Recommended Reads: The Odd Tale of Winston Riddlebury by Matt King

Winston Riddlebury

The Blurb

Winston Riddlebury is a man who has a certain fondness for the routine of home life, which is why it’s so upsetting when his computer repair business takes him to a remote island off the coast of England. From the moment he steps foot inside the Montshire Home for the Terminally Aged, Winston is bombarded with the unfamiliar, and he must learn to deal with the island’s peculiar residents if he’s ever going to make it back to his normal life again.

The Review

Matt King is one of a group of writers I’m in regular contact with on Twitter (@kingmatte) but it was only when another writer promoted the fact he’d a story out that I became aware he’d published anything. The title more than anything piqued my interest so i thought I’d have a look.

Winston Riddlebury is a computer engineer and not a very successful, predominantly doing work for his mother’s knitting friends and being paid in mittens. One day he’s contacted to service some computers at the Montshire Home for the Terminally aged on Mercy Island and it doesn’t take long to realise that the home is a very strange place indeed.

This is a wonderfully quirky tale aimed at older children (there is some mild, very English, swearing). In Winston Riddlebury, King has created a character trying to maintain a sense of normality whilst thrown into the world of the fantastical, concentrating on the job at hand and ignoring the strangeness around him. A lovely dry and gentle humour flows throughout, very reminiscent of Roald Dahl at his less scathing, and King manages to capture a very English type of the eccentric very well.

The story is short – I read it in just an hour – but is perfectly contained and has a nice ending with a great message. If you’re looking for a gentle, quirky tale of monsters and modems, then this is the book for you. Recommended.

To buy The Odd Tale of Winston Riddlebury from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy The Odd Tale of Winston Riddlebury from Amazon.com click here

Recommended reads are either independently published books – or those that are published via a small press – that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.

Petty domestic disputes no.3: Food

A salad platter.

Call this a meal? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ever since we first moved in together, my wife has been trying to change what I eat. It started fairly innocuously – she decided that three sugars in a cup of teas was three too many – so she reduced the amount of sugar in my tea first to two spoonfuls and then to one. This was quite nice, I thought, she’s looking after my best interests and I don’t really miss all that sugar. Little did I know what a dangerous precedent she had set.

You see, although I don’t believe in generalisations, every woman looks at their long-term partner as a work in progress. They do not marry us because they are happy with how we are, but view us as a rough piece of clay from which they hope to mould the perfect partner. I eventually realised what was happening and have successfully staged a small rebellion, refusing to move from one sugar to none. This is not because I don’t like the taste, but because it allows me to reassert my free will*. It’s the little things….

Over time I have learnt that there are two types of food: those that it is OK to dislike, and those I dislike. For example, I am not a great fan of most vegetables. Just a hint of carrot makes me feel sick and don’t even get me started on cabbage or broccoli, yet this, apparently is wrong. It’s not that these foods are disgusting/repulsive/put on this earth by the devil to torment me, apparently I am being fussy (and despite there being scientific evidence to support my position.) My wife, however, dislikes ice-cream and any form of beans,which is clearly normal. She used to dislike bananas and for years these were also on the list of foods to dislike. Then she tried one. Now they are on the approved list. There is no scientific evidence to back up my wife, other than the fact she has a scientific background and therefore her views are scientific evidence.

The one area where this battle of wills really comes to a head is the barbecue. Summers here in England can be relatively brief, so every chance I get I offer to cook a barbecue. There are two reasons for this.

  1. Burgers are my favourite food**
  2. I get to choose what we eat.
image source: www.food-e-matters.com

This is how a BBQ should look (photo credit food-e-matters.com)

When I think of a barbecue it consists mostly of platefuls of meat and the odd bread roll to mop up the juices. This is, apparently, also wrong. After coming home with the minced beef to make burgers, some sausages, ribs, burger buns, relishes, mustard and ketchup; the first I question I’m asked is: “What about the salad?” You see, when my wife thinks of a barbecue she sees bowls of fresh salad, coleslaw, potato salad, assorted breads, a variety of salad dressings, plus somethings barbecued, preferably kebabs that consist of large hunks of vegetables and the odd piece of chicken, which are impossible to cook without burning the vegetables and the stick whilst leaving the chicken hazardous to your health. So we compromise by me going back to the shop and buying salad stuff.

At the barbecue itself, timing is everything. I like to cook the food so everything is available at the same time. If I don’t, my wife will helpfully offer to get me a plate of something to eat while I cook. This a sausage, some coleslaw (don’t get me started on the evils of coleslaw) and lots of garnish.

I remember at one barbecue, having cooked everything on time and to perfection, my wife glanced over to my plate and said “you’ve forgotten your salad.” This was clearly unfair as I had a very large portion of potato salad alongside my two burgers, sausages and ribs. Undaunted by the logic of my argument (if it’s not salad, why does it have salad in its name?), my wife insisted on putting some extra salad on my plate.Now, I could refuse the salad as an infringement of my right to choose to eat what I damned well please, but I don’t because my wife has cunningly decided to have the whole conversation in front of the children.

She has out foxed me once again. I can’t show my hatred of vegetables in front of the children because then they would refuse to eat them. Therefore, every meal has to contain some form of vegetable or salad, otherwise the children would end up dying of scurvy, rickets or some other dietary disease I managed to avoid during my lifetime. It is OK, though, to pick the kidney beans out of a chilli in front of the kids, as nobody died of kidney bean failure.

Eventually, I’m full, but my wife hasn’t finished. “We’re all having some fruit. Would you like some?” I like fruit, but by now I feel as if I have a small baby in my stomach. My wife gives me that look, which means ‘think of the kids’. I look at my two beautiful boys and in my mind their hair and teeth starts to fall out of their future fat and bloated faces, so I give in and eat some fruit.

Later that night, I toss and turn on my side of the bed, unable to get to sleep due to indigestion. I should never have said yes to that fruit.

 

*OK, it is the taste really, I mean, tea without sugar, ugh!

** I know, call me a heathen, but they taste so good.

 

Petty domestic disputes no.2: The 6 a.m. watershed

Petty domestic disputes no.1: Bed Space

Petty domestic disputes no.2: The 6 a.m. watershed

The official start of morning

The official start of morning

For this second edition of petty domestic disputes, I will be staying in the bedroom. During the week my wife works and I look after the children (it’s a little more complicated than that but for the sake of this blog, that’s all you need to know). As my wife is the only wage earner, from Monday through to Thursday, if the children wake during the night, I deal with them. This is only fair. However, when it comes to the weekend, we enter into negotiations.

As any parent of young children knows, a lie in is the highlight of the week. It’s that little bit of indulgence that helps you get through the tantrums, whining, crying, hitting, throwing and screaming without resorting to infanticide. Deciding who gets a lie in when is a delicate negotiation. I will give you a classic example:

Wife: So who’s getting up in the night?

Me: I’ll get up in the night, you get up early.

Wife: But my exercise class is at 8:00 am the day after tomorrow so if I don’t have a lie in tomorrow, I won’t get a lie-in the whole weekend.

Me: But the little sod’s had me up every night this week. I really need a lie in.

Wife: I’ll get up in the night.

Me: Why did you ask me the question then?

Wife: Go to sleep.

You can see that my wife made the classic error of asking the question first, therefore handing me an advantage which she expertly recovered by ignoring anything I said and doing as she damn well pleased. So far, so normal. The real battle starts as the night progresses.

You see, in our household, getting up in the night means any time from when you go to sleep through to 6 a.m. the following morning. Not 6 ish, from around 6 a.m., close to six, but 06:00 hours on the dot. To many people this might sound unreasonable, inflexible even, but it’s through forming understandings like this that our marriage has been so successful.

Rabbit, the source of many sleepless nights

Rabbit, the source of many sleepless nights

Of course, this doesn’t mean the agreement is always honoured. Both of us, in certain circumstances, will do anything to get out of it. Let me give you an example. It is my turn to get up in the night. At 12:30 our youngest loses his toy Rabbit and starts to cry. I get up, find Rabbit, tuck him in and go back to bed. Perfect parenting and I’m quickly back asleep. At 2:30 am our oldest boy calls my name (it’s always my name no matter how many times I’ve told him to call for mummy). I go to him and find he’s had a nightmare. I give him a hug and tell him it’s only a dream. He lies back down and I go back to bed, tossing and turning until I eventually fall asleep.

It’s 4:30 in the morning and I’m woken by my youngest one’s breath on my face. He’s standing right next to my bed, holding his Rabbit, staring at me as if he’s trying to work out if I’m alive or dead. As I open my sleep filled eyes, he says “Milk.” I tell him to get back in bed,  go downstairs and warm up some milk. While I’m waiting for the milk I check my phone and get excited as I see somebody new is following my blog. Maybe this time they aren’t a spammer. I take the milk to my son, tuck him in,go back to bed where I lie for an age trying to get back to sleep.

Then comes the killer. It’s 5:45 a.m. I can’t remember falling asleep but I must have as I’m woken by my youngest son crying. It’s the “huh, huh, huuuuuh” type of cry that isn’t really crying, more a sign of boredom. I’m bone tired. I should go to him, but it’s 5:45 a.m. It’s nearly morning. All I have to do is hang on for 15 minutes and my wife has to deal with him. At this point my wife rolls over. Her eyes are closed she looks asleep, but she isn’t. She rolled over  so she could check the time. She’s had a long week, getting up early to catch a flight then working long hours before flying back a few days later. There is no way she’s getting up until 6 a.m. on the dot. So we both lie there, me hoping our son will settle down, my wife (back right along the centre of the bed), desperate for me to deal with the crying.

Finally, fed up with the lack of attention, our son walks into the bedroom. It’s 5:56 a.m. He walks first to my side of the bed. I refuse to open my eyes. There is a stand-off for a minute as he waits to see if I react. Nothing. He pats at my face but i refuse to budge. Realising he’s getting nowhere, he walks to my wife’s side of the bed. It’s 5:58 a.m. Surely she can’t ignore her youngest son, the little guy she’s missed so much while she’s been working away.

“Mummy, up.”

I smile. There is no way she can ignore that. I wait for her to get up out of bed but instead, she plays her trump card.

She lifts him into our bed.

“Give Daddy a cuddle,” she says, all innocence, “he’s been up all night,” and my annoyance at a lie in lost is swept away as our son wraps his arms around my neck. He squeezes me tight and I luxuriate in this act of unconditional love, doing my best to ignore the grin on my wife’s face.

To read the first in this series: Bed space, click here

People who don’t say hello

Even I can be neighbourly, in the right circumstances

Even I can be neighbourly, in the right circumstances

I love where I live. It was a big change moving to a village from living in the centre of a major city. I was lucky, though and didn’t suffer the culture shock that many city dwellers do (What? You don’t have a persian deli? Where can I get some Tabrizi bread?) I had been raised in village and it felt like moving home. The one thing I had forgotten, though, was that nearly everybody you meet says hello. Now, I know there are villages where people don’t say hello, villages where two types of people live: locals and soon-to-move-out outsiders. Our village isn’t like that. Even on the damp freezing day of our first visit, strangers said hello to my wife and I as they walked by. We fell in love immediately.

Of course, the hello ritual has its pitfalls. For a start, you need to know the time. I don’t know how many times I’ve said “Good Morning” to somebody, only to curse myself as soon as the words are out of my mouth because it’s past noon. You can see it written all over their faces.” Good morning? Can’t he see the position of the sun?” The shame can be unbearable.

There is also the issue of not knowing a person’s name. I’m terrible with names. Another reason I fell in love with the village was that the first three people I got to know were called Steve. It was bliss. Then I met a Dave and a Lee and the whole thing fell apart. Don’t even get me started on Dan. There are people in the village with whom I’ve had long, frequent conversations and I still can’t remember their name. It’s nothing personal, the name just fails to sink in. Yet when I see them out and they say “Hello Dylan,” I squirm with embarrassment, groping around in my memory looking for any sort of prompt that could help me greet them by name in return.

But even in a village as friendly as ours, there are  people who don’t say hello. I tend to break them down into four main groups:

  • The preoccupied – by far the most common group. They are not snubbing you, they are concentrating on something else, like chasing after their child who happens to be skipping towards an onrushing combine harvester. Nine times out of ten the preoccupied will say hello, just not today.
  • The shy – always a good group to say hello to. It’s not often you can get a physical reaction from somebody by saying one word to them (swear words not included.)
  • People who don’t know you – this group really have no excuse. You may not have seen me before but that’s no excuse for not returning a hello. There are people in the village who have never said anything but hello to me, or I to them, in over two years, yet we feel as if we know each other. Shame on you.
  • Then there is my favourite group – The Antisocial. These are people who know about the hello social convention but choose not to play. Everybody knows them. If you live in my village I bet you know who I’m talking about. If you don’t, then you’re probably one of them. They are the type of person who sees you walking towards them, smile on face, mouth opening to speak, and their eyes slip to the side, or down; anywhere but where you are standing. It’s an effect  Harry Potter would be familiar with when he wore his invisibility cloak. Then, head bowed, the antisocial person rushes past, desperate to be away in case your show of neighbourliness brings them out in hives.

The thing is, most ‘helloers,’ as I like to call us, ignore the antisocial. They believe that if a person doesn’t want to say hello then that’s their prerogative. I’m a little different. I’m more of an evangelical helloer. I want to bring them to the light. Rather than ignore these people I try to convert them, deliberately targeting the antisocial until I get a greeting in return. I see it as my calling.

Now you have to be careful. Being an evangelical helloer can be quite risky. A balance needs to be made. Saying hello too loud and you come across as arrogant, even slightly deranged. Being too soft and you will end up ignored. It’s important to maintain eye contact and a smile at all times; it doesn’t feel neighbourly to have ‘hello’ bellowed in your face by an angry looking loon. You also need to choose your targets carefully. As a middle aged man, I wouldn’t recommend trying to get a hello out of teenage girls; the following police interviews can be uncomfortable.

Occasionally, though, something happens that makes the whole thing worthwhile. There was an old lady who I used to meet every morning on the school run. Now old ladies are the founders of the helloer movement; they are the helloer fundamentalists. Old ladies greet everybody they meet as if they were long lost family, with a beaming smile accentuated by their paper soft cheeks. However, this old lady was different. While most old ladies break out into a smile as easy as breathing, this old lady was of a type more likely to offer you a poisoned apple. Here was a worthy challenge. Every day I would pass this old lady and every day she would ignore my greeting.

Every day, five times a week, for over a year.

I was getting close to giving up until one day as I was returning from the school run with my two boys, I pushed our pushchair  through the biggest pile of dog shit you could imagine. As I stood there swearing about thoughtless dog owners, the old lady approached with a big smile lighting up her face. “Good afternoon dear,” she said, laughter in her voice. That day I was on the side of the antisocial.

Petty domestic disputes no.1: Bed space

Do you see how she is guarding the centre of the bed?

Do you see how she is guarding the centre of the bed?

My wife and I bicker a lot. We are world class bickerers. Along with love, mutual respect, openness and honesty, bickering is probably key to how our marriage is still going strong after 13 years. I feel bickering as entertainment has been overlooked by marriage counsellors (this statement is based on absolutely no facts whatsoever.) Bickering can be a release valve for the daily friction that occurs in every relationship. I’m tempted to write a book called ‘Love through Bickering.’ I think it could be the next international best seller. To test the waters, I’ll be running an irregular series of blog posts called petty domestic disputes.
Now I’m a very reasonable person whereas my wife can be quite stubborn. A good example of this is her opinion over bed space. We are both relatively slim people but I am much broader across the shoulders than my wife. The problem comes when we read in bed at night. I often find my wife creeping across to my side of the bed so that I end up pushed to the edge of the mattress. I hate this. The edge of the bed is also the edge of the duvet, which means I end up cold down my left side.
I’ve done my best to reason with her. I’ve tried to explain that the issue is all to do with proportion but my wife, in all her stubbornness, seems to believe the bed should be shared equally as with everything else in our marriage. This is clearly wrong. As I am broader than my wife, I should have proportionally more of the bed than her. This is the fair solution. Instead I was forced to spend weeks slyly moving her pillows right to the edge of her side of the bed and pushing mine right next to hers. This gave me the extra few inches of space I was entitled to and for a while I was happy. My wife said nothing but instead bought pillowcases with a border that were exactly half the width of the bed. In the end we bought a bigger bed.
Great, you might think. Situation solved. Not a chance. You see, you forgot about one thing: children. Our youngest has recently been waking up in the night and finding it difficult to settle. Quite often he ends up in our bed, but interestingly enough, not on my wife’s side. He stretches out on my side of the bed, pushing his feet into my back and wrapping the duvet around himself until I am left freezing on a sliver of mattress. My wife, in the mean time, is asleep, her back right along the line of the middle of the bed, the line as delineated by those bloody pillowcases. I have literally been given the cold should from the pair of them. And despite the fact she has her back to me, I know my wife has a smile on her face, and knowing what she has done makes me smile in return. That is what makes this marriage a success.

The cat that shits in my garden

There’s a cat that shits in my garden. There may be more than one cat – I don’t know as I’ve never seen it – but there is at least one that shits on my lawn. I hate that cat.

cat

Are you the cat? (Photo credit: Kenny Teo (zoompict))

I have dreams about that cat and what I’d like to do to it if I caught it in the act. But the cat is sneaky, as cats often are, and it shits while I’m sleeping, taking revenge on my dreams of revenge. Sometimes it waits until it sees that my car is gone, other times it waits until the cricket starts on TV. It now knows my routine well enough that it sometimes shits while I’m writing; in fact it could be shitting there now. I’d better check.

I first spotted the cat shit whilst mowing. When I say spotted, I mean smelt, because the cat had kindly hidden its shit under some moss. Gagging whilst cleaning out the grass collector, and a lifetimes enmity was born.

I wouldn’t mind so much if the cat shat under a bush or the large conifer at the front but no, it continues to shit right in the middle of the lawn. Well, I call it a lawn but it is mostly moss, or at least used to be mostly moss. I had a suspicion that the cat liked the softness of the moss and that was why it chose to shit on my lawn, so I  used weed and feed to kill the moss and resurrect the lawn. That will teach it, I thought. Now the  the cat shits on the large bare patches of earth between the few remaining tufts of grass that make up what I used to call my front lawn.

I blame cat owners. They know how cats turn evil once they are out of the house. In fact, I’m sure most cat owners love it when their cat shits in someone else’s garden. These would be the same people who growl with disgust when they see dog poo on the path, swearing about selfish dog owners who refuse to pick up. I hate selfish dog owners too, but dogs don’t shit on my garden.

If cat owners had any sense of responsibility they would make their cats wear nappies. That’s what considerate people would do. Maybe the scratch marks received whilst fighting a cat into a nappy would make them think twice about owning one of these devious creatures. I mean, what’s the attraction of a cat? They come and go as they please, look down their noses at you; they make the house stink and cause my wife’s eyes to stream whenever she goes anywhere near them. The only good thing about owning a cat is that it shits in someone else’s garden, usually mine.

Nerf War: Gun

Anti-cat shit device (Photo credit: Jake Sutton)

I waited up one night, looking out of the spare room window with Nerf gun in hand, hoping to catch a glimpse of my nemesis. I didn’t want to hurt it (what do you think I am, some kind of sadist?) but I hope the screech of the dart would scare it away, never to return. The coward never showed and I ended up with a stiff neck from the cold night air. I hate that cat.

I think people love cats because they have a knowing air about them. It’s the slight smile on their face as they listen to you speak, looking for all the world that they understand and empathise that the woman at the supermarket spoke rudely to you. I had a friend who used to smile like that at work during meetings. He didn’t say much, but everybody thought he was really clever. He wasn’t, but he was clever enough to know that an enigmatic smile and silence can take you a long way in life. Cats are like this, cats aren’t intelligent, cats are stupid, yet this cat has the better of me. I hate that cat.