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New Beginnings

It’s time to point you all in the direction of my new website, Stories From The Cave.

FetchYourSlippers was created as a platform to share my musings on life, generally because my musings had gotten a little too out of hand to continue posting them as Facebook statuses.

But while my posts here on FetchYourSlippers have drifted to few and far between, I’ve never stopped writing.  Most of my spare time, in truth, is spent on the fictional stuff (because my blog posts are 100% true 😉).  I write Fantasy for the most part, inspired by the likes of David Gemmell, George RR Martin, and Joe Abercrombie, and the dream is to one day see my stories alongside theirs in the book stores.

I finished my first novel, THE EMBER CHILD, a couple of years ago, and, having failed to find a home for it with traditional publishing, I’ve decided to have a go at self-publishing.  As such, the book is now available for the kindle on Amazon, here.  If you’re interested, you can also find a post with more information about it here.

Since completing the first book, I’ve had an urge to create a space on the web where I could talk about my fictional writing.  Now, with the first book finally out there, it seems as good a time as any.

SFTC Site Icon

New Site, New Logo

That brings us to the new site, Stories From the Cave.  FetchYourSlippers will be left to the wilds for a bit before retiring it, but I have imported all my previous posts to the new site and will continue to post my tongue-in-cheek assessments of life in the Life’s Lessons section.  In the Writing section I will post anything I take from the writing process, or at least how it works for me, that I think might be useful to others trying to hone their craft.

Mostly though, this new site is all about the Tales From Domanska section.  Domanska is the world in which THE EMBER CHILD is set, a sprawling continent where empires rise and fall as mortals struggle against the whims of gods.  A place where the varying cultures each have different religions and share different gifts, where some people would make themselves gods if they could only find a way.  It is a world rich in stories, many of which have been bouncing around my head for years.  I will use this site to share them with you, posting excerpts from completed novels or works in progress, short stories that help flesh out the world or give background for characters seen in the novels, and anything else worth sharing.

If you give THE EMBER CHILD a chance and find that you like it, hopefully the content on this site will add some extra value and some further entertainment.

Thanks for reading.

I hope you enjoy what follows next!

Tony

Keep Calm and Vote

This is not Jeremy Corbyn

I know, I know.

You’ve been waiting for this moment for almost a year now, and I can only apologise.  Life, for want of a better phrase, has been off its tits!  The lessons – the reason this blog was born – have been relentless, but I just haven’t had the time to sit down and reflect.

I haven’t had chance to tell you what it was like to get married, or the chaos that went down in the bridal suite afterwards!  I haven’t had chance to write down my thoughts on becoming a father for the first time.  Ok, Thor is a dog, but he shits and vomits just like a real boy!

There’s been no time to fill you in on our road trip through the US and Canada, or our trip to Madrid, or our most recent travels around Italy.  I haven’t even told you about my new job.  That’s right, after 10 glorious years, I finally left Liverpool FC and sought out a new challenge.  I was with Freiburg for two seasons, winning the league twice and a couple of cups, before becoming the manager of Real Madrid.  Like I say… life!

So what’s brought me out of retirement, you ask?

Well, it’s not to talk about any of the above… not yet anyway.  There’s more important things to discuss right now.  Darker things.

While I usually like to keep it lighthearted on here, politics has been stewing over in my mind this weekend, and, following the tragic events of last night – yet another terrorist attack in London, I’ve decided I want to say something just in case it makes the slightest bit of difference to anyone…

On Friday Jeremy Corbyn appeared on Question Time answering questions from the “general public” (I’m going to put that in quotes because at least one of those asking a question, about Zero Hour contracts, appears to have been exposed as a Tory plant/liar).  I only caught the last few questions, but I thought that Jezza handled himself extremely well.

Apparently, the right-wing press feel differently.  Jezza, you see, wouldn’t commit himself to being prepared to “press the red-button” in a strike-first situation.  Can you imagine the outrage?  Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader and general upstart, wasn’t prepared to admit that one day he would be willing to start a nuclear holocaust.  Or even just use our brilliant nuclear arsenal to wipe out our enemies (along with the millions of innocent civilians living in their country) for daring to look at us in a manner that displeases us.

Because that’s the world we live in now.  Sure, there was a time when striking first made you the bad guy, but we were all gentlemen back then and striking first was just not done.  When Hitler stormed across Europe and the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour, that was just bang out of line!  (All of which just goes to show the benefits of nuclear weapons, by the way.  Sure, it was the blackest mark against the allies from the Second World War, destroying two cities and killing over two hundred thousand civilians, but at least it won us the war!)

Times have changed though.  For decades we’ve sold and dropped our bombs on nations in the Middle East, and now we’re surprised to find a well of hatred there that has allowed evil entities like ISIS and Al-Quaeda to warp the minds of young men and women who have lost, or never had, the things we take for granted.

Now we have psychopaths blowing up, shooting, and knifing innocent people in the name of some misplaced faith/cause.  Sure, psychopaths have been killing innocent people since the dawn of time, but this is different because ISIS can put a video on the Internet saying so.

If they can fight dirty, why can’t we?  It doesn’t matter that this is a war on an ideology rather than a nation, lets just nuke them!  Even if they’re hiding behind a human shield, we can blow them up before they blow us up and just pick through the pieces of dead children afterwards.  What can possibly go wrong?

I suppose, if that’s what you’re looking for, a leader with the moral fibre of a Bond villain, then you could do a lot worse than vote for Theresa May on Thursday.  She wants to take free school dinners away from already malnourished children, allow pensioners to freeze to death in winter, and strangle the NHS to the point that it must be sold off to private health care, as has already started with VirginCare.  Her government already has thousands of deaths on its hands from all the cuts to Welfare and the NHS, so I’ve no doubt that she would have the balls to press that big red button and end civilisation as we know it.  The hero.

Jezza on the other hand, has been known to sit down and talk with terrorists.  He’s never endorsed their actions, and the fact he refused to say he’d ever strike first suggests he detests violence, but he’s talked to the IRA.  He did this at the same time the Conservative government of the day were also talking secretly to the IRA, but we won’t mention that.  Nor will we mention the fact that it helped bring the IRA to the negotiating table, helped them to realise that politics was the best route to their goals, not terrorism.  We won’t mention that it helped end the Troubles.  We’ll just rage that he dared talk to them.

It would definitely be risky putting someone like him in power, especially when the current war on terror is proving so successful.  A better life for the many is too big a price to pay to risk making a leader of a man whose moral compass means he would first try to trade words before trading bullets.

Much better to keep calm and carry on, following the Tories into the grim future they’ve already painted for us.

Tony

Sam

It’s hard to believe the last blog I wrote had me asking this very same question.  Hard to believe, yet somehow fitting…

Do you remember the day we first met?

I was even younger then, fresher faced and brighter eyed, than when Harvey stumbled into our lives.  But where he stumbled, you strutted.  Even as the ball of black fluff you began life as, you still had more grace than the floppy-eared loon you would later call brother.

sam

The Regal One

There was something about you, even in those early days, that marked you for respect.  You tried your best to hide it, of course, joining forces with your favourite Teddy to challenge the rabbit and his football for the title of “dirtiest couple in the neighbourhood”.

But eventually, once the fires of passion had faded (or at least been doused by ancient veterinary customs), there was no escaping the depth of knowledge held within the black orbs of your eyes.

You were wise beyond your years.  Perhaps that was why you chose the peaceful, pampered life offered by Hannah, rather than the wrestling ring I served to Harvey.  You knew, like any true-born Stark, that winter was coming.  You rationed your food sparingly, ensuring it lasted the day, and you buried your treats in quiet corners, shovelling invisible carpet over them with your snout, hoping to save them for a rainy day.

You knew it was hopeless, of course.  Harvey was a summer child and he didn’t believe in saving.  He soon sniffed out your stashes and finished them off.  It was only in your later years that you gave up on him and started eating them for yourself.

You handled yourself with such dignity that it seemed Harvey was nothing but a nuisance to you.  As soon as anyone paid you any attention, Harvey would be there, ready to butt in and get his head scratched.  You would be sleeping peacefully in your bed… and Harvey would throw himself on top of you, his massive head a crushing weight.  But you never snapped, you never got angry.

You were almost cat-like in your indifference.  When you wanted attention you would brush up against your victims’ legs until they began to stroke you, and then when they tried to stop you would nuzzle at their hand until they continued.  Only when you had your fill would you let them go, and if they tried to stroke you out of turn you would have none of it.

brothers at rest

Brothers at rest.

More than anything though, it was when you sat statue still on the back of the sofa, staring out of the window, that I started to think you might actually be a cat trapped in a dog’s body.  You did nothing to help the cause by climbing up on people with your front paws on their chest, your eyes closed, and your head held high – looking every inch Mufasa on Pride Rock.

But that’s what you were, Sam: a king, regal and proud.  As the years rode on you wore that grey beard with distinction, and even when your body started to fail you, you soldiered on without complaint.

Weeks have passed now since we said goodbye for the last time.  Not that I knew it was the last time, so well you hid it.  That’s why I’m here to say it again.  If the science is right, you were 115 and a half years old, and that’s a very long time to share a life together.  I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.

Now go run the fields of heaven with the Haverster, and know, as you leave, that we welcome a new member to the fold – a baby boy of the human variety.  Stanley will hear the legends of Sambo Majambo, and through him your story will live on.  That is the circle of life, old boy, and I know you have an affection for that.

Goodbye, Sam.

Your pack will miss you.  Always.

Harvey

Do you remember the day we first met?

I was younger then, fresh faced and bright eyed, with far more hair on my head and fewer lines around the eyes. I’d just started out in college and History was still the lesson of choice, partly because I  hadn’t completely given up on the idea that archaeologists were more like Indiana Jones than the bloke off Time Team, but mostly because I wanted to learn about the events that shaped the world. Little did I know I would be living such a moment myself, the day I returned home and found you waiting in the living room.

You were younger too, of course, far younger, with big dark eyes, floppy ears, and a head too big for your body. I found myself watching on in admiration as you waddled around the room, forcing Sam, seven years your senior, to tuck tail and run. There you were, barely out of your nappies and already ruling the roost.

                      “Don’t even think about it!”

You were going to be the boss, it seemed. And you were built for it. With those big paws, big shoulders, big head, and big ears, you were destined for… well, big things. Or at least you should have been, if you weren’t such a softy.

But when little old Sam failed to grow an inch, you stopped growing too. Sympathy Stuntage they called it (“they” being “my imagination”). They tried to shame you with the term, as though it might snap you out of it, but you wore those big floppy ears like a badge of honour.

You earned my respect with that, and we soon became fast friends, you and I. While Sam was off being pampered like a cat by Hannah, you’d come skittering across the wooden floor in my room, jump onto the futon that was my bed, dig a way under the duvet, and collapse into a heap, where you’d stay for as long as I stayed in the room playing games or watching TV.  I lost count of how many times my friends nearly sat on you.

Even when I turned the bed into a surprise wrestling ring, hitting you out of nowhere with a Stone Cold Stunner, a DDT, or, my personal favourite, a Rock Bottom, it never put you off. You didn’t like getting pinned, of course, but then you always had the heart of a champion. I was just too good for you in those days, and there’s no shame in that.

I can’t quite remember now where your name came from, but I don’t think we could have chosen any better. No food was safe with the Harvester around. Not even Sam’s. While you scoffed yours down as fast as you could, he liked to leave his sitting in the bowl for a few hours, probably just to wind you up. Eventually you’d try to eat it, as was your nature, but the sound of your collar clinking against the metal bowl would give you away and you’d get a scolding for your efforts. You soon smartened up to that though, and it wasn’t long before we stumbled upon you craning your neck in such a way that your collar didn’t touch the bowl, allowing you to stuff your face undisturbed!

Eventually I moved out, leaving you to fend for yourself. It wasn’t anything personal – I also left behind home cooking, Sky TV in the bedroom, and free washing and ironing.  I missed you most of all though. Thankfully, you never held it against me. Whenever I visited you’d still be my best mate… unless someone had food, in which case I wouldn’t exist.

We were both older by now, much older. I had a beard and a receding hair line, but you had hardly changed at all, not even by growing an inch. You had started to lose your marbles though…

Taking Harvesting to a whole new level, you developed a taste for carpet. It drove the parents mental when they returned home from work to find the flooring in the hall and on the stairs completely chewed up. We knew you didn’t mean it, of course. It was just a sign that time was getting on and you were finding it harder to be left alone.

I took you in for awhile after that, hoping our old rapport would relieve your stress. Sadly, you found that pillows and slippers were just as tasty as carpet, and it soon became clear that you missed the family too much, or Sam’s food at least, and needed to be taken back home.

Harvey's Slippers

                                     Your slipper fetching skills weren’t the best.

You improved a fair bit after that, even chancing yourself on a little adventure. I remember fearing the worst when I heard you’d gone missing. After all, you were a bit of a divvy really, even with your food/collar trick, so I couldn’t see you surviving in the big bad world for long.

How wrong I was! Sure enough, the next day we found out you’d turned yourself in at a vet’s halfway across the city, still high from a chippy sausage, with your breath stinking of tinned mince. For one last time, you’d gone out and lived like an Alpha, the only way you knew how.

Last week we said goodbye for the last time. I didn’t know it then, but I suspected. Not that it made it any easier.  If the science is right, you were 105 years old, and that’s a long time to share a life together. I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.

Your pack will miss you. Always.

Getting Older

My sister turned the ripe old age of 30 today.

That’s my baby sister, by the way. She turned 30!

Like a lot of people who have reached this particular milestone, she probably thinks she’s dead old now. And, in some ways, she’s right. After all, a lot has happened in those 30 years, some of it good, some bad… most of it incredible.

She’s seen One Direction go in multiple directions. She saw Roy Hodgson – Roy Hodgson – named England manager. She saw the election of the USA’s first black President. She saw the planes strike the Twin Towers. She celebrated – and survived – the turning of a millennium.

She said hello to the Euro, goodbye to Diana. She saw a tunnel join Britain to France and Europe. She saw the end of apartheid and the election of Nelson Mandela.

She saw the fall of the Berlin wall and the death of the Soviet Union. She saw the birth of the World Wide Web, Challenger explode, Chernobyl meltdown, the launch of the space station Mir, and the first close up pictures of Uranus (it’s ok if you laughed ;))

She’s seen history being made… which I guess is a sign of getting old. But then she didn’t see Live Aid, like I did. She wasn’t around when Sony changed the world and released the first CD player. In fact, neither of us even existed when our other sister had to sit through the wedding of Charles and Diana, or deal with the death of John Lennon.

Our parents saw all of that as well, and plenty more besides. They saw Smallpox eradicated, Elvis die (or go into hiding), the sale of the first PCs, the birth of Apple. They lived through the Vietnam war. They even saw man walk on the moon for the first time. Before that, our Grandad made it through the Second World War and saw a million other things that shook the world.

When you look at it that way, 30 years is really just a drop in the ocean. You’re not old at all, our kid, you’re just starting out. Whether you decide to stick to the plan and head to Australia or do something else entirely, the world truly is your oyster. So embrace it! Live for the moment and chase your dreams. You’re thirty years young and anything is possible.

Tony

Surprise!

Here it is.

The return.

Sixteen months have past since I last posted here (I know, I can’t believe it either!).

It wasn’t an easy choice to stop, but I knew something had to give. Either I put all my efforts into finishing that novel I’d spent so many years on, or I continued to spend my time writing about the lessons I took from real life.

Sadly, you lost out, my trusty readers. I decided that you would have to survive without my hard earned wisdom, while I got on with that adventure in my head!

Sixteen months on and I can honestly say I wasn’t sure this day would ever come.

Not after the things I’ve seen.

I’ve watched an old man stand his ground against six trained killers. I’ve seen men and women give their lives for a boy they hardly know. I’ve witnessed gods giving council to those who worship them… and sometimes to those who don’t. And I’ve even seen a long lost friend walking the Greyfolds; the place between this life and the next.*

How do you come back from that? How do you return to the daily grind?

Frodo Baggins couldn’t do it, and he saved Middle Earth.

I had no idea where to begin…

Not until today, at least, when I opened my email’s junk folder and found a message from anndavidssa.

“Ref: bkhc” it said. Job done, anndavidssa. You’ve got my attention.

I clicked on the mail and held my breath.

GOVERNMENT ACCREDITED LICENSED PAYMENT PROCESSING CENTER ONLINE PROMOTIONS, AFFILIATED OFFICE Quick Pay Ltd.Mandela Square,Sandton Johannesburg, Gauteng, 2014, South Africa.

How about that for an opening? Ok, so it’s taken a year to get to me, it’s still from a government accredited licensed payment processing centre! Needless to say, my heart began to beat a little quicker.

Dear winner,

Boom! My heart is in my mouth now. I am a winner, but how do they know that!?

We wish to inform you that your email address was automatically generated during our final yearly FreeLottoR Services international online daily draw held at the Johannesburg Lottery Hall in South Africa.

What are the odds, that of all the words in all the international languages, the six that make up my email address are automatically generated? The British Lottery is about 14,000,000 to 1, and all you have to do there is get 6 numbers out of a possible 49. And this draw took place in a hall dedicated to the lottery? And that lottery is free!? What an incredible, magical world we live in!

Your e-mail ID was generated with the TSN/FILE NO: D453859322T6 which was among the 3 Lucky winners of $ 2,820,000.00 USD (Two Million Eight Hundred and Twenty Thousand United States Dollars Only) each.

Maybe not magic then, but science – and sometimes science is even more beautiful. Of all the TSN/FILE numbers in the world, they chose the one linked to my email account. That’s pretty spectacular. I don’t even know what a TSN/FILE is, but I do know what a United States Dollar is! And I don’t care if there’s only Two Million Eight Hundred and Twenty Thousand of them, you had me at TWO!

Kindly contact Client Service General Manager in charge with the details below to claim your Prize: We will issue a cheque of $ 2,820,000.00 USD (Two Million Eight Hundred and Twenty Thousand United States Dollars) once the TSN/FILE NO: is validated depending on the method of payment you would like to receive your prize. PROVIDE THE DETAILS BELOW TO CLAIM YOUR PRIZE.

Can you believe it? All I had to do was send some personal information about myself to someone I don’t even know, and they’re going to send me a cheque for $2,820,000.00 USD.

That’s where I begin!

One minute I’m ready to give up on the lessons of life, and the next I’m a multimillionaire**.

Life is full of surprises, my friends. Especially when you least expect it.

Never forget that. And always check your junk mail.

Tony

* You might be able to read this one day, if I ever find a foolhardy stranger willing to put their money where my mouth is. In the meantime, I’m thinking of starting a new blog where I’ll post some of my fiction. Watch this space, if you like that kind of thing.

** So long, foolhardy strangers!

A Mystery in the Cotswolds

The Cotswolds

The Cotswolds, they call it.

A land of stunning beauty, complete with sweeping landscapes of rolling hills, quiet woods, and sleepy villages, it is the perfect place for a quiet weekend.  Or so you’d think, but it turns out that things may not be quite what they seem in the Cotswolds…

We travelled down on the Friday afternoon, stalked by dark clouds and heavy rain, as though the journey southwards wasn’t daunting enough!  Due to a combination of the adverse conditions and Jen’s yellow belly, we took the scenic route and avoided the motorways as much as possible.  As a result, we got to enjoy a bit more of the countryside… while staring at the back of a lorry we couldn’t overtake.  Despite that, we arrived at our destination in just double the time Google Maps told us it would take.

Fair to say the journey was a little arduous, but our accommodation made it all worthwhile.  There were five of us on this little adventure, which itself was a pretty spectacular Christmas present.  We would be staying in a small cottage sat in the midst of a picturesque village, just a couple of doors down from the local pub.

Arriving in the dark, with nothing but the light spilling from the pub windows to guide us in, the place held a kind of magical warmth that welcomed us with open arms.

That feeling only grew once we got the fire going.  I say “we” because it was my first time and it took a little guidance for me to get it going, but really it was all about the natural skills of my inner-caveman.  Soon enough I had the fire roaring.  I mean… that may have only lasted for as long as the paper and kindling did… but there were a few minutes there when it was really quite impressive.  It had flames and everything!

Anyway, that first night was not just our arrival; once midnight struck, it was also the end of Dry January.  After 31 days of alcoholic abstinence, me, Jen, and Charlie could finally join the two reprobates of our party, Matt and Jane, in getting well and truly smashed!  At least that was the plan.  But after the long, gruelling journey to get there, followed by a feast of Fish Lasagne, which, rumour has it, was populated with so many species of fish Captain Birdseye would have been proud, we were all done in after the first two glasses of sparkly.

Still, that set the tone for the rest of our stay.  By night we would feast like kings, and by day we would roll our bloated bodies up and down the hills of the Cotswolds in an attempt to burn some of it off.

Yet it was during our guilt-driven walks that the sinister Mystery of the Cotswolds began to reveal itself…

The first trek took us over fields and through the local village, up past a couple of Grand Design-type houses and around the grounds of a massive estate, before coming back down, naturally, to the pub.  We only went in looking for a refreshing pint and a few answers about the what we’d seen on our walk, but that was when things got really interesting.

First there was the dodgy barman, who seemed to know less about the surrounding area than we did.  ‘Do you know what the big derelict building is around the back of the big estate is?’ asked Jane.

‘Big derelict building?’ the man mused.  ‘No, I ain’t seen nothing like that.’

‘What about the building just up the hill, the one with all the work being done?’

He shook his head firmly.  ‘I’ve never been up that side of the hill,’ he whispered.  ‘We don’t like to talk about it.  Are you not from around here?’

He thought we were locals!  The man was clearly a plant.  But for what possible reason!?

In the end, we found ourselves drawn to a table sat next to four real locals.  They (apparently) didn’t know much about the buildings we were interested in either, but each one of them was brilliant.

There was the really old fella with the dog, who liked to tell stories; there was the sort-of-old fella with the massive beard and kind face, who sat quietly in the corner offering words of wisdom when the fancy took him; and there was the cheeky fella with the corny jokes and the general mirth.

But it was the woman with them who changed the entire weekend.  She too was warm and welcoming.  She said she worked at the pub but was off duty, but she promised if we came back in later on she’d look after us.  Innocent enough, you’d think.

Then came Day Two, when we drove to a village some twenty minutes away for another post-feast walkabout.  This one was a bit more challenging than the first.  We crossed fields of mud that threatened to swallow us whole, dodged shotgun pellets from the last of the season’s hunts, and gave moral support to Jane after her knee gave way.

Eventually we had to stop at a pub (naturally) for another refreshing pint.  Unlike the first, however, this was certainly a local pub for local people.  We all clambered inside and made our way to the bar.  ‘You wiped your feet?’ was the first thing the barman said, his eyes as cold as death.  Awkwardly, we ordered our drinks and shuffled over to a table away from the hostile eyes of the regulars.  I glanced over to the bar… and there she was – the same woman from the day before.  Except she hadn’t said anything, so maybe it wasn’t…

She didn’t glance over at us once, so I dismissed it as a case of mistaken identity.  Except I was the only one who thought it.  ‘Isn’t that the woman from yesterday?’ asked Jen.  Then, as we were leaving, Charlie revealed she’d bumped into her in the toilets and exchanged a pleasant greeting, only for the woman to look at her like she had two heads.  So maybe it wasn’t her.  But, no, it definitely was her…

Or was it…

Yes.  Definitely.

We met her on the third day too.  We started the day in the pub (naturally), to prepare ourselves for the journey home.  And there she was, working her shift as promised.  It was definitely the same woman from two days earlier – and the same woman from yesterday.  Definitely!  She was back to her welcoming, warm self, but she had nothing to say about our second encounter, and neither did we.  She must have had her reasons for blanking us – and we did our best to think them up – but I suppose we’ll never know the answer to the Mystery of the Cotswolds.

All this and I haven’t even mentioned the time we accidentally ended up crossing some farmer’s swampy field.  A four-by-four pulled up on the road nearby and the driver just sat there staring at us as we struggled across water and mud.  He said nothing until he got a little closer, then he wound his window up and drove on.  Probably off to get his shotgun…

All in all, we had a brilliant time and the Cotswolds is definetly worth a visit.  But I did learn one valuable lesson: of all the TV mysteries, Midsomer Murders might just be the closest to the truth.

 

Tony

 

Last Year’s End… Finally

It’s been a while since my last update.

Truth is I’ve been kept busy.

First there was Christmas, when my time was clearly too important to be wasted in a dark room writing a blog.  It’s a time to be spent with friends and family, sharing gifts and making merry.  So, in that spirit, I left my keyboard at home and put everything I could into sharing all the food and alcohol my kin could muster!  I am nothing, if not a giver.

I barely had time to recover from those festivities before New Years was upon us.  Normally I’d be able to relax, to spend the last of December’s and January’s wages in relative calm, and ease myself into the dark, depressing month that is January.  Not this year though.  This year we went epic, flying to Paris on New Year’s Eve and flying back New Year’s Day.  I kept my giving hat on, sharing my English wit and charm with our French cousins, and in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower we helped them see in 2014 in proper style.

Since then… well, ok… it’s been relatively quiet since then.  I probably could have written this sooner, but I think I really did need some downtime; some time to digest everything I had learned over the year’s end.  Some of it I’ll keep to myself, but some of it needs to be shared.

The first thing I learned was all about the Christmas jumper epidemic.  It’s been growing for a couple of years now, sweeping the country like a plague.  One by one, I’ve watched my loved ones succumb to the lure of the festive jumper.

For twelve hours they feel like Christmas Kings, like good old Santa himself must feel once he’s back in the North pole on Christmas morning, celebrating another successful year with a pint of milk and a handful of mince pies.  But eventually the magic fades, and all they’re left with is the photographic evidence of their silliness, haunting their Facebook until the next episode.

At least, that was how I used to see it.  Now I know different.

This year it was my turn to submit to the woollen temptation.  Not that it was all my own doing; I was encouraged to get into the Christmas spirit by gifts from not one but two of my favourite people.  Two crimbo jumpers… how could I refuse?

My resistance broke the day we went to the pub in the Wirralian Outback, actually a couple of days after Christmas.  It’s something of a tradition with Jen’s family and friends, but it was only the second time I’d been there.  The first happened the year before, just a few days after Jen and I had actually met, and I had such a good time I can safely say the chance to do it again is one of the main reasons I’m willing to put up with her!  Anyways, I went wearing one of my Christmas jumpers and I couldn’t have been happier.  I’ve never felt as festive as I did then, sitting there… looking like a Christmas pudding.

Unfortunately, there was a downside to this Christmas as well.  This year, more than any other, it was pointed out to me just how old I’m getting.  It was bad enough when the socks and boxers started to replace the cool stuff, like chocolates and toys.  This year even the DVDs had dried up.  Apparently, moving in with the lady friend means an end to entertainment and the start of this…

Xmas Prezzy

Xmas Prezzy

Fortunately, Jen knows how much I love a sausage butty and a cup of tea in the morning, so I’m sure she’ll put this to good use!

Last but not least was the main lesson I took from our trip to Paris.  Not only was it the best New Years I’ve ever had, enjoying the sights and soaking up the atmosphere with some fantastic people… and Jen, I also learnt that it’s not the greatest idea to tell a French man “Sorry, I don’t speak French”.  In English.  With a French accent.

 

Tony

One Year On…

I wasn’t going to write this.

I’ve already done one annual review this year, another would surely bore my dwindling number of avid readers.  After all, there are only so many ways you can laud the virtues of growing your own beard.

Then Facebook had the temerity to rub it in my face.  “Anniversary with Jenni today” it reminded me softly… while emblazoning it with a glaring red heart.  We’re not even married! I thought, outraged.  But then I calmed myself with the thought that Facebook was just offering a gentle reminder that a full year had passed since we started seeing each other.  It’s an important date, that notification said.  You should probably mark it somehow, Jenni will appreciate it.  And remember, I understand women better than you do.

So here we are…

But fear not, for I mean to take a fresh look at things this time.  I’ve already covered how lucky I am to have found such a beautiful, giving woman.  I gushed – almost sickeningly – about how she somehow sees a better man in me than there will ever be.  I’ve raved about her hot chocolate, without even mentioning all the cooking and cleaning she does

You know all you need to know about how great Jen is… so now it’s time to learn how unbelievably blessed she is as well.  For it cannot be overstated just how fortunate she is to have found a quality catch like me.

Having spent the best part of my youth locked away in my room, playing computer games and watching TV, my skin has remained practically untouched by direct sunlight.  As a result, my soft, pale skin carries a youthful glow that belies my advancing years, a fact only enhanced by the shining forehead slowly being revealed by my receding, thinning hairline.  Meanwhile, the hair that remains is tinged with the first whispers of grey, hinting at the smooth, George Clooney-like silver fox I’m soon to become.  All of that and I’ve still not mentioned the life-changing beard I like to go on about.  It doesn’t grow on my cheeks, but there’s enough for me to fit in with the ever growing crowd of beardos.

I don’t waste time thinking about social climates, economical issues, or politics, but instead like to focus on the things that really matter.  Things like crisps tasting like they should, personal feuds with pigeons, and the psychology of spiders.

Some would say that I’m too laid back – lazy almost, but they fail to recognise that I’m just so chilled that life happens at my own pace.  There’s nothing lazy about a man writing a novel – even when that novel has taken ten years and would have been completed in a fraction of the time if he’d dedicated just half the time he’s spent playing video games.

I’m a man’s man too.  I drink beer, I watch football, I have the deep resonating burp of a champion hunter/gatherer, and on occasions my wind can be so unbearable not even I can live with it.

Finally, at my deepest core I am a romantic.  Today is just an example of what I am capable of.  Not only am I writing this blog, highlighting to Jen how lucky she is to have me, but I’ve also persuaded her to postpone our “first year celebrations” for a couple of days, so that we can enjoy the benefits of Orange Wednesday.

Two for one at the cinema. Does it get any more beautiful?

 

Tony

Winter Struggles

Soooo… we’ve got our winter quilt on.  And what a marvel it is!  Forged in the fires of Ikea, it is an exact replica of our summer quilt… but with the opposite end of four buttons in the corners.  The intricate workmanship is so accomplished, so beautiful, that when the buttons are brought together and joined, the two quilts become one super quilt – the likes of which no piercing cold can… pierce!

Of a night it is a wondrous thing, but come morning, when the buttons have gone their separate ways, the magic is lost.  We awake to find the feathered twins reduced to a twisted ruin, held together by nothing more than a flimsy quilt cover.

Each night we must repeat the Ritual of Corner Buttoning to restore order.  It is a small price to pay for the comfort offered, but every time I fight my way out of the quilt sheet and fall to the bedroom floor a sweaty, crying mess, limbs heavy with exhaustion, I can’t help but feel a little humiliated.  It couldn’t look more like the bed gave birth to me if I tried!

Winter quilts.  In this, Ikea, you have failed.

 

Tony