I Am a Strip of Coloured Lines

Borrowed from Boliyou.

Hold the mouse over each stripe to see what it represents. My results for confidence, extroversion and authoritarianism were so low that you can't actually see them on the bar above, so here is a gawdy square in the same fashion:

What is a considerate artist, you might wonder?

about you

You are an Artist

Your appreciation of beauty, ability to think abstractly, and innovativeness make you an ARTIST.

  • Never one to be tied to a particular way of doing things, you let your imagination guide you in discovering different possibilities.

  • You would rather seek out new experiences than stick to your everyday habits, taking in as much of the world as possible.

  • Your eye for beauty and your willingness to consider different perspectives make your creative efforts interesting—even though you may not realize this yourself.

  • You prefer to think about things before voicing your opinion, considering a wide, diverse range of options.

  • While there are forms and styles that you prefer, you tend to keep an open mind when it comes to your artistic preferences.

  • You are curious about things, interested in the "why" more than the “how.”

  • You have an active imagination that leads you express yourself in a distinct way.

  • You're not one to force your positions on a group, and you tend to be fair in evaluating different options.

  • You tend to do things on the spur of the moment, not sticking to a set schedule.

If you want to be different:

  • Be more open to risks in your creative efforts, and don't be quick to dismiss the praise of others.

  • Think about how attention to detail may help you be more sure of yourself.

how you relate to others

You are Considerate

You trust others, care about them, and are slow to judge them, making you CONSIDERATE.

  • You value your close relationships very much, and are more likely to spend time in small, tightly-knit groups of friends than in large crowds.

  • You enjoy exploring the world through observation, quietly watching others.

  • Relating to others so well, and understanding their emotions, leads you to trust people in general, even though you're somewhat shy and reserved at times.

  • Your belief that people are generally well-intentioned contributes to your sympathy regarding their problems.

  • Although you may not vocalize it often, you have an awareness of how society affects individuals, and you understand complex causes of people's behavior.

  • You like to look at all sides of a situation before making a judgment, particularly when that situation involves important things in other people's lives.

  • Your close friends know you as a good listener.

  • You're not one to force your positions on a group, and you tend to be fair in evaluating different options.

  • You tend to do things on the spur of the moment, not sticking to a set schedule.

If you want to be different:

  • Because other people would benefit immensely from your understanding and insight, you should try to be more outgoing in social situations, even when they make you uncomfortable. Others will want to hear what you have to say!


Sunday Scribblings: A Story About Two Cents

This week’s prompt for Sunday Scribblings is ‘My Two Cents’. My first thoughts were, ‘What are cents?’ and ‘What are you doing with them?’ In this story there are two cents. One was made up by me, the other by the characters. What are they doing with them? Well, flipping them, of course.

I wanted to write a story where two people were flipping a coin to make a life or death decision, but I didn't want to make it a bleak story - I wanted more of a mellow Houston we have a problem kind of vibe. Anyway, here are my two cents. Sounds overpriced to me...

My Two Cents

Smoke hangs in the air and the lights are dim, flickering slightly. I push off from the hatch and coast over to Mina by the window. She is curled around a clipboard, poring over a smeary, sweat-dampened piece of paper, a chewed ball-point pen between her teeth.

“We’re dead, aren’t we?” I say, trying to read her expression.

She takes the pen out of her mouth and tucks it into the breast pocket of her company-issue jumpsuit, zipping it closed. “Sort of. And sort of not, as well.” She looks at the sheet of paper in my hand. “They got back to us finally? What does it say?”

“Um…” I hold the paper up to the light. “‘Callisto Flight Control have been notified of your predicament. A rescue mission has been dispatched, further information enclosed.’ I’ve looked at it. They won’t reach us for about two or three months. ‘At this time we advise that you take no action that is not necessary to your immediate safety. Conserve oxygen. Recall that in the high carbon dioxide, low oxygen environment you are experiencing, your judgement is likely to be impaired. Think carefully before performing any action. Further instructions will be forthcoming as we evaluate potential solutions. Be assured that many men and women are working hard to ensure that you will…’ Blah, blah, blah.”

Mina says, “Oh.”

I look at the smudged, meandering numbers on her piece of paper. “Give me the good news then.”

She makes a little smile. It is a smile of determination, I think. It is certainly not a smile that reaches her eyes. “If we go on as we are now, assuming that the back-up environmental systems can clear out all the smoke and debris without wearing out, then there is simply not enough oxygen for us to survive for more than about thirty days.”


Mina wipes the sheen of sweat from her forehead with a sleeve. “Would you kill me?” she asks.

“You what?”

“Without me, you might live long enough to greet the rescue team.”

“Unless any of the ship’s systems fail, in which case I’d be screwed. If we’re going to be ‘without’ anyone, it should be me.”

She pushes the clipboard away. It tumbles slowly. “I don’t know the first thing about flying this thing.”

“You don’t have to. It flies itself. I’m just a back-up system, for if the computer fails. Just like you’re a back-up system for if the mechanics fail. Which they have, you might remember.” I manage to splutter the last words out, before erupting into a coughing fit. The air is acrid and hot. Forcing it into my lungs is a constant, conscious effort - a tiring distraction. This is hardly the ideal environment for a life-or-death debate.

Mina waits for me to catch my breath, plunging her fingers into short hair that ripples as if underwater. “Look, telling you was just a courtesy,” she says quietly. “I could very well just have thrown myself out the airlock or eaten all the painkillers or-”

I cut her off. “Mina, you fucking dare.”

But she keeps talking. “I was kind of hoping that you could help me. I don’t want to be in pain, or only half do the job.”

“If you’re turning it into maths, then it should be me. The ship can make it without me, and you might be able to fix anything else that goes wrong. But without you, if the back-ups wear out before the air is cleared, if the electrics fail, then I’m screwed.”

“Let’s draw straws then,” she says, seemingly on a whim.

“Or flip a coin.”

“Do you have a coin?”

I unzip my pocket and retrieve a small golden disc. “One Lunar Cent.”

Mina laughs. “Bull. It’s a joke.”

I send it coasting slowly over to her. She snatches at it and examines it closely. “One Lunar Cent,” she reads, carefully.

“Still legal tender, I think. But it’s worth much more than one cent to a collector.”

“Which one’s heads and which one’s tails? I mean, the astronaut has a head, somewhere in his ancient space suit, but the other side is Earth’s moon.”

“The moon is tails by default.”

She sends the coin back with a gentle nudge. As it spins, it glitters in the light. “Who the hell is Neil Armstrong?”

“Some guy in a space suit, on Earth’s moon. How should I know?” I catch the coin between thumb and forefinger.

“Heads or tails?” Mina asks, as if we were flipping to see who gets which side of a tennis court, and not for our lives.

“Um…” I think about it carefully. Stupid really, since it’s up to chance anyway. “I’ll take Neil.”

“Okay, moon for me then. Flip away.” She grabs a rail by the window and pulls herself back against the wall. Her face is twisted by a smirking smile that, even after all these months alone with her, I find very difficult to read.

I place the coin on the junction between my thumb and forefinger, and flick it into the air.

It goes straight up, hits an angular panel above me, and rebounds at the same speed but in a different direction, flying off, out the hatch and down the corridor. It disappears from view, striking something with a metallic clink.

Mina covers her mouth and laughs. “What was that you were saying about impaired judgement?”

I feel myself blushing with embarrassment. “Yeah, okay, flipping a coin without gravity, not the best idea I ever had.”

“Shall we start the habitat ring spinning, risking the whole electrical system, so you can flip your little coin properly?” Mina teases.

“Yes, let’s do that,” I retort sarcastically. There has been no other person in my life, man or woman, who I have felt as strongly towards - both loved and hated - as incandescently as Mina. After well over half a year alone with her, we have become as intimate as anyone could do, trapped together between these cramped metal walls. Even in the moments when the worst sides of both of our personalities have been rubbing together painfully, we have been forced to get through it. Where could you go? Out the airlock? As pretentious as it sounds, there really is no escape from one another but death.

We both sold a year of our lives to the company, in return for a life on an icy moon with an incredible view. But I don’t think either of us reckoned on the price we’d end up paying to one another. When we get there (if we do) I’m not sure which emotion is stronger - the desire to escape her or the fear of losing the most significant relationship of my life.

Silence has fallen, save for the gurgling sound of the air vents straining to suck up the smoke. Mina grabs my sleeve and pulls me over to the window. It’s only a little porthole, thick and surrounded by huge bolts. A token gesture for the sanity of the crew. You can’t see much with the lights on, but Jupiter is just about visible, shrouded in ghostly reflections, still tiny and far away.

“Let’s not do this,” she says. “Let’s not either of us… You know.”

I nod.

“We’ll let nature flip a coin,” she says. “And we’ll let the people on Callisto try and catch it before it lands. We might both make it, or both die. Or maybe just one of us, if it works out that way, naturally. In the meantime, let’s try and get some sleep. We’ll use less oxygen.”

She pushes off the wall towards the hatch, spinning around to smile at me. I’m never sure if I like the way that she can be positively positive about just about anything, however horrible. “What do you think nature’s coin is like?” she asks. “Do you think it has a nice Lunar Cent like yours?”

I follow after her. “I don’t have a nice Lunar Cent right now. I have to find it before it gets sucked up with the rest of the debris. Anyway, I expect nature’s coin, even if it’s worth more than a cent, is nowhere near as nice as mine. It’s some dirt encrusted, irradiated piece of space junk. Very organic looking, but a hazard for fast moving spacecraft. We‘re probably going to hit it ourselves.”

Mina grabs my hand and squeezes it, laughing.

“I really hate you sometimes,” I tell her, grinning.

“I love you too,” she replies.


Caught My Eye

In a net, returned it safely.


Long Lasting Machine Moons

  • As Phil Plait reports, the Spirit Mars rover has now exceeded its expected lifetime by a factor of ten. Who said they don't build things to last anymore?

  • The Planetary Society Blog has a pretty picture, designed to contrast the colour and size of Saturn's moons.
One of my favourite lines in the Spongebob Squarepants Movie is "and some other third thing." Posting just two links seems unwholesome somehow, so, to compare to the Saturnian moons above, an image of Jupiter's four Galilean moons, my personal favourites of all moons, and dream holiday destination:

(Source, with higher resolution version.)

Hasselhoff World's Nicest Celebrity Drunk

Not for David, hitting people with phones, throwing tantrums or pushing televisions out of windows. Instead, when he turned up drunk for a BA flight at Heathrow, his list of crimes were limited to briefly lifting a shop manageress into the air, leaning against a pillar and telling someone that he wasn't David Hasselhoff.

A witness said: "A passenger asked if he was David Hasselhoff and he said, 'Not at all, you must be mistaken'.

"He wasn't aggressive, he just had problems standing."

When BA staff confronted the Baywatch star and told him he was unfit to fly, he agreed with them. I wonder if he does paid appearances at parties?

Read the whole exciting story here. (The Sun broke the story, and reported it in more detail, but I really can't bring myself to provide a link.)


Grab Your Swimsuit, and Rocketship

I'm missing Lost. But this is a, literally, astronomical revelation.

Here is Emily Lakdawalla's first tentative post on The Planetary Society weblog, saying that Cassini may have captured lakes on Titan.

Here is her full article entitled, 'Cassini RADAR Reveals Lakes on Titan At Last'. I'll leave you in suspense as to whether or not her inital blog post was premature. ;-)

And here are the radar images themselves, on the Cassini Homepage.

If swimming in intensely cold hydrocarbons sounds like your kind of thing, you should probably set off now. Saturn is a long way away.


Sunday Scribblings: A Story About Theft

Originally I wanted to write a very serious story for this week’s prompt at Sunday Scribblings. The prompt is “Thief!” and I immediately decided I wanted to write a story where “The theft should be almost as abominable as the act of not stealing,” a meditation on property rights and the relation between the haves and have-nots. But… I graduated from university on Friday, I am tired and it is so hot that I can barely think. So, instead, I wrote this silly little story. I hope that it at least qualifies as ‘quite cute’ even if it does little to overturn unjust social structures.

Addendum: This one looks really long, but half of it is lists, I promise!

Addendum the second: If it is not yet clear that I do not know what a borough council is, it will be soon. In this story it is merely representative of a small, distant and dithering authority.

Addendum the third: I have not had as much time to proof-read this as I normally do, so please ignore any errors, however hilarious.

The Woman with Wings


Items Stolen
  • 1 x Cheese and cucumber sandwich
  • 1 x Bottle of mineral water
  • 1 x Tub of chocolate ice cream
Dear Diary,

Ha! No, I’m not going to be that cliché. Besides, this diary must be semi-serious. Its purpose is to record, from this point on, everything she steals, and on what date. Then, when I go to the borough council to get them to do something about this, I shall have a compelling and organised case.

For my own state of mind, let me also record how I got into this mess. I did not realise it at the time, but it all started when I was staying in a block of flats in the town centre. It was a rather nice place, if a little crowded for my tastes. And on the roof we had nesting a family of winged people.

I imagine you’re not too familiar with winged people - this was certainly the first time I ever saw any in the flesh. Winged people live on the wind, with no real concept of property or money. They value actions over words, and rarely speak - although this reticence should in no way be confused with timidity, as, although they almost never descend to ground level, they are quite happy to defecate and copulate in plain view of those below (who might be wise to open an umbrella).

This family were a favourite topic for the building’s gossips, but at the time I didn’t really consider them a nuisance. They were always dropping things off of the roof, and stealing clothes from washing lines, but they were quite reticent really and I even liked to sit and watch them from my window on the third floor. They would swoop and soar and dive into clouds; they would settle arguments by dive-bombing one another, or by landing on roof tops to posture and wrestle.

I almost rather admired them, especially the daughter who was about my age, who would spend much time by herself on rooftops, photographing sunsets with a broken camera, or trying to get as close to a group of birds as she could without scaring them, or hopping between the tops of double-decker buses.

Eventually I moved away from there, and into a semi-detached house in the suburbs. I have more room for my stuff and much more peace and calm. But things started disappearing a few days ago, and today I noticed for the first time, (alerted by the keen eyes of a neighbour), that the winged daughter from my previous residence has apparently followed me here and made a nest of dirty rags and soggy cardboard on my roof.

I had never seen her so close-up before. Her hair is long and black and the feathers on her wings are golden brown and carefully preened - the only two parts of her that seem well taken care of. The rest of her is dirty and bruised. She is wearing a large plastic carrier bag, her legs sticking out of tears in the bottom, her arms passing through the handles as if they were the straps of a dress. The broken camera hangs around her neck on a cord. I called up to her earlier, as she sat eating the tub of ice cream I was going to enjoy tonight. She walked to the edge of the roof, the toes of her bare feet sticking boldly over the edge. Her soles were black with dirt. I asked just what she thought she was doing. She grinned and put her camera’s viewfinder to her eye, pressing the button several times. The film is hanging out of the back and the lens is cracked. She seems bright and inquisitive. I’m sure she knows that the camera is not taking pictures, and I doubt she would get them developed if it was. I don’t know why she did that, except to make fun of me.

I would like to go and buy some more ice cream, but I am worried about what she will steal when I am gone. I have made some phone calls to try and find out what I can do about this. Meanwhile, I must find out how she is getting into my house.


Items Stolen
  • 2 x Cupcakes
  • 1 x Apple
  • 1 x Bar of dark chocolate
  • 1 x This week’s TV guide
  • 1 x Pair of scissors
I don’t think she can read, but she’s looking at the pictures and cutting the pages up into delicate, curving shapes. I have contacted a locksmith and she is going to change my locks for me. The more I think about it, the more certain I am that the winged woman must have stolen one of my keys somehow.

What time is CSI on? Is it nine ‘o’ clock, or quarter past? I can’t miss it - Captain Brass has been shot!


Items Stolen
  • Water
  • Shower gel
  • Natural gas (Quantities unknown)
  • 1 Towel
I was almost certain that I had put a stop to it. When I went off to work she waved to me cheerfully and I waved back, confident that the new locks would keep her out. Perhaps if she stops stealing my stuff we could be quite good friends. When I got back I went all through the house. If she had stolen anything, it wasn’t anything that I could find. Or rather, anything that I couldn’t find. Um, you know what I mean.

Feeling rather more relaxed, I spent the evening in the lounge, reading. About eight ‘o’ clock, though, I heard a noise upstairs, just barely. I raced up the stairs and skidded to a halt in front of the winged woman, slightly damp and emerging from my bathroom with a towel wrapped around her. Her feathers were ruffled and her wings were dripping water onto the carpet, but she was immaculately clean and apparently very contented.

The hot water wasn’t on, so she must have not only gained entry to my house, but, without my hearing it, turned on the boiler, waited for the water to get hot and then used my shower.

When I give my list of stolen items to the borough council, I should leave off the towel. I put it in the list above to remind me to buy a new one, but to her credit she did try to give it back to me. I closed my eyes and tried to make her understand that I’d prefer it if she kept it on. She let herself out through the front door. I am quite certain that she did not have a key on her person.


Items Stolen
  • 1 x Peanut butter sandwich
  • 7 x Chocolate biscuits
  • 1 x Apple
  • 1 x Banana
  • 1 x Strawberry yoghurt
  • 1 x Pair of Jeans
  • 1 x T-Shirt
I struck upon an idea last night as to someone I could call, but unfortunately I didn’t feel able to tell anyone to come over here. While she was showering it seems that her plastic bag/dress blew away on the wind and she was not the least bit concerned. I took three hours of overtime today, unable to face being the person who lives in the house with the naked winged woman prancing about on the roof. When I arrived back home, as well as raiding the fridge, she had stolen a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. I have to say I was almost pleased. I think that I will leave them off of the list for the council, as with the towel.


Items Stolen
  • 6 x
I don’t know how to write this one. I think, like this:

Items Stolen
  • 6 x Half pairs of socks
Does that make sense? I may change it later. She has been in my wardrobe again. Before today, I owned six pairs of socks. Now I own six odd socks. She has stolen one of each shade of grey. She is wearing two on her feet, two on her hands, and one over each ear. To be fair, the weather has taken a turn for the colder. I am in two minds about whether the socks are going on the list for the borough council. I am not going to hold it against her if she doesn’t want to develop hypothermia.

Either way, I made an attempt to get rid of her today. I looked up ‘Pest Control’ in the phone book and called an exterminator. He was a pot-bellied and unshaven man with a rusty white van, and he looked at the world through eyes that seemed misty with laziness and displeasure.

As soon as I opened the door he remarked, “I see you’ve got a winged woman living on your roof. Very rare, that. Course, nothing I can do about her.”

“Oh no, of course not.”

“To be honest, I’m hoping you’ve got a rat problem. Not had any rats for ages me, rat poison almost past its sell-by date. Give you a discount for rats, most likely.”

“Well, actually, I was hoping that you could help me with the woman on the roof.”

“Are you deaf, or just stupid?” he asked, no change in his tone.

“Quite deaf, as a matter of fact, but I understand that you won’t ‘exterminate’ her or anything like that.”

“Course not. She may have wings, but she’s still a human. Well, a human sub-species, to be precise.”

“Right. Anyway, I thought that, maybe, if you’d just hang around for a while, look at her, take notes, maybe it would scare her away.”

Intense disapproval. “Not really my line of work, mate. I’m not an actor - I kill things.”

“I’ll pay you at your normal rate. Please, she’s stealing my stuff.”

He shrugged, as if trying to throw me off his shoulders. “Look, that’s what the police are for. I’m for rats.”

“But I don’t want to go to the police.”

“She’s stealing your stuff, right?”

“I’ll pay you. I’ll buy some rat poison.

But he was already moving away, getting out his car keys. “Sorry mate, not really looking to get involved in your lovers’ tiff. Hope things work out between you.”

I was shocked. “It’s not a lovers’ tiff!”

He muttered something with his back to me. As he got into the driver’s seat I caught something about not wanting to be sued. Well! I never knew a winged person with a lawyer - did you?

A feather floated down from above, looping lazily in circles. I looked up. The winged woman was peering over the edge of the roof. This was one of those situations where you say ‘if looks could kill’. If looks could kill, I would have dropped dead on the spot, melted into a puddle and then boiled away to nothing under her gaze.


Items Stolen
  • 1 x Flat screen LCD television
  • 4 x Surround sound speakers
  • 1 x DVD player
  • 1 x Playstation 2
  • 1 x Car keys
  • 1 x £200 suit
  • 1 x Mobile phone
  • 3 x Pairs of shoes
  • 4 x Soft toy
  • 1 x Wallet containing:
    • 1 x Debit card
    • 1 x Credit card
    • 1 x Driver’s license photo card thingy
    • 1 x Condom
    • 1 x Supermarket loyalty card
    • approx. £60 in cash
  • 1 x Degree Certificate (with frame)
  • 1 x Chocolate cake
  • 5 x Apple
  • 1 x Loaf of bread
  • 1 x Tub of butter
  • 1 x Jar of peanut butter
  • 1 x Biscuit tin (with biscuits)
  • 1 x Rolex watch
  • 1 x Alarm clock
  • 5 x Fork
  • 4 x Knife
  • 6 x Spoon
  • 3 x Sofa cushion
  • 2 x Pillow
  • 6 x Odd socks
  • 1 x Kiss
I am rather confused about her reaction to the exterminator, especially with respect to the last item on the list.

I’m afraid I can’t say that the kiss was anything less than stolen. She swooped down on me from above and it was all over before I even realised what was happening. The odd thing is, it felt like she was almost doing it to spite me. I don’t think I will add the kiss to the list of stolen items for the borough council, but the rest of it is definitely going on there.

The people at work are meeting up down the pub tonight, but whenever I step outside the door the winged woman throws roof tiles at me. I have decided it would be better to have a night in. Besides, if I did go, I would have to do it barefoot, as she has stolen all my footwear.


Items Stolen
  • Nothing yet…
I have been looking back at my list of stolen items and I am suddenly worried that she is not eating very well. It’s my own fault for not leaving enough cooked vegetables lying around. I have been to the supermarket and am about to do a Sunday roast. I’ll cook enough for two and see if I can interest her in it. Perhaps if I leave the plate on the bird table?


Items Stolen
  • 1 x Diary of stolen items

Items Stolen
  • 1 x Me
Well, it is Tuesday, technically, although only for the past ten or fifteen minutes. The winged woman is asleep, lying on her back on the peak of the roof, like Snoopy. This is the first time I have ever slept on the roof of a house, and I have been having trouble getting to sleep. Still, now that I am up here I have been able to recover my diary and record the last two stolen items in it. Writing by moonlight is rather difficult, I am finding.

Monday morning a man came from the borough council. The neighbours are complaining that, with more of my belongings on my roof than in my home, I am devaluing their properties. I was trying to reason with him when the woman with wings swooped down and grabbed me, depositing me on the roof myself. I tried to keep talking to him, but he just walked off (no idea what he was saying, if anything), and the winged woman was trying to kiss me anyway so it’s probably better that he didn’t hang around.

Spending the day on the roof with the woman with wings, I have gotten to know her much better. She is impatient with spoken communication, stringing words together roughly into curt, functional sentences. She has no name, she told me, nor any need for one. If I wanted, I could name her myself, although she would probably forget it promptly.

But if you have the impression that she is frivolous, than I think that you have it all backwards. She is the most practical, straightforward person imaginable, and bold and daring with it. Yesterday evening I stumbled and fell from the roof. She simply dove after me and plucked me from the air. It didn’t seem to occur to her that this might be something to be considered alarming or upsetting. When she saw how I trembled, she assumed I was cold and wrapped her wings around me. Her feathers are warm and soft (but they do tickle).

She’s a hopeless romantic as well, I think, albeit in a very pragmatic way. She was keen to frame images in the viewfinder of her broken camera and then get me to look at them, so I showed her how to take pictures with my phone. She likes the LCD screen better, finds it easier to frame the images and show them to me. But she doesn’t have any interest in capturing them. The fact that she has seen them once seems to be enough for her.

She has a brilliant eye for an image. Today as the sun set, she captured it just so. The sun really was a glowing sphere casting light onto a jagged landscape of rooftops and chimneys; the clouds looked solid, lit red on one side, shadowed grey on the other. Watching her discard this beautiful image with a twist of her wrist, the display now showing languidly flocking geese, made me feel a little frightened. Would she discard me as casually? But, I said it already, not frivolous. Just pragmatic. Before she went to sleep I asked her if she’d set me down on the ground. She just shook her head and smiled, and I was certain then that she had decided to keep me for good. Sooner or later, one of us will die and disappear like so much dust in the wind, but the other will have more substantial mementoes than any photograph or trinket. She knows this better than I do, but I am learning.

I am not going to be contacting the borough council about the woman with wings (although they are probably going to contact me about the state my roof is in). She comes from a culture where objects are considered as transient as any breeze. As she understands it, she never stole anything from me, but just moved into my life. Bold, certainly, but she must have been right, because I now choose to grant her permission, retrospectively. And so I must close this diary forever, as no thefts have occurred.

Oh, by the way, it rained on Sunday, so my home entertainment system has had it.


I Graduate

Well, that was a lot of palaver just to shake a man's hand and pick up a certificate. And what was the deal with the rolled-up scroll-type thing I held in that photo? The degree came in a bloody 'do not bend' envelope. Now my family will think that I'm some sort of certificate-bending miscreant!

This is a photo of my half of the hall. You can't see my face, but you can see my mortarboard. Contrary to the comments of a couple of trouble-makers on this blog, I was required to wear it for the duration of the sweltering 90 minute ceremony. The chancellor took his off, and implied that we could take ours off as well due to the near lethality of the heat, but although a few hands went to their hats, fortunately no-one fell for it. He may have been the chancellor, but we had a piece of paper stating quite unequivocally that we were expected to keep our hats on.

If there is one thing that the British do better than processions of people in ridiculous outfits following an ornate stick, it is queueing. The procession came earlier. Here I am queueing. I am the one who is in the queue.

Interestingly, my (ex-)university is, according to the chancellor, second only to the London School of Economics when it comes to the proportion of international students attending. As you can see, after at least three years in the country, they are well adapted to the customs of queueing and stick-following and are impossible to distinguish from the natives.

I was able to get some nice pictures of the university's sixties architecture. As one would expect of the time of free love and flower power, it is a confusing warren of dour rectangular concrete, something of a logic puzzle for the disabled. One rumour I heard was that shortly after completing the plans, the architect went insane and killed himself. This is quite unlikely though, since this place was clearly designed by M.C. Escher, and he died in the seventies.

When I got home, the sky decided to celebrate by being on fire, thereby reminding me that I should have been writing my entry for this week's Sunday Scribblings instead of faffing about in a stupid hat.


The Graduate

Tomorrow I become the first person in my family to graduate with a university degree. A first class degree at that.

Excuse me while I go hide under a blanket.


Are You Satisfied With Your Insurance Provider?

Just in case this isn't ubiquitous knowledge yet: please think twice before you delete (or rename, which amount to the same thing usually) your blog. There are situations where it is necessary, as with the blog I visited earlier today, however you must be prepared for the fact that spammers will move in on your old URL like the clappers, and visitors will see a page saying "I moved my blog to other domain. Let me redirect you... ;-)" before being forwarded to a site selling car insurance.

Read this for more info.

No idea how much this affects other blog hosts (I should imagine that hosts that charge money, such as typepad, are much less vulnerable), but it is definitely a problem for blogspot blogs, such as the one I mentioned above.



This is what it looks like when I draw a pirate. Now excuse me while I roll over and die from this oppressive heat. Do not try and bring me back to life - instead, store me somewhere very cold, and revive me once the leaves begin to turn golden brown (surely because they will have been roasted).


David Hasselhoff, Thy Name is Hard to Spell

(Image borrowed from El Official Site)

David Hasselhoff is 54 today. Happy Birthday, David!

But, this reminds of something I was thinking when I was watching the Spongebob movie the other day, in which Mr H. has a live-action cameo. I think we can all agree that David Hasselhoff is cool. The question is, is that 'real cool'? Or 'ironic cool'?

I, for one, cannot decide.


A Story About Baggage

Well, this is what I wrote for this week’s prompt at Sunday Scribblings: another story. Interestingly, as an only child, I think this is the first time I have ever given the main character in one of my stories a sibling. I have probably made all sorts of embarrassing mistakes, such as failing to include the secret brother-sister handshake.

With Baggage

A small bird lies dead on the grass and the sky is alight with flame. I remove the special film from its protective envelope and watch as it turns from green to blue, then purple, red, and finally black. I stuff it carelessly into my pocket and look around.

The silence is absolute, almost invasive. The street is deserted - driveways empty, curtains drawn. An endless stream of rubbish blows along the road: plastic bags, fast food containers, newspapers, cardboard boxes. We are the last ones remaining. The last ones to go. I look up at the sky, at the mess of fire and shooting stars. It is a big and powerful explosion. It only seems to move so slowly because the distances are immense. Well, I say that, but the radiation moves quickly enough. We can’t stay any longer. The breeze is icy on my skin. I shiver.

My sister Alison leans out of the doorway and coughs loudly. “Get the ---- inside, now.”

I stroll over to the front door, casually. “You spent long enough out here this morning.”

“We need to pack,” is all she says.

I follow her in. She has a heap of stuff in the hallway already. Pared down to her most beloved possessions. This isn’t about taking the most essential things for the journey. There’s no need to take food or supplies. Its about the things that matter most to you. The things you cannot bear to part with. Because once we leave, we will never be able to come back.

I can’t help but rummage through her stuff, just a little, just stirring gently through the surface. On top is a small black case. I open it. Tangled together inside are her favourite items of jewellery: those lovely diamond earrings, the white gold necklace mum got her shortly before cancer took her from us, her engagement ring from the folly with John. Beneath that, a heap of clothes: the dress from her sixth form ball, her school football strip, that ugly halter top she’s always liked so much. A few cuddly toys, such as George the dragon and Blue Teddy. I smile as I remember holding Blue Teddy over a hot cooking ring and demanding ransom. Mum was livid when Alison told on me. That was Alison, she never cared about being a snitch.

I leap into the air as she jabs me in the back with a rigid thumb.

“Are you going to pack or what?” she asks.

I shrug, feeling small under her gaze. She’s still very much my older sister. “I’m not packing.”

She rolls her eyes. She keeps herself contained, always, but I know the strong emotions that must be bubbling just beneath the surface. “We have to go,” she says. “We’ll die if we stay. Besides, Marie is waiting for you there.”

“I know. I’m going. I’m just not packing.”

She looks me right in the eye. For a second I think she is going to cry. But she just shakes her head at me. “You idiot. You’ll regret it. What about… what about those stupid miniatures of yours?”

“What’s the point? I want to keep those things, but I’d be leaving them behind anyway.”

“Not this again.” She sighs. “Fine whatever. We both know that this is stupid, but you do whatever you want. You’re a grown up now. Just be in the living room in half an hour.”

We both know that this is stupid, she says. She thinks this is stupid, but as older sister and head of the family she gets to declare that this opinion is concrete and objective. She wants to change my mind, but she’d have to change who I am to do that. That is concrete and objective, and I’m sure she knows, deep down. But still we have these arguments. I guess I should expect us to have arguments now more than at any other time.

I head up into my room and look around. Everything is coloured strangely by the fire in the sky, but it is my room all right. Still, beneath the familiarity lies a certain tension, the knowledge that the air is alive with deadly radiation and we must leave as soon as we can, even as we stay behind so that my sister can grasp at her memories.

And suddenly I feel a surge of anger. Of course I want to keep all this with me. I hate having to leave it behind. I feel tears welling up. I want to punch something or fall down and sob. But I can’t take it with me. Not really. And Alison just has to face up to the fact that as much as it may seem like it, she won’t be taking anything with her either.

I step up to the window and the line of plant pots there. Most of all, I’d want to take my houseplants with me. Exotic and strikingly distinctive, I assembled their genomes myself in school, got an A. But they have all died and are already withering away. Flowers that were once shimmering rainbows are now grey and flaking apart. The thought of that happening to my own body forces me to look away.

The most prominent feature in my room by far is the book case. Crammed with pulpy nonsense and towering works of imagination and everything in between. I grab something, I don’t care what, I open it and press my nose into the fold, breathing in the smell - the smell of books. I suppose that smell is just the smell of paper and glue and ink, eminently easy to recreate. But I place the book back on the shelf carefully, resolving never to touch another book again. There’s no need for paper in Quantum City. I’ll have all these stories and more. But the books, the objects themselves, will be forever lost to me. The intangible part - the story - is the most important part, of course. But I feel sad because it is the intangible part of the book, the object that is the book, it is that intangible thing that I am going to lose forever.

Now that I think about it, Alison may have the right idea anyway. That intangible part of the book exists in me, not in the book itself. It is unique to me. So Alison can certainly take her belongings to Quantum City in some sense. What am I saying? That’s what I’ve been thinking all along - I don’t need to pretend to take these things with me in material form, I have the memories, the indentations they have left on my personality. I just don’t feel like playing pretend on top of that. I am happy to take the important bits with me, inside my mind. But still…

On the top shelf of my bookcase sit the rows and rows of miniatures, assembled by my own hands. Half a century of space flight in tiny plastic form, ordered chronologically. On the furthest right sit a little huddle of the current generation of automated spacecraft, part of the interplanetary production line that pulls asteroids into Earth orbit and fashions them into more of the immense and exotic structures that make up the ever expanding Quantum City. One of this group is a replica of the same kind of tug that exploded over Europe yesterday, its antimatter engines showering a whole hemisphere with noxious particles.

I reach carefully into the midst of the little ships and grab just one in particular. A big, long-ranged craft from the peak of the manned space program, two vast wheels spinning in opposite directions around its middle; radiation shield splayed open at the front; ugly, fat engines wrapping around its stern. Long before I was born, this one. Back when people crewed ships like this to explore the solar system with their frail bodies, soaking up radiation like sponges and rapidly wasting away in the low gravity. They thought it was worth it. Mum got me this model kit for my twelfth birthday. I would put it together much better now, as an adult, but its wonkiness, the splodges of dried glue that bulge from its seams - that’s what makes it so sentimental.

I look at the clock. Time to go. Holding the miniature carefully, I take the stairs two at a time and leap into the lounge. Alison is slumped on the sofa by the scanner, its bucket sized container open. The computer is on, holographic screen alight with colours.

I show her the miniature. “This,” I say, not wanting to give her the sense of victory she might glean if I explain what I mean to do with it, although she knows anyway. I place it in the bucket and press a button on the keyboard. My miniature flickers red with laser beams for a moment, and then it is done. I remove it from the bucket and set it down carefully on the computer desk.

“Did you scan all your stuff?” I ask her.

She nods. “Yeah. It was pretty exhausting really.”

There are black rings around her eyes. Her shoulders are covered in shed hairs. She spent a long time outside this morning. “Are you okay?” I ask her.

“Yeah,” she says weakly. “Dizzy. I think we should go soon.”

I nod. “Let’s just get one last look at the house, though.”

She sighs, but gets up anyway. She stands slowly, swaying on her feet. I take her arm. She leans on me heavily as we leave the house. I look up at the blood red sky and the gorgeous, deadly mess that fills it. “It’s gotten bigger,” I say.

“Yeah,” she agrees.

“Isn’t it funny? It was silent inside, but it’s only when you come outside and it’s still silent that it starts to feel eerie.”

We are the last ones remaining. We look around. It’s the same old street, sort of. Usually unchanged except for the different bits of rubbish blowing through it, now the overgrown gardens are turning yellow and withering. Same houses though, same road with the same layout. Almost impossible to believe that just being here is killing us.

Alison points to the darkened house next door. “Do you remember when we snuck in there?” she says with a smile. “Mum grounded us for a month.”

I laugh. This has always been a ritual. Alison knows how terrified I was when, eight years old, I came face to face with the desiccated corpses of our neighbours, sitting side-by-side on their sofa and hooked up to their computer. But still, she brings it up, teases me about it. Over time all the neighbours ended up the same. We are the last ones to leave.

We’re not luddites, of course. We go to Quantum City all the time. It’s like our second home. We know our way around - much as you can know your way around a place like that. But we just liked to come back here - to have our home here, even as all our friends lived there. Marie has lived in Quantum City since she was a child. Her child’s body has probably long since wasted away to dust in whatever third world hovel her family once scraped a living in.

And that’s it I suppose. Anyone can choose to go to Quantum City. But not everyone has the choice of coming back. Like with mum.

Alison coughs wetly into her hand and tries to hide the blood on her palm from me. I pretend I haven’t noticed and help her back to the living room. She falls onto the sofa heavily and I take the long fibre optic lead from the computer and connect it to the modem socket behind her ear.

“You’ll be right behind me?” she says, her voice a whisper.

I manage a smile. “Of course.”

I race over to the keyboard, not willing to waste another second. We took too long as it was. I hit the return key and watch as her consciousness uploads to Quantum City. I go back to her body and feel for a pulse. It is still alive. But I doubt it will be for much longer. Taking her outside like that was a stupid risk, a waste of precious time. But I guess you don’t leave all this behind easily. And she made it okay. I remove the lead from her socket and push it into my own, feeling as it connects correctly to the machinery in my head and links the computer to my brain.

I’d be crazy not to check one last time, though. I pull another envelope from my pocket, open it, and watch the film inside turn black. Just to really make sure, I open up the little leaflet inside and read it again. Yep. Black for a lethal dose of radiation. You walk around just fine for a while, even as your body is breaking down and failing.

I have a few more hours of life left in this place, I think, but the weak state of Alison’s body has left me a little shocked. I will be so sad to leave. But I’m not about to die in this place. Not when no-one has to die anymore.

I tap on the keyboard and press return.


The city is alive with light. Shaped by pure imagination, it varies wildly across the skyline, from skyscrapers to castles, to crystal spires, to the surfaces of distant moons recreated in perfect real-time detail, to things with no name in any spoken language. There is hubbub and life, people of all shapes and size and forms - real and fantastic - race around, greet, sing and converse. And the craziest thing of all is how it feels perfectly real. Just like you’re standing there. Now that my body is dead, I guess I really am standing here, in the only sense that’s meaningful.

I meet Marie in a place that you have to visit to comprehend. She is wearing an ocean dress. Waves lap at her shoulders. She kisses me and hugs me tightly. “Are you okay?”

“I think so. I miss… I miss my house, and my books and plants.”

She smiles and points to the little spaceship I hold in my hand, a perfect replica of my poorly assembled model, accurate to the micrometre. “But you brought something with you.”

“Yeah. I did,” I say confidently.

She takes my arm and starts to lead me away. “Your mother’s having a special welcome dinner for the two of you. Now that you’ll be living here.”

I squeeze her waist and look up at the sky. In this place the sky is whatever colour you want it to be. I choose a light and sunny blue.


I Am Five Words

Been meaning to post one of the many quizzes I take, was reminded by this post. There's always confirmation bias in these things - you take ten, hate or disagree with nine, but there's one that you think describes you perfectly, or which matches you nicely onto one of your favourite fictional characters. Here's one I like, because I think it captures my extremes and mediocrities:

Big Five Word Test Results
Extroversion (7%) very low which suggests you are extremely reclusive, quiet, unassertive, and secretive.
Accommodation (60%) moderately high which suggests you are, at times, overly kind natured, trusting, and helpful at the expense of your own individual development (martyr complex).
Orderliness (60%) moderately high which suggests you are, at times, overly organized, neat, structured and restrained at the expense too often of flexibility, variety, spontaneity, and fun.
Emotional Stability (46%) medium which suggests you are moderately relaxed, calm, secure, and optimistic.
Inquisitiveness (90%) very high which suggests you are extremely intellectual, curious, imaginative but possibly not very practical.
Take Free Big Five Word Choice Test
personality tests by similarminds.com

I disagree with the optimistic bit. I mean, I'm definitely more 'sedate' than 'tense', but that's more because I've learnt not to worry about some things (such as public speaking and exams) and completely given up on other things (such as well, everything else).



I like buying Ty Beanies as presents for such people as are likely to be interested in them. But when I bumped into this beanie octopus, how could I resist?


Changed Around, the Robot Party

The floor may move under your feet...

I'm rearranging things in my sidebar at the moment, and trying to figure out what goes best where. I'll edit this post when I'm done to try and explain what the hell I'm doing.


I just have to sit down and write this. I’m currently experiencing that mood where I want to crawl into bed and hide from the nasty mean world and all its difficulties.

Well, I’ve switched everything around, and added a new section. Demoting the political blogs was a hard decision, since this is how I got into the whole game, but I’m usually way too scared to comment on any of them and since this isn’t shaping up to be a political blog, it seemed odd to give them precedence. Harder still is going to be expanding the People Who Write In Blogs section. Now that I have an established blog, I’m all of a sudden very shy about adding to my blogroll. It was simple when I first made it - I just added all the blogs I read. But now I look at all the new blogs that I’m reading and think, “What if they see my blogroll? What will they think?” So I will be expanding this section very surreptitiously. If you should happen to see your blog appear there, please pay no attention.

The new section is providing links to my favourite robots. After some consideration, I decided to include links to all the current Martian ones. As you can see, the world’s space agencies are holding something of a robot party on Mars. Everyone is taking photos and someone’s wheel has got stuck. One usually calls a cab at that point, but the fare is considerable when the nearest taxis are millions of miles away and I can’t really blame NASA for thinking twice. It was tempting to just link to the JPL Mars Exploration pages, so there’d just be the one link, but the rovers deserve their own link, I feel, and Mars Express is an ESA mission, and in the end I just decided to throw everything in there.

These aren’t just one click links, by the way. When you go to each of the NASA sites, you’ll first want to click on the ‘multimedia’ or ’images’ button. And, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the twenty first century, where images from distant planets are no longer reserved for exclusive press conferences - they’re regularly posted onto the internet. If this is something of an information overload for you, over time I hope to find some good sites that distil all that information into a more accessible form. The Planetary Society is a great stop for news, and the NASA photojournal for pretty pictures, like so:

Source, with explanation.


Friday Frog Blogging

Just to truly makes this the day of things that should happen on other days. Don't ask me why my handwriting is so wiggly. Perhaps my imagination really was running downhill in the rain, and while it experienced the thrill of a rapid, slippery descent, all I got was a slight jiggling of my letters.

Sunday Scribblings: A Story About a Hotel

This story was written in response to this week’s prompt at Sunday Scribblings - albeit a very liberal interpretation of it. I feel that I must acknowledge the influence that both Franz Kafka and H.P. Lovecraft have had on this story. Without The Castle or The Shadow Over Innsmouth this story would probably not exist in its present form.

Now, having invoked great names of literature and ‘weird’ stories respectively, I have to admit that this story takes itself way too seriously and insist that you take it lightly. First and foremost, it's just some fun that my imagination and I had yesterday afternoon, running downhill in the rain, hand in hand.

This Hotel

There are no clocks or calendars in this hotel, nor windows, so I have no idea for how long I have been staying here. I know that at the beginning I desired very much to leave, but over time that desire has faded away to nothing, and I now accept that I shall probably remain in this hotel for the rest of my life.

I cannot recall how I came here, but I remember the moment I arrived. I came to the awareness, all of a sudden, that I stood in a lobby of some sort, enshrouded in shadows. I looked first at the walls, since that was where my eyes happened to be looking in that moment. The architecture seemed neither modern nor old, embodying a kind of slippery timelessness. The wallpaper was patterned with shapes that I could not place; nor could I quite grasp the way they fit together. Ahead of me was a desk. A silhouette stood behind it, vaguely feminine.

“Where am I?” I asked.

“Don’t you know?” she said softly, in a pinched accent that seemed both familiar and ridiculous.


“You’re in the hotel.”

“Which one?”

“Don’t you know?”


She said nothing further.

“I’m sorry,” I said, wondering what was the matter with me. “I should leave.”

I turned around to face a door. Large and wooden, and again strangely alien in some way.

“How did you get here?” she asked me.

I raised a hand to my head. The feeling of my fingers on my cheek, and of my cheek on my fingers, seemed to be peculiar as well, as if this place had crept inside me and altered me, or my perception of myself. “I don’t know.”

“Then you shouldn’t leave. If you try to go back without knowing how you got here, you could end up anywhere.”

I laughed half-heartedly. My hand was on the door handle. I turned it.

“What do you think is out there?” she asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Then how do you know that you want to find out?”

I’m not sure why, but these words seemed to reach inside me like an ice-cold hand and touch some deeply buried germ of a memory. Or perhaps I merely gave in to superstitious worry. In any case, I pulled my hand back from the door handle. It clicked back into place.

I turned to face the woman.

She picked up a pen from somewhere in the shadows on her desk. “Let me book you a room,” she said.

“I’m not sure I have any money,” I replied, searching through my pockets.

She shook her head, dismissing the notion.

When she had completed whatever formalities were required - formalities which did not include taking my name or my money - she stepped into the light. She was pale to the point of translucence, dressed in clothes that looked new, but were old in style. Her blouse was buttoned up as far as her throat; her skirt reached below ankles clad in white, lacy socks. Her face was round and friendly in shape, disinterested in expression. Her hair was long and brown, tangled and uncombed.

She lead me to my room in silence, down a shadowed corridor of hard flooring and uncertain design, then unlocked the door and gave me the key. And then she left - without a parting word, without looking back.

I explored my room cautiously, oppressed by the silence that engulfed the whole building. Even the padding of my shoes on the soft carpet seemed like a loud and obnoxious disturbance. The furnishings were comfortable, but somewhat colourless and with that same impression of timelessness as the rest of the hotel. No, not of timelessness, that doesn’t capture the feeling - more an impression of existing outside of time, of having been designed by people who had been introduced to the fashions of the ages in random order, and had drawn their inspiration from them as they pleased.

The bed was a four poster, with rails where the curtains should go, but no curtains hanging there. Opposite was a chest of drawers. I opened each drawer in turn, finding a random assortment of carefully folded clothes. There was more furniture in the room - shapes of metal and wood and plastic that were vaguely pleasing to the eye. But try as I might, I could not work out their use. There was no window. As I said at the start, I have never seen one in any of the parts of the building I have been in.

And then I entered the bathroom. Shortly afterwards I left the bathroom, and then my room itself, walking back to the front desk. The woman was there, standing in the same manner as when I first saw her.

She waited patiently as I struggled to find my voice.

“There’s-” I managed to whisper, “There’s something in my bathtub.”

“What kind of something?”

I tried desperately not to picture it. “An alive something.”

She put a finger to her lips for a moment, and then gasped, as if remembering something. “Oh, yes. Please wait here. I shall have the help remove it for you.”

She reached into the shadows and retrieved an ancient looking phone. Speaking softly into it, she receded into the shadows. When she had assured me it was dealt with, I went back to my room. But it was only after steeling myself for an hour that I was finally able to re-enter the bathroom. Whatever it had been, it was gone now.

That evening, as I lay in bed, trying to sleep… Well, I call it evening, because I was tired, and that is the only way I have to judge night and day now. As I lay, trying to sleep, I could hear sounds in the room next to mine, as of something heavy and rough being dragged over carpet - or to be exact, of such a thing dragging itself. I thought back to the thing in my bathtub, and began to wonder about the other guests.


Meals are served for me in the dining room, by the same woman who staffs the front desk. The dining room is large and shadowed and timeless and so on - I am sure you have as much of an idea as I can give you as to what this hotel looks like in all its aspects. There are many tables and chairs, but I am the only one who ever eats in there.

At first I would eat alone, but one day, I do not know how long after I arrived, the woman set down my plate and then sat down in a chair at my table. She did not look at me, nor speak to me, but she sat there for the duration of my meal and then left when I was finished. At the next meal, she did the same, but this time we spoke to one another, and she ate. Her name, she told me, was Gay. She did not seem to think that this meant anything other than ‘happy’, and I decided not to inform her of any of the homonyms I could think of.

Most of what she and I talk about or have talked about is none of your business (assuming for a moment that this manuscript should ever be read by another being) and I will not share it. But some time - a short time, I am sure for once - after we first started dining together, we did discuss the other guests.

“Am I really the only one who eats in this place?” I asked her. “Where are the other guests?”

“They eat,” she said. “They just don’t eat in here.”

“Why not? What do they do all day, shut up in their rooms? Do they never want to talk to someone? Are they happy doing nothing all day but staring at the walls?”

“They don’t need to leave their rooms to do things, or to talk to one another,” she said cryptically. I pressed her on that matter, imagining that I had the only room not equipped with internet access, or a balcony, or a teleportation device, or who knows what. But whatever I suggested she said that it was not that, and eventually told me that it was not something my room had not been given, but something the other guests could do that I simply could not.

I changed the subject slightly. “I never see any of them. If they don’t leave their rooms, I’m tempted to try knocking on someone’s door.”

She looked horrified at the suggestion. “Don’t!”

To be honest, I wasn’t too keen on the idea myself. I just wanted to see what her reaction would be. To see her looking at me with such wide-eyed worry I felt it must mean almost mortal danger to try and meet one of the other guests - or perhaps my imagination was just running away with me. Still, I certainly wouldn’t do anything that she obviously disliked so much. “Why not?” I asked.

“It would- You would- It would be problematic.”


She shook her head.

“Why do you never answer my questions?”

Appearing to reach a decision, she sat up straight and addressed me in a direct, honest manner. “For many of your questions, I do not have answers that you could understand. For others I worry that you would not be able to cope with the answers. Take your desire to meet with one of the other guests. Perhaps if you met one you would find it stimulating, a relief, a joy even - a breathtaking, life-changing experience. But if you are too deeply ensnared in the human dream, if you see too little reality and too much of the inside of your own head, then such an exposure could destroy you. If your instinctual model of reality is too closely entwined with your personality, then you could never destroy one without destroying the other.”

“So you think it’s a bad idea then?”

She shrugged. “In a neutral environment, who knows? But in this hotel… Even if you fared okay, the other guests would not. It wouldn’t destroy them, nothing like that, but it would upset them. To have a human staying here as a guest, as if you were like one of them, as if you were comparable to them. It would be a big commotion. Some of them would abhor it, others would enjoy the decadence of it, some would appeal to reason, others to emotion, others to ancient traditions and lore.

“And while they argued over it, anything could happen to you. Perhaps they would lock you up in one of the hotel’s closets, where verminous creatures might sneak in to prey on you. Perhaps one of them might take it into their own hands-” and then she added, sotto voce, so to speak, as if to indicate that they might well not have hands “-and crush you like a bug, or ‘set you free’, in which case you could end up anywhere.” She emphasised the last word in such a way as to imply that I really could end up anywhere.

I set down my knife and fork. I was not hungry anymore. “They’re not human, then?”

She shook her head.

“What are they then?”

“All sorts,” she said with a shrug. “This is a hotel after all.”

I was struck by a thought. “But they accept you.”

“As their servant, yes.”

I had started down a worrying train of thought. “So, who owns the hotel? Not humans, I take it?”

“Of course not.”

“Do they know I’m here?” I asked nervously, starting to panic. “What if they find out? Would you get in trouble? Why would you risk yourself like that?”

“Whether I would or not is none of your business,” she said deliberately. “However the fact is that I did not. The owners are aware of your presence here. They do not care. They think only of, shall we say, capital. Of investment and return. They don’t care who is providing the capital.”

“But I’m not paying anything to stay here.”

She smiled. “Not in money, no.”

A shiver ran up my spine. But she didn’t seem the kind of person who could ever be cruel. Dispassionate, maybe, not cruel. I couldn’t imagine that it was anything seriously detrimental to me. But for a long time after I still wondered how exactly I was paying for my food and board here. I couldn’t imagine that I wasn’t giving something up. But what exactly it was, I had no idea.

For some reason, at that moment I began to weep. I covered my face with my hands and sobbed. I wanted to tell her, I think - to try and explain how it felt to languish in my room, now knowing that in leaving it I might risk encountering one of the other guests and setting off a chain of events that could lead ‘anywhere’. For some reason, though, I couldn’t bring myself to open up to her. I think she worked it all out for herself anyway.

She reached out and laid a hand on my shoulder. “Come with me,” she said.

She took my hand and lead me back to the front desk, and then around it and into the shadows behind. At some point we passed through a door. And then we were standing in her room.

It was small, but nicely furnished. As I looked around, I realised there was something different about this room. It seemed so much more solid somehow. It took me ages to work out what it was. I had grown so used to the slippery, ageless feel of the rest of the hotel that I could barely recognise it when a room seemed to fit well with itself, to embody something particularly human and of a particular style - although I am ignorant of exactly which period or culture it comes from.

And she had books! Three overflowing bookcases - books on every surface, it seemed. I exclaimed aloud, “Books!” I grasped at them without asking for permission, picking them up and reading their titles. A few I recognised, most were new to me.

She stood with her back to the door, smiling as if she wasn’t very familiar with the act. “Take some of them,” she said. “All the ones here, I’ve read. I get new ones all the time. This is how they pay me. In books. Go on, take some. Take them back to your room, so you don’t have to sit there and stare at the walls and go mad. And don’t worry about the other guests. I’ll make sure nothing happens.”

I approached the door to leave. She kept her back to it until the last possible moment and smiled at me. I found myself blushing as I brushed past her.


That is almost all I have to tell you about my stay at this hotel. That is not to say that it encompasses all the interesting things that have happened. For a start there are all the times I have narrowly avoided the other guests. But I do not think it would be wise to share such things - in particular the one time I came face to face with one, the entity in the room next to mine. I shall not even describe it, except to say that it seems benevolent - more bemused at my presence than offended. It was difficult for me to even look at it, but I did not go insane. Then again, I suspect that I might have if I had met it shortly after I first got here.

The one final thing I must share with you is about my relationship with Gay. Over time, much more happened between us. We both seem much happier now, although I am reluctant to be indiscrete and describe quite why this is so. The thing is, when I see how much more she smiles, and how much more enthusiastically she works, I begin to understand (although you will soon realise, I do not like to think about it too much in these terms) just how I am paying for my stay here.

I cannot comprehend how this hotel works, the nature of its guests, or the shadowy motives of its owners; and I am not sure quite how I feel about creatures who think of love and books as ‘capital’ - whether it seems like a utopian economy, or whether it is abhorrently calculating and dehumanising.

But I don’t mind all that much. Perhaps you can’t understand why, but I don’t care. I am rather starting to like it here.


One Small Step for a Robot, One Giant Leap for Humankind

A post on the Planetary Society Blog which I must link to.

I can't help but be a little ambivalent as I reflect on the apparent resumption of the shuttle program. Unlike many fans of robotic space exploration I do believe that human spaceflight is important, and I look forward to a day when our astronauts will get out of low Earth orbit again. However, I also believe that our robotic missions don't get enough respect in the public eye by comparison to the human spaceflight program.

It's a shame that the attention given to the current troubles of human spaceflight can't be balanced with equal attention for the glut of gorgeous dividends that our robotic explorers are giving us.

A Story about Falling Up

I am going to post my stories in this format from now on, with the post title above telling you it's a story, a little comment here telling you why the story is rubbish and not to be taken seriously (for example, this one needs a flowery-sentimentalitectomy), and then the story itself below, like so:

Falling Up

I am ten years old, lying on my back on warm summer grass, looking up into a blue sky. White clouds float overhead like fluffy mountains. The buildings of the school and the nearby houses are far away in my peripheral vision. The sky takes up all that I can see. As my head lolls back, my concept of up and down dissolves.

And suddenly I am convinced that I have got it wrong. That I am in fact looking down, clinging somehow to the grassy roof of a deep blue void, ready to plummet like a stone at any moment. How could I have been so foolish as to have lived my entire life on the ceiling without realising it? Only now do I see. I imagine that I can feel myself beginning to fall. Any moment I will plunge down into the sky, turning slowly end over end, everything I ever knew receding above me.

With a jump, I sit up. I am in the school field. The boys are playing football and the girls are chatting. Everything is the right way up. But my heart is racing.


I am sure that everyone has experienced this at some point. If you have not, I urge you to go outside and try it now. Looking up, you start to lose your concept of ‘up’, become worried that you may fall into the sky, and look away with a start.

We now know that it is only this instinctive flinch that stops a person from falling up into the sky in these situations. Which begs the question, what if some absent-minded daydreamer were to fail to be shocked?

This is the story of the woman who wasn’t startled, at first, and who fell up into the sky until she was startled. Now she is stuck halfway. You have probably heard of her. There was a reality TV show about her, amongst other things. Then people got bored with the idea and forgot about her, changing their focus, at least to start with, to the man who forgot to get out of the bathtub and was sucked down the plughole.

Her name was Iris Gill and she was an astronomer. Her case was something of a watershed, and astronomers are now carefully trained in looking up at the sky without falling into it. It was actually a rather unremarkable day when she fell up. She cannot even recall exactly what she was doing - only that it was a cool summer night, and she looked up into the sky thoughtfully. The next thing she knew, she was as high as the rooftops and, with a yell, she came abruptly to a halt.

Life was difficult for her from then on. She was not a bird, she could not fly. Faced with the prospect of either being hauled into her home with a net and shut in there for the rest of her life, or merely being left to blow about on the wind, she naturally (being a free spirited soul) chose the latter option. She never had any trouble finding something to do. Employers would send up balloons of food in exchange for advertising, for example. She might wear a sandwich board, or carpet bomb high streets with leaflets, or trail out a banner behind her. Sometimes she might be blown into a favourable position for jobs as a painter or window cleaner. She never had trouble staying alive, no, but she could never say anything for sure about the future either. She often seemed to live on the verge of emaciation and neglect.

I first met Iris when she got her hair caught in my television aerial. Haircuts are hard to come by when you’re airborne. To start with she kept a pair of scissors in her trouser pocket and would roughly cut her hair herself, leaving it a ragged mess which would be further spoilt by the wind. But her scissors had fallen out of her pocket, and, since they had landed pointy end first in the canvas roof of an expensive convertible, she had decided it was maybe better for her not to keep scissors in the first place. Her hair was by now long enough to have reached the ground if she had been vertical. Instead, it trailed out behind her, dragging over grimy roof tiles and through grasping tree branches. And finally it became hopelessly tangled in my TV aerial, as I mentioned.

I didn’t notice until the following morning, when my TV reception seemed decidedly dodgy. I went outside and found Iris sleeping in the sky, awkwardly tethered to my roof. Balancing on my step ladder with a long pair of shears, I was able to perform some emergency hairdressing and liberate her. While I worked, we struck up a conversation. The pauses filled with words, and the pauses between words filled with more words. I can’t remember what we talked about - everything, it seemed at the time; nothing at all, it seemed afterwards. But in those moments we both enjoyed talking to one another, that much I know.

Unfortunately, the wind had picked up considerably, and when I cut her away with the final snip, she was carried off on an easterly breeze which didn’t let her go until she was somewhere over Belgium.

To fall for someone who floats in the sky and who enjoys your company briefly before being carried away on the breeze is as easy as being naïve. Having achieved the latter at birth and never overcome my handicap, the former naturally followed as well.

I always wished I’d encounter her again. But at the same time I was horrified at the prospect. I had embarrassed myself enough the first time, I thought, recalling all the things I imagined I’d done wrong. I had several chances to meet her again, when she blew over regions nearby, but I didn’t take them.

In the end, she found me. Caught a lift on a police helicopter and knocked on my roof. She clambered down my drainpipe and in my front door. She said she wanted to thank me for helping her, but now that I think about it, I was the one who made dinner and invited her to stay. It doesn’t matter. Living alone in the sky, she wanted companionship as I did.

She stayed with me for as long as she could bear, crawling around on the ceiling, enjoying ready access to food and a bathroom, enjoying being with me. But she was used to a different life now: blowing on the wind, no possessions that she couldn’t carry on her person or risk dropping. As much as she liked to furnish me with her beautiful smile, I could see her wilting inside, like a flower without light. It seems the expression one usually writes in these situations is ‘With a heavy heart…’ but that isn’t true. It was with a sharp pang, like a knife sliding in, that I realised. We couldn’t live like that for much longer. Better to end it on good terms than let us start to resent it.

So I took her aside, pulling her down to my eye level by the shoulders, and, with carefully chosen words, ended our life together in that house.

I shed my Earthly possessions like a chrysalis. Now I live on the same winds that she does, in a hot air balloon. I am still getting used to it, and I must admit that I have always been afraid of heights. But she smiles at my efforts and holds my hand through the storms, and though we both blow on the wind now, we have each other.


A Story about a Mechanical Egg, in Three Parts

Part 3:
Egg Loss

When Cubi arrives, Perni comes out to greet him. Both Greater Sun and Lesser Sun are obscured by the horizon. It is a dark night, tinged orange by neon street lights.

Once again Perni grabs Cubi’s arm, but this time she grips him tightly, vicelike, provoking a mild inkling of claustrophobia. She pulls him into her workshop and turns him to face the space where the mechanical egg was resting when he last saw it.

“You may notice,” Perni says mordantly, “a few changes to the décor.”

Cubi stares wide eyed for a moment and then says, “There’s a bloody great big hole in your wall.”

There is certainly something of a breech. Where the egg was once to be seen, instead there is the debris of whatever explosive event punched through the wall, showering broken breeze blocks and dust across the workshop floor. The weird scaffold that held the egg has been twisted open as if it were so much flimsy wire. And then there is the hole: a great, gaping, ragged maw through which can be seen the starless urban sky. The egg, as he already knew, is gone.

Cubi shivers. He thought to wear a jacket this time, but the night air is entering the workshop freely through this unplanned ventilation. He shakes his head, trying to make sense of it all. “What the fuck happened?”

“Come closer and have a look,” Perni says.

She pulls him forward again, yet to relinquish his arm, Cubi slipping and tripping as he walks through the mess on the floor. They arrive shortly at the exact scene of the crime. Perni points to several different objects around the scaffold.

Cubi kneels down to pick up the nearest one. A gigantic blue feather, easily the size of his whole arm. It is emerald blue, and ripples with light. “A bird did this? A great big bloody bird? A bird did this?”

“It makes sense doesn’t it?”

Cubi opens his mouth and then stops to think. Not the best order to do things in. After a few seconds, he manages to come out with: “Does it?”

“Birds,” Perni says. “Eggs. Birds. Eggs. Birds and eggs. It’s doesn’t require many brain cells to see the connection.”

“So you’re saying that an enormous bird punched through your wall,” Cubi says, organising his thoughts, “in order to steal a mechanical egg that it couldn’t have even known was in here anyway?”

Somehow, Cubi realises that this is beginning to turn into an argument. He doesn’t want it to become one, but Perni is definitely speaking louder than normal when she says, “Where did the feathers come from Cubi? A big bird was definitely involved in there somewhere, wasn’t it?”

Always averse to conflict, Cubi folds. “Okay, you’re right. A giant bird stole your egg.”

The two of them survey the wreckage in silence for a good minute.

Then Cubi says, “Now what? Call the police?”

“The police catch criminals - not flying monsters.” Perni begins to chew thoughtfully on her thumbnail, and Cubi can tell what is coming next. “It needs someone who can cope with the unfamiliar, who can innovate.”

Cubi tips his head to one side. “Sounds like you, doesn’t it?”

Perni nods absently.

“Any ideas?”

Perni snatches the feather out of Cubi’s hands. “We start with a visit to the library.”

She marches the both of them out of her workshop, throwing on a heavy coat. She grabs her reading glasses from the top of a pile of books and tucks them into one of her pockets. She closes the door as they leave, and locks it.

“Hope any prospective burglars don’t notice the big hole in the wall round the side,” Cubi notes.

Perni shrugs. “I live in abject terror of thieves taking my unwashed cutlery.”

Cubi starts to make towards the old rusted estate resting in Perni’s parking space.

“That old thing?” Perni says dismissively. “Remember when I took two jobs one after the other and you threw a hissy fit at me?”

“I recall expressing my concerns.”

“Well, I spent all the cash from the first job upgrading to the gyrocopter generation.”

She leads him around the corner and up a bent, creaking ladder that leaves paint flecks on his hands. He doesn’t dare to look down during the ascent, even if it is just one storey. At the top, confronted with Perni’s gyrocopter resting on an improvised landing pad, Cubi almost wishes he had fallen.

“That’s what you want instead of a car? How old is it?”

“No more than twelve years,” Perni soothes. “And it has all the certificates.”

Cubi swallows. “Can’t we just take the car?”

Perni raises an eyebrow. “One of these days you should try paying attention. Someone made off with the tyres months ago. It’s resting on bricks.”

Cubi never noticed. “It is?”

He looks over Perni’s new vehicle dubiously. A now unfashionable, roughly spherical body, with a canopy and cockpit that look like they belong on an old fighter plane. The rotors are folded up and drooping in a way that does not inspire confidence in their durability. On top of that, the whole thing has a weird, two-tone paint job, as if its has been welded together from two halves.

“Perni…” Cubi says half-heartedly.

“Here,” Perni says, after throwing open the canopy and rooting around inside. She hands him a brown paper bag.


The city looks different from higher up, but no smaller. It sprawls out in every direction, as least as far as the horizon, lumpy and covered in a haze of heat and exhaust fumes. At the centre the tallest buildings congregate together in a titanic huddle. Around them are heaped smaller residential mounds, balloon houses and rectangular blocks of flats. Sludgetown is a sunken puddle to the north, the glistening black fluids that run through its streets reflecting back the light of the two suns; twisted spires pouring thin grey fog into the sky. Behind them, the chimneys of the Industrial District look like a vast collection of matches balanced upright. Sky District is visible now, a great floating island covered in cottages, farms and wind turbines, tethered over the heads of the nocturnal denizens of Shadowtown.

Breathtaking is too small a word for it.

Perni is in the pilot’s seat, in front of and slightly below him. “Cubi,” she says, “do you see that?”

“No, I have my eyes closed.”

“Open them then. Look!”

She taps on the canopy. Cubi parts his eyelids slightly and follows the line of her finger. He opens his eyes wider, but still can’t make anything out. He tells Perni as much.

“It’s just passing by the river. Now it’s in front of that building with the gaudy billboard.”

Cubi can just make out an airborne silhouette. The perspective is messed up. Compared to the big buildings it glides between, it looks tiny. “I think I see something. What is it?”

“It a big bloody bird,” Perni says through clenched teeth. “It’s got to be the one.”

“There are plenty of birds in the city. We can’t even see what colour it is.”

“Let’s find out then.”

Perni yanks the control column and the gyrocopter lurches in the direction of the flying creature. Cubi covers his eyes with his hands.


Cubi drops to the ground from the cockpit. His legs give out and he falls onto his hands and knees. The soil beneath his palms is dry and the grass is yellow and sparse.

“We should have gone for it,” Perni says unhappily.

Cubi swallows. “Why didn’t you then?”

“You were telling me very emphatically not to.”

“You’ve never let that stop you before.”

“This time you would have had to live with the consequences of my stupidity.”

“It wasn’t the living part of it I minded so much,” Cubi says, getting weakly to his feet. He can’t bring himself to stand fully. They’ve landed too close to the edge for his liking. And it’s not like this is anything more solid than soil and perhaps some rock that they’re standing on. The gyrocopter rests only a few metres from the edge of a sheer drop. Beyond that: an immense reservoir, roiling and foaming turbulently. Water boils into it from a structure that defies all sense of scale - part tunnel, part leviathan’s mouth. Inside it a multitude of vast turbine blades spin slowly, but with enough force to churn up water from a subterranean freshwater ocean. Just looking at it makes him feel weak. Wondering if Perni could have flown through it makes his head spin.

But she did fly through the city well enough - weaving between skyscrapers at high speed. Maybe she could have done it. Looking at it, though, he has trouble trying to regret being on the ground.

“I really don’t know,” Cubi says. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why you wanted me along anyway. All I did was hold you back.”

“Have you ever gone looking for a lost mechanical egg before, Cubi?”

“Not in recent memory, no.”

“Me neither. Two heads and all that. I’m not sorry I brought you along.” She looks thoughtfully into the gnashing jaws of the waterworks. “And maybe holding me back was the right thing to do.”

“Do you think it has a nest in there?” Cubi asks.

“Maybe. Maybe it just thought it could away from us in there. Well it did get away from us. There must be a dozen ways out from there, if you can make it through.”

If it made it through.”

Perni sighs. “It probably wasn’t even the same bloody bird.”


Lesser Sun is low in the sky, and Greater Sun is still nowhere to be seen. Shadows are long and enveloping, even at the top of Argon Hill. The air is cool. Cubi sits patiently in front of his table. Perni is hunched over gloomily in a fold-up chair beside him.

The rest of the city is already awake. The sounds of traffic carry over to the Nematode Quarter, even as it remains silent itself.

Cubi lays out his tools, one by one. Perni watches him solemnly.

Cubi takes one strange looking implement between his thumb and forefinger. He holds it up to examine its narrow hook in the feeble light. He clicks something on the handle and it twitches curiously. He turns to Perni and smiles half-heartedly. “This is much better than a screwdriver.”

Perni nods. “I know.”

Her head droops and she looks back down at the book that lies open on the ground in front of her. The emerald feather from her workshop lies across the page, next to a photograph of an identical feather. Cubi has read what the book has to say. And Perni has read it at least a dozen times.

Greater Blue Prancing Bird

A large, flightless bird from the Antipodean Mountains, renowned for its brilliant blue plumage. The Prancing bird subsists on mountain lions and other large mammals. It is capable of reaching running speeds of up to 60km/h and reportedly can split rocks with its powerful beak. Although it is rarely encountered in urban environs, continued encroachment into its habitat by…

Perni sighs loudly.

“It was just an egg,” Cubi says. “You still have your health. And all your limbs. That kind of stuff.”

“Yeah.” Perni sighs again. “But I was looking forward to seeing what happened to it. If it would hatch, what would come out of it…”

Cubi shrugs. “Make another one.”

Perni meets his eye. She closes her teeth around the tip of her thumbnail and chomps a few times. Then she smiles - a wide, genuine smile. “Yeah, okay,” she says.

Greater Sun peeks over the horizon, casting blue light onto soil that begins to squirm. And Perni smiles. Cubi smiles too.