Category Archives: Satire

Bad Moon Rising

In which The Author feels something strange coming on

This afternoon, Aberdare Library closed early.
I can only assume that it was to allow their staff to attend a meeting of Rhondda Cynon Taf CBC, during which the financial cutbacks for the next financial year will be announced. Having lost over half the libraries in the county during the first wave of austerity measures, we’re wondering whether there’ll be anything left by Xmas. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again – at this rate I’ll have more books on my shelves than they have.
Anyway, when I was briefly online I sent Rhian a message to see whether she was free. She’s been reading Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant novels, and is long overdue to start on Foxglove Summer. I’d put it in my bag before leaving the house, as I had a strange feeling I’d bump into her if I’d left it at home.
We ended up going for a pint in Thereisnospoon. We passed the Lighthouse on the way through town, but there was no sign of life. (I found out afterwards that they’re having a new floor fitted, and the bar was open in the Steakhouse. Never mind.) I hadn’t told Rhian about my fishing expedition in Thereisnospoon last Friday, but as neither of us wanted food we figured we might as well call in for just the one.
Rhian finally got around to giving me my Xmas presents (one from her, one from Steff) while we were in the library. She’d bought me a mug with a Dalek sound effect. As my cousin Mary and her husband Les taught me in the summer of 1985, you can never have too many mugs. The more mugs one has in the kitchen, the less often one needs to wash up. Bloody ex-students!
Steff had bought me a book of crosswords with a literary theme. I tried not to laugh too hard when I saw it. I made the mistake of buying a book of crosswords with a literary them by Araucaria (the late Rev. John Graham) a few years ago. I think I’ve yet to finish a single one. These seemed (at first glance, anyway) to be a bit more accessible.
Rhian finished her pint and then had to run off. I chatted to Simon C. for a while, and went to do a bit of shopping. By the time I left B&M I was freezing. I dived into the Glosters for another pint and bought my weekly draw ticket for Llwydcoed AFC while I was in there. Twelve grand isn’t to be sniffed at, after all.
I didn’t feel like going home straight away, so I sauntered back to the Lighthouse and found the usual crowd upstairs. I bought a pint and sat down to look at the crosswords. That’s where the fun started.
Angela R. emailed me late last week, having found something amusing online about tumbleweed making a nuisance of itself in Australia. I’d heard the same story on Radio 4, and it had inspired me to revisit our long-running (and much missed) Wild West story Dodge This.
I think Vicki F. and I are the only people to have the full text version of the saga, which ran on Aberdare Online and our own forum before finally running out of steam about four years later. We’ve been trying to edit it into a definitive ‘Director’s Cut’ (you should hear what Vicki calls it!) so that we can distribute it around our friends. It’ll never be printed, or even made into an e-book, but it would be nice to finally produce a version free of (most) typos and continuity errors.
Angela had found something else online which reminded us of the good old days. I replied, saying that I was sorely tempted to try and kick-start Dodge This again. (I did try about a year ago, but nobody picked up the baton.) However, we hadn’t taken account of the calendar last time.
It’s a full moon – and that always spells fun in the weird and wacky parallel world of Dodge This, whether we like it or not. I should have seen the warning signs when Gema put a status on Facebook, wondering what to do today. Considering that nine times out of ten the answer is ‘Pub’, I was very surprised not to find her in the Steakhouse when I walked in. Maybe she’d been and gone. I didn’t ask.
I had a quick look at the crosswords. They’re a mixture of cryptic clues, themed clues, vaguely related clues, and some which can only be solved with the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, a decent edition of Shakespeare, and a comprehensive library of poetry to hand.
I’d already put a fairly dismissive status on Twitter about poetry, so I should have known better, really. I was in Aberdare Library about a fortnight ago when I had the misfortune to attend a poetry reading. I didn’t attend voluntarily – it’s just that the guest speaker was so loud, and the ‘meeting room’ is so poorly soundproofed, that nobody in the reference department really had a choice in the matter.
I remarked about the situation on Twitter, and the bots duly went to work on my status. Since then I’ve been deluged with suggestions of poets, small presses, and similar events all over the country. I updated my status with a sly dig at the beauty of artificial intelligence thus far, and got a few more ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ as a result. There must be a better way to filter people’s interests, surely.
Anyway, I worked my way through the first dozen puzzles or so, not actually completing any of them, but making decent enough headway for the time being. As I was filling in my answers I had a strange feeling that Angela and I had once again tapped into the rich vein of ‘mere coincidence’ that had underpinned Dodge This pretty much from the outset.
I went back to the start of the book and circled some of the answers in red, just to prove they were there. I know I’m probably guilty of confirmation bias, but even so, the juxtaposition of some of these words and phrases in such a short space of time is still fairly bizarre:
  • Off the rails (Season 10 of Dodge This was called ‘The Iron Horse’)
  • Lodge (the Freemasons played an important part in the early days)
  • Classroom (Vicki’s sister Julie wrote in her own character, extremely loosely based on her experiences as a teacher in London)
  • Narrator
  • Franklin (one of the Equalisers, who came and went throughout the story)
  • Intruder
  • Card-sharp (these two appeared in the same puzzle)
  • West
  • Polish (I wrote an episode based around the Polish settlers in the town)
  • Lawman
  • Tyler (one of our semi-regular characters)
  • Murder
  • Saloon
At this point I decided to put the book away.
I looked up and saw Karen at the bar. We haven’t spoken for ages, because we had a big falling-out a couple of years ago. Even before that happened, she was already the inspiration for the attractive, deluded and mentally unstable God-botherer Theresa of the Sierra Madhouse.
I made my excuses and left, and decided to return to Thereisnospoon to write this entry. On the way I saw a stunning moon riding high above the town. There hasn’t been a cloud in the sky all day, and suddenly all the pieces fell into place. In spite of the results of a meta-study a few years ago, my friends in the NHS and the police will vouch for the spike in arrests and hospital admissions that always accompanies a full moon. It was bloody obvious that we were due for a surreal day, in retrospect. (There was hardly a Cloud in Thereisnospoon either. This might work and it might not. I’ve typed it out in case, and will post it when I get online.)
The weirdness continued when I was at the bar. I’d only just ordered my drink when a random guy walked up to me.
‘You probably don’t remember me,’ he said. ‘I was in the library two or three years ago, and you helped me out on the computer.’
I had to take his word for it, because (let’s be honest) that description could have applied to half of Aberdare at some time or another.
‘Anyway,’ he continued, ‘I promised to buy you a pint – so here it is.’
He gave the barbint some money and wandered off again.
I’ve no idea who he is, or where he went when he left the bar. But I’ve got a pint in front of me which I didn’t have to pay for.

An Unexpected Party

In which The Author takes the piss

In a hole in the Shire there lived a Piss-artist.
Now you may not know very much about Piss-artists, but believe me, boys and girls, when I tell you that they play a very important part in this story.
Piss-artists are not as common as they used to be in the Olden Days. For the most part, they are creatures of memory, heard of only in tales from your older relatives and friends. Not that very long ago, however, it was a regular occurrence to come across a Piss-artist when you were walking around on your daily business.
Piss-artists could usually be told from Big Folk by several features. For one thing, most of them did not use the Common Tongue which is spoken by pretty much everyone in the world today. In fact, they relied only on a series of grunts, which were unintelligible to Outsiders but which somehow enabled the Piss-artists to communicate.
A relatively few Piss-artists knew their letters; most were happy to rummage around in the dirt and build stone structures for a pittance of pay. Even so, they considered themselves ‘a cut above’ the Piss-artists who had been to school and learned their numbers and letters.
Furthermore, many Piss-artists liked to drink and smoke. Many strong ales and wines of fine vintages were freely available, and quickly became a part of Piss-artist life. As for ‘weed’: this arrived in the Shire many years ago, and soon became a feature of Piss-artist life. Furthermore, the Piss-artists would smoke not just the pipeweed of the Southfarthing, but any weed they could get hold of.
Over time, weed was supplanted by concoctions devised by the Dark Lords in the Outer Darkness. Some of this was potent enough to drive them into fantasy realms, inhabited by Dragons and Pixies and other folk of the Dark Realms. Consequently, many Piss-artists found their way to subterranean roads, where Demons lurked and only the wisest of the Wise could lead them back to daylight.
It is difficult for anyone now to remember the Olden Days before the Darkness threatened our way of life. Few ancient souls remember the time before the Darkness descended on the Shire.
One such Piss-artist was named Steve. He was one of the less adventurous sorts of Piss-artist, who sat in the taverns, sang and laughed and drank with his friends, and watched the weak souls embark on journeys from which no man could return unscathed.
It was a week before Steve’s forty-ninth birthday – a highly auspicious date for a Piss-Artist. Not only did his birthday fall on a Wednesday, which was traditionally a midweek gathering of Piss-Artists; it was just after two consecutive Friday the Thirteenths! To have one Friday the Thirteenth in a year is considered unlucky (that being the day when Bilbo the Unexpectedly Valiant left Bag End in the company of thirteen Dwarves of Durin’s line); two Friday the Thirteenths is generally reckoned to be an omen of doom unforeseen. (By the way, boys and girls, there were once three Friday the Thirteenths in the same year – but only Steve and his herbalist’s assistant ever referred to them!)
Also, forty-nine is the square of seven; seven days make up a week, and Steve was the most square of all Piss-artists.
You will find this difficult to believe, boys and girls, but there was a time when Shire-folk could venture on a quest for ale at lunchtime on a Friday and not return to their starting point until late on Sunday night. Since then, Darkness has engulfed the land. Now the Piss-Artists can visit every inn and tavern in less than two hours’ walk, and return home with scarce a scratch or tale worth the telling.
(That is, apart from Steve’s friend Billy, who lived a short stagger from the town centre. Having lost his keys one night, Billy’s only way into his Piss-artist hole was through the back lane, a wooded brake of thorns and nettles. When they next met in the Green Elf Tavern, Billy announced, ‘You’ve heard of the Rumble in the Jungle; you’ve heard of the Thriller in Manila; I was the Shambles in the Brambles!’)
On this night in question, a week before his seven-by-seventh birthday, Steve found himself in the Poets Inn, a short walk from the main road home. To his delight, who should be sitting at a table some distance from the door but Geoff!
Geoff – boys and girls, if I told you all the tales there are to be told about Geoff you would be struck dumb with wonder.
Geoff is a lore-master of renown, a man of the Law, a collector of books, manuscripts, maps and bills of theatrical entertainment the like of which have not been seen in the Shire for many years. With his flowing white locks, merry eyebrows and vast knowledge of times past (not to mention a fondness for ales), Geoff is one of the undoubted Wise Folk of the Shire. After a brief conversation in the Shire archives one afternoon, Geoff has appointed Steve as his unofficial apprentice lore-man.
Steve and Geoff’s daughter Anna have been friends for some three decades. In the Hidden Tales of the Shire, wise lore-masters may still find an account entitled The Affair of the Handcuffs, which no decent Piss-artist mentions in polite conversation these days. Even the protagonists maintain a discreet silence on such matters.
Thus it was that, a full seven days before his seven-by-seventh birthday, Steve found himself with a tankard of ale in front of him, wondering why on Middle-earth he’d allowed himself to be tempted by the offer of an unexpected party.