Monthly Archives: January 2010

The Empty Vessel – Part 2

This is the second of a four part continuing story on Gamboling. Click here to read part 1, check back next Friday for the next instalment, but only after you’ve read part 2 of “The Empty Vessel”.

Kurt is falling. Air rushing past him. Instinctively, he puts his arms out to protect himself and he wakes up. He can’t move his arms, they are lashed to his body.

“Good Morning, Kurt,” says a female voice. He can’t see who is talking to him.

All Kurt can see is a massive screen that is suspended from the ceiling above him. It starts playing images over and over. He closes his eyes, an electric shock shoots up from the base of his spine. His eyes open again and he remembers. He wonders why Director Smith sent him here. Kurt knows nothing about this place. Why was he sent here? He tries to remember why Director Smith sent him.

He hasn’t felt thirsty or hungry for days and Kurt has forgotten that he ever was hungry. The only basic function that hasn’t been taken from him is sleep.

The images play into his mind all day. He has to close his eyes just to stop them drying out. Just for a second each time but the electric shocks hurt so much.

The screen is turned off. He sleeps.

Kurt is falling. Air rushing past him. Instinctively, he puts his arms out to protect himself and he wakes up. Something is different. His left arm. It’s up. Somehow it has come free.

The voice comes, “Keep still, Kurt, someone will be there to assist you shortly.”

Kurt feels with his free hand for the belt that’s holding down his right arm. With a hard yank it is free. More belts come flying off and his legs are free. He rips off his gag, the most satisfying of all.

“Kurt, please remain calm, there is no need to move. You will be attended to shortly.”

There is a siren going off in the background of the tannoy announcement. As she stops talking, everything falls silent. Everything is silent except for Kurt ripping the sheets off. He carefully detatches the surgical pipes. There seem to be short lengths of pipe that are going into him. He leaves them in, but disconnects the longer pipes they are attached to. He swings his legs down off the bed, they feel tired.

His white shirt and shorts look slighty discoloured from his sweat. He stands up.

“Please move no further, Kurt, and we will not have to correct you.”

Kurt ran for the door. His muscles screaming already. How long had they let him atrophy in that bed?

He opened the door to the room. A series of hospital corridors. He could hear something approaching in the distance. He ran in the oppostie direction. The cold floor felt good on his bare feet. It felt real.

Tune in next week for part three of four of “The Empty Vessel”.

A game of cat and mouse

Thursdays are archive day on Gamboling at the moment. I have tried to come up with a solution that can highlight some of the short stories from the archives. For that I am going to be recording an audio version of a story featured in The Book With The Missing First Page (still available from Amazon) as the last archive of each month. Today’s short story is ‘A game of cat and mouse’.

I want more things in my wheelhouse

There is something I love about random management phrases. I mean obviously I don’t like to actually use them, because they sound totally mad and often they really confuse the issue. However there are two words to do with the areas of your control and expertise that I really like.

The first is wheelhouse. It’s the name of the room where the captain of a ship stands. Literally, I guess, the room that houses the wheel of the ship. And this one is something you want more things in really. People say, “hey that’s right in Alex’s wheelhouse”. Well they don’t because they don’t use any of the cool phrases at my work, they just ask me to “action the pre-meeting”. But that’s what they would say to mean, “that’s right up Alex’s street”. It’s sort of about it being in your comfort zone, but comfort zone sounds a bit too wimpy. It’s actually used in baseball a lot to suggest that the ball was thrown to the place that the batsman really likes to hit from. So I guess you want more people to think that such-and-such will be in your wheelhouse.

Now bailiwick is the other word I like. Technically, this comes from the world of bailiffs and still exists in that world today. It means essentially ‘area of jurisdiction’. And of course, you might think, you as a young thrusting person would like to have more things under your control, the phrase is seldom used that way. It’s really used to explain what you aren’t in control of. Somebody says to you, “hey Alex, can you take this broom and sweep up the kitchen?”, you have to turn to this person and say, “I’m sorry Sir, but that’s not my bailiwick”. Basically, it’s a fancy way of telling somebody to shove off while also explaining that it’s “not my problem”. Of course I have never really used it [not at work, anyway – Ed] because it would make you sound like a mad person.

So while I fear those who freely use phrases such as, “We need to pro-actively seek to add value going forward”, I secretly also want the freedom to pepper my dialogue with these really cool words. Sadly, I don’t think it’s going to happen. Perhaps saying such words isn’t in my wheelhouse?

The five whys of why you like the internet?

This is the continuing series of questions for you in the comments, here’s how it works. I’ll ask you a question, and you either answer in the comments or on your own blog and drop a link to the post.


The five whys of why you like the internet.

Now this might need some explaining. Toyota apparently run a lot of their business on the theory that simply asking why once isn’t enough. If I say “my car will not start” and you say, “why” and I say “the battery is dead” then you may be left with the impression that the battery is at fault. But apparently this is all wrong. Here’s a sample conversation from wikipedia:

My car will not start. (the problem)

1. Why? – The battery is dead. (first why)
2. Why? – The alternator is not functioning. (second why)
3. Why? – The alternator belt has broken. (third why)
4. Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and has never been replaced. (fourth why)
5. Why? – I have not been maintaining my car according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, a root cause)

Crazy huh? Well anyway. I want us to do the same for why we like the internet. The point is not to list five things that you like about the internet, but to go deeper each time into whatever you said in the previous answer.

Hopefully my answer will help you with yours.

Here’s my answer:

1. Why do you like the internet? – Because it is an amazing communications tool.
2. Why do you like that? – Because it lets you sometimes talk to everyone, and sometimes just focus on one person.
3. Why do you like that? – Because I can find my friends and talk directly to them and make new friends by talking to lots.
4. Why do you like that? – Because communication is at the heart of us all and I don’t know my neighbors.
5. Why do you like that? – Because it far more likely you’ll meet people you like if you use the whole world (rather than your road) as your starting point.

So what are your five whys of why you like the internet?

What if?

People have been asking “What if?” questions since the dawn of time, I imagine. My guess is that the first time two amoeba existed, one turned to the other and said, “What would happen if you did that again?”. It’s human nature.*

When you were a kid, you were able to spend the time to play the game properly. You really got the chance to put the effort in, you got to milk the apparent turn by turn nature of history. However when playing with my brother, Just as I was trying to get him to consider just what would have been different if Caesar hadn’t quite got around to all his veni, vidi, vici-ing, Pete would say, “But what if the whole universe didn’t exist?”.

Of course as adults it easier to see that it’s very rare that the world turns on a single decision. Most things that we do are cumulations of decisions. Things conspire together. It’s closer to the gathering storm, as Churchill had it. A lot of times, a single attempt to buck the trend doesn’t achieve very much.

There is a more serious point to some of this which is to do with regrets. Oftentimes I hear people talking about their regrets and I wonder what they really mean. Very few things are closed forever.

People who wish they had learned to play the piano when they were kids but don’t do it now are kidding themselves. They could learn now but the same thing that made them not want to put in the effort when they were kids is the same thing stopping them now. Just go and do it. But remember that Myleene Klass is disapointed that, because of her media career and kids, she doesn’t get as much time to keep up with her piano these days. Nowadays, she can only manage to practice for one hour a day! Being good at something takes a lot of effort. So you’d better get started.

The other side is that people regret things that are part of what makes them who they are. You are, to an extent, the product of the decisions you’ve made. So instead of wishing you could go back and change something (and unless you’ve invented time travel, you can’t do that), you should take the information you learned and make sure you aren’t making the same decision again. Remember that most days you decide to do the same thing you did yesterday. You don’t think you are deciding, but you are.

I was reminded of all of this when I met a friend’s three year old son. Lukas was just at the stage of incessantly asking “What if” questions. He just wanted to understand how the whole world worked. Those simple things that children all learn, how do these things fit together?, what happens if they don’t? We all start learning it. Some of us just stop. Anyway, at the end of our trip, we were getting on the plane and Lukas was trying to come up with things that might mean we didn’t have to go.

He tried several versions:
“What if they have no fuel?”
“They’ll get more fuel.”

“What if they’ve forgotten your bags?”
“They haven’t forgotten our bags, look they’re there.”

And then he had it, “What if the pilot talks nonsense?”.

And what, I thought to myself, if the universe doesn’t exist?

* And from the sounds of things, amoeba nature too.

The Empty Vessel – Part 1

This is the first of a four part continuing story on Gamboling. Check back next Friday for the next installment, but only after you’ve read part 1 of “The Empty Vessel”.

Kurt crouched down behind a low wall. There hadn’t been any shooting for a few seconds. Kurt needed to think. He only had 3 bullets left in his gun and no spare ammunition. Perhaps, he would remember this next time and try and pick up some of the guns from the people he had shot.

Kurt could hear the tell-tale sounds of a whispered order followed by the muffled footsteps that meant a trap was being laid. But what to do? What to do?

Kurt woke up.

He was in a military hospital. How long had he been there? What was the last thing he could remember? He remembered being close to running out of bullets. Of feeling that he was about to be caught in a trap but then nothing else. Had he been captured? A nurse walked up towards his bed. He tried to say something but realised that he’d been gagged.

“Don’t panic, sir,” the nurse said, “You are not trusted by our government. And so we are not allowed to hear what you say, unless you are observed by a member of the army police. Nod if you are in pain.”

Kurt shook his head. He felt no pain, in fact he felt nothing at all. He could have been just a head without a body for all he could feel. Almost as though he was without a head.

Kurt is crawling through a tunnel. A sewage tunnel. He has a torch between his teeth. One wall bright, the other black. Above him he sees a slight glint of metal. A wheel handle. He stops crawling and lies on his back and pushes himself with his legs into position. He starts turning the wheel from underneath. It’s jammed hard, but after giving it a forceful shove, he gets it moving slowly. Kurt realises that he doesn’t want to be under the hatch when he gets it open. He slides back, turns the handle. The door flies open, water gushing out into the tunnel. Kurt manages to hang on to the handle. The water is lifting him clean into the middle of the tunnel. His head is being hit from top to bottom.

The nurse is back, but with two other men. One looks like a doctor, all in white. The other looks to be a bodyguard, he is wearing a black suit.

The black suit walks over to Kurt and removes his gag.

Kurt knows they’ll be expecting him to blurt something out so he resists the temptation. Best to keep them wanting more from him.

“Kurt, we are ready to take you to the electroshock therapy room.”

Kurt wasn’t expecting this. The black suit puts a leather strip in his mouth where the gag was. Kurt can’t help but clamp down on it to stop himself from gagging.

No room to move, no movement at all, no escape. The nurse and the black suit are pushing Kurt’s cot down a corridor. Strip lights above him arrive and leave one after the other. Flashing like the strip in the middle of the road. The cot stops moving, Kurt can hear them putting the brakes on the cot. Through slits in his bedding he can see them inserting metal strips, and then he feels the cold on his skin. The first thing he has felt in his body since he has been awake. More and more metal strips are attached. Then they focus on his head. He wonders what happened to his hair. He remembered having hair before.

And then it’s happening, electricity coursing through his body, and he can remember nothing.

Tune in next week for part two of four of “The Empty Vessel”.

Bands on the run

Thursdays are archive day on Gamboling at the moment. Time to unearth something…

In the time I have been writing Gamboling, I have managed to write a few gig reviews. I have tended to review the smaller gigs I’ve been to, and sometimes I’ve even remembered to review the music too. So I have been trawling the archives to see what I can find.

From 2004, we have Bugfly. Bugfly didn’t last (my friend from the band is now in Lonely Weekend – ), but don’t let that put you off:

From 2005, we have Goldfrapp. I think Goldfrapp might be the biggest gig I have reviewed so far –

Also from 2005, we have The Spinto Band. The Spinto Band are still going. They got signed on the night I wrote my review. And they have two albums out now. And they feature Kazoos. What’s not to like?

It would appear that I didn’t review any gigs in 2006. But in 2007, I reviewed two bands (Rick Witter and The Dukes, and Mother Black Cap [No longer going]) in one gig and in two parts: and

And they’re all the gigs I’ve reviewed. I really meant to write a review about Idlewild when I saw them, I took lots of notes and everything. But… erm… I forgot!

At home phrases

A while ago I ran through a few of the phrases that I use at home and yesterday I asked you for your suggestions I’m sure everyone has this kind of thing, but Katherine and I seem to have more than most. Now I’m not really talking here about something like slugabed. This is a phrase that means kind of layabout. I’d never heard it before I started going out with Katherine. I assumed she had made it up, but no, apparently it’s a real word. This is rather like, “honest indians”, that I use and I assume is American. It means, “no this is really true”, or “I swear”.

But no, I’m talking about phrases here that have been created in the homestead or have been at least wildly taken out of context.

You’ve met me before

I don’t know where this comes from, but in some ways it is the most normal of this bunch, so I guess it gets to go first. This is used by me a lot to diffuse the mock shock and surprise that Katherine demonstrates when I go on one of my damn foolish idealistic crusades*. Eg.
Katherine: “Why are all of the spoons on the dining room table?”
Me: “I was trying to magnetise them.”
Katherine: “Why?”
Me: “You know… you’ve met me before.”

Tiny dinosaur arms

Katherine does have slightly shorter and weaker arms than me. I seem to remember suggesting that the reason she couldn’t open something one day was because she only had tiny dinosaur arms. I was thinking along the lines of the T-Rex style. However, this one has slightly backfired on me as I now often hear, “Can you do it? I can’t because of my tiny dinosaur arms”.

They’ll be closed

This one can be pinpointed exactly. In the first live stage show of the TV series Bottom, when very few lines of the play seem to be actually getting said, Rik Mayall says, “Come on, they’ll be closed”. Meaning the pub. This is invoked at home whenever one person is faffing. It sounds a pretty generic phrase but it still seems to cause confusion because other people say, “What’s closing? When’s it closing?”

Trouble with a capital TR

This is pretty straightforward as it goes. Some people are trouble, others are trouble with a capital T. Katherine is trouble with a capital TR. Because she’s more trouble than your traditional captial T Trouble-maker. This actually does rely on a strange understanding of the word trouble that we seem to employ, which is quite similar to cheeky.

Are you Joaquin Phoenix?

Well instead of saying “Are you joking?”, I tend to say, “Are you Joaquin Phoenix”. Yes I know. It’s not great is it?

Joaquin Phoenix it in

Well you must know that really you don’t pronounce Joaquin like joking. In fact it’s pronounced much more like “wha-keen”. And in my addled mind it sounds a bit like “whacking” hence “so take that cake and just Joaquin Phoenix it in the oven”. Yes it does tend to get me looks.

[And sighs from your Editor as you can spell neither Joaquin nor Phoenix. I thank the stars that these are spoken phrases.]

* This is from Indiana Jones and the last crusade. I’m pretty sure Nick said this about some crazy scheme I was plotting when I was about 12 or 13. It’s been accurate ever since.

What is your favorite "at home" phrase?

This is the third in our series of questions for you in the comments, so let me introduce the idea. I’ll ask you a question, like today’s, “What is your favourite ‘at home’ phrase?” and you either answer in the comments or on your own blog and drop a link to the post. So that’s the theory, let’s kick it off…


What is your favorite “at home” phrase?

What I mean is those phrases that you’ve been using since you were a kid (or have come about more recently) that make perfect sense to you until you take them out into the open of the real world and you discover that nobody knows what you are talking about.

Here’s my answer:

I have rather a lot of these, and I’m not sure I have a favourite, but I suppose the one I use most is probably “That’s a bit Charlie from my school”. I have a post explaining this one and a few others:

So what is your favorite “at home” phrase?

Addressing the issue

There is a really broken thing on your computer and I am constantly amazed that it hasn’t been fixed. It’s the way addresses and contacts work. The issue is this: on a computer, you should never have to enter the same information twice, but that’s what keeps happening in your contacts.

Think about Katherine and me. How do we feature in your address book*. Most people used to have the couple at their home address in their address book with the house phone and then underneath you have something saying, “Alex Mob” etc.

But now in the electronic world you want to be able to know that when one of us calls you on the phone you have the right name pop up. So you set up both people individually, with their own mobile number. But where do you store the home address and the home phone number? Generally, you end up putting the home number on both people. Luckily my iPhone is smart with this and would say “Alex or Katherine calling” if the home number calls me.

But there is a problem. Something is broken. I’ve had to enter the home phone number twice, same problem with the address. But why? There is no real reason.

Personally, I think the way it should work is that you are able to nest information. So a regular person that you put in the contacts is at the top level. When you scroll through the contacts you only see this top set of people exactly as you do now. However you would be able to add a subordinate set of information – these would be houses, offices, children, etc. They would, in reality, be contacts exactly like the normal contacts, but they would be owned by at least one other contact, so don’t show up in the normal list.

That way, if we move you only need to change the address once. If your work friend, Karen, is in the phone and you want to add their partner’s name, you would make a subordinate contact. It wouldn’t normally show up, but when you need to remember Steve’s name, it’s there. Suddenly Karen can’t come to the football and Steve’s coming, you have a place to put his name and you can later work out which Steve it is. Then after the game, you actually exchange e-mails and suddenly Steve is a real mate so you promote him up and he no longer belongs to Karen. He’s just a regular contact and you don’t have to copy and paste that info out of some notes field you were using.

Surely this is the right way to do it?

*Obviously there’s a good chance we aren’t in your address book, but instead replace the names with some other random names of a couple that you know that you pluck from the air that make sense for your address book.