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Oct. 8th, 2015

Orange Vespa Huskyteer

Stripes and Roundels

We are the Mods.
Two-stroke tigers, burning Brighton.
Khaki parkas mask
The dazzle-camo pattern of our stripes.

We are the Mods.
Whiskers sprout like mirror stalks.
Our tiger-in-the-tank tails
Need no antenna to set them twitching.

We are the Mods.
We prowl the jukebox jungle,
Eyes reflective as a moon-chromed hubcap.
Two-tone roundels are our ears.

We are the Mods,
The modernest of Modernists.
Steel-toed boots sheathe claws.
We are the Modified.

For National Poetry Day. Written 2012. Published 2014 in Far Off Places vol. II issue II 'Sartorial'.

Oct. 5th, 2015


Wildlife Roundup

Jay that landed in the tree outside my flat, made a lot of noise for a couple of minutes and flew offCollapse )

Elephant hawk moth caterpillar spotted eating Howard"s fuchsiasCollapse )

Sep. 21st, 2015

Secret Agent Dog

Old Time Radio Hour

Savrin Drake (who narrates the audiobook versions of kyellgold 's Out Of Position series, amongst other things) has recorded my short story 'A Blacker Dog' as a promotional teaser for the Inhuman Acts anthology!

I wasn't sure an American accent would work for my story, which is pretty firmly set in London, but I needn't have worried; the guy's voice sends chills down my spine.

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Sep. 17th, 2015

Dogfight [by the_gneech]

Great to be Thirty-Eight

Long-time readers will know I like to spin my birthdays out for as long as possible. I started this one last weekend, when kowarth joined me at my mum's so the three of us could eat pizza and watch The Green Death.

On Tuesday I headed to Goodwood in the hope of watching 40 Battle of Britain aircraft take off. The weather was grim when I arrived, but the sun did eventually venture out, although it was announced that the schedule had been put back two hours. I met up with Howard and we settled down to wait. At one point a car proceeded slowly round the circuit with a hand waving from the back window; Prince Harry, I presume.

September 15th, 1940 was the hardest day's fighting experienced during the Battle of Britain, and has been Battle of Britain Day ever since. At two o'clock the first aircraft took off, and they kept coming. In groups of two, three or four, they passed over our heads, made a circuit of the airfield as they joined up in formation, did a low pass then swept off for destinations all over the south of England, in a recreation of how the sky might have looked 75 years previously. One Spitfire failed to take off, sputtering its way to the end of the runway and slinking back to the dispersal area with its tail between its legs. It did get another go at the end, and made it this time.

One of the two-seater Spitfires did some aerobatics for us, then there was a lull, and Howard and I decided to depart as some of the first groups to take off began to return and land. As we filtered past the queue down a country lane, a Spitfire in Czech markings went over my head.

We were spending the night in a nearby hotel, selected by me because it had a tiny pool. By the time I'd had a swim and a bath I was more than ready for a meal, even though it meant eating so early that the restaurant was entirely occupied by old people.

It was a nice dinner and a comfortable night, although I did dream that we overslept and missed breakfast, and woke up in a panic to check my watch. (It was 6am.)

Our destination for the morning was Tangmere Aviation Museum, home to vast quantities of Second World War memorabilia and an impressive collection of Cold War jets and cockpits. I sat in a replica SE5 cockpit, complete with engine noise, wind, and machine gun sounds, and in a Hunter, and Howard sneakily booked me a slot on the Lightning simulator. One of the museum's many lovely volunteers gave me some guidance so I wouldn't crash, and helped me fly between Portsmouth's Spinnaker Tower and The Lipstick.

Then it was time to head off into the rain. For me this meant home to London, and shortly afterwards out again to a tour of the Sipsmith distillery. The rain was torrential when I emerged from the Tube at Stamford Brook, but the distillery was warm and cosy, and I was very grateful for the introductory G&T.

A handful of my more gin-minded friends had managed to book on to the same tour, and we learned the history of gin, admired the three copper stills (Prudence, Patience and Constance) and, most importantly, enjoyed some tasting. Afterwards, we went to a nice pub. It's probably just as well that this was some 15 minutes' walk away.

I arrived home shortly before midnight, secure in the knowledge that I had birthdayed hard.

Sep. 7th, 2015

Husky Airways

Animals and Airliners

On Saturday I met up with a friend from the furry writing circuit for Animal Tales at the British Library. This is a small, free exhibition covering animals in literature, from fables and fairytales to allegories for adults. There are beautiful first editions, signed and numbered prints of Ted Hughes poems, and sound recordings including Art Spiegelman on Maus, Alan Bennett reading from The Wind in the Willows and T. S. Eliot reciting Macavity, The Mystery Cat with obvious and charming enjoyment. There would be enough material for a much larger exhbition, and I wish they'd gone for it, but their selection is interesting and enjoyable.

It was the first Sunday of the month, and I seized the opportunity to visit Croydon Airport Visitor Centre (where Martin takes [Spoiler (click to open)]the Princess of Liechtenstein, Cabin Pressure fans). It's only open between 11 and 3, one day a month, and although I have lived near Croydon for years, this was the first time I'd managed to get it together to go.

I'm glad I did. Formerly a First World War airfield, Croydon was London's original airport, the world's first international airport, and the birthplace of Air Traffic Control. Alan Cobham took off for Cape Town from Croydon, and Amy Johnson flew solo to Australia, although she complained that traffic on the A23 kept her awake the night before takeoff.

In the booking hall as was, black and white photos help you imagine what it would have been like to fly with Imperial or KLM on a Handley Page HP42, De Havilland Dragon Rapide or Junkers Ju 52 (I can't decide which of the last two I would like more). There's a tour led by enthusiastic volunteers, a reproduction of the radio room, lots to look at and try out, plus views of Crystal Palace, the Shard and the Wembley Arch. Oh, and a nice cafe.

Later I headed into central London for drinks and a meal with wardy , who was spending the night in the capital before an early flight to the USA. Bon voyage, Wardy!

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Sep. 4th, 2015

Secret Agent Dog

It Was a Dark and Furry Night

Inhuman Acts, available for preorder from FurPlanet, is an anthology of noir featuring anthropomorphic characters. The tales span any number of alternate, fantasy and future universes, but you're guaranteed murder, mystery, intrigue, romance, heartbreak and honour, not to mention assorted mammals in trench coats.

My contribution, A Blacker Dog, explores the possibility that everyone is accompanied from birth to death by their very own spectral hound, but only one man can see them.

Look at that retro cover! AND, see that dog front and centre? He's from MY story!

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Sep. 1st, 2015


Dog, Sausage and Cider

It's recently been suggested that I have a magical ability to make cider festivals spring up around me. This was confirmed over the Bank Holiday weekend, three days which involved two cider festivals and a 'cider shed' dispensing Lulworth Skipper.

The Dog, Sausage and Cider Festival (three of my favourite things!) at the Springhead pub in Sutton Poyntz was a very English affair, with a bouncy castle, a sausage-throwing competition (I only managed a measly 13 metres) and a Waggiest Tail class. Our favourite cider was the very local Harbourcider from the Weymouth Cider Company. I would not presume to pick a favourite dog.

Howard's local, the Black Dog, was also having a cider festival, with a highly desirable souvenir glass. Favourite cider probably Muddy Scamp, continuing the canine theme.

Between cider festivals, I spent a lot of the weekend playing Lara Croft GO, a turn-based puzzle game for those of us who like everything about Tomb Raider except the bits where you get killed by a baddie because you couldn't get your guns out in time.


Aug. 24th, 2015

Husky Airways

Wings over Water

Howard persuaded me that the best way for us to get to Bournemouth Air Show was for him to ride on my pillion. It wasn't a very comfortable experience for either of us, but it was a useful exercise in smooth riding. The weather was gorgeous and the beach was already packed when we arrived, but we found a clear spot of sand and staked a claim so I could tear my clothes off and run into the freezing sea.

Swimming in the sea while watching a flying display is pretty much my idea of heaven, and there was a lot to watch: the lovely Sea Vixen ("There's nothing like it!" I told Howard. "...Except for the Vampire and the Venom."), the Chinook standing on its nose above the water, and Patrouille Reva in their weird Acroez aircraft.

The Red Arrows gave a faultless display against a clear, blue sky...with eight aircraft, rather than their customary nine. I admired their skill in keeping the group tight with one element gone, and was deeply moved by what I assumed was a 'missing man' formation in honour of Jon Egging, the pilot killed at Bournemouth in 2012.

It turns out one of the Hawks developed a problem on the way and had to turn back to Exeter airport.

The final airborne act was the Eurofighter Typhoon, turning and banking steeply with a grumble of jet engine and a glow of afterburner, whipping up the waves and causing every seagull to take off from the beach in a panic.

It was a glorious day, which made it all the more terrible to learn of the crash at Shoreham.

In response to some of what I've seen in the media about air displays and safety, I would like to reference this blog post. TL;DR version: it is more than 60 years since a spectator has died as a result of a crash at an airshow in the UK, thanks to regulations put in place after the Farnborough disaster of 1952. To put that in context, milavia.net lists more than 100 airshows and flypasts taking place in the UK in 2015.

As I was heading home up the A31 on Sunday, the Vulcan passed over the road ahead of me. Probably the last time I'll see it flying.

Aug. 21st, 2015

Cat Air

Rhine in Flames Day 6

I started my morning with a quick swim to work up an appetite for the breakfast buffet, which took up most of a sizeable dining-room. There were bacon and eggs, dozens of breads, fruit, yoghurt, cereal, cold meat and cheese, pickles, smoked fish...OMG ALL THE THINGS. I had a cake course and a yoghurt-with-hundreds-and-thousands course.

(Later, I would be teased for devouring food at the coffee stop, and one of my tablemates would say in a motherly way that I hadn't had a very big breakfast.)

I should have explained earlier that John and Jen were sharing the driving of the van and a Triumph Street Triple. Today it was Jen's turn to drive the van and John's to lead by bike. We left the town by a different route, over the cobblestones, which seem much less charming when you're riding on them in the wet.

We had all donned waterproofs in expectation of heavy rain, and made an odd-looking but brightly-coloured group in shades of red and hi-viz orange. In fact, the worst we encountered was a few spots of drizzle and some damp surface, which did little to spoil my ride. These were the last few pretty bits before an afternoon of motorway, and I intended to say farewell to Germany in style.

Coffee was in Belgium, where there was enough rain for me to deploy the umbrella I'd been keeping in my top box. This always makes people laugh, for some reason. I was reunited with Howard, who had of course been keeping dry in the van, and we selected a nearby bar for our refreshments. I spotted saucisse on the snack menu for 2€ and ordered one. Very dry, but spicy and sustaining, for the record.

As we got up to leave, Howard very sweetly tried to buy the bar's Lupulus banner for me, but the barmaid was having none of it.

We had been warned that time was of the essence if ferries and tunnels were to be caught, so I plopped my bike off the kerb as soon as John set off. Unfortunately I'd been misinformed as to which direction we were setting off in, so I had to make an awkward U-turn. Soon afterwards, such was my zeal to be helpful and mark lots of junctions (also overtake lorries in urban environments), I sailed straight past the lead bike and only realised my error when I reached the next roundabout to find no marker. I went round again while I thought about what to do next, and reached the road I'd entered by in time for John to join in front of me and promptly drop me off as a marker at the correct exit. Even seeing a fighter plane parked on a Belgian roundabout (later identified online as an F-84 Thunderstreak) could not cheer me up.

I arrived at lunch convinced that I was riding really badly and John thought I was an idiot. This didn't stop me eating an enormous sandwich with 'americain', which I assumed would be cheese but turned out to be a mysterious and piquant orange spread. The internet suggests it was raw minced steak, but I'm pretty sure I couldn't have eaten that, so it cannot have been, or else the accompanying capers and pickles disguised it.

For the next stage, down the motorway, we were given printed instructions on junctions, distances and services. I was not feeling confident, even though both Jen and Howard told me not to be silly.

My piece of paper blew away before we even reached the motorway, so I was careful to stay near the front of the group. Even so, at a particularly complicated junction I found myself on a rapidly narrowing crosshatched area with cars attempting to change lanes on both sides of me. I was very grateful when we arrived at the Eurotunnel waiting area.

Here goodbyes were said and promises made to keep in touch. Some members of the group were staying another night in Calais, others were taking the tunnel, and Howard and I had a ferry to catch. Jen drove Howard, and all the luggage from his bike, to the port in the van, while I followed. On the way I saw two police officers looking down from a road bridge, and glanced their way to see the migrant camp spread out below me. A couple of days later I realised what the scene had reminded me of:

Howard boarded the ferry as a foot passenger while I rode round to the vehicle area. To my surprise I was waved on to the top deck, up a steep and scary ramp. Mine was the only motorcycle on the crossing, and I was left to my own devices to operate the ratchet strap but by some miracle managed it. We spent the short crossing gazing for'ard, enjoying a drink and a packet of crisps, and watching the sun set over Dover Castle.

As I waited by my vehicle for my turn to exit I spotted Howard in the foot passenger tunnel, but he didn't see me and my phone battery was dead so I could not, alas, text an urgent LOOK OUT oF WINDOW. Once safely back on dry land, I returned to the fifteen-minute car park where we had met at the start of the trip. Here, in due course, Howard appeared in the taxi arranged by his insurance company, and we said goodbye before departing separately for the M20.

I passed the taxi a couple of miles outside Dover, and soon afterwards, satisfyingly, made my last overtake of the holiday: Alan and Julie on their Multistrada, who had taken the Dunkirk crossing.

As soon as the M20 changed to the A20 I was almost taken out by a driver who switched straight from the slip road to the outside lane, which I was occupying. Thanks for the welcome, London!

I arrived home at a quarter to eleven, to be greeted by the same neighbouring poodle who had seen me off at the start of the trip.

Miles: 345.7
Trip total: 1085.3

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Aug. 20th, 2015


Rhine in Flames Day 5

We were granted a much-needed late start: 11am instead of the usual 9:30. The day's riding would take us towards home in a leisurely fashion, making use of some outstanding biking roads. Unfortunately my intermittent bike problem reared its head again, and this time spooked me enough to spoil my riding for much of the morning.

Along the Mosel Valley, with castles and vineyards across the water, to lunch in Cochem. Here I had Toast Hawaii, which I remembered fondly from the school German exchange (white toast topped with ham, a pineapple ring, and a slice of melted cheese) and grape juice, the next best thing to sampling the local wine.

The world seemed a better place after lunch, as it generally does, and as my bike had been behaving itself I settled back into the ride. This was Nürburgring country, on a sunny Sunday in August, and the roads were busy with bikes of all stripes. Some I overtook, some flashed past me in a blur; some returned my wave, some were too snobbish or focused.

We encountered several sets of roadworks with temporary traffic lights, where I used my London commuter skillz to filter to the front of the queue. At the first of these I waved a group of sports bikers (two were strapping Valkyries with blonde plaits emerging from their helmets) past me, since they would be quicker off the mark. I smiled at the leader, scary under his balaclava.

"You are underpowered!" he told me, smiling back.

I rather hoped they'd find the temporary road surface tough going, but they proved to be excellent riders, and gave me a nice wave when they turned off at a petrol station in the next town.

By now the group had become scattered, and I saw nobody for some time except Andy on the MP3. He was going at such a cracking pace that I was content to tuck lazily in behind him and follow, until he waved me by. To my surprise I found that only Jen was ahead of me, waiting to point us in to a petrol station. By the time the main body of the group arrived I had filled up, paid, and was smugly enjoying an ice cream sandwich.

From here it was only another 45 minutes to our hotel, although there was still time for one last set of roadworks. I was the lucky marker who got the roundabout just after these, where the road went downhill and curved back on itself, so I could wave at the others as, one by one, they were caught by the lights.

We had arrived with time to explore the cobbled and half-timbered town of Monschau, but I preferred to get straight in the promised pool, to which I had been greatly looking forward all week. It was small but lovely, and after a refreshing swim I hopped in the sauna with Jen for a lovely chat marred only by a naked woman who shushed us. (She was totally in the wrong; I have it on good, ie Scandinavian, authority that the point of a sauna is to drink beer and talk bollocks, and we were all out of beer.)

Everyone assembled in the hotel bar to walk downhill into the town for dinner at a restaurant with kitschy decor and a salad bar full of things I like, including jalapenos, olives and beetroot (what are these things you call 'fresh vegetables'?). John had collected our orders at the lunch stop so they could be prepared for us, and I was not disappointed by my trout. Afterwards we were served a mystery dessert which seemed to be pineapple chunks in a vanilla custard, followed, since it was the last night of the holiday, by speeches, thank yous and rude jokes.

We ended the evening in the hotel's games room, playing 20-year-old pinball machines which had been converted from Deutschmarks to euros and getting competitive on the tiny skittle alley. Nobody did better than seven out of the nine pins - I think my best was four - and the high point of the game was when Lynn's ball rolled gently down to the pins, knocked two of them down, then rolled politely all the way back up.

Miles: 112.3

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