All posts by Mark Hj

Cat-whisperer; writer of SciFi and fantasy.

Runestone Cowboy

When I first read the runes, I expected something like beware the ides of June, not GOBLINS! engraved on a piece of slate and an address only a few miles away, thirty-seven Mayberry Close, Upper Clambourne. If it had been scribbled on a bus shelter in biro, I would put it down as a joke, but this meant something.

I traced half way round the goblin rune with my finger and felt magic stirring in the stone. So, not just an address, but transport for anyone without the bus fare from Lower to Upper Clambourne.

An invitation to the hunt.

Goblin hunters are a nuisance at the best of times, and outlawed since the Diet of Bologna in ten-twenty-three. And don’t bother to look that up. You will not find any official historical record of the Holy Roman Empire reaching a truce with creatures who, at the time, were regarded as spawn of Satan. Honestly, they only signed the treaty because a whole generation of young goblins were about to emerge from their cocoons after a thousand years metamorphosis. Imagine that medieval leadership suddenly discovering that mature goblins are not five-foot tall easy-meat, but brutes the size of elephants, and absolutely easy going unless provoked into a killing rage fit to make a tiger look like a pussy cat.

According to Toby, nothing winds a goblin up into a murderous frenzy like a bit of religious persecution.

I rang Toby and said the magic words.

“Tobes. I found more goblin hunters.”


My cat says something similar – meaning that litter tray needs cleaning – which is one of those odd linguistic coincidences, because not even a young goblin like Toby uses a litter tray. So he says.

“I have the address,” I told him. “But I think it could be a trap.”

Toby laughed.

“Ricky, if those shapeek hunters knew that I’m a goblin, they would just break down my door. No need to set elaborate traps.”

“Yeah. Maybe. Even so… maybe they want to get you away from Selene… She can be scary. Or… maybe they aren’t sure if you’re a goblin.”

Because a young goblin can pass for a really ugly human, in poor light and from the right angle, and Toby happens to be a really ugly goblin, which makes him even more passable as human. But honestly, what goblin hunter is going to suspect an ugly bloke shacked up with an elf-human half-breed?

I still have a very disturbing memory of Toby’s cousin Eric moving in next door to him. It turns out that the average council housing officer doesn’t ask if the applicant is human, and the below-average one doesn’t ask about the pet donkey. Eric found out about Selene the half-elf living with Toby and well… I have never seen so much blood on the walls.

Goblins hate religious oppression, except for goblin fundamentalists like Eric putting unclean elves in their place. I don’t suppose Eric ever expected to lose a round of pin the elf on the donkey. He probably didn’t expect Selene to bite his ear off, either. It’s just as well that the donkey was really a snack rather than a pet, otherwise it would have been a terrible waste.

“It’s a new world, Ricky.” And one where young goblins who accidentally kill their donkey subsequently get harassed by animal rights activists instead of religious fundamentalists. “Give me the shapeek address and I’ll meet you there. Teach these onion-frying idiots to behave.”

“OK. Texting it. See you in half and hour.”

# # #

Toby beat me to thirty-seven Mayberry Close by a few minutes, but then he has his moped and I missed a bus by seconds. In the good old days, any well-to-do young goblin would have had his own donkey, transport and snack in one handy package, but Toby has embraced modern living. Apparently, in traditional goblin culture, where a lad parks his donkey is fraught with issues. Nobody eats a moped, although local idiots might steal it, if their street-cred has dropped that low.


“It’s a trap,” Toby told me. “Got to be. Look.”

Mayberry Close was a gentle crescent of detached houses with a significant gap where number thirty-seven should have been.

“What happened?”

Toby waved. “Sixties development. What can I say?”

“I meant, what happened to number thirty-seven?”

“Gas explosion. Ten years ago. Apparently accidental, but I would treat it as an architectural statement.” He shrugged, and not even his favourite leather jacket could quite hide his vestigial shoulder spines. “Anyway, that’s what the neighbour told me. Apparently they keep a watch out for suspicious characters here. Probably worried about further architectural statements. So not even shapeek goblin hunters are going to gather in the open here.”

I showed him the piece of slate. “So if I used this instead of the bus…”

“Ohh.” He held it with the tips of his claws, which look almost like finger nails in poor light. “Ohhhhhh!

“What, Toby?”

“It’s s trap.” He shrugged again. Those shoulder spines are going to be awesome in twelve hundred years when he’s full-grown. “If you used this…”

“Yes? What?”

“Eric made it.”

“Eric the idiot cousin? Seriously?”

Toby sighed like only a goblin can. I’m sure I heard at least one plink of cracking glass, but it’s hard to be sure amid a frantic chorus of wailing cats and barking dogs.

“Eric likes hunting goblin hunters. It’s allowed in the Diet of Bologna treaty. The new generation of adults are about to hatch, you see? It’s a new world. Goblins asserting their rights against humans who breach the treaty.”

“Wow. OK.” That sounds like trouble. “Whatever next?”

“Elf rights, Frank. Elf rights. Time for goblins to come full circle.”

My mind was on Eric’s poor donkey. “Is that a good idea?”

“It’s a right idea, Frank. Selene says it’s time to talk about the Elfin-kind in the room.”

# # #

This was written in response to the #BlogBattle prompt of Revolution.

Image from Pixabay

Off-plan~~by Mark Huntley-James


I’m pantser, not a planner. I don’t analyse, I just write. Except when it all goes to pieces in the middle of writing a book and a bit of structure is needed to dig my way out of a hole.

There has been a lot of that lately, with my currently book proving unusually troublesome, and at a time when my plans in general have been upended. Two years ago, set up with both life and writing plans that stretched over two years, I suddenly found myself struggling to write whilst sitting in various hospital waiting rooms. A year later, with diagnosis and treatment plans established, enter COVID.

That’s the trouble with plans – the vagaries of life can upend them in a moment.

All of this came together in my head recently as I had a breakthrough with a shambolic plot where everything was floundering, going nowhere, and completely…

View original post 701 more words

Clean Slate

Dear Hatchling,

Read this first. It’s important.

You are a phoenix but you look like a human. When you go out into the world and meet humans, do not tell them that you are a phoenix. They will not understand, not believe and most likely lock you up. Whatever you do, do not go out amongst humans until you have read all of these notes. Frankly, the inside of the shell is no longer big enough to write everything down.

Humans will tell you that a phoenix is a bird. Ignore them. Do not contradict, because as previously mentioned, it will not go well for you.

When humans tell you that a phoenix dies in fire and rises new-born from the ashes, nod and agree. It’s nonsense, but again, as previously mentioned, just go with it. Apparently when my shell forms it will steam a bit for a few years, and when you hatch out it will disintegrate into fine powder after a few years. Humans tend not to pay attention to fine details like that, so misunderstandings arise.

When it is your time to be reborn, find somewhere really good that no human will find. Best not to let them misunderstand any more than they have to.

For your information, millions of years ago, when you were already old, the dominant creature was something called a dinosaur. Back then, you looked like a dinosaur, but bigger and meaner than any other dinosaur. When these humans were evolving from a monkey in a tree, all phoenix kind got together to decide on a new shape. We discovered that if you want to know what a human has been eating recently, dive at them, screaming, from the sky in the shape of a huge bird, and they will show you their current meal and whatever they ate yesterday.

Back then, the result was an ambitious monkey, frozen to the spot, relieved, and grateful to have not yet invented underwear. However, there came a time when the response was to throw rocks and sharp sticks, so now you look like a human. A very big and aggressive human.

It is for the best.

At time of writing, you are old and immensely fat. At time of reading, you are newly hatched and in need of a good meal. When you get old and fat, you will need to find a convenient cave, or in this new era, an abandoned nuclear shelter.

Just remember, you are immortal, but you only last thirty or forty years before you are reborn and forget everything. Be grateful that humans invented paper, and ink, because it makes passing on the memories so much easier.

When the shell forms around you, write on the inside all of the things you read on the inside of the shell you hatched from. Especially the bit that explains how to read. I know that makes no sense, but word is that even though we must have an innate ability to read, if you leave out the instructions on how to read, you won’t be able to read.

My personal opinion, recorded on the inside of the shell over millions of rebirths, is that this is magic. The instructions on how to read are not meant to be read, but form a spell which works just by looking at it.

At least, that’s what it said on the inside of my shell I read before I hatched.

I also found the bit that said “kick here to exit” pretty useful, so I’ve passed that on to you.

Apart from that, before the shell forms around you, write separate notes on all the things you really want to know in your new life, because you will remember nothing. Put those notes somewhere really safe, nearby, and make a note of that in really big letters on the inside of the shell.

Now, on to the important stuff. Humans come in two distinct shapes. It’s pot luck what happens to you in the shell. Regarding shape number one, on pages ninety-seven to one hundred and twelve, you will find notes on what it means to be a woman. Regarding shape number two, the notes are at the bottom of page one hundred and twelve.

Regarding my choice of location for rebirth, this was not really my choice. My friend, Susan, who is also a phoenix, stepped in front of a bus. For a human this means serious injury and possible death, but as an immortal phoenix, this means a surprise rebirth. You will notice that your shell is next to a pile of dust. That is the remains of Susan’s shell. With such a sudden rebirth, and what with being unconscious after the accident, Susan was doomed to wake up in a blank shell, so I promised to be here to go over the basics.

A blank shell is the worst thing for a phoenix. Everything you were will be lost.

For Susan, I’ve written the how to read spell on the outside. Maybe it will work.

That’s the introduction done. Best of luck with my future. The main notes are typewritten and were prepared some time back, because the modern phoenix needs to move with the times.

Specifically, Times Roman.

Best wishes, your former self.

# # #

Written in response to the BlogBattle prompt Blank.

Image from Pixabay.


It’s a sure sign of a dissatisfied customer when my toes can’t reach the ground. Nevin the blacksmith was at least as big as the battered warrior holding my throat, but he just stood back and watched. No loyalty there, just a business arrangement.


That’s not my fault. In fact, that is Nevin’s fault. He does the metalwork, I add the magic. That’s how magic sword manufacturing works. The magic can’t stop the steel from breaking, but the really good stuff can make it cut through sorcerers, demons, other magic swords and…


“Broke how?” Nevin asked gruffly.

“In battle.” The warrior lifted me higher, which was fine because toes far off the ground hurts just the same as almost touching.

“Broke how exactly? You hit something with the sword, or something hit you?”

The warrior dropped me, turned on Nevin, and then thought better of it.

“Another sword did it.”

Nevin scratched at his beard. I used to think he must have a really itchy chin, but it’s his way with stroppy warriors in the smithy. It reminds them that his fists are big and his forearms are thicker than the average leg.

“Show me the bits.”

The warrior kicked at the rough sack he’d dropped when he first came in – you want to see, you pick it up.

Nevin scratched his beard again until the warrior crouched, rummaged, and held up a sword in two parts. It was one of the really cheap ones Nevin knocks out and calls a Bearkiller, because the sort of fool who buys a cheap sword will always go for something called Bearkiller, or Demonslayer. I’m no expert in this stuff, but I know swords break, and I know that the Bearkillers can snap if the user sneezes too hard.

“Fix it.”

Warriors are like children. It broke, fix it. They don’t ask can it be fixed? With a broken blade like that, Nevin would hammer out the pieces and make something like a chunky dagger, and one of the skinny, flashy blades he calls a Windslicer – cheap, fragile, but makes a really impressive whistling noise cutting through the air.

“Needs magic to fix,” Nevin said, more to me than the warrior. “I’ll get the heat going.”

I don’t do magic, I collect magic. Applying it to the swords is easy, but nothing I’ve got can repair a sword. Like I said, Nevin does the metalwork.

The smithy is poorly lit and once Nevin starts pumping the bellows, all you see is the glow of the coals, unless you know where to look. While the warrior was bedazzled by the sparks, Nevin slipped a freshly-made Bearkiller off the pile and set it close by. We ought to practice this misdirection routine for the next dissatisfied customer, but there’s no real point. Warriors who buy cheap swords rarely live long enough to complain about workmanship.

“Come on, man,” Nevin growled, and he was right – I was daydreaming, whilst the warrior was inching closer to where he might see what we were doing.

“Stand back,” I said, as commanding as I could be, and the warrior inched closer instead.

I picked a jar of whispering prayers off the shelf and tossed two into the fire. I like the prayers – I buy them a dozen the farthing from a decrepit monastery a half-day’s walk away. A sword bound with one of those prayers will tell the wielder how fine and proud they are. You can see it the moment they pick one up in the smithy – yes, yes, I am!

Never burn a whispering prayer. A banshee scream of terror ripped through the smithy driving the warrior two clumsy steps backwards. I already had my fingers in my ears and Nevin – well the big lump doesn’t hear so well after so many years of hammering.

Next I took a sun potion and flicked a drop into the cherry coals and just for a moment a blinding noon light flared out. I usually use a drop mixed with a little brandy and work it into the blades to give them that alluring glint in the dark that says look here, I’m a magic sword. I’m told that glint can attract goblins in the night, but none of our customers has ever complained about that.

“Are you ready for this?” I called out, reaching for the edge charms. “This can be…”

I had no idea what would happen to an edge charm in the fire. When I attach one to a blade, it holds the edge forever, provided you keep the metal out of the sun. I suppose I ought to mention that when we sell a sword.

“Ready,” the warrior grunted.

“Just give me a moment. This third one is tricky.” Instead of the edge charms, I eased the stopper from a jar of whitefire I bought from a warlock. It was supposed to be pure magic – I think he lied, but far safer than edge charms. “Here… third one…”

I tossed a piece of whitefire into the forge and bright, white light even stronger than the sun potion blinded everyone. When my eyes cleared, Nevin was standing before the forge, holding forth a brand new Bearkiller, smoke just curling around the blade. I still don’t know how he does that, but it impresses the customers.

“Your weapon,” he said and held it out.

The warrior took it, almost reverentially, and then tried a few test swings.

“Do that outside,” Nevin growled.

As soon as we were alone, he pulled the broken pieces of the old sword from the forge.

I went to the door and watched. The warrior took a few more good swings, gave me a glare, and then stamped off eastward which is where they say the armies are currently fighting.

“That third one…” Nevin pushed me out into the daylight so that he could see the warrior go. “Was that a charm?”



I wrote this in response to the #BlogBattle prompt of Charm.

Image from Pixabay


I wish, I wish, I wish…

Those are the most wonderful words in the world for a psycho-magical parasite like me, although I still think they sound best in Old Persian. It’s not really the words themselves, but the intent and desire behind them, and I am so hungry I could feast on a vague hope, let alone a full-blown wish. I’ve been on lean pickings for a heartbeat or two now, not that I have a heart, but I’m sure that’s the phrase because so many of you mortals die in a heartbeat that it must be quite a long time.

I manifested at my customary size, which was a mistake, and said the words to bind myself to the new host.

“Your wish is my command, Oh mistress mine, what do you wish?”

I thought at first my host was tiny, but that was simply because I was so tall, but I like this size. It looks good on me.

“I wish you didn’t break my fairy palace.”

I’ve been around, seen the world, and I know that fairy palaces are not real. I also know what you mortals think a fairy palace ought to look like, and there was nothing nearby that matched, just an ordinary terraced house, a garden, and some tatters of pink cloth.

I would have ignored the oddity, but my host used the magic words I wish, so I had to do something.

“I see no fairy palace.”

The small human beckoned me close, so I shrank down until we were eye-to-eye. Full grown, you mortals often don’t give me much to feed on, but small humans, they have the sort of wild imagination that can sustain me for lots of heartbeats.

“It’s really just a tent,” the small human told me. “Mommy said I can imagine it’s a fairy castle, so I did. A pretty fairy palace. Like the one I seen on TV. But you broke it.”

Small humans have the sort of wild imagination that sees things other than they are. She said the magic words, and granting wishes is my bread-and-butter, except when they are a huge banquet driven by a small human with a wild imagination. However, she wished for the impossible. I can not go back in time to undo the damage to her imaginary fairy palace.

“I am sorry about your… tent.” The phrasing of wishes can give me some wriggle-room, unlike that damned lamp I was cooped up in for centuries. “If you wish… and say the words I wish, I can make your tent whole again.”

“Please. Yes. Please, please, please…” The small human smiled up at me, nothing but gap, which was odd, because I thought you all had teeth until you got really old. “I really wish I had a real fairy palace.”

There’s no such thing as a real fairy castle, but that wish was more than just a wish. Wild imagination blossomed all around me, a glorious fairy palace in pink and sky blue, adorned with fluttering ribbons and swooping fairies.

And then my host did what you mortals always do after making a wish – she blinked.

Eyelids down, and hold for an eternity, and then open, which is more than enough time to suck the raw magic of the universe through her mind, and make her fairy palace a reality. In fact, I had so much time that I spotted the imminent destruction of her house and worked around it. There were halls and grottos galore, which made more than enough space for one terraced house.

With hindsight, I probably should not have crushed the ones either side. I know I invented terraced houses several heartbeats back when you mortals were still making mud huts, but it’s so easy to forget the small details.

“Weeeeee!” The blink ended and my host saw her fairy palace. “Mummy, Mummy! Come see what the nice genie did for me! I wanna have Sally come round to play. And Louise. And…”

The small human stopped and turned, which in a full-grown mortal can be a sign that something is wrong. She stared at me, so I smiled, which made her take a step back. I really haven’t got the hang of that one.

“Thank you, Mister Genie. Thank you very much.”

“Your wish is my command, oh Mistress Mine.”

My small human smiled, and really I am sure that’s exactly what I do, although I have so many more teeth.

“Mummy says I must always say thank you.”

“Of course.” But let’s not get Mummy too involved. Grown mortals can really crimp a wild imagination. “Is there anything else you want to wish for? Just say the words. I wish…”

My small human smiled again. “I wish there was world peace.”

“Sorry? What?” The wild imagination was blank. “What is world peace?”

My small human shrugged. “Dunno, but Mummy says we should all wish for world peace. So I wish there was world peace. I wish, I wish, I wish…”

I can only do what’s possible. Wishes aren’t magic, you know? They get done by magic, but magic can’t do the impossible. I can decline impossible wishes, but world peace…

I had a hazy sort of idea. It wasn’t impossible. Probably. And I had the bond with my host, so the wish nibbled away at me, demanding to be done. Even the wish knew it was possible…

I felt a pain in my head, and I don’t feel pain.

My feet shrivelled first, then my knees, as the wish sucked at my existence. There’s no rules about this, but a wish is a wish. It’s a part of my fundamental nature. Probably.

“Mummy, mummy, look what I wished…”

I was no taller than an ant when Mummy arrived.

World peace was still happening, but slowly now. Not even my host’s wild imagination had enough sustenance for such a huge wish. I would do it. I had to do it. Just give me a few heartbeats.

“Mummy? Where’d my genie go?”


Still here.

Down here.

Look closely.


I wrote this in response to the #BlogBattle writing prompt of Miniature.

Image from Pixabay.

Greenhouse Party

Come in, come in… let me take your coat. It gets hot in here.

So, let me introduce everyone. The small, spindly one draped all over the place is Latah, and no amount of training or coaxing makes any difference. Just there is Ethel Watkins, been around here since… No, no, the shocking pink is Grushkova, a recent arrival here, and…

Look, I know the pink is startling, but if you’re going to make unkind comments about skin colour then you can take your coat and go. Grushkova is a perfectly decent early tomato and…

No, it’s not Russian. OK, sort of Russian. From Siberia. And Latah is from Idaho and…

Sorry? Proper English tomato? You do know that tomatoes were introduced here from South America in the sixteenth century, right? There’s no native tomatoes. I mean, seriously, the nearest relative is belladonna, and you don’t want that in your salad.

And yes, those are cucumbers. What is it with you and colour? Yes they are white instead of green, but they are very nice cucumbers and… yes, they are small, and they’re called miniature white, so you’ve got it all there in the name, small and white. Not big and long and green. Go on, taste one… see? It’s a very nice cucumber.

Sorry? Proper English cucumber? I know you’re think cucumber sandwiches, all part of the essence of the traditional English summer but seriously, you know that cucumbers were originally introduced from India, right? First recorded cultivation here in the fourteenth century, so they’ve been around longer than tomatoes. And there, behind you, the melons… originally from Africa and southwest Asia, brought to Europe by the Romans and…

Right. Yes. Got that. You prefer boring commercial green cucumbers. Here. Try one of these…

No, it’s not English either. It’s called Achocha, from South American, part of the cucumber family… yes, I’m pretty sure it is supposed to be green.

Right. The door’s there. Go out into the orchard. Pick yourself an apple. Proper English varieties out there. Proper Cornish varieties. Normal colours, normal shapes, nothing funny or foreign.

Originally from Asia, of course.

This was prompted by the #BlogBattle prompt of Exotic, and the strange things we grow in our greenhouse.

Image from Pixabay.

Hidden Treasures

I lost my steel rule today, exactly the same steel rule I lost last week, although today I also lost my five-metre tape measure and my ear-defenders. These are not high-priced items, but their value lies in their contribution to the project. In the middle of building a new box gutter between two roof sections, not being able measure or use high-decibel power tools is seriously inconvenient.

There’s an interesting thing that I’ve noticed over the years – amongst the vast array of highly specialised and expensive tools I could have in the workshop, the most valuable and heavily used are often the cheapest. That steel rule has seen a lot of use, and those tape measures are recent minor purchases to replace my old measure which had become so worn that the markings were getting illegible on the first metre or two.

Losing those simple but vital tools can bring a job to a halt.

Unlike last week, the missing steel rule wasn’t so critical yesterday, and I still had the eight-metre tape measure as a substitute for the five, even though it’s a bit cumbersome and awkward for small measurements. The really disastrous absence happened to be the ear-defenders as I needed to run some remarkably noisy power-tools.

Three lost tools, or if not actually lost then seriously hidden.

The steel rule is a shade of grey, and I was working outside when I lost it last week, with plenty of places of a similar shade of grey where it could be perfectly camouflaged. I got by, using the tape measure, but there are times when the only tool for the job is the steel rule. I spent time hunting for it, looking in all the obvious places where I may have set it down, but there came a point where it was more important to get the job finished and make do without the steel rule. As I worked, I even considered the fact that I was going to be shopping in nearby Launceston in a few days time and could buy a new steel rule. Perhaps I ought to get more than one in preparation for losing it again – they cost two, maybe three pounds each, unless you really want to push the boat out and pay a fiver.

At the end of the day, I decided to have one final search. At ground level there was the spot where I had the power tools stacked up, but that wasn’t it. I looked behind a small waist-high retaining wall because it’s a perfect place to put a tool down only to have it tumble off the back, and then all the odd nooks and crannies where I might have put it down. Finally, I climbed the tallest ladder that I had out, to look down on the whole work area, because there’s a whole mess of roof, beams and joists where I might have laid a steel rule.

From my high vantage point, I saw it clearly. There is a white electrical utility box set into the wall that protrudes by just over an inch. I know it’s just over an inch because the steel rule is an inch across and there it was, lying on the rim, which has a modest downward angle making it easier to see the missing tool when standing on the ground. Not only that, but it was at about chest height for all of the occasions I had walked past it in the preceding hours.

So, not so much lost as hidden in plain sight. So plain, in fact, that it shouldn’t have been hidden at all.

Today, at the start of work there were three things missing, and I could only conclude that I had failed to put everything away as darkness fell last night. I was sure that I had tidied up properly, really, really sure, but after the steel-rule incident last week, anything seemed possible. So how hard can it be to find three missing tools? Whilst the steel rule is that unobtrusive shade of grey, my ear-defenders are bright red, and the tape measure is bright yellow – hard to miss, really. Perhaps some part of my subconscious took that as a challenge, because I managed to miss all three during a twenty-minute search.

Fortunately, I have two pairs of the ear defenders, same make, model and shade of red, and the second pair were easy to find in the back of my van.

Then I found the ones that I had lost, hanging up exactly where I left them in the workshop last night, right beside where I was standing when I realised that I had lost them. Sadly, there was no sign of the other items, but now armed with the essential ear protection (and a spare pair) I could get on with the job.

In due course, I reached the point where I needed to cut some small pieces of timber. I did the measurements with that clunky eight-metre measure, headed to the chop saw and there, on the bench, exactly where I had been using it to measure small pieces of timber yesterday, was the five-meter tape-measure.

I looked there. I really did. I’m sure…

Some hours later, standing at the same bench, I glanced at one of my plastic tool boxes. Laying along the bright yellow compartment in the lid, in the plainest of plain sight, was the steel rule…

I put it all down to advancing middle-age, because I never used to lose things so often and so clearly in plain sight. Sometime in the last few years I appear to have lost my youth, but I don’t suppose there’s any point in going looking for it. Of all my lost treasures, I doubt that one will turn out to be in plain sight.

This was written in response to the #BlogBattle prompt of Conceal.

Tea Is For Tramadol

In a long-forgotten time, somewhere around my childhood and quite possibly the twilight of traditional tea-time, the rules were simple: tea was drunk from a cup, on a saucer, whilst vulgar mugs were for coffee and cocoa. Of course, back then, tea was also drunk with milk and sugar until I egregiously broke with tradition and stopped using sugar. I think I was about eight, or nine, so a bit of a revolutionary when I was younger.

Sacred tea-time was dealt another blow when I went to university and I stopped putting milk in my tea. That wasn’t so much revolutionary as the end of civilisation as we know it, and it stained my mother’s tea cups. At some point, when visiting my parents, my mother took to putting my tea in a mug, probably one with a dark glaze that didn’t show the tannin stains.

In spite of the demise of traditional tea-time, and those cup/mug rules, we do still have tea-cups around the house, somewhere, and I’m sure I could find one if I went looking. They hide, you see, lurking at the back or in dark corners of the cupboards, probably forming self-help groups where fine china can grumble about how much better it was in the good old days. What we definitely do have is saucers. Lots and lots of saucers, although we could do with a few more, because sauces are useful. Tea cups have been supplanted by the more aggressive mug species, but their long-suffering support act, the saucer, has found new niches in the domestic eco-system. However, the saucer is also becoming rare.

In the time between the twilight of tea-time and now, there was a decade or two where saucers were easy to come by – church jumble sales and charity shops always had stacks of random crockery, and saucers could be re-homed in significant numbers, whilst angry cabals of tea-cups grumbled in boxes out of sight, bitter that they couldn’t even claim to have been left on the shelf.

That has all changed – the jumble sale has become the car-boot sale and charity shops have gone upmarket (at least around here) and only nice crockery is to be found. Saucers are not allowed out without their cups, and even then only in matching sets offering safety in numbers and the possibility of swaggering all the way to the dishwasher.

No matter, we still have a supply, although every attempt to establish a breeding program for saucers in captivity has failed. For now, we have saucers to stand plant pots on, to put cat treats on, to test jam for setting, to… well, saucers are just useful, and we really could do with more, especially at present, when every spare saucer is needed for Oatmeal.

That’s three kilos of furry feline called Oatmeal, not the stuff for making porridge. A year ago, Oatmeal was nearer to seven kilos of fluff, but in March this year he was diagnosed with a serious bowel problem which has been managed with high doses of steroid, which he will happily take with three grams of cream, twice a day, on a saucer.

Start counting – that’s two saucers, per day.

Then there’s the cat biscuits, delivered wherever he is currently sleeping – in the house would be ideal, but Oatmeal has made it clear that outside is his preference. Currently, that is under a fuchsia bush, whilst a week or two back, he was under a fern on the edge of the lawn. Wherever he chooses, the location is highlighted by the technicolour array of our recycling bags arranged and rigged to keep the rain off him. So, add another saucer, per day, with a few slugs on the underside.

In the last month, Oatmeal has clearly been struggling and, not to put too finer point on things, he has trouble pooing. It causes him enough discomfort that he puts it off until things are truly desperate, which only makes the problem worse. Our vet has prescribed tramadol for the pain, which is a brilliant idea, but has one tiny drawback: flavour.

Prednisone in milk or cream is absolutely fine, but tramadol… no. We’ve tried tuna, sardines, Marmite (well, you never know) and all have failed, and it makes no difference what colour saucer we use. When Oatmeal doesn’t fancy his medication…

Here, puss, puss, puss, try the tasty tramadol.

Pah. Tastes like poo. Smells like poo. Here. I’ll spit it out. You try it.

Come on puss, just swallow…

Look, I can spit it out the side of my mouth too.

Here, puss, I’ve wrapped it in some tasty meat…

I can spit that down inside your shoe.

How about this. I mixed it with sardines.

A challenge… I can ignore that. I so can ignore that. See? This is me ignoring. Hah! Gotcha.

The tramadol option appeared doomed until we discovered Royal Canin Pill Assist. It’s brown, it’s squidgy, it passes the Oatmeal taste-test, and when placed on a pile of cat biscuits on a saucer of any colour, it gets picked off the top in preference to all else. Honestly, given a choice, I think he would probably just live off Pill Assist. He generally swallows them whole, but every so often, he bites into one in passing, enough to get a taste, but then it is too late, it’s already on the way down, and all he can do is give me that frozen what did you do look before clearing up the biscuits that don’t look, taste or smell like Tramadol.

We do have more than five saucers, but it does become a challenge, and then there is Piper, seven kilos of black and white cat who knows that saucers mean treats. So, add another saucer, or two, and then there’s Ginge, half his size but capable of consuming just as many treats. That saucer supply is looking shaky.

It’s just as well that saucers are washable.

So, saucers are for Tramadol and Oatmeal is a high and happy cat.

Mug of tea, anyone?

This was written in response to the #BlogBattle prompt of Tea,  inspired by a lifetime of drinking tea and the trials of medicating a sick cat.


In the car, hurry, worry,

Running late, worry, hurry.

Turn the key, come on, start it

Clicks and whirls but doesn’t catch it.

Growl and grind, and fading power

Turn and turn, and turning slower

Wretched beast, I hear what happened

Click and nothing, battery flattened

Out the box, the biggest hammer

Instead choose the ratchet spanner

Turn and turn the clicking ratchet

Drop it, curse and fail to catch it.

Down beside the engine block

Out of reach and really stuck

Scrape my knuckles, fail to reach it

How I hate the wretched ratchet.

I hate the car, its fickle state

All the worse when running late

Now I’ve really lost my cool

Gotta have the wretched tool

Dripping blood I gotta get it

Cursing blue of course I blew it

Straining hard could barely touch it

Failed to reach the wretched ratchet.

Need a stick to poke it loose

Saw the hammer resting close

Reached and grabbed and… darn it… NO…

The wretched hammer hit my toe

Darn it all, the wretched rush

Now can’t walk to catch the bus.

This piece of vaguely rhyming alliterative nonsense  was brought to you by the July #BlogBattle prompt of Wretched.

Outside The Box

Hey, Chazos, you gonna open it, or what?”

Maybe…” There’s a sinking feeling when you realise you’re talking to a god, and you know that never ends well. “I mean… didn’t work out so well for my sister.”

Chazos, man, you gotta have faith… I mean, honestly, your sister has the brains of a mouse. The Gods gave her a box with all the ills of the world in it and… well… I did say…. I mean they did say, don’t open it. I kept telling them that free will is nothing but trouble. So… you gonna open yours?”

It’s true about Pandora, not the sharpest tool in the… never mind. They gave her this jar, not a box, but telling her not to open it… that’s like a big sign, open here. If they’d said, it’s fine, open it any time, she might never have let all the ills of the world loose.

Some hope, but it might have bought a day or two.

My jar is different. It could do with a label to tell me what’s inside, but they never said not to…

Wait… who are you, exactly?”

Hermes. You know, messenger of the gods. Get about a bit. Everyone knows me. I was thinking of changing my name. How does Mercurius sound? A bit pompous, maybe? I was looking for something a bit more low-key, but hey, this all about you… So. Opening the box?”

Jar. It’s a jar.”

Hermes shrugged and did a little shuffle-dance with those winged sandals. “Call it a box. Trust me. Everyone else will. There’s marketing potential in calling it a box. Think of the publicity. Everyone’s heard of Pandora’s Box, but let’s face it, Chazos’s Jar… doesn’t really cut it.”

Apparently, one day, people will say there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Tell that to Pandora. She’s never got over being blamed for everything bad in the world.

What’s in my jar… I mean, box?”

Apparently, one day, clear labelling and safety information will be the norm.

In the box?” Hermes did that shuffle again like he wanted to be somewhere else. “Nothing much. Just all the wonders of the world. Go on, open it. It’s gonna be great.”

Gods are tricky at the best of times and when one drops by for a chat, that’s it, your life is basically over. You can’t even say no, go torment another mortal. Once you’re it, you’re it, and doomed.

Or I could choose not to open the box. Just because Pandora was told correctly not to open hers doesn’t mean this isn’t some sort of double bluff.

Maybe if I just open it a crack…”

It was a perfectly ordinary box, that just happened to look exactly like a jar, red clay, nicely fired, decorated with depictions of the gods in black. The cap was a carved piece of wood, caulked with some wax and painted with Hermes’s wings. I gave it a little twist, broke the seal and just lifted it for a heartbeat.


A hurricane blasted past me, wild and hot and yet strangely comforting, leaving me filled with joy in its passing. For a moment I couldn’t breathe, and then I looked at the world anew.

Good one, huh?” said Hermes. “We call that one love. A truly great wonder of the world. We had a few false starts, but don’t worry, we put the rejects – lust and greed and obsession – in another box. Oh. Damn. That was Pandora’s box.”

I had never felt anything like it. “So… that was love. Right. So is that it?”

Hah. Of course not.” He did that shuffle dance again and then caught me staring. “I can teach you, if you want. Heel to toe and a little slide… Gonna be all the rage one day… or you could just finish opening your box.”

I was tempted – learn the dance of the Gods – but that wasn’t going to end well, was it? Look at the fella as stole fire from them. Whichever way you cut it, gods are a bloody vengeful bunch. I could just see it – learn the dance and then spend eternity pushing a rock up a hill or having my eyes pecked out by enraged sparrows. When you think about it, gods are not the smartest – why the same rock, up the hill, forever? Imagine the commercial possibilities of people condemned to move an infinite pile of decent building stone to a conveniently placed builder’s yard.

Come on, you know you want to,” Hermes said and I cracked the box open gain.

Oh… my… that is… ahhhh…”

Yeah. I wanted to call that one ooh-ooh-ohh, but I got overruled, so now we call it beauty.”

I wanted some more of that, and amazingly it had already spread out and was all around me.

Right…” I pulled the cap off my jar… box… and let out all the remaining wonders of the world. Except for something small and pale, like a tuft of wool, stuck in the bottom. “What’s that?”

Hermes did the dance again. “Not sure. Give it a poke.”

I did.

Ow. That’s sharp.” I poked more cautiously, and it spooked, leaping out of the box and biting the end of my nose in passing. “What was that?”


Yes. Very. But what was it?”

No. The second greatest wonder of the world – surprise.” Hermes pointed to a tree where the little tuft of wool was perched. “See… oh. My bad. It’s not surprise after all. Another failed prototype. I was supposed to put that in the other box. But I thought, and it really is a wonder of the world.”

My nose was bleeding.

What is it?”

Stupidity…” Hermes shrugged. “A wonder of the world. It’s out now. Sorry. People will always wonder why you thought it was a good idea to let it out. Anyway, got to dash…”

What did I say?

Never ends well.

“Outside the Box” was written in response to the #BlogBattle prompt Liberate.

Images from Pixabay.