Play Place

Remember when nearly every McDonald’s had a playground inside of it, full of soft plastic tubes and slides? All the larger locations were equipped with one, and the ones that weren’t were called ‘express’ locations. Not that is makes the ‘food’ any more condonable, but at least they provided the option for children to burn off some of that sodium laden faux-meat they were scarfing down.

I think such things still exist in the more suburban and rural areas, but I have yet to locate a single McDonald’s location that still sports a play area in Vancouver. True, they never smelled very good – but isn’t it a good idea to encourage your children to be active, especially when they are consuming food with absolutely no nutritional value?

All locations have wifi though, so that’s good; That means you are even more inclined to remain sedentary whilst staring at your choice of mobile device…

 

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The Man Named James Bond

There is no arguing the fact that James Bond, fictitious agent 007 in Her Majesty’s Secret Service, has become a cultural icon. Like Doctor Who, this staple British franchise has managed to endure more than half a century of re-casting, re-imagining and re-booting. The underlying sexism may have been toned down in the 90’s, but the essentials of the character have managed to survive the last fifty-nine years nevertheless.

Just about every person on the planet has a notion of who James Bond is after the 23 films that have been released. (Actually there were two other films attached to the name that are disregarded as official canon, but let’s not digress.) We all know that he likes his martini shaken (which is, by the way, considered the wrong way to mix them to true connoisseurs), and always looks good in evening clothes.

Ian Fleming

However, the character was not invented in the movies. Ian Fleming novels are actually quite different than nearly all of the films. In fact, only Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball and Casino Royale even attempt to follow the story line of their literary namesakes. Fleming’s novels, though still colourful, are considerably darker, grittier and more philosophical than nearly all of the films. (There is also not a single space-laser to be found in any of them.)

Fleming himself had been an intelligence officer during the war, and some of the events in his novels were based on his experiences and the stories he heard from others. He also had an incredible eye for detail, and was fantastic at making you feel like you could see every detail of his settings, including the character’s wardrobe.

Also, contrary to the common notion, world domination rarely figured into the stories. The cliches of gadgets and flag-emblazoned parachutes came long after the author’s death, and had little to do with the work he created in his books.

For example, the novel The Spy Who Loved Me is, in fact, about a young woman from Quebec. The book is principally focused on her and her back story, and James Bond only enters into the plot later on in the novel when she runs afoul of some gangsters who hold her hostage while she is working at a motel.

The film of that title is about a marine-life obsessed billionaire with a submarine-kidnapping freight liner that wants to destroy the world with nuclear weapons… I can see how they made that connection.

Sean Connery and Ian Fleming

Also, the character of Bond is much more complex than the swaggering misogynist that most people expect. Unlike the films, Bond became progressively less and less stable over the course of the novels, eventually becoming a total emotional wreck after the murder of his wife. While the cinematic version got a new breath of life every few years, the literary character had to endure the psychological scars of being frequently tortured and/or watching his loved ones die. (The fact that they are working this into the films presently is what I like best about the Daniel Craig era.)

‘It’s all very fine, ‘ said Bond, ‘but I’ve been thinking about these things and I’m wondering who’s side I ought to be on. I’m getting very sorry for the Devil and his disciples such as the good Le Chiffe. The Devil has a rotten time and I always like to be on the side of the underdog. We don’t give the poor chap a chance. There is a Good Book about goodness and how to be good and so forth, but there’s no Evil Book about evil and how to be bad. The Devil has no prophets to write his Ten Commandments and no team of authors to write his biography. His case has gone completely by default. We know nothing about him but a lot of fairy stories from our parents and schoolmasters. He has no book from which we can learn the nature of evil in all it’s forms, with parables about evil people, proverbs about evil people, folk-lore about evil people. All we have is the living example of the people who are least good, or our own intuitions.

‘So,’ continued Bond, warming to his argument, ‘Le Chiffre was serving a wonderful purpose, a really vital purpose, perhaps the best purpose of all. By his evil existence, which foolishly I have helped to destroy, he was creating a norm of badness by which, and by which alone, an opposite norm of goodness could exist. We were privileged , in our short knowledge of him, to see and estimate his wickedness and we emerge from the acquaintanceship better and more virtuous men.’

Thus expostulated James Bond while he was recovering from his vicious genital torture in the first novel, Casino Royale. Somehow I doubt the character will ever fully voice those opinions in a film, though snippets of that scene slipped into the last two movies.

So if you enjoy spy thrillers and have not actually read Fleming’s original novels, I enthusiastically recommend that you do so. They are probably not what you expect at all.

Knife Fighting

A Fairbairn-Sykes; I’ve always wanted one of these…

Knives, knives, knives – they do so much more than sit next to forks. They are mankind’s first real tool, apart from the crude bludgeon; one of our earliest attempts to make up for the fact that nature did not grace us with fangs, tusks, claws, exoskeletons or wings.

And, of course, we didn’t waste too much time in developing a habit of sticking them into one another on our off hours. After all, beating each other to death with rocks was so barbaric…

I think, for many people, part of the brain still feels an immediate and instinctive fear at the sight of a blade. After all, a sharp-edged knife is not something that nature produced and we feel no desire to come into contact with its edge. Most folks will still become very uncomfortable when a knife is held near them.

As I see it, there are three uses of a knife: First of all, as a multi-purpose tool. It can be very handy in that respect, and there is nothing sinister in that function. The second use is as a weapon of fear. It can be used as a psychological tool of intimidation; nobody wants to go anywhere near the nasty thing and they tend to comply rather than take the risk of doing so.

There are some problems with that theory. Against a layman, yes, a knife is scary and may be intimidating. However, against someone with some experience, the scare tactic is not going to work. Statistically, many people who carry guns and knives ‘for self-defence’ end up having their own weapon used against them. If you try to use such a potentially lethal device to scare somebody away, you are banking on the fact that they will not call your bluff. If that does happen, and you are not willing to seriously injure them, then there is a good chance that the tool will be grabbed  away from you and then it’s off to hospital for you.

Which brings us to the third function; people trying to do grievous bodily harm to someone with a knife.


Incidentally, I should point out that ‘knife fights’ rarely happen. Unless you roll with a 1950’s gang (In full Technicolor!), two people are rarely found to be circling each other with switchblades. The thing is, knife fighting in that fashion is a largely regional thing. There are still some countries where it does occur, but in North America (and I would venture to say most of Europe) knife duels went out of fashion with greased hair and hot rod drag racing. In contemporary situations, the use of a knife in an altercation is most likely going to be a fast aggressive

“I WILL KILL HIM!”

attempt to kill or maim the intended victim before they have a chance to react.

You have to be a special kind of crazy to want to fight another person knife-to-knife.

I only practice this kind of combat in sparring for fun and sport (and because I love Dune). It’s not a self-defence art.

Now, in the good old days of thick doublets and leather jerkins, one didn’t have to worry so much about slashing cuts with a blade. If you are strutting around with layers of linen, wool and leather between your skin and the world, you are pretty well protected against incidental scrapes. As a result, most of the defensive techniques of the Renaissance are based against hard, aggressive attacks with a long dagger. These manoeuvres were very effective, and I still consider Marozzo’s dagger pressas part of my core curriculum for reliable self-defence. However, they do not always work as well against an opponent with a short, fine bladed knife who tries to attack with quick, spastic cuts. Especially when, in place of heavy Renaissance fashion, one is clad in only in shirtsleeves.

Modern knife defence is a slightly different game. Over the centuries, many people started to favour quick, wounding cuts over direct, killing thrusts. This results in a higher risk of injury, possibly leading to a serious amount of blood loss rather than a immediate kill. This shift also means that an opponent will be much less predictable, especially if they have no real training in using a knife. When dealing with knives (or rapiers for that matter) a person who doesn’t really know what he is doing can often be harder to deal with than a trained martial artist, for the simple reason that you have no idea what insane movements he may try to throw at you. And, if you try to even the playing field by drawing a knife of your own you run the risk of trading off injuries until both of you are bloodies and scarred.

There are obviously opposing viewpoints on the subject, but this is my opinion;
In a unexpected encounter with an opponent armed with a knife, I would choose to remain unarmed rather than try to draw a blade myself. (Well, ideally I would like to have a sturdy cane to defend myself with, but I still get odd looks for using a walking stick in daily life.) Two knives make for a whole lot of panic, and that can lead to a very nasty conclusion. I have spent many years training with knives, and I am finally confident in my ability to deal with them. As such, I would actually feel safest relying on good footwork to help me find an opening to close in and disarm/grapple/hit repeatedly a person who threatened me in this way. I could try to draw a knife as I closed in, but I would personally try to refrain from doing so.

No matter how tough you think you are, actually killing a person with a knife, even in self-defence, is not something you want on your conscience or your legal record if it can be in any way avoided.

Breaking bones is fine, though – I can live with that.

Now if you don’t have many years of training in dealing with knife attacks then run. Just run. The last thing you want is to end up wrestling over a knife as if in a cinematic fight scene, as it never works out how you want it to.

As to techniques for dealing with these situations, there are plenty to choose from. Personally, I would never rely on any specific technique too strongly. As I mentioned before; If a strange, possibly inebriated, lunatic comes at you with a knife, you don’t really know what they are going to do. A ‘do-this-when-they-do that’ approach may leave you unprepared for a clumsy, frantic slash from a desperate foe.

Simply blocking a knife attack, for example, is rarely a good idea.

The key is to understand the angles, distance and timing of attacks. The best counter is to be able to position and reposition yourself so that you can deceive you attacker while also defending yourself, then to close in quickly and decisively. Once you get past the point where the opponent can stab at you, you can use whatever striking or wrestling art with which you are most confident. I favour elbow and grapple tactics myself. It is always handy to hit someone in a fairly painful place before going for any kind of wrestling hold, and a quick elbow does a good job of that.

Once the basics of a particular art are mastered, then I consider slow work to be the best way to become more comfortable with this aspect of defence. It is important to be non-competitive while doing this.

My favourite knife drill is to begin with one partner attacking constantly while the other defends. Once the pair has engaged, both practitioners continue with a ceaseless flow of motion, using footwork and simple close-fighting techniques. With this drill there should be no point where there is any hard resistance or muscular shoving. This isn’t a combat technique, but a drill to teach positional awareness and adaptability. Once the defending partner manages to get the knife away from the attacker, the drill does NOT stop; the student who gains the knife immediately attacks back with the same constant assault. Now it is the other person’s turn to defend and disarm.

This continues back and forth, with the knife being taken from one partner and then the other. There are no set rules to what each person can do; anything from leg sweeps to joint locks are fine as long as they are slow and constant. It is important that both students never stop moving. Gradually the pace of the drill is increased, until eventually both students are moving at more-or-less full speed.

After a student has performed this drill consistently, it is often true that they  become much more effective in sparring.

Physical Culture

I have decided to forgo my natural hesitation to talk entirely about working out and take some time to talk about all the different exercise routines I have experimented with over the years.

Over the last near-decade of martial arts training, I have come into contact with many different approaches to working out as part of a training system. Some of these little routines provided useful tools that I still use, and some I interred in the graveyard of inefficiency. The majority of these different approaches to getting fit came from working with David Packer, beginning in the early days at Academie Duello and carrying on through our smaller martial arts clubs, Nova Spada and Scatha combat Guild. Utilizing the decades of experience he had in martial arts, personal training and now nutrition, we were constantly searching for more efficient ways to train ourselves and our students.

David R. Packer

David R. Packer

Mr. Packer has an unabated passion for finding the best way to train people, not

only for martial arts but for fitness in general, and I spent a good batch of years as a fitness guinea pig while he sought out the best methods. We tried everything from from push-ups to one-handed cartwheels in the attempt to make our students fit, agile, adaptive and strong.

(Incidentally, David’s current work can be found at boxwrestlefence.com or at “box wrestle fence” on facebook)

As it stands now, I have taken all the bits and pieces that I found gave the best over all results and created a two-week routine that seems to be giving me the kind of well-rounded fitness that I strive for. Over the last year I have lost about fifteen pounds of body fat, added more muscle tone, and increased my speed and strength noticeably – so no complaints here.  I also spend a total of about 2 hours a week biking to and from work when the weather is clement.

Honestly, It’s good for you.

It is important to mention that I also took a much more stern approach to nutrition as well. In terms of eating habits, it isn’t really anything special; I try to burn about 3000 calories a day (though I don’t always manage that) and I try to eat a couple hundred calories less than I burn. (I got a calorie counting app for my phone that is useful, though now my first instinct when I eat anything is to reach for it…) Wheat-y things are generally not good, and I do my best to only eat a few of them for breakfast and not later in the day, vegetables are good, lean meat is handy, and fish oil supplements help balance out the body’s fat intake and seem to make it easier to concentrate as well, whole grains are useful for maintaining energy levels, sugar is only an occasional treat and usually comes before or after some exercise, A moderate amount of alcohol is actually good for

Oh, how I miss thee…

most people (thankfully, otherwise I’d go mad) blah, blah, blah. None of this is a revelation, just the bare basics of nutrition I have picked up from people who have studied such things.

God, how I miss eating whole pizzas though.

There are a few general conclusions for working out that I have decided upon, and they are;

Don’t do the the same thing all the time. The reason I space my routine out over two weeks is so I can do something completely different every day. I also change the order in which I do each group of activities once in a while too. There are two reasons for this. A) You will avoid hitting a plateau from repeating the same cycle all the time and B) Doing the same thing all the time is really, really boring. If one keeps things new and tries things one hasn’t done before one will find it much more interesting.

And so here it is, my humble attempt at a regular work out routine;

I generally spend about 20-45 minutes working out five days out of the week. In addition to this, I spend an average of about 24 minutes a day biking to work and back at a steady pace. I spend one of the other two days doing something relatively light, i.e. a short bike ride or walk, and the other day is spent stretching or resting and drinking a beer.

I usually spend about 7 minutes warming up before working out (warming up, NOT stretching. stretching comes after a workout and not before.)

Every other day I add the (shudder) pP90x Ab Ripper routine to my warm up. I have been doing this one for a while now, so I have taken to adding a 30 Lbs weight to some of the movements. I did go through the whole P90X program thingy, and while it does provide a certain amount of results, it’s gets really dull really fast and I hate listing to that man talk at me the whole time. Of course, that’s just me, some people like that stuff. Also, it relies almost entirely on the weight lifting/calisthenic style of exercise and that neglects a lot of other important areas.

The Ab workout can be found here: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xiydct_p90x-disc-12-ab-ripper_lifestyle

Obnoxious? Yes. Douche-y? Yes. Useful for vanity? Unfortunately, yes.

I personally like to spend about half the time doing the more standard lift things, push things, pull things brand of exercise and the other half doing more dynamic, gymnastic style stuff that build up the old agility, flexibility and. despite what you might think, strength.

INDIVIDUAL WORK OUTS

Because clearly celebrities should always be role models…

WEEK ONE: The standard, look-pretty stuff

Full Body: Perform 3 total sets of the circuit, 10 reps of each exercise
Clean and Press Pullup
Incline Pushup
Triceps Dip

Chest and Back: Perform 4 total sets of the circuit, 10 reps of each exercise
Incline Bench Press
Pullup
Incline Pushup
Incline Pec Flys

Shoulders and Arms: Perform 4 total sets of the circuit, 10 reps of each exercise
Incline Biceps Curls
Triceps Dips
Lateral Raises
Shoulder Press

Full Body: Perform 3 total sets of the circuit, 10 reps of each exercise
Clean and Press

Pullup
Incline Pushup
Triceps Dips

Plyometrics:

It must be good, look at all those bad-ass shadows!

This one is, again, stolen from P90X, and to my mind the only really impressive work out that system offers. I can’t find the whole video on line, but there is a brief description here: http://www.livestrong.com/article/237497-list-of-exercises-for-the-plyometrics-p90x/

Plyo is a long, intense way to spend an hour. Technically you could abridge it down to the basic moves, but with something this challenging I like to just shut off my brain and do the best I can since thinking only makes it hurt more.

Light Stuff

30 minute bike ride, long walk, etc…

Rest or Stretch

If I’m stretching, I’ll spend about 40 minutes starting at my neck and working my way down the rest of my body until I feel I’ve hit all the major muscle groups. A relaxed class of Yoga would suffice, I suppose.

WEEK TWO: The Cool Stuff

Stealing more pictures of Mr. Packer, as I sadly have none of myself because nobody likes me 😦

(Sometimes I alternate between the boring stuff and the cool stuff. As long as I do all the workouts over two weeks, I’m pretty happy with myself.)

Day 1: (3-4 sets)

  • Cartwheels (1 minute left and right)
  • Handstand push-ups (using a wall is just fine)
  • Cobra sprint (lower like you are doing a push up, but hold yourself there and kick your heels up to your butt as fast as you can)
  • Back bridge push-up

Day 2: (15 minutes)

  • Wind sprints (or 30 minute jog)

Day 3: (3-4 sets, hold each for 30 seconds)

L sit: If kids can do it, it must be easy

  • L-sit
  • v-sit
  • manna
  • planche
  • teddy bear hand stand

Day 4: (3-4 sets)

  • No cheat bridge
  • split push-ups
  • wall walks
  • ginga (basic Capoeira footwork)/kick (1min.)

Day 5: (15-30minutes)

  • Boxing (In term of calorie burning and muscle toning, proper boxing is one of the most effective forms of exercise I have come across. It’s also really fun to hit stuff.)

Day 6:

  • bike for 30 minutes

Day 7:

  • stretch

Now, this week’s worth of sweating isn’t set in stone. Most of the routines are taken from two books; ‘Building The Gymnastic Body‘ by Christopher Sommer and ‘Capoeira Conditioning‘ by Gerard Taylor. I will often change up the specifics, taking something different from one of the two books every few weeks.

So there you have it, for anyone who was interested and some people who weren’t, my preferred outlet for staying fit.

Still Here

Yup, still here.

I have been meaning to use this blog again for quite some time. However, I find it really uninteresting to write about the kind of day-to-day things that I can’t imagine anyone being interested in reading. I starting this site to talk about things pertaining to my interests and projects, and I’m still fighting against ever making it too personal or mundane.

I do however have several projects on the go right now, so I shall explain those;

First of all the Steampunk self-defence manual is not dead. As per its final wishes, it was rushed to our privatized cryogenics facility to be put on ice until the time comes for it to be revived and resuscitated by future technology. Well, that time has (almost) arrived.

I was talking to a few of the folks over at Academie Duello and the subject of the steampunk manual came up. I had somewhat forgotten about  the idea, locked away as it was in its icy tomb, but the chats prompted me to think about it again.  Hearing some of the ideas, suggestions and encouragements I received when I showed them some of the work I had already done, I began to rethink the concept a little. I now have what I believe to be an improved plan for the book, and a much more accessible scheme for completing it.

So why, you may ask, have I not started work on the photo shoots needed to publish the book? Laziness! Pure, undiluted laziness. Photo shoots require people-planing and group organizing, and I will opt for solo writing work every time. I am going to begin gathering people for the photo though, just not quite yet. For one, I’m waiting for the weather to level out enough to make the picture taking easier to plan.

The second project I have going is a screenplay. This is more straightforward, as I am just doing the age-old traditional lack of creativity and adapting a samurai movie into a western. I will not say which Japanese film I’m adapting because IT’S MINE, GET YOUR OWN! I will say that writing western dialogue is really, really fun. I think my bad-ass lady gun/knife fighter protagonist is one of the most fun characters I’ve come up with in terms of enjoying writing about them.

There is a second screenplay in the works as well. Many a year ago, Randy Packer and I penned a script for a period drama about old English martial arts. The concept was great, but the story itself never really came out as well as we had hoped. Now, more than half a decade later, we started thinking about it again. We begun the preliminary planning for writing the idea totally from scratch again, though we both seem to have gone off on our individual ideas for the time being. Once I’m finished with my western script, however, I will definitely push to renew our collaboration on the fencing story.

But what about martial arts?

That subject has been causing me much grief lately. I never do manage to be satisfied by working in just one field. If I’m writing a lot, even if I’m working out on my own all the time, I still feel like I’m wasting away as a martial artist.

And that thought does kill me a little.

As far as I know, the whole Scatha Combat Guild plan is still dead. I would like to make the argument that it is also in cryogenic suspension until the world is ready for it, but I’m not sure that would be true. There is no space, and no attempt to run classes or practices. That, as far as martial arts schools go, is pretty succinctly dead.

Not that I wouldn’t love to do that again, I miss it just about every day. However, as I stand right now I have no faith in myself to try and start from nothing for what would essentially be the third time.

I have come to accept the fact that I simply do not inspire people to want to follow me. It’s hard to define, but no matter how hard I try I never achieve the kind of charisma that makes people want to learn what I know. Over the years the only way I seem to be able to earn people’s respect is by being a hard-ass, but then I just end up making students dislike me.

Maybe in another ten years I’ll figure it out, but for now I just have to come to terms with the fact that I’m not head-instructor material.

Another little insecurity I have as to my qualifications is the fact that I never really trained in a art with a recognized ranking system. Now, personally I don’t think the standard ‘belt’ system of most arts is actually a good way to rank students. Nonetheless, whenever I mention that I used to teach martial arts one of the first questions I get is something along the lines of “Do you have a black belt”. This of course, gets the rather awkward answer of trying to explain how a progressive style works and how I have no real title to explain my experience level.

That can be a little annoying.

In the meantime I will probably look into getting back into boxing training or some such in order to make sure I stay in practice. I was sparring at Duello on the odd Friday (though I took a month off from that), but I do often miss the visceral satisfaction of just punching things.

Speaking of fencing though, there is another tournament at Duello coming up that I think I can register to fight in. The question is; do I want to? I competed in a small one at the end of April, and I found it rather anti-climactic how little time I actually spent fighting. Even when I won, I felt it happened so quickly that I didn’t really enjoy it. I like to feel like I’ve really worked for my victories, which is why I usually chose to fight at least ten passes with someone if I can. However, my first fight probably totaled about fifteen seconds worth of actual engagement and my second fight wasn’t all that much longer.

Rapier tournaments were never really something I liked. I love fighting for the love of fighting, and I love fighting to win against another opponent – but I like it to be more of a true test of skill and training, and a few seconds at a time doesn’t seem to qualify for that.  I think bear-pit style tournaments were the only ones I really enjoyed.

So, in conclusion;

I’m getting back into writing, I’m staying in very good shape and I really would like to be able to teach the 5×5 system again because I thought it was absolute genius on our part and I loved watching students learn that way.

End transmission.

A Winter in Review

Well, hullo then.

I haven’t used this blog in some time – a few months in fact. There are several reasons for that, though most of them are feeble as excuses. The first and most poignant was NANOWRIMO. For those who are not aware, the acronym in question is a national novel writing competition. The goal is to write a fifty thousand word book within the month of November. Such a task required the majority of my attention. Afterwords, well, followed much less productivity than I would have liked.

And so, a winter in review;

As I mentioned, November began with my second attempt at a thirty day novel. I managed to pull a basic story idea involving a historical/fantasy plot that was based around the court intrigues of Elizabethan England. (Why I am consistently foolish enough to start deadline projects with ridiculously complicated stories I shall never know.) On the whole, the novel writing frenzy began with the wind at my back and my sails propelling me forward with great haste. Contrarily, it ended with a slow sinking into the black waters of northern seas after being viciously and suddenly attacked by Nordic pirates.

I barely made it halfway, though I did churn out some decent chapters here and there. (At the end of my last attempt, two years ago, I at least managed to make it to forty-thousand words) Sadly, I allowed three very long shifts at work exhaust me. Never managing to catch up on those sad, couple-hundred-word-count days, my novel petered out and was no more.

At first, I was all afire to start another writing project – one that was less hurried. Unfortunately, I am one of those people who works best under a little pressure. So my daily writing habits slowly declined into, well, no writing habits. In fact, I have fallen into a horrific tendency of doing absolutely nothing with the first three hours of my day. For this I feel no end of shame.

On the plus side, I did spend that uncreative time altering my diet and exercise routines. Rather I should say; maintaining the alterations I made at the end of the summer. Currently I weigh less than I ever have in my adult life, and have kept a sufficient amount of my muscle mass in doing so. In fact, I am very nearly able to say that I have actually achieved the more vain aspects of my fitness goals. That is, however, all I shall say about that. After all, there is nothing more boring than listening to someone talk about their own weight loss. I suppose, as un-stoic as it is, personal improvement seems more relevant when it is made known to others.

How insecure we all are.

As to the subject of martial arts, that tale runs along similar lines. While I find the time every few weeks to visit the open fight nights at Academie Duello, I have no practice of my own anymore. The Friday fencing bouts keep me adept and satisfy my cravings to stab at people, but I do miss both instructing and learning the material to which I am most inclined. Bartitsu, in particular, is something I would love to be able to work on again. And sabre.

(Incidentally, there was also that whole Steampunk Self-Defence Manual plan. That book, by the way, was actually completed as far as the text is concerned, and still sits waiting on my computer. However, the disbandment of SCG’s regular classes left me without anyone to help demonstrate the techniques in the photos. And so…)

Perhaps, once the weather becomes more clement, I will try and re-start an outdoor practice of one of these things. If I really put effort in I might be able to secure one student. Maybe two. The real issue is figuring out what I actually want to do with martial arts. What focus do I want to take? I have no clue really. It’s been nearly a decade since I first started training, and all my plans to make a living out of it have become somewhat prone to failure.

Yet I refuse to be maudlin. I still have almost ten years of experience, some of which is in branches of fighting very few people are familiar with. That is certainly nothing to sneeze at. I just need a plan. I’ve always been able to concoct schemes within a set of parameters, but when it comes to plotting out the rest of my own life… That, I must admit, has me at a loss more often than not.

The threat of my thirtieth birthday looms ahead like an ominous sunrise of full adulthood. I’d be lying if I said that fact didn’t terrify me almost as much as the notion of… dancing. OK, that was a bit maudlin.

And on that note, I need to go and try and find a new job now.

Ashthorn: Park’s Radio

Inspired by my childish love of the whole Halloween season; I hit upon the idea of writing a series of short, pulp-style stories about all of the inhabitants of a fictitious town. It seemed like a way of getting back into the writing habit without having to worry too much about the quality or originality of what I was writing. So here goes the first one;

PARK’S RADIO

Ashthorn was a small village, far removed from the nearest city. The town itself was comprised of a single main street and two intersecting side streets. At one end sat the Church, and at the other was the ostentatious home of the town’s chief patron, Bruno Tasker. Between these points were the usual modest commercial ventures; The grocer’s, the notary public, the bank, the butcher’s shop, a dress maker’s boutique, a men’s haberdashery, a hardware store, a barber’s and a general store. Some of these were on Main street, and some were on the corners of first and second street.

However, the inhabitants of Ashthorn were never really sure which road counted as first and which as second. Therefore, the terms were interchangeable. This meant that Harvey’s General Store was located on the corner of Main and First if you were situated near the Church, and the corner of Main and Second if you were near the Taskers’ abode. Accordingly, the street signs on the corner were each labelled with ‘First’ written on one face and ‘Second’ on the opposite side. It may seem as though this would have caused a great deal of confusion, but it did not. Since it was rare for any outsiders to visit Ashthorn, and the locals were accustomed to this fluid sense of direction, it was never considered much of an issue.

There were a dozen houses connected to the village. They were all situated at the end of one of the four corners of the side streets in neat little batches. There were also two outlying farms that qualified themselves as part of the community. One specialized in produce, while the other dealt in livestock. Both farms were responsible for all the food carried at the grocers and and butcher’s shop, apart from a few less-common items that were imported from outside the town.

One of the citizens of Ashthorn was Miss Emily Park.

It was a fine, sunny day when she rode her bicycle from her home on Second street East (From the church) to the main thoroughfare. Her face was serene, if not totally benevolent, as she pedalled herself slowly towards Steinwick’s hardware store.

At twenty-years-old, Emily was a plain girl by all accounts. Her clothing was always drab and unrevealing, and her hair was ceaselessly tied back in a flat braid. There had been some conjecture as to whether or not her sense of fashion was her own doing or the influence of her father, Byron Park.

Emily’s father was a bully of a man, even in his failing heath. His wife, Emily’s mother, had passed away some years prior due to a nasty accident with a garden spade. After that, Byron took his sense of paternal duty to the extreme. It was regarded as a plain fact that he connived to keep his daughter at home, and discouraged any contact with potential suitors.

Thus was the overbearing father doted upon by his dutiful and cowed child.

When he finally fell ill (which was hardly a surprise given the number of empty Gin bottles that accumulated behind his house) Emily became little more than his willing appendage. Byron Park was rarely seen outside of his own home, while Emily spent her days either tending to him or else riding her bicycle around town collecting whatever her father required.

“What is it today, Miss Park?” Steinwick enquired cheerfully as the girl entered his store. Emily Smiled back with undisguised simplicity.

“I need some copper wiring, please.” She replied, all enthusiasm.

“What will you be needing this for?” The shopkeeper asked as he went to locate the item in question. She told him in a chipper voice about how her father was planning on building a radio.

“He’s been getting all these magazines, and he thought, since he can’t move about much these days, he would try to build a new radio by himself! I think it’s good for him to do something while he resting up, don’t you?”

“I agree, that sounds a fair hobby for him. How much will you be needing?”

“Forty feet, please!”

A shadow came over Steinwick’s face. He said:

“That’s an awful lot, Miss. Are you sure that is the right amount you were sent for?”

“Oh yes,” Came the reply, “Daddy was quite insistent on that fact!”

“Very well, Miss, but it seems as though you could make a dozen radios with that length.”

Emily left the store with the coil of hair-thin wire slung over her shoulder. Teetering slightly, she mounted her bicycle and wobbled along back to her house.

“Did you get what I asked you for?!” Came the bilious bellow as soon as Emily had shut the door.

“Yes, daddy,” She replied, unshaken.

“And you didn’t go running your mouth off about what I needed it for?”

“No, father. I told ’em it was for building a radio, just like you said. Though Mr. Steinwick thought it was frightfully peculiar that you wanted so much of it.”

Byron Park snorted derisively.

“I don’t care what that old badger thinks.” He muttered, more to himself than his daughter, as he limped down the stairs.

The only change which came over Emily at the sight of her jaundiced father was a slight air of timid concern.

“Now, you know you shouldn’t be moving about so much.” She chided in a shy voice.

“Come now, girl,” Byron hissed, “I’m not dead yet. Besides, I need to show you how to string this stuff up. I’ve been studying them magazines and I think I’ve sussed out the best way to go about it. Lord knows what would happen if I left you to do it on your own.”

Emily was not seen again for the remainder of the day, though the neighbours remarked to each other how the Parks’ lights were burning late into the night.

It was not long after that day that Byron’s conditions worsened, leaving him a total invalid. This, naturally, meant that Emily was kept on a leash twice as tight as before. During that time it had become exceedingly rare to hear or see either of them, apart from the occasional shadow through a curtained window. It was expected that Byron Park was not long for this world, which was frankly considered as something of a relief. Not only was he one of the least popular members of the community, but many would find it a great comfort to see the young Emily get on with her own life. There was an almost palpable eagerness to see Byron Park off to his grave.

They did not have long to wait.

One night, alone with Emily on his deathbed, Byron said:

“This is it, girl! I think the day has come. Hook me up, for god’s sake, hook me up! You double checked that capacitor thing, didn’cha?” The word ‘capacitor’ was sounded out with unfamiliarity.

Emily reassured her father on every front, nodding and chiming in after his desperate questions.

The next morning, Byron Park was dead.

There was an unspoken joy that passed over his neighbours. However, their hope for Miss Park’s liberty went unsatisfied. After an unceremonious funeral was held at the cemetery (nobody was permitted in the Parks’ house), people expected to see more of the sheltered girl. Yet the outcome of her father’s death seemed to produce the opposite effect. Emily had sequestered herself in her house just as much as she had when her father had been alive. True, she ventured out on various errands during the day, but she was always home before six thirty in the evening. And, just as before, she politely avoided any intimate association with any of the young men in the town.

It seemed as though her father had schooled her well. It was as if she felt that he was still jealously looking over her shoulder, bullying her into ignoring any interference that might distract her attentions. Not that she ever seemed unhappy, far from it. It was simply as though nothing had changed at all. Many people wondered if the poor girl had actually accepted her father’s demise, or if she was somehow pretending he was still alive.

So, with a silent disappointment, Ashthorn gave up hope for Emily Park. No doubt a dull future as a lonely spinster awaited her, so they thought.

Emily entered her house just after five o’clock in the evening.

“I’m home!” She called out cheerfully.

“I know that, girl,” Came the snappy reply. The voice was distant and hollow, twanging with a chord of electricity. “I may not be able to see anymore, but I can still hear you coming through the door.”

“I’m sorry father. Did you have a fine day?’

“Not too bad, not too bad. That antenna gizmo we rigged up worked good and proper.” Byron said, his voice coming from a a radio speaker that was mounted to the upper corner of the room. In fact, every room in the house was provided with the same rigging, which included a hanging microphone descending from the ceiling.

“I jumped over to Widow Hampstead’s wireless set and gave her quite a turn. Too bad I couldn’t hear her reaction, not having a microphone over there, I would have loved to hear her squeal when I told her just what she could go and do with herself.”

Emily said:

“Oh, now really Father! What a cruel thing to do.”

“Don’t you sass me, girl,” Came the reply, “I’m dead, for god’s sake, I’ll get my jollies however I like.”

“But people might find out!” Emily pleaded in her shy falsetto.

“Let ’em,” The radio network barked, “Nobody in this town has the guff to come up here and kill me a second time. Besides, anyone tries to get rid of me I can use that transmitter equipment to send this old ghost of mine wherever I want!”