Finding Damo

The story of a man, his job, two cats and the meaning of success.

Terms and Conditions

TERMS-AND-CONDITIONS-MAY-APPLY-APPLEShereen just upgraded her IOS version. Every time we do that, it comes up with the “I have read the Terms and Conditions” button. We click that, we state that we are using the software as long as we agree to follow whatever mandatory rules the company put forward for us to follow.

And we lie.

We lie because only a tiny percentage of people actually read the terms and conditions. For anything. Rented a house? Sure, I’ve read the terms and conditions. Bought a new car? Sure I’ve read the terms and conditions. Adopted a child? Sure I’ve read the … wait, did that say Son of Satan?

Here are a couple of the things you are signing away when you click the button/sign along the dotted line/dip your quill in the bloody ink.

IMG_5162From my car insurance:

“We will not cover any loss, damage or liability as a result of:

  • War or warlike activity:
    • War does not have to be declared
  • Hostilities, rebellion, insurrection or revolution
  • Contamination by chemical and/or biological agents, which results from an act of terrorism
  • Anything nuclear or radioactive

From Apple:

  • You can only belong to one Family at a time, and may join any Family no more than twice per year.
  • Consult a doctor before using the products offered through the iTunes Service
  • APPLE DOES NOT REPRESENT OR GUARANTEE THAT THE APP AND BOOK SERVICES WILL BE FREE FROM LOSS, CORRUPTION, ATTACK, VIRUSES, INTERFERENCE, HACKING, OR OTHER SECURITY INTRUSION, AND APPLE DISCLAIMS ANY LIABILITY RELATING THERETO.
  • Apple reserves the right to take steps Apple believes are reasonably necessary or appropriate to enforce and/or verify compliance with any part of this Agreement.

This is what you’re signing when you click “I agree”. No changing families. Buy the virus-filled apps and ibooks. And if Apple decides that they should murder your first-born to enforce and/or verify compliance with their agreement, well, you just agreed that that is ok as well.

futurama-devil2Did you hear about the company that had a clause in their T&Cs that gave them ownership of the user’s immortal soul? It was an April Fool’s joke, but it made a very clear point: people don’t read the terms and conditions. Any self-respecting evil overlord would take advantage of this.

So, I’m going to create an app. It will be marvellous. Everybody will want it. And I’ll have all of the basic terms and conditions. But, just for those people who don’t read the terms and conditions, I’ll add in a few of my own.

So as a warning, here they are. Read them carefully. And choose whether you want my cool app, or whether it’s just not worth it.

CoolApp Terms and Conditions

  1. The developer takes no responsibility for any damage this app might cause to the machines or devices the app invades.
  2. There is a good chance that this app will never be updated again. The developer makes no apologies for this, so get over it.
  3. The developer will remove access to any user who scores the app less than five stars on the app store.
  4. The developer might make certain demands of users. By accepting these terms and conditions, you are accepting that these demands are fair and reasonable and that you will abide by these demands in a timely manner. These demands may include (but are not limited to):
    1. The user will provide safe haven for the developer and any associates that may need sanctuary.
    2. The user is expected, with fair notice, to contribute to a standing army to defend the holdings and lands of the developer in times of war.
    3. The developer may, on occasion and again with fair warning, visit the user’s home and at that time, should be provided with food and lodging. Moreover, a ball should be held in the developer’s honour, at the full expense of the user.
  5. The app has been extensively tested, but the developer will not be held liable for damages caused by effects outside of the standard test cases. For example, portal rifts leading to alien invasion shall not be deemed the fault of the developer.
  6. In the case that the developer requires a liver, spleen, brain, heart or other vital organ, the user will go to any length to provide the developer with said organ (no questions asked). The developer will endeavour to return the organ in a timely manner but cannot assure the quality of the returned item.
  7. Your genetic code, facial likeness and other personal information may be used by the developer for various purposes set out in the privacy document. The user accepts any liability for actions taken by the resulting robotic clone.

Did I miss anything? You have been warned.

The wolf is coming!

200px-Askalti_Darksteel_TCGI have a love for coincidence. Seeing similarities in different parts of my life makes it seem like there is a plan to the universe. It allows my imagination to posit a (usually incredibly unlikely) future based on what I’m seeing. The universe cares about me and is sending me hints so that I can guess what happens next.

That makes this current case of Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon somewhat disturbing.

Everywhere I look, I’m seeing Ragnarok. That can’t be a good thing.

12307402_865473633570486_1958686601694734196_oIt started when I began planning the second Thropes book. I’m planning the second book so that I can put the appropriate foreshadowing into the first book, so stop judging me for being a procrastinator. Lycanthropes came about as a result of a curse by a Greek goddess. So gods are real. And how would that change society? Having a pantheon of hands-on Greek gods would change a few things.

Not to mention that if the Greek gods are real, then wouldn’t that indicate that the others are as well?

So World War I is now a battle between the legions aligned with the Greek gods and those who worship the gods of Asgard. A couple of the days of the week have changed. As have a couple of months. I’ve ditched Roman gods altogether. And then left it as “time manages to push things back to what we know and love”.

But there’s Norse gods version one. And the wolves of Fenris.

magnus-chase-1And then I picked up Magnus Chase book one by Rick Riordan. He’s a very funny man and he really knows his mythologies. The writing isn’t phenomenal, but the stories have heart and the voice of Magnus is highly amusing. Oh, and he’s the son of a Norse god. Trying to stop Ragnarok.

Then my character in World of Warcraft levelled high enough to hit Northrend, and suddenly I have all of the Norse mythology I can handle, with Loken and Thorim and Jotunheim and Freya amongst other places and deities. They even have valkyr.

Following on from this, with the new WOW: Legion, they are opening up new Norse areas, including Helheim, as dungeons. It all looks very impressive.

Finally, I’m reading Morning Star by Pierce Brown. Third in the Red Rising series, it’s an engrossing work of war in space and the segregation of peoples based on colour rather than skill. Well worth a read.

The mighty Obsidian warriors live in the icy Antarctic wastes of Mars. They follow a Norse mythology and answer to Asgardian “gods” who keep them subjugated.

This is happening people. The time of the wolf is upon us! Sharpen your axes and drag out your horned helms. Let’s get the end of the world happening.

 

51ibKBUFN3L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

Swear Jar

Captain Haddock swearingWhen I was in primary school, we had a pretty good idea what would get us in trouble, language wise. Bum wasn’t ok. Bloody was out of the question. I didn’t even know about the big three until about grade five or six.

I didn’t swear in front of my parents until I started driving. That did it, no problems. When you have the whole family in the car and you’re driving through Bendigo and you aren’t particularly confident and then someone cuts you off- well, the F bomb made an appearance.

My parents never swore in front of us either. Justin and Elise might have different memories, but I can’t remember them ever losing control and firing off one of the big ones. It might be because they were both teachers. I know it’s good for my self-control.

Nowadays swearing seems to be a lot more prevalent, especially among children.

Warning: this post will probably contain a LOT more swearing than is usual. I swear (haha) that it is in the context of the discussion. Sometimes I’ll bleep it out. Sometimes I’ll let it go. You have been warned.

A good introduction to modern speech patterns in today’s children is this:

I was doing bus duty at the end of the day, early in my teaching career when a Prep kid came screaming up the pathway after another kid, screaming “YOU F***ING C***!”

Jaw dropped, I jumped in and stopped this lovely five-year-old.

“Whoa! That’s not ok language! What’s wrong?”

“She called my mother a slut!” the girl sobbed, “and she’s not a slut. She’s a stripper!”

Well, what do you say to that? We’ve gone up a notch from not being able to say bum in Prep to this.

The swearing was so bad in my homeroom (of year 9 and 10 students) that I implemented a swear jar. You swear, you put money in the Project Compassion box. I’m pretty sure we won the charity competition that year.

Smurf YouThe follow up was to try and get them to use something else instead of the swear words. I had some pretty good success with smurfs. Smurfs use it to great effect, so I figured my homeroom could be equally as vague. Swearing dropped dramatically. Smurfing was as frequent as ever. I had to talk to them about intent after hearing “What the smurf do you want you smurfing smurfer? I will smurf you right up!”

When it comes to my own family we’re pretty good. I am a bit of an ogre over swearing. I believe that childhood should be a time of innocence, where things like swearing aren’t part of a child’s vocabulary. I am offended by kids swearing. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Given that, I’d prefer that a child finds a better way of expressing themselves. There’s plenty of time for swearing later.

That’s the background for this:

We were sitting at the table for dinner. My wife said that something was pretty shitty.

“Swear jar,” I said.

“Shitty isn’t a swear word!”

“Yes it bloody is!”

“OK then, put in a dollar for bloody!”

“Bloody isn’t a swear word!”

And so, like all good debates, I took it to Facebook. And WOW did it ever go mad from there. Ten pages in Word when I copied and pasted it to write this. Swearing is an issue wrapped up in political correctness and seasoned with the censorship debate.

Here’s what I posted:

What started it all

“Give me a list of words that would cause a donation to the swear jar. Put each word in its own comment. Like the words you agree with.

“Also point out ones you think are flat out OK in today’s society (OK for ten year olds)”

The first cab off the rank was the c bomb, followed up with “probably literally any racial slur”

“And now I wait gleefully for status comments that are just people swearing.”

And swear they did.

The first list of inappropriate swear words

  • The f bomb
  • Bugger (they need to understand what the word means)
  • Bastard
  • Bugger
  • Slut
  • Bitch
  • N*gger
  • Poofter
  • Faggot
  • Dickhead
  • Tony Abbott

Most of these from a wonderful person I had as a student teacher a few years ago. Teachers know ALL the bad words.

From here the list stopped and the discussion began. The argument was broken into these ideas:

  • Words have no specific “wrongness”. The context is what’s important.
  • Different cultures have different concepts of what is ok.
  • Swearing isn’t as bad as “inappropriate use of language”
  • Making it illegal makes it attractive.

In general, we agreed that the use of racial slurs and words that denigrate women should be out straight off the bat. They are over used in society but don’t add to society.

Insulting someone by calling them a female body part does nothing to advance the status of women in society. And still Australians complain about Muslim women wanting to wear head coverings in our country because it’s denigrating to women (yeah, that’s why you want them to stop wearing them). When you stop calling someone a whiny little bitch, I’ll listen to your argument.

Alternatives to swearing came up. My smurf idea was one. Words like ‘numpty’ and Sugar Honey Ice Tea, pickles or cheesesndwhiskers, muppet or donkey, and of course the really good ones like smeg and frack – to show that you’ve raised your child to be a proper sci-fi nerd.

Here are some of the more poignant remarks, names cut out to protect the swearmongers (some are colour linked – those who consistently got involved):

“Any word is a swear word in the right context. I think kids need to learn appropriate use not that language is bad. Shakespeare used c***. I find it less offensive than the word Muslim in some people’s mouths. Teach her respect and let her have a word for when she stubs her toe. The rest is out of your hands.”

“I love this perspective a lot! Still, I don’t think “Shakespeare used the word c***” is going to fly in front of her principle at school so it’s that odd balance of societal expectations and developing a good respectful kid.”

“Truly, swearing is about context and culture. The utterance of a culture’s deity in one geography wouldn’t raise an eyelid, yet would condemn you to death in others.”

“Is a list of words really what you need here? At 10 she is most likely smart enough to know when she’s offending someone, which should probably be all the criteria she needs. A simple ‘inappropriate use of language’ jar should suffice, with you being the judge of what is inappropriate in the given context. I wouldn’t bat an eyelid if one of my kids dropped an f bomb after a big fright or something, but have definitely pulled them up for referring to a sibling as a bitch.”

“And with that criteria you can handle all those violations of the Queen’s English too.”

“Take each instance on merit. Stubbed toe and swear, we all do. Walking around peppering her speech with cussing to get a reaction, explain why it’s not really the done thing and leave her choose. Don’t demonize words though. As soon as you make anything naughty it has appeal. Making swearing taboo could also limit her feeling she can come to you with issues surrounding language… like body shaming or slut shaming as it’s not swearing but the language is really more inappropriate than a good ‘Oh shit’. If adults have an issue with the use of a word, that’s about them. Take the power away from the word, give the power [to your child] and back yourselves in, because we’re all human, we all pick our nose, fart, chew with our mouth open and swear.”

Me: “No we bloody don’t! There are plenty of ways to express ourselves that don’t involve swearing. She has the rest of her life to swear. For now, she can make an effort and find better ways to respond to situations. It’s about control. If you have enough control over a situation that you can choose a response, that’s a step in the right direction.”

“I completely agree with you Daimo on this one. It is all about self-control and also respect. [We as parents] could swear til the cows come home but we choose not to and I expect the kids to learn the same self-control and respect. That’s not to say I don’t utter certain words under my breath out of earshot at times.”

“Any word can be a swear word. Learning where, rather than what, is what I’d aim for.”

“When followed by a snigger, any of the following might be inappropriate: moist, 69, erection, hard, hump… gotta love the english language”

“Oooh ‘language, #snigger”

Do you allow exceptions for extenuating circumstances:

Warning: Explicit content

Warning: Explicit content

This you’d get a timeout from game. It’s gratuitous swearing and bad sportsmanship. This can be controlled. Damian this is where the respect comes in, not the inevitable slip up we all make at times.

Me: There are slip ups, which is why we have the swear jar. That’s “oops, put a dollar in the jar”. Then there are blatant uses like above, which require a more specific consequence.

I think it should be less a “swear jar than an “unimaginative words jar” – there are much better words you can use to express yourself than these, these are nasty and no one should use them. I like the idea of having a list of other more useful words. In science at school I always make my students write out the lab safety rules, but they have to write them out without using negative language – they can’t use the words don’t, no, prohibited, etc. So the rules become things they can choose to do, safe choices to make, rather than just things not to do.

Research into the hypoalgesic effect of swearing has shown that the use of profanity can help reduce the sensation of pain. This phenomenon is particularly strong in people who do not use such words on a regular basis.

I swear like a trooper as you know Damo but the kids still know not to, at least in front of adults, teachers etc, I’m not sure if they swear to their friends.

P.S My parents never swore, I’m calling it a social experiment to see how the kids end up but at 8 and 10 no probs yet.

I’m against f**king censorship ??

Me: Then don’t f**k it

At this point in the conversation my wife wanted me to explain that our daughter is wonderful and doesn’t swear at all and this is more about us parents. More specifically, she thinks shitty is ok and I think bloody is ok and we both think the other person’s word should go in the swear jar.

Can I add “gay” and “retard” – those four words (including the two in the comments above) are the words that I find most offensive (and I have a fondness for the expletive).

Gay is a perfectly reasonable word to use, even when describing a person’s sexuality, unless it’s done in a negative way.

Unfortunately, “gay” is more likely used in an offensive manner these days, than in its correct form. As per above – it isn’t the word, it is the way in which it is used.

Damian Perry: Seriously, what you just said was totally gay.

Damian Perry: By which I mean totally spot on and fantastic.

Damian Perry: …I’m taking it back.

LOL

Yes, the word gay is misused but if you stomp on its usage completely then I think you have made a mistake. My kids sometimes pull me up when I use the word black to identify a person with dark skin. I ask them “why? Is it bad to be black or something?”. Same with the word gay – are you banning its usage because it is bad to be gay? I would simply stick to objecting to when the word is used in a negative way, and embrace it when used correctly.

I like that idea on principle however, I have lost track of the number of times I have heard kids referring to everything they don’t like or agree with as “that’s so gay” (cue eyeroll)

I’m not into swearing but refuse to make it attractive by making it naughty to the kids. It’s hard enough getting them to clean their rooms without having to clean their mouths too. (My giving them permission has worked well but I still try to lead by example.)

F**kin' Swear JarIt was a fantastic discussion. Most importantly, in the end, I’m pretty sure that the consensus was that, if we were allowed to have a swear jar at all, bloody would be ok and shitty would be a dollar in the jar.

So that’s bloody brilliant.

2015

Everybody has to write one of these, don’t they?

Let’s see. What happened in 2015? It might be just writing at this time of the year, but in my head, the year was categorised by stress. Which is weird, because in 2014 I:

  • wrote two plays,
  • performed in two productions,
  • published and launched my first novel,
  • completed a certificate III in Game Design,
  • holidayed in Halls Gap,
  • turned 40 and was painted into the TARDIS,
  • created a CGI opening for the school production which almost killed me,
  • saw my daughter perform at the Melbourne Arts Centre,
  • had our first cancer scare with our dog Amy and then
  • lost my grandfather to cancer (which doesn’t seem that long ago).

2015They were huge things, and very draining. And still, I finished this year completely shattered and I’m just getting out of it now, after a good few days down at Dromana soaking in the ocean (my calm down place). My 2015 list on the face of it is much longer. This year I:

  • Wrote a book starring my daughter as a werewolf
  • Saw They Might Be Giants (again)
  • Watched my lovely wife graduate from university
  • Ran the school radio show and podcast for a year
  • Spent a week in Sydney
  • Ramped up the school 3D printing program
  • Started learning to program in Python
  • Got my debating team into the finals
  • Had a number of articles published in educational journals
  • Had a reunion of the Five
  • Fixed the shower head
  • Ran the sound for Macbeth
  • Wrote half a dozen stories for a sequel to Dwarves in Space and found them mostly awful
  • Discovered Netflix and Stan and Presto
  • Had a Marvel Universe movie marathon
  • Went to a number of art galleries
  • Attended a few Guides functions
  • Started an educational blog
  • Read the Harper Lee sequel nobody thought would ever happen
  • Flew in a very old bi-plane
  • Finished my wedding video – three years on
  • Celebrated Grandma’s 90th

And that’s just the ones that come to mind going back through my photo gallery. Of those, they were all incredibly positive, life affirming and creative pursuits, which didn’t bring me down in the slightest. So why am I so mentally exhausted?

I think all that I can say is: don’t get involved in politics in the workplace. Just do your own job as well as you can and let what’s up top run itself.

I just wish I believed that was a good idea. Anyway, as always, I promise I will write more in 2016. And I have actual things in place to make that happen. AND I did actually write a lot in 2015 – just not on FindingDamo.

Dark Half

Sometimes you really need to think through what you type into Google.

I was talking to my wife about a guy who failed a paternity test because his baby was actually born to his twin brother – who was still inside him. Searching for that article now, I found this:

Be careful what you search for.

Be careful what you search for.

What I was actually looking for was this article entitled: Guy fails paternity test because his unborn twin is the father.

This reminded me of Stephen King’s Dark Half – Tad Beaumont has an evil twin and…

OK, wait. This story is going to require me to be a bit spoilery. If you don’t want to have the story ruined, go and read it, and then come back and read this. Otherwise, read on.

dark half

So, when he was younger he started having visions of sparrows and heard them. It turned out he had a tumour in his head, which they removed. That tumour became his evil twin and tried to kill him when he brought it to life by creating an alter ego so he could write crime fiction.

Wow. That was MASSIVELY spoilery.

Shereen looked at me and said “Wow. That really would scare you, having an evil twin brought to life from being a writer.”

My response, in my best Arnie:

not a tumor“It’s NOT a tumah! It’s my evil twin.”

Which led to:

“Ah! Twins! I have Danny De Vito in my head!”

twins2

Sometimes my mind works in mysterious ways.

I want to publish Finding Damo. I can’t publish it while I’m teaching. I can’t really write under a pseudonym, as everyone already associated me with Finding Damo (especially you, reading this  blog).

So I’m safe for now, until I write something I have to publish under a different name.

Can you hear sparrows?

Sparrow_Silhouette.svg

Earworm

earwormJust a quick one today. I need to get a couple of things into your head. Let me know how long it takes to get them out again.

1. Numb.

It has ruined my reading life. Every time I hear the word numb or read it, my brain immediately goes num num num num like a baby gumming a watermelon. Jim Butcher uses the word numb a lot in the Dresden Files.

So now, in a tense moment, Harry Dresden’s arm goes numb and my brain goes num num num num and I lose the plot completely.

Now you can too. Don’t thank me all at once.

baby eating watermelon

2. albatraoz.

This was the last thing I heard at the gym this morning. And now it’s flapping around the inside of my head like an… well, like an albatross. Bumping into things. It’s cruel to keep such a big bird in such a tiny brain.

Wait.

Anyway, just thought I’d share the torture. What’s your go-to song in the Ear Worm game? And do you have a shield? My wife and I swear by the Smurfs. It instantly removes any other song from your brain, but doesn’t hold on too strong.

Friends

I’ve got the theme song going through my head right now. And now you do too. Ha! Ear worm.

friends logoMy lovely wife and I went to a wedding on the weekend. As I get older and more introverted, I find myself dreading weddings. You know the deal: turn up, hang about near the church making small talk, sit through a ceremony, hang around for ages until the reception and hope to God that you’ve been placed on a table with either someone you know or someone interesting.

This wedding was an absolute delight. The bride and bride were lovely, the rain miraculously held off for the outdoor ceremony. And we were there with a bunch of people who were incredibly easy and fun to chat with. These were friends of Shereen’s, through our daughter’s last school, so she doesn’t see them as often as she used to, and I rarely see them at all. But the conversation was easy and stimulating. We laughed a lot and chatted over a number of different topics.

Which is lovely, but not my point (when is my opening ramble ever on topic?).

Shereen met these people because her daughter went to the same school as their kids.

Now, there’s a bit of a cultural crossover here, in that they lived in a similar area and sent their kids to the same school, so they would have some common interests and values. And of course, Shereen isn’t friends with all of the parents at the school, so that limits it even further. But I found it interesting that they became and remained friends through that limited commonality.

And that probably says more about me than anything else.

I don’t make friends easily. I have lots of people that I like and hang out with. Lots of people that I call friends, and if you want to go by Facebook, hundreds of friends that I don’t even hang out with. But the people that really matter to me – those that are an extension of my family in a lot of ways – are few.

I have those that I met through family as a child. A few from high school. A few more from my first university degree. Some from my second stint at Latrobe. A small select group that I met through other friends. A tiny smidge of people that I am friends with because of my jobs. Oh, and some Pratchett people.

That’s actually not a bad number, once I go through it in my head.

I think I have eight people who would help me bury a body. One of those is my wife, and she’s only up for it under certain circumstances. One isn’t as good a friend but would just be up for burying a body. That leaves six friends in the body burying category. Of those, two wouldn’t judge and the other six might need a bit more explanation.

friends2

I’m not counting family here, because being family means being willing to drive out into the forest and bury a body. You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your psychopathic relatives.

Why are we friends? What happened that meant that we got to a point where I could show up in the middle of the night with a canvas wrap and a shovel? It’s not just because they like Red Dwarf and Star Trek. It can’t be just that we’ve spent x amount of time stuck in the same place together. I’m pretty sure it’s not just teachers and computer programmers.

I think that there are certain shared experiences that just cement a friendship.

chuckyBurning a Chucky doll is one of those. I have an event on Facebook at the moment for a reunion of The Five. 20 years ago, we sacrificed a Chucky to relieve exam stress and to save one of the Five from nightmares. This is a post in its own right. I can’t believe I haven’t done that one yet. Stay tuned. Anyway, we were all close friends before that point, but even if we hadn’t been, I’m pretty sure we would have cemented the friendship with that experience.

My friend Melanie is such a good friend because we were born within months of each other and then spent the next 20 years with our parents getting together regularly. Somewhere along the line we found a friendship that I didn’t maintain with the other two in our little ’74 babies club. We played tennis at New Years and Easter for decades. Her sister almost drowned me in their pool.

I think the intensity of university was the catalyst for a lot of friendships. You’re over 18, living out of home, pressured by the new life and all of the work you have to do. You have no idea what you want to do once you’re done, or you know exactly what you want to do and you’re not sure you’re going to manage it with the marks you’re getting. You’re trying all the new things and all of these people are trying them with you.

And 20 years later, most of them are still around and close friends and checking the Crimestoppers website for new information and hopefully not looking too hard at the reward section.

Who would help you bury a body? Hold on to them. It’s not as common a friendship trait as you might think.

Sports Day – free story!

NB: So months ago I found a competition to write characters from Romeo and Juliet into a new setting. I whipped it up  quickly and sent it to a few people to have a look at it. It wasn’t due until April so I let it slide. And then in a panic I checked the due date and realised it was due the week before.

So you get it for free. Enjoy.

Sports Day picSports Day

There are four houses at Verona College, but only two that ever get talked about; Montague House and their traditional rivals in Capulet. When the house naming system was introduced, the head of English had a field day.

One year, Montague would win the swimming sports and Capulet would take the cup at the Athletics carnival. The next, Capulet would hold all of the records for swimming and Montague would dominate on the track. Teachers as well as students were assigned to a house, and the narrow margin between Montague and Capulet in the sporting arena had on more than one occasion led to fist fights in the staff room. And yelling matches in the car park. And parental feuds on Facebook.

It was this powder keg of enmity, leading back generations, which would lead to the tragic story of the relationship between Romeo and Juliet.

But this isn’t their story.

***

“Get a move on Greg. We’ll be late,” Sam said, shoving his friend who was dawdling in the direction of the starting line.

“If we get there too early, we’ll be the late Greg and Sam,” grumbled the other boy, tucking his red singlet back into his shorts.

“I can take a couple of Montague freaks.”

“You’ll be freaking out, and running away, more like it,” Greg said, nodding at the lithe young men in blue tops, stretching by the side of the track. Sam scowled.

“I’d stand up to those guys.”

“You’d have to. They’re about a head taller than you. Maybe try taking on one of the girls instead.”

“Gawd, I wouldn’t mind, I tell you,” Sam said, tilting his head towards a couple of Montague House girls, laughing and chatting on the grass. They were full of life, long legs tanned and house shirts knotted at their breast bone.

“Uh uh. Don’t even think about it,” Greg warned. “If you ever wanted to die early, making a move on a Montague girl would be a good way to do it.”

“Yeah,” Sam said, and kicked at a chip packet on the grass. “It might be worth it, to kick some Montague skulls.”

“Here’s your chance,” Greg said, eyes widening. A couple of the Montague boys had peeled off from their group and were sauntering casually into a position where they’d cross paths with their Capulet rivals.

“Shit,” Sam said. “OK. I’ve got your back. Have a go.” Greg looked back at his friend.

“You’ve got my back? You’ll be off like a bikini at a nudist beach.”

“No, seriously. Don’t worry.”

“I am bloody worried, seriously.”

“Fine then, but if they start something, we’ll finish it,” Sam said. Greg nodded, and as they approached the other boys, both of them Year 10 students, Greg hawked up a massive lump of phlegm and spat it neatly at the ground near the Montague boys’ feet.

“Oy, watch it,” one said. Sam recognised him as Ben Abraham. A good runner, but a complete asshole. “Did you tools just spit at me?”

“God no,” Greg said, not wanting anyone to say he made the first move. “I just spat. Lucky I missed you, really.”

“Do you wanna go?” Abraham said, taking a step towards Greg, his mate moving in behind him. Sam joined his friend and found himself looking up at two quite burly opponents. He sneered.

“I reckon we could take you,” he said, fighting the urge to stand on tiptoes. Greg nudged him, his head nodding to the side. Sam glanced over and saw Tybalt, the Capulet house captain, watching the proceedings with a dangerous gaze. “Yeah, you’re looking to lose a couple of those shiny white teeth.” Sam was ready to give Abraham a shove when the PA blared.

“All Year Ten students involved in the fifteen hundred metres need to get to the starting line now. That includes the four idiots about to do something stupid by the side of the track.” Mr. Graham, the woodwork teacher, was beckoning to them, a warning glare daring them to continue with their altercation. With a shove, Ben pushed Sam back and trotted off to the starting line. Sam followed, his ears burning and his hands shaking from the close call.

The four boys took their positions, joined by two each from Escalus and Mantua houses. Mr. Graham eyeballed Sam and Ben, shook his head and then raised the starting pistol.

“On your marks, get set…”

KRAK!

Sam was first out of the blocks, being lighter than the other runners. He felt that he had a good lead and concentrated on pushing his feet hard into the track and finding the rhythm that he could keep up for one and a half laps of the oval. His breath was all that he could hear. The first corner approached and he drew across to the inner lane.

Ben Abraham put on a brief burst of speed to come level with Sam and then stepped directly in front of him, shoving him at the same time so that the Capulet lost his balance and slammed into the ground, failing to get his hands out in front of him and halting his momentum using his face as a brake.

“Shit. Sorry,” Ben said, grinning, before a snarling Greg dived headlong into his knees and tackled him to the ground. Ben’s teammate ducked in and hurled Greg off, kneeing him in the guts, but by then Sam was up again and had kicked a slowly rising Abraham directly in the ass, sending him back to the ground.

And then it was on. Spectators from both houses ran onto the truck, swinging punches and yelling insults. Benvolio, the Montague house captain, dived in, a panicked look on his face.

“Stop it! Get off!” he yelled, dragging Sam off Abraham and throwing him to the ground. “Let go of him you idiot!” A Montague shoved him and he backhanded the boy on reflex, turning to see Tybalt grinning at him.

“Why don’t you pick on someone your own size,” the Capulet captain said.

“What? I’m trying to stop the fight, not make it worse!” Benvolio said.

“Bullshit. You just slapped that kid in the face. Bloody Capulets. Come on you fairy.”

Teachers ran in from all directions. Mr Fitch, the coordinator for Capulet, dived into the fray, pulling blue shirts from red, until Miss Lockheart, his Montague counterpart, saw him drop a Year Nine boy with an unfortunate shove and she tapped him on the shoulder and punched him square on the nose.

A massive feedback whine caused everyone to pause and look up. The principal stood on the podium, his face red and his knuckles white around the microphone.

“WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?”

***

Sam and Greg walked shamefacedly from the principal’s office, joining a long list of students with detentions or suspensions over the sports incident. As they left, the house heads Fitch and Lockheart replaced them in the office, looking just as shamefaced. Of course, the boys couldn’t see much of Fitch’s face, covered as it was by a bandage protecting his nose. As they walked off, they could hear the Prince yelling.

“Three times! Three bloody fights started by your Capulets, Jackie! And three from you and yours! Try and convince me now why I shouldn’t have both of your jobs!”

Sam looked over at his companion.

“We got off easy, I reckon, Gregory my friend.”

“Too right, Samson, too bloody right.”

Just Right

A quick writing exercise that I did this fortnight with my Golden Pen group: update a fairy tale for a modern audience. As always, these stories are whipped up and posted here without too much editing. It’s all about the process, not the end result.

And, for those who are completely out of touch: a Bear in today’s society is a big, hairy, gay man.

Now read on.

Goldy slid the crowbar into the slim gap in the old windowsill and lifted it with a small grunt, hearing the snap of the window latch breaking free. She cast a furtive glance around to make sure nobody was watching and then quickly slid the window open and slithered with a practiced grace through the entry and into the darkened house. Once inside, she stood up and pushed her dirty blonde hair back under her navy hoody. She’d heard that these three were rolling in dosh. There should be enough in here that she could palm off easily. She stood completely still, listening for the sounds of someone inside the two-story house. Nothing.

She’d been casing the place for weeks. Living at the prestigious Armadale address were three men – all apparently single, all very well off. She checked her notes.

Victim 1: “Papa” (likes Hemingway, pretensions to writing) Out Tues, Thur mornings – gym.

Victim 2: “Mama” (cross-dresses on weekends, professional singer) – Works nights. Comes home late Thur. morning.

Victim 3: “Baby” (younger than the other two. At least half a metre taller than the others) – No idea what he does for a living. Early riser – out all day weekdays.

So Thursday morning was the best time. She’d watched Baby leave the house wearing running shorts and a singlet, showing off his massively hairy back and shoulders, and then, knowing the place was empty, had made her way to the window at the side of the house.

Goldy crept to the upstairs study, where she knew there would be a trove of electrical equipment. If she could hack their passwords, she might even be able to sell some of the songs and stories for cash. Inside, she found three computers on three desks. The first was a highly-customised, bright pink desktop, covered in bling.

“Too hot,” she muttered. “I’d never be able to sell that one without it being traced back to me.”

The second was an ancient clunker that didn’t even look like it connected to the Internet.

“Too cold,” she grumbled. “How can they have all this money and still own such a piece of junk!” And then the motherlode.

“Just right!” she gasped. On the third desk was a superb laptop, whirring away with incredible power. It was light enough to fit into her pocket and would sell for top dollar down at the markets. To top all this off, a yellow post-it had the words P: P0rr1dG3. She clicked the mouse, tapped the password into the login screen, and sure enough, was admitted right into Baby’s digital sanctum.

“Brilliant,” she said, shutting the lid and stuffing the laptop into her backpack.

The next stop was the living room. As she tiptoed down the stairs, she smiled at the pictures on the walls. It was definitely a strange living arrangement, between these three gentlemen of leisure. All three were in most of the pictures – scenes by a park, dancing at Mardi Gras, waving at the camera in fancy restaurants. If she wasn’t living on the streets, she’d probably have a good idea of who they were, but she was a bit behind on her popular culture, strangely enough.

In the lounge, she nabbed some more electronics – a couple of iPads, the Playstation, a couple of different screencasters. And once more, she was faced with a decision. Three watches lay neatly on the coffee table. The first was an incredibly beautiful gold watch, intricate and had Hemingway’s face engraved into the band. She hesitated, and then sighed.

“Too hot,” she whispered, sadly. She could probably get some good money for this, but the idea of today was to get easy money, not good money. Again, it was too easy to trace back to her. The second watch she almost immediately dismissed. A simple, digital piece, worn and boring. “Too cold, for sure,” she said. But the third was a treasure. An elegant looking Gucci; worth well over seven thousand dollars, although she’d be lucky to get a grand for it.

“Just right,” she said, grinning and pocketing the piece. As she did, she saw the time and gasped. Eleven o’clock! Mama was due home any time now.

Panicking, she ran back up the stairs. She couldn’t go out the window she came in, it was too obvious. She already knew there wasn’t a back door leading anywhere. Her final option was the upstairs bedroom window. From her reconnaissance of the place, she knew there was a tree within jumping distance that would take her into a neighbouring yard and to safety. You know, if she didn’t plummet to her death first.

She’d just hit the top of the stairs when she heard conversation at the front door. Not just Mama then. Crap. The door to the bedroom was open. She ducked in – and came to a complete stop, stunned.

There were three beds in the room.

“What is it with these guys?” she mused. Downstairs, there was a muted yell. They’d noticed the window. She wouldn’t get out now. Goldy crept quickly to the first bed. It was covered in iron railings and decorated with leather belts and chains. She looked to see whether she could get under the bed, and then stood up quickly, eyes wide.

“Too hard,” she said, shaking her head. The noises downstairs were louder now. They’d found the watch, and there was some loud snarling and a high-pitched sob. Goldy broke into a sweat.

The second bed was a four-poster. Immaculate and covered in lace. She could tell that if she went anywhere near it she would leave clear indentations, giving the game away.

“Too soft.”

The third bed was “Just right!” and Goldy slipped beneath the bed, pulling the already unmade doona cover down to cover her as she cowered and hoped that they would go outside for long enough for her to make her escape.

The three burly men tumbled into the room.

“Someone’s been fiddling around with my watch!” said Papa.

“They nicked my iPad!” cried Mama.

“And my laptop,” growled Baby. “Whoever they are, they’re going to regret stealing from an international wrestling star.”

From beneath the bed, Goldy gave a little squeak of terror. She knew she recognized that one. It was that guy off the TV – world championship wrestler and all-around bad boy.

“I heard something,” said Papa.

“Surround the bed, we’ll tear ‘em apart,” rumbled Baby. Goldy squealed and scrambled out from under the bed, making for the window. Mama grabbed at her, getting the back and a handful of hoody. Utilising years of getting out of bad situations, Goldy squirmed out of her hoody and dashed for the window, which was luckily open.

“Ooh, it’s a girl!” cried Mama.

“Wait, no!” yelled Papa, as the thief leapt up to the sill and dived out. The three of them ran to the window and tussled until they all had a view. Goldy was dangling from a branch, quite a decent leap away from the window. She struggled upwards and then clambered lithely across the branch and down the trunk. She threw one more panicked glance back at them before she disappeared from view.

“Well,” said Papa. “That was exciting.”

“Poor girl,” said Mama. “She should have known Baby was just kidding. We always look out for the homeless kids in the area.”

“Speak for yourself,” Baby said, but his face was sad as he watched the space where Goldy had disappeared. “Ah well, if we see her tomorrow, we’ll give her that hoody back and some money for food, yes?”

“Exactly,” said Papa. “Now, all that excitement has made me hungry. Anyone for breakfast? I’ve made porridge.”

The End.

38-porridge-ala

Finding Damo

this is inside my skull

My wife and I were having a lazy Sunday, lying in bed and chatting with each other, when she took my hand and concentrated.

“I just had a vision of what’s inside your mind,” she said. “I saw a huge volcano and surrounding it was the entire galaxy.”

This is my mindscape. No compartments, no little boxes, just the entire galaxy and the huge fiery volcano at the centre.

One of my goals has been to try and still my mind a little. Let the waters stop churning and the ripples cease. But when I sit still, thousands of ideas run through my brain; a new story idea, a snippet of a play that would look fantastic on stage, 3D models I want to bring to life and marketing ideas for Dwarves in Space. My mind doesn’t slow to that still point that apparently exists in some people.

The volcano in my mind is a deep rage that I try to keep in check. It is also the fire of creation, adding to the galaxy outside.

I wanted to try something.

“You held my right hand,” I said. “That’s not my dominant hand. That’s not the centre of me.” So she took my left hand in mine and I concentrated with all my mind on a forest – tall trees, peaceful and still. At the centre of that forest was a writing desk, where I could write in peace and quiet.

a peaceful forest

“Ok,” she said. “It’s spreading now. The volcano is still there, but now I can see more. There is mist and a giant forest at the base of the volcano.”

Mind. Blown.

The transfer of energies is a concept that I can quite easily get on board with. There is a heat that you feel when someone touches you. Energy transfer is simple science. I am fully willing to stretch that transfer to a type of mental energy, or spiritual energy that transfers as well. You can tell when you touch someone that doesn’t like you or doesn’t want to be touched, if you are in any way tuned in.

I find it hard to say “I don’t believe in that” about anything. You can’t just dismiss something because your world view doesn’t fit the ideas that someone else takes on board. Well, you can, but you shouldn’t. I wouldn’t stay home from work because my horoscope said that I was going to have a bad day, but I didn’t get my motorcycle license because a psychic told me the day before my test that if I got on a motorcycle I would die.

I have that tape somewhere. I’ll upload it when I’ve got a spare hour or two to cut it together.

Shereen told me more about my inner world.

glowy-me“I wandered in the forest and found a glowing figure standing there. Not scary, not mean, just suggesting that I shouldn’t be there and could I please leave. I could tell by its features that it was you, or an aspect of you. And then I was pulled backwards, lifted out of that space.”

“And finally, I found a room. A room made of clay, and inside it were a group of figures – the Mystics from the Dark Crystal. They were trapped inside the room, talking quietly to each other, but not allowed out. And when I saw them, they started to fade into the walls, disappearing into the clay. One of them had piercing blue eyes, which is how I knew that they were aspects of you as well. They were elements that weren’t ready to come out now.”

mystics

I know there’s a lot going on inside my head. It’s good in some ways, as it means that I’m never short of a creative outlet. But sometimes I miss the stillness that I know other people can find. I am also deathly afraid of what I might find if I let the Mystics out of the box, the glowing figure out of the forest. Even the thought of being that still makes my heart seize up. I don’t want to be self-reflective. I DO want to be self-reflective.

But how do you reflect on the whole galaxy at once?

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