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Here's a little game you can play to annoy your friends (lifted from the French thriller, Who Killed Bambi?)

You tell your friend/victim that you had a really interesting dream the night before.

When they ask you to tell it them, you say, "OK, but you'll have to ask me questions requiring the answer 'yes' or 'no'."

What you don't tell them is that you are going to answer 'yes' to every question ending in a vowel and 'no' to every question ending in a consonant.


Was your dream a nightmare? Yes

Was it amusing? No

Did it feature the pope? Yes

Was the pope in the nude? Yes....

And so on.

Effectively the dream is constructed by the questioner. At the end, you point this out to the poor sap. And if the dream has turned out to be really, really embarrassing (which is highly likely) they walk away hating you.
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Because it has haunted me for 40 years.....

"Here, owing to the thickness of the hollies and the projecting arms of the other overhanging timber, added to the uncertain light above, the gloom was almost impervious, and he could scarcely see a yard before him. He pressed on unhesitatingly, and with a sort of pleasurable sensation at the difficulties he was encountering. Suddenly, however, he was startled by a blue phosphoric light streaming through the bushes on the left, and, looking up, he beheld at the foot of an enormous oak, whose giant roots protruded like giant snakes from the bank, a wild spectral-looking object, possessing some slight resemblance to humanity, and habited, so far as it could be determined, in the skin of deer, strangely disposed about its gaunt and tawny-coloured limbs. On its head was seen a sort of helmet, formed of the skull of a stag, from which branched a large pair of antlers; from its left arm hung a heavy and rusty-looking chain, in the links of which burnt the phosphoric fire before mentioned; while on its right wrist was perched a large horned owl, with its feathers erected, and red staring eyes."

from Windsor Castle (1843) by W. Harrison Ainsworth.

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Meet Pauline Bonaparte

Pauline has an embarrassing personal problem.

Do you want to share it with us Pauline?

 Someone has been eating your toes?

 Oh no,!

Who on earth would do such a thing?


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I have no means of knowing what the fairy said, but I'm assured, by those who were present at the revelation, that she said only sweet and soothing things. Latterly I have been ill at ease in myself. The darkness of the old roof weighs down heavily on my cowed spiirit. I should give up counting gravestones, don't you think? The carriage path to my ancestral door is lined with them. It was my grandfather's hobby to collect them. He would sashay out at dead of night wearing his burglar's mask and uproot them from country churchyards. The police took an interest but he deterred them with mantraps and his relationship with the Minister for Health. Bah, I wish I lived anywhere else.

It's midnight and the rain drips steadily from the eaves. There are many noises in a house this age. I ignore them mainly. I know they mean nothing. Let the bats fly and the fairies flit- they cannot harm me. No I shall pull the nightcap over my thinning locks and take the book from the bedside table and read.

And what it says in the book is that medicine can never cure a broken heart. Well I knew that already. It is the first thing they taught us at school. That and subordination to the powers that be. I lay the book aside. It is dull and my head aches. I have no more time for it. And I shall ignore whatever it is that is creeping towards me over the Turkey rug. It does not exist. Nor does the knife exist that it holds in its fist. My grandfather is long dead in his grave, which is not one of the graves that line the drive. No, he sleeps under a gothic fantasy as many pinnacled as a wedding cake. He is weighed down by it. He cannot escape. There is not even so much as a crack through which his unappeased spirit can escape. And if there were I would be the first to know. I should call on Billy Bob and Jolene and have them fill it in with pastry- laid on thick with a trowel. Eat your way out, old man, if you can!

I shall sleep and the waves will take me out to the island. There are no graves there. And no grandfathers. Only fairies that flit in spangly lurex and masks that makes them look like pigs. Oh the truffles me shall eat! Oh the dewdrops we shall drink!

Roman Ring

Oct. 18th, 2005 11:33 am
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I used to own a Roman ring. It was too small to fit on any of my fingers, so I wore it on a thong round my neck.

Yes Roman. Really and truly Roman. Or so the seller said.

Last week the thong came untied and I lost the ring.

So I went on eBay and  bid for another.

There are an awful  lot of Roman rings for sale on eBay. I guess they're genuine. I figure they sell too cheaply for anyone to bother faking them. But where do they all come from?

The Romans must have been a really careless set of people.

Roman matron: (walking down country lane) "Drat, my ring just slipped off my finger into the ditch.  That's the third in as many weeks."

Roman patriarch: (cheerily) "Never mind dear. Plenty more where that came from."

Of course it is entirely possible that they....

have been robbed out of graves.....

(pause for delicious shudder.)

Anyway, I just learned that I won my auction. A bronze ring with a blue stone in it  is coming my way.


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Up here on the Wall I sometimes get to thinking that the Empire has forgotten us.

Last night I entertained the young officer who commands the reinforcements that arrived yesterday afternoon from Eboracum.

It was raw and misty. It usually is. The air had ice in it.

My cook had prepared ptarmigan. Ptarmigan in squid sauce. We drank wine from my family's vinyards on Vectis.

He is a cheerful young man, with metropolitan airs and graces, his thick, curly hair slicked up and perfumed with bear-grease. I feel sorry for him.

"So what did you think of Serenity?" he asked, chewing on a tiny wish-bone.

I eyed him blankly.

"You know," he urged, "it's sorta like the sequel to Firefly."

I shook my head. "The things that are the talk of the Empire take months to reach us here- years even."

"You mean you haven't even seen Firefly yet?"

I smiled sourly.

His face went pale. It was dawning on him just what it would mean to him to be stationed up here at the edge of the world- how much like exile it was.

Just then a noise like the torturing of a cat came squalling up from the vicus. "What in the names of all the gods is that?" he asked, appalled.

"That is a thing called the pipes," I drawled. "It is what the Picts do for entertainment." I let the enormity sink in. "They dance too," I added. "The Pictish men- in skirts."
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"I am not broken but the jug is," said Marlene, picking herself out of the ditch. She held up a shard of pre-Minoan pottery. "This was worth more than all the perfumes of Arabia."

The horse carried on down the road, past the windmills, past the cottages, past the groves of nut trees. Peasants looked up from their labour in the fields and were surprised to see it- A white mare, fully harnessed, trotting along with its nostrils in the air- but without a rider.

Marlene sat down on the bank and picked daisies. "All these flowers," she said, "and no pot to put them in."
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The ghosts of the twelve little priestesses are walking in a long straight line towards the door in the hill. They have tall hats and the light shines out of them. Each holds a cane of ebony topped with silver.

I have seen them once. Not twice. No-one sees them twice. It is the rule. The very explicit rule. Even those flying overhead on a daily basis in ballons and chartered aeroplanes only see them once.

I asked the bishop to explain. He was sly. He looked at me sideways and blew out smoke-rings. “There are some things, boyo,” (he was Welsh you see and played up to it)  “that are better off left unexplained. Would you pick the lock of eternity? No of course not. Who knows what cogs, what wheels would be set in motion to grind your bones and spit out the splinters?”

He was a bishop. I had to respect his wishes.

But I did my own detective work. I waited in the bushes. I interviewed tramps. I turned over nickels and read the inscriptions on the dirty sides. Nothing I read or was told advanced me any closer towards the heart of the mystery.

Maybe it will never be known. I understand  the best forensic scientists believe as much. The little priestesses will keep their secret. Of course one could ask their mothers, but their mothers, so all the best authorities attest, have been sworn to silence.

This is automatic writing-  but edited and revised.

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Today I will get out and walk the walk and dislike the first thing I see as I pass through the door. There will be dandelions growing up through the asphalt and the little dogs will sniff and pass on. It is Wednesday in heaven and the free-falling flyers of the Euonymous club are making pinwheels in the air. Blue smoke trails from the heels of the biplanes. The zeppelins rove down the mountain valleys.

And I am young and together and I have a rose in the band of my hat. This is a good day. A very good day. Nothing will stop me from popping into the greengrocers and making a withdrawal. I will point my six gun and demand my money. Ha. You didn't expect that did you?

A strange morning, but not so strange as the sight of the marchers on the high street. There are elephants following the band. Fire eaters and fire walkers and strong men in leopard skin coats. the crowds cheer and the little children wave flags and rattles. Someday there will be a new Jerusalem. It will have pinnacles that break the clouds all scaly with golden tiles and tiles of lapis laxuli.

I have never understood the Queen. Why does she do it? Why do her hands wave like that, all white as lilies, all smooth as goldfish in a pool? Never have I seen so strange a thing as the coal-black members of the palace guard. They carry halbards and the halbards have ribbons tied beneath the iron-steel of the broad headed blades. They dance. They dance on the palace green and the crows and the ravens scatter and fly up and sit on the turrets of the bloody tower and make corvine conversation.

It is Wednesday still. Wednesday in heaven. Tall streams fall from the mountains. The smoke arises and goes. Nothing remains. The meadows are swept clean. The little starry daisies look at the great eye of the sun. Emerald fields and emerald eyes in the heads of the copper-skinned women of the vales.
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We have a DVD of Un Chien Andalou out on loan. Late last night I thought I'd watch one of the extras (so I can post the disc back today and feel that I've had my money's worth.) I expected a half hour tit-bit. Turns out it's a feature length biography of Bunuel. So there I am, way past midnight, wishing the great man would hurry up and die.

He was an endearing old cove. A bit of a domestic tyrant (one gathers) but his wife and sons  humoured  him and got on with their own lives behind his back.

When members of his family were late for dinner one evening (he was fanatical about time-keeping) he put the dish of paella on the living room floor and danced on it.

I woke up around four o'clock.  I remembered how Bunuel and Dali had experimented with automatic writing- and thought I'd give it a shot myself. I started stringing words together in my head without pause for thought- and soon went back to sleep.

So here's today's exercise. A slice of automatic writing (or typing.) Ready, steady, go.....

Automatic Script

And if the cat isn't ready for the dousing I propose to give it,  that's too bad, but it will happen anyway. Ho, ho, he said and looked up to the beacon on the hill. Flags were there. Flags of many nations- all fluttering and spluttering in the breeze. They will have trouble getting over the fence, he thought. And then she arrived, swaying and clicking her castanets. He was entranced. The air grew purple round them. Rain fell and the helmets of the conquistadors glittered in the wintry sun.

That'll do. Very Spanish.  Hmmm....

And Once More Because It's Fun

The trees cast long shadows over the deer park and the two sisters lay on the tartan rug and watched how the raindrops clung to the barbed wire fence. Nothing could be worse than this, said Eloise. And nothing could be finer, said Joan. A high cloud obscured the sun. The clowns came prancing by in procession. One of them clashed a huge pair of cymbals. And then came elephants. Tall white elepahants with Howdahs on their backs . And the sisters rolled out of the way to avoid being trampled.

Mind Games

Oct. 27th, 2004 10:27 am
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Sometimes the brain just clams up. I've been asking it to give me a word. It's a word I'm perfectly familiar with. I've been trying to get at it for half an hour or more and I haven't yet come close. I think it has "chron" in it somewhere. It's the word that means sort of you know when you're writing historical fiction and you stick in something modern that couldn't possibly have existed back then. Like in Deadwood last night where our noble but quick-tempered hero spent half a day over the funeral rites for the injun he just killed. Like that would so have happened in the 1870s!

Come on brain!

One technique for dealing with the problem is to walk away whistling, then circle back undercover and pounce. Take the brain off guard. I've been trying that. And it hasn't worked....

...Hey I've got it! I'll tell you what I did. I decided to Google "historical fiction" and hope that I'd find a text containing my word. And before I'd done more than type an "h" and an "i" the brain had surrendered and handed over the goods. It quails before the power of Google. It knew the game was up.

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Things I picked up on my walk this morning:

Down by the lake- a grey goose feather.

A child's marble- multicoloured but mainly blue.

A spray of roses. I didn't pluck them; they had been ripped from the bush and discarded.

Once upon a time feathers were technology. Cut 'em one way to make quill pens- as used by William Shakespeare esq (and others.) Cut 'em another way to fletch arrows.

When I was a kid, I had a jam jar full of marbles. Convince me that rubies, emeralds and sapphires are any more beautiful.

I can't think of anything fresh to say about roses. Gertrude Stein summed up the current state of thinking on that topic.

What I have here- in my sticky little paw- are the materials for a History of Civilisation.
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The abbot's hand on my arm. "Very pretty," he says, "very pretty." My saints and angels float across the wall. They have grace, they inspire love and piety. I am pleased with them. But no, dammit. I am not pleased with them. I have seen the fat boy's frescoes in the Branacci chapel. "Pah," I said to my friends, "these are ugly, these are gross." That was a week ago. I have done a lot of thinking since. That Eve of his is a real woman. You can imagine the weight of her on the mattress at your side. Her grief appalls. I am still a young man, but my career is over. The fat boy has murdered it.

Unless.....unless I were to start all over again.
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To the Via Appia, with a view to seeing the tombs by moonlight. I went alone, though counseled against it, trusting- vainly as it turned out- to my sword and pistols.

Many people of the poorer sort have made their homes here, living either in the tombs or in rude and makeshift shelters. I walked between their campfires, marveling at how so great an Empire as that of the Romans should have fallen into so sad a ruin.

An old woman beckoned from an arch and offered me the use of her grand-daughter for money. I, fool that I was, considering how it would be an act of virtuosity to celebrate the rites of Venus in so august and haunted a place, accepted her offer. The girl, therefore, was paraded for my inspection, and while I was examining her, and doing my best to overlook the sullenness of her disposition and the dirtiness of her person (The old woman assured she was a virgin) a confederate- perhaps the girl's father or brother- crept up behind me and struck me on the head with a rock.

I awoke in great pain to find myself thrust into some sort of rocky niche or alcove and naked but for my shirt. I watched Cynthia rise trembling though the smoky air and bethought me of my father's stern eye and my mother's parting tear and decided I would henceforth lead a more serious life and utterly forswear venery.
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It was the Von Richthofen flying circus. They were coming in low. They filled the sky from end to end. Someone on the ground was shouting- maybe he was giving orders- but I couldn't hear the words because of the drone of all those machines. It was like the moment in a dream when the supernatural stalker has your back against the wall and there's no possible way of wriggling free. The time I spent seeing those skeletal forms imprinted on the china sky- the time between the first warning and the start of the strafing- was absolutely the most terrifying of my life.
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Oh, those plane trees in the gardens of Bloomsbury!

I followed her at a distance. She was all in green and she had on the sweetest little hat with a tiny bird of paradise pinned to it. The statues were cool in the gloaming of the gardens, but it was all yellow dusty on the streets. She carried something in her left hand. It might have been a reticule or it might have been a small book- a prayerbook, perhaps?

She turned in at the gates of the British Museum. I held back a few seconds too long; by the time I followed her into the building, she was out of sight. I spent the morning tramping the galleries- the Egyptian galleries, the Assyrian galleries, the great room that holds the Elgin marbles- but she had eluded me.

In The Fens

Mar. 8th, 2004 10:16 am
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There were six of us in a line, breaking up the claggy soil with hoes. My hands were red with the cold and swollen. There were deep cracks in the skin round my finger joints.

To our left a hedge of pollard willows; to the right, on its embankment, the road into Ely.

The sound the troopers made as they cantered past was like the jangle of a blacksmith's shop. The officer wore a sash over his breastplate, but he was too far for me to tell the colour. It didn't matter. Whoever he was, I knew his coming meant trouble for our people.
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Mr Shuan has hurt the boy. This is certainly a hell ship. I try to compose a chantey, but the boy's whimpering distracts me and I can manage no more than this chorus- Weigh-heigh, Polly's my girl.

In The Alps

Mar. 7th, 2004 10:36 am
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Today I wore white.

The professor collected me in his Daimler and we drove deep into the Bernese Oberland. It was a valley he knew. The long grass was full of little flowers, white and red and blue. The professor is very spry for his age. I tell him he looks like Teddy Roosevelt.

We met a girl who was driving cows down from the high pastures. She was a fine specimen of the race, with white hair in braids and bright blue eyes. "I would like to stretch her on the rack," said the professor, "and pull out all those perfect little teeth with pliers."

Something black flew down the length of the valley, very high up. I think it was a zeppelin. The professor lifted my hand and sniffed at my wrist. "You smell of rust," he said.


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