Mooching around outside my house recently I encountered a female blackbird without any tail feathers. It looked like a weird experimental plane, one of the ones that doesn’t really look as cool as an aircraft should.
This bird was curiously sedate, and certainly showed no signs of flying away, could it fly away? The cat rounded the corner and got all excited by the sight of the bird, although I wasn’t too worried because she’s only got one canine tooth left and all her claws are blunted from trimming. The bird wasn’t much phased either (did it know about the cat’s disarmament?) although it took the stupid precaution of running under the planter, which stands plenty high enough for a cat to follow.
To prevent the cat gumming the bird to death I picked her up and went and got the better half, so I could at least spread the blame of any decisions I made. Luckily, my lady had already encountered such a thing and chased the bird to the end of the deck, where it hopped through the trellis and glided off into a tree. It seems that the lack of tail feathers wasn’t much of a problem and once out of sight it was clearly no longer my problem.
Later, while consulting Google, I found out that this blackbird was fresh out of the nest, and somewhere close by it’s parents will have been sat in a tree, laughing at it.
I’m glad I wasn’t born a blackbird.
I’ve written a novella all about zombies! You can buy it on Amazon and half of what I make will be going to the earthquake harried town of Christchurch.
Read on and read the first chapter…
Bill Johnson gazed down at the little sea kayak paddling up to the wharf. Curious behaviour that, paddling round the island when the kid inside could have just as easily crashed up the shingle on any number of beaches and saved their arms.
For sure, the path from the pier was assured, sealed even. But he couldn’t help think it would be possible to spot as good a landing on approach, even so low down in the water. He was sure he would have done.
There were three possibilities:
Either the visitor loved kayaking: A waved slapped into the vessel from the side and kicked salt water into the kid’s face. Even at a distance the expletive could be lip read.
Or they loved the kayak and didn’t want to score its underside with a skid landing, preferring to tie it to the wharf instead: With fury the kayak darted under the jetty of the wharf, scraping one of the pillars a little, some power strokes with the paddles and the nose crashed into the stony beach. Fibreglass scraped nastily and the craft ran aground. Kayak love went out the window.
That only left the third option: The kid was polite, the wharf was, after all, kind of like the front door to the island.
“Hello, hello. Sorry to intrude,” the kid cried.
Yep, polite. At least at first.
That normally meant trouble.
“Up here,” shouted Bill from his vantage point. Then he sat down, picked up a glass and took a gulp.
Eventually the kid made it up the track from the wharf, breathing deeply, but not overly so, from the uphill walk, which had been covered at a respectable pace.
Age had impaired Bill’s ability to judge the age of the young so well, but he reckoned the kid was no older than seventeen. She was taller than himself, as was everyone it seemed, and pretty skinny. Her hair was short and dark.
Bill was extremely suspicious of her.
“Hi,” she said, raising her hand in a little wave.
“Hello,” said Bill, refusing to commit to any overt friendliness.
“Are you Bill Johnson?”
“Yes I am.”
“My name’s Kate. I need your help.”
This is what he had feared most, “I’m retired.”
“I know, but there isn’t anyone else.”
Bill groaned to himself. The kid had been courteous to him, so he decided to return the favour and listen to her woes. Then he’d feed her and then tell her to sod off, in a polite way.
“If there isn’t anyone else then I’m worried for you. Take a seat; tell me what the problem is.”
So she did.
When she’d finished a short story told a long way, Bill fired up the barbecue and began thinking about the best way to tell a young girl to bugger off. He didn’t want to sound too harsh, he only wanted to sound just the right level of heartless to maintain his gruff, pub story worthy image.
She studied him as he went through his mental rolodex of options, “They say you have the zombie malaria.”
How did everything get to be such public knowledge, especially as no one had Facebook anymore? “Yeah, I have my moments, but the gin and tonics help keep it down, for the most part. Only had a couple of bouts in the past couple of years.”
“So you’re always drunk?”
“Better than the alternative.”
“Eating your brains!” he leered round at her.
“Can I fix you another?”
“By all means.”
He went back to his own personal conversation-slash-argument. Maybe it wouldn’t be that bad, she’s eager to mix up cocktails, after all. No, there’s no point, I don’t have a crew anymore. She seems pretty desperate, who else is going to do it? Why does the job have to be there? You always get lost there, remember the time before the end of days, it’s a good job they didn’t look at the other side of the hire car. The thoughts pinballed schizophrenically around Bill’s heavy browed head. Finally, it hit the drain.
“Look, I appreciate your problem, but I don’t think I can help,” that was a relief.
Kate handed him the freshly mixed gin and tonic. As she turned away she said casually, “They water it down, you know.”
“What, the gin? I don’t doubt it. I’m not even sure it’s really gin, to be honest.”
“No, the tonic water.”
“I don’t think so,” but Bill knew he’d been feeling a little strange of late. Taught. Not quite taught like a guy rope, but definitely taught like a schoolchild. A naughty schoolchild, with the odd board rubber chucked at it.
“You don’t find you have to drink more and more?” questioned Kate.
“I think that’s the nature of booze.”
“You’re meant to add more gin as the years go by, not tonic.”
Bill looked at his glass, “I probably should find a new supply.” If what she said was true then he had to find a new supply, or his island sanctuary would become an island prison, like his neighbour, Hungry Dave.
“My surname’s Gardener,” offered Kate.
“Do you have green fingers? Sorry, you’ve probably had that a lot,” Bill sounded slightly rattled.
“Yes. Well, not me so much, but my family has very green fingers.”
Bill moved some thinking away from the food he was going to eat and moved more thinking to the conversation he was having. He had the feeling that Kate was trying to tell him something important, but in code. A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma parcelled up in a why the hell doesn’t she just spit it out?!
Suddenly it came to him, a look of delight crossed his face and he went to speak. If his eyes had been fruit machine reels he’d have had jackpot written in both of them, which isn’t enough, because fruit machines have at least three reels. He closed his mouth again and went back to thinking.
“I’m from the Gardeners of carbonated drinks fame.”
“Ah.” One thing was for sure, thought Bill, they’re definitely not watering down the gin, even I could have made that connection. Too much drinking before eating, that was the problem. Still, it was a Friday night.
“I can guarantee you a lifetime’s supply of tonic water.”
Bill put down his glass and looked at her, “You could have just said that in the first place, this stuff costs an arm and a leg.”
Christmas is coming and the mind turns to turkey, crackers and games. Sadly for many, the games may only extend as far as Monopoly, the great mire of board games. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with Monopoly, I’ve played it aplenty, but it really isn’t the best option out there.
So treat yourself to a new game this yuletide and try out one of the following:
Tactile Fun – Toppletree
This is like a cross between Jenga and Connect 4, as players take it in turn to build the brightest, most insanely coloured tree ever seen. Forgiving enough for younger children to enjoy and cunning enough for adults, especially those that may have drunk a little.
Some Skill, Some Luck – Settlers Of Catan
This game’s very popular, so you’ve probably already got it, or at least heard of it. Build settlements, get resources and build more stuff. Very simple and easy to grasp, although it takes a few games to really figure out how to get started, and you can still get whipped by miserable dice rolls.
Cards – Dominion
Collect cards and use their powers to collect more cards. It can be confusing at first, until you realise that you keep all the cards that you collect, just not all in your hand at once. Each round you draw the top 5 cards in your deck and use them together to your best advantage, always keeping in mind what other cards you’ve already collected. Really simple to play but kids might need to be guided through some forward planning.
More Cards – 7 Wonders
Hot out last year. Build your civilisation through 3 ages. In each age every player is dealt a hand of cards, each then plays one card and passes the hand onto the player on their left, receiving the hand from the player on their right. So you’re balancing what’s best for you and what’s bad for those that get the hand after you. This is a really quick game to play because everyone ‘goes’ at the same time.
Fastest To Learn – Ticket To Ride
Appealing to the middle aged man who wants to build a model railway in all of us, the rules for this game literally fit on a train ticket. Lay railroads linking cities across the US (or other places, depending on the edition you get) to build routes in your colour. Very tactile, very easy to enjoy what you’re building and absolutely straightforward for kids to learn.
Family Fun – Finca
Collect fruit and sell it at market. Lots of lovely brightly coloured pieces and a simple game to grasp, but that isn’t to say there isn’t depth. I expect this, of all the games I mention, is the most likely to displace that boring old game of infinity and stalemate that is Monopoly.
Race Game – Cartagena
Very simple, very fun. You all play pirates trying to break out of the famous Cartagena jail to an awaiting sloop. All the game is in the tactical movement. You have cards in your hand (or in view of everyone else, depending on which of the two game set ups you use) with different symbols on them. These symbols match to squares on the board. Play a card and you can move one of your pirates to the next free square with that symbol. But the only way to get more cards is to move a pirate backwards, to the next square in that direction with either 1 or 2 pirates on it. If you’ve ever played Hare & Tortoise, it’s like that, but simpler.
Cooperative – Pandemic
It’s a co-operative board game! All the players work together to stop the global virus pandemic. So it’s players versus the game. Worth having for the novelty alone.