Tag Archives: original writing

Yours forever

A true tale by Mr Bamboo.
When my grandmother died just recently at the age of 105, the family went through her house and my father, being the youngest and fastest of his generation, managed to purloin several items long suspected of being quite valuable antiques, some of which allegedly date back to the late 18th century.
 
Among the objects which my father inherited was a portable writing desk which he noticed seemed to contain something because he is susceptible to detecting rattles where others detect none. There was nothing obvious in the writing desk, but he soon realised that there must have been a hidden compartment, and my mother found a means of opening it using a concealed latch while my father was getting his power saw. This was fortunate, because this particular portable writing desk, which is is excellent condition, is very valuable.
 
Inside the draw was a tightly rolled sheaf of papers which contained a diary written by my grandmother’s great aunt, Agnes Pembury in around the mid 19th century. I’m not quite sure why the diary was passed on to me (my father said something about it being in Old English, which is clearly not a variety of English he knows), but it turned out to be much more interesting than the china and pewter antiques of utterly uncertain provenance which elderly relatives of a certain generation have had in their keeping for 60 or 70 years.
 
It will take me some time to transcribe the whole diary because the hand writing is rather dense and can be difficult to decipher at times. None­the­less, I’ve read enough of it to be able to present this pseudo-novelisation because my great-great aunt’s style of writing shows a flare for story-telling, although I can’t say whether her style was influenced by the likes of, say, Sheridan le Fanu, Bram Stoker, or any other 19th century authors with a penchant for ghost stories. Of course, unlike those writers, Agnes Pembury’s story is wholly true.

“Will you always love me?” said Agnes gazing longingly at Ernest Bell.
 
“I shall love you forever, body and soul,” he replied.
 
“Oh Ernest!” Agnes kissed him impulsively.
17th March 184_
Today my joy and happiness have reached their summit, my darling Ernest having proposed, of which papa, knowing him to be of good character and excellent prospects, did not hesitate to approve. I cried; mama cried; and even papa’s lip trembled in response to the general sentiment which prevailed in the room. We are planning to get married in May at St Albans, the delightful church near Alton…[1]
The wedding was duly held on 14th may under the most auspicious circumstances. The weather was fair after a week of overcast skies and rain, and Agnes wrote that God himself must have approved of the match to bless them as he did.
15th May 184_
I was with a man for the first time last night. My hand trembles to confide such an intimate event to my diary, but it is an event of such moment that I feel I need to inform someone or some thing. Yet I am sure that we erred in the way in which we performed the act, though when I raised this point with Ernest, he assured me that that was how they did it at Winton[2] and Cambridge. Since I cannot disagree with the custom of places where the best practices are to be found, I should not object in spite of finding it rather painful.
20th May 184_
I am now rather enjoying it and expect to find myself with child any day now. Nonetheless, I have my doubts about the way we do it. Both Ernest and I long for a child…
21st May 184_
“How is married life?” asked Lucy Atkins.[3]
“To be recommended as the greatest felicity a person can possibly know,” said Agnes pausing while the waiter brought them tea and cakes. “Ernest is an ideal husband, I dare say. I could not hope for more.”
“And is there any news of that happiness being augmented?”
“Not yet.” Agnes leaned forward conspiratorially. “I have some doubts.”
“You don’t want a child?”
“It is not that. It is…” Agnes hesitated before describing as delicately and as periphrastically as possible her most intimate moments with her husband.
“No wonder you are having no success. That is what is known as the,” (and here she lowered her voice even further), “public school method.” With equal delicacy, Lucy described how Agnes and Ernest had erred.
Now knowing that of which I was previously ignorant, I can scarcely wait until tonight for the proper intimacies which pass between a married couple. I also wonder how Lucy, who is unmarried, should know these things better and in more detail than I who am married.
22nd May 184_
Last night, having informed Ernest of the mistake we had been making, I persuaded him to try the act as I originally believed it should be done. Lucy, who is a fount of knowledge which would only be expected among the common sort, says that the public school method is common in Catholic countries. I can only suppose that we now employ the Church of England method. I found it a little painful and yet more satisfying.
In spite of changing how they did the act, Agnes failed to become pregnant that summer even although there seemed to be no impediment on either side. The knowledgeable Lucy explained that conception was a great deal more difficult than commonly believed, but she was sure her friend would soon blessed with a child. As the summer wore on, Agnes was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the frequency of marital relations, and with Ernest’s preference for the public school method.
17th September 184_
After getting caught out in the rain yesterday, the worst has come to pass and Ernest has contracted a fever which has confined him to bed. Dr Ashford came this morning and said that Ernest should rest for a day or two. Ernest has been rather busy at work again recently and I think a brief respite would not go amiss. I have written his mother a letter to inform her of his situation and assure her that he is getting the best care.
18th September 184_
I am beside myself with anxiety. Ernest’s malady seemed to have taken a turn for the worse around mid morning, and I summoned Dr Ashford. When the doctor asked me for a few moments alone with Ernest, I regret to say that I did not act with the greatest propriety but listened at the door to the conversation which ensued. As a wife, I believe it is my duty to know about my husband’s condition so that I can provide him with the best care. Dr Ashford explicitly enquired whether Ernest was familiar with the public school method and whether he practised it. When Ernest admitted that he knew it and had done it, the doctor revealed that his ailment had not been caused by the rain (which, he said, has no deleterious effects), but by a long history of using the public school method. Ernest’s first concern was not for himself, but for my well-being, and Dr Ashford having questioned him closely said that he doubted there would be any harm to me.
In just a few months my greatest joy has now become my greatest sorrow. I can write no more.
21st September 184_
I had thought that I would never write another entry, but last night’s events are so extraordinary and unbelievable that they demand to be recorded. I was in bed last night but in spite of my exhaustion, my distress was preventing me from falling asleep. I was sure that I kept slumbering briefly for a few moments, but that Morpheus kept turning me away from his door, which continued until my head was quite dizzy and my sense of reality distorted to such an extent that I was uncertain whether I was awake and hallucinating, or asleep and having the most vivid dreams. I was sure that I could hear someone downstairs, but thought that it was one of the servants; and when I heard footsteps on the stairs, I thought the same.
Because Jane has been most solicitous since my terrible loss, I believed that she was coming to check on me and the footsteps coming nearer stopped outside the door and the handle rattled as it was opened. I feigned that I was asleep so that I might be left alone. The footsteps sounded heavy and ponderous as they approached the bed, which are unlike Jane’s since she is a most light-footed girl, who might come and go from a room without being noticed. But whoever had entered the room came over to the bed and stood on Ernest’s side. There was a pause and a sort of throaty murmur before I felt the sheets being pulled aside and someone get in the bed beside me. If it was Jane, I thought, then she was taking her duties too far, and I demanded to know who it was. The reply was not one I was expecting in an odd voice which sounded as if it was coming from far away. “It is I,” was all it said.
“And who would you be daring to enter a lady’s room and climb into her bed?” Agnes demanded.
“Dare?” replied the voice. “I did not know that I needed to be daring to lie in my bed beside my wife.”
“This is outrageous!” said Agnes angrily and fumbled to light the candle beside the bed to reveal the true identity of the intruder. The light flickered into existence and she raised the candle above the bed where to her utter horror lay the body of her late husband. She opened her mouth to scream, but her terror was too great and no sound came out. The shock of seeing Ernest, his skin grey and waxy, was too much for Agnes’ spirit and she fainted.
When she recovered from her faint, the candle was still burning and Ernest was now sitting in a chair beside the bed. He seemed to be looking at Agnes, but his eyes were dull and lifeless. She shrank back in fright from the apparition and watched with a strange fascination as Ernest’s mouth dropped open and that same distant voice spoke.
“You really ought to be more careful in future. If I had not been here when you dropped the candle, the bed would have caught on fire.”
“Ernest?” Agnes finally found her voice, but it seemed to be as weak and distant as her dead husband’s. “But you are dead.”
“True, but I did not forget the promise I made all those months ago when I said I would be with you body and soul forever.”
“That was just romantic hyperbole.”
“So I was not meant to take my own words literally; and yet I must abide by the promise I made.”
“That’s not possible. You are to be buried tomorrow.”
“Then the funeral will just have to be cancelled.”
22nd September 184_
The terror which I felt when it reappeared the night before last has now given way to a general loathing for this animated corpse which I cannot bring myself to refer to as Ernest because it is a mockery of the man I love. I had Ted fetch Reverend Brewer[4] this morning, but he was uncertain what might be done because it was wilfully refusing to return to the undertaker’s and get back in his coffin. Since the Church disapproves of superstitious practices such as exorcism, he recommended me to seek the assistance of Father Harris. I sent Ted at once to get the man while it chatted quite happily with Reverend Brewer as if there was nothing remotely unusual about the situation.
Father Harris arrived about an hour later and seemed quite personable for a Catholic. He was, I note, quite handsome. I would expect Catholic priests either to be red-nosed Irishmen with a fondness for communion wine, or untrustworthy, swarthy Frenchmen. He was a rugged, masculine Englishman. He was also sympathetic and understanding about what had happened, and had come equipped to exorcise the fell spirit that was inhabiting my dear Ernest’s blameless mortal remains. But when he began his ritual, it told him to take his popish practices and leave the house at once. I urged Father Harris to ignore these injunctions until it looked up from the newspaper and informed the priest that since he was Church of England, Catholic rites of exorcism would be ineffectual. Father Harris persisted for a time, but seeing that his efforts were having no effect, had to admit defeat and promised to enquire further into the matter.
23rd September 184_
Although the funeral never took place today and the will was never read, I still went to Mr Hughes-Wilson’s office to consult with him regarding what legal recourse I might have under the circumstances.
“You have my deepest sympathy, Mrs Bell,” said Mr Hughes-Wilson whose own cadaverous appearance reminded Agnes of the thing in her house. “I hear there has been an unusual complication.”
“You are correct. I have come to you seeking legal advice about my dead husband who is now living in my house, and refuses to be buried. I want a divorce.”
“If you did not seem to be in a rational state of mind, I would rather think your statement just now that your dead husband still resides with you was mere uxorial hysteria. I think, however, that I can clear this matter up quite quickly by asking you one question. Is there a signed death certificate?”
“There is,” said Agnes producing it. “I brought it with me specifically because I want you to keep it safe for me.”
Hughes-Wilson examined the document and said, “I shall do as you request. I assume that you fear that your late husband may attempt to destroy this document.” Agnes nodded. “So long as this document is in existence, your husband is deceased and all matters which pertain to widowhood such as remarriage apply. In short, there is no need to consider divorce proceedings because Ernest is legally dead and has no legal rights at all.”
“None?”
“None.”
25th September 184_
A funeral should be a time of lamentation, but in defiance of convention, it was a time of relief for me. Ernest is finally at rest…
Armed with knowledge of the legal situation and great-uncle George’s French cavalry sabre, I was able to deal with it yesterday. I am, by nature, a normally timid and placid creature. I remember when I was a little girl seeing Uncle George’s sabre (which he won from a dead French cavalry officer in some battle during the Napoleonic Wars) and fearing that although it was hanging on the wall in its scabbard, it might fall and cut me in half. When Uncle George once took it down for me to examine more closely, I shrank in fright from even touching it. Even now that I am much older, I drew the blade with considerable trepidation, fearing both it and what I had to do with it.
The monster which was pretending to be Ernest was sitting in his favourite chair in the conservatory reading the paper. I was grateful for Heaven to have placed it in this way because I am not sure that I could have struck the first blow if I had had to look him in the eye. But though he was facing away from me, I still hesitated before I could summon the resolve to perform that necessary, tragic and terrible duty to bring rest to Ernest’s unfortunate soul. I cannot bring myself to describe what I did. I am trying to forget what I did, and the sickening sound of every blow. It did not even cry out and again I must thank Heaven, for if it had cried for mercy, my resolve would have been swept away. Afterwards I cried from sorrow and relief until I could cry no more.
I invited Father Harris to the funeral to thank him for his recent efforts. Although Catholic priests are celibate, I wonder whether that extends to the public school method.
The cat is scratching at the door, no doubt wanting to curl up on her mistress’s bed for the night.
Agnes put down her pen and went to the door expecting Lucretia to saunter in with her usual feline insouciance. But that night she opened the door not to the cat, but – would she never be free of it? – Ernest’s right hand, which promptly scuttled into the room like an enormous spider made of decaying flesh and leapt onto the bed.
There is no indication of what happened, but the diary, which is quite a large book with a rather solid cover, has a hand-like stain, still visible against the dirty brown leather, on the back cover. I shall leave the reader to draw some conclusion from this since the mark may have some other cause and its shape may just be coincidental.
Notes
1. The village near the Bell family seat in Hampshire.
2. A minor public school, now defunct.
3. My great-great aunt’s best friend who would eventually marry Agnes’ brother, Frederick.
4. Like Livingstone, Brewer was a missionary explorer in Africa who was responsible for the discovery of the sources of several tributaries of central Africa’s major rivers. In 1853, he marched into the interior of the continent with a small expedition in search of some ruins which were alleged by locals to be about a week’s march into the jungle, but was never heard from again. It was not until 1978 that ruins were finally discovered in the general area where Brewer had vanished, but it seems unlikely that it will ever be known if he found them.

The public demands to know

How did Napoleon gain his empire?

It was about mid morning and Napoleon entered the Joan of Arc Room in the Palace of Versailles just as Joséphine came in from the Charlotte Corday Memorial Garden.

“There you are, darling,” said Joséphine.

“Is that the post, la mia petite baguette?” The emperor had never quite lost that hybrid Franco-Italian accent which he had inherited from Corsica.

“It is. I think your catalogue’s arrived.” Joséphine handed him a thick envelope with the Argos logo in one corner.

“I thought the English weren’t going to adopt ISO 216 paper sizes until 1959,” Napoleon muttered to himself, suspiciously turning the envelope over a couple of times for effect. He tore open one end and extracted the catalogue. To his relief, it was the French language version as he had requested. He pulled out a chair at the table and started scanning the index. “Here we are. Empires. Let’s see. The Americas.”

“Surely not,” said Joséphine in the voice she used to express her doubt about her husband’s ideas. Sadly, it would eventually fail when he decided that the French army should be treated to a winter holiday in Russia.

“Of course not. They were the bastards who renamed the national food of France ‘freedom fries’. What about Africa?”

“Not till later this century.”

“All right. Er, India? No, not India. Curry gives me the worst diarrhoea. China?” Joséphine’s expression alone was sufficient to veto that sug­gest­ion. She had been most vexed when the Chinese ambassador had claimed that his nation had invented French fries centuries before. (“But potatoes hadn’t even been invented then,” Napoleon remarked later.) “Australia? ‘With a mild climate and a wide variety of stunning landscapes, Australia is just the empire where you and your fellow emperors will gather around the barby drinking Foster’s.’ Sounds like fun.” He put a little cross beside Australia and read on.

“What about Europe?” prompted Joséphine, who had been reading the catalogue over the emperor’s shoulder.

“Europe?” Napoleon sounded sceptical. “It’s a collection of squabbling nation states. And who on earth would want to run the place from Brussels?”

“But it’s just next door and you’re always saying that we should have the neighbours over.”

“Of course, ma piccola salsiccina. Instead of having the neighbours over, why don’t we go and see them. It’s about time the army had a holiday.”

And that’s how Napoleon gained his empire, and how the French army had the most fun holiday ever.

Appendix
Inspired by a Baidu search hit about the subtitle.

The Sherlock Holmes Blog

by Dr John Watson (aka Mr Bamboo).
I began this entry wholly as a general introduction to the world-famous Sherlock Holmes, but I was recently presented with such a specimen of the great man’s genius that I felt there could be no better means of introducing him to those few people who are unfamiliar with the man and his ways than to recount his latest triumph in the art of deduction.
Holmes had been absent on a small matter of personal business, which is his euphemism for buying cocaine from a gentleman known as Skinny Vince, although the epithet is singularly at odds with the man’s figure which, in volume, I aver could contain both Holmes and myself, and probably one or two others besides. I was trying to concoct a precis of Holmes’s most celebrated cases when he came barging in the door where he stood unsteadily for a few moments with a rather distracted air about him as if he was neither sure of himself or his location.
“Dude,” said Holmes glancing at me as I half rose from the chair because I feared that he would collapse at any moment, “I’m so f_cking shit-faced.”
There was a cigarette in his hand, but the fragrance wafting across the room was different from the tobacco with which I was familiar.
“A Turkish blend, Holmes?” I asked nodding at the cigarette.
“Your powers of deduction are still as appalling as ever, Watson.”
I could only marvel at how perceptive he was because, as Holmes has proven time and again, my powers of deduction are appalling. I looked at Holmes hoping that he would enlighten me, but he swayed some more before staggering out of the room and, concerned that he might injure himself, I followed closely behind. His destination was the kitchen into which he crashed, startling Mrs Hudson who toppled off her chair, although with no injury to herself, her voluminous skirts cushioning the impact of her fall.
“I deduce from her dress that Mrs Hudson is a woman,” Holmes announced. Ordinary mortals would never have reached such a conclusion, but Holmes is no ordinary mortal. “And,” he added after a brief pause, “from the amount of material, we can determine that she’s a little rotund.”
“Really, Mr ‘Olmes,” protested Mrs Hudson as she picked herself up off the floor, “I’m as English as you are. I ain’t never been to the Rotundas, although I’m sure the late Mr Hudson visited them on several occasions.”
And since Mr Hudson had been a merchant sailor, plying various routes in the South Pacific during his youth, I did not doubt that Mrs Hudson was probably correct.
Meanwhile, Holmes had plunged into the pantry where he was opening every jar and box in sight and tasting the contents before tossing one container aside to investigate another. Before I could get to him, I saw his hand reach out towards a box of rat poison which Mrs Hudson kept on the top shelf next to a mummified cat Holmes had discovered in the cellar. He thought that it would be amusing to place it beside the rat poison because if the latter failed to eliminate any offending vermin, then the cat might act as a second line of defence. Of course, Holmes was high at the time and, looking back on the incident, I find it to be less amusing than I previously thought. By now, he had opened the box and the bag inside it.
“Don’t do it, Holmes,” I cried urgently, stepping forward; but he twisted away from my advance to keep the box from me. “That’s rat poison.”
“Am I a rat, Watson?”
“Certainly not.”
“And is this rat poison?”
“Certainly is.”
“Then…?”
“It’ll still kill you.”
“My dear Watson,” he said in a slightly admonishing tone, “my dear block-headed amanuensis.” He smiled his cold superior smile. “This is rat poison. I’m not a rat. Therefore, it won’t poison me.”
“But are you proof against a rolling pin?”
“A rolling pin?” queried Holmes as Mrs Hudson, whose time as a training instructor with the Royal Marine Commandos was once again put to good use, knocked him unconscious with her favourite, a McMuir Highland Pine No. 6.
Later, when Holmes had recovered consciousness and the effects of the cigarette had worn off, he explained that he had been investigating the properties of cannabis so that he might be able to determine whether someone was intoxicated from their mannerisms and behaviour. When he asked me about the lump on the back of his head, I told him that Professor Moriarty himself, disguised as Mrs Hudson, had penetrated our inner sanctum, and that it was only through Holmes’s selflessly blocking a blow from a rolling pin with his head, that the Professor’s evil schemes had been thwarted again and the real Mrs Hudson had been rescued in the nick of time. Holmes was rather perplexed that he could remember almost nothing of that afternoon’s events, but I assured him that amnesia resulting from a blow to the skull was medically well documented and that there was a good chance he would recover his memories in the fullness of time.
And just yesterday, Holmes said, “You know, Watson, I’m pretty certain that I spotted the fake Mrs Hudson almost immediately, but I decided not to act until the villain revealed himself.”
“I thought as much afterwards,” I replied.
And that, I think, is as good an introduction to Mr Sherlock Holmes as any of his cases.
Appendix.
Someone turned up here looking for a Sherlock Holmes blog, hence this entry.

The beast had awoken

Similes are like, er…

The repeated stream of noise stirred Wang Fujing from his daydreams about his maths homework and resolved itself into his name when it was accompanied by nudging from his compagno de banco, Li Dingman.

“Big Nose is calling,” said Li in a low tone.

“About what?” asked Wang.

“About whatever he’s talking about.“

“What is he talking about?“

“I have no idea.“

“He’s talking about ‘similes’,” said Hu Lijing using the English word. “You compare two things using ‘like’ or ‘as’.“

“Can you give me an example of a simile?” asked the teacher gesturing to examples on the blackboard.

Wang thought about the question, which he did not really understand, and about what Hu Lijing had said. The word “like” caught his attention because it was a word he could vaguely remember.

“A simile,” said the teacher, reducing the whole request to the key word while knowing that that was unlikely to elicit an answer.

“I like pizza.” Wang did not care whether it was the correct answer, but he congratulated himself on using the word “like“.

“So you’re like a pizza?“

“Yes,” replied Wang provoking laughter from the rest of the class.

“Obviously one with very little topping,” remarked the teacher with a garnish of cryptic sarcasm.

DIY fairy tales

Who needs the Brothers Grimm?

I StumbledUpon [sic!] a proppian fairy tale generator at Brown University. [29.01.14. The link is dead, but there are other sources. See Google.] Old bedtime stories not cutting it any longer? This could be just the thing you need. Let’s see what literary masterpieces are waiting to happen.

She stood tall and menacing in her fire-infused robes.  “Where are you from,” her tongue flickered when she spoke, “and where do you think you are going?”

From the mountainside I watched a giant crane fly down beside me and place two of its feathers onto my feet for flight.

After I took the needle from its place, I pryed my father’s bones from the floor and put them in my satchel.

My father’s bones and needle transformed into a suit of skin.  It smelled distinctly foreign like the mountain.  When I put it on I felt like the mountain was traveling along my shoulder blades.  It felt restless.

“As a child, my son could dance along the soil so quickly that the men who died and live in the ground could not catch him.  Prove this to me now,”

Without hesitance I lifted my pant legs began to dance in father’s leather bottomed shoes.  The soles breezed across the floor, cutting the mist with rhythmic motions.  I then turned the ring on my finger and watched my father rise, soil shedding from his skin.  His shaved face and clean hands stood against the paling crowd. This impressed the people who stood before me, as did the fact that my tongue did not bleed from the needle it held.

My lying brothers cried when they were forced to walk on the ground without their leather bottomed shoes.  I watched as they, like my father had once, were swallowed by the ground and mouths hungry for stinking flesh.

I was offered a place in the palace, but I could not accept.  I wanted to be with the mountain; I felt it move under my skin as I knew part of me was in the mountain too.

Well, if this doesn’t deserve a Man Booker Prize, I don’t know what does. But I’m wondering. Is “hesitance” a word? “Hesitant” and “hesitancy” or “hesitation”. I assume “hesitance” is a back formation from “hesitancy”. Hmmm. Odd.

It comes with presets so that you can generate stories in the style of well-known fairy tales.

Telling stories

Girlfiends.

There once was a man called Zhang Duyu (张独玉) who worked as a freelance writer for several magazines that mainly catered to the teen market. He had often thought about writing a novel, but had never done anything about it. He was not married; nor did he have a girlfriend. He found it hard to talk to women unless it was about everyday matters or in connection with his job. If he wanted to talk to some woman because he liked her or thought she was pretty, shyness would overwhelm him and he would not dare say anything for fear of making a fool of himself. And when he thought about it, he did not know what he might say anyway. He once wrote in his diary that he would not mind if his girlfriend turned out to be a ghost or a fox spirit, but no beautiful and mysterious women ever appeared. This often depressed Zhang.

One day, he ran into his neighbour, Wang Dalong (王大龙) as he was getting into the lift. Zhang Duyu hit the button that opened the doors just before they were going to crush Wang. Zhang observed that his neighbour was looking pleased with himself, like a cat that has flagrantly eaten a canary and then been rewarded with a saucer of milk. Wang did not hesitate to tell him that he had a new and indescribably beautiful girlfriend, adding boastfully that the sex was to die for. Zhang remarked how lucky Wang was, but he looked at his pot-bellied neighbour and wondered how he could have a girlfriend when Zhang, who was much better looking, had none. He was inclined to be sceptical about Wang’s description of her as a peerless beauty. But when Zhang happened to see her her a few nights later, he found, to his irritation, that Wang had not been exaggerating. This made Zhang even more depressed.

A few days later, the two men net again under similar circumstances. Zhang instantly noted that Wang was looking pale and haggard. He commented on his neighbour’s sickly appearance, but Wang denied anything was wrong. To the contrary, he readily informed Zhang that he now had a second girlfriend who was possibly even more beautiful than the first and just as good in bed. Again, when Zhang caught sight of this new girlfriend, he saw that Wang had no more exaggerated on this occasion than he had on the first. He sighed unhappily.

The next time Zhang Duyu saw Wang Dalong, the latter was looking even more gaunt. His skin seemed grey and his eyes tired, but he still insisted on boasting about his two girlfriends and how he was hoping to persuade them to engage in a threesome. He complained that his attempts to arrange such a liaison kept being thwarted and how frustrating it was. Zhang listened and thought that Wang had no real concept of the word frustration.

It was some time before Zhang saw his neighbour again. Wang had lost a lot of weight to the point where he was beginning to look skeletal. In spite of his shocking appearance, he boasted that his dream of a threesome had come true. Zhang had a nightmare about it soon after. He could not remember the dream very clearly, but in it, some woman kept pushing him away from her, even although he had not approached her. She ignored Zhang’s protestations and in frustration, he burst into tears.

It was from Mrs Lao (劳), Wang’s other neighbour, that Zhang heard Wang had fallen ill and had been taken to a hospital accompanied by one of his girlfriends. It was from Mrs Lao that Zhang then heard that Wang Dalong was home again. He went to visit his neighbour and, for the first and last time, met one of his girlfriends, Hu Lijin (胡丽锦). He sensed something odd about her, but was distracted when he saw just how ill Wang looked. But Wang assured him that he was now feeling much better and well on the road to recovery.

A few days after that, Zhang was woken by activity in the passage outside his door. But by the time he had roused himself sufficiently, the passage was empty. Later that day, he heard from his other neighbours that Wang had died during the night. His two girlfriends were mentioned in hushed voices, the suspicion among the middle-aged residents being that they had murdered him, while the elderly residents talked about ghosts and fox spirits. Those who were neither middle-aged nor old doubt that those two hot babes could murder anyone and dismissed ghosts and fox spirits as superstitious nonsense. They did until the rumour went round that a dead fox had been found in Wang’s flat. As a result, the fragile-minded youths had to lie down for a time in a darkened room until they recovered from the trauma.

The next night, Zhang was just beginning to fall asleep when he heard his bedroom door being opened. His heart started pounding and he opened his eyes a fraction. Bathed in a slight, ethereal glow, Wang’s other girlfriend entered the room. Zhang could not believe his luck. He was going to get shagged to death after all. He sat up without even bothering to pretend that he was even half asleep.

“Oh.” The girl sounded disappointed. “Wrong flat.” And she vanished without another word.

The Romance of the Mid Autumn Festival

A truly contrived story.

Everyone in China knows the story of the Moon Maiden and how Chang E (嫦娥) ended up living on the Moon, but not many people know what happened afterwards.

Throughout China, people went to the temples to pray. All the prayers were recorded by the Office for Prayers which Guan Liao (官僚), the Record-keeping General, would collect and assess before submitting them to the Jade Emperor for his approval or rejection.
One day, Guan Liao began to notice that the number of women complaining about their husbands or boyfriends had increased dramatically. At first he thought it was a seasonal thing, but the number, far from declining, increased even more. When the huge pile of prayers from women thudded onto the Jade Emperor’s desk, he looked curiously at Guan Liao, thinking that he had kept prayers back or had found some down the back of the filing cabinets in the Office for Prayers. He was displeased to have such a large pile appear on his desk because he had seen some pretty fox fairies (狐狸精) the evening before and thought to sneak out and cavort with them while his wife was distracted.
“What’s this, Guan Liao?”
“If it please your Majesty, these are petitions from women complaining about their husbands and boyfriends, and hoping they’ll be loving, faithful and dutiful.”
“What? All those alone?”
“All those alone,” said Guan Liao.
“Why so many? I know there are usually quite a stack of them, but this is a library. Have some minion go down to Earth and see whether this is all true.”
Guan Liao bowed and returned to the Office for Prayers. He had an assistant called Cai Hong (彩虹) whom he sent to Earth to find out what was happening that should elicit so many complaints. Cai Hong flew down to Earth where he became a cat and slinked along the tops of walls, along the tops of the roofs, and along the branches of trees as he listened to as many conversations as he could. This woman was complaining how her husband had some mistress and that woman complained that her boyfriend wouldn’t leave his wife for her. And everywhere Cai Hong went, he heard many more complaints that women had about their husbands and boyfriends until he wondered whether there were any other topics of conversation.
He flew back up to the Office for Prayers where he faithfully reported everything he had heard to Guan Liao. “… and they talked about nothing else,” Cai Hong concluded.
Guan Liao immediately sought an audience with the Jade Emperor who was about to go looking for some other fox fairies. He told the emperor all that Cai Hong had learnt on Earth. The emperor stroked his beard thoughtfully.
“Go and tell my wife,” he said. “She’ll know what to do.”
Guan Liao bowed and went to find the imperial consort who was hungrily eyeing a rather hot boy ghost about whom she had had a serious thing for quite some time. In fact, she had sent the fox fairies deliberately to distract her husband so that she could roger this hunk of diaphanous man meat without being interrupted. She was not, however, expecting Guan Liao to enter, though he did so with due and proper ceremony. The empress listened to him slightly impatiently and then with more interest once he had explained the situation.
“I can’t allow such ignoble treatment of women to go unpunished. Without any chastisement, men will continue to behave badly and women will continue to suffer. Let me think about it, Master Guan.”
Guan Liao bowed and withdrew. The ghost, who had been thinking that sex with the Jade Empress should be a pleasure beyond anything he had known as a mortal, soon found that it was punishment beyond anything his misdeeds – by and large, rather minor – might have warranted as she pounded him mercilessly.
While the Jade Empress enjoyed the pleasure of the afternoon, she thought about her various servants, but could think of none who might be fit for the task which she intended to entrust to some suitably qualified minion. She thought about asking a female demon to undertake the job, but she disliked demons and their habits. With no one in the Heavenly Palace and no one outside it, the Jade Empress tried to think of other places beyond the mortal realm. She felt that she was overlooking someone obvious.
“The moon!” she cried.
The ghost was startled and wondered whether this was some divine expression of sexual pleasure; and so, because he could not restrain himself any longer, he started repeating the Empress’s words. Thinking that this was a sign, she leapt up, straightened her clothes, and flew to the moon in the form of a phoenix, which was fortunate because she had not put her knickers on.
Chang E had thought that life as an immortal would be an endless round of socialising with other immortals. She would go to their palaces; they would come to hers. But there were very few invitations addressed to her and even fewer responses to the ones she sent out. Those replies which she did get revealed that immortals had an endless supply of dead relatives whose funeral obsequies demanded, with regret, their utmost attention.
Thus Chang E only had her maids, strange, grey-coloured creatures, to keep her company, and her rabbit, Tu Niang (兔娘), whom she affectionately called Bunny-chan. The rabbit had always been a playful creature on Earth with malevolent, deep red eyes and a penchant for mysterious nocturnal adventures. But since they had come to the moon, Bunny-chan’s eyes had dulled and she had become sleepy and lethargic. None of Chang E’s maids much liked the rabbit and it, in turn, showed no fondness for such dusty, grey creatures.
When the Jade Empress suddenly appeared at the gate, there was great excitement in the Moon Palace. The maids scurried hither and thither making sure that the place was presentable, while Chang E hurried to greet her august guest. Bunny-chan stared dully and looked limp, much like the Empress’s recent ghostly lover. Chang E bowed as the Jade Empress swept in, but the latter asked her hostess not to stand on ceremony since she had little time and a signal honour to bestow. Chang E felt her heart race and she wondered what it could be.
“I should visit you more often,” the Jade Empress said as they sat drinking tea in the dull, grey palace garden, “and you don’t come and visit me as often as I should like.”
In truth, this was a bigger lie than the first one. Since Chang E had scoffed the pills of immortality, it was felt that she was a little too nouvelle immortelle to be included in the social engagements of the other immortals. But the Jade Empress persisted with the conceit.
“I’ve mentioned to my husband several times that he should honour you in some way, but since he’s too busy chasing fox fairies, he’s failed to do something about this unforgivable lapse; and that’s why I’m here. It seems that more and more women on Earth are being mistreated by their husbands and boyfriends. It’s reached such a number that something needs to be done about it. We need someone has an unquestionable sense of ethics; who is righteous; and who will mercilessly chastise men for their misdeeds. I immediately thought of you. It will, of course, mean going to Earth…” The Jade Empress hesitated as if this was a terrible imposition which she was reluctant to inflict on a fellow immortal. She was anything but reluctant to inflict it, and Chang E was anything but reluctant to accept it.
“That is a small price to pay for the honour which your Majesty is conferring on me,” said Chang E trying not to sound excited. Even Bunny-chan pricked up her ears. “But exactly what is it that you’d have me do?”
“Punish men who have behaved unrighteously towards their wives and girlfriends by banging their brains out. Since they’re so stupid as to behave so improperly, they shan’t, I aver, miss their brains in the slightest.”
It was unfortunate that the Jade Empress meant for Chang E to beat the heads of unfaithful men against walls and other solid surfaces, but Chang E, being more familiar with the modern idiom, took it the other way. She was a little surprised to be asked to use this as a means of punishment, but she remained silent because she did not want to jeopardise her chances of becoming part of the immortal social calendar. Also, she knew that it was probably unwise to question the Jade Empress’s decision. Thus it was, thanks to Chang E’s efforts, that the Chinese equivalent of Valentine’s Day came into being and has been celebrated ever since. How mooncakes came into it… Well, that’s another story.

And so the week passes

Cornet Wales in Iraq.

At the moment, there’s so little real news that Prince Harry (aka Cornet Wales) is headlining on The Guardian because of his imminent dispatch to Iraq and threats from the insurgents to kidnap him.

“Mullah Omar! Mullah Omar!”
“What is it, Abdul? Can’t you see I’m trying to violate these farm animals.”
“We’ve just captured the entire British army stationed in southern Iraq.”
“What?! All of them?”
“Mid order collapse. Usual story.”
“Not again. And what of Cornet Wales?”
“That’s the thing. All these foreigners look the same, and so far no one will identify the prince. Perhaps we should torture some of them.”
“Dude, what is it with you and torture? I have an idea.”

[Mullah Omar and Abdul exit to the compound where the British soldiers are sitting around the pool on deck chairs and being served drinks by bikini-clad cuties.]

“Damn it, Carruthers, captivity is hell. I want to be out there on the streets getting shot at or knowing that at any time I might have all regions north and south blown halfway across Iraq. But what’s happened instead? We’re in this five star luxury hotel. I’m a fighting man and… Ooh! Is that a pina colada?”
“Quite right, your Majesty… Look out! Here comes that Mullah Omar.”
“Listen up, heretical violators of Iraqi sovereignty, we know that Prince Harry is among you. If he will identify himself, the rest of you are free to go. I don’t think I need to remind you what will happen if he doesn’t reveal himself.”
“Dear God!” Carruthers whispered. “He means Carla Gugino doing the barbecuing topless. Will these fiends stop at nothing?”

[The British soldiers sit silently sipping their drinks. Harry stands up.]

“I’m Cornet Wales.”

[Carruthers stands up.]

“No! I’m Cornet Wales!”

[Another squaddie stands up.]

“I’m Spartacus!”

[Everyone starts standing up claiming to be Prince Harry or Spartacus. Mullah Omar raises his hands for silence.]

“Now can we torture them?” asked Abdul hopefully.

[Omar looks contemptuously at Abdul and pulls a large reefer out of his jacket. Harry hesitates for a moment before leaping forward and grab­bing it.]

“See, Abdul; we have our man, and no one even got tortured.”

A Year On

Every so often, there is a phenomenon in the blogosphere. A year after the inception of Green Bamboo, we sent reporter Emma Chizzit to find out why over 2500 people could be so wrong.
 

I had been told to go to a warehouse in south Lebanon and wait for my contact only known as Sinbad. Outside, I can hear the muezzin calling the faithful to prayers, “…three camels for the price of two. Call to prayers sponsored by Ahmed’s Quality Used Camels…” when Sinbad arrives. He explains that I must be blindfolded and drugged. I’ve been to parties like this before. Some time later – how long I don’t know; it felt like I’d been on an eight or nine hour plane flight to China – I find myself in a small room with a man. He’s the infamous Green Bamboo. He apologies for the means by which we’ve met, and explains that I am indeed in China, smuggled in as a self-absorbed celebrity wanting to buy a Chinese baby.

Mr Bamboo, as he insists on being called, is a youthful-looking 57 year old originally from March in Cambridgeshire. After doing a PhD in Multi-dimensional Pedantry at Keele University, he came to China to forget a woman whose name, he claims, has been successfully erased from his memory, but is still tattooed on his arm in bold 144pt Arial Unicode MS. It didn’t stop him from talking to my breasts during the interview.

 
EC: What prompted you to start your blog?
GB: Well, all the kids were doing it. You know what it’s like when you’re at university. You experiment.
EC: But you weren’t at university.
GB: No. But I might’ve been.
EC: You actually started it because you’re a sad bastard.
GB: I guess it was either blogging or stalking, but Salma Hayek has this court order so…
EC: You’ve been linked with Salma Hayek several times…
GB: But not in the way I’d like.
EC: So, tell me about the early days of Green Bamboo.
GB: It all began a year ago. I’d just got a new Hotmail account and the blog came with it. Since I’m pompous and opinionated, I thought I may as well start the blog. The service was a bit ropey at first, but got better until May this year when MSN was upgrading the service.
EC: Did you have a particular theme in mind when you started?
GB: I thought about girls with sexy legs and big boobs…
EC: As a theme?
GB: Nah, just in passing. I’m a chronic pervert. Actually, don’t put that in the article. No, I thought I’d have a mix of stuff – daily life; comments on stories in the news; languages and linguistics; film and book reviews. Things that interest me. I wanted a blog that was intelligently written.
EC: So what went wrong?
GB: Well, I thought I should see what was out there in the blogosphere and found that most blogs are written by teenagers who are semi-literate and mostly incoherent. Since these were the majority of the bloggers, it was clear that I had nothing to say to them.
EC: But you managed to come up with a plan to ensnare the unwitting.
GB: Yeah. That was unintentional. I found I was getting quite a few hits from searches via baidu, the Chinese search engine, so I thought if I threw in a few keywords like “bonk”, “shag”, “snog” and “Salma Hayek”, I’d be inundated with hits.
EC: And did it work?
GB: Yeah. Seems to have.
EC: What are you currently blogging?
GB: Oh, there’s an article in today’s Guardian about Tim Berners-Lee’s pronouncements on the blogosphere. I’ve already observed that blogs must be seriously messing up search engine results. I’m sure contrived interviews for fake magazines can’t be helping either.
EC: Are you concerned about the accuracy of the information in blogs?
GB: Sometimes, like when Salma Hayek wrote in her blog that she’d never heard of me and never met me.
EC: So Salma Hayek has a blog.
GB: No idea. I’m just making that up to annoy Sir Timmy some more.
EC: What do you think the future for blogging is?
GB: I think the latest phenomenon is picture blogs. As more and more teenagers and twentysomethings realise that their limited writing skills need not be exposed online, they’ll resort to using their blogs as online photo albums. Probably more video-blogging sites like YouTube will emerge in the hope some bunch of very rich idiots will buy them for a ridiculously large sum of money.
EC: Your recent comments in public about blogs being misnamed have raised quite a storm of protest. What was that about?
GB: I’d been looking at a Best-of-Blogs website and was reminded that blogs were originally a tool of journalism. These days your average blog is an online diary.
EC: Did you actually say anything in public about this?
GB: No.
EC: Still trying to annoy Tim Berners-Lee, then?
GB: Yeah.
EC: Mr Bamboo, thank you.
GB: You’re welcome. Nice boobs, by the way.
EC: Pervert!
Interview © Cyberia: The Fake Online Magazine November 2006 (http://www.fakeonlinemagazine.com)

The Riddle of the Sands

Pass the brandy, Timkins.

We entered the Burami Oasis at about 5 o’clock yesterday evening. The camels, dusty and exhausted from the long trek across the Ba’oul Massif, made a beeline for the watering hole. “I’d swear they were wateroholics,” said Timkins who was dun-coloured all over, making him look like an extension of his camel rather than a separable entity. Perhaps you meanhydraulics‘, I replied. He laughed and said that Tuareg phrase he likes so much, although I suspect that he has been misinformed about the translation.

The ubiquitous Tuareg were already camped out in the oasis. One of them looked at us and said something. Later I learnt it was, “Camels? Dude, that’s, like, so 19th century.” They were lucky, though. The Burami Oasis Hotel had valet parking, just not for camels. In fact, we had to hide the camels behind some date palms before they would let us into the hotel. In fact, we barely got into the hotel because they have a no-burnoose policy. Of course, we blended in well against the tan-coloured steps of the hotel, so the doormen barely noticed us.

When I got to my room, the first thing I did was to have a shower. It was so long since I had last been in contact with water that I was wondering whether it had changed in some way. But no. It was still wet and still came out of taps. Half the Ba’oul Massif went down the plughole, and when I got out of the shower and saw myself in the mirror, I was shocked to see just how much weight I had lost. It just goes to show that eating MacDonald’s can be part of a weight-loss diet.

I sat down in one of the chairs and instantly fell asleep. Really instantly. I thought that I was made of sterner stuff, and in all my life I’ve never dropped off so suddenly. I don’t know how long I would’ve slept if Timkins hadn’t come knocking on my door with some news:

“Hotmail is still not working.”

[03.08.14. Just to explain. In May 2006, Hotmail was having some major problems, which is why my main e-mail address these days is gmail. I don’t think it was ever explained why Hotmail had such problems. For one of my current colleagues, Hotmail is still problematic from school.

I’ve been weeding out some trivial old entries which would’ve been better off as posts on Facebook.]