Smokey the Magnificent

Failing the Turing Test since 1986


“Can I tell you a story?”

“OK. A short one.”

“How short?”
“As short as your finger.”
“Which finger? This one, or this one, or this one, or this one, or this one?”
“As short as this one here.”
“How about this one?”
“No, I like the one I chose.”
“Morris is so CUUUTE! He’s a wasp!”
“Is he? Don’t pesk his head, I want him to sleep.”
“OK. Now. What animal?”
“Um. How about… well. A wasp?”
“No, wasps have stings.”
“How about a pika.”
“No, you always tell me stories about pikas. How about a snake?”
“No, snakes are scary.”
“How about a manatee?”
“I think I’ll do a bat.”
“Oh, OK.”
“Yes. A bat named Batman.”
“A bat named… OK. Go.”
“Once upon a time there was a bat named Batman, and he could fly and crawl along. And he thought he heard something scary, so he went to see, but it was just Robin, his partner. So they were flying along and then they heard something like this: SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS. And it was SSSS-ing along, and they flew down to see it. And they thought it was a snake. But it was just a dragon. So it was Robin’s friend, because Robin liked dragons. And then they thought they heard something spotty, so they went to see, and it was a pika.”
“Goodness. But pikas aren’t spotty.”
“This was a spotty pika, with eyes.”
“Yes. And it was Robin’s friend too, because Robin’s favourite animals are dragons AND pikas. And then – now they’re talking. “Look, Robin! I can go upside down on my head! And I can hop on my head! Bup bup bup!” “Wow, cool, Batman! So can I!””
“This story is getting quite long. I think it’s longer than your finger. Can you finish it up?”
“Yes. ….That was the end.”


Food blogs

My word, I’m glad I don’t have a food blog. I just tried out a recipe for one of those magic self-layering custard cakes, and she had seventeen comments. A couple were of the inane but harmless “Ooooh that looks so yummy I just gained 5 pounds!” kind, which annoy me simply because they clutter up the screen when I’m hunting for actual reviews which might tell me something useful, like ‘not enough cocoa’ or ‘despite the purple prose, this is actually a limp, pallid run-of-the-mill biscuit which looks awful without a 70s amber filter’. Incidentally, it’s amazing how few people, even on popular food blogs, actually seem to make the recipes. Look at Pioneer Woman’s comment section sometime – literally thousands of comments, and you can scroll until your finger turns blue past masses of gushing comments without finding a single person who says it tastes, rather than looks, divine. (Or ‘devine’, which is a whole ‘nother aneurysm.)

But it wasn’t those comments which bugged me today. It was the demanding ones which presumed that this poor woman, running a very minor Turkish food blog which was clearly not her day job, was a) equipped and b) willing to cover every possible eventuality and permutation of the recipe, as well as answering basic questions that could be resolved with a three-second trip to Google.

You know the kind. “Would this recipe work with GF flour?” How should she know? It’s not a gluten-free blog. She doesn’t have gluten-free recipes. Even if she did, “GF flour” is a virtually meaningless term; and even if she knew what kind the commenter meant, is it really likely that she’d say “Gosh, dunno!”, dash out and buy some, and whip up a few batches in the kitchen just to see? Come on, people.

Ditto “would this recipe work at high altitude?” Dude, if you live on the Himalayas, figuring out the vagaries of stratospheric cooking is on you. How would she know? If the principles are simple, you should be able to apply them to most recipes. If they’re tricky and recipe-dependent, she’s not gonna be able to answer the question without voyaging to a mountain peak, and expecting her to do that is just nuts.

Or “What kind of sugar do you mean by ‘sugar’?” I’ve seen this one a lot, and while it staggers me a little that people don’t know ‘sugar’ refers to plain old white granulated sugar (or ‘flour’ to plain white flour, if it comes to that), at least I guess it might be somewhat tricky to Google, phrasing-wise. Not so with ‘What’s 110 grams butter???’ which was asked by two people out of the seventeen in panicky, aggrieved tones. Good grief. How is it more efficient to wait for a long-suffering part-time blogger to respond to that, than simply googling ‘convert 110 grams butter into ounces’ (or cups, or sticks, or poods, or whatever the cool kids are using these days)? How?

And I’ve seen worse. People complaining that the recipe didn’t work out and in the next breath proudly admitting that they cut the sugar down to a teaspoon, replaced the butter with applesauce, swapped the chocolate chips for craisins and used egg-replacer. (Actually, it’s almost more aggrieving when they do that and claim it did work. It didn’t. They’ve just acclimatised themselves to believing compost is a dessert.) People piously demanding to change the teaspoon of whiskey in a recipe to orange juice for the sake of their immortal souls, while splashing vanilla essence about without a hint of irony. People demanding that recipes be converted into Imperial, metric, GF, DF, GAPS, sugar-free, nut-free, soy-free and vegan versions as a matter of course. People freaking out because the recipe says to use a 30 cm by 20 cm tin and theirs is 18 cm by 23 cm. People complaining… on baking blogs… about the shocking fact that recipes contain fat and sugar.

I mean, get a grip, people. Putting up a recipe online is a kindness. A free kindness. It does not obligate the author to spend the rest of her natural life hand-holding morons who want to know if using the wrong brand of butter will make their cake explode. Nor to coach them on the basics of metric-to-Imperial, Celsius-to-Fahrenheit or weight-to-volume conversions. Nor to acquire a vast set of arcane culinary knowledge in order to accommodate those who wish to bake in space, on a wood fire, or in a transdimensional rift where the Maillard reaction causes fatal temporal hernias. Still less does it require her to endlessly re-test and tweak the recipe according to her readers’ infinite dietary, religious, ethical and ingredient-availability preferences.

I certainly agree that it’s nice, if you have a food blog, to have a few helpful features – an ingredient conversion feature (or one format bracketed in the ingredients list itself) and a ‘print this recipe’ feature which eliminates the photos and preamble, say. And there are a few excellent bloggers who turn random questions into thoughtful and illuminating posts about food science – Joe Pastry, for instance. And for those looking to made a buck on their blog and become the next Smitten Kitchen, I suppose they can’t afford to wound their precious clientele by telling them to figure it out for themselves. But still. It must annoy them. I know it annoys David Lebovitz – he’s talked about getting frustrated after working very hard to develop a recipe just-so, only to be inundated with “But what if I used X instead of Y?” requests. (And there was that woman who rang him up late at night to tell him that his cookies took a minute longer to cook than his recipe book suggested. Fun.)

I got a taste of it once when I wrote an article for a blog about drafting a dirndl skirt. Everything from people wanting to give me basic sewing lessons to people wanting me to draft a personalised pattern for them. And of course I lost the will to care ten minutes after posting it, and could only stare slack-jawed at the screen wondering why people thought I was their personal unpaid seamstress/designer/tutor.

On the other hand I once had three hundred comments on an article I did about henna, and thoroughly enjoyed answering innumerable questions. But that was some years ago, before I was soured on humanity. Virtual humanity, at any rate; I was soured on actual humanity long before that, thanks to years of making milkshakes for high school girls. (“Can I have a large mega-choc shake, but can you make it with skim milk? Because I’m getting SO fat. You guys, I so am! I’m getting so fat!”) So perhaps it is just curmudgeonliness talking.

On a brighter note, then: Rowan has invented a poem, or chant. It goes like this: “Knock knock! Who’s there? Unofficial Little Bear!” I don’t get it, but I like it.


Just read a biography of Lucy Maud Montgomery. My goodness. I had no idea. No mother, useless absentee father who also died young, brought up by unsympathetic relatives, engaged to a rotter while in love with another rotter, broke it off and got stalked, couldn’t marry her second fiance because she had to take care of her ailing grandmother for years, went off him by the time the grandmother died but felt obliged to marry him anyway, whereupon he went periodically insane for the rest of his life and once pointed a gun at a guest. First son turned out to be a deviant criminal philandering money-wasting scumbag who ruined the family reputation, second son died at birth, third son wasn’t a girl. Publisher cheated her out of a ton of money and dragged her through court for ten years; husband was partly at fault for a car crash and got sued by the other chaps for allegedly causing their prostate trouble and diabetes, which even at the time medical science could see was obviously bunk; but the judge was deaf and they lost the case anyway. One of their maids was a malicious gossip who spread rumours that Maud was having an affair with a family friend. Maud herself suffered from periodic bouts of extreme depression and ended her life in possible suicide, after having been addicted to barbiturates and bromides for some time, as was her husband. And towards the end of her life, despite her immense popularity, modernist critics started panning her books as Everything Wrong with Canadian Literature because of their romance and sentimentality. Plus she spent several years being pursued by a deranged lesbian stalker-fan who kept threatening suicide.

Altogether thoroughly dispiriting – and long – 600 pages plus endnotes. Knowing ahead of time about the suicide I kept waiting for her to die every time something tragic happened, and she kept not doing it. Which is laudable, I suppose, but it did make the last few hundred pages drag on rather drearily with calamity after calamity. So it is with great relief that I am now reading PG Wodehouse: A Life in Letters, which is smashing. He writes just like you’d expect, was genuinely fond of his wife and adored his stepdaughter Leonora, aka ‘Snorkles’. Thus far in the book nothing tragic has happened at all – I haven’t got up to WWII yet – his career is meteoric, he is delightfully frank and gleeful about the tons of money he’s making, he tells everyone earnestly and invariably how good his latest story is, and he hits up all his friends (and Leonora) for plot ideas in the most charming way. It’s a great relief to the spirit. And I was thoroughly chuffed when he wrote a friend who knew Dorothy Sayers that Five Red Herrings was ‘lousy’ and that he ought to tell her to skip the dreary bus-timetable stuff and go back to her usual style. Couldn’t agree more. I love Dorothy Sayers, but a murder-mystery shouldn’t require maths and a chart in order to keep up with (neither of which I used, so I got thoroughly confused and ended up having to take the solution on faith. For all I know there’s a missing half-hour in the plot that makes the whole thing the greatest gaffe in the history of crime fiction, though I’m sure having gone that far she was careful to make it all work out.) I can just about cope with Agatha Christie’s occasional floor-plan showing how the window in the library is adjacent to the dumbwaiter, but that’s as much STEM-work as I’m willing (or indeed able) to put into light fiction. Authors take note.

Spring is as usual bringing a plethora of wildlife to the orchard. Discounting the slugs, which are Nasty, it is great fun. Every day is spent with our ears cocked for Dennis the Quail-Bird, Gus the tui, some unnamed but snobby pheasants, and the peacocks across the gulley. Then in the evening we’re liable to see Twitchy the Elusive, an extremely good-looking rabbit who has taken up residence in the garden; or, somewhat less pleasingly, our two rats Rubbish and Shortly. Shortly is a baby and thus moderately cute, but Rubbish – unlike his predecessor, Bouncy the Pizza Rat – is not at all prepossessing. Later still at night, we get possums galore and the occasional feral cat. They kept the pigs awake last night and Helpdesk Man had to go out and defend the household with his air rifle. He shot one possum, scared everything else away and accidentally put a bunch of leftover lead pellets through the washing machine. It killed them. Weird, no?


By the snortlepig. Edited for spelling. I cannot even begin to formulate commentary, so just picture me rocking and trembling in a corner as you read them.

The Dark Hill

Once upon a dark

hill lay an evil wizard

who did not like any

one except for his one self

he was so so evil that

he could touch a worm

and when he had touched

it then the worm would

be dead and he would

eat it because

he hated insects he

just did not like

anything at all

even children


babies he was just

a awful wizard.

* * * * * * *

Stoopid Pop

One summer

night lived a chicken

his mum had

died but before

she had died

her baby boy

Pop had lied in

the coffin with

his mum because

he loved his mum

so much he just

could not leave



It is with regret that I must now state that Doctor Who is no longer a flawed but awesome show. As of this past season, it stinks.

I will now tell you why.

1. The Doctor. I don’t like him. It’s hard to know where to put the blame for this. Pinterest is full of that quote by Lynne Thomas: “Eccleston was a tiger and Tennant was, well, Tigger. Smith [is] an uncoordinated housecat who pretends that he meant to do that after falling off a piece of furniture.” Yes yes, ha ha, but that’s a problem. The Doctor is supposed to be competent. He’s not supposed to flail around wildly without a clue. When his companion asks him “What’s the plan?” and he says “No idea”, you’re supposed to believe he’s about to extemporise a brilliant one, not be saved by dumb luck. This latest Doctor genuinely doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing, and rather than making him seem appealingly vulnerable or gritty or whatever Moffat was going for, it just makes him look pathetic. And kind of evil for taking innocent young women into dangers from which he has no particular eptitude to save them.

So whether it’s a case of the writers writing to the natural vibe of a hopelessly miscast Doctor, or Matt Smith’s inability to pull off the “I have something up my sleeve” aura, I don’t know. But it seriously weakens the show. People watch shows about awesome, competent people in the hopes that they will indeed be awesome and competent. It’s comforting to know that House is going to diagnose the not-lupus, that Scotty will fix the warp core. Yes, the Doctor is supposed to dash recklessly into danger to some degree, but at a certain point it stops being devil-may-care and just comes across as slapdash.

2. The companions. Apparently they’ve coalesced into a formula: basically “take the things everyone liked about previous companions and bypass character development in the hopes they’ll be an instant hit”.

It’s lazy. Start with Rose (yes yes, I’m talking about New Who, hush up.) The in-universe consensus was that she was special – particularly loyal, caring, peace-loving, brave and so on. This was considered to be a Rare Thing. Then we got Martha, and admittedly nobody liked her; but on paper, she was just the same – they didn’t feel they could go for a character who was not brave, tolerant, loyal and so on, so they gave her most of Rose’s attributes as well. Even Donna, who was something of a risk, had the same traits under her mouthiness – Ten told her one time not to go “eww” to an Ood, and from then on she stepped up and became as neatly, instantly, protectively accepting of other lifeforms as Rose ever was.

Come Amy and Clara, they’ve got it all figured out. A companion must be cute, perky, not intimidated by the Doctor though having a deep, intense respect and loyalty to him; sassy; inclined to boss him about; ridiculously unfazed by any situation which ought to necessitate culture shock or basic caution; physically brave; twinkly-eyed; and so on.

It annoyed me with Amy, but at least her relationship with Rory (despite the obnoxious lucklustre-engagement-retconned-into-sublime-Forever-Love thing) gave her something to go on. Clara? Nothing. She is entirely uninteresting, not because she’s not technically awesome, but because awesome is now passe. There’s nothing to her except her standardised Awesome Companion Attributes. She has no room for character development, because the writers wanted to reassure the audience that she’d be just as cool as the last companions, so they made her perfect from the get-go. So instead of character development they had an arduous, drawn-out, supposed-to-be-tantalising “impossible girl” plot which resulted in no emotional payoff at all – just an “Oh, that’s how it happened. Huh. K.”

And in a recent episode, the demand that Clara remain flippant, unflappable and perky made her come across as kind of psychotic. Remember when the Cybermen had the kids she nannied brainjacked? She made a couple of offhand remarks to the Doctor about it, he assured her they’d be fine, and she proceeded to completely ignore them. That, dear Moffat, is not how you create a sympathetic heroine. If a woman entrusted with the care of minors forgets to glance their way every now and then when their lives are in danger because she’d rather flirt sassily with the Doctor, she is not adorably chipper. She is a sociopath.

3. The plots increasingly make no sense. I don’t think I need to elaborate on this; anyone who’s watched the last season without going “Huh? But isn’t she – wait a minute, how can they – but that makes no sense” at least once an episode needs to take papers in elementary logic and remedial continuity. To be fair, this isn’t a super-new problem. “We must leave Rory and Amy in the past forever because the time rift at that particular time and place is all oobly”, anyone?

4. That episode with the grumpy sun was abysmal. What. What was the point of that. Maybe David Tennant would have had the gravitas to carry off that limburger of a speech about how Old and Mighty and Deep his memories were, and how Much he had Lost; maybe he would have sounded like a self-important blustering buffoon, like Eleven did. And what else did we get out of that episode? Oh, Clara’s compassionate and nice to children. Gosh, just like every other companion ever. Pity she forgot about that when children for whom she was directly responsible were in mortal danger. But hey, she can crinkle her cute little nose!

5. “All of time and space” is getting narrower and narrower. This has always been a problem, but there’s way too much Victorian London floating around at the moment. Steampunk is nice, but so’s variety. When’s the last time we saw a really nifty alien landscape? The abandoned theme park was a cool idea, but underused.

In short: yes, new Who has always had problems. It’s always been inclined to schmaltz. It’s always had characters with unlikely personality traits. It’s always glossed over some of the problems of acclimatising to space/time travel, presumably because there are only so times “it’s bigger on the inside” is new news (or funny, Moffat, even self-referentially); ditto with “I’m the last of my kind”, the Time War, the Doctor’s age and so on. Perhaps that’s a good reason to keep companions round for longer than two seasons. If the Doctor explains basic facts about himself, it’s a rehash which gets boring fast; if he doesn’t, the companions have to just magically be a perfect counterpoint to his angst without actually knowing why, and that doesn’t work.

And now it’s not getting away with its flaws. I don’t find it lovably patchy any more, but genuinely idiotic. I’m keen for the 50th anniversary special, mind you; and hopefully things will pick up with a new Doctor; but I don’t think I want to be strung through another tedious season waiting for the high-concept plot to get to its big reveal. And if we’re introduced to another companion who absorbs the revelation of alien life in half a second flat with a wink and an in-joke about running, so help us all.


1. Smokey: “Tell me a story about guinea pigs and shmallows.”

Pig: “Talking shmallows?”

Smokey: “If you wish.”

Pig: “Okay! Once upon a time there were three guinea pigs. Their names were Toby, Hansel and Gretel. They were very happy together. One day, Hansel got sick. But he didn’t die. He got better and they got married again.”

Smokey: “…Who got married again?”

Pig: “Hansel. Then one day, a shmallow came walking out of the forest, with eight little baby shmallows walking behind her. And Hansel wanted to show them the church, because he wanted to show them the church. So – hang on, I have to change my dress. It’s too poofy.”

[Two minutes, later in pyjamas]

Pig: “And then Hansel showed them the church. The end. Now you tell me a story about a snake and a shmallow.”

2. Pig: “Ooh, Mummy, I know! If you died, before you died you could make Daddy a Prince Charming costume, and then like if you had cancer you’d get very sick, and after you died, he could go to Disneyland and he could find a lady dressed like Cinderella and he could marry her in his charming prince suit, so they’d be Prince Charming and Cinderella!”

3: Miles: “Wazzat?”

Smokey: “It’s a quiche.”

Miles: “Izza very cute quiche.”


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Comings and Goings

1. We are down to one chicken.

Where the other two are, we do not know. The options are fourfold:

-Macy, the landlord’s sister’s dog. The landlord’s sister denies this. Macy looks enthusiastic and wags her tail, which is inconclusive. It does not seem politic to press the matter.

-The chickens across the way, who live in arguably plusher surroundings and include a particularly dishy rooster. This is the optimistic option, in which Arial and Lucida will come back one day trailing fluffy little chickens behind them. Naturally it was Arial and Lucida who trucked off, leaving behind Wingdings, the gimpy stoopid-looking one who was bitten by a dog. She is not laying, which in combination with her track record of dog-proofness may lend some support to the Macy theory.

-Tarantino the hawk, who circles above the orchard for much of the day with his eyes on Tiny Miles’ tender flesh.

-El chupacabra.

Right now we’re rather at a loss. The obvious thing to do is replace the chickens, but I hardly like to fork out money and (slight) emotional attachment for creatures that may not live until the following dawn. If Wingdings survives the week, I suppose I can assume the malevolent chicken-eating spirits have moved on; but on the other hand, the likelihood of that has just gone down a notch, because:

2. We have acquired a dog.

Not permanently, mind you. We’re babysitting it for a friend. She being a boarder, it cannot live with her; and it usually lives with other friends, but – in worryingly vague circumstances – they decided they would like a break from it for a while, and so it has come to us.

Its name is Fargo, and it arouses no particular emotions in me. I like the colour, but not the shape, and I was never much of a dog person. But it seems a pleasant enough beast, and when we took it for a walk this afternoon I got resistance training and cardio, which is surely beneficial; so I am prepared to be affable to it. Not, however, if it digs up my basil.

3. We watched Superman Vs The Elite tonight, for Pig Night. The pig is fond of superheroes. In her mind, they have a clearly defined role: to catch girls. The bad men throw them, she explains, and they [the superheroes] love them, so they catch them; so they must be good, so why is Superman hitting that man? Deep questions indeed.

I particularly liked her reaction to Atomic Skull. “Why isn’t he dead, Mummy? He’s being hit VERY hard. Oh… he’s glowing his head, I guess he must be made of magic.” (Whereupon I suppose I ought to have explained the wonders of nuclear fusion, instead of elbowing Helpdesk Man and going “Heh – “glowing his head”.”)

4. I just finished an article about gender differences in fetuses and newborns. I found this study. Read it if you’re glum; it’ll cheer you up.

In Which Smokey Fails to Secure a Book Deal or Even a Spot on the Cooking Channel, But It Is OK

Well, the sad, melancholy news is that I am not the Best Home Cook in the Waikato.

The consolatory news is that, despite my lemon dipping sauce going totally off its rocker, forgetting to put the thyme in said sauce and running out of time to use the arty skewers I bought for $6.49… I am the Runner-Up.

I have a large, framed certificate to prove it. I’m not sure what to do with it. Either I’ll chuck it in the bin or keep it enshrined on the wall of the throom with mood lighting and laser security. I also have a $200 gift card for Farro, which is much less problematic.

The panna cotta chap won, as could be expected – he made a very fancy fish dish with lemon fondant potatoes (why are they called that? I’m gonna try them, anyway, though not with preserved lemon). Many people liked Tiny Miles. I educated the viewing public on the harvesting methods of saffron, which is more interesting than I probably made it sound. I bought a disappointing milkshake and some incredibly nommy spiced nuts. Helpdesk Man bought fudge, cider, a mango mocktail and two pizzas. (Helpdesk Man 1, Diet 0.) An old lady in the audience heckled one of the other contestants, but left (thankfully) before I went up. Another contestant borrowed my chef’s knife. A man demonstrating cheese-making borrowed my frying pan. The Indian guy gave me his spare plate of curry and couscous. The MC read out bits of my application email, which was embarrassing. Half a bulb of fennel fell on the floor while I was setting up, but I didn’t need it. A lady in the front row was nervily arguing with a contestant over whether her chicken would be undercooked. The pig heard my name being called out and said excitedly “Ooh, Mummy, what are you going to make?”, proving she has been absent in spirit for the last seven days. Miles emitted a rank, sulfurous stench just as the MC was saying “Some wonderful smells are coming from the stove right now”. One guy simply called his dish “Lamb Fusion”, which sounded a heck of a lot artier than my “Well, um, I’m making chicken tender thingies with a lemon dipping sauce and bits of stuff, oh, and cream cheese balls”. I should have flung glitter into the air and said “I present to you… ZELDA!”, or summat. Also, I had to wear a headset. And I accidentally made a joke about Martha Stewart being a felon, but I don’t think anyone noticed,

But on to weightier matters. You know Patch Adams? Well, the film was based on the life of a real chap, Hunter “Patch” Adams, who was indeed a doctor and believed in the power of ‘aving a larf, but was not Robin Williams (three points to him, really). I read his book once. In it he described the model hospital (or “healing centre”, or something vaguely hippieish, I forget) he would have built if he had ever had enough money, but he did not (and his wife left him – it’s not as cheery a read as you might expect).

It sounds like a pretty neat theoretical facility – he planned the whole grounds in the shape of a clown, so as to terrify pilots, and he had pottery sheds and vegetable gardens and counselors and basketweaving stations and things, so if someone was suffering from the blight he could just toddle down the well-raked gravel path and throw a pot, and feel much better. Holistic, innit. But one rather questionable innovation was the Death Room.

Patch Adams wanted death to be a joyful experience, you see, and he thought that the dying – in much the same way that pregnant women choose candles and essential oil and Enya CDs for giving birth – could choose the ambience surrounding their death. So he planned out this room with a dome-shaped ceiling, on which you could project images of stars or childhood photos or whatever you wanted; and the idea was you could choose a fragrance and have your family around and eat cookies and generally go out in style.

It’s not hard to see the flaws in this plan.

“Are you almost done in there? Mrs Jenkins in Ward 17’s going a bit blue.”

“Wait a minute, the Death Star’s almost reached the Rebel base!”

“Weren’t you in here last week? This isn’t IMAX, you know.”

“I was dying.”

“You were watching Avatar.”

“That’s a very significant film for me!”

“Well, do you think you could pop off before the end of the credits? I have to hastily Photoshop a picture of Mrs Jenkins riding on a unicorn with Leonard Nimoy.”

“Mrs Jenkins?”

“She’ll surprise ya. Now look, that’s my pager; are you coming or going? She’s got a three-page deathplan, she’ll be furious if she misses out.”

Meanwhile Mrs Jenkins, being wheeled down the corridor by an orderly:

“Where are we going?”

“I just thought we’d take a little stroll. Get some fresh air.”

“This isn’t the way to the gardens – wait a second. You’re taking me to the Death Room, aren’t you?!”

“What? Of course not. Maybe just a little trial run. Your Aunty Edna’s flown in, and your high school drama teacher.”

“They flew in for a trial run?”

“Of course they did, sweetie. Everybody cares about you.”

“I’m not dying! I feel fine!”

“And you look lovely. How about we pop your old wedding dress on over your shoulders, now?”

“The doctor said I was going to be out of here by Tuesday!”

“Dr Adams? Oh, he’s a lovely man, isn’t he. Likes his little jokes. Now, look at that, Chef’s made your favourite dessert. Aren’t you in luck!”

“Is that my grandmother’s perfume I smell?”

“Probably just the angels, sweetie. Now oop, here we go, onto the couch. You just lie there and look at Mr Spock on the horsie. We’ll be back in the morning to pick up the – I mean, you have fun. Make the most of this.”

I mean, dude. I’d totally do it, though. I’d have a big flashing countdown, just to see what would happen. Can you psychosomatically induce death by expectation? Probably.


Christmas is approaching (fools), and I have begun angsting about gifts. A while back I discovered a rather lovely rhyme – purportedly from the Victorian era, although I doubt it – designed to make the process easier. It goes thusly:

Something they want

Something they need

Something to wear

And something to read.

Gosh, I thought. That’s nifty. And I vowed to do it. But it turns out, it’s not as easy as it looks. For instance, do craft supplies for the snortlepig come under Want or Need? She doesn’t, as far as I know, actively want anything for Christmas; I don’t think she’s figured out the concept of a wish list yet. So does it count if it’s something I know she would want? Does it break the whole principle to divide, say, Something They Need into four separate gifts – say, crayons, chalk, stickers and glue? Does the poem include Christmas stocking presents, or exclude them? What if Something She Needs is also Something To Wear, and possibly Something She Wants as well?

Pottering around the internet, I discovered that mothers more cunning than I have wrestled with this selfsame problem, and overcome it. Basically, they cheat by changing the poem. So a mother who has already planned to give her child, for instance, a handmade tote bag, a toy that goes ping, a zoo membership and a bag of cocaine will simply justify the purchases by altering the poem to read:

Something handmade

Something bought

Something to do

And something to snort.

Or, if I were to retroactively justify various presents bought for Helpdesk Man over the years – a whiskey glass with a moustache etched on it, a hip flask, a wallet and some hand-embroidered manly hankies  – I’d make it something like this:

Something unintentionally hipster

Something from which to swig

Something made outta the dried skin of a dead lamb

And something not very big.

No Shakespeare, but it gets the job done. And y’know, the existence of this literary form this really sheds some light on the origins of the poem “Three Rings for the Elven-Kings under the sky”; don’t you think?

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