items 3 and 4 were not in stock.
3. Deliveries are made only on Thursdays.
4. No, I could not buy the items in advance, as they were not in stock, but they would be in stock this week, at which stage I could buy them.

I phoned again yesterday to see if they had come in. The girl on the switch warned me that they were "very busy" in the kitchen showroom and may not be answering their phone. However, the phone was picked up. I quoted the barcode numbers of the four items, whereupon the assistant asked me for my mobile phone number as it would take five minutes to look them up and confirm they were available.

"Ah."

I don't know my mobile phone number. Nor does there appear to be a method on my current phone of looking it up while one is on a call. I forgot that I had Herself's phone in my pocket, which contained my mobile phone number in its Contacts list. So I said I would phone back.

When I did, no-one answered at the switch. Ever.

So, it looks like another drive over to Liffey Valley is required. But not this weekend, which has now all but passed. I shall try again next weekend. Wish me luck.

Meanwhile, I have availed of an A1 Waste free skip bag offer and filled a big yellow container with broken up kitchen units and other stuff we have been accumulating in our garden since the never-ending kitchen project and the never-ending preparations for Christmas have begun. I moved about a tonne of plywood and chipboard today and planted around 50 or so daffodil bulbs that had not made it into the ground before now. I containerised them, which is to say I stuffed them into pots and hoped for the best. Herself says they are not house-broken, so I can't experiment with forcing some of them to bloom in time for Christmas. They are outside as I type, possibly wondering what the drop in temperature is all about, since they were rather inadvisedly being stored in a heated cupboards for the past month.

Busy, busy, busy.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Why Howard Hughes stopped using public transport, Part 2

This movie lets you know the quality of the passengers on some of my daily bus journeys.

I include myself in that particular assessment. I may even be related to Scary Mary.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Keys

Like most people I hate losing keys. A month or so back, I reached into my pocket and took out my keyring, shuffled through the shed padlock key and the house back door key and the side-gate padlock key and the key to the suitcase I no longer own and realised my front door key wasn't on the ring any more.

I did what I hope everyone does in the circumstances. I shuffled through the whole lot of them again as if it would return from thin air like a playing card in a street magician's trick. (I even checked behind my ear, in case it was there like the big round pennies that my headmaster, Mr. Downer, would make appear from time to time, but there were neither pennies nor keys).

"Locked out!"

The last time it happened around here a couple of years back, I knew that Herself was probably sitting waiting for me to show up at my father's place as we had initially planned that morning and on that occasion I had managed to unilaterally change our plans and make my own way home while at the same time have both no credit and no doorkeys, so I was sorely stuck. I had to brave the clutches of the ever-partying girl lodger next door and ring her doorbell to ask if I could use her phone.

There was no reply. I rang it a few times more. Water was spilling down the insides of the waste pipe from the bathroom, so I figured she was home, but indisposed. I went back to sitting disconsolately on the step.

Twenty minutes later she appeared, breezing out on a date, mini-skirted and war-painted and the lot, waving a handbag at me as she hopped into the car she drove sober or drunk.

"Was that you? You should have come in. I was only in the shower," she grinned, wickedly.

The car shot away from the driveway into the early evening. I never did get to use her phone.

Fast forwarding to the couple of weeks ago, when I looked at my keyring for the third time and couldn't see the doorkey I sent a text message to Herself, bemoaning my condition. It received a beep-beeping reply that read:

"I'll be late."

So I was left to my own devices to figure out a strategy for house-breaking. I could climb over the side gate and use the back door key. But as I measured the height of the wall, the width of my belly and the length of my legs, I thought it would be less uncomfortable to be stuck on a doorstep than stuck half-way over a wooden gate with the local gurriers flinging jeers and crabapples at me for fun.

I could break the side window of the livingroom and crawl through. But the prospect of listening to Herself giving out about the broken glass and the look and shaky security of the plywood I would inevitably have to put in its place wasn't a pleasant one.

So, in the end, I went to the shop, bought a chocolate bar for my tea and two unwinning scratch cards (so, I expected my luck would be good, that day???) and killed time until Herself arrived home, tired and unsympathetic, from work.

The key, it turned out, had been left on the hall table. How it got on the hall table was that the Son of Herself had left his keys at home and asked Herself to leave a key for him under a stone. She took the key from my keyring with my sleep-mumbling consent and I never saw it nor remembered it nor thought any more about it. Though, it might as well have disappered by magic for all the astonishment I felt on not seeing it in my hand as I stood on the doorstep.

The boss went on holiday last week and left his key to the safe. His boss wanted nothing to do with it, so myself and D devised a plan to hide the key in her desk drawer in the plastic box in which she keeps her reading glasses. Some records needed to be put in the safe, so I asked her for the key, which she duly handed over. I put the records in place, locked up and...

Well, from there the story became a bit vague. Two days later, D asked me for the key to the safe.

"You have it," I said.
"No, I don't." she said. "You never gave it back to me since the other day."

Oh crap.

I poked about on the desk. The very last time I remembered it with any clarity was lying it on the papers on the desk. Then I took it and...

"Oh I gave it back to you."
"No you didn't."
"Did...?"
"Nope."

Oh bugger.

It was near closing time, so she watched me scrabble about a bit as she switched off her computer and put on her coat.

"It will probably turn up," she said.

I walked for my bus, wracking my tired, distracted brain for an image of what I'd done with the key. I remembered D saying that if I was ever looking for it, to look in the plastic glasses case. Sure, that must be where it was! I thought no more about it until the next day.

In the morning, a row erupted.

"You have it!"
"Are you in your dotage? You never gave it back to me!"
"I'm one-hundred percent sure you have it in your glasses case. Look!"
I tugged at the glasses case and peered inside. It was uncomfortably empty.

At dinner, a tiny chink of light appeared. I'd been putting the records in the safe, I recalled, then I turned to give the key back to D, but she wasn't there. So, I said I'd give it to her later and in the meantime, I put it in...

"My shirt pocket..!"

My shirt pocket, in common with the rest of the shirt, was at home. (It was a few days later, after all). I texted the sonambulant, Son of Herself. He rang me back.

"Look in the laundry basket, the washing machine, on the lawn under the clothes line, in the pile of ironing, in the cat..."

It was in the rubber seal of the washing machine, right up against the glass. Son of Herself didn't find it, but I did later, retracing the laundry steps from the bedroom where I would have changed out of the hated work attire in the evening, to the appliance that Herself would have stuffed full in the morning as I still dozed in the room above. I put it immediately on my keyring beside my front door key. What could go wrong?

Keys and me. We're not a happy pairing.

That time of the year again


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Saturday morning: Tea Cards and Comics

Saturday mornings in my childhood I would awaken to an empty house. My father would be off working somewhere, my siblings somewhere unknown, and my mother at the fancy new supermarket on Taylor's Lane, Ballyboden. It would be a quick change into outdoor clothes and wellington boots and then into the kitchen where one of Mam's notes would be waiting with some coins wrapped up in a bank note.

"Pay the coal man" would be scribbled there. I'd groan, because paying the coal man involved a long wait by the road for the open-backed coal truck to wend its way up to the bottom gate. I'd scuffle off down the lane with my hands in my pockets, toss pebbles into the river and hang around on the low wall until he came. He wore a big money bag on a long leather shoulder strap like a bus conductor. He'd grin and take the money and mark off the account in a grubby notebook, signing off on my freedom for the rest of the day.


Saturdays were late-rising affairs for many of my pals, though one might appear through a gap, or at a bend in the road, or poking over the boundary of the pitch and putt course, watching out for my uncle who hated them short-cutting across his manicured putting greens. We might kick a football for a bit in a field, or talk about a football match on the television, or make plans for the afternoon. Everyone was up before their breakfast, as we said. Food on Saturday, at the beginning of a new pay week for our parents, didn't come until the groveries had been bought and that meant a trip to Ballyboden or to the modern Rathfarnham Shopping Centre with its several shops, this latter location limited to those whose parents had the use of a car or the time to make a two-bus journey.


My mother would appear off the 47 bus and haul the shopping bags to the farmhouse door, dropping them onto the floor and puffing on a Players No. 6 cigarette.


"I'm home," she'd say, pulling off her coat and hanging it in the hall. A headscarf would be untied from under her chin and dropped in a drawer. She'd start to pat her auburn coloured hair, feeling for any hairpins which might have come unlodged. She'd smooth out her skirt with both palms then join me at the table.


I would be agog, poking through the packages. She'd slap my hand away gently from the fresh fruit, scolding me mildly for mauling the new Vienna rolls without having first washed my grubby paws in the basin in the back kitchen. She'd ask me about the coal man. If he'd said anything? Had he given a receipt? Meanwhile, she was unpacking a straw-coloured palm-leaf woven shopping basket of white plastic butchers bags tied with red tapes and putting the meat away for the week.


As the kettle was filled from a jug dipped in a galvanised bucket of drinking water, the two objects of my searching would appear from a bag. A pound and a half of PG Tips tea and a comic from the newsagents beside what had been called Perry's shop. The tea was poured solemnly into the tin tea caddy one packet at a time, the rich smell of the dried leaf filling our nostrils. Then the paper envelope inside the cardboard box would be pulled out and I would see if I had a new collectors card for my album or just a repeat from a previous packet.


"Inventors and Inventions" was the promotion that was on at the time. We had sent a postal order to England in the princely sum of 10p for the album into which the cards were weekly gummed. And I almost had them all.

The other item of interest to my eight-year old self was the weekly comic, Warlord. This relatively new publication was a collection of impossibly heroic tales of the mighty Brits against the dastardy Hun in comic strip form. Lots of "Achtungs!" "Arrghs! and "Ka-pows" were sprinkled liberally throughout. Sometimes the Brits fough the Japs, and some "Eeee-i-eees" were thrown in for luck.


I'd spread the crude paper out on the kitchen table and pore over the contents, usually heading straight to my favourite first: Union Jack Jackson, an English soldier who had somehow been separated from his unit but had ended up joining an American outfit where he painted a Union Jack on his USA style helmet.


In the background, the kettle boiled and the frying pan heated up and my mother bustled about, cutting slices of bread and humming quietly to herself.

Heat...! At last...!

I received a very welcome text today from Herself, saying that the plumber had rung her at work and said that the heating system had finally been hooked up and was working.

It's been quite cold over the past couple of days with the wind direction swung around to the north-east. So the weekend was promising to be a chilly one, which our stop-gap electric heaters probably wouldn't have suited.

A blast of heat greeted me as I stumbled in the door. It was WONDERFUL!

Now we're heating every room to drive out the cold from the fabric of the building, which has aided the mould growth I've referred to in a previous post. The two "outdoor" cats have been most impressed; the indoor pussycat has fallen in love with the notion of continuous heat.

We'll ease off on the burning of the gas after the weekend. For now we're enjoying the luxury.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Scardy Cat



Black Cat (as we call him) is one of the scardiest "tame" cats I've ever known.
His half older brother was a lot worse. He was so given to running away from things as a young cat living in my father's junk-filled conservatory, that even fast asleep he would go from floor to rafters in about 1.5 seconds, at least one second sooner than his brain would wake up to assess the "threat."
The problem came from lack of handling as a very small kitten.
We tried to get over this problem with Black Cat by making sure both he and his tabby sister were handled every day. This caused new difficulties, because the kittens disappeared in the dining room every day and we had to move furniture and dismantle things to find them.
When the plumbers were here recently, fitting a new central-heating system, Black Cat fled. He was so used to slink-running to his shed that he kept the habit up for a week or so after the workmen had left. Once he heard the key jangle in the back door -- worse, a glass door that he could easily see through and (one thought) identify the visitor as one of the family -- he would hug the concrete path with his belly and scoot along in as low a profile as possible.
Yesterday, I laughed out loud at the site of him. I'd often seen cats slink running. But slink galloping was entirely new to me!
Black Cat is brainy as well as stupid, a strange combination. Where other cats will make dark pools of their eyes and whack your wriggling fingers as you coax them to play, he sits there on the sofa looking at the hand, then back at you as if to say:
"But it's you, doing it!"
Maybe its the tomcat in him. We've only been close to female cats down the years and so owning a male may, perhaps be a different kettle of tuna fish.
Are male cats a bit thick, I wonder?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Gas Leak sets me all headless chickenish

So anyhow, the plumber comes and goes and connects the gas line up and signs the certification papers and all is okay. There's some concrete needs finishing by Bord Gáis and also by the plumber. We'll have the heating system running in a few days. Yadda-yadda-yadda.

We're minding the grandson over the Saturday night. On Sunday, Herself brings the wee man for a wee ramble down the road. Following some major building of coloured block houses on the carpet for rapid demolition to the shouts of "H'gain!", unsticking pieces of half eaten toast from the armchair, and tap tap tappity dancing over lots of plastic toys, I wave them off merrily at the front door.

"Do you smell gas?" Herself says, frowning. I mentally check that I took my blood pressure tablet this morning. Check. Then I have the mickey fit.

"Oh, bollix! Bollix. Bollix. Bollix. And... bollix."

"The number is on the invoice. Or in the book. Bye-eee!"

Herself and the wee man go off kicking autumn leaves while I scramble about unplugging electrical appliances and wondering if any of the cats smoke cigarettes. The black cat may well smoke a pipe.

"Hello," says a voice on the emergency Bord Gáis number (1850-20-50-50, in case you are presently still Blogging while holding your breath and really, really should phone that number before you pass out).

I gabble away about gas and smell and front garden and recent connection and....

"I'll just switch you to Dublin," the voice says. Obviously a panicked Dub is nothing for a Laois man to deal with at ten past ten on a Sunday morning.

"Hello," says a reassuringly Dublin accent.

I gabble away about gas and smell and front garden and recent connection and....

"Your address?"

I give him the address.

"You don't have a meter," he says, in a kind of half-puzzled tone. Perhaps Bord Gáis wants to know how much it can bill us for the amount of gas creeping about the driveway as we speak.

"No we don't. We're literally only connected up since yesterday."

"I'll have someone out within the hour," he says. Then he launches into the mantra about not smoking or not lighting candles to look down the pipe and so on.

Thirty minutes later a man in overalls and with the serene look of an overtime payment in his immediate future tells me the on/off valve is ever so slightly switched to "On." And maybe the blind end is a little less white-stick than it should be. He gives it a twist.

"All fixed."

"Bloody marvelous."

"Ah, sure they sometimes seep out a bit of gas before the meter is installed. It shouldn't be a problem out in the air like this."

Feck it, we haven't even heated a radiator yet.

I may push the car out of the driveway in the morning before starting it. But most likely I'll be so lazy by then I'll tell Herself to give the ignition a lash as usual.

Sure what could go wrong, eh?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Friday, November 02, 2007

Long Hard Day doin' nothing

My two eyes feel like someone is in the back of my head squeezing them by hand to produce something vinegary.

Herself and I sailed off into the lofty heights of a private hospital today to pick up some test results (and almost sailed off into some even higher heights when I suddenly directed her into a change of course in front of an oncoming van... Apologies to the driver who needed a change of underwear before ever having set foot in work!) and as the appointment was for the ungodly hour of 8.00am, we have been out of bed for too many hours already today.

The test results were fine, and weren't for me. The pain behind my eyes is just from the tension of (ironically) a day of not being at work.

Gas company arrived to put in the big yellow fuse. Their jackhammers and JCB with rockbreaker and the ever-popular mole going Thump! Thump! Thump! for hours has set my teeth on edge.

So I'm grumpy.

But you knew that already.

I mean I am noticeably more grumpy than usual.

But I have just found a €5 voucher for Woodies, so that is good. And I managed to load the dishwasher (the labour of it all...!) and get it started. And brought in washing. And mixed a little sand and cement and filled some holes in the side of the house. So maybe all is not as bad as it seems.

Plumbers promise to connect the heating system to the big yellow fuse next week.

Doubtless, I shall improve my humour as the ambient room temperature rises.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Christmas 2007

One of the huge range of resin miniatures for Christmas stocked by Woodies



Did Gustave Eiffel have this trouble too?

So with the dust rapidly settling over the recent invasion of plumbers, the dismantling of built in furniture, the hauling and moiling and toiling to get junk out of rooms and out of the way, and finally the whole effort to put things back into some form of organisation, the question that Herself lies across the railway track of my quiet train of thought this afternoon is a momentous one:

"Where are my slippers?"

Now how in the name of Jaysus am I supposed to know where your slippers are? I ask in the quietness of my own mind. I know the possible consequences of saying this out loud, of course.

"I think they're in my wardrobe," she says.

This means I have to go root about in a wardrobe into which we flung everything in a frenzy three days ago. I am on my hands and knees with a torch between my teeth being threatened by an avalanche of handbags and carrier bags of Christmas decorations. There is a jungle of hanging clothes right above my head. A belt buckle swings down and hits me smartly on the ear. The thin, plastic cover of a dry cleaned something tries to grab and smother me. It's getting dangerous in here.

After five minutes struggle I give up.

"Can't find them."

She sighs and disappears up the stairs. In about three seconds she reappears, wearing slippers.

"Where were they?" I ask.

"In the wardrobe."

"Naturally."

"What?"

"Nothing. Just clearing my throat."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Happy Anniversary

My father reminded me that it would be six years on Saturday next since my mother died. It's understandable, I suppose, as we trundle on that we seem to measure time by the number of people who have died, or have had a Month's Mind, or whose gravestone was put up, or whose grave is in a disgraceful condition or maybe not so disgraceful now we've fixed it.

I do have a strong feeling of family, even among those uncles, aunts and cousins whom I don't see very often. We are a peculiar lot we Walshes and Sweeneys and Redmonds and Tanhams, Hills, Spears and Rodgers. We leave one another steadfastly to ourselves for most of the time until something happens to bring us back together. Then someone not seen for a long while turns up unexpectedly, mostly, it seems these days, at funerals. We cluster together and try to figure out who the people in other little clusters are. Someone will intoduce themselves and shake a hand or kiss a cheek and an old friendship will be rekindled or a new acquaintence begun. Myself, I am wholly satisfied to know that the family is out there doing its own thing, moving on with itself and also that we can nod at each other a bit from time to time in passing. It's enough.

I know my Mam would have been astounded and astonished to see the picture my sister sent me this week of her daughter's baby asleep in the womb. A 3D scan taken in the hospital in closeup showed the wee laddy or lassie (we still await the surprise on that one) as clearly as if a picture had been taken of the babby in its own warm cot. And it won't be in one of those until December, when it's due.

Our Mam's third great-grandchild. And my father's too, of course.

He stared, astounded, at the photograph on the computer screen.

"Isn't it amazing what they can do now?" I said, to fill the silence.

"Yes," he said, his voice catching just a little.

So we're off and doing what people do. The family growing. And thinking, at this time of the year, where we've come from. My Mam would have found a reason in it to pour a giant whiskey and colour it with red lemonade and call herself "Mad aul' wan" with her wicked laugh on her. She would have poured us each a bigger measure, tut-tutting when we protested that we'd be drunk or had to drive or even walk somewhere.

"You only live once," she'd say. "The doctor says I'm not to have it at all!"

Sure, what does he know, Ma?

"Plenty, maybe. But I don't care."

Cheers... Mad aul' wan...

And she'd laugh and sip whiskey and watch the television.

When the adverts came on, she'd look up at the photos on the wall and say:

"Imagine all those are my family! Edie would never believe it."

And she'd look at the picture of her mother, Edie, til the ads were gone.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Why Howard Hughes stopped using public transport

The single decked 49 bus is not a favourite of mine as you may recall from this post. Too many odd things can happen on a single-decker when all your whole muddled, post-work brain wants is the familiar stale sweaty smell and shrieking noises of a regular, overcrowded one-up-one-down on wheels.

Tonight a lady in her 50s sat down in the seat ahead of me on the single-decked 49 bus. Well-dressed with skirts that almost touched the floor, where her three or four bags of newly purchased Dunnes Stores clothes or home wares were nestled, she had on a smart camel hair coat or its fake equivalent. A nice, well-turned out lady you would think.

As the bus reached Aherns pub on the Old Bawn Road, she saluted it by tilting to the left on one cheek of her bum and letting off a smart, sharp, retorting fart that went "Fra-a-ap!" Then, quite unperturbed, she gathered up her bags and alighted at the next stop.

A young Asian man who was uncomfortably perched on an aisle seat threw himself gratefuly into the unoccupied space by the window.

I was thinking of tapping him on the shoulder and asking if he thought the seat was unusually warm.

I hope I'm on time for the double-decker tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

It's a little tight in here

Snail - Click to view patternMyself and the local Rector are not quite people you might say are in need of a good feed. So it is a little uncomfortable at the moment showing him the latest updates to the parish website with the computer table shoved into a tight corner. My knees are jammed at a kind of 45 degree angle to the desk so my back isn't crunked against the dining room table behind me. He has to sit on a chair a little off to one side craning his neck and peering over the top of the printer. But we manage. Just.

The reason for the hardship is, of course, the imminent arrival of workmen to install our new heating system. We have ear-marked certain walls for radiators and so have cleared some space to let the workmen work. So the junk we usually spread out a bit is now piled in corners or on any surface on which it might be put until the men are gone.

My first work desk was in the box room of my parents' house and consisted, quite adequately, of a piece of offcut plywood assembled to two other pieces of plywood in a kind of orange-crate imitation. My father so wanted to make something -- anything, in fact -- from that offcut of plywood. But no. I had seen it first in the pile of random things he had brought home from somewhere. He asked me and asked me for it until I finally painted it a kind of off white colour. Then he didn't ask me any more.

The box room is the room in a two-storey house where a space has been cut out of the floor to allow the stairs to come up. The ceiling of the floor below slants up into the room (usually the smallest room in the house, perhaps bar the one with the facilities) and is boxed off with plasterboard. The result is sometimes a room with about one quarter of wasted space. This was the one I had. A bed (made by me out of more offcut timbers, this time, I think, from an old drop-leaf table), was jammed in crossways behind me. I actually had a decent amount of leg room, once I clambered over stuff and got sitting at the desk.

The first writing tool I bought was a manual typewriter. It had a carrying case and handle, which meant that although it weighed about 8 pounds it was actually portable. I was working as a nightwatchman and the typewriter would clack away for an hour or two in the dead of night in the Portacabin on the site where I guarded the construction machinery and kept the pumps going and tried not to look too scared and lonely. When the job finished, the typewriter clacked and cursed away back home, much to the discomfiture of my parents who had to listen to it whacking away through the wooden desk and the wooden floor beneath.

I changed to an electric model when one or two pieces sold and made a bit of money. Where the manual clacked, this one kind of thumped. It also introduced me to the idea of consumables. Where the manual had a good old-fashioned ribbon, that worked until you could see through it, this yoke tended to run out of print at inopportune times necessitating a walk to Tallaght Village for a replacement.

I had books around me and LPs and a stereo system with big padded 80s headphones. A big print calendar marked the days when a manuscript would go away in the post and when one came back. I even acquired a filing cabinet and filled the one remaining corner. My father complains the cabinet's still there. He's blind to his own junk, of course. But "that cabinet" is still there. So is the old off-white home made desk.

I've been thinking that I need some work space again and have been looking at the empty place Herself's old dressing table took up in our bedroom. I think I'll go the flat-packed self-assembly route this time, though. I don't hink she'd put up with a makey-up one somehow.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Bye Bye Blogrush

You may have noticed a snazzy looking widget-generated list of blogs on the blogosphere here recently, supplied by a crowd calling themselves Blogrush. I've quite enjoyed the occasional click through to blogs I might otherwise not see. Not really noticed much traffic in return, but that's life. But their website recently came out with a whinge about persons who, perhaps like me, didn't place their little invitation to stop reading my blog and immediately feck off to another one quite so high on the page. It reads:

"We are not going to require our members to place the widget at the very top of their blogs or put it in any specific location. However, it’s common sense that if someone places the widget where normal visitors aren’t going to see it much, that they will achieve poor widget performance — and will most likely be removed from the network.

"DO YOU HAVE THE WIDGET PLACED REALLY LOW ON YOUR BLOG?

"If so, you need to move it higher on your blog to give it better placement.

"Don’t want to do that? THEN PLEASE REMOVE IT COMPLETELY.

"As I said, BlogRush was designed as a FAIR system. There’s a reason it was created as a COOPERATIVE network. It’s so its members can work together to generate more targeted readers for their blogs.

"But this system doesn’t work if all members aren’t contributing at least somewhat equally. Why should any member give the widget high placement if other members are not going to? And yet those other members stand to receive the SAME REWARDS? It’s just not fair and, therefore, we have no choice but to make this change.

"So any member that’s only willing to put the BlogRush widget at the very bottom of their blog isn’t a member we want in our network — and our network will deliver more traffic, per member, without them."

No bother, fellas. I gave your code what I considered to be reasonable placement, rather than top or bottom billing, but with that attitude in any case your widget is GONE!

But just to clarify. It was a privilege YOU enjoyed to have your piece of code inserted into THIS Blog, and to have those friends and casual visitors who visit here see it. So don't think you were doing me any favours. There's plenty more where you came from and with a better attitude too.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Silent Running

So the plumber announces he has had a job letdown which means he's starting to install the new central heating next week. That's despite the fact that Bord Gáis haven't found a shovel yet and connected us to the yellow fuse... I mean the gas supply. We also haven't mentioned that a bank loan we've not even applied for yet will pay for the central heating, so that should be good.

Tomorrow, I need to demolish a built-in wardrobe and manhandle the whole lot out the window, fix a no-go attic space, uncover a wall in the dining room presently hidden by would-be kitcheny bits, and generally do the plumbing equivalent of cleaning up before the cleaning lady arrives. Bugger me.

Tonight, the house was so cold and damp that I started up two electric radiators in the hall and in the living room. I had to fix the cat's food by the light of a side lamp and leave the computer off. We're church-mouse poor ahead of these renovations and can't afford the electricity, at least at never more than partially-completed showhouse level. All fur coat and no knickers -- that's us.

Hopefully won't need them when the heating goes in though....

Did I say, Bugger me...?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Chemical warfare and the art of Tippexing houses

"Mould," I say.
"What about it?"
"Don't you think the back bathroom wall is looking a little.... Well.... furry?"
It's true, our houses on this road are woefully inadequately ventilated. If a budgerigar breathes heavily the vapour condenses on a wall or a ceiling and mould starts to prosper there.
I was at a party in a neighbour's house some years back and as I stood in the bathroom in a slightly sozzled but increasingly relieved state, I mildly thought how funky it was for them to paint the bathroom ceiling black. Then I realised it wasn't paint, but the inevitable consequence of bad ventilation, poor landlord interest and two devil-may care tenants who loved taking showers with the windows and doors closed. The ceiling was a mould Amazon. I'll never forget it.
Today, therefore, I stood in an aisle of Dunnes Stores looking for a cleaning product that was unashamedly toxic to all living organisms and which would probably come in a pink or yellow bottle with "Pow!", "Boom!", or "Splat!" printed on it. I chose one that had the words "Mould" and "Kill" in equally-sized letters. The shop assistant put it through the scanner using a pair of tongs. It seemed just what I needed.
At home the instructions mentioned protective gear. I had skin for that. They also said to spray on the surface from a distance of no less than 20 centimetres and to leave on for no more than 2-3 minutes. I took the safety off and rattled off a burst at the enemy.
A small colony of black mould began to turn pale right before my eyes. I dabbed at the spot with a cloth and it swished off into oblivion. Great stuff!
Now feeling less unsure, I doused the back wall good-o with two or three bursts in quick succession. Colourless liquid ran down the wall, leaving barreness behind it. I started to whistle a happy little tune.
I was down at the skirting board, poking at a stubborn strip of black, when I realised how much lighter the room was. The evening autumnal rays were filtering in through the two windows in a very pleasant manner. I rinsed the last of the lower wall then stopped to count the windows. We only had one this morning. Where had the other one come from?
Yes, the mould is gone, though I suppose it might come back. We now also have a new roughly circular window behind the jacks that wasn't there before. It will let out the steam tomorrow, but it will be the devil to get a window-frame for, whatever about glass. I suppose I either rubbed too hard or strayed closer than the recommended 20 cm limit. Or was it the 3 minute limit? Ah well. Accidents happen. Right?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Monday, October 15, 2007

Simplicity of Blogging is Good

I recently converted the parish Website from a page by page html drudge to a happy new blog. I hope the parish approves! I have kept the original pages on the server in case an about face is ordered, but I think the archiving of old posts, the flexibility of the blog format, the ability to subscribe to the blog and (of course) the pitch I made to them about how much better it will be to manage, will persuade the powers that be to adopt this new-fangled way of doing things.

I'm presently running three blogs now, including the newcomer. Writing it down fills in pieces of the puzzle is by far the apple of my eye at the moment, but I also pop in from time to time to post something at the Dublin South-West Blog.

If you've not tried it before and you have any sense that you might be able to post on a subject on at least a semi-regular basis, then why not try one of the blogging services out there? It's fun, free (although sometimes expensive in time) and it's now become trendy to have a blog!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Open call for writers makes for good fun

Paizo is a roleplaying games publisher in the U.S.A. that produces gaming materials for use in the Dungeons & Dragons game. Until recently, it had a licence to publish two magazines called "Dungeon" and "Dragon", respectively. The former included scenarios for the D&D game while the latter contained articles of supporting material or discussion of different approaches to the hobby.

The game and its magazines are owned by Wizards of the Coast, another American company, part of the Hasbro group. Hasbro, you may recall, is a successful toys and games producer. Wizards bought out the rights to the game of the original corporation, TSR Inc, that basically marketed and developed the earliest forms of Dungeons & Dragons from the game's beginnings in the 1970s.

I was a successful freelance contributor to Dungeon in the period 1986 to 1996 having 21 game modules published in its pages. I also had a single article appear in Dragon #160 in 1990. I was quite proud of this Dragon article, as it had been Dragon I was originally trying to break into when the scenarios magazine came onto the market in '86.

I fell out of writing for the magazine (I refer to Dungeon here, as I preferred writing scenarios to developing a level of expertise necessary to publish in Dragon magazine) after 1996, at a time when TSR Inc was in financial and corporate difficulties. Changeovers in staff there and difficulties I was experiencing at home with my mother's deteriorating health discouraged me greatly from finding the time and inspiration needed to write in that way. I had also developed an interest in computers which effectively filled the space that roleplaying had occupied. When I finally got an Internet connection that was the end of filling my time thinking up scenarios for the game!

Ironically, it was the editors of Dungeon who pushed me to get a PC. I had been using a manual typewriter for a number of years before graduating to an electric model. Paper manuscripts stuffed into brown envelopes would travel by air mail to Wisconscin where they would rest for a couple of months before being returned, covered in red ink, or, hopefully, with news of acceptance and a planned publication date. It would be easier, I was told, to put a manuscript together on a PC, although at that time there was no facility to accept submissions by email or on floppy disk.

I found, instead, that it was easy to produce quantity rather than quality. (Witness this blog, for example...!) Naturally, rejection slips began to outnumber acceptance letters and with everything going on in the background I felt my confidence slipping. Like many writers, I'm easily distracted anyway. So the whole thing ended. We all moved on, including the game and the magazines.

When I looked back, the industry had changed and the magazines too. Some of the basic no-nos I had grown up with as a writer were now standard, even preferred, methods of working. We pioneers had it hammered into us that scenarios should stand alone, be self contained and never link together into a series of game adventures. Under Paizo's stewardship, however, this idea had been turned on its head and named an "adventure path". One scenario led to another in a series of games -- quite like finishing levels on an electronic game console. You could even purchase a hard-back copy of the adventure path for use in your game. And the game itself had gone through at least two new sets of rules revisions. More combat and action orientated, emphasis was placed on the use of miniatures and floorplans, like its tabletop wargaming ancestors. The "backstory" in the scenario that the Dungeon Master alone read before the game was not emphasised as much as it had been in the past.

Copyright had been fiercely protected in my days with the game. But now there was a kind of dispensation available to developers, publishers and authors from the licence owner. Provided that the terms of the licence were published with the work, and only certain areas of the core rules drawn upon, it was now okay to produce work, even sell it, without worrying about a law suit.

I grew interested in the game again and started visiting online forums where the latest developments were being discussed. I was very surprised to find that while my name was no longer universally known among readers of Dungeon, some of the older players, or players who had managed to obtain back issues to add to their collections, occasionally mentioned my scenarios fondly. But would my "old school" way of putting together a scenario fit in with the new modern way of delivering the magazine to its readers?

I put together a scenario outline which I forwarded to the magazine by email (a strange way of doing things!). The editorial staff were very kind and welcoming. Pointing out a few shortcomings in the approach to the story they gave me the go ahead to complete a manuscript. I wasn't able to. I tinkered with the new game mechanics and couldn't push the story forward. There are times when I know that something I'm doing isn't going to turn out well and this was one of them. Eventually after a long (and very unprofessonal) hiatus, I told them the scenario wouldn't be forthcoming after all.

Then this year the magazines were discontinued. Wizards decided that print magazines were a thing of the past and most likely considered that their plans for the future of the game -- among them a 4th Edition to the rules, due out in 2008 -- would be more profitable without magazines that harked back to past days of the hobby. So it seemed, I missed the boat.

A couple of weeks ago, Paizo, which has continued with publication of D&D materials, put out an Open Call for writers for its Gamemastery line of products. A brief outline of a scenario was published by them as a starting point and anyone and everyone was invited to pitch ideas in a formal submission which could turn into a 22,000 word module, if accepted. I read the Paizo forums as excited players discussed the nitty gritty of how to cobble together their ideas and keep within the 800-word limit to the initial submission. I joined in, adding my own 800 words, which I emailed off with trepidation. I wasn't sure if it would be a greater blow to be accepted or rejected. How would I find the time to write the stage two outline? Or the 22,000 words before 2008?

It was fun watching the other contributors -- many of them first-time writers -- worry about the word-count, whether they had proof-read the submission properly, if they had included proper contact details, should they have single or double-spaced -- all of the things that worried beginning writers even since my ancient days!

And the Paizo staff added to the excitement by promising to have results ready in a few days time, then some time next week, then after one of their number was back from sick leave...

Eventually, the results were distributed (by email) and though some were crestfallen at their lack of success, the majority were, like me, glad of the experience and perhaps heartened that so many others who were also unsuccessful had some really strong ideas. Their authors published some of the rejected outlines on the Paizo forums for all to see and critique. Mine is among them, as, alas, I didn't make the cut either. I'm somewhat relieved, to tell you the truth! But it's been grand to experience the anticipation of hearing from an editor again. But this time, the wait is days rather than months. I'm not sure if I can cope with the faster pace of ideas, turnarounds and deadlines. Maybe I'm stuck in the old days?

Well, new 4th Edition rules come out in a while, so maybe I'll sit and ponder those and see what market -- if any -- there is for a roleplaying hack that can barely... hack it. Mind you, the last time I put off writing a scenario 10 years went by! I'll have to watch that.

Just realised this blog post is all backstory and little player action. Have to watch that too.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Sharon Shannon & Mundy - Galway Girl

Have to say, I prefer the Steve Earl and Sharon Shannon version of this, but this video is a good 'un too.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Hello Los Angeles!

Twenty two visits from Los Angeles today to the blog. I'm not sure if that's 22 people who suddenly decided Writing it down fills in pieces of the puzzle is a prime example of a school project on how not to maintain a blog, or one person who reappeared 22 times.

If it's the latter, does your boss have an Irish office? I want to work there. Reading a blog all day instead of doing work seems like a plan to me.

Of course, I have no idea if you are in the middle of the day when I am having my breakfast or brushing your teeth for bed as I poke the canteen scrambled eggs experimentally with a spoon. Maybe you are a dreadfully insomnia-afflicted individual, seeking the means to put yourself to sleep. If you came back 22 times, I'm glad it hasn't worked. Maybe I'm doing something right after all.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Turnover Toast, Part 2



This wonderful thing is a turnover loaf.

My friend Joyce read my blog post on not being able to find a picture of one online and about remembering what it was like to eat this bread as a kid. She then trundled into Meath Street, in Dublin, where she bought me a loaf. (She also mentioned gurcake, but that is an entirely different story).

You may use your imagination as to what kind of evening I am about to have, but rest assured it will include bread, butter, and a fruit preserve of my choice.

As there are no photos of turnovers to be had on the Internet, please feel free to use this one in all your bread photo albums.

What?

You don't have bread photo albums?

How strange.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Turnover toast

It's amazing, but I have not been able to find a photo online of a loaf of turnover bread! [But you can now see one here.] For those who don't know it, it's an Irish bread which is not one of the pieces of floor-sweepings and turf sods that the Diaspora earnestly bakes in an earthenware dish and chokes down in the name of ethnic authenticity. Turnover is unashamedly a doughy white bread. The baker takes a long piece of raw dough and folds two-thirds of it back over along its length. The result is a bread which has a distinctive shape -- one end is narrow, the other (the turnover) is rounded. The crust is crispy, and sometimes blackened slightly in the larger end.

I don't know if maybe turnover is confined to the Pale, and perhaps this is why it hasn't made it into the recipe books of other "traditional" Irish breads on the Internet. Whatever the reason, it's a wonderful bread to eat fresh, or, as we used to do as children for fun and for practical reasons if it had become a little old, toasted on a twisted wire coathanger in front of the coals of an open fire.

Toast has become a larger part of my diet recently than I have been used to. My father has now the habit of calling to visit each Saturday mid-morning for an hour or two. I know he tends to rise very early, so I offer him tea and toast to bolster him against the possibility that his breakfast was at 6.00am, or maybe not at all. He has no qualms about scoffing down factory-sliced pan loaf that has taken a trip through the toaster and is dripping with butter and marmalade. He had always complained about the quality of modern convenience bread like this, but I think the necessities of tending to himself and the practicalities involved have educated him to the notion that such foods rarely cause poisoning. There's also a lot to be said for having food handed up to you.

Turnover, sliced from the loaf with an old, almost toothless breadknife, tasted best when piping hot and speckled just a little with coal ash that had accidentally trickled from the hot grate. It was a delicate juggling act to reverse the slice on the prongs of the toasting fork, unless you had managed to skewer the bread in such a way that it could simply be flipped over. I always preferred the simplest two-prong, hanging method, rather than the trickier embedded through the flesh of the bread way of doing things. This latter art, though handy for getting both sides done, could leave the bread untoasted in some small bits, or cause it to warp on toasting. Of course, whatever the method it didn't do to let the mind's eye wander for a mis-spent moment or the toast would blacken and have to have the worst of the burnt bits scraped off with the scratch-scratch-scratching of the edge of the butter knife. And trouble would surely follow from the mother if you let any black bits stray into the butter dish!

It's funny that now I've taken my eye off the toast again, so to speak, the turnover has all but disappeared from the shelves of the local supermarkets. It's true that a factory-sliced version can be got in some places, but it's unhappily wrapped in cellophane and really doesn't give the full satisfaction of sawing off the shorter end and practising the skill of the breadknife slicing sideways through the crumbling white bread. One of my earliest memories is of breadcrumbs left over from an evening meal on the oilskin tablecloth of the kitchen table at home. I associated the word "hungry" with it. Not that we were hungry -- my mother put food on the table every day and followed it with slices of turnover spread with butter and blackberry jam. It's more just the picture I conjure when the word reaches my ears.

When I was very small, I was weaned on warm milk and bread mixed together. And later on I would dip fingers of turnover in my cup of sweetened tea, a habit I grew out of.

We had a good few rounds of toast this morning with Herself home convalescing from her recent hospital tests (all clear, T.G.), the father on his weekly visit, Herself's brother dropping off a birthday present to her, and me, the "toast cook", riffling through the sliced pan and tossing slices into the modern toasting machine. I must find out who still sells the uncut turnover I remember. We don't have an open fire any more in the house, but I can toast slices under the grille -- they wouldn't fit in the square slots of the toaster. And I promise to take a picture when I get one too.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Hovering to the shop

I hear this from the end of the driveway as I'm about to walk up and put my key in the door:

Paaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa-aaaaaaaaaa-rp!

The only thing I can think of is that the new hoover has done something diresome. When I open the door, Herself is sitting crosslegged like a yogi, hovering about two feet off the floor.

"What's going on?" I ask, throwing my bag under the stairs and my cap onto the hook.

"Medicine," she says. "Have to have the camera job from the doctor tomorrow. He gave me this stuff to drink the day before. Want to try some?"

"Why not?" sez I, sniffing the contents of the proffered beaker. It tastes slightly minty and of horseshoes. In five minutes time, I too am slightly levitating.

Paaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa-aaaaaaaaaaa-aaaaaaaaaaa-aaa-a-rp!

I hover as far as the counter of SuperValu where a woman is asking for sausages for her childrens' school lunch rolls.

"Oh they won't be ready for a while yet," says the assistant, as if the notion of cooking the hot food before the people want to buy it is ridiculous.

"Can I help you, sir?" she asks, as I bob into and out of sight on the other side of the counter.

"Ham, please," I say, throwing a doughy torpedo over the counter at her. I don't much like ham, but I like cheese and the other miscellaneous cold meats less. Then, when she has put the butter and the ham in, I see roast beef. Feck. Too late.

Paaaaaaaaaaaaa-aaaaaaaa-aaaaaaaaaaaaaa-rp!

I hover over to the top shelf of the display of tissues and take down some packets of designer snot rags. The run of the mill ones are sold out. I resent paying money too much money for tissue paper.

I hover against the wind back down the Avenue and into the Lawn and back home. Herself is no-where to be found.

"Are you about?" I ask the empty air.

"In the bathroom," she says from upstairs. "That stuff is beginning to work properly."

"Oh dear," I say, unwrapping my sandwich. "It's going to be a busy day on the stairs."

Monday, October 01, 2007

Another one stuck in my head

"Pukka-pukka-pukka-pukka-pukka-pukka...!"
"What?"
"Sorry. Tune stuck in my head. Pukka-pukka-pukka-pukka-pukka...!"
"Which tune?"
"That Van Halen song from the 80s.... 'Why can't this be love'..."

Since I joined up the blogmusik.net site, (also known as Deezer), I've been enjoying a nostalgic re-listen to the soundtrack of my mis-spent youth.

"Whee-whee-whee-whee-we-we....!"
"ZZ-top...? 'Legs'?
"Right on...!"

"Dee-dee-de-dee... de-de-de-dee-dee...!
"Europe...? 'The Final Countdown'?
"Definitely."

"You're talking to yourself again, aren't you?"
"Yes, we are."

Next week I'm making my second First Communion to the sound of T-Rex. Be warned. It may be quite a conversation.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

New broom

Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!
For a moment, I thought the Blackbird was back, but it was a smoke alarm.
"Are you on fire?" I shouted down from where my nose was pinching itself as I poured fresh cat litter into a litter tray.
"There's black smoke coming out of the Hoover!" Herself shouted up. "Well, I don't know if it's smoke or dust."
I took the bag out of the monster and it was indeed warm, not to mention filled with black carbon from our unsuccessful attempts to clean out then light the ancient home heating boiler.
"Maybe some bits of fire lighter got too hot in the dust bag."
"Will I buy another one?" Herself asked. She'd been itching to buy something all day, although to be fair it was something to finish off the kitchen, or, more bluntly, to get me working on sawing and hammering and making rude noises on the floor again. As vacuum cleaners don't necessarily imply agreement with the need to finish off the kitchen project right now, I said I thought it was a great idea. So off she went, the slightly warm and definitely knackered Hoover in the boot of the car. We didn't think it would light up in the boot, but we've had the car a few years now so what the heck if it did, right? The insurance would cover it and Nissan would probably knock a few quid off a late 2007 model for a half charred shell by way of trade-in.
The new model vacuum cleaner is one which is not only made by a famous electrical tool company, it looks like it was made by an electrical tool company. There are shades of Dyson rip-off in its cyclonic, no disposable bag, suck-it-all-up-into-a-glass-jar system. It has several clunky bits which are genuine, no-nonsense, definitely designed by a man features. The heaviest part appears to be the chromed suction tube, which I suspect is a reworked leaf-blower part. It also purrs, which is something new to us and, it transpires, is deceptively disarming. When one presses the huge on/off button, it begins to whirr quietly as the hamster-wheel innards kick into life. Then it starts to pull the framed photographs and curtains off the wall.
"It certainly sucks," I say.
"It certainly does," is the reply.
We shall need a new carpet, I think. I shall have to see after I pull the old one out of the cookie jar it keeps dust in.
I am also missing a slipper.
And I haven't seen the smaller of the three cats in a while. In fact, I wonder if that is the purring noise? She certainly did like sitting on that carpet.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Sick Leave

Bored
BORED
BORED
BORED
BORED!

Think I'll put the kettle on.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Not known at this address

MONDAY:

"Dear Willie Walsh,

"Please find enclosed the new 'Jesus Jokebook' that was delivered to me by mistake. I'm sorry I opened the envelope, but I was expecting a Dungeons & Dragons rulebook in the post and the hardback copy felt like it through the padding. I note someone has penciled in 'This is a good one' in a couple of spots in the margin. Just to let you know it was like that already when I opened it, okay?

"Sincerely,
"Willie Walsh."

TUESDAY:

"Dear Willie Walsh,

"I have sent you this Dungeons & Dragons book that came to British Airways. We do not think it is for me and when we looked you up on the Internet we didn't think it was meant for the Bishop of Killaloe either.

"Yours,
"Willie Walsh."

WEDNESDAY:

"Dear Willie Walsh,

"Thank you for sending on the joke book. Its author, Des McHale, will be named as a blackguard from the altar in all Sunday Masses on 23rd September. This wouldn't have been possible if the book had been lost, as the copy was annotated in the margins by His Holiness so I am most grateful to you for sending it on.

"Sincerely,
"Willie Walsh."

THURSDAY:

"Dear Willie Walsh,

"I'm glad you sent the Dungeons & Dragons book because I was worried it might have gone to the Bishop of Killaloe by mistake. I wouldn't like to end up like poor old Des McHale after his 'Jesus Jokebook' was on the Joe Duffy radio programme.

"By the way, I received an email from a Mr. McGonnagle, from County Meath, who was upset that you charged him and his wife an excess on their luggage at London Heathrow last week. I took the liberty of telling them their next flight on BA would be free to anywhere in the world and just to say that I had said it was okay when they checked in.

"Best Wishes,
"Willie Walsh."

FRIDAY:

"Dear Willie Walsh,

"The Pope wants to know if you have any plans to do anything serious against the 'McHale fellow'. Sorry the envelope is torn again, but the postman was in a hurry and as I had to sign for it he had piqued my curiosity as to the contents before I realised it was for you. Anyhow, the Pope would like a reply as soon as you can manage it. The rest you can read for yourself.

"Sincerely,
"Willie Walsh."

MONDAY:

"Dear Willie Walsh,

"Sorry, but if the Pope wants a cheap flight he'll have to get in touch directly. Who is Mr McHale, anyway? We don't seem to have him on any passenger manifests over the next few weeks."

"Regards,
"Willie Walsh."

TUESDAY:

"Dear Willie Walsh,

"I have sent an email to Mr McGonnagle granting him a plenary indulgence. It's the best I can do from Killaloe, and even that was touch and go with the state of the dial-up connection here. He replied saying that if he sees the McHale fella at the airport, he'll tell him the Chief Executive is looking for him. I don't know what this means. Is it a reference to one of the Jesus jokes, do you think?

"Sincerely,
"Willie Walsh."

WEDNESDAY:

"Dear Willie Walsh,

"The Pope wanted to know by return what the plan was for the 'Jesus Jokebook.' As the matter was marked 'Urgent', I told him to recommend excommunication for any Catholic that read it. You might drop him a line or an email if there's anything you want to add to that.

"I've also sold about 20% of the shares of British Airways this week and sent €5,000,000 to Mr McGonnagle from Co. Meath. He might be making a donation to the fund for the repairs to the church roof on foot of this.

"By the way, if you receive any writer's guidelines for a Dungeons & Dragons magazine in the next few days, you wouldn't mind putting together 800 words or so, would you? Sure, who could tell the difference anyway?

"Yours Faithfully,
Willie Walsh."

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Our cake stand has a wobble


Practical. That's what a toilet seat is. You know its function. A place to rest yourself before, during, or after a busy day.

So I had no difficulty in joining Herself in a bit of shopping around this afternoon as it involved something practical like a toilet seat.

Our other one was fancy. Too impractical, in fact. Where it sacrificed practicality for fanciness it met rust, and where it met rust it seized, and where it seized it eventually broke.

My own posterior being unfussy, I am unfazed by the absense of a toilet seat, but the rest of the family were too quickly disappearing down the pan and so one had to be had. I approved of the mission.

So it was with some surprise -- although experience should have warned me in advance -- that I greeted the suggestion:
"Let's look at the household section."
Among the household section items were various pieces of packing crates reassembled into designer furniture. There were clocks made from scrap metal the scrap-metal merchants obviously rejected. Picture frames that looked like the bin truck had run over them. And there were ornamental bits and pieces that were trying to be practical in a slightly cream coloured way.
"Oh look!" Herself cooed at a three tiered cake stand -- the kind that one puts the most elaborate of biscuits and tartlets onto when the parish priest comes to call, but hides away in the event the Relieving Officer sends a representative to the house. "You shall have to carry it in the car," she said.
I wondered briefly if this involved wearing the toilet seat like a horse collar, but it transpired that other came in a cardboard box. I daintily held the cake stand (making sure its ornamental finial wasn't pointing at my eyeball in case we had to stop suddenly) on my lap on the drive home. It had little pottery doily edges.
About an hour later, we noticed the yoke was kind of leaning over, like something underneath was melted.
"Do you think that's crooked?" I asked.
"Hmmm," was the reply. It was the kind of "Hmmm" which said, "And why didn't you spot that in the shop, Mr. There's-Another-One-There-in-the-Front-of-the-Display-Lookit?"
So I have to figure out how to straighten up the thing. The middle tier has an off-centre hole.
Ironic, really, as the toilet seat fitted perfectly.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Rules of the Road



So we come to a halt as a line of non-bus traffic streams up Tallaght Village. The bus driver sits there looking at the "Republic & Northern Ireland" delivery van with its indicator on wishing to turn into the grounds of the Institute of Technology. We wait. The van driver waits. The sensors in the road detect the weight of the bus and turn the traffic light green. We continue to wait.

"You'll have to reverse!" one of the drivers waiting illegally in the traffic shouts out.

"Who'll have to reverse?" asks the bus driver through the open window. "I'm in a bus lane."

We wait. Someone honks a car horn.

"Frank," says the bus driver into his radio. "You'll have to get down here. The whole bus plug is filled up."

The traffic moves up a little in the opposite direction. The dog-faced delivery van driver peers solemnly at the bus passengers glaring out at him. He keeps his indicator on.

At the other end, a line of cars followed by a bus approaches and stops at the red light. To the left, a long line of traffic trying to exit the I.T. is stuck because our bus is stuck on the road across the gate.

A man gets out of an unseen vehicle and walks around the front of the bus. He walks up to the van driver and says something to him, waving the van off. The van driver looks at him impassively. Finally, after a ten minute stand off, there's enough room to move off and we make a run for Tallaght Village.

"Frank, you'll have to get the guards to go up there. I don't know what's going on."

Bad driving, that's what's going on.

I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for a guard to arrive on a Friday evening either.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Into the outdoors....


"The grass needs mowing," Herself says. "I suppose I could manage to get it done when I finish the breakfast, the ironing, the washing of the kitchen floor, the hoovering...."

"No it doesn't," I say from behind the safety of the television remote control. "It was only done three weeks ago."
"One of the cats got lost in it yesterday."
"That cat always had a poor sense of direction."
"And it's going to rain. If it rains, the grass will be a foot taller in a few days and then I'll have to mow it when I finish the breakfast, the ironing, the washing of the kitchen floor, the hoovering..."
And so I find myself in the savana that is our back garden, pootling about with a faulty electrical hover mower. Every time it goes over a blade of grass that has the audacity to stand upright, the little plastic disposable blade thingy breaks and I have to stop and fit another one.
Oh, and I really hate electric strimmers. It's now official. No matter how I try to wind the replacement cord on, it becomes entangled and unusable. Or it unwinds completely into a deadly, flying weapon that puts cats and me to flight.
"I'm never using that again," I sulk, stomping by with the mower past Herself, who is making progress with a steam iron through a mini-Mount Everest of wrinkled shirts while hoovering with the other hand.
In the front garden, it begins to rain. I am on the grass verge by the road, overlooked by dry neighbours drinking tea and standing smugly in their living rooms looking out. They mowed their grass yesterday, or course, when the weather forecast rightly predicted dry weather. So, I can't stop now. It will only satisfy the neighbours.
The clouds make a noise like a toilet flushing. I mow on.
Sheets of water pass vertically before my eyes, some of them on the way back up having bounced off the ground. There is a hammering sound on the outside of my cap, which is now a lot closer to my head than when I started out. Small blue sparks are rising from the mower. From time to time its "Errr-uhh...!" noise fails and drops to a sputtering gurgle.
I mow on.
I can't see out of my glasses any more, so they dangle precariously from the tip of my nose where a cataract flows from the peak of my cap.
At last, as grey smoke begins to rise from the extension lead, I grab the mower, wind up the flex as best I can, and gallop for the house.
"Is it raining?" Herself asks sweetly.
"Grumph!" I say, squelching towards the garden shed with the dripping mower. I throw it bodily through the doorway and slouch back into the house, drenched to the skin. I dry off, change my clothes and get to sit down at the computer.
Five minutes later a voice comes from the kitchen:
"You wouldn't just sweep the grass off the path, would you?"
Just popping out then.
I may be some time...