Tim the Enchanter

Picture by http://racingspoons.deviantart.com/ via http://www.mojodi-meditationen.de/

We should all spare a thought, as we gallop by on our enormous chargers, for the enchanters who make our adventures possible. Who exactly constructs all those perilous beds that get transfixed in the middle of the night by flaming lances? Those fountains with bowls of water that, if poured out, cause meteorologically unlikely storms? Those tomb-stones that can only be moved by the one named in the prophecy? What poor sods have to take a nasty hallucinogenic and produce the prophecy in the first place? Enchanters, that’s who. Tim was an enchanter. He was good at fireballs. He also grew fruit-trees and tomatoes, did carpentry and kept goats, because there isn’t much money in enchanting, even if you’re good at it, which Tim was.

Tim had a suitably baroque wizard’s grotto in the Forest of Adventures. He’d acquired it when the previous inhabitant had been killed in a magic duel by his mum, who could be over-eager to help sometimes. However, he had made it his own, decorating it in his rather stylish way, and bringing in his two magical beasts, the Colour-Changing Cat and the Blood Red Bird. He often worked in partnership with the two neighbouring enchanters, Blaise and Emrys. Recently, however, Emrys had been seized with enthusiasm and abruptly moved to the opposite side of the Forest, where he was busy making friends with all the woodland creatures and constructing odd, complicated bits of magic of his own. He came back to visit sometimes, looking extremely cheerful. It was therefore to Blaise that Tim went when he noticed something worryingly wrong with the local lake. It had a bilious, bulgy appearance and was a good eighteen inches higher than normal. This can easily happen to a lake if too many swords of the wrong kind are cast into it, but it’s a bugger to fix. Tim thought he could do with a hand. Continue reading “Tim the Enchanter”

Cliff walking


One day Fiona didn’t go home. She didn’t get on the northbound train. She didn’t collect the car from where it had been parked by the school, drive to “Sunshine Corner”, receive the daily report on her children’s doings, take them home, unpack their school bags and start the dinner. She crossed to the opposite platform and boarded the train going south.

As she passed each station – Lansdowne Road, Sandymount, Sydney Parade, Booterstown – she felt an invisible elastic stretching and stretching, tighter and tighter, until it didn’t snap but seemed instead to be on a reel, unwinding her ever further from her life. The sea outside the window reached away towards Wales.

At Bray the train stopped and Fiona got out. She left the station on the side nearer the beach and walked down across the road and the esplanade onto the shingle. She removed her shoes and tights and walked knee-deep into the sea. She took out her phone and dropped it into the water by her feet.

Continue reading “Cliff walking”

The Beast of the Bodleian

Dot writes: I spent a little time the other day clearing out, or rather looking through and then placing in a box, my folders of mementos from 1998 to 2003. One thing I found in it was a sheet of notes for a story. I don’t plan to write the story, but here are some of its fragments.


I obviously had this idea about the time I left Oxford in 1998, and it’s based on the urban legend of the Beast of the Bodleian, which according to my hazy memory eats a portion of every stack request you make. (I don’t know if it’s still like this, but back in my day you could guarantee that you’d never get more than four of every five books you ordered up. It seemed reasonable the other one was routinely sacrificed to a chthonic deity.) Continue reading “The Beast of the Bodleian”

Current music

Dot writes: I thought I’d write one of my periodic listening diaries, so people could glance at it and think “Aha, that’s what a late-thirties mum in Dublin is listening to, then, I must immediately rush out and buy all of it”; and then it occurred to me that, just for once, this really is a list not just of my current music but of music that is actually current, as in, out pretty recently. Or very recently. Or, indeed, not quite yet, in the case of one of these. So, what’s hot with a late-thirties mum:

Ainslie Wills – Oh the Gold (EP)

Continue reading “Current music”

Like a Brother

This story is based on the song of the same name by The Basics. In view of that I’d like to stress that none of the characters is intended as a portrait of anybody.


One of the first pieces of advice I got given when I started living in shared houses was “never go out with your housemate”. This was when I was still a student, and the shared houses tended to have six or seven people in them and a lot of arguments over selfish refrigerator use and dumping people’s washing out of the machine; a recently split couple could be worse than a strong cheese for the atmosphere of such a place. Now I’m in a house of only three, but I’m remembering that advice. The other girl, Julie, is hardly ever around. She has a severe gym habit and a boyfriend on the other side of town. Most of the time it’s just me and Fergus.

Fergus is a quiet guy. Big, thoughtful, reliable. Has an office job, a civil service type thing, forms and databases. Spends his evenings tackling guitar solos in his room with the amp turned right down. That’s when he doesn’t come and sit in the kitchen and talk with me. Admittedly it’s mostly me doing the talking: he’s a good listener and I feel I can tell him things. He never needs anything explained, he always gets it. Or sometimes we’ll set up one of the laptops on the table, bring cushions, and watch a silly film together. We seem to have the same sense of humour.

And yes, I did sleep with him once. A bit over a month ago at the end of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure we simply went to the same room instead of different ones, and frankly it was rather a nice experience. But neither of us has mentioned it since and I’m not going to. I like our relationship how it is. Continue reading “Like a Brother”

Raw Reaction


Dot writes: sometimes when you get sucked in to a book, surfacing from it you feel strange and woozy and not properly connected to the world. I’m feeling like that right now after finishing Theo by Ed Taylor. The style of the book accentuates the feeling. It gives a child’s view of a chaotic adult world and the prose reflects a mind not wholly understanding what it sees, overstimulated and often confused. There are no quotation marks so it’s sometimes hard to tell where the speeches start and stop; Theo always seems to be running (he’s a ten-year-old boy) and switching between thoughts and impulses; paragraphs are often breathless, short clauses joined with ands. Everything runs into everything else in a blur of impressions that Theo is trying to comprehend.

Sometimes, also, books hurt. Theo is the story of a boy who’s the son of a rock star, Adrian, a guitarist in a hugely successful band at the start of the 1980s (The Rolling Stones are an obvious possible model, given Adrian’s difficult relationship with his creative partner, the band’s singer Roger). The adults around him are drugged-up, frequently drunk, affectionate but neglectful. His parents come and go from tours, court-cases and clinics. His main carers are his grandfather and a minder called Colin, who are almost as unreliable and useless as everyone else. Regular meals and laundry are things these people are utterly unable to manage. Theo knows what the ‘sex noise’ is like and hears it rather often; he observes that adults always lie to him. And I can’t help reading this as a mother and feeling terrible for the awful upbringing this poor kid is getting, exposed to things he can’t cope with, never paid any real attention. Early in the book he gets concussion and nobody really notices (it doesn’t seem to have permanent ill-effects). Particularly in the early stages I was finding this book very upsetting – even as I couldn’t stop reading and ironically ignored my own kids as I feverishly tore through it.

I read this book on the strength of a review by Tom Cox (he of @MYSADCAT fame). It’s a much better and more thorough review than this one. Here I just want to say – this book absorbed and harrowed me, and now I feel like I’ve come up from deep water. If Tom Cox recommends any more novels I’ll want to read those too.


The Watcher


They had made love, gone sight-seeing, had dinner and made love again, and now he slept and she watched him, her book in her lap. She considered the rise and fall of his breathing, his strongly-defined nose, the way he’d fallen asleep with his forearm across his eyes in a gesture that seemed not defensive but wholly undefended, exposing his armpit and chest. She couldn’t tell whether he was good-looking or not. He was both utterly desirable and utterly ordinary.

They’d met at a reception in the museum where she worked and she’d been caught by his charm, the way he had – and this was, when she thought about it, an unusual and very engaging virtue – of listening properly to what was said to him, and answering the question he had been asked. He had more questions for her than she for him that evening, intelligent questions about the exhibition she’d helped curate as well as about her part in it; he made her feel noticed and interesting. The next day he dropped by and took her out to lunch. She liked his voice and what was, to her, his mildly exotic Northern Irish accent. He told her stories of his large Catholic family, but also a little about his work as a political journalist. And now here they were, on this holiday while he had a paint-job done in his flat, ready for her to move into it.

She found that she was full of ridiculously cliché’d urges to cook his dinners (though he was a better cook than she was) and have his babies (she was still young enough for that). She was moved and made grateful by his desire for her, his straightforward delight in her body with all its flaws. She knew from experience as well as common sense that their mutual infatuation would not last at this pitch, but she hoped that the kindness would remain; that they could be for each other a place of safety, where they were, in all their weakness, accepted and known.

Continue reading “The Watcher”