Category Archives: Pastimes

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.

The Insect Society

In which The Author is glad he went out last week

The last seven days have kept becoming weirder.
I’ve introduced a number of friends to a creative little network in Aberdare. I’ve got in touch with the author of my forthcoming copy-editing project – and his wife is now following me on Twitter. I’ve helped Geoff E. to polish off an essay he’s been working on for ages. I’ve drunk an awful lot of beer, eaten quite a lot, and made plans to catch up with more people over the next few weeks.
I was even exempt from the usual cretinous drugged-up Valleys lowlife that usually comes out on a Thursday. Goddess was clearly feeling kindly disposed towards me last week.
Yesterday I logged into my emails and found one from a company named SRO. I’m on their mailing list purely because they were involved with my audition for the revived TV quiz show Fifteen to One a year or so ago (see ‘The Game’s Afoot‘).
Oddly enough, I’ve been unsubscribing from mailing lists recently, because I’m getting more junk mail online than I do through my front door. The only reason SRO got through is because I haven’t got around to doing them yet.
As things turned out, that was probably just as well.
The email was an invitation from an independent TV company, inviting people to apply to be contestants on a BBC4 quiz show called Hive Minds. It said something like ‘Do you answer the questions on Only Connect and University Challenge? Do you like crosswords and word games?’ Two out of two ain’t bad. I’d never heard of the show – in fact, I thought maybe it was something still in production – but it was probably worth thirty seconds of my time. I filled in my details and submitted them online.
Only about an hour later my phone rang. It came as a bit of a relief, really. I spent ages last week potching with the bloody thing, trying to set up a ringtone. At least now I know it works. (So does everyone else who was in Aberdare Library at the time, but it’s early days yet. I’ll probably find the volume control in another week or so.) It was a London number. For a moment I thought it might have been my contact at Orion Books. Then I wondered whether it was a previously unknown proofreading client, wanting to take advantage of my services. I answered it when I was halfway down the stairs, just to be on the safe side.
The caller turned out to be Bethan, a production assistant on Hive Minds. We chatted for a while before she asked me about a dozen general knowledge questions.
‘I’ll warn you now,’ Bethan said at the outset, ‘they are quite hard.’
‘They can’t be as weird as the questions on Round Britain Quiz,’ I replied, and Bethan laughed. That sounded ominous to begin with (see ‘A Clash of Cultures‘).
Well, I kicked the first one straight between the posts without even having to think about it. It was a question on books, after all. Not just that, but one of the most renowned and influential books of the last two centuries.
That was pretty much the story for the rest of the phone audition. I made a couple of educated guesses, and I know I definitely got one wrong, but Bethan was pretty impressed by my performance. She’d said that, even if I got the answers wrong, an educated guess was better than nothing. (I checked a couple of my hunches later on, and they were right. The job’s a good ‘un.)
Bethan asked me if I knew anyone else who might be interested in taking part. I mentioned a couple of likely suspects, and she asked me to pass her number on to them. The game involves teams of three, so if three friends want to enter together, all the better. She more or less told me on the phone that I’d be invited to the actual audition in Cardiff, and to wait for an email.
Less than an hour later that email arrived. I’ve got to go to Cardiff a fortnight today, to meet some more people involved in the show.
I downloaded a couple of editions to watch last night, and then sent some texts and emails. To judge from the underwhelming response, I’ll be in Cardiff on my own. One of the guys I thought of suffers from quite severe dyslexia, so the game wouldn’t play to his strengths anyway. The other just bottled out immediately, as I’d feared he would. That leaves one more person whom I’m hoping will bite the bullet and make the call.
There’s no guarantee I’ll qualify for the show, of course, but I needed an excuse to go to Cardiff before Xmas. Hive Minds – a show I didn’t even know existed thirty-six hours ago – has just given me that excuse.
See – that’s what can happen when you go out in Aberdare on a Thursday afternoon for just the one. Bizarre, or what?