A couple in wedding outfits riding in a car

A couple in wedding outfits riding in a car

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Author’s note: Following the Neil Gaiman Master Class series, he offers the following exercise. Take one of the simple settings below and write a page about it, trying to undermine the reader’s expectations. For example, you’re writing about a man at a party who is talking to a beautiful woman. What he wants is probably obvious. Try to lead the reader in a different direction by not revealing his desire upfront, or by revealing a surprising motivation.

  1. A man lying on a hill looking through a rifle scope
  2. A couple in wedding outfits riding in a car
  3. A child raking a sandbox next to his nanny
  4. Two old women sitting on a bench with knitting needles and yarn
  5. A teenage girl climbing a rock cliff with a man below her
man in black suit holding bouquet of flowers
Photo by Studio Negarin on Pexels.com

The sleek midnight-blue car cut through the rainy night at inhuman speed, despite the rough road, terrible weather and potholes the two occupants sat in companionable silence. The AI guiding the vehicle, far more proficient than any human chauffeur delicately adjusted speed, suspension and brakes to ensure that even the glass of champagne on the table before them barely rattles as it rockets its passengers through the bleak night. 

The man leaned forward plucking the glass up, the inside of the carriage flashed in illumination from the distant lightning. As expected, the champagne was ice cold to the touch, he let out a little sigh. His suit was immaculate, pressed with no creases apparent, wonderful almost Victorian in its cut, his waistcoat a perfect fit and his neck sports a neatly formed bowtie. His left ring finger is circled with the fresh gold ring, matching his fellow passenger. Who sips daintily at her flute while staring out into the flashing storm. Pointedly away from him, body tilted at an angle. 

The man thought through a range of possible things to say at this point but finding nothing that hadn’t been said 100 times before decided to try something new. 

“Cecile, what do you see when you look at the storm?” 

Cecile jolted a little, head almost turned to face him, no doubt surprised at the question. Even he was a little surprised by it. Not sure what prompted the break from their usual silence on the road. For a long moment, he thinks she won’t respond to him, but just as he relaxed back in his seat she spoke up.

“I like the lightning,” a moment’s hesitation “It’s always so unpredictable, have you noticed?” 
“… I hadn’t, “ he murmured, glancing out the window he tried to think about all the storms they’d seen before. “I’m so sorry that things ended up like this.” 

Cecile shrugged. 

“It’s nobody’s fault Peter” her shoulders slumping. 
“I said that we should go to the reception despite the weather.” he pointed out. 
“and, I agreed, it IS our wedding, after all” 
“It just seems,” he was interrupted by a flash of light and watched an arc of lightning smash into the ocean. “A bit unfair.” Cecile finished. 

Back on the script, he sighed. With timid hesitance, he gently wrapped his arms around her. 

“Still, not long now.” he murmured. 
“No,” a long sigh “I suppose not.” 
“Thank you for the most amazing day.”

For the first time in what felt like a lifetime, she turned to face him, eyes warm and brimming over with emotion. 

“It was a great day wasn’t it” she whispered cuddling into his embrace, bracing herself for what was to come. 

Lightning flashed, there was no pause between the light and sound, crackling with one billion volts of raw energy it slammed into the bonnet of the limousine. The AI running the vehicle was instantly obliterated, all the electronics fusing into a soupy mess from the insane amount of charge pouring through the vehicle. 

As expected, the wheels snapped to the side, as always, the car rolled. The couple braced together eyes squeezed shut as the car flailed around them lancing them off the road and out into the abyss beside it. Three impacts shook the interior, launching the occupants into the walls with the violent finality it always did when the storms came to the coastline. 

The couple relaxing back into the void of comfortable shadows, sleeping until the next storm passed by, uncaring and unheeding the storm raged over the headland with the flashes of fire from the sky illuminating a tiny white marker on the roadside, marred and worn with time. 

“In memory of Cecile and Peter Haldon, happily married, forever missed, passed away here in tragedy on the night of their wedding during the night of the great storm” 

Lockdown Negotiations

Lockdown Negotiations

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Authors note: I started this with no clear idea of where I was going and found it nearly impossible to write. I’ve only just started trying to learn to write fiction and I was following the Niel Gaiman masterclass along with suggested reading. But the lockdown gave way to work and trying to save my business. The story of a boy meeting his house monsters seemed such a simple story but quickly became so hard and unwieldy that I’ve kind of written the opening chapter to something completely unexpected. Maybe I’ll return to Dean one day. Either way, this has taught me a lot about what not to do when writing. Which is good as well. Basically don’t expect much from this one. I just put it up here to show I’m doing something.

Dennis Meene

The noise just wouldn’t stop. For the first few weeks, they had been patient enough, but over time the noise had just gotten steadily louder, more strident and more obnoxious until after 30 days had passed. The patience of the youngest of them finally snapped. 

“This,” he lamented, “is simply unacceptable!”

“Yes, Dennis.” 

“Kraig, it’s not even summer! They aren’t meant to be here during the longer nights, do they even know the shifts we pull?!” 

“Dennis,” Kraig sighed, “we’ve talked about this, they don’t even know we exist… That’s kind of the point.” 

“Well it’s just rude,” Dennis folded his arms in a sulk, “should let the Woodies in one night just to show em’ how lucky they are.” 

“Dennis,”

“… Yes?” 

“Do you ‘really’ want one of ‘them’ inside the threshold?”

“….”

“….” 

“Maybe only a small one..”

“No.” 

“Fine. F-i-n-e, so what do we do? Any bright ideas? It’s nearly noon and I haven’t slept a wink. Did you know they are currently playing Cowboys & Indians, one of them hid next to me under the bed!” Dennis’s voice ended in a bit of a squeak. 

“That must be very tough..”

“Under the bed! Kraig, where I was sleeping!”

An uncomfortable silence had just settled on the two when it was savagely broken by the warbling cry of a child swinging a plastic tomahawk and chasing another larger child wearing a stetson. The whirlwind of tiny forms flew through and around the speakers, as the children jumped from sofa to arm chair-throwing themselves under the dining room table and throwing various epitaphs at each other. To add to the din throughout the incursion, Barnabus, the German Shepherd, gamely kept pace barking overexcited encouragement to the tempest that was the “boys”. 

Finally, after much yelling the Stetson-wearing cowboy Ben, decided that he was not in fact “dead” and was not going to play any more. With which he marched out the room with a horrified and apologising Dean chasing after him promising he would let him come back to life but he had to at least lose a limb. Barnabus made to follow them but paused at the door and glanced back 

“Dennis,” he huffed cheerily, “Kraig… “ he said with less enthusiasm

“Barnabus” the two chorused back. 

“Sorry about all the noise lads, this lockdown has got them going crazy.” 

Kraig cleared his throats gently, “Any uh… News on that front?” 

Barabus flopped his ears back and forth. 

“Nothing concrete, maybe late June, or July?”

The tiniest wail could be heard from Dennis as the sound of smashing glass drifted to them from somewhere down the hall and Barnabus’s tail drooped in response, 

“Well duty calls!” he barked, “Good luck tonight Lads!” and with that Barnabus barrelled off after the children, barking manically, leaving a crystal delicate silence between the speakers. 

Dennis began to make little weeping, snuffling noises from his principal mouths. 

“Okay,” Kraig said slowly, “ Yeah, maybe we need to do something.” 

“ .. Maybe,”

“No. No “woodies” in the building, you can forget about it, Nah, there’s only one way, we’re gonna sort all this out…”

“Well, murder seems a little extreme tho…’”

“No you moron, we’re not murdering the wards; Nah, we’re going to av’ to monster-up, pierce the veil and talk to ‘em!” 

“Oh.. “ Dennis dragged out the word carefully “Shit.”

“Yeah,” Kraig sighed “, this is gonna suck.” 

*** 

It was late in the evening and the sun was low and bloated red on the horizon when Dean finally stomped into the bedroom he shared with his idiot, unfair brother. The X-box had been taken over and Ben was too far into his game to allow Dean to mess it all up. The final argument has sent Dean off to find refuge in their room biting back hot tears that certainly were NOT due to the parting shots Ben made. Also, he wanted to read, not play that dumb game anyhow. 

Dean made straight for his bed and reached out for his copy of the Famous 5, not even looking at the customary spot next to his pillow where such things were always carefully placed by Mum. Confusion hit when his hand struck bed covers and sheet. Squinting in the twilight he stared dumbly as the empty spot patting his hand around as if the book would pop back into existence, eyes darting around frantically he finally noticed it peeking out from just under the bed, frowning he reached down to scoop it off the floor and then froze solid, while his fingers were still inches above the cover, he watched it smoothly and silently slide out of view. Slipping into the shadows under the bed frame.

Pulled, it had been pulled beneath the bed! Dean leapt onto the mattress making sure his ankles were far from the black slot of space where his book had been taken. He panted, mouth dry staring at the edge of the bed. He tried to squeak out a cry for help but his body betrayed him and all that came out was a high pitched squeak of panic. There was something under his bed. Just as he came to this conclusion the last lingering rays of sun faded and the room was left in shadows. 

“I told you this was a terrible plan.”

Dean paused on the edge of screaming. Had he just heard…? 

“Well excuuuuse me for not being an exact expert on this”

“Look we just need something of his to form a connection right?” 

“Yes, and that’s why we have the book!”

“So, wait, is that it?”

“Well, it’s the famous 5, I’ve been reading it over his shoulder I mean, I prefer Tolstoy personally, but…”

“No, I mean, that’s all we need? No spell, no candles or incantations?”

“Right, just a thing in hand.”

“…”

“What?” 

“… so… It’s in your hand Kraig.” 

“Yeah, and now… Now we.. oh.”

“Yeah.”

“Shhhh…uger” 

Dean had moved past terrified at this point, as curiosity had completely overloaded any built-in instinct to be afraid of the things under the bed. He now lay flat out on the bed craning his head over the side of the mattress to try and listen. He heard a deep and long sigh, a lot like his dad had made when he’d heard about the broken vase. But this sounded… different more like a crowd of people sighing at once? 

“Dean?”

Dean didn’t respond, his heart was pounding like a drum. Another voice seemed to cut in. 

“Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3, can you hear us?”

“Shut up! Dennis.”

“Yes.”

Dean bit his fist in incredulity, he hadn’t meant to speak at all, it had just sort of popped out. He was about to leap off the bed to the safety of the hall when he heard the voice again.

“Ahem, Dean?” the voice sounded deep, gravely, like two large rocks grinding around

Dean didn’t want to reply his fist between his teeth was meant to stop it but still, words poured forth.

“Yeff, y cun ea u?”

“…” 

Did you catch that?” a stage whisper filtered across. 

“Dennis, I swear to all the gods and the spirit of the house if you speak one more time, I’m gonna’” 

“I can hear you!”

Dean squeaked and stared at his traitorous hand which had unplugged his mouth without his permission. He was just preparing to replace the plug when he heard the gentle cough. 

“Dean? I know this must be strange for you…”

“Strange? There are voices under his bed Kraig, I’d be shitting bricks if I were,” 

Dennis!” 

“Mhm,” … “shutting up.”

“Who,” Dean’s voice quivered more than normal “who are you?”

There was a whispered debate that Dean couldn’t make out. Followed by a throat clearing. 

“We,” Said the first voice, trying to inject some real majesty into his words ”are your guardian angels Dean.” 

“…”

“…”

“.. and your names are Dennis and Craig?” 

This pause continued for a considerable time before a long-drawn-out and tentative affirmative came back from the two voices. 

“Yes…?”

Dean thought this through. He wasn’t a baby anymore, but he also wasn’t completely sure what guardian angels were meant to be, he was pretty sure they had grander names than Dennis, and he was also almost certain that they came through windows and didn’t steal books beneath beds. 

“I don’t believe you.” 

Dean tried to sound firm like his dad when ‘laying down the law’, but his voice sounded a lot more like a squeaky than he liked. He heard some desperate whispering moving around under the bed. Finally, it seemed to settle up under the bottom half. So he scuttled over and hung his body over the footboard craning to listen. 

“… what if we offer him something shiny and interesting?” 

“Like what?!” 

“We have that Viking axe just lying around, he’d LOVE it.”

“We aren’t giving Dean an axe.”

“Well we’ve got to do something, they’re going to start coming out of the forest soon and we can’t hang around here, we need to man the defences.” 

“… Fine, just leave the book here and we’ll try again tomorrow night.”

“We, err… Should we say something though?” 

“Dennis, you say something, I am leaving, and “I” will sort this out tomorrow.”

There was the sound of large crunching footfalls moving off into the distance, then a kind of long whistling rustling sounds that Dean realised what Dennis sighing. 

“Dennis?” Dean asked meekly. 

“Ahh!” 

“Sorry, did I scare you.”

“Nnnnhh… House gods do NOT get scared Dean!”

“Sorry, you just sounded like Jenny at school when she saw that spider.”

“I was startled, Dean… Startled, not scared!”    

“Oh, and what’s a house god? Why did you lie about being angels.”

Another long sigh, 

“We’ve got no time tonight, Dean. Look, we’re really busy, we’re busy every night, and we’re just looking for you and Ben too, you know, keep it down during the day.” 

“Well Ben is an idiot so I’m sure he’ll just do what he wants”

“Dean, we’ll speak tomorrow, I’m leaving your book here near the foot of the bed.” 

“…”

“Look, we don’t normally do any of this, we’re just…”

Then Dean heard it, a distant bell, the clang of a deep giant chime like that time he’d been in London and heard Big Ben ring. He heard a curse from under the bed. 

“Dean, we’ll speak tomorrow,” an urgent serious quality filled the voice, “I’ve got to man my post.” 

Dean heard more crunches, like hundreds of tiny toddler feet stumbling along. The sound conjured up an image of his little sister Imogen, Just like every time she randomly came to him, it left him feeling cold and clammy, The pit of his stomach-churning in time to the clattering of rocks and footfalls beneath his bed. Finally silence thick and deep settled onto Dean’s room. The last rays of twilight just touch the edge of the ceiling. 

Dean counted to 10, taking deep breaths like his Dad had told him to do before something seemed scary then heart in mouth he jumped from the bed and rose up facing the black slot beneath his bed in his best ninja pose. He managed to hold the fierce kung-fu stance for about 3 seconds before overbalancing and falling slowly over to his left. After untangling his limbs he jumped back up to a newer, more stable, stance.

Nothing moved, the space beneath the bed remained dark, quiet and empty. After his body started to really protest and he started to hear his own heartbeat Dean finally let out a huge breath that he didn’t even know he was holding. But even then he found he still was panting a bit like he’d been running after Ben for the last 10 minutes. The darkness under the bed remained impossible to pierce even with Dean straining them to the point of bursting. He took 3 slow steps up to the bed and felt a tangy acid taste in his mouth as he forced himself to look under the mattress. 

From here, it wasn’t a solid black, he could make out shapes, but he wasn’t able to work out exactly what they were. It wasn’t his box of Lego he was sure, it looked more like, more like leaves or a bush, or brambles like something out in the garden at least. He started to turn, deciding he’d be happy enough watching his brother play Xbox for a while. Not because he was afraid, he just had read enough of his book… His book! He could see it! It was just under the edge of the bed. 

Dean shimmied closer, then backed up, then closer, chewing his lip, it had been so quiet for so long. He was sure nothing was around anymore. But it wasn’t just the silence, it was the lack of feeling anyone was there. His body was as sure as he was that the room was empty. Whatever was under the bed had run away. 10 deep breaths, he moved before he thought about it too much. 

His hand snapped out impulsively and grabbed the book, then instantly tugged it to his chest to reclaim it, but somewhere along the way, something felt wrong. As his fingers grasped the book back it felt, wrong, like it was glued to the floor. Instead of pulling the book out to his chest, he found himself pulling down towards the book. He noticed with horror that he hadn’t even “grabbed” the book as such, his fingers had sunk into it like it was playdough or thick clay. He watched in growing horror as the book seemed to topple backwards as if down a slope. The weight of it pulled him slowly but surely down. 

He managed to let out the start of a wail to his brother before he was sucked under the bed through the cobwebs and branches sliding down the hillside of small rocks head over heels. Bouncing and rolling to a stop in a huge pile of dead leaves. 

Silence surrounded Dean, he heard nothing but his heavy breathing, a muffled voice far off seemed to be calling his name, sounding concerned. He sat up wanting to stare angrily at his treacherous book, it was gone, his hand was now coated black with dirt and grime. Getting on his knees Dean stood and for the first time took in his surroundings and froze. The wind gave him goosebumps, the trees surrounded and encased him, the stone hillside ran out in both directions for what seemed like miles. No house, no room, no bed. Dean felt a cold heavy feeling in his stomach as he tried to find something, anything familiar. The muffled voice of Ben slowly faded away leaving only echos. Dean felt the realisation in waves, he was lost in a forest that was under his bed and nobody knew where he was or would believe he could be there.

Dean, took a deep breath and started yelling. 

98

Reading Time: 2 minutesWhy are members trained in a large number of subjects and disciplines? Why not just focus on a particular field from the beginning?

General education, in many countries, segregates  every subject teaching it in  isolation of its peers. As a community of reason we should realize that no subject is used in complete isolation from the others, especially in the sciences, many different disciplines combine to form very diverse subjects from nano-technology to bio-chem. But equally art, philosophy and creative visual thinking have been behind some of the greatest scientific breakthroughs (DNA, General Relativity etc) in a holistic, homogeneous approach to education a general spread of foundation skills can greatly improve our abilities in unexpected ways.

Secondly, the general studying of a wide range of subjects allows us to create a basic level of equal understanding. This could point to a level whereupon the member becomes a full fledged member of the community. The idea is that the level should not be a destructive barrier for people who have very specialised expertise but a level where by the members have enough understanding that they can be helpful in any disciple in some way, even if it is just data entry or testing data, at the very least community members should understand the arguments and essentials of a dialogue in a number of different fields.

While equality is the goal there might necessarily be a hierarchy of upper and lower levels of understanding. The lower level being equivalent to a GCSE or O-Level and the upper being the same as an A-level. To become a specialist in any subject you must have a fundamental understanding of the whole (chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics) in addition to this the disciplines of electronics and computing should be taken as they are essential for building practical applications or appliances. Nevertheless, it would be unreasonable to assume that you need a high level of knowledge in all areas of all subjects there has to be some cut-off points. To become an expert in a field you need to direct your unwavering attention to it, thus an advocate of a subject will have to be content in letting other disciplines slide.

Finally, by keeping members educated or teaching subjects in a churn it keeps knowledge and humility alive as they realise their weaknesses in other disciplines and the strength of their peers, meanwhile by teaching other students their subjects it helps reaffirm and retain those fundamental skills of their trade.

WordPress plugin and database data

Reading Time: 2 minutesSo I’ve created the tables for my Unit Tracker plugin and created some dummy data for an initial example Tracker. As nice as this is I’m not entirely sure about how I’ve designed the tables (read that as saying “if you think this is a mistake comment“). My assumption is as follows for the pure basics, you will need at least 2 tables;

Table 1 – Trackers

A table to store all the different units being tracked, there can be a number of different units tracked, or maybe even a set of units tracked in tandem for example body-fat % , weight and stomach measures.

  • Name and Description of the tracker
  • Link to a post/page further describing the details about the tracker
  • A display Reference (something like a permalink) that can be used to display the tracker
    • for example [:tracker-weight:]
  • Validation, due to the fact that any unit may be added a validation key will be added here (regex?)
  • Unit Measurement, because people might be measuring lbs, Stone (British measure), Kg, % or Quarks the unit of measurement is left blank and assigned by a user (but there will automatically be a suggested one in the form)

Table 2 – Tracker Values

A table to store all the values recorded by the user. This is so in the future we can use this data to map graphs, allow cvs downloads e.t.c.

  • Value, this I have decided to store as a string, now I may well regret this but it seemed the easiest way to store data of any type including time (hours/days/months/years) weight can be stored in Metric and converted as necessary. The method of extracting and processing the data is based on the validation in the Tracker table. You can’t change the type after the Tracker contains data.
  • Created, the date that new a new data value was added to the tracker
  • Tracker Id the ID (primary key) of the tracker the data belongs to.

Of course this isn’t all, there will be probably options stored in the WordPress options database table to decide on appearance, widget placement etc, additional tracker values that show targets, method of display, change over a period of x, and many more…

First of all I’ll settle with the above as an Alpha 0.0.1 release and when this works I’ll add accordingly.

Zend Framework and back to the grindstone

Reading Time: < 1 minuteSo I have returned to PHP from a long absence trying to get my head around the Zend Framework via it’s manual. It’s somewhat error prone and doesn’t accurately describe what you always need to do but I got the quickstart project up and running. I think I’ll work through the available chapters till the end and experiment locally until I create a Zend application on this site to show what I can do.

I also have a few books arriving that should give me a step by step process of learning practical Zend programming. I am already impressed by it’s potential but I need to get much more familiar with both the framework and my knowledge of PHP before I feel comfortable with it all again.

On another note I want to start tracking my hours of work on various projects to see my progress so I’m looking at creating a simple WordPress plugin that can store and display hours spent on something. Or more to the point add all the hours I give it together with some nice script. I want to show how many hours of experience and learning I have towards 10,000 hours (the supposed mark of an expert). While I’m a long way off at the moment, It is a noble goal to aim towards.