The Joy of One Star, No.1 – Thor:Ragnarok

The Joy of One Star – a new strand in which I enjoy 1-star review comments left on Amazon about various popular items.

Click to see reviewsBad reviews tend to fall into two categories – reviews of the thing itself, be that a film, book or whatever, and others that review either Amazon or the postal service, like this one for Thor-Ragnarok – “I have yet to watch this movie. This is a review about the physical blu-ray case.” Really? You’re reviewing a case? Well … OK, why not, I guess? But at least have the decency to give the film itself 3-stars while you’re at it. After all, one should never judge a DVD by its case, should one? Others of this ilk include “Don’t buy this does not play.” and “Disc broken.” Why are these people telling us, rather than sending it back for a replacement?

There are those who really don’t like the film, of course. “Bollox” says evabraun (no relation, surely?). I’m not sure whether that’s a criticism or a request for a future porn version. (Thor:Ragnabollox). Reviewer EMJAY is on some sort of misogynistic crusade – “PC culture being implemented to appease a minority … male characters are feminised, and female characters are shown as the champions of the day? A piss take too far”. S J Thorpe sums up the disappointment of all of us who went to see the film for a treatise in Nordic mythology – “the plot was nothing like the tale from the Edda from the Nordic folklore.”

I’ll leave you with my favourite review. “One word – really disappointed.”

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Pie Cricket Week 1

#PieCricketClick to embiggenIt was a little bit of a shaky start as people got used to the idea of a summer without sausages, but the excitement grew as the day went on, and those who had correctly predicted the number of whoopsie-daisy pies realised how much fun it was to steal opponent’s wickets. #SausageLeague Champion @jayalay was an immediate target, and is already down to one wicket.

Your early front runner is @captain_doodle, who with 8 for 3 got BOTH of his guesses (total and whoopsie-daisies) correct, and therefore takes a maximum 7 points. Hot on his heels are @crowmogh, @moorseyl, @thatnuttyfanboy and @happymouffetard, although this last pair have both lost a wicket.

Controversy simmered when @purplequeennl questioned the referee’s judgement as to the number of pies. This is the sort of thing that we can well do without in #PieCricket, Geoff, and she was lucky to escape receiving the first ever #PieCricket yellow card, and a summary spanking with a well-oiled bat.

With 7 points on offer every week, and the ability to prevent your opponents scoring at all, there’s plenty to play for, and once you all get used to the Pie Standard at Mans 2000, I expect this summer to be really EXPIETING. See what I did there? God I’m funny.

You can find the rules IN THIS POST.

Wombat’s Overcomplicated Pie Cricket Rules

#PIECRICKETBasically #SausageLeague with pies, but with an added twist, #PieCricket runs on Twitter on Fridays, between the end of one #SausageLeague season and the start of the next. The current run of #PieCricket began on 11th May, and the final day will be 27th July. It’s based on pie-guessery, and here’s all you need to know in order to WIN WIN WIN!

imageYou predict two numbers – the total number of pies on display, and how many of those will be upside-down (a “whoopsie-daisy”).

imageYou score points depending on how close you are to the total pie number: 5 minus the difference.

imageIf you’re spot-on with the total, you get a bonus point. If you ALSO guess correctly the number of whoopsie-daisies, you get another bonus point.

imageBut wait, there’s more! Correctly guessing the number of whoopsie-daisies allows you to take an opponent’s wicket, regardless of whether you got the TOTAL prediction right.

imageYou start with 3 wickets. If they drop to zero, you’ll score no points at all the following week UNLESS you get a spot-on with the total, when you’ll get the usual. Then your wickets will bob back up to 3.

The Sausage League Phenomenon – first season review

sausage titleFinal table - click to embiggenA year or so ago, when I first idly photographed the goodies on display in the hot cabinet of my local takeaway, I little realised what magnificence I was unleashing. One or two followers on Twitter began to guess how many sausages there would be, then each week a few more would join in. It became a beautifully silly oasis in a desert of depressing world news. Eventually I realised that you lot needed some sort of reward for your enthusiasm for the ridiculous, and the league itself was born.

Golden_Sausage__77146.1426088205.400.400The final table for the inaugural season is over there on the right. I doubt you’ll manage to read it without clicking to see the larger version. @MoorseyL’s thrilling run of four spot-ons and a 4-pointer in the final five games saw her surge from 19th to within a chipolata of the top. She just failed, however, to overcome the mighty @Jayalay’s long-standing lead, built on a consistent closeness to actual sausage presence.

Averages Table - click to embiggenPerhaps @MoorseyL’s disappointment on just missing the glittering prize will be eased by the news that she topped the averages table. Both @MoorseyL and @Jayalay win an actual prize for their sausage expertise, and can choose any of my pocketbooks, which I’ll sign so that it’s worth more when I cock me clogs.

Other stats: @MoorseyL scored the most spot-ons during the campaign, five – just one more than hot-and-cold, injury-prone performer @ekctafc. My most consistent predictor was the luscious @kjcollard, whose “one lonely sausage” did not miss a single week.

beastMy most disappointing moment? That no-one drew me a sausage beast after this @magentakoru tweet. And so the #SausageLeague season draws to a close. It will be back after the summer break, when EFL2 kicks off next year. During the close season, we will be playing Pie Cricket, which is nothing at all like cricket but that’s what folk play in the summer.

Finally, thank you all so very much for being as daft as brushes, and making #SausageLeague such a ridiculous success.

Pie Cricket

In this photo there are 9 pies, 4 of them upside down.Basically #SausageLeague with pies, but with an added twist. In #PieCricket you have to predict the number of pies that will be on display at the takeaway (so far, so much-the-same), and will score points just as with the sausages. However, should you also successfully guess how many of these pies will be upside down, you get to take an opponent’s wicket. Each player starts with three wickets, and if they drop to zero will score NO points the following week UNLESS they get a spot-on. Then they’ll bob back up to three wickets, obv. I have ZERO idea how/whether this will work well, but it’s only for a few weeks until the sausages start again, so let’s see, shall we?

YSP Tweetup 2018 – Saturday 21st July

Nah then, sexpots. The Sixth YSP Tweetup will take place on Saturday 21st July 2018 at (colour me surprised) Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Come and meet a fat old wombat and his beautiful consort for art, countryside, sexy rabbits, picnics, shiny balls and sociability. And if that isn’t enough to get your sap rising, you will also be able to meet our SPECIAL GUESTS, all the way over from Canadiadiadia, Aven @avensarah & Mark @alliterative. Woo, and a healthy does of hoo, eh? Here’s a few things you might want to know about #YSPtweetup2018.

2011 pics - click to enlargeSun Where is YSP?

YSP is just off the M1 at junction 38. The best postcode for your satnav is WF4 4JX. The 96 bus comes directly to YSP from Barnsley or Wakefield. Visit wymetro.com for bus timetables. The last bus from YSP to Wakefield is at 4:30pm, and to Barnsley at 5:30pm.

Sun What time are we meeting?

2012 pics - click to enlargeAround 10:30-11 near the main car park, by the entrance to the main building. If it’s chucking it down, you could always pop inside. Some folk won’t arrive till noon, so don’t worry about being on time. Check the map below, and look for a fat, beardy bloke either near the entrance or picnic area.

2013 pics - click to enlargeSun What’s the car parking like?

Admission to YSP (a charity) is free. The parking fees keep the place going. Car Parking is £10 for the day. You can pay online in advance (or up to a week after your visit), or use the machine that takes cards or cash and asks for your car registration number. Motorbikes are free. The car park is HUGE and everyone will fit in.

2014 pics - click to enlarge - I totally photoshopped @realaqua in, cos she took the photoSun What about food, Wombie?

Bring picnic food & drink, for we will PICNIC, BABY! And I want to taste your goodies, obv. Alternatively, there’s both a restaurant and a café. Tap water is always available free.

Sun What if it rains?

We’ll get wet.

Sun Will you sign my boobs?

Damn yes.

2015 pics - click to enlargeSun Sorry, I meant books. If I bring your books, will you sign those?

Oh books. Oh … yeah, OK then, bring them along. If you want to order a signed book that I can bring on the day, DM me.

Sun Is there anything else?

As usual, dogs and kids are more than welcome – it’d be nice to keep up the tradition of kids climbing on that sculpture that no-one’s supposed to climb on. YSP like dogs to be kept on a lead, please, to keep the wandering wildlife safe. Otherwise, the agenda is mostly the having of fun. We usually manage that without much effort. We don’t have to stick together the whole day, of course, but I hope we can at least get a big team photo of the whole company as on previous occasions.

YSP map - click to enlargeSun How about a map of YSP?

Here you go. Click it to see a much larger version.

And CLICK HERE to visit the YSP site – there’s more information there than you could possibly need.

Cats and Dogs

This week's prompt is a photo taken by Gen Harris. These are her dog and cat.You’ve heard the expression “raining cats and dogs”, right? Here’s a little thing I wrote for Miranda Kate’s Mid-Week Flash Challenge – Week 51, inspired by the picture on the right there. The cat’s real name is Willow, and the dog is Lily, but I think Abigail and William work better for the story.

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<the light tattoo of rain on glass>

“Go on, then.”

“In that storm? No. You go on, then.”

“Nuh-uh. I’m a cat. Cats don’t do rain.”

“Cats don’t do anything.”

“We do! We do sunshine and warm laps and high places.”

“Don’t forget selfishness, you’re the best at that. Cats don’t do anything useful.”

“Tell me, of the two creatures here, which one can work the window latch?”

“Hmph.”

“Which one, William?”

“Hmph.”

“I can’t hear you.”

“You can, Abigail. It’s you, OK?”

“Then we are agreed. My job is to open the window. Your job is to go out in the rain.”

“And get soaked.”

“One job each, William. That’s fair, isn’t it?”

“Hmph. I suppose.”

“Oh don’t sulk. Let’s get this over with. There, the window’s open. Off you pop.”

“I don’t think I can carry both bags of treats. I only have a little mouth.”

“Then fetch mine and go back for yours. Then we can work on opening them.”

“That’s two trips, Abigail! I’ll get even wetter!”

“Once you’re wet, you’re wet. And you can shake yourself dry. Dogs are good at that.”

“We are, aren’t we? Dogs are good at stuff just as much as cats.”

“They’re certainly good at being gullible. Off you pop, William.”

“OK!”

<the hiss of rain on the path between greenhouse and kitchen>

“I’m back! Here’s yours, Abigail. I’ll just pop back and get mine.”

“Take your time, William, take your time.”

“Gosh, this rain’s cold.”

<the cadence of rainfall and a soft click>

“Abigail! Abigail! Abigail!”

“What?”

“You’ve shut the window again. Let me in, I’m soaked!”

“Not a chance. It is cold. And who wants to eat with the stink of wet dog in the air?”

“That’s not fair!”

“You said it yourself, William. Cats are the best at selfishness.”

Freedom’s Promise

A short story inspired by Miranda Kate’s Midweek Flash Challenge No. 49.

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Created by Norwegian artist Erlend MØrk.“He’s not secured the lid!” hissed Rimbaud.

“What?”

“The lid of your jar.” He jabbed his finger against the thick glass, pointing above my head. “He’s forgotten to latch it. You could push it off!”

I reached up and ran my fingers across the perforated lid. The giant removed it occasionally to drench us with water, or to poke us with sharp objects, or to drop fire into the jar to make us dance. He secured the lid afterwards by snapping a metal catch, but perhaps this time…

I pressed upward gently; the lid lifted. A simple push and it fell to the side. I sprang to the thin, glass lip of the opening and unfurled my wings, stretching them wide, luxuriating in the caress of air on membranes that had been too long folded against my body in the cramped jar. By the trees, that felt good.

The interior of the crate that held the jars was dim, but I could make out some shapes. Above my head was the heavy cover. There would be no shifting that. I might be strong for my kind, but was still too small to budge such a substantial sheet of metal. There were a dozen jars in the crate, each with a sprung metal clasp to hold down the lid, each holding a prisoner. Their pale faces watched me as I perched on the rim of my jar, no doubt envious of my escape.

Down to my left, Rimbaud watched too, a grin on his pretty face. He blew me a kiss, and gestured to the side of the container, to the pale glow of an opening that we guessed was to allow air to reach us. My eyes widened. The metal clasp on his jar was also loose. The giant had been careless on his last visit.

It took me but a few moments to free Rimbaud, and we moved to the opening in the wall, mouthing our apologies to the other prisoners. Holding hands, we entered the passageway beyond. It was entirely circular, the walls and floor smooth, hard, and allowing a translucent glow.

“It’s good to touch you again,” Rimbaud said, squeezing my hand. “I’m scared. Are you scared?” I did not answer. “Are we doing the right thing? Death may await us along this path. At least in captivity we live, and our love endures.”

“Love without freedom is like wings without flight.” I closed my fingers on his, briefly, but my mind was on things other than reassurance. We could hope that this air tunnel led to freedom, but it seemed unlikely, given all that we had endured since our capture. Starvation and torture had taken me to the end of my sanity. Even the smallest chance of escape was worth grasping, and if this air-tube did not lead us to freedom after all, I would take my own life. I had suffered enough. We are not made for captivity, our kind.

The passageway ahead forked. Rimbaud and I looked at each other.

“There are two ways,” he said. “Which shall we follow? Perhaps one leads to escape, and the other to danger?”

“Let us each follow one. That way we will know the right path. Walk for five hundred heartbeats. If you have discovered nothing by then, turn around. We meet back here and compare findings.”

“Very well,” he said. His wing-tips caressed mine. “Be careful.”

I took the passage on the right. I have been walking for five hundred heartbeats now, but I do not turn around. I am close to open air. I can sense it. I smell leaves and grass, sunshine and summer breeze. Ahead of me an opening appears – I see trees against a blue sky. I almost run out of the opening.

I stand on a flat circle of earth, blinking in bright sunshine. All around me are breeze-blown birch, but between me and the trees is a wire fence that surrounds the bare circle. It extends above, too, a net across the blue sky. Behind the fence, staring at me, are giants. Scores of them, grinning, drooling, eating and laughing. I clutch my ears as a deafening voice booms, putting small birds to flight from the trees above.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Fairy Wars!”

The giants cheer, a horrifying thunder. Across the circle of earth, I notice a second entrance set in the wire. Another of my kind stumbles into the light. It is Rimbaud.

“Two creatures enter!” the voice bellows again. “But only one will leave!”

Rimbaud’s eyes brim with tears. He looks directly at me, and I can sense the love he holds for me, rooted deep within his soul. Those wide, innocent, beautiful eyes are now haunted by despair at the sudden ripping away of freedom’s promise.

“Bids are now being taken for the corpse of the loser!”

Rimbaud shakes his head, slowly, and collapses to his knees, wings handing limply around him.

“Which of these magical creatures will earn their freedom today, and which will die? Place your bets now!”

I bare my teeth. By the trees, if this is what it takes to earn my freedom, so be it. I will not – I cannot – return to captivity, torture, and life in a jar. Rimbaud looks startled as I unsheathe my claws and launch myself at him with a scream.

The Raven’s Wing characters, #6: Jenifry, the cunning woman

Character visualisation by Kit CooperSensual. Serious. Slow to trust. Taciturn. Brusque. When her mother was murdered for being different, 11-year-old Jenifry was taken captive, beaten, raped, and bled regularly into a silver bowl. Eight years later she has escaped, and has returned to her secluded home, a large oak tree in the middle of the forest.

Why has she lured our hero, John the Minstrel, there? What does she know of his wife’s death? What plans does she have for him? And how, since her legs are broken, is she able to move so quickly from place to place?

“Dark of hair she was, and dark of eye, her gaze the depth of a star-spattered night. She peered up at John from beneath lowered brows, and crawled up his body. Her full breasts brushed his thighs, teasing upwards as she moved her weight from arm to arm. Her gaze never left his as she slowed her advance. John was unable to move. He was held captive, shackled by her glittering eyes as a moth beguiled by the moon.”

The Raven’s Wing, a medieval adventure set in 1322, is available for Kindle and in paperback (with free postage, in the UK at least) here.

Other character posts (click to read):

John the MinstrelWynifreed, John's wifeRalf, the gongfermourAilred, the smithMoss, the fire-dancer

Medieval recipes culled from The Raven’s Wing

The Raven’s Wing features a copious notes section full of fascinating facts about the 14th century in which it is set. Here are three recipes for you to try at home. I can particularly recommend the waffres.

WaffresR Waffres

Clap Bread

R Clap-bread

Beef & Cherry PieR Beef & cherry pie

Fergus

A little thing that I wrote five years ago while sitting at the end of Seatown harbour in Gamrie. My sincere apologies to any Scottish readers, especially those who live there, for my poor attempts to capture the atmosphere of that wonderful place.

DSCF0767The light was fading rapidly now, sapphire to cobalt to indigo. The agreeable sunset apricot tint had faded from the clouds overhead and now they were simply battleship grey. The sea remained calm, but the surface began to chop as a cool breeze picked up, bringing the delicious scents of salt and seaweed to the shore. Gulls, waders and kittiwakes filled the dusk with their last raucous shrieks, whistles and mock laughter.

A maroon smudge smeared athwart the horizon was all that remained of the day’s sun. In the near distance Saltire Craig, a small jut of rock no bigger than a trawler, rose black out of water the colour of molten lead. Pale grey smudges spattered its surface. They swirled and wheeled occasionally about the tattered Bratach na h-Alba, the Banner o’ Scotland, that fluttered bravely atop its lonely pole, as it had since planted there by some hardy Scottish brave some time ago.

High on the lookout platform at the sea end of the harbour pier, Fergus eased his bony buttocks on the rusting bollard and stretched out his legs, feet poking out over the edge of the harbour wall. Inside his clumsy old boots he wiggled his toes, and imagined how good they’d feel with sea-water sluicing between them.

A loud splash echoed across the water, startling him. He peered into the murk, seeing nothing. The sound had originated from the other side of Saltire Craig, out of his sight. What could be large enough to make that noisy an impact with the water? Dolphins, perhaps? Or maybe old friends?

He gazed out at the ending day. Sunset always calmed his mind, soothed his soul, helped him to settle for the life he had now. On either side of the bay the headlands were already mussel-black. The vast dimming sky grew steadily darker.

Fifteen feet below his boots the waves lapped quietly at the weathered stone that protected the vessels safely tucked away behind it. More squealing gulls circled the end of the pier, curving pleasing arcs below his feet. Above his head a tiny red light winked on and began to flash.

DSCF0744A small white boat rounded Saltire Craig, its engine popping quietly as it crossed towards the harbour entrance. The boat was small, big enough only to carry two at most, yet now bearing but one passenger. Fergus could read the name painted on the prow – “Maighdean-Chuain”.

The single occupant raised a hand to Fergus as he passed and entered the placid waters beyond the sea wall. Fergus lifted his own arm in acknowledgement. It was good finally to feel included after all this time. His peculiar arrival in the village all those months ago had caused many to keep their distance at first, yet now even that extraordinary day was fading from memory. Village folk tended to live in the present rather than lingering on what was past. Folk here had finally started to show friendship to Fergus; yes, and acceptance. He scratched his grey beard and pulled the ear-flaps of his plaid charity-shop hat down over his ears. Getting chilly now.

He pushed to his feet, old muscles complaining. He wobbled a little in a gust of wind and steadied himself on the stanchion that held the harbour light aloft, before slowly descending the curved steps down from the lookout point. He ambled along the dock to where the small boat had tied up, and peered down at it bobbing on the shadowy water.

There was enough light left to see that the man in the boat was gutting a freshly caught fish on an upturned blue crate. A sharp knife, expertly wielded, slit the belly open. Fingers were deftly inserted and slid smoothly inside to pull out the guts. These the fisherman flung into the water for the flocking, shrieking gulls to fight over. He glanced up at the dock.

“Fergus,” the man nodded, laying his cleaned fish on a plastic bag beside him.

“Robbie Gamrie, is that you?” Fergus peered uncertainly down into the gloom.

“Aye, so,” Robbie confirmed “Got mysel’ a couple of late haddock.”

DSCF0528Robbie lifted a second wriggling fish and whacked its head on the side of the boat before laying it on the blue crate and sliding in his knife.

“Well done, there,” Fergus said. “What kept you out so late?”

“Forgetfulness. I was miles away, daydreaming like a bairn. I’d likely still be out there, but a noise brought me alert.”

“The splash? Aye, I heard that. Big splash, it was. Did you see what made it?” Hope glimmered briefly in Fergus’ breast.

“Nay, it was behind me, whatever it was.”

“Hmm,” said Fergus, slightly disappointed. “Too big for a bird, anyroad. Could it have been dolphins, think you?”

“Maybe. They… or silkies, eh?”

Fergus could hear Robbie’s grin in the tone of his voice. Robbie didn’t believe in silkies, despite the name of his boat. Not many did, nowadays.

“You’ll have had your supper?” Robbie asked him.

“Ah, no. I’ll have a rollie when I get in.”

“Rollie be damned. You’ll need warmth inside you if you’ve been perched up there for long. Here, catch.”

A dark shape flew up from below to hover briefly before Fergus’ eyes, shimmering a little in the harbour light. Fergus snatched out a hand to catch it before it fell back. The fish was cold and oily, the flesh yielding beneath his fingers as only fresh fish does.

“Got milk, Fergus? Butter and pepper? Get that inside your oven, then get it inside you. It’ll do you a sight more good than cold bread.”

“Thanks, laddie, I appreciate it.” Fergus nodded farewell to Robbie and walked off the harbour, taking the shore path towards his tiny cottage, the haddock hanging limply from his fingers.

Fish for supper. He remembered a time long ago when supper had always been fresh fish. He did not eat it half as much these days, and the gift from Robbie was a pleasant surprise. Fergus was not inclined to take Robbie’s advice on how best to prepare the haddock, however. He would not bake the fish in milk. Tonight he would eat the fish raw, just like the old days.

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