Category Archives: Witter

Things I Miss About Being in Hospital


My recent heart scare gave me a worrying few days in an environment full of beeps and scurry. I’m chuffed to be back home & healthy, but still, there are a few things I miss from those few days.

1. The tea and toast trolley at 9.30pm.
2. Ticking the lunch and supper lists at breakfast.
3. Lounging about in a robe all day.
4. Seriously tasty chickpea curry.
5. The friendly professionalism of doctors and nurses.
6. Hiding from the world & seeing no news.
7. Mid-day naps.
8. A nurse applying arse ointment.

There’s nowt wrong with a right good adverb

The internet creaks with people giving you writing advice, telling you exactly how to construct your tale. My writing advice: don’t listen to writing advice. Including this, if it doesn’t suit you. Write what makes your heart sing, your mind spark and your inner self go whoop-di-doo. Write people you fall in love with and characters you despise. Create beings who shock you and betray your trust, sending your story spinning off into uncharted skies undreamt of when you filed your flight plan. Write people. People with reasons for the things they do. People who think they are the goodies. Or, you know, sprout-creatures from the planet Pobble if you’re writing weird SF.

Ignore any ‘expert’ that tries to restrain what words you can use before you actually use them – they also likely believe that their anus emits sunlight. Especially dismiss that often-repeated shit about never using adverbs. Employ deftly; elegantly bedizen your doing words with adverbs like shimmering jewels on a smooth cleavage. Use the buggers, but yes, use them sparingly, with meaning and thought. Telling a new writer not to use adverbs is like taking the screwdriver out of a toolkit. Well alright, maybe a spanner.

So, no blanket rules, okay? Although… is “Edit the shizz out of your drafts, then edit again, then get someone else to edit them” a rule? I’d advise that one. Otherwise, write what you want – then edit it to a high sheen so that the reader will almost smell the sprouts. These are metaphorical sprouts – you get that, right?

So don’t listen to writing advice – but do listen, intently, to editing advice, even it comes from inside your own head. Oh, and if you can’t be wazzocked to edit, re-edit, re-re-edit yourself, then hire a good editor. I happen to know a superb editor – she’s here.

Finger Thumber Dumber Little Granny

Finger Thumber Dumber Little GrannyI was chatting the other day (on Twitter, not that that matters) about street games we used to play as children, back in the days when only one person on the street actually had a car (an Austin A30). No one but me had ever heard of one of my favourite games – Finger Thumber Dumber Little Granny.

The gang of kids divided into two teams, via picksies. One player of the defending team was Cush, and stood against the wall. His* teammates bent down, the first with his head in the cush’s stomach, the others in a line behind to form a line of backs. The other team would, one by one, run up behind and leap onto the backs of those bending, trying to make them collapse. If they did succumb, the leaping team ‘won’ and got to inflict the punishment again. If the defenders stood strong, the leader of the leapers would shout “Finger thumber dumber little granny!” and hold up either a forefinger, thumb, fist (dumber) or little finger (little granny). One of those bent over would have to guess which he held up, ostensibly unaided by the Cush, although I’m sure Steve Maltby cheated sometimes. If the guess was wrong, the leapers got to go again. If right, the defenders got their turn at inflicting pain and suffering on their playmates. It was a remarkably sophisticated in a satisfyingly violent way. I always wanted to be on Alan Bower’s team as he weighed about the same as the weekly pop lorry and was an expert at collapsing opponents.

BruegelExtensive research (I Googled) shows that as early as the 1500s, children in Europe and the Near East played “Bucca Bucca quot sunt hic?” which name lives on in the States as ‘Buck Buck’. Pieter Bruegel’s painting “Children’s Games” (1560) depicts children playing a variant of the game (bottom right of the painting).

*for some reason girls never wanted to play this

Wombat’s top ten bonkers flags and one awesome one

Welcome to my wacky world of vexillology. Who doesn’t love a flag, and the dafter the better? These are my favourites. I’ve also added one awesome one at the end because JUST LOOK AT IT. Thanks to @sjcoltrane for the Benine Empire dialogue.

1. The Benin Empire. The putative flag of the Benin Empire is a real West African flag that was brought to Britain after their successful campaign against the Benin Empire in 1897. The original flag is currently in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich (see a picture of the original flag here).

“O hai.”
“No do not come closer for I hav a sharp thing.”
“There I said so. Now look what u hav done.”

01 This was the flag of the Benin Empire, that was situated in modern Nigeria. A pre-colonial African state, it lasted from 1440 to 1897


2. The North Caucasian Emirate, Russia (1918-1921).

“We need a crescent moon and three stars. We should arrange them carefully.”
Look, the pub’s open, lets finish designing it there.”

02 The North Caucasian Emirate, Russia (1918-1921) 

3. The Sicilian flag bears three legs in the shape of a triskelion which, according to my beloved Pliny the Elder, is supposed to represent the three corners of the island. The winged head is that of Medusa. I don’t know why you’d insert wheat there, no.

“We have so much wheat in Sicily that we’ve thought of another use for it.”

03 The Sicilian flag bears three legs in the shape of a triskelion which is supposed to represent the three corners of the island. 

4. The Seychelles. Apparently the radiating bands are meant to symbolise a dynamic new country moving into the future, and not that the designer let his eight-year-old daughter do the job.

“Daddy, my red and blue crayons have run out.”
Just use yellow and green instead, Jocasta.”

04 Seychelles 

5. Irkutsk – when devised in 1690 this was described as a tiger (“babr”) with a sable in its mouth. In 1870 a heraldist mistakenly assumed that ‘babr’ was a mis-spelling of ‘bobr’, meaning beaver. Confusion has reigned since, and with the depiction now is of a fabulous half-beaver half-tiger.

“What’s wrong with your tiger-beaver’s EYES?”
“It’s just seen what the Sicilians do with wheat.”

05 Irkutsk 

6. Friesland, in the Netherlands. The seven water-lily splots are a reference to the Frisian “sea countries” in the Middle Ages. I imagine.

“Eerm, what is this, Frogger?”
“Guess again.”
“Fortune cookies?”
“FFS, pompeblêden! They’re pompeblêden! Obv!”

06 Someone from Fryslan in the Netherlands must love Frogger. Or Chinese fortune cookies. Either way, they made this flag odd and ugly enough to be our first on the list 

7. Zheleznogorsk, a closed Siberian city founded in 1950 to develop weapons-grade plutonium, chose this design of an angry hula-hooping bear trying to peel an enormous hard-boiled egg.

“Hang on, why do we need a flag if we’re a closed city?”
“So that 65 years from now someone can make fun of it in a blog post.”
“What’s a blog post?”

07 Why is that angry hula-hooping bear trying to peel that enormous hard-boiled egg Because he’s the symbol of Zheleznogorsk, a closed Siberian city founded in 1950 to develop weapons-grade plutonium  

8. Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, a province of central Ukraine.

“I can’t decide between stars, waves, curly things or a bloke in a nightie.”
“What the shazbat, bung ‘em all in.”

08 Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, a province of central Ukraine 

9. Pskov, yet another Russian city. Those Russians love their daft flags.

“Why have you added the karate chop from God?”
“I have NO idea, and Googling didn’t help at all.”

09 In western Russia’s version of the Sistine Chapel, God’s hand extends from its ruffled cloud-sleeve in order to pat a prancing leopard on the stomach. 

10. Anadyr, yet another Russian city – the easternmost, fact fans. In Russia’s tough political climate it really is heartening to see a flag that celebrates the tender, non-traditional love of a smiley bear and a fish.

“Let us design the BEST FLAG IN THE WORLD!”
“Start with a smiley bear. Everybody loves a smiley bear.”
“I think that’s just you, Oleg.”

10 In Russia’s toxic political climate it is heartening to see a flag that celebrates the tender, non-traditional love of a smiley bear and a fish. Well done, Anadyr, an oasis of tolerance in distant Chukotka.


And finally, as relief against the silliness, one final flag of complete awesomeness. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the magnificence of THIS from Bhutan, featuring features Druk, the Thunder Dragon of Bhutanese mythology clutching four magnificent jewels. Because wow.

Bhutan is a small, landlocked country in South Asia, close to India. In 2012 it had an estimate population of 700.000 people.

Zombie Dust

Pulp-O-Mizer_Cover_ImageEver the busy wombat, I’ve been thinking up titles for stories that I will never write. Feel free to use any you like.

Zombie Dust

Twisted Dog Killers

Surprised by Violet

The Eye of Evening

Spider Witch

Eight, Nine, Tentacles


Bloodstained Angels

Horror Oyster

God’s great alphabet

Embedded road sign, WalesYou only have to Google ‘trees eating things’, of course, to find lots of examples of the power of trees to absorb, including this remarkable picture, but this occasion on the right here, unimaginably far back in 2000, was the first time I’d ever come across such a thing. It fascinated me, as you will see by the expression on that innocent face. It led me to think about the inexorable, irresistible force of trees, a power that goes mostly unnoticed because it’s so gradual. It also led me to the realisation that trees are the most powerful beings on earth. Not only for this ability to encroach upon and absorb anything in their path, but also because they hold our existence in their roots and branches. If we do, finally, disastrously, end up killing them all, then we’ll all die too, and good riddance.

(The title is a quote from Leonora Speyer)

The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.

B53OnFMIUAAnp0S.jpg largeI once told a good friend that trees make a reasonable metaphor for people’s lives – each bifurcation, each branching off, representing a path taken or not taken at different points in our individual existences. I was thinking about that when I took this photograph, and wondering to which of the tiny snow-limned twiglets at the top of the tree my personal life decisions had taken me. Would different choices have taken me to a stronger, or higher branch? Most likely, but then again the twig where I am now does have a reasonable view and is at least high in the air, rather than being a stunted limb much further down.

Aside from all that, I like this photo simply because snow on trees is so very beautiful. I also like this picture because it has in it the stick that I made myself, from young offshoots of ash in Chesham Wood. I chose a slightly bent stick deliberately, as it was far more interesting than its perfectly straight brethren.

Trees. Love ‘em.

The title of this post is a quote from Nelson Henderson.


Loving MemoryI rageweep at these fucking iron hooks piercing my torn, bloody heart and dragging it into the filth. Tell me this, oh Wise One – what’s the point of love when people just rip your optimistic little soul into shreds? What’s the point of decades spent on the snowfrozen outside of experience, smearing your pathetic tears across the ice-laced windows of the laughter and warmth of others? What’s the point of daubing on that ludicrous smile and fool-dancing in the pitiful hope that you’ll be liked? What’s the point of putting one foot in front of the other?

What’s the fucking point of anything?

An understanding

100_2529The orang-utan may have been male, I suppose, but let’s assume not. When I pushed Mombat’s wheelchair up onto the quiet, deserted balcony it was late, and most of the zoo’s visitors had already left. We were the only people in the area, and the enclosure looked empty of life.

I almost missed her, curled into a dark corner, one eye peering out of a mound of sacking. She lowered her cloth, perhaps intrigued by our movement, and observed us curiously. I stopped and, I know not why, lifted both arms over my head, palms towards her. She stood, and swung the five metres or so over to the glass where we stood. We looked into each other’s eyes, hers sad yet curious, mine, I hoped, sympathetic and reassuring. A flicker of understanding passed between us. I laid my hand against the glass, a gesture of friendship. She placed her palm against mine, separated only by the thin layer of silicate. She pressed her lips to the barrier between us, and I kissed her.

The moment was shattered by a group of young rowdies entering the balcony. She returned to her sacking, while I pushed Mombat back out into the sunlight. Behind us we could hear the raucous laughter of the youths, who commenced to make loud monkey noises. The moment of understanding was over.

Rude awakenings


When you wake up at entirely the wrong part of your sleep cycle and for the next hour feel like you’re wearing an invisible balaclava that was knitted by your Nan in the Fifties using itchy wool that was too heavy and needles that were slightly too large, so that your eyeballs themselves ache with longing for the loving arms and tender lunatic dreams of Morpheus, then it becomes problematic in the extreme to post a coherent status that makes sense without rambling on until the last syllable of recorded time, like a runaway train of the mind on which the brakes have failed and all the thoughts and ideas that are passengers thereon die screaming as the hard granite surface of the end of the sentence finally smashes into them.

Think I’ll have a nap.

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