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The Landlady – flash fiction

I had my reservations about sharing my home with students, yet this place is far too large for me to be rattling around on my own. Individually, they are quiet and studious – but as a group they tend to shout, rather than speak quietly to each other. Curtis even shouts, “LOL” instead of actually laughing. At least they are keeping me young with their energy, and up-to-date with the ever-evolving English language. But please not “some think” or, worse still, “summink”. The word is “something”. Surely you wouldn’t call a King a “Kink”?

Aside from the generation gap and their bad taste in music, I do enjoy their company. The better I get to know them, the more maternal I feel. Harriet is the one I feel most attached to. Some weekends, the other students go home to their parents – but Harriet is always here. I have listened to their conversations, and get the impression she was more or less brought up by her grandparents, so she must be used to older people like me. I have tried to engage with her when it’s just the two of us, but she seems uneasy with conversation and tries to ignore me. Her choice, of course. Afterall, she’s a paying guest. But she knows I’m always here if she wants to talk.

All these youngsters are paying more than they can afford. But with this ridiculous energy price cap hike I keep hearing about, they understand that it’s a fair price if they want a warm bedroom this winter.  And a hot shower if they can be bothered. I just wish they’d all help with the cleaning. The grouting is getting grubby and it wouldn’t hurt them to wave the brush down the toilet once in a while.

Thursday evening is the one time they all seem to be here. Supermarket beer and wine is flowing, and Dylan is passing round a roll-up cigarette that smells strange and musky. Then Harriet starts whingeing to her housemates that she feels nervous being here without them at the weekends. She finds this place a bit creepy.

Creepy? A little old-fashioned, maybe, but I wouldn’t call it creepy. I hope perhaps one of her housemates will take it up, and invite her back to theirs for the weekend, but no-one does.

Then Haydn, the philosophy student, starts going on about everything being nothing more than a perception – and there’s a discussion about whether or not this solid wooden table will continue to exist after they have left room. Of course it bloody will! I stifle my laughter and tell them it’s been here donkey’s years. They ignore me – except for Harriet, who looks straight at me, but without smiling.

I go upstairs and leave them to it.

Harriet spends most of Saturday doing her course work, sitting at the solid wooden table which is conveniently still existing. It’s only when I join her in the evening and sit in my usual armchair that she mutters something about the crap WIFI connection and storms off upstairs. I can’t help feeling rejected. I’d thought maybe she needed a break from her work and, if I’m honest, I liked the idea of a bit of company. I’d hoped she might put the TV on, and we could watch a film together.

I gaze up at the ceiling. It sounds as if Harriet is packing her bags. I go upstairs and hover outside her bedroom door. I can hear her crying. The yearning to go into the room and comfort her is so strong – but it’s not my place. To enter her room would be overstepping the mark.

Sunday morning, I can hear her on the phone, sounding bright and business-like. At least she’s cheered up. The kettle boils and clicks itself off. The toaster smells of burning. Those students really should consider emptying out the crumbs occasionally!

Curtis and Haydn return together, looking tired and relaxed. Harriet greets them dramatically. Her luggage is in the hallway and they struggle to get past with their rucksacks.  I watch and listen from the landing at the top of the stairs. She tells them she is moving out. Apparently, she’s had enough of this place and has found somewhere else.

“This place is haunted, I’m sure of it! I can’t stay here another day!”

“Haunted?” says Curtis.

Haydn shrugs and gets a beer from the fridge. “I guess it’s just a perception …”

“Haunted?!” I laugh out loud at the idea, and Harriet rushes away, slamming the door behind her.

I’m sorry to see her go. Harriet was the only one I felt really in tune with. And of course this place isn’t haunted!  I should know – I’ve been here more than two hundred years.

Idea for a children’s video game with minimal graphics. Free to use – you’re welcome!

This idea began in a dream, and then developed during my most alert hours between 2am-4am.

I’m old enough to be one of those who enjoyed colouring books and crayons or felt-tips, and never got into gaming. My favourite toy was a collection of plastic farm animals. I spent hours arranging them into little herds and flocks, then moving them from one place to another (across the carpet) and securing them into little pens. Back then, I thought the countryside was idyllic, and the farm animals were kept as pets. When I realised that was not the case, I refused to eat meat … but that’s a different story.

If computer games had been available when I was little, the game I have created in my mind is the one I would have enjoyed.

Not sure whether it should be targeted at three-to-six-year-olds, or under-fives.

“Rise and Shine Farmyard” is what I called it, but call it what you want.

I think this idea might be useful to a student who is lacking inspiration for a project, or any company wishing to create a low-budget game. No realistic animation required – just a progression of still pictures and with some animal sound effects.

This is how it works:

Farmyard scene/landscape initially (but more scenes could be added, such as garden pets or horse livery stables).

Start with dimly lit farmyard scene. Sepia or greyscale. Faint crescent moon. Sun just peaking over the horizon. A farmyard with outbuildings surrounded by fields.

  • Cows in cowshed
  • Cat asleep on hay in loft above
  • Horse in stable
  • Pigs in piggery
  • Hens in hen house
  • Sheep in sheltered pen
  • Dog in kennel
  • Ducks asleep at side of pond

Click/tap on each sleeping animal and it transitions to its daytime position. Or possibly drag and drop to desired area. Little or no animation. Animal noise on click.

For example:

Click on each cow and it disappears from cowshed with a “moo” and appears in a field eating grass. Click on each duck and it disappears from pond-side and appears in pond with a “quack” etc.

As each animal moves, the sun rises a little, and the scene becomes brighter and more colourful. The moon fades away and by the time the last animal is clicked, the sun is high in the sky.

The game can then be restarted, or done in reverse to put all the animals back to bed.

It’s as simple as that … but a heck of a lot of work for someone! 🙂

Car Insurance Employment Status

I was made redundant in the spring.  It wasn’t a surprise; it was a planned closure of the firm I worked for. This week, when my car insurance came up for renewal, I phoned the insurance company to update them with the change of details. Since I’m no longer commuting a hundred miles each day, I expected the policy price to be reduced.  Instead, it went up!

“I know, it’s bananas isn’t it,” said the guy on the phone.  He explained that my change of employment status to unemployed had caused the increase.  WTF?!  What exactly are the connotations of unemployment that would trigger an increase when my annual mileage has reduced from twenty-five thousand miles to five thousand?  I decided to try elsewhere.

I found a better deal on a comparison website, but couldn’t select “commuting” as I’d selected “unemployed”.  Bloody computers!  I was also miffed because the no claims discount was dependent on the renewal notice, and the previous insurer didn’t care beyond ten years so that’s what their renewal schedule said, despite me joining them a couple of years ago with far more years’ no claims.  Grrrr!

Too much time to think, I guess, but I ended up phoning the new company to ask if I could add commuting, in case I forget to do it when I get a job, and also to check that it wouldn’t massively raise the price.

Several layers of call vectoring and twenty minutes of crap music later, a real person answered the phone. (I wasn’t sure at first, these robots are getting good at impersonation!)  I asked the lady to add “commuting” and the price went up a little. Then, I asked her to change my employment status from “unemployed” to “housewife”, explaining that I’m not claiming benefits – just taking some time out, and the price came down a few quid lower than if I was unemployed and not commuting. Confused.com? I am now!

What exactly is a “housewife” and why are they less of a car insurance liability than someone who is “unemployed”?  I imagine many housewives are busy ferrying children to various activities; doing the school run at peak times; trying to park in spaces too small; popping to the supermarket on the way home, and then taking the dog to the vet. Meanwhile, the unemployed person is sitting in the house browsing jobs on the internet … and paying more for their car insurance at a time when they could really do with paying less :-/

John Sherwood’s ambient music

I had a lovely surprise in the post this morning from my friend and former colleague, John Sherwood:

John is a composer of ambient music.  Some is for meditation – ideal for blocking out summer’s intrusive relay of lawn mowers and strimmers, whilst pieces such as The Saturn Suite send you flying through the cosmos with an ear on the response of the rocket’s engine as it propels you into infinity and beyond …  Does anyone else feel slightly weird thinking about infinity?  What if you had a rocket that generated its own fuel and could go on forever and ever  ……?

The Lighthouse composition seems to work equally well as foreground or background sound, having the energy to help you on a journey of the imagination but without taking over. It would provide an ideal backing theme for a tarot reading, or to create atmosphere in a video or montage. 

That’s probably enough pretentious twaddle from me. Let the music speak for itself!

 Here’s a link to a wide range sound samples, MP3 downloads and CDs:

https://johnsherwood.bandcamp.com/

… and here is the link to The Lighthouse Tarot CD:

https://johnsherwood.bandcamp.com/album/the-lighthouse-tarot

Cheers John 🙂

The Lighthouse Tarot in action!

Donna was one of the first to buy The Lighthouse Tarot and it made my day when I was queueing for a Covid jab today and she sent me this link to a video of the cards in action. I am so impressed with Donna’s intuitive readings and her lovely voice!

The Lighthouse Tarot – available for purchase

My small print run of The Lighthouse Tarot has been delivered:

I am selling them for £22 per deck plus postage by Royal Mail:

Price including postage for a single pack/deck:

UK standard 1st class: £22.00 + £3.85 = £25.85

UK standard 2nd class:  £22.00 + £3.20 = £25.20

Europe no tracking:  £22.00 +  £5.95 = £27.95

Europe tracked:  £22.00 +  £10.25 = £32.25

USA no tracking:  £22.00 + £10.95 = £32.95

USA tracked:  £22.00 + £13.45 =  £35.45

Canada no tracking: £22.00 + £8.30 = £30.30

Canada tracked: £22.00 + £12.70 = £34.70

Australia no tracking: £22.00 + £9.60 = £31.60

Australia tracked: £22.00 + £13.85 = £35.85

Please use the Contact Form to order a deck or to enquire about other postage options or for multiple decks.

 The cards come in a cardboard tuck box.  There is no booklet but a list of definitions can be found by clicking on “Tarot Card Meanings” tab or menu option.

They are standard tarot-size 7cm x 12cm, printed in the UK on 320gsm card with smooth finish – very easy to shuffle and fan.

Thank you 🙂

What is it and where is it coming from?

Not a rattle in a car but a smell in the kitchen. Not a particularly strong smell but noticeable when coming downstairs in the morning. Not a pleasant smell either – reminiscent of the time my partner decided it would be a good thing to ferment cabbage and sprouts in jars. Thankfully, he soon realised it wasn’t!

You know how a smell can literally get up your nose – as in get on your nerves? I am not tidy and do very little dusting but I like to think the house is hygienically clean. Whilst it might appear untidy it is orderly. If there are clothes in the corner of the bedroom it’s because they have been worn at least once and are therefore contaminated’ so they can’t go back in the cupboard but are not yet ready for washing.

My nose was in every crevice to detect the origin but it was a general smell rather than focused. I poked a long stick around the edges of the gas cooker in case anything had dropped down and was rotting then squirted lots of bleach down the kitchen sink and ran bleach through the rinse cycle of the washing machine.

I came downstairs the next morning confident that would have cured it – but no!

There was only one place I hadn’t checked … behind the fridge:

Being under-counter, nothing could’ve dropped down the sides but what if some poor creature had somehow got behind it and died? If you’ve read this far you might be getting the nature of this smell!

“Sordid details following” thanks Bowie 😉

I pulled out the fridge and this was the drip tray at the back:

I never knew they needed emptying! Maybe I’m gross and everyone else regularly checks and cleans theirs?

Oh well, problem solved 🙂

Where there’s a smell there’s a mission!

How to convert an image to 300 DPI for printing (using Microsoft Paint)

Being furloughed and locked-down owing to the pandemic has given me the time to get stuck into a project I have been toying with for a few months.  Yes, I do feel guilty that I am slightly enjoying this very difficult situation yet I am trying to make the best of it because this is where we are now.  I don’t want to jinx my project by saying too much about it here – but if it does come to fruition it will require me to convert images to 300 dpi to allow better quality printing.  Before getting on with this tutorial, I will also add that the printed images I would be required to convert to 300 dpi are relatively small, and when I experimented on my cheap little home printer by printing a 72 dpi image alongside the same image converted to 300 dpi I could not see any difference, so if I end up self-publishing my images I will leave them at 72 dpi to save ink.  It’s just that some publishing firms stipulate a 300 dpi image.

Here goes …

First you need a 300 dpi image of any shape or size.  Feel free to download this one:

I am going to convert a Poppy picture to 300 dpi by pasting it over the Riverside photo but first I need to change the dimensions of the Riverside photo to be the same as the Poppy.

To get the dimensions of the Poppy image right-click and select Properties/Details:

Make a note of the dimensions (360 pixels x 640 pixels).  This is the size I must make the 300 dpi Riverside image in order to use it as a template.

To resize the Riverside image, open it in Paint, select Resize, check the Pixels radio button and over-type the dimensions with those of the Poppy.  Be sure to uncheck the box ‘Maintain aspect ratio’, which is checked by default.

Save the picture with its new dimensions.  It should be distorted and the same size as the Poppy.

The last step is to copy the Poppy image and paste it over the Riverside image.

Open both pictures in Paint, in two separate windows:

Copy the Poppy – Image, Select, Select all

Click the Clipboard tab – select Copy

Move over to the Riverside photo.  Click the Clipboard tab – select Paste

After paste …

The Riverside image becomes the Poppy at 300 dpi.  Save it now and remember to rename it.

Of course if you have several images to convert to 300 dpi that are all the same size there is no need to repeat the re-sizing process.  Just keep a copy of the first converted image and use it as a template to paste over.

Hope this helps!

But how do you get to it …?

I know I’m not the only one who gets frustrated with packaging design – not being able to get at the contents of a packet without using some sort of tool … when cooking a meal, for example, and everything is already simmering but it takes five minutes to add that final ingredient because it’s a new packet and you can’t get into it.

My least favourite packaging is the rigid, see-through plastic that is moulded around the item, requiring strong scissors to cut around it whilst creating nasty sharp edges.  I once queued behind a customer in a hardware shop, who wanted to return a yale lock because it didn’t fit his door.  When the assistant refused on the basis that goods could only be returned with packaging in tact, he pointed out that it was impossible to tell if it was the correct lock without taking it from the packaging, which was impossible to do without destroying it.

Packaging is designed with good intentions but do the drawbacks sometimes outweigh the benefits?

The Push and Turn top is sometimes used to make medication ‘child proof’, but if the medication is used regularly it can end up on a mantelpiece with the lid resting loosely on top, defeating the object.  It is also used on some bleaches and cleaning fluids but sometimes the bottle is so flimsy that it starts to cave in when the top is pushed down.

Some containers simply don’t want to part with their contents, giving you the option of either throwing half of it away or else cutting the container to get to what’s left inside when it will no longer dispense.  Being a bit fussy about smells, I tend to go for unscented moisturiser, and decided to give this a try:

No complaints about the product, but the bottle is so strong and rigid that after a couple of uses, squeezing with one hand to squirt some into the other hand is fruitless.  The container stays in the squeezed position and has to be manipulated from the sides to get it back into a shape that is ready for action again.  Storing it in an upside down position helps but owing to the rounded top it has to be barricaded into a corner, propped up by other items, and comes crashing down if anything is moved.  So what is the purpose of this design?  The only advantage I can think of is that it has no scratchy edges that could hurt if the baby got hold of it.

Where I work, we have had new toilet roll dispensers fitted. (There are plenty of other areas that need improving but for some reason this took priority). Without being too poetic, it looks like a pair of breasts with milk flowing from them.  Here it is on a good day, with both nipples producing:

The obvious benefit of this design is that the paper is kept clean and dry and untouched by anyone except the person about to use it.  The down side is that the paper comes out like a piece of string and has to be straightened out before use.  Worse still, it has to be pulled very gently as it tends to break off, usually with the perforations just within the nipple, so you end up with this:

The photo above illustrates a particularly dodgy situation in which it’s advisable to milk as much paper as you might possibly need before starting anything, otherwise that one sheet on display might be all you’re gonna get!  This of course leads to waste, as it’s difficult to gauge precisely how much paper will be required, and better to err on the safe side.

On a bad day, you can see the paper but there’s no way of getting to it – but at least you know where you stand (or sit) with this:

Moving on,  I think the key holder must have been on holiday on this occasion (you need a key to open the dispenser) because what happened next brightened up an otherwise mundane day:

Yes, I know, ‘little things please little minds’ … but I don’t think anyone had any issues with the previous loo roll holders (not that I went around asking).  If there was some on the roll, you knew it was there for real and not just to tantilise, even if sometimes it meant inserting your hand up inside it to coax and jiggle it down.  I’ve no idea why it had to be reinvented … maybe sometimes change is just for the sake of change.

 

Watch With Mother

The place where I work has fixed holidays, which is annoying because they are fixed during school holidays and around bank holidays, and I don’t like crowded places or other people’s kids.  Of course I am grateful that I have a job with paid holidays, but I’ve been there long enough now for such niggles to intrude.  Isn’t that just human nature?  This past week of fixed holiday was good though, as it meant I could spend some time with my Mum around her eightieth birthday.

Mum is very easy to be with.  Stick her in front of a telly with a glass of wine and she’s happy, which is particularly useful now that she can’t get around too well.  I rarely watch TV – the internet is my telly – but there’s something comforting about watching it at my parents’ home when I visit.  Some of the adverts though!  My son had come up for his Nan’s birthday and we’re all sat waiting for it to be late enough to go off to the Eightieth Do and the conversation fizzles out so Dad puts the telly on.  Of course it was adverts but the first that came on was, “Do you suffer from vaginal dryness and itching?”  Well, Dad averted his eyes, frowning slightly as if distracted by a sudden thought.  (It reminded me of when I lived there more than thirty years ago and he would pick up the newspaper and study it if any kind of sex scene came on).  My son played it comical, affecting a genteel expression whilst examining the ornaments on the mantelpiece, as if suddenly noticing how very interesting they were, which set Mum off laughing, infectiously!

Why do such products need to be advertised on television? And why are they mostly to do with women’s things?  “Suffering from nob-rot?  Try Penisil!”    Hmm.  Sorry 🙂

Anyway …  Mum came to stay with us for a few days, so I wiped the dust off the TV screen and looked dubiously at the remote control, but she knew instinctively how to change channels. (Didn’t they used to be called ‘stations’?)  It turned out this was an important time in Coronation Street.  Corrie has been going for as long as I can remember.  Mum used to wash me in front of it with a wet flannel poised between me and the washing up bowl, and if there was any action it had sometimes gone a bit cold by the time it made contact with skin.  I have always found the theme tune depressing – back then because it was time for bed – but now because it sounds like an unhappy cat.  Watching it again this week, I was surprised to recognise some of the characters who are still in it but was also amazed how dark and disturbing it has become.  Okay, I’d had some gin, but I recall one guy self-harming whilst another was being sucked down in quicksand.  In Corrie?  FFS!

Then Mum threw into the mix, “She was married to Sean Bean – she was inbred.”  Trying to make sense of this, I said, “You mean they were first cousins or something?”  Mum said, “No, she was in’Bread’!”  Well, that tickled me!

I live some distance away from my parents and have done for many years – but it’s a worry now they are old.  (Mum has said, in the past, “Don’t be worrying about that – we might just drop dead!”)  The big ’80’ is a wake up call though, and it’s hard to imagine a time when they won’t be just a phone call or text away.  I know they can’t go on forever … but I very much fear that Corrie probably will!

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