Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy New Year

This is an article I wrote a few weeks ago for an application to be a columnist. I did not get the job, and it is no longer especially topical. But nevermind.

Like God remembering the night when He created Bono, or Kanye’s fat kid when he ran out of cake, the internet is angry. Angry at THE MAN for taking a middle-of-the-road rock song and letting a middle-of-the-road singer release it in the name of money and fame.

What are you talking about, some of you might say in tones of barely concealed boredom. It could only be Matt Cardle’s Biffy Clyro cover song. He is this year’s X Factor winner, they are a band from Kilmarnock who used to be very good about eight years ago, then evolved into an averagely good rock band.

According to the NME, front man Simon Neil said at the start of the year the X Factor is “for the kind of people who buy fucking Robbie Williams calendars.” I didn’t know there were such calendars. Clearly nobody was thinking of the children when they came up with that one. He then said the show was not “a threat to 'real' music at all. It's just entertainment. Simon Cowell isn't the devil. He just wants to make shitloads of money."

Now, perhaps as recompense for the unexpected good press, Cowell is using a song written by Neil to make them both, in the latter’s own words, “shitloads of money.”

Biffy fans are apoplectic with misspelt rage, and have started a facebook page to propel the original version to Christmas number 1. Unfortunately numbers are so low that they all have to buy it 10 times to achieve their goal, spending £8.90 to obtain one track which they presumably already have. The two Simons must be killing themselves laughing as they go to sleep in their gold houses with furniture made of money.

“how dare they change the name of the song just to appeal to the f*ckwits that will buy his music, they should have used a different song if that wasnt paletable for the ‘fans’,” argued one musical misanthrope.

“I would not expect X factor fans to understand the carefully crafted genius of this song,” waffled another. “Biffy wrote this in “drop C#”, the matt guy mimes a strum in basic C scale tuning, pretty lame stuff. But what do you expect, X factor fans would cheer any shiney tuneless gimp Cowell puts up.”

Of all the bands you could choose to be pretentious about, Biffy Clyro? Really? They’re named after a spoonerism involving a Cliff Richard pen! They’ve had some good musical moments in their time, but over the last couple of years they’ve also had some yawningly tedious ones. And the difference between writing a song in drop C# and C is negligible at best.

I can’t think of a good reason to begrudge them making enough money out of the X Factor to support their families, drug habits, next album, or whatever. And all poor tonsillitis-ridden Matt Cardle is guilty of is liking a boring song. Internet, you should take a step back and have a long hard look at yourself.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

No Use Crying Over Split Infinitives

New Year's Resolutions are rubbish, aren't they.

Mostly everyone has a vague notion that they'll eat less crap and exercise more. Maybe they'll also be a bit tidier. This falls apart either:
a) instantly, when you awake at 1pm on New Year's Day and realise it is the time for a Doctor Who marathon and piles of crisps, or:
b) more gradually over the first few weeks of the year as you remember that January is horrible and exercise makes you feel sad.

But we do it anyway, because it's nice to aspire to something less obese and poor-skinned than we are currently.

My New Year's Resolution, aside from the whole writing 12 books thing, is to get paid for my words.

I write a lot, about a variety of things, and some of it's not half bad. I do local news, fiction, humour, film and music reviews, comics, comment pieces and of course I blog. I've had stuff published in lots of places this year, working full time in unrelated jobs as I went. I've written for Outlook (City of Edinburgh Council newspaper), The Link (South Edinburgh newsletter), Tales of One City (the library services blog), The Edinburgh Reporter (hyperlocal news), The Broughton Spurtle (hyper-hyperlocal news), The Chutney Exhibition (comedy), Brikolage (arts), Hecklerspray (gossip), Billygean (blog) and have secured a blogging job with The Skinny's new website - although nobody knows when that's actually going to go live. That's not bad going.

There again it occurred to me this year that I've been working away on a generic concept of 'getting as much experience as possible' for ten years now. This isn't as bad as it sounds; I started writing for the local paper at the age of 15. Over that period I have made an eye-watering forty-five of your Scottish pounds.

I don't do this because I have some kind of martyr complex. Offering my services for free is the only way I know of gaining that all important yet ill defined 'experience' craved by prospective employers. It's also the only way I know I'm going to see my name in print, which is narcissism, if anything.

There is an argument that citizen journalism and young folk like me trying to get an 'in' are destroying the profession, as if the advent of the internet hadn't already given print media in its entirety a severe bollocking. The argument goes along the lines that seasoned professionals are being made redundant all the time in favour of younger, cheaper hacks who will do the same job for half the price, and the quality of the output suffers as a result.

Frankly - naively, perhaps? - I think good writing shines through. I am more likely to read - and pay for - an article on something that doesn't interest me if it's well written. Given the choice, an editor is surely going to use something that has been properly researched and written to industry standard? Isn't it in their best interest to print readable content?

Yes, being made redundant is beyond crap, but in a profession like journalism it's hardly the end. There's a living to be made in freelancing, and you've already got the contacts, years of experience and knowledge. Do you know what young freelancers like me have? Enthusiasm, and Twitter. I can't pitch an article to an editor who I know likes me, or an old mate I used to work with on such and such a paper, because I only just finished university, and I didn't do a journalism course when I was there. Instead, I have to try and second guess total strangers who universally ignore me. (Being ignored is far more irritating than being rejected and for all you know it might be your own fault - you could be writing to the wrong person because people change jobs and email addresses all the time.)

But so what. That's how things go. And for every older hack made redundant, and every bright young thing who did the MA at Napier and is now on the Evening News for a starting salary of 16k, there are hundreds of people who never make it at all. Some of them are undoubtedly very good writers. Better than the ones who make it, probably. I can only surmise that they aren't tenacious enough, however tenacious that may be.

Perhaps 2011 is the year I will find out.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Iiiin West Philadelphia Born And Raised

You know Will Smith? The Fresh Prince? The only black lead in any of the fifty highest grossing films ever (unless you count Eddie Murphy in Shrek, which I wouldn’t – Donkey is a sidekick)? His career trajectory has been pretty astounding, hasn’t it? And now his kids are following suit, which is nice, but dear god his daughter’s debut single is annoying.

The song begins with the line “I whip my hair back and forth,” which is repeated 8 times or until young Willow gets distracted by something shiny. The verse goes:


“Hop up out the bed turn my swag on” -

I had to conduct not one, but two internet searches to find out what that meant. She’s not referring to ‘swag’ as in a sackful of loot stolen by a burglar in a book by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, or SWAG as in the elite unit of the Philippine Navy. She’s only ten, which lead me to surmise she didn’t mean the valance, either. No, according to urban dictionary, ‘swag’ refers to the way one carries oneself, eg “he got a killa swag.” I am going to be using that, sounding whiter than anyone ever thought possible of a white girl from Scotland.


“Pay no attention to them haters,” she continues, encouragingly.

What haters are these, one wonders. You’re ten years old, what have you been doing to accumulate haters? She explains:


“Because we whip em off.”

Get your mind out of the gutter, people, that can’t possibly mean what it sounds like. Maybe she literally has been whipping them with like a riding crop or something. Ouch. But then she elaborates,


“and we ain’t doin’ nothin’ wrong,” which puts paid to the whip attack idea. She must know that assault is bad, hater or no hater. Or does she?


“So don’t tell me nothin’ / I’m just trying to have fun,” she says defensively.

Although that’s pretty standard kid chat, isn’t it.

Adult: Hello, small child! What are you up to?

Child: Nothin. Just trying to have fun, jeez, leave me alone already. You’re so embarrassing.


“So keep the party jumping,” Willow continues vaguely, perhaps referring to the time mom and dad got her a totally sweet bouncy castle for her birthday.


“So whats up? Yeah. / You know they don't know what to do / we turn our back and whip our hair…”

Sage advice for you there. If you got some haters all up in your grill, whip your hair back and forth. They won’t know what to do. To prove the point, Willow proceeds to whip her hair back and forth for about eight years, occasionally exhorting haters not to get her off her grind, until Jay-Z caves and gives her a record contract. Hopefully she will annoy him into writing her a proper song.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Announcement

Well, internet, the waiting is almost at a close, for I have decided that today is the day I shall reveal unto you my HARE BRAINED SCHEME™ for 2011.

You may remember that in November I joined in with National Novel Writing Month and wrote a book - or 52,000 words of a first draft of one, if you wish to be pedantic - in 30 days.

You may also have heard it said that everyone has at least one novel in them - although most people claim they would never have the time to sit down and write it.

I have decided to combine these two thoughts by writing other people's novels for them. One a month, every month in 2011. You may extract more information on the project here.

Meanwhile for those who are concerned that this here site and Confessions of A Jobless Graduate will suffer at the hands of 12 books 12 months, fear not! I am unemployed again, which puts me in the enviable position of being able to build up a bank of auto posts. Not only will this mean more posts than usual, it will distract me when I run out of money to buy food. Hooray!

Friday, 24 December 2010

Tis The Season

Merry Christmas Eve!

I celebrated the season by writing a guest post on somebody else's blog. HA.

It can be read here, and you should read the rest of the site too because it's interesting and well written and frankly, there isn't enough of that on the internet.

In other news, innocently turning around to see this lurking under a pile of clothes is one of the perils of living with a Doctor Who fan:


Shat me right up.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

A Missive Of The Brief Kind

It being Christmas, I have lots on, as I'm sure you do too. As a result this site may experience a lack of blogging for a few days. However, you can read a guest post by me on gossip site Hecklerspray HERE to while away the time instead. Or perhaps you'd prefer to read an interview I did with a local writer for The Edinburgh Reporter? That's here. Knock yourselves out. But in a festive way.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Twelve More Big Pyjama Sleeps

Today, myself and my learned sister did some Christmas shopping at Fort Kinnaird. It is a wonderous place, containing all the shops you might go to in town, but larger and closer together. Plus there's a Thornton's Cafe, where the seats are made from chocolate and the coffee is made from stardust.

As if that wasn't fictional enough, I am happy to announce that thanks to the ugly but brilliant piece of architectural planning that is the Fort, I have finally acquired a halogen heater for to set myself and Captain Tact on fire when we least expect it. Or alternatively to warm up our room. Ha. This happenstance fills me with the lukewarm glow of mild optimism that I can spend some time in there without wrapping up like Captain Oates. I'll let you know how that pans out. Unless I forget.

This gem of Korean workmanship (sadly the box doesn't specify which one) was not the only treasure in the big Poundstretcher though, oh dear me no. There was also this little fella.



See how his eyes flash with a desperation for your love that is borderline psychotic? This is going to be presented to some poor child in less than a fortnight, and they're going to have to pretend like it doesn't make them want to cry. If that's not a case for calling in the NSPCC I don't know what is.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Student Protests

Captain Tact was texting me at my temp job earlier today to register his disgust at the way the press have covered the London student protests. Prior to hearing from him, all I’d read was part of a statement from the head of the MET describing the trouble makers as “a small but significant” minority, although the attack on the royals had filtered through my caffeine deprived senses to a certain extent.

“What are they saying,” I texted back, looking through old biology papers to see if the diagram I needed to do had been drawn before. It had not.

“Mainly banging on about the desecration of war memorials and attacks on the royal family. Nothing about the people stuck on the bridge.”

It transpired that one of the captain's friends, currently studying in London, had gone along to the protest at 3pm but on seeing the violence he decided to leave. He was prevented from doing so, detained on Westminster Bridge for over four hours without access to food, water, or the other accoutrements to which he has become accustomed.

“That’s what they always focus on,” I responded, adverbally. “Good news isn’t news, hence no mention of the protests in Scotland [which have all been pretty peaceful]… This is where social media helps because we can hear the other side to it almost as it happens. Sod the press. We know the truth and can pass it on.”

Having said that, not everyone in the world is using social media to follow the likes of Laurie Penny and Shiv Malik as they take to the streets of London. Especially not when they’re supposed to be working. And even fewer are aware of intrepid Edinburgh journos tirelessly following the boringly peaceful events up here. In which case, I suppose the captain has a point – the vast majority of people are presumably only getting the headlines given them by the national papers.

I thought I’d use my lunch break to find out what those were. Everyone said the same thing.

The Guardian had - “live coverage of all the latest news and reaction to the protests, in which the Prince of Wales’s car was attacked.”

The Daily Telegraph – “Prince Charles and Camilla attack: someone could have been shot”

The Mail – “Rioting mob who attacked Charles and Camilla were lucky not to be shot.”

The Sun – “Royal Car Attacked – Charles and Camilla stunned as demo yobs wreck limo.”

The Daily Mirror, meanwhile, came up with the restrained, “CAMILLA ATTACK TERROR”, but sadly I can’t actually get on to the News of the World website at work to see their thoughts because it is blocked for being ‘tasteless and offensive’.

Scottish papers joined in too. The Press and Journal went with the boring but accurate “Charles and Camilla caught up in riot over tuition fees”; The Herald opted for the musical sounding “The Fire of London”; whilst the Scotsman website posted “Royal Car attacked as student rioters run riot in London.” Darn those riot-running rioters.

This one headline – PAINT THROWN AT CAR, NOBODY HURT – is arguably not the most interesting part of what went on in Parliament Square yesterday. What about INNOCENT BYSTANDERS TRAPPED ON BRIDGE or Laurie Penny’s afore-linked eyewitness account which can be partially summarised by, POLICE BATTER CHILDREN.

Presumably those headlines aren’t dramatic enough? They mainly involve good for nothing students who want the government they voted for to honour their pre-election promises, which is boring. And nobody can empathise with students, they’ve all got ideas above their station and smell of toast. Meanwhile the story everyone went for in the end (that was Charles and Camilla getting a horrible fright, lest we forget) had violence worthy of caps lock. And celebrities to boot! Kind of…

Coincidentally, right after having this conversation, filmmaker Chris Salt aka @oblongpictures reiterated my initial point by tweeting:

Why protests turn bad: 5live yesterday “All very calm at the moment so no real story yet. We’ll cross live if there are any developments.”

‘Developments’ meaning bad behaviour from protesters, or the involvement of famous people.

I am curious to know why people in a creative industry like the media can’t find an attention grabbing headline in the fact that 30, 000 odd people turned up to protest in the first place. Surely that’s interesting? Isn’t it indicative of something? Nobody thinks they all turned up to chuck flares at police horses – but why were they there? Have any of them examined the new policy in detail? Is it really as bad as all that?

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

#apprentice

I've never watched The Apprentice before this year and I only came into this series half way through. However, I've seen it a few times in a row now and I can see why people get hooked.

Tonight the two teams each had to run an open top bus tour around London. Here are some facts I learned from Jamie, one of the smuggest men in the land:

- To our left is the Thames, the second biggest river in London

- Up ahead Big Ben. The face of the clock is twenty diameters in width.

- See the building up ahead that looks like a gherkin? That’s called the gherkin…

Meanwhile Stuart Baggs, the guy you've probably heard people talking incredulously about in your place of work, stayed in tonight on the basis of a plea to Alan Sugar that included the line "I'm not just a one trick pony! I've got a whole field of ponies!"

Naturally Twitter was in spasms, not least because as @profanityswan pointed out, the man "has all the business acumen of a combine harvester." I guess that's the way to impress the aristocracy these days.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

My Actual Day

Earlier on I was reading about the bravery of my fellow countrypersons who have been forced into action by snowmageddon, and it has compelled me to break my 8 day not-quite-silence on the subject.

Reports indicate that Scots have been handing out crisps, pushing cars about, and even complaining about the authorities as the M8, M80 and M74 were blocked with snow and drivers trapped in their cars yesterday and today. Such behaviour would never be countenanced in warmer times.

STV have been collecting people’s stories for their website, and it occurred to me that my own tale of an ordinary joe's snow misery was yet to be told. By me, anyway.

Zip!

The only bus currently serving my road flies by me this morning because it’s already full of commuters. I am comparatively unphased on account of already being hideously late but the reaction of the very young children who have always been on time for school is quite funny. In other news, I don't think dad gave them a once over before leaving the house this morning. The little girl has bare legs and according to my Met Office App it's -8°. Maybe she's in training to be some sort of decathlon competitor and it was an endurance exercise. Do they run decathlons for seven year olds? Probably.

Zap!

I am concerned that one of the office managers might be missing part of her brain, as she spent the morning organizing people to go through to Glasgow for a meeting tomorrow. Someone doesn’t use Twitter. Or read the news. I don’t know whether I should tell her to stop being so stupid, because I’m not really meant to be reading Twitter or the news myself. What a conundrum.

Zop!

On my way back home I nearly die; first in Dalkeith where I have to navigate my way along the top of a two-foot wall of snow that towers above the pavement like something out of The Snow Queen; then coming down Leith and Broughton Streets where the gritting efforts have resulted in loose, slushy snow lying over the top of sheet ice.

Zim!

Shuffle decides to play ‘Let It Snow’. Never let it be said in my presence that an inanimate object can’t have a sense of humour, because I will tell you this story again and again until you admit that you are wrong.


OK, none of this is very impressive. I haven’t dug any small children out of drifts with my bare hands, or tramped up and down the motorway handing out tea and biscuits. I haven’t even gone out to watch other people doing that stuff so I can report it. All I’ve done is slide about, get wet, and swear a bit.

Snow makes me boring.

Although, I did cling film the windows in the bedroom in an effort to keep some heat in.


Monday, 6 December 2010

Multimeeja Mad Skillz

Nevermind snowpocalypse, here's a piece of multimedia journalism about NaNoWriMo which I did for The Edinburgh Reporter.

However, I must apologise profusely to one of the contributors because I originally credited her as Kath when her name is in fact Cathy! Very sorry for that journofail, which has now been rectified.



If you're interested, you can download the tracks featured in this video for free, here. I recommend getting Mid Life Crisis Man too.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Snowpocalypse


I am meant to be at the NaNoWriMo TGIO party.

‘What does TGIO stand for,’ I hear the less acronym-savvy readers cry. ‘Thank God It’s Over’ would be my response; where ‘it’ refers to the mad dash to write fifty thousand words in one month, ‘god’ is the child-friendly substitute for a sweary word, and ‘over’ means that I will eventually back-date the last chapter but I haven’t actually finished it yet.

Unfortunately I am not at said party, due to a close encounter with a snowdrift in Dalkeith that rendered my only dry jeans unusable. The others have just been washed and are thusly out of service, and there is nary a tumble drier to be had in this building. I am not braving snowpocalypse in a skirt – that would be a fool’s errand.

Instead I will sit in the flat in my pyjamas, eating my weight in cheese and mayonnaise sandwiches and knitting quietly to myself. This, my friends, is the lot of one of life’s winners. Mark it well.




Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Smooth Epilator

Female hair removal. Who cares about that crap? Well, market research suggests that it’s probably women. Of which I am one.

Perhaps boringly, these so-called women are divided on the best way to go about it. And being a comparatively tedious person, I was wondering about the case for epilation.

Friend 1: What do you mean, you don’t epilate? I’d be like a bear if I didn’t. LITERALLY.

Friend 2: Don’t go there. I have never known pain like it.

Mixed reviews, there.

For those who don’t know, an epilator is an electrical device that mechanically grasps multiple hairs simultaneously and pulls them out at the root. Or, a plastic doohickey with a load of tweezers in.

In my opinion it hurts a bit, but not particularly more than pouring hot wax on yourself and ripping it off, which is another thing women (and some men) swear by. And it lasts longer than shaving.

But what do you do when it’s winter and you live in the coldest flat known to man? We had ice on the inside of the windows the other day. Epilating involves getting the bits of your body out that want tweezered for a prolonged period of time. What if you get frostbite before you’re done?! No beauty routine ought to result in amputation, however effective the outcome may be.


This weekend, therefore, shall be dubbed 'operation insulate the flat a bit more than NONE'.


Suggestions for catchier titles will be considered.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Victorian Literature Challenge

NaNoWriMo is done! Time for some new challenges.

For starters, I am going to do this:



Essentially you sign up to read a certain number of books - published in Queen Victoria's reign - during 2011. What a way to catch up on that list of books I probably ought to have read!

I imagine I will review them too, possibly on Confessions of a Jobless Graduate rather than here. Will let you know!

Monday, 29 November 2010

Chapter Twenty Nine

I was name checked on Guardian Edinburgh this morning thanks to this nonsense. Here is the penultimate chapter, as promised! And here is a list of previous ones in order. This brings the word count to 51971... but is it any good? I talked about that briefly in an article on The Edinburgh Reporter here.

“You know,” Nicky said thoughtfully, “that actually makes a lot of sense. I had wondered why my downstairs mix-up didn’t look quite right.”

“Surely someone’s mentioned it to you before,” Tim said, “maybe in a urinal? It’s the type of thing that would get commented on!”

“I always use the cubicle,” Nicky said, “never knew why before, was just my gut reaction to head for cover.”

“Have you never had a girlfriend?”

“Well no. I’m too eccentric, girls round our way aren’t looking for that. They want guys like that one Nigella’s always going after.”

“Do you fancy girls?”

“I dunno. Never really thought about it too much, to be honest.”

“Which did Nicky like before you mucked about with her brain,” Bracken asked, “girls or boys?”

“How should I know,” Magenta said irritably, adding, “I’d have to look it up in the file.”

“Can you reverse it so she can go back to the way she was?”

“Does she want to go back to the way she was?”

“Hoi,” Nicky said indignantly, “does she take sugar? I’m right here, why don’t you ask me what I want?”

“Well,” Bracken said reasonably, “do you know?”

“Not a Scooby,” Nicky admitted, “I feel as though I’m not in full possession of the facts which makes it something of a tough call.”

“Are you getting all this,” Tim asked one of the camera crew bitterly, “I’d hate for you to miss out on a good telly opportunity, just because your boss has hired a mercenary to manipulate several people’s lives, which is probably against the human rights act and might see his BAFTA nomination revoked.”

“Actually,” Brian told Tim in his head, “the whole thing has been going out live since the beginning.”

“Totally uncut?”

“Totally uncut. Using the telepathic powers the amulet has afforded, I’ve been able to blow this thing wiiiide open.”

“You know,” Tim thought back to him, “I’m actually not sure how useful that is. People will watch, be outraged on Twitter for half an hour, then forget all about it. Such is the fickle nature of our modern society.”

The fire exit door clanged open with an almighty ruckus. Bert and the scarred guard appeared through it in a flurry of dry ice, he with his hair blowing dramatically in tht wind and she cradling the wean protectively. They looked like some kind of unusual crime fighting duo.

“Stop everything,” Bert bellowed boisterously, “we have important information to impart!”

“Really, though?” Bracken was unimpressed. “I bet you a fiver that most of it has already come up.”

“The woman who calls herself Esmeralda is in fact Esmeralda’s identical twin, Magenta?”

“Yep, we know.”

“Esmeralda has been dead for years, killed by her sister’s own hand?”

“Aye.”

“Posing as Esmeralda because her rogue methods have so incensed the global science community, Magenta has been conducting invasive brain experiments on unknowing people, with the full knowledge and financial backing of The Jeremy Kyle Show?”

“Tell us something we don’t know!”

“This little boy isn’t yours, Bracken.”

Her lip wobbled ferociously.

“I know that too,” she whispered, bravely biting back the tears.

“We have all the documentation to prove what’s been going on, so we can send these two down for a long time,” Bert informed them.

“Now that we did not know.”

Bert smiled victoriously.

“Here’s one for you then, Dad,” said Nicky. “Assuming that’s not a memory trick as well?”

“No,” Magenta drawled, “he is your father. The memory work there was mostly done by your mother, to be honest I just had to tweak it a little.”

“Right well, in that case… Dad, it turns out that I’m actually a woman.”

Bert looked surprised for a moment, then shrugged. “Now that you say that,” he meandered, “it sort of rings a bell.”

He pondered.

“I want to build up our relationship either way, assuming you still do.”

“Oh aye, definitely,” Nicky nodded. “I feel like I probably need to be supported through this traumatic time.”

“You’ll readjust surprisingly quickly,” said Esmeralda, “or at least, I think you will. Assuming you let me reverse the procedure.”

“Why does that not inspire me with full blown confidence?” Nicky asked scathingly. “Think I’ll just take it from here if you don’t mind.”

“Did you do anything to Nigella,” Bracken said suddenly.

“Who?”

“My cousin, Nigella. Well, I thought she was my cousin. Maybe she isn’t. She doesn’t know who the wean’s dad is, but she definitely thought he was mine.”

“Lanky girl, ginger, nasal?”

“That’s her,” grinned Nicky.

“Yeah, did some work on her,” Esmeralda confessed.

“Aaaaand here she is now,” said Kyle, “please welcome to the stage, Nigella!”

Nige appeared at the door, looking flushed and confused.

“How did I get here?” she asked Jeremy. “I was at home in the kitchen peeling a leek and then suddenly BAM, I was here!”

“Teleportation device,” Jez told her dismissively, “but that’s not important right now.”

“I disagree,” Nige disagreed, rather emphatically.

“You’re here today because you’ve got something to tell someone,” he bulldozed on in a vague sort of way.

“Erm, OK?”

“Well on you go then sweetheart,” he said, gesturing in the direction of the characters assembled before her, “spit it out.”

“Who am I meant to be talking to?” she enquired.

“That can be up to you,” he replied, “because at this point I don’t think it really matters.”

“Bracken,” she started, walking up to her cousin, “I’m sorry.”

This was the first time Bracken had ever heard her cousin apologise, and she was flabbersmacked. That’s a mixture of flabbergasted and gobsmacked – Peter Andre taught me it.

“That’s alright,” she said, unsure what it is that she was apologizing for.

“Me and Al never done anyhin,” she continued, “I was trying to make you jealous so I wanted to make you think we spent the night together, sexwise. But we never.”

“That’s alright, even if you had done,” Bracken said magnanimously. “It’s not as if we’re going out.”

Nige smiled, and gave her a hug. Meanwhile it dawned on Al that maybe Bracken did like him after all.

“Nicky,” Nige continued reproachfully, “where the hell have you been? You had us worried. Thought the aliens had got you at last.”

“I’ve been in this place,” Nicky filled her in, “living in a tiny cell against my will for an as yet unexplained reason.”

“It’s because Esmeralda – sorry, Magenta – ” Bracken rolled her eyes, “thought that if she asked people whether she could experiment on them they’d say no. So she took them without asking.”

“Be fair though,” Magenta countered, “as soon as I gave her the option, she did refuse.”

“She?” Nige said, bemused.

“Oh, Nicky’s a girl,” Bracken explained.

“Oh right. Cool.”

“Really?” Nicky said, “why is nobody even remotely surprised by this news?”

“It’s because they knew you before,” Magenta yawned. “The residual memories cushion the blow of the shock.”

“Course they do.”

“So this woman here – what did you call her? Magenta? Locked you in a cell for two weeks?”

“Pretty much.”

“Was the wean with you?”

“Not physically with me, no,” Nicky said, “although he was in the building, as it turns out.”

“I was keeping an eye on him,” said the scarred guard.

“And who are you?” Nigella enquired.

“I am his surrogate mother.”

“That’s a bit over the top, its only been a couple of weeks. He won’t remember that in later life.”

“She means she was the surrogate womb for him,” Bracken said sadly.

“Come again?”

“The wean isn’t mine, Nige. That’s why I couldn’t answer your questions about the dad. I didn’t know, because I never had sex with anyone, because I’m not his mum.”

“So who is the mum, then?” Nige asked in a state of understandable confusion. “If you’re not, and this lady was just a womb for hire?”

“I am,” Nicky informed her.

“Oh. That’s odd. But I guess you two have always got on pretty well.”

Just as the conversation seemed to be in danger of getting awkward, there was a clap of thunder, and Dennis appeared.

“Oh, Christy,” said Tim.

The noise was high pitched enough to break Brian’s concentration, and he did a big amulet shaped poo.

“Yoink,” said Dennis, grabbing it.

“Did that guy just steal a turd fae under the dug?” Nigella asked.

“Yup,” Bracken confirmed.

“Is that a common Scottish phrase?” Jeremy asked with interest.

“It will be soon,” Nicky commented, “as soon as she puts it on her Bebo.”

“Dennis,” Tim said, “don’t be an idiot. Give me that.”

“Why does that guy want the poo?” Nige asked.

“He doesn’t want the poo,” Al explained, “there’s a magical amulet inside the poo, and that’s what he wants.”

“What for?”

“So that I can destroy it.”

“But if you don’t even like it, why not let the other guy have it?”

“Because it’s evil,” Tim told her, “and it needs to be got rid of before the evil spreads.”

He advanced upon Dennis and tried to forcibly remove the poo. Dennis flew up into the air and levitated just out of reach, which is one of the perks of being a ghost.

“Ha,” he gloated triumphantly, “now what are you going to do?”

“What are you going to do?” Tim asked, “if you can use the amulet to resurrect yourself?”

“I’m going to have a bowl of frosties,” Dennis replied. “Then I’m going to go to sleep in a comfy bed.”

Tim shook his head.

“I know that’s what you want to do now,” he said, “but honestly, all that will go out the window if you use that thing. Just look at it, for goodnessake.”

Dennis obliged, staring into the mottled glass surface. The piece of tentacle within seemed to pulsate ominously, and Dennis thought he could hear an insidious whispering noise. “Kill,” it said, “rip, tear, slash, inflate.”

“Inflate?” Dennis said aloud.

“Sorry,” said the whispering, “I got confused. Maim and hurt, destroy, poke out their eyes…”

“That’s not very nice,” he chided, inadvertently floating back down towards the ground.

“GOTCHA!” Tim shouted, grabbing his ankle with one hand and maintaining contact for just long enough to yank Dennis earthward and grab the amulet.

Dennis instantly vanished in a huff.

“Right,” Tim said, “now all we need to do is destroy it.”

“I wouldn’t be so hasty if I were you,” said a robotic voice from a fire exit which nobody had noticed until now.

Everyone turned.

It came from the mink caped, hooded figure. The boss, the man, the big cheese.

He or she had Adric in a vice like grip, with a flick knife tight against his neck, blade just millimeters from piercing the skin.

“Give me the amulet,” the figure said, “or your boy toy gets it.”

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Chapter Twenty Eight

1-27. I have reached 50k now but there'll be a couple more chapters to round it off...

Bracken was confused.

One minute she was having yet another cryptic conversation with Esmeralda, the next she was onstage in front of a crowd of strangers baying for her blood. It was almost as if time had skipped a beat somehow. Maybe she’d fallen asleep for a couple of minutes and been moved here? Or more likely, Esmeralda had employed some kind of sneaky trick.

She looked about, blinking a lot and trying to smooth out her appearance a little. Al was there, she noticed, and the guy who sometimes gave Adric a ride home from the library on his motorbike. There was also a dog, and a suited gent who looked the spitting image of a daytime television presenter whose name she couldn’t place.

“Ricky something,” she wondered aloud, stretching her head. As she did so she became aware that she had the mother of all headaches. “No, that’s not right.”

“Welcome to the show, Bracken,” the man was saying. “How are you today?”

“Confused,” she replied truthfully. “I’ve had a lot going on lately.”

“Oh yeah,” he said, apparently sympathetically, “what sort of thing? Work, studies and so on?”

“Well up to a point,” she agreed hesitantly, “but also my flat burned down and my Uncle and baby went missing so that’s been quite stressful.”

“Your child went missing,” he responded slowly and thoughtfully, “so you stopped looking for him to come on here and build up a career as a Z-List celebrity?”

“Well no, that’s not – “

“Wanted to get a book deal, did you? Sell the story to all the papers and ladies magazines?”

“What?”

“I know your type. You sicken me. I might literally be sick just from looking at you and your sickening face.”

“Hey,” Al butted in, “that’s pretty unfair. You don’t even know her.”

“Oh but I do,” the Kylienator responded with a shark like grin, “I know her better than she knows herself.”

“Sake,” Bracken muttered, “you’re worse than Esmeralda.”

“My name isn’t Esmeralda,” announced the woman who up until a couple of moments ago we had thought was Esmeralda. “It’s Magenta.”

“Magenta?” Al spluttered incredulously, “as in Esmeralda’s long lost sister Magenta? The evil one who tried to kill her?”

“I think she may have succeeded on that front,” Bracken informed him.

“Sorry, what’s going on?” Jeremy asked, having lost the thread somewhat. “I’ve been employing you for over a year now, Esmeralda, and now you turn round and say you’re actually Magenta?”

“Yes. It’s not that much of a struggle, we’re identical twins. The only adjustment you need to make is to the first name you call me by.”

“Identical twins, huh,” Tim mused. “That’s the sort of thing that always happens in crappy romance fiction, or daytime telly like Diagnosis Murder. It never happens in real life. And I should know, I spend half of my real life dealing with the mythical and/or inexplicable.”

“So did the memory switch take place or not?” Bracken asked.

“Partially. I took on much of Esmeralda’s academic knowledge, but none of her… emotional baggage,” she enunciated with the smallest of nods in Al’s direction.

“What memory switch? What are you two talking about?” chorused Al and Tim. The audience were long gone, and most were engaged in a competition to see who could count how many hairs were on Brian to the nearest hair. How they would check and verify a final result was yet to be determined.

“Why don’t you tell them that, Jeremy,” suggested Magenta/Esmeralda with a toothy grin. “You did commission a lot of this work, after all.”

Jeremy Kyle’s lip wobbled. He looked like a rabbit caught in headlights. And not in a good way.

“I don’t know what you’re referring to,” he ventured, in a foolhardy way. Of course she was going to call his bluff, she had nothing much to lose, except the albatross of a dead twin around her neck.

“The work I’ve been doing to condition the perfect guests for your show,” she replied cheerfully. “You know, implanting false memories in groups of people who look right for the parts you create for them. So Bracken, here, was chosen to be a single mum. Nicky was to be her eccentric uncle. The baby used was created in a lab, and one of my guards was used as a surrogate.”

“That’s preposterous,” Kyle blustered, “why would I bother?”

“Because you’re afraid,” the artist who was previously known as Esmeralda explained, enjoying herself immensely. “You’re worried that your show will be a failure, because your guests are always the same. You have the same people back for two or three follow up show a year and they’re always still stuck in the same pathetic rut they were in when you met them for the first time.”

“Bibble,” Jeremy Kyle offered in his defense. It didn’t wash.

“You got wind of the work I was doing in South America, under my sainted sister’s name because my own is cursed in the world of science. And you hired me, no questions asked, to create contestants for your shows that would turn out to have hidden depths. I got the money to support my research, you got the perfect blend of daytime television.”

“Not true,” Kyle said, aware that he was fighting a losing battle but encouraged by the fact that his studio audience didn’t seem to have noticed.

“I can’t believe you’re Magenta,” said Al, rather slow to react. “What did you do to Esmeralda, exactly?”

“Oh, you don’t want all the gory details,” she smiled sanguinely. “But she’s been dead a long long time.”

“That was you, when I thought it was her, returning from her travels.”

“Yes.”

“Explains a lot,” he admitted.

“Yes, it does. The fact I didn’t know where anything was unless it related directly to science. The lack of emotional memory or attachment. The point that I suddenly loved sun dried tomatoes, whereas previously I loathed them to the point that even just seeing a jar made me want to hurl.”

“Es didn’t hate sun dried tomatoes that much,” Al said vaguely, although if he was honest he couldn’t really remember.

After all, she must have been dead for a number of years now.

“Why did you do it?” he asked.

“For science,” came the reply.

“I don’t mean the brain stuff,” he frowned, “I mean killing your twin.”

“So do I,” she countered. “I killed her for science. And partly out of jealously, I suppose.”

“Don’t even think about trying to escape,” Al turned to Jezza, “or you’ll be sorry.”

The man himself blushed and stopped his embarrassing attempt to scale the studio wall. It would have crumpled his fine Italian suit, anyway, he told himself.

“So hold up and rewind a bit,” Bracken said, “you conditioned me and Nicky to think that we were related, but we’re not?” She looked around her. “Speaking of which, where is Nicky?”

“Here,” came a weak voice from the front row. Nicky was curled up in a cluster of middle aged women, to whom he was deeply allergic.

“I’m not even going to ask how you got there,” Bracken decided, it’s just been that sort of a day.

“It’s true,” Magenta admitted, “you two are not actually related. But Nicky is at least related to the wean.”

“Sorry?”

“Oh, that’s the results of the DNA test,” she said. “Although I knew already because I oversaw the procedure. Nicky provided the egg that created the wean.”

“The egg?” Bracken exclaimed, “surely you mean the sp-the other stuff?”

“No,” Magenta said definitely, “I know what I mean and I mean the egg.”

“But that’d mean Nicky was a… I don’t even know. A hermaphrodite?”

“More than that even,” Magenta explained. “Nicky is actually a woman.”

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Chapter Twenty Seven

Full chapter list here.

Morning had officially broken over The Facility.

“Tim and Al are here today to talk about their quest for a magic amulet,” Jeremy Kyle announced to camera.

Almost immediately upon his arrival and ages before they had time to object, he had led them through a maze of twisting corridors to a room that turned out to be the set of his popular daytime television talk show. They were now seated on uncomfortable chairs in front of an audience of ragamuffins and ne’er do wells, none of whom had anything of interest or value to say. They were totally loyal to Jeremy Kyle, and would defend him to the death if the need ever arose. He rewarded their devotion with signed photographs and free plastic tumblers of weak tea on the regular occasions when the heating broke.

“OooOooOoo,” the audience trilled in unison, which was a little unnerving.

“Why don’t you start us off, Tim?” Sir Jez suggested. “Tell us a bit about the amulet and what you want it for.”

“Oh, I don’t want it for my own personal use,” Tim said hastily, “I was trying to get hold of it before it fell into the hands of evil doers who would use its power for- well, for evil. And actually, I’m not even sure whether it’s me who was chosen to do it.”

“The prophecy is quite vague,” Al interjected helpfully, “it could just as easily be about me, or about that guy over there.” He pointed to a youngish man sitting a few rows back, who was of moderate good looks and possessed a full head of fair hair.

“It’s definitely not me,” the young man squeaked defensively, “I done quest duty last year. Fought a Lesser Spotted Snodrog and everything.”

“OooOooOoo,” the audience chorused obediently, although nary a one of them had the first idea what a Lesser Spotted Snodrog was.

“Really,” Tim said, “a fully grown one?”

“Not quite,” the audience member admitted, “it was a three quarter length one. But I sorted it right out.”

“Well good for you,” Tim said in what he hoped was an encouraging way rather than a patronizing one.

“Cheers mate.”

“Alright,” Jeremy shouted across them all, “alright, calm down, it is MY SHOW you know everyone, it’s called the JEREMY KYLE show, the name’s written on the wall and everything.”

“Yeah but in Comic Sans though Jez,” an overly familiar runner spoke up in an apparently temporary fit of madness.

“What did you say?” he fumed, his face turning the vibrant reddy colour of juice in a beetroot jar.

“Nothing,” the techie replied, “what? Did you say somefink Mr Kyle? Only I couldn’t hear you if you did….”

“You were making snidey comments about my font choice again, weren’t you?”

“No Mr Kyle,” he replied, “indeed I was not! The very idea is repellant to me!”

“Comic Sans,” Jeremy explained through gritted teeth, “enables me to appear young and fun, rather than the greying ball buster that TV sometimes makes me out to be. Comic Sans is the most empathetic font that there is.”

“Yes sir, Mr Jeremy, Lord Kyle, sir,” said a waitress, who shouldn’t even have been there. His anger was such that it made even innocent bystanders feel compelled to apologise for behaviour they hadn’t engaged in.

“That’s alright,” he told her condescendingly, “I’ll let you off. This time.”

“Thank you sir, you’re very kind sir,” she curtsied mimsily, backing away – although how she managed to do both of these things from her position of seated in the back row of the studio crematorium was a mystery, and would remain so for a long time.

“Anyhoo,” Kyle coughed, remembering the matter at hand as though it were a first idea goldmine. “This amulet. Where is it now?”

“Inside that dog,” Al said innocently, pointing at the dog.

Tim rolled his eyes.

“Way to announce it on national telly,” he said without moving his lips. “Now everyone and his great auntie Nellie knows where the bloody thing is. If that mutt makes it out of this place alive it’ll be a bloody miracle.”

Brian the dog whined mournfully. He was unable to link to everyone in the room telepathically, it would have been too much mental effort and he was very tired from the effort of holding in the amulet till he got to his masters.

“And what does it do?” Jeremy inquired, as if he hadn’t been keeping up with other parts of the story at all.

“We are not at liberty to discuss that information,” Al said in an attempt to redeem himself after his earlier faux pas.

“This is a talk show,” Jeremy Kyle said impatiently, “therefore people are expected to talk.”

“Well you never gave us the option of not being on your stupid show,” Al pointed out, “you offered to help us out and then brought us down here, to the cold and wet of your terrible studio.”

Jezza was incensed.

“How dare you call the program stupid?” He raged, “how dare you? It’s as intelligent and empathetic as a show can be.”

“In what way?”

“I try to help people!”

“You’re about as helpful to people as Bargain Hunt.”

Kyle thought about this for a second. He decided it was impossible to gauge what that meant. Different things to different people, most likely.

“Why don’t you stick to what you’re good at,” Al suggested, his hackles aroused. “Shout at some schemey single mums or something.”

“What a good idea,” Jeremy said with a sly grin. “Who wants to meet one of the worst mums they’ve ever seen?” He turned to the audience to enquire.

There was a cacophonous roar of applause, which he took as an encouraging sign.

“Great,” he said, rubbing his hands together in anticipation, “right. Please welcome to the stage… Bracken Lee McCracken!”

Friday, 26 November 2010

Chapter Twenty Six

47882 words. Aw yeah. Chronological chapter times here.

Tim and Adric arrived at the facility whilst Nicky and Bracken were chatting in the mysterious room the guards referred to as The Chamber.

Through the blind fold Time could make out that it was some sort of building with more than one floor. Not the highest vantage point he’d ever had, but it was something. There’s nothing worse than having your blindfold removed in a dingy room and discovering on your escape that you’re on a boat, or in the middle of a volcano. Sometimes, just knowing you’re in a normal building which will contain some stairs and possibly a lift, puts you in a position of great mental strength.

Tim didn’t have much time to enjoy this inner calm, though, because the heavies had parked in their allotted spaces in The Facility’s car park and were roughly manhandling him and Adric out onto the concrete.

“Alright,” he said cheerfully, “I’m going.”

He pretended to stumble so that El Nombre’s companions wouldn’t realize he could see where he was going, and stole a quick look at Adric. He was still completely out of it, his gangly frame propped up by the guy who was preoccupied with sausages.

They formed a convoy and entered the building, each balaclava-wearing figure stopping to have his or her retinas scanned and fingerprints checked. In actual fact, none of this information was relayed anywhere, or even backed up onto a floppy disc (remember them) or pen drive. It was all set up to create the illusion that The Facility was a fortress, with unbreachable security. ‘Nobody ever gets out or in without our say-so,’ the scans seemed to imply. But if you wanted to, you probably could, Tim suspected. He wondered whether El Nombre knew, and was merely playing the game.

Once inside, Adric was whisked away to a cell a couple of doors down from Nicky's and put to bed by the nurse with the scarred face. Being the kindest of the guards, and the only one with actual nurse’s training, she was required to deal with all the new arrivals.

Meanwhile, El Nombre secured Tim in a basement room. Well, that was what he told his colleagues. In actual fact, he only walked Tim down to the basement. No securing occurred, as such. He merely removed the blindfold and said

"I dunno which cell they'll have put him in to sleep off the effects of the sedative, but all those rooms are on the second floor."

Tim nodded his thanks. El must have known the whole time that the guy they were kidnapping was the guy he wanted to rescue.

"Want to chum me on this one, for old time's sake?" he asked hopefully.

"I can't," El replied regretfully, "I'm busting out of this joint, right now. It's time to do what I set out to when I became a mercenary."

"Pack it all in for a life of leisure?" Tim joked, like the jokey joke-maker he often was in times of stress.

"Find and destroy Wizard Chinnigan," El Nombre explained, missing the humour like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Terminator movies.

"If you'd only hold on a couple of hours for me to rescue my friend, I could come with you," Tim offered, partly for old time’s sake and partly to repay the debt he had accrued by getting El to bring him here.

El shook his head no.

"This is something you need to do alone, huh?"

"It is."

"What if you get yourself killed? He's tricksy, that wizard."

"Tim, I know his ways better than no one. No, wait. Nobody knows the ways of that wizard better than I. You know this to be the case.”

Tim nodded reluctantly, feeling his hair swoosh against the back of his neck. It was getting too long.

“However, if anything in the way of mortality does happen up in my grill, I will expect you to avenge my death.”

“In the usual way?”

“In the usual way,” he agreed solemnly. “Death by cupcakes.”

Tim blinked.

“That isn’t the traditional – oh, I see. El, I do believe that you just cracked a joke.”

El smiled, and his perfectly white teeth dazzled out of the darkness of his balaclava till Tim was nearly blinded.

“I have been practicing, since that first quest. It was funny, yes?”

“Oh yes, very funny. Although death by cupcakes is too good for that old goat.”

“It is,” El agreed. “But in actuality I suspect that it will not be the way the wizard will go.”

They hugged awkwardly, in the manner of men who became close under extenuating circumstances, lost touch for a couple of years, then met up again just briefly, only to be parted once more by further potentially life threatening circumstances. There were a lot of complicated emotions at work in that hug, and it was a beautiful and touching thing.

“Give me a ten minute head start,” El muttered into the hug, “then head for the second floor. You will find your young man there.”

“Thanks, El, I will. Good luck with finding and murdering Chinnigan.”

“It sounds so distasteful when you put it that way,” El realized, pulling out of the hug. “And yet, it is what it is, and what it is must be done. The badger must kill the fox before it can truly find peace.”

“Is that an old Chilean saying?”

“No, I saw it on Autumnwatch.”

And with that, El bounded off up the stairs, wearing two balaclavas, never to be seen again. Probably.

Tim leaned against the wall and looked around him.

It wasn’t one of those interesting cellars that you hear about in some books, like ‘The Kid in the Cellar’ or ‘Get Me Another Chianti’. It had never been used as a dungeon, or a gym, or a place to keep wine. In fact, it was all but forgotten about by the people who owned the building, truth be told, even though it wasn’t plagued by damp or rats or unusual smells. It just sat there, quite a nice space, albeit a bit on the dark side, almost entirely empty apart from an old wheelchair with a broken seat and only one wheel; and several enormous piles of dust.

“Passing ten minutes in this place is probably going to be my biggest challenge yet,” Tim told himself with a chuckle. A mouse inside the wall rolled its eyes, and proclaimed him a goner. The mice had the run of the building, and knew how the owners perceived intruders, adventurers, and people who thought they were funny when they weren’t. It didn’t look good for someone who ticked all three of those boxes.

He heard footsteps above and to his right, and moved towards the tiny, grimy window to peek outside.

Dawn had broken, bathing the outside world in a pinky blue hue that would have made quite a nice colour for something that would look good in pinky blue. Tim enjoyed it for a moment, before remembering the footstep situation.

There were iron bars on the outside of the window which were totally in the way, but he was pretty sure he could make out the figure of Aloysius advancing towards the door of the building along with some sort of animal. Tim wasn’t all that great with nature, but was moderately sure that this one was a sheep dog of some sort.

“What is he doing,” he groaned, watching as Al strode purposefully towards the front door, “they’re gonna get him! And apparently, they’re gonna get his little dog, too!”

Tim grabbed the wheelchair and pulled it over to the window, intending to try and force his way out or at least attract Al’s attention so that he would not pursue this hideous course of action.

Unfortunately he wasn’t quick enough, and from his precarious position atop the rickety frame all he saw was the door closing behind Al as he entered the building.

Tim jumped down with a ker-thunk.

“That’s probably been ten minutes anyway,” he reasoned aloud, one assumes for the benefit of the mouse as there was nobody else present to hear him.

He bounded up the well-worn steps and out of the cellar as El had done some moments before, pulling the door open with a careful yet enthusiastic creak. Once out in the relative brightness of the corridor he made to travel back in the direction he had come, which wasn’t too difficult as he’d had years of practice at going back the way he had come.

To begin with he pressed himself against the wall like people do in action films, but then he decided there was little point, as there was nothing to shield him if someone did come the other way. He stuck out like a sore thumb against the holographic underwater scene they had used to decorate the place. It was an interior design nightmare, he thought to himself, not even a child would find this appealing and their taste in d├ęcor is bizarre.

Up ahead there was an archway, which he remembered led to a lobby area at the front of the building. Now at least he could hide behind something if the need arose, he thought with a satisfied nod.

He could hear voices a little way further, and recognized one to belong to Al, but the other was unfamiliar.

“If you’ve got to go,” Al was saying sympathetically as Tim drew nearer to the sound of their jibber jabber, “then you have to go, that’s all I’m saying.”

“I can’t go here,” the other voice said, “there’ll be hell to pay.”

Tim risked a look-see around a pillar that conveniently stood by the archway.

Al was the only person there, and his only companion was the dog from outside. That breed was called a collie, Tim remembered now. They got their name due to something about only eating cauliflower.

‘Talking animals, eh,’ he thought to himself. ‘The plot thickens.’

“I’m not talking,” the dog said patiently, looking in Tim’s direction as if waiting for him to come out of his hiding place. “I’ve set up a telepathic link between myself and anything living within a half mile radius. Heard you coming before we even got here, your thoughts are that loud.”

“Sorry,” Tim said, not really sure whether an apology was required but deciding to err on the side of politeness.

“It’s eaten the amulet, before you say anything about me mucking up the quest,” Aloysius told him defensively.

“I wasn’t going to slag you,” Tim replied, “I’m sure you did your best.”

“But my best wasn’t good enough.”

“Well, we’ll see. This thing isn’t over yet, there are four days left in November after all.”

Al looked confused, but didn’t say anything for fear of humiliating himself further.

“I’m not an it,” the dog said suddenly, “I’m a he. My name is Brian, actually.”

“Nice to meet you Brian,” breezed Tim, “I’m Tim Mahogany-Barnes, and this here is Aloysius Hunkington Smythe.”

“Tim Mahogany-Barnes,” Brian said, or thought, if you want to be pedantic (in which case, why are you here? Go and do something less first draft-y.) “why do I know your name?”

“Not sure,” Tim reported, scratching his nose.

“You’re not a relation of Cassius Mahogany-Barnes, by any chance?”

“Why yes,” said Tim, “he’s my uncle. Do you know him?”

“Know him? He was my owner, till I was dognapped a couple of years ago. Best old man I ever knew.”

“You’re the dog that went missing? Well that’s great, I’ll tweet him and say you’ve been found! He’s never given up the search, you know.”

“I know,” Brian said with a mixture of pride and sadness, “I saw the reports on Crimewatch. But he’ll never take me back now.”

“Whyever not?” Tim puzzled, “he misses you dreadfully. Never got another dog after you were taken from him.”

Brian’s lip trembled, which for those of you who’ve never seen a sad dog, was simultaneously the most adorable and the most heart wrenching thing you are ever likely to see.

“Because I’ve been a bad dog,” he moaned mournfully.

“I’m sure he’d forgive you,” Tim replied dutifully, although he wasn’t really sure. He didn’t know Cassius brilliantly well, as he was an eccentric old chap who liked to keep himself to himself.

“No,” Brain asserted with his tail between his legs. “Ever since the clan of the cape recruited me… Well I don’t want to go into it, really. But it’s been dark times.”

“Well how about you redeem yourself now, by giving us the amulet instead of letting the clan of the cape take it?”

This was Al speaking, using his famous logic to manipulate an animal into doing what he wanted. How like a human.

“I can’t,” Brian quaked, conflicted like a girl choosing between the sexy bad boy and the safe, dependable husband type. “They’ll kill me if I do. Or worse.”

“So the clan of the cape have a penchant for inflicting fates worse than death, eh,” said Tim, stroking his chin as if this information had in some way made him think. It hadn’t. “That’s no good at all. We must stop them, Aloysius.”

“How are we going to do that?” Al asked, logic to the forefront once more. “We know literally nothing about them, other than they want that magic amulet, and they have a base here. We don’t know how many there are, we don’t know whether this is their main HQ or just a holding place, we don’t know whether they’re sanctioned by any authorities in this country…. We’d be going in totally blind, with no weapons, and no idea whether they want to kill, maim, or let us go.”

“Well, I think it’s about time someone got you guys that information,” pealed a tiresome voice from one of the doorways.

“And as usual, that someone is probably me.”

And that was how Tim and Al were introduced to Jeremy Kyle.