Forgotten History

On November 6th 1865, a warship flying the flag of a foreign power sailed up the River Mersey and brought itself up alongside the British man-of-war, HMS Donegal.

Usually back in those days that was the sign that a great deal of violence and death was about to ensue as the two ships started attempting to pummel each other into submission.  But on this occasion, nothing of the kind occurred.  The ship was the CSS Shenandoah, a warship of the now defunct Confederate States of America and her captain had no greater intention than to surrender his ship to the British authorities.  It was the last act of a continent spanning civil war, fought thousands of miles away on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, resulting in the deaths of over 620,000 American servicemen.

I’m not going to go into the strange quirk of fate that led to this nation defining war ending mid river of the River Mersey, that’s not the point of my post today.  The point of my post is this, until the other day I wasn’t aware of this.  Maybe everyone reading this knew the last combatants in the American Civil War surrendered ten miles upriver from where I live, but I didn’t.  It got me to wondering how many moments of historical significance have occurred right on our doorstep, things that have been forgotten to slow march of time.

So, keep an eye out when you’re out and about, who knows what little quirks of history you’ll spot.

Looking Up

I really should lift my head up more and take in my surroundings.

As frequent readers of my blog will know, I recently changed jobs, resulting in me now working a completely different town (Runcorn) from the one I had been working in (Warrington) for the last twelve years.  I recently went to Warrington to meet a friend to catch up, before and after our meet up I spent some time sat in the shopping centre watching the world go by.  It struck me while I was this just how little I noticed in my previous twelve years of pottering around the centre of Warrington.

Every day I had been in work over the last twelve years, I had walked different routes around Warrington to the various shops, pubs and whatnot in town.  But having long since gotten used to the town centre I would cruise around town, head down, on auto-pilot, taking in nothing of my surroundings.  So, there I was last Tuesday, sat on a bench in the middle of the mall just watching people go about their business and it struck me how little I noticed around me.  I’ve always considered myself to be a perceptive individual, very aware of my surroundings and what have you, but sat there I noticed shops I didn’t even know where there for starters.

A friend of mine often says that people don’t look up often enough, and she’s right.

There are all sorts of things going on around us, above us as well.  There are all sorts of things out there to provide us with inspiration, whether it be books or movies, the behaviour of people or random unexplained occurrences that boggle the mind.  Perhaps you’re like me and on those dark starry nights you spend time looking up into the sky wondering what’s out there or staring at distant streetlights, wondering what’s happening there.

All sorts of things drive me to write and though I don’t usually lack for ways to inspire myself, I think these past twelve years I have been depriving myself of a valuable source of inspiration.  Whatever inspires you, perhaps you might consider just sitting, looking up and around, see where it takes you.

Who knows, perhaps you’ll be like me and discover an untapped resource.

Short Story – Vernon and the Arch-Mage of Terkinott

Good morning everyone.  It had been a little while since I wrote a short story of any variety and so I decided to have a pop at writing one.  Lo and behold our intrepid adventurer Vernon came to the rescue.


He was almost there.  Vernon had spent the last three days climbing to the top of the spire, truly it had been an arduous climb, full of perils and magical traps galore.  He had met a man called Basil the Fantastic a couple of weeks ago, he had told him of a wizard’s tower nearby, the wizard he said, was known to grant magical artefacts to adventurers with great skill and cunning if they could prove their worth.

Now, after a considerable journey and no small amount of hazard he was almost at the top, all that stood in between him and his goal was a magical barrier and steely resolve of the Arch-Mage of Terkinott.  Should Vernon’s considerable verbal skills prove up to the task, he would leave here with the Golden Glaive of Nemaltos and the Grand Hat of Tomalbus; worthy prizes indeed.

‘Now,’ he said as he withdrew the Key of Grumbold from his satchel, ‘it is time to claim my prize.’

Vernon inserted the key into the Keyhole of Fates and turned it as the Grand Book of Keys had said, first counter clockwise, then clockwise and then all the way around counter clockwise once more.  With that he retrieved his journal from his pocket and proceeded to read the passphrase aloud.

‘The Arch-Mage of Terkinott has the grandest tower of them all!’ he shouted.

After a moment, the great double doors before him shook as the hidden workings of it shuddered to life and a moment later the doors began to slowly swing open.  He took a tentative step forward through the great portal and prepared himself for anything that he might find inside.  Once he entered the room he looked around at its contents and had to admit, he was very impressed with what he saw.  There were all sorts of alchemy equipment, flames heating vials of mysterious fluids of all sorts of different colours, great bookcases lining the walls, teeming with books containing who knows what and great telescope pointing up into the night sky.

‘It’s magnificent,’ he said.

‘What do you want?’ he heard a high-pitched voice say from behind him.

Spinning around with his glaive at the ready he prepared himself to have to fight some great beast, conjured from nowhere by the mighty arch-mage or a spectral apparition formed by magical power.  Instead the sight of a young man met him, at twenty years old if he was being generous, he was stood next to the telescope in baggy mage robes that clearly were not meant for him.

‘Who are you?’ Vernon asked.

‘I am the Arch-Mage of Terkinott, obviously,’ the boy replied tetchily.

Of course, this must have been a test to see if Vernon were worthy of the items he had come here for.  Determined to prove his worth, Vernon smoothed his clothes and straightened his posture before delivering his carefully constructed request.

‘Of course,’ he started, pausing for a moment to order his thoughts before continuing, ‘oh wise Arch-Mage, I come before you today to request a might boon.’

‘A boon?’ the Arch-Mage said, as if confused by Vernon’s statement.

‘Yes, I request the Golden Glaive of Nemaltos and the Grand Hat of Tomalbus,’ he said humbly.

The Arch-Mage stood for a moment looking him up and down, he reached up and started to scratch his chin as if considering his request.  A strained look spread across the mage’s seemingly young features, he seemed to be giving Vernon’s request serious consideration, though he was expecting to have to argue his case before the Arch-Mage gave up the items.  After a minute the Arch-Mage nodded and turned, walking to the rear of the chamber.  A moment later Vernon heard thumps and bangs, followed by the sound of something clattering to the floor, followed by no small amount of cursing from the mage.

After a couple of minutes of this there was suddenly silence and then the mage came walking back with a glaive and floppy brimmed leather hat.  ‘There you go, I uhm…bestow?  Yes, I bestow upon you the Blade of Tobasco and Hat of Numpties, now go forth and use them wisely.’

No sooner had he finished than he was ushering Vernon towards the door and out of the chamber, but realising something wasn’t quite right, he resisted and turned around to face the mage.

‘Now wait a moment,’ he said forcefully.  As he did so the boy seemed to shrink backwards as if scared Vernon might try to attack him.  ‘This is not a golden glaive, it is made from iron and the hat is a simple leather hat with no magical power whatsoever.’

‘Well who died and made you the magic expert?’ the mage said.  ‘I’m the Arch-Mage here and if I say they’re magical item, thingies, then that’s what they are.’

Vernon held his ground as the mage tried to push him towards the door, nevertheless he continued to push against him, resulting in the boy walking on the spot as he struggled against him in vain.  Eventually exhausted and panting heavily, the boy stopped and looked up at Vernon a look of fear on his face.

‘You’re not the Arch-Mage of Terkinott, are you?’

‘Uhm…no,’ the boy answered.

Vernon dropped the hat and the glaive that the boy had given him, raising his arms he gave an exasperated sigh at his misfortune before fixing the boy with an intense stare.

‘Well, where is he?’

‘He’s dead,’ the boy said, unable to meet Vernon’s gaze as he shuffled from one foot to the other.

‘How?’

‘He fell,’ the boy replied dejectedly pointing to a balcony on the northern face of the spire.  ‘He liked to have a big stretch on the balcony every morning, one day he got dizzy and fell off.’

Damn and bother, Vernon thought.  This adventuring lark just wasn’t paying off, first the golem, then the Chalice of Destiny and now this, it was as if the universe was playing some elaborate prank on him.

‘Well what about the glaive and the hat?’ he asked.  At the very least he could claim his prizes before he left the tower, that way the whole escapade wouldn’t be a total loss.

‘They’re gone,’ the boy replied.

‘Gone?’

‘I gave them to a man called Basil last week.’

‘Basil?’ he said, the look of anger on his face inviting no answer from the boy.

He had been duped, Basil the Fantastic was a cad, a bounder of the highest order.  He had spun a tale to Vernon that he knew he could not resist, despite knowing that there was nothing here to claim, because he had already claimed them.  Unable to contain his temper he kicked a nearby candlestick holder, sending it toppling into a nearby mirror, which in turn fell into a picture and so on.  This led to a cascade effect, whereby one object knocked another and another until the whole room’s contents were spilling to the floor.  Finally, a large globe was knocked from its stand onto the alchemy workbench and rolling across it, proceeded to knock all the vials over before finally the flame beneath one of them was knocked over into the mix of fluid.

‘Is that flamma-’

The tower exploded before he could finish.

Too much of a good thing…

Politics isn’t exactly everyone’s favourite subject, but much as I have avoided it as much as possible up to now I feel compelled to comment.

Be warned:  I busted out the swears.

As you may know the UK government has called a snap general election for the 8th June.  This has caused no amount of groaning from people in this country who are feeling the effect of election fatigue, one sympathizes.  I must admit to being a bit of a geek, I find elections to be rather interesting, the run up can be entertaining as you see politicians jockeying for position to get their messages heard.  Cue politicians attempting to appear hip and cool as they attempt to get the votes of people that couldn’t relate to even if given the benefit of a body swap for a day.

Frankly it’s embarrassing.

Then there’s election day itself when the results start rolling in and you begin to get a picture of how the election might be unfolding.  I think it can all be rather dramatic as you start to see heads rolling.  I know it’s a little sad, but I don’t care, I enjoy it.

Even with all that, even with the entertainment factor, the sense of comedy and drama; I’m beginning to grow tired of elections.  We had a general election in May 2015, the EU referendum in June 2016 and now this in June.  If you live in Scotland you also had to contend with the independence referendum in 2014 and the elections to the Scottish parliament in May 2016.  Northern Ireland held elections to the assembly in May 2016 and March 2017.  Wales held elections to the Welsh Assembly in May 2016 also.  Throw in various local council elections, elections to the European and probably some other election that I’ve forgotten about and that’s a hell of a lot of voting.

It’s exhausting.

I watched a news report just after the election had been announced, the reporter was speaking to a lovely old lady called Brenda and he was asking her what she thought of the announcement.  To say Brenda was dismayed at the prospect of having to go to the polls again would be an understatement, she summed up the situation perfectly in one sentence.

“There’s just too much politics going on at the moment!”

Well said Brenda, well said.

I never thought I’d say this, but there is way too much politics going on right now.  If things continue as they are then I do feel we could end up in double digits in terms of the number of elections before the end of next year.  I do wonder what effect this might have on voter turnout at the election, it’s easy to understand how people might be turned off at the prospect of another election.  It’s not even like things will change really, we’ll get the same sorts of people, telling the same lies and using the same meaningless soundbites in attempt to win our votes.

However, I would urge people to exercise their vote nonetheless.  Vote for the party you’ve always voted for, vote for someone new, vote for an independent candidate or if none of the above appeals then spoil your ballot in a way that clearly states you are voting for none of the candidates.  Whilst I get people might be tired of voting with absolutely no change whatsoever, not voting isn’t going to solve anything.

Nothing emboldens politicians and the powerful like the silence of the people, voting sends a message to our political class, whatever we choose that message to be.  That’s not all there is to political engagement of course as voting is only part of being politically engaged, but this has been my longest blog post yet, so I’ll cover the rest some other time.

Whatever the case, once this election is done can our politicians please get their shit together and just fuck off for at least the next twelve months?

A Good End?

This blog has gotten a little of track of late, I think I’ve been letting my sentimental side run away with itself; time to correct that.

So, a post about writing, yay!

I was thinking recently about endings, specifically endings to stories.  In short, they’re hard to do.  I think the hardest thing any writer has to do is bring the curtain down on a story, especially if that story is part of a long running series that they have invested no small an amount of time into.  I’m only just embarking upon writing my own writing adventure with the Brogan books and so I don’t need to think about ending it any time soon, but the thought of doing it fills me with a deep feeling of dread whenever it enters my mind.

I think a writer has two main problems when coming to ending a story, ending at the right time and ending in the right way.

I’ll start with ending at the right time.  One of the worst things a writer can do in my opinion is to draw out a story, all stories and characters for that matter have a shelf life.  The time comes when consideration must be given to whether the best thing for them is to end it, there a few things worse than seeing a much-loved character being flogged like a dead horse to put off their eventual execution.  I get why they do it, we love them, they’re like part of the family and ending their story is akin to taking a family pet to the vet knowing it’ll be last time you do.

Overstating the issue?  Maybe, but I love my characters, even the bastards; I put too much into creating them not to get attached to them.

Whilst timing is important, equally as important is execution.  How many times have we been following a story in whatever medium we’re experiencing it, only to get to the end and be left feeling distinctly underwhelmed.  Take for example the ending to the first trilogy in the Mass Effect series of games.  Now sure it’s purely a matter of opinion on whether the ending to Mass Effect 3 was any good, indeed it is a very polarizing topic.  Much like Marmite, you either love it or you hate it.  But it doesn’t alter the fact that it left many people feeling like they had been sold a lemon.

For those of who haven’t played the games, the series was sold on the basis that the choices you made through the series would affect the ending.  I can only speak for my own experience, but I was personally feeling good running into the last half an hour of gameplay.  The story had been good, the musical score was outstanding and the characters were all behaving in characteristic fashion.  Sadly, everything north of this point was, in my opinion at least, complete and utter bollocks.

Half an hour later and the game was over.  I won’t tell you how it went, I will however say three words that should explain the situation clearly; deus ex machina.  The writers threw a curveball, and not in a good way.  It was a disappointing end to what had otherwise been an outstanding series of games, the response of the writers to criticism didn’t help matters any either, but that’s a topic for another time.  The moral of the story is this; timing and execution are key.  If you want your stories to be remembered for the right reasons you need make sure you end them at the right time and in the right way, of course having a good story also helps.

For my part, I hope that when the time comes for me to end the Brogan series, I do it right.  It may not have many fans now, but those it does have deserve the best I can do.

Peace out folks, and have a lovely day.

People are awesome…

Well it’s done now.

I left my old job of eleven years on Friday, it did not go as planned.  I had always imagined my last day in that office to go something like this.  I was going to finish my last piece of work and then having managed to negotiate my last day I would leap out of the window, fireworks erupting all over the show as I cartwheeled off across the carpark to the train station and home.  I jest of course, but my last day was going to be something like that.

Not so.

I had asked my good friend Zog to not make a fuss on my last day, not to do a collection as is customary for someone leaving there so I could avoid a last-minute presentation as everyone gathered around to wish me farewell.  If truth be told, the nature of my job didn’t give me the impression that I would be popular enough to pull together much more than £5.  Despite that I suspected shenanigans, so I got in mind what I was going to say if it came to it, I’m manly enough to not get emotional I thought.

Zog had, as it quickly became apparent, pulled a fast one and collected some money together.  People started gathering around my desk, a fair few people it had to be said.  A short presentation from Zog later and it was my turn, I opened the card first, this was a mistake.  In the card, which was plastered with signatures from people wishing me well was a wedge of cash to the tune of £100.  It didn’t take long for my usual stoic façade to start to crumble, though it was nice it wasn’t the amount of money that got me, it was the gesture.

All I had to do was hold it together long enough to give a short speech and that was it, I failed.  To say I fluffed my lines would be an understatement, everything I had planned to say disappeared out of my head the moment I opened the card.  I mumbled a few words about much appreciated what they’d done and that sort of thing.  Frankly, I couldn’t tell you exactly what I said, my focus was to get through it without breaking my cool manly exterior.  I don’t think I succeeded on that front, based on how much my hands were shaking and how little I remembered I can say with certainty I didn’t in fact.

What’s the point of this blog post, if truth be told I’m not sure it has any deeper meaning.  I just thought it was a tremendous act of kindness from my former work colleagues that should be mentioned.  They are a tremendous bunch of people and I will always cherish my time with them.

In short, I love you guys, you’re awesome and your immense generosity never ceases to amaze me.  Stay awesome my friends.

The Arts: All Things To All People

The arts.

I think their importance to people’s lives is often underestimated.  They have the power to inspire, to give people the opportunity to escape or appreciate something beautiful.  For people such as myself who aren’t blessed with an overabundance of money, the arts provide an opportunity to see things and places that we may not otherwise see.  To bear witness to events that have long since passed from living memory, to see great and wondrous things that have long since crumbled to dust.

They allow us to order our thoughts and document our own lives, as well as the lives of others.  They allow us to see into the minds of great figures from history, to see how they viewed themselves compared to how their contemporaries viewed them.  They allow us to delve into the collective psyche of nations, to see how they developed and to follow their eventual decline.  They allow us to see the better side of humanity, whether it be music, literature, or any of the other methods of human expression, the importance of the arts cannot be overstated.

Having said all of that, it also allows us to see the ugly side of humanity.  For as long as the arts have existed, they have been used to inspire people to some of the most heinous acts imaginable.  People have used them to espouse hateful political ideologies, leading to some of the worst atrocities in human history.  They have been used to craft policies leading to the oppression and suffering of entire groups of people, for no greater reason than the colour of their skin, their religious and/or political beliefs, their gender or any number of arbitrary reasons of little, to no relevance in judging the worth of a person.

We can be unbelievable shits to each other sometimes, when inspired by a picture, a film, or a piece of music we can react in some of the worst ways imaginable to one another.  But we can also be beautiful, I have been privileged in my life to have witnessed some of the most touching acts of kindness from people in situations little better than the person they are helping.

People have tremendous capacity.  Whatever we choose to create and whatever effect it has, I’d rather have a world of boundless creative possibilities than the alternative.

My mind has been racing with thoughts such as these lately, so expect more such musings.  In the meantime, stay classy world!

A change is as good as a rest…

Life has a funny habit of springing surprises on you.

I think back ten months to last June and I remember how settled everything felt.  I was working in the same place I’d been working in for eleven years, working on the same job I’d been working on for eight years and working with the same group of people I’d been working with for six years.  There didn’t seem to be anything new on the horizon, everything seemed like it would remain the same for another year.  Indeed, despite my January resolution to be in a better situation at the end of the year than I was at the start, I looked on course to be worse off if anything.

From my viewpoint, everything seemed to start going tits-up* around the end of June.  My friend Chris, who had been my wingman for the better part of five years, announced he had gotten promotion and was going to be moving to a new office.  Now, being a man I did not do anything so unmanly as shed a tear, but when he eventually departed it did feel like my left arm** had been cut off.  Another of my colleagues left around the same time, a further colleague with whom I had worked for the last eight years retired at the end of December and now, this Friday another of my close friends is going to be departing for fairer shores.  Finally, to round it all off my team got moved to a new section, they’re all really nice people up there, but I was sorry to leave behind my old section as we were made to feel unbelievably welcome there.

Now you’re probably thinking something along the lines of how that’s a lot of change for one year.***  Well yes it is, but I’m not done.  As anyone who has been reading this humble blog will know I applied for a new job recently, well I got the new job.  So, finally it’s my time to move to something new and that was essentially what caused me to write this post.

It’s a bit of a corny and overused cliché oftentimes, but for me this is the end of an era.  Not all my friends have gone from my current team and I will be sorry to leave those behind who are still there.  When you work with the same group of people for so long you get used to their foibles, come to appreciate the peculiarities**** of your workmates.  I spent upwards of eight hours a day with some of these fine people and it is going to be hard to leave them, that’s going to be one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced in there.

Change, it’s never easy, but it’s not always bad either.  For me this has come at the right time in my life, I have so many things I want to do and for that I need to be closer to home, as well as have more money available to me.  This accomplishes both of those things.

All I need to do now is make it through the next few weeks without breaking my cool manly exterior.

*Gone wrong.
**I’m left handed, my right arm would have been easier to lose, metaphorically speaking of course.
***You’re probably not actually thinking that, but for the purposes of my blog you are, so shut up and think it!
****They are incredibly peculiar sometimes.  Not like me, I’m perfectly normal.

It continues…

This is frustrating.

I thought I had a good idea for a blog post, I was all prepared to sit down and write it, I’m past my writers block I thought.  Well, two paragraphs into it I was sat there looking at the two paragraphs I’d written, ruminating about how shit they were and wondering why I can’t seem to put two decent words together.  Indeed, it seems all I can write about these days is my inability to write, it’s made all the worse when I think about how I’ve been like this since the beginning of January.

I think I know what the problem is though, I’ve got a new job.  I’m due to leave my current place of employment where I’ve been working for the last eleven years, same employer, different job and location.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that my problems started around the time I put the application in for this, clearly, it’s causing me some problems.  The upshot of this is that if I’m right, this is only going to be a problem for another month.

This does make me think however, change really isn’t easy.  A new job is going to be good for me, but the fact that I’m going to be leaving the place I’ve made so many friends over the last eleven years is going to be tough.  It’s a big change and it’s not going to be as easy as I might have envisioned it would be, the effect it’s having on my writing is obvious.

I think I’m going to have to take my time and write my way out of this one.  In the meantime, I’ll keep you posted as to my labours.

The lights are on but nobody’s home…

I wrote a little while back about how I couldn’t get my head in the writing game.  Well good news, I’m past that, so great!

So, you might be wondering why it is then that I’m not writing regularly again?  Well therein lies the problem you see.  I’m in the mood, I’m all excited to have my motivation back and be at the stage that I want to start putting pen to paper as it were.  My problem right now is that when it comes to blogging my mind is drawing a blank as to what to write about, a total blank.

It’s a strange situation to be in to be honest.  Usually when I’m in the mood to write, the subject matter just flows from my overactive brain dome onto the page, but not this time.  As it stands now you’d think I lived the most boring and uneventful life imaginable, because when it comes to writing I’m without inspiration.  I partly blame myself for this to be honest, I haven’t had my writing journal in my bag, so there’s nothing to document my thoughts and musings in as I go about my day.

I have just had a thought however, there’s a coffee shop near where I work in Warrington and I must admit it has become a favourite haunt of mine since my friend, Chris and I enjoyed a fine beverage there.  Relaxing in a place with a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere might help to inspire me, I’ll take my journal, soak up the atmosphere and see where I end up.

I just need to start taking small steps towards regular writing again.  I suppose you could say I need to rehabilitate myself, because if I’m being honest, this is beginning to get tiresome.