On Mountains

Posted: January 19, 2014 in Personal, Random
Tags: , , , , , ,

It is with great pleasure that I make a post to this blog this evening, as it means I am alive. Of course, this is something that I am generally grateful for on a day to day basis, in fact I’d go so far as to say both oxygen and living are right up my street. But on this occasion I actually nearly died. No this is not a melodramatic post in which I sex events up, everything I write is of the utmost truth.

It all started on a dark, thunderous night. An owl perched upon my windowsill, a look of intense longing in its eye for its deceased wife and chil…oh bollocks to it…it all started on Friday night when I decided in my wisdom to head up to Troodos mountains in Cyprus (where I am currently lucky enough to live) for a lengthy morning run. As LJMM is away, this seemed like the perfect retreat to while away the days until her return, not least because the 8 mile route I had in mind would be concluded with a pleasant afternoon in the sun, with the dog sleeping by my side, fish and chips in front of me and my faithful Kindle providing me with some easy to read yet gripping fiction from Lee Child.

So off we popped on our drama free, owl free Saturday morning with just the essentials in tow. I have been running for over ten years now, and so I knew what kind of impact the run would have on my body, what conditions to expect and so forth, so as well as additional layers if needed I took a full Camelbak of water, a decision I am now very glad of.

On the hour long drive to the mountains, myself and Dog discussed how much we were looking forward to the run, our intentions for that evening and our thoughts on peanut butter. As drives go it was a pleasurable one, made only better by Dog’s rendition of Dionne Warwick’s Heartbreaker which, incidentally, is a classic.

Anyway, we arrived late morning and immediately kitted up. Collars were attached, smartphone apps were initiated, a little bit of nervous wee at the thought of the steep hills was produced. For the record, I should point out that I hate running up steep hills, I do not have a problem with urinary incontinence. And if I did I probably wouldn’t be out running up mountains. Although I hear there’s all sorts you can get at the chemist to help you crack on with a normal day now.*

The route I had chosen was one that I and LJMM had partially walked some months previously. It had been a lovely day, a really nice stroll out for about 2 miles and then back on ourselves, but the thing that stuck most in my mind was that we had turned around because we had ended up in the middle of nowhere with no signposts as to which trail we should take, and we had no idea how long the route was.

How I got from that, to 4 months later deciding it would be a good idea to ‘run out and explore it’, I will never know. I didn’t even know for sure that the trail was 8 miles long, that was a little gem that I had unearthed online on some obscure webpage, a tiny comment buried in a mass of literature on the trail of choice. Still, it had to be worth a try.

So off we ran, the sun still warm despite the time of year, Dog almost collapsing with excitement at the array of smells and sights he had been presented with, and he was off the lead. The first 1.5 miles went really smoothly, I was in the right frame of mind and physical state for a good slog and I felt incredibly optimistic about the next hour or so.

It didn’t last long.

At the 2.3 mile point, I took my eye off the trail to take in some of the breath-taking scenery. What I must stress at this point is that Troodos really is well worth a visit. It is absolutely beautiful. In many places the scenery rolls on for as far as the eye can see, until it meets the horizon which simply forms a mass of colourful trees, blue sky and rolling hills. But what I should also stress is that it is best viewed from a stationary perspective. That means stood still with a massive, lop-sided grin on your face that scares members of the opposite sex away – not running at full pelt over a rocky, narrow trail.

Before I knew what was happening, I was heading toward the ground at a great pace and thousands upon thousands of years of evolution kicked in to ensure my limbs were suitably placed to protect my head as I fell. I had clipped a rock with my toe and it had been enough to send me flying. I hit the ground and I hit the ground hard. At this point, two things happened.

Firstly, my brain registered intense pain to both knees and slight pain to my left hand. Secondly, and almost immediately, my brain told me to make whimpering noises like a young girl. Luckily I managed to fight off this urge as I flipped over so that I was sitting with my legs extended in front of me, allowing the throes of pain to wash over me for as long as it took to subside. As it transpired, this would be around three minutes.

So for three minutes I sat there, facing the wrong way down the trail, with blood happily flowing out of two 50p sized wounds on my knees, repeatedly saying ‘Ouch’. Meanwhile, Dog had no idea what to do. I had specifically told him a number of times before that he really should enroll on a first aid course just in case, but he had always resisted. His lack of knowledge showed at this point, as he walked around me in circles looking bewildered, kissing my face repeatedly in the hope that this would somehow work.

Nonetheless we persisted, and before long we were back underway. Again all went well, until we came to a crossroads. There were four options, and only two were vaguely signposted. The problem was that they were marked using the same sign. A green background depicting two ramblers in white and an arrow pointing sideways…right down the middle of two tracks. There was no one else around and so I took a gamble and went for the one to the left.

Big mistake.

A couple of miles further along and there was no sign of the end. In fact we were quite literally in the middle of nowhere. New tracks emerged from out of nowhere, presenting option after option to aid in getting further and further lost. Eventually we emerged on top of a hill with some kind of signals tower surrounded by a metal fence. Even this had two tracks leading away from it, neither of which looked especially safe. We turned around to head back to the last main track we had been on, and at this point I did a very stupid thing.

We were low down in the middle of an extremely large valley, still high up in the mountains, but within a huge divot if you will. Instead of heading the ¼ mile back to the main track, I decided to cut down across the valley to meet up with it. When the scenery all looks the same around you, this is really something you should never do. But I could almost smell the track. So on we went, oblivious to the fact that the natural lay of the terrain would force us to twist and turn around obstacles and ground that was too steep to head straight down. Within minutes we must have turned around and back on ourselves so many times that by the time I realised the track could be anywhere, we were even more lost than before.

At this point, I had the most fleeting feeling of panic. We were literally miles away from our start point, I had just over 1/3 of my Camelbak still full, and I had no idea where I was. I had no map, my running app had been running constantly and my battery was getting low. I was sure everything would be fine, but it certainly had the potential to go horribly wrong.

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An actual photograph taken from my phone minutes after I bust my knees open

So at this stage I decided to use some common sense for the first time. Firstly, we embarked upon a steep climb directly to the first major track I could find. Then I looked for signs of civilisation, my theory being that if I could find some then that meant that humans had been there and it wasn’t too far from civilisation. My scouting became quite complex as I navigated around a kilometres worth of steep terrain: the presence of animal prints but no human footprints indicated the animals were roaming free, not scared of humans, and so it was unlikely people had been that way – turn around, try somewhere else. The presence of a human footprint but no vehicle track was even better, as it meant a human had been there without having to drive that far. Then I started to spot things like shotgun pellets – not only had people ventured onto that part of the track, but they had been there for sport. We must be getting safer. About twenty minutes of this passed before we really knew we had hit the jackpot when we spotted the odd bit of litter like a crisp packet or a juice bottle, and five minutes later there were footprints everywhere.

Relief.

And then came the long trek back to the car. By this time, neither I nor Dog had the enthusiasm to keep running, so we kind of jogged/walked the few miles back. The blood on my knees had now dried, Dog had taken to drinking out of dirty puddles or licking ice out of my hands (despite the sun beating down we were very high up so there was  affair bit of ice around) and the water between us was very low.

Some two and a half hours and ten miles after we first started, we made it back to the car. I was thoroughly disappointed. What had started off as a lovely run had quite frankly turned into a bit of a nightmare. Still, all was well that ended well as we got to enjoy some lovely fish and chi…oh wait, the bloody restaurant was closed until March!

I apologised to Dog, thinking he would be just as annoyed as me at the shambles of a day.

Quite the opposite, as it turned out. “That was awesome!”, he squealed delightfully. “A proper boy’s day out!”

Perhaps we shall try getting lost again some time. Though next time I shall definitely be taking a map.

*Thanks Google!

The good lady in my life is quite the switched on cookie. She is well organised, decisive and efficient, so when she suggested that we head to our nearest town just before Christmas to see the festive lights, I simply accepted her kind invitation and relaxed for a while with Skyrim on the PS3 whilst she got ready (NB: I have no idea what happens during these getting ready periods, but she goes upstairs looking pretty, lots of doors get opened and closed, she walks about a lot, some appliances are started up and then she emerges an hour later looking just as pretty).

So anyway, off we went to town (stopping en route for a good half hour of last minute food shopping, an occurrence which saw said ‘lady’ uttering expletives at a poor driver that made me blush) for what we were sure would be a lovely, festive and well-lit experience.

How wrong we were.

Arriving in town, we were immediately surprised by the complete lack of apparent decorations. Now don’t get me wrong, we do currently live abroad and so we never expected to find the kind of efforts one would see on a UK high street, however they do celebrate Christmas out here and so we expected something.

Not deterred, we pushed on towards the Old Town where we decided to take our chances and park up. Suddenly realising my pockets were void of all monetary funds other than notes, I enquired with the Trip Organiser (capitalisation indicating an official title with responsibility, a title I mentally allocated to her as soon as I realised I had no coins for the parking machine) as to whether she had any such currency.

She hadn’t.

“No worries”, said I. “I shall straddle this horse and ride to the nearest saloon where I shall exchange a note for simple coin”, is what I added in my head. “I’ll nip to the pet shop over there and change this” is what I really said.

Inwardly cursing at the fact that I’m not a Knight of medieval times, and at the obvious lack of horses to straddle, I walked to the nearest shop where I was greeted by three locals, none of which spoke a word of English. There began an exchange of what I call International Sign Language, which is effectively the use of props and common gestures, accompanied by grunts and an occasional forced laugh. The outcome, once interpreted, was “I am sorry Sir, I do not have the appropriate currency in my outdated and clearly quite insecure cash register to change your note. I bid you a good day”.

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Valiantly I rode my trusty horse on a coin-seeking mission.

In reality, I waved a note at him, said loudly and slowly “Excuse me, do you have change for a 50?” and he said “No” and shook his head, whilst the two gentlemen playing cards (cards in a pet shop, honestly) next to him looked at me intently, clearly wondering what on earth a Brit was doing waving cash around in the Old Town. This happened in a further two shops before I walked back through the car park where the good lady was waiting, empty handed and horseless.

There was nothing else for it. We were going to have to go into a pub. Kicking ourselves with rage at this outcome, we asked the woman behind the bar if she could change the note. “Absolutely!”, she said with a smile in good English.

“You can’t just open the till to get cash out, we have to buy something?”, said I.

“No it’s fine, I can open it, no problem”, came the retort.

“Oh well, if you can’t open it we will just have to have a pint of lager and a glass of wine please”. Sometimes I honestly think I am more cunning than a cupboard full of foxes. I had everyone fooled with my smooth talking.

Thereafter ensued a pleasant walk around town, filled with lager and hot chocolate and we even managed to find a few decorations and a couple of big trees, so not all was lost, and in fact we returned home rather pleased with our little excursion. This will be my last Christmas in this country, probably for the rest of my life and so it is one I am determined to fully enjoy.

I’m staying away from the pet shops though. 

On Bath Day

Posted: December 24, 2013 in Random
Tags: , , ,

Today was a pretty nice, normal day, one in which I had to work for a few hours, then endure a bit of food shopping, then into town to see the Christmas lights and have a late lunch with the good lady. Not really the kind of material that gives rise to my usual genre of blog entry, but it is this normality and non-eventfulness that got me thinking back to yesterday, a day so filled with randomness that I had to retire to bed early.

Yesterday was bath day for the dog.

For him this day comes around just once every 3 months or so, the reason for such a delay being that it inspires in him feelings of great sadness and rage, followed by distrust and evil cunning. So as this day arrived, I knew all too well that my work was cut out for me, and so instead of the usual “Come on boy, what’s this here in the bathroom?” trick followed by a great struggle in which he repeatedly shouts “RAPE” as I try to get him in the bath, I opted for a very adult negotiation. I say negotiation, it went something like this:

Me: “So I was thinking, it’s probably time we gave you a little bath eh?”

Dog: “I will fight you.”

Me: “It’s just a bath; you’ve had loads now…you know I won’t hurt you. Come on, please?”

Dog: “I will fight you right in your face. The neighbours will hear. They’ll think you’re doing unnatural things to me”.

Me: “Bribery isn’t going to work. You feel greasy, you’re starting to smell, you’re going in the bath, that’s the end of it.”

Dog: “Sure, sure. I’m totally going in the bath. This will be a breeze for you. Douche bag.”

Me: (Having walked upstairs) “Dog? Come here!”

Dog: “No.”

Me: “Hold on a minute…oh my word what’s this in here?”

Dog: “What…what is it? Which room are you in? Are you in the bathroom? I’m not falling for that.”

Me: “I am in the bathroom, but seriously, what is this?”

(Dog pelts upstairs, curiosity taking hold)

Dog: “Is it something for me?? Is it a bone? Is it another dog? Is one of the cats in trouble?”

(Dog enters bathroom. I close the door)

Me: “Sorry dude. I tried to be mature about this. It’s bath time.”

(I take control of his legs and lift him into the bath. The struggle begins)

Dog: “RAPE. RAAAAAPE! HE’S TOUCHING ME!”

Me: “Dog, I’m fully clothed. Stop fighting me. Here comes the water, ready?”

Dog: “Noooo! Raaap….ooh, hold on, that actually feels quite nice.”

After all of that, he finally submitted and enjoyed the warm water and bubbles and even had a little wag. Nonetheless, once he was dry and had been brushed he was straight back on form:

Dog: “Got any biscuits? I’m sure I deserve a reward for being such a brave boy.”

Me: “Okay sure, here you go, good boy”.

Dog: “Excellent. Many thanks. Now, you see that whisk on the kitchen top?”

Me: “Yes?”

Dog: “You may wish to hide it.”

Me: “Okay. Why?”

Dog: “Because I am going to use it to scoop your eyes out whilst you sleep. Not today. Not tonight. When you’ve forgotten about today, when you least expect it”.

As though this threat wasn’t enough, the day just got worse when I took the rubbish out later that afternoon, only to be shot a look of absolute disgust from the neighbours. I could have just walked away, I may have even misinterpreted their look in the brief glance I gave them, but no, I had to say something didn’t I? And what wise words did I choose? Of course, I went for these:

“I didn’t rape my dog”.

They was no reply.Image

Sometimes I really hate the fact that my dog has an IQ of 187.

Perhaps bath time will be changed to once every 6 months from now on.

On Short Fiction

Posted: December 4, 2013 in Fiction
Tags: ,

The cold night air took hold of his lungs as he emerged into the street, the December winds lashing at the exposed skin of his arms and penetrating the thin material of the t-shirt he had donned earlier that night. Looking in both directions before he crossed the street, he saw an array of smiling faces; girls dressed up to the nines, boys doing their best to move suavely among them, testing out their best chat-up lines and hoping for an early Christmas present.

On any other night, he would have been joining in. He lacked the ‘patter’ to talk a girl into bed that some of his friends had, but nonetheless he never went short of attention because of his height and meticulous self-care in terms of hair and clothing. But this night was different.

This night he had felt uneasy the entire evening. They had arrived at the club just after it had opened, already a little tipsy having spent the afternoon playing pool and casually supping lager and the occasional round of spirits. But something wasn’t right. Whatever it was he couldn’t place his finger on it, but a feeling of unease had gradually increased with every passing hour.

His friends seemed entirely oblivious, dancing, singing and laughing as usual. He’d tried to explain to them, tried to say he wasn’t feeling it, but they had ignored him. “Get on it lad!”, was all they had said.

In the end he just left.

Left his mates, his usual haunt, that girl that was clearly from out of town and looking for an easy place to stay for the night. Normally he would have been more than happy to oblige, but on this occasion…

Bypassing the traditional stop at King Chicken, he staggered along the high street a little the worse for wear, the nervous apprehension surging through his veins with growing intensity, as though it was in direct competition with the biting winter weather. The streets were well lit but entirely vacated, bar the exception of a couple in their 30s having a hushed disagreement over something that would undoubtedly seem futile in the morning. Walking straight past them, he made his way past the school and towards the supermarket which signposted the final stage of his walk home.

Suddenly he paused. To continue towards the supermarket meant sticking to the main roads, meant taking the route his mum approved of with its streetlights, safety and familiarity…meant 15 minutes of walking. To take the alleyway down the side of the pub he was now approaching meant an unlit walk across some wasteland…but it also meant he could be climbing into bed and sleeping off this weird feeling within a few short minutes. And he knew for a fact there was a microwave lasagne in the fridge going begging. As this thought materialised, his belly rumbled on cue.

Veering left, he took the alleyway, increasing his pace as he did so. Everything in his gut told him that something was not right, it had told him that all night, yet he inhaled sharply as though to steel himself against his own instincts and continued on his way.

If only he had looked back before he did so, things may have worked out very differently for Tom that night. If he had noticed that the couple that had been arguing had walked the same route as him, if he had seen what they were doing, he would have thought twice. If only he had looked around him and paid attention to just one of the multiple shop windows, he would have avoided that alleyway with everything he had.

But he didn’t look around. He thought about lasagne, though about saving himself a bit of time. And he took the shortcut.

And that was how it all began.

That was when everything changed for everyone.

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On Local News

Posted: November 22, 2013 in News
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A Lincolnshire-based estate agent had the shock of her life this morning when she showed a prospective buyer around a three bed semi-detached, only to discover that two sheep had moved into the garage.

Jane Cowley was minutes into her silver-tongued presentation when she activated the electric garage door, only to discover the sheep staring at her with bemused expressions from their sofa, just one item in an inventory of household furnishings they appeared to have moved into the property.

After some careful negotiations, Miss Cowley managed to send the sheep on their way and finish showing the client around the home, however she admitted the experience had left her with a sour taste in her mouth: “The sheep belong to a farmer who’s land is situated to the rear of the property; the sheep are well known in the area as being very respectable and kind, however there’s a small number of them that have caused locals problems – graffiti, hanging around on street corners and trying to buy alcohol from the off-licence – but I guess every bunch has its bad apples”.

David Palmer from Bedfordshire, who had been viewing the property at the time, said the incident had not put him off moving to the area: “I was shocked to see the sheep in there, and even more shocked to see that they’d set themselves up a working television, sleeping area and had fashioned a kitchen out of an old sink and some packing boxes. But hey, they saw an opportunity and they took it, I can’t blame them”.

Miss Cowley said that the sheep had returned to their flock without further issue and their owner had already made arrangements to have the household items removed. Crime prevention advice has been issued to the estate agents concerned by Lincolnshire Police, and a statement was released on their website this morning by Neil Rhodes, Chief Constable:

“A vacant property in east Lincolnshire was targeted by sheepskate squatters looking for an easy ride this morning. Don’t forget to ensure that all doors and windows on your homes are secured! Don’t let criminals pull the wool over your eyes”.

The farmer in question has been issued a warning as to the security of his flock, but no further legal action is expected. 

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The troublesome sheep appeared to have been in the garage for some time.

On Formulaic Crime Fiction (Part 4)

Posted: November 18, 2013 in Fiction, Personal
Tags: ,

The familiar smell of disinfectant hit Lanhill’s nostrils with particular tenacity as he passed through the reception security door and into the hospital-like corridors of Amberley police station. Although the exterior of the building was fairly ancient, and iconic of a time where children played with spinning tops and homeowners left their doors unlocked at all times, the interior had been significantly revamped four years previously. It had been unanimously decided at a County HQ financial planning meeting that due to Amberley’s extensive area of responsibility, it needed better infrastructure, manpower and facilities. And so in just six months (and after a considerable expenditure of almost two million pounds) the station had transformed from an ageing museum exhibit to a state of the art office block with wide corridors and open plan offices incorporating the latest policing technology. It wasn’t a move Lanhill entirely agreed with; funding across the board was not at its strongest at that time, and had not dramatically increased since. If anything, those who had backed the change had almost seemed to regret it once it had gone through, with some individuals suggesting that manpower should be cut from Amberley to reduce wage costs. Still, he had voted in favour of the revamp at the time and so was not in a position to take the moral high ground with those senior to him. Like them, he had failed to anticipate the long term consequences.

The entrance corridor was lined with the beaming or stern faces of high ranking officers that had graced Amberley with their presence over the years. Lanhill had always publicly denounced the possibility of his face ever making it amongst the gallery, stating that he preferred to “work for a living”, but secretly he harboured a small ambition that one day he may prove himself wrong. The corridor was less than twenty metres long and consisted only of a door that led into the main reception and a small bar that was regularly used on a Thursday afternoon for a social drink between officers of all ranks and the civilian support staff that worked so quietly behind the scenes. It was a long standing tradition and one that had been in force when Lanhill first began work there, but despite asking a number of people why Thursday had become the day of choice for the meeting, he had only ever been met with confused looks or disinterested shrugging of shoulders.

He reached the door at the end of the corridor and fumbled in his trouser pockets to remove his security swipe card. With each card containing a tiny microchip that pertained to a certain individual, the swipe card system (for which there were only actually three doors in the entire building that needed swipe card access) had cost over £170,000. It was a complete waste of time in Lanhill’s opinion and he had voiced his views on the matter to any of his colleagues that would listen; a point of view that had caused those around him to mock him as a Luddite.

“Oh you fool”, he muttered to himself as he realised that he had left his card in the kitchen drawer. He walked back along the corridor to the reception where Richard Jarvis, a plump and balding man, sat reading an amateur psychology magazine. An ex-police officer himself, he was a mildly eccentric individual but was held in high regard by all that knew him as a gentle soul that wouldn’t harm a fly. His willingness to chat away to anyone that would give him the time of day made him a massively affable character, even to the coldest heart.

“Richard could you buzz me through please? I’ve left my swipe card at home.”

Jarvis smiled widely at Lanhill and his eyes lit up at the prospect of a bit of company. “Nature or nurture?”

Lanhill was taken aback. “Sorry?”

He gestured at the magazine he was reading. “Do you believe we are a product of our surroundings, and that the way we behave and think is a result of the way we have been raised, and the things we have experienced? Or would you say we are born the way we are and that is all there is to it; so an evil person is born that way and there is nothing they can do about it?” He spoke with a slow, farmer-like accent that made everything he said seem friendly.

Lanhill glanced at the clock on the wall behind Jarvis. “I’d have to have a good think, but I would say it was a mixture of the two”. Turning to walk towards the security door again as Jarvis’ face contorted with deep thought, he resisted the urge to explain that the debate in question was actually quite complex. “Nurture”, said Lanhill politely. Jarvis looked at him, an eyebrow raised. “If I had to choose one, t’d be nurture”.

As he reached the door he waited silently for a few seconds until he heard the buzzer sound, indicating that he could go through. Jarvis didn’t speak another word and Lanhill smiled inwardly, knowing that he wouldn’t get out of the building without being asked for further comment of some description.

The door led directly into a vast open plan office. It was the main hub of the building and had almost 40 staff working within it at this hour; at full capacity it could (and usually did) hold 130. From normal constables, to civilian support staff and even Vice; they were all spread out into their little areas within the room. Despite the original plan for the office being one of openness in order to aid the sharing of information, each department had secluded itself off in some way.  Vice in particular had erected a cardboard wall around them with a painted on doorbell, a quirk that represented the personalities of its outgoing occupants all too well. The CID for whatever reason had escaped to the realms located beyond, and Lanhill weaved his way through the desks. Phones rang from several places, people chatted away or typed furiously, and a few individuals failed to hide their curiosity at seeing him in work; after all he was supposed to be taking a break.

As he reached the door at the end of the room, he paused briefly to take a cup of water from a dispenser and then continued into the corridor that housed his office, a place Emily jokingly referred to as his second home. The door had barely shut behind him before he heard DS Lawson’s voice booming out at him:

“Glad you could make it old boy. Come on in and we’ll get cracking shall we?”

Lanhill spotted Lawson hovering outside of his office and dutifully walked towards him. Lawson was 53 years of age. He had grey, thinning hair and was of a tall, slight appearance. His nose was long and thin and afforded him a stern and business-like look at all times. He was smartly dressed in a pinstriped suit and pale blue shirt with the collar unfastened. The two shook hands as they met, and Lawson gestured his subordinate in to his office.

As Lanhill entered the office, he saw PC Whiting already seated on the single green leather settee facing Lawson’s desk. She rose to greet him and extended her hand as she said hello. “A pleasure to meet you”, he said. “Nicholas Lanhill”.

“Oh I know who you are! I’m Tammy Whiting. It’s a pleasure to meet you Nick”.

Lanhill instantly felt a boiling sensation in the pit of his stomach and visibly grimaced. If there was one thing he despised it was to have his name shortened in any way. His name was Nicholas; he had been christened that way. “Please, I don’t mean to be rude but call me Nicholas.”

Whiting blushed noticeably and looked incredibly uncomfortable. She glanced around almost as if she were looking for some sort of sanctuary to hide in. Lanhill detected the tension he had created and came to her rescue. “Don’t worry, I’m a fussy old fool. Tammy is a nice name, what is it short for? Tamara?”

“Actually my name is Tammy. So if you could stick to that I would be grateful too!”

Lanhill smiled at the quip. She smiled too and within seconds the atmosphere felt considerably more relaxed. Lawson invited them both to help themselves to coffee from the expensive looking percolator in the corner of the room, which they did and then sat on the settee to await further briefing. Lanhill took out a pocket notebook that he had purchased in the previous month and sipped his coffee. Upon seeing that Lanhill had produced a notebook, Whiting did the same.

“Right, now you both know why I have called you here today”, Lawson began. “Information has been received from a worker at Radio Gaga that a woman called Anna Steinberg is dead. Paramedics were called first and have called the death already, that was announced at 0203 this morning. I have 9 men from uniform in attendance and as I have already said, a forensics team headed up by Alfred Davidson will be there. Since we last spoke I have received word from Alfred that they are in place and under my direction they have begun a forensic exploitation of the room in which this incident has taken place. I need you down there Lanhill; get your eyes on the scene and get a feel for what may have happened, and then as soon as you feel fit to do so let’s get that bloody body out of there and into a fridge.”

“Sir, what incident are we looking at exactly?”, said Lanhill. “A murder?”

“It could well be. But not necessarily.”

“Do we have a mechanism of injury?”

“A deep gash to the throat from what uniform have reported, but obviously we don’t know whether that was inflicted after death and whether or not there are any other injuries at present.”

“Or whether it was self-inflicted, presumably?”

“We should definitely keep an open mind, yes.”

Tammy sat up. “Sir, who reported the incident and when?”

Lawson glanced down towards a sheet of A4 paper in front of him. “A Miss Fenton. Louise Fenton, at 0148 hrs. I haven’t heard the emergency call yet so I can’t give you any more than that. I can only assume she works there otherwise this case may be a bit easier to solve than we thought!”

Lanhill placed his notepad to one side and sat forward. “Cordons?”

“One outer with a 15 metre radius around the building, and one inner around the room itself. Unless you want any more putting in I would suggest it stays that way. From what I can gather the people in there have already ran around the entire building like headless chickens touching everything in a blind panic.”

“Has anybody left the building?”

“No, all present and correct and awaiting your presence, so may I suggest we wrap things up here and you get down there. The clock is ticking.”

Lanhill gulped the remainder of his coffee and glanced at his wristwatch. A present from his father on his 21st birthday, it had served him in good stead over the years and had only had its battery replaced twice; it was 4:07 AM.

The brief was short and not exactly the usual standard of that preceding a high profile potential murder investigation. But the circumstances were what they were, and there was little choice but to take a running dive at the deep end. Lanhill stood up and exchanged a brief nod with his boss before turning to his new colleague. He wasn’t sure what to make of her yet. He usually had difficulty warming to new people though.

“Shall we, Tammy?”

She smiled and stood quickly. Thanking Lawson for the coffee, she adjusted her blouse and they both left the office briskly.

Lawson sat back in his chair and tapped his pen repeatedly on the mahogany desk, deep in thought as the door closed behind them. After a moment he fired up the web browser on the pristine laptop in front of him, and typed in a search for ‘Radio Gaga, Amberley’. A string of web pages appeared, each one boasting a potential wealth of information for Amberley’s flagship radio station. The first link he saw appeared to be for the official website, and under it were a number of sub-headings, from ‘News’ to ‘Contact Us’. Lawson clicked on the one that said ‘Presenters’ and navigated his way to a profile page for Anna Steinberg.  A large black and white image of a young woman came up on the screen; she looked to be in her mid-twenties, with shoulder-length dark brown hair and big eyes that seemed incredibly inviting. She was smiling broadly as she looked directly into the camera lens. “A very attractive and confident young woman”, Lawson murmured aloud. He sat back in his chair and started tapping his pen against the desk again without thinking, the picture of the now deceased radio presenter staring at him. Outside of his office window it started to rain.

On All Kinds of Animals

Posted: November 17, 2013 in Personal
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I’ve been away from this blog for quite a period of time now, the reasons for which are diverse and many, and perhaps will form the subject of future posts. But having written for a long time now, I decided when I established this blog not so many months ago (erasing all of my previous online writing in the process) that it would be a place for me to unload the inner ramblings of my mind at my leisure, and not for the benefit of any particular readership. Ironically enough, adopting this approach seems to have attracted a greater number of repeat visitors than ever before. Anyway, the point I’m making is that today’s return has been inspired by a simple turning of the pages of a tabloid newspaper.

I am currently laid up at home for two weeks of sick leave having been in hospital for two days for an operation and as my movement is restricted to stumbling down the stairs one step at a time and planning toilet visits five minutes in advance to allow me time to get there, I have had a lot of time on my hands to do things like plot how I would take over the world if I was half kestrel and half dog. As it turned out, the hybrid created by my warped and bored mind was a particularly inefficient one and so this morning I resorted to reading The Sun, dropped round by my boss as a reminder of his undying love for my winning smile and boyish blue eyes.

Those that know me that read this will understand all too well that one of my passions in life is animal welfare. I’m not an activist or a passionate preacher of any sorts, but I really do love all non-human animals. I’m one of those people that can stop to talk to a dog walker in the street and will engage in the majority of the conversation on bended knee petting the pooch. I will never ignore an injured animal, and the couple of times I have hit animals whilst driving (a pheasant and a pigeon) have really made me feel awful. I have a dog and two cats and they are literally like children to me. So where am I going with this?

Well, having engaged with said newspaper, I was alarmed to read about what in my mind is a gross act of depravity against animals. It really set me thinking about the destructive and barbaric nature of the human race. The article talked of a chap called Stephen Rowlands, owner of an unregulated mobile petting zoo. Having already appeared on national television with some of his animals, including parrots, meerkats, monkeys, turtles, owls and a menagerie of other animals totalling 74 exotic species, you would like to think that all of the necessary vetting, controls and regulations were in place for someone to operate such a business.

But investigators seizing the animals (following a tip-off) from the crammed holding pens he kept them in this week found they were kept in stacked crates without light or heat. Naturally, with this story being published in a tabloid, there may be a degree of embellishment but there’s rarely smoke without fire and even if you take away the cruel conditions in which they were kept, at what point has it become so entirely acceptable to society that animals are ‘beneath’ us that it is okay to keep them confined for our viewing pleasure anyway?

Yes I may sound like some kind of boring martyr harping on about a topic that may never change, and hasn’t changed for hundreds of thousands of years. I concede that all animals need to eat and that we are all wired to survive. I also concede that there are many reputable establishments that keep animals as a business where the regulations are so rigorously enforced and the standard of care so high that actually, the animals are probably happier than in the wild. But this isn’t a matter of surviving and I think I can confidently say that there are few establishments in the grand scheme of things that fall under the latter description; this is a matter of adopting a depraved view of something that has become so widespread that it has become the norm. I point blank refuse to visit circuses that display animals because it morally offends me that humans can gather together and pay currency to watch the life of another animal being unjustly paraded around for cheap thrills. At what point has it become so normal for hundreds of species of animals to be confined in cages for our viewing pleasure? As each generation passes by this behaviour is becoming more and more normal.

I’m pretty sure that when I was a young child, there was no such thing as a mobile petting zoo. In fact zoos seemed to be something that were few and far between. Of course this could be my naïve perception as a young boy, but zoos of all standards seem to have cropped up all over the country now. And in just about every zoo, at least one species of animal has been trained to perform for food to the delight of a baying crowd.

What does all of this really say about the human race? A race so ridiculously juvenile in its existence, yet one that places such immense significance on itself. A race so deluded with its own self-perceived grandeur that it views its collective life as needing a higher meaning. The social creation of religion, for example, in my mind the manifestation of our advanced minds requiring there to be something more to life than just existing and reproducing. Why? The earth turned on its axis for millions of years before us, and before long (broadly speaking) we will fade away and the same will continue. Some other species will likely speak of us with mild fascination as we do of the dinosaurs. Yet it is this self-importance and delusional self-worth that has led us to engage in behaviours such as treating other animals like lesser beings and reaching the conclusion that actually that is okay. It infuriates me.

Humans display some of the most awful qualities as a result of our supposedly superior minds. Jealousy, greed, anger, manipulation, the telling of lies, bullying. You may see slight degrees of some of those behaviours in other animals, but humans are such a twisted race that these traits are part of our everyday lives. TV shows such as The Jeremy Kyle Show sum that point up nicely. In other animals, it seems to me at least that they remain true to their most basic instincts, but they are no less worthy because of that. It seems to be the accepted notion that because an animal cannot communicate through a series of complex languages, they are thereby intellectually inferior.

Yet I kid you not – I can communicate with my dog on multiple levels without so much as a single noise being made. We claim as humans that a ridiculously low percentage of communication is through words, and the rest is through body language and tone of voice, yet in the same breath we proclaim other species to be of lesser worth because they don’t engage in spoken word that we understand? What is barking, miaowing, birdsong if not communication? Why is it that I can raise my eyebrows at my dog if he is getting too excited and he will calm down or bow his head? Why is it that I can smile at him and he will wag? Why is it that I can utter jibberish at my cats in a happy tone of voice and they will mew, straighten their tales and mount me in order to happily pad away at my sexy, shapely belly? Animals don’t need to be able to speak in a language we understand for them to be attributed the status that they deserve. And have you ever really thought about the argument that ‘if we didn’t do x, y and z then there would be animals everywhere, it would be chaos…’ etc? Think about the premise of that argument: if we didn’t do the things we did as humans, nature would run the way it is supposed to and humans may not survive as well if at all. Heaven forbid that something should threaten our immense superiority.

I’m rambling. But the point here is that humans place so much worth upon themselves at the expense of all other animals that we think it is okay to lock them up and goggle at them, employing unregulated mobile zoo operators to attend our children’s parties and encourage them to do the same. What kind of message does that send out to a developing and immature mind? And I use the mobile zoo operators as a metaphor for all such unjust acts. Fine, it may ‘only be a case of caging animals’, and yes there may be other more pressing issues in the world, but the whole attitude towards these matters speaks great volumes to me about the kind of animals that we are, as a collective.

And then we wonder why we see such acts of cruelty throughout the human race on a daily basis.

As she met her gaze in the bathroom mirror, Tammy Whiting saw a pretty, smartly dressed and confident looking woman staring back. Inside however, her stomach felt like a tightly twisted and writhing knot that threatened to explode at any moment, eased only slightly by her determined attempt at breathing slowly. Having served as a police officer for just four years, she was still relatively inexperienced and had only just been getting to the stage where she felt confident enough to deal with the majority of the street level crime she was so often exposed to when she had been eagerly pushed forward for an attachment with the Criminal Investigation Department by her superiors. She had never fancied a career in the CID, and in fact policing in the first place was a job that had just popped up when she felt ready for a change, but contrary to all expectations the police force had turned out to be the greatest job she had ever experienced.

The bathroom in the police station was a small affair, with two cubicles at the far end overseen by a tiny window that almost looked as if it belonged in a prison. Strangely there were four ceramic sinks with large, ovular mirrors hanging above them, far more than was really required as with only two toilets there was only ever a need to have the two sinks. But for moments like this they came into their own and the female employees of the station could often be found powdering their noses or, as was more frequent, having a gossip. Tammy had chosen this particular retreat as she knew it would be empty at this time of night, and it also gave her an opportunity to freshen up prior to meeting DS Lanhill, and working on a case that could potentially turn out to be a career maker for her.

She had met DS Lanhill a number of times before but it had only ever been in passing when she had been in uniform, and had rarely been much more than a quick hello in a corridor. It was unlikely that he even knew who she was. Since starting her CID attachment he had been around a lot more, but even though he was not a major player in the world of the CID, being only a Detective Sergeant, he was massively respected by everybody that worked there. He knew what he was doing, and had a vast wealth of experience; in his many years in the CID he had served as the Senior Investigating Officer on several investigations including serious sexual assaults, had worked on no fewer than 11 murder investigations and three large scale fraud cases. All of his cases with the exception of one of the sexual assaults had been solved and the perpetrators sentenced heftily. Even the more senior officers in Amberley would occasionally turn to him for advice on their complex cases. It was fair to say that PC Tammy Whiting had done her homework, and it was also fair to say that it was a privilege to have the chance to work with someone of such a high caliber. And besides, he was kind of good looking in a way that she had yet to place her finger on; it wasn’t as though he was model potential, and to be fair he wasn’t the sort of bloke that looked like he lived in the gym. But he seemed warm, and mysterious, and somehow powerful. And there was certainly nothing wrong with an older man.

She looked at herself as she applied some natural lipstick and relaxed a little. If there was one thing she had come to realise so far in life, it was that looks could make up for certain faults, and luckily looks were something she possessed. At 5’7” she was of a very average height for a female, but she had shoulder length blonde hair, big green eyes and straight, white teeth. She too did not live in the gym, but it certainly didn’t seem that way with her toned, shapely body. She had gone through a phase of running in her late teens, and had successfully completed a handful of half marathons, but when she finally had the gall to enter for the London marathon she had trained herself far too hard and incurred terrible knee and ligament pains. The pain had eventually healed with physiotherapy and taking it easy, but she had never really run again unless it was for a bus.

At last, make-up applied and nerves somewhat quelled, she examined the finished result in the mirror. “Looking good”, she said and winked at her reflection. Now it was time to head downstairs to the Super’s office where she would wait for Lanhill to arrive. She adjusted her blouse and left the bathroom.

On Love At First Sight

Posted: July 8, 2013 in Fiction, Personal
Tags: , ,

He had to admit, whilst the gig had not been his idea it had turned out to be a pretty special night. He’d planned nothing more extravagant than re-heated Italian food and a date for one with a couple of episodes of his favourite TV series. As Anthony had pointed out to him though, that was pretty much the life he’d lived for two years now…perhaps it was time to start getting out and experiencing life a bit more.

It wasn’t that he led a completely sheltered life or anything; to the contrary he went out most weekends, participated in the usual activities of drinking, awkwardly dancing, and staggering home with a kebab that he never ate. All the kinds of activities that were expected of a single 25 year old graphic designer, with a nice flat and no woman to share it with. But the kinds of girls that he met on those nights weren’t the kind he’d take home to meet his mum, and the all-day hangovers each Saturday prevented him from venturing forth into the world and finding someone he’d proudly boast to the world about. The re-heated Bolognese as the cat stared at him scornfully from the sofa had become a life that was all too easy to get into, and difficult to get out of.

Nonetheless, here he was tonight. A local event staged on the community sports pitches to showcase talent from the village and raise money in aid of a home-grown soldier who’d returned from Afghanistan a different man to the one that had departed seven months earlier. It had been a slow starter with a performance from a voluntary brass band, but as the light had slowly faded, the lights and the gentle flow of punch and shooters had changed the atmosphere to one of happiness and anticipation. He’d even found himself singing to a Simply Red tribute act, even though the guy looked nothing like Mick Hucknall…but what a voice! He’d been completely engrossed as the locally rising star had ended his set with ‘Say You Love Me’…

He was glad Anthony had dragged him here. There was no pounding music, no drunken girls throwing themselves at him and others…well there was a few but he had barely noticed them. It had been a really pleasant night. The compere made his way onto the stage and announced the final act of the evening. Glancing at his watch he realised it was getting late, but he didn’t care for the time, he was really enjoying himself. He didn’t care as the band began playing a soft rock number and Anthony gave him a parting wink as he went in search of some talent of his own preference (which was usually blonde and easy, from what he’d seen). All alone he nodded his head a little, moved his hips a little, relaxing more and more into the atmosphere until he was dancing away with a volume of strangers around him.

All thoughts of his empty flat and the angry cat were gone from his mind as the music went on, and before he knew it the band were announcing their final piece. A cheer went up as the spotlight focused on the lead singer and he exchanged his electric guitar for an acoustic, and announced a cover of Mumford & Sons’ ‘I will Wait’. From the first contact of finger on string he was lost in the moment as the music washed over him.

And then something curious happened to him. Something he’d never experienced in his life.

He saw a girl. Well, he’d seen plenty of girls before, but this time it was different.

At first she appeared to be completely alone, until he realised she had two friends with her. She was dancing in a little space of her own, blissfully unaware of them. And she was beautiful! She was of average height with dark, flowing hair that framed her angelic face and sat just past her shoulders. The lights caught her big eyes, revealing a sea of blue with hints of grey, a pink cocktail umbrella sat behind her ear and dangly silver ear rings waved in time with her body as she gyrated and moved to the music, her petite hands circling above her and around her. There was something instantly special about her.

She moved like there was no one else in the world, like even if there was she wouldn’t have cared what they thought. She was free, uninhibited. She was the world and all of the people in it were her musical beats, serving only to shower her with grace and light. He’d never seen anyone or anything like it. In that moment he was utterly transfixed as everything around him slowed down to a beautiful slow motion.

In that moment he suddenly became aware that she had turned to him and stopped dancing. Her eyes were fixed upon his. His breath was drawn from him instantly, his heart began to pound and an intense knot developed in his stomach as those big eyes smiled at him. She was smiling at him! He could hear no music now, yet a part of him was aware it must still be playing as he sensed movement around him, couples holding one another, lighters in the air, smiles everywhere.

Suddenly she began to laugh and pointed downwards. In a moment his senses were back as he discovered his glass of punch was leaking onto his shoe, the result of his intense and wonderful distraction. He placed the glass on the grass and looked back towards her as she beckoned him over. Her friends continued to chat and dance with each other, oblivious of what was going on. The lyrics filtered into his bleary consciousness….I will wait, I will wait for you

But right now there was no waiting. He was in the moment as his lead-like legs slowly carried him over to her. The singer’s spotlight seemed to be on this one girl now, emphasising her perfection above all else he had ever born witness to. On auto pilot as he reached her, he stammered out an introduction that involved his name and nothing else. She laughed again, an infectious, delicate laugh that made him want to bottle it and never let it go. With considerable effort he managed to ask what her name was too.

“What would you like me to be called?”, she said, that pretty smile reaching out and kissing his ears. Before he knew it he’d blurted the word out:

“Sunflower”.

She smiled intensely at him as his face flushed and he felt a wave of devastation grab him by the throat. Even his cat would have laughed at him had it been there to witness that faux pas. She didn’t reply but she actually seemed to like it against all the odds. Removing the cocktail umbrella from behind her ear, she twirled it briefly between her fingers before placing it behind his.

For what felt like a long time they just stood and looked at each other. He was breathless. The music continued and yet they stood stock still like two flowers on top of a grand hill. “What is this?”, she asked.

“I…I don’t know”, he half gasped, half whispered.

Then they both burst out laughing and a second later she eased her little hand into his big one. It fitted perfectly and a bolt of joy shot through him as she gave his hand a squeeze. Right then he stared straight into her eyes and saw everything in her soul. He felt like crying. All her joys, her hidden sadness, her dreams and aspirations were all there waiting to be shared with someone.

“Sunflower”, she said beaming. “I love it”.

“Sunflower”, he repeated. “Sunflower”.

As the hands clapped around them and the song finished, he finally realised what had just happened. In the space of three minutes, everything he’d known, experienced, anticipated…it had all changed.

This must be what was meant by love at first sight.

Sunflower!

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At just after 3AM, Lanhill began to quietly drive the 70 metres or so along the driveway that connected his house to the main road leading into the heart of Rutherford Down. He kept his lights off and rolled the car forward on its clutch so as not to make too much noise. He’d left a note on the kitchen table explaining what had happened, but it would be much better for world peace if Emily was allowed to gain a full night’s sleep before realising that he was up to his old tricks. For a second, he smirked to himself at the absurdity of the situation; he was sneaking around like a man trying to hide a passionate affair, not a police officer trying to do some good. But the reality of the situation was that in the grand scheme of things, life in the Lanhill household was not the jovial atmosphere it had been for so many years, and this career break had been for the two of them as much as anything else. It was a delicate time. No point dwelling on all that now, he thought to himself.

As he reached the main road he turned on the lights and gunned the engine. The car was 6 years old now but still sounded as though it was fresh out of the factory. It was pretty much the only other thing that he had chosen in their household, and he’d opted for a sporty family saloon. It hadn’t been cheap at the time but it had proved to be worth its weight in gold, having never presented a single problem in the thousands of miles it had been forced to endure. The great idea had been to have a bigger car, ‘just in case the family gets any bigger’, he’d joked with Emily. The sad thing was that they both knew that would never be the case, or at least it was highly unlikely anyway. Emily had unfortunately been told at 28 that she would never be able to have children. It had been one of the most testing times the marriage had experienced.

He reached over to the passenger seat and grabbed the sausage roll he had packed before leaving, knowing from experience that it was pointless trying to work on an empty stomach, no matter what time of day it was. The roads were completely empty as expected and almost seemed to be extending an unspoken invitation to put his foot down. But the roads of Rutherford Down could be quite unforgiving with their sharp twists and turns, even to a local resident who knew them like the back of his hand. In fact, Oscar Manning who until last year had owned the highly successful ‘Drawing Room’ pub and restaurant in the village, and had done so for many years, had unexpectedly met his demise on these very roads on a clear and sunny day on his way to play a quick 18 holes of golf. It was easier just to eat the sausage roll in peace and arrive safely at the other end.

Rutherford Down was almost a postcard perfect village. When they had first moved into the area it had been considerably smaller than its current size, and significantly quieter. But with time more roads and shops had been built, better infrastructure had developed, and now with a population that had tripled in size it was pushing rapidly towards being a town as opposed to a village. But for all its change it still remained beautiful to Lanhill; a place he truly felt was home.

The vehicle cruised down the deserted main high street silently, passing the supermarket, bakery, thrift shop, and three separate craft shops as it did so. At the end of the high street he turned right and came to the crossroads where, after waiting for the traffic lights to change, he turned left onto the motorway that led into Amberley, the main city and postal area for Rutherford Down and the surrounding villages. The police station was located within a few hundred metres of the motorway exit, and was actually one of the oldest buildings in Amberley, having been both an infant school and a post office in its past.

Amberley wasn’t a massive city; it had medieval links and a rich history of culture that dated back to the mid-1700s, and ramparts of a castle erected prior to various battles could still be viewed from the more rural areas. Much like Rutherford Down, it had slowly expanded over the years and its population had also at least doubled in size since he had moved to the area. There were a vast number of housing estates crammed into specific areas, the result of efforts by individual companies to create a monopoly in the market by buying up land and filling it with cheap to build properties in the shortest time possible, but aside from that it was a fairly picturesque place, noticeably bigger than Rutherford Down but without having the feel of a bustling town or city (apart from on Market Day in which case he tended to avoid the area altogether). When he had first been assigned to Amberley he had been excited at the prospect of starting afresh and laying some roots somewhere, and for almost a year he had lived within a police house in Amberley. But when he had met Emily just months later, it wasn’t long before they talked of marriage and found a house together in Maltisham, some 30 miles away. It was only many years later when success and promotion enabled him to feather his nest a little more that they moved to Rutherford Down.

Lanhill suddenly realised that he was approaching the police station and tried to remember the journey that he had just made. He could just about remember leaving Rutherford Down but he had obviously been daydreaming the whole way there. When he parked up in a bay near to the station entrance and got out, he found the empty kitchen foil that had been holding the sausage roll. He could hardly remember eating that either. The time for daydreaming was over, at least temporarily; as soon as he walked through those doors in his tailored suit, he was DS Nicholas Lanhill, and there was work to be done.