Thursday, August 30, 2007

Scary jobs

I can't believe I forgot to add a link on the blog to my latest fabulous pdf collection of poems Poems to Quote to your Lover (before and after you fuck) - now corrected, if you look over to the right.

Anyways, on with this post. I haven't written any new poems or short stories; I haven't produced any more oilified photos of my baby kittens; and I haven't had any mad ideas lately. So I suppose I'll have to make up one of those blog game thingies.

Here's the question: Tell us all about three jobs you ran away from.

And to start the ball rolling, here's my answers:

1. I was in the army for 7 weeks. I actually enjoyed being in the army, but unfortunately my repressed sexuality couldn't cope with the all-male environment. If only I'd learned to relax more ...

2. How many people in England remember John Major's Cones Hotline? For those not lucky enough to remember our former Prime Minister's second greatest idea (the greatest idea being the Citizen's Charter, of course), the Cones Hotline was a telephone number which angry drivers could phone up to report gangs of rogue traffic cones roaming across our great nation's motorways (I kid you not!) The job of setting up the Cones Hotline fell to the Highways Agency, or more specifically my line management at the Highways Agency. When I heard of this brave new initiative I knew immediately on whose desk the hotline phone was going to fall. Dear reader, I ran away from the Highways Agency as quick as my stubby legs could carry me!

3. I actually ran to the Department of the Environment (as it was known at the time), landing comfortably in the Waste Directorate, where I was employed in the team responsible for producing the Waste Strategy for England (eventually published in 2000). That job was fun, but all things come to an end. As the date for publishing the strategy grew close, decisions were taken in the Directorate about what we'd be doing after publication. I drew the charred straw, and for three whole, glorious weeks I was the lead policy advisor on waste incinerators and incineration policy. The doors of that building flapped so hard at my departure that they came off their hinges!

So there you go: three jobs I ran away from. Now I want to hear from Scavella, Rob and Julie - tell everyone which jobs you ran away from. Your prize for revealing all on your blogs will be to nominate three other lucky people to play this fun game.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Rikweb back up again

You may (or may not) have noticed that my website has been missing in action for over a week now. Long story. More grey hairs. Enough said.

Except to say that the website is once more (fingers crossed) operational, though only for the poetry side of things. The conlanging and conworld parts of the web will have to remain offline for the time being.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Question: introducing characters

One of my writing weaknesses is introducing characters - especially the bit-part, walk-on characters who are only with the reader for two or three pages. For instance, can you visualise this person from the text I use to introduce him? Should I be using more details? Less? What sort of information are you hoping to get upfront when a story introduces a chorus-line actor?

Levruekkas the Springman was older than many, making him easy to identify in the gang of workers who were busy hauling one of the larger generators out of the water. A semi-circle of loose, roughly platted, unfashionably long hair edged around his dark, bald crown, giving him the appearance of a outlaw out of legend. The Guardsman knew that the Springman went to some length to cultivate this image, probably because it was good for business. The other men were shorter and stockier – almost certainly Servants – four of them hauling on pulley ropes with another two, no three, still in the water. All the Servants were naked, and given the age and wear of the Springman's short tunic he might as well have been naked too.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Conlangs make the news

... or rather, the LA Times, courtesy of reporter Amber Dance. An interesting and well-written piece, I think.

In their own words -- literally, Amber Dance, LA Times, 24 August 2007.

Time for some more ...

Oilified photos (from my Flickr stream):

Oilified contented cats

Oilified iris

Oilified Rik

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Burramesh city map

Displacement activity is when you do something else instead of what you're supposed to be doing. I'm supposed to be writing my book, but I've smithied not a single word today. Instead I decided I was getting myself confused about what the characters were up to, and where, so in a classic displacement move I spent a couple of hours map-making:

Unfortunately, the only displacement activities left involve housework: either I add a thousand more words to the story tonight, or the house gets hoovered.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Ning me!

'Kay, so you both know that I have issues with social networking sites. MySpace? Depressing. Facebook? Confusing.

Something is telling me that I ought to be active and joyous on these social networking sites. I should be promoting my perfectly formed arse off, handing out poems to the masses, cozying up to fellow poets and editors and publishers, getting me an audience that has no other purpose in life apart from worshipping my genius, yadda, yadda, yadda. I mean, the social networking internet is the place to be, yes?

Toooo scary!

There's a new beast on the scene. It's called Ning, and it's scaring the little babby jesus out of me! Ning is a website that allows you to create your own social network. I have no idea how it works, or why anyone would want to create their own network (though some appear to be by invitation only, which appeals to the cabbalist in me).

I did a search for poetry-related ning-based social networks: it looks like a crowded space already ...

Edit: Now here's an interesting one - somebody called Erin Geegan has created a social network devoted to the long poem. Unfortunately she's the only member of it (the fate of many Ning groups, I expect), but I could see the purpose of having a site devoted to the writing and appreciation of long poems. I might just join this group, if it's not moribund already, but I feel kinda strange about the thought of being member #2. Does anyone else want to join it with me? C'mon! Hold my hand here, folks!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Story: Dear Sammie

She sat in the bedroom and read his letter. Or rather, she stared at it: stroking the vellum with her forefinger as she tried to focus on the words. She knew what it said, but she wanted the words and sentences to confirm the message, to set out the terms of his departure, the conditions to be met over the next few weeks and months – but each time she started to read her eyes tripped on the first line of his over-round, carefully drawn out handwriting. Sorry. Must. Go.

I don't know what to do. Scream? Is that what you want me to do, Bill? Shall I scream until my lungs are empty of life? What are these words you're screaming at me? Why didn't I see you screaming?

Shame, shame, shame. What to do? I need to do – something. Clean this room up; it's a fucking mess. Our mess, Bill. Your smells and my clutter. Yes, clean house. Clean you out. You want me to make a new start; well you tell me where to start. Where's the fucking instructions, Bill? They're not in your letter. You forgot to include the instructions, you stupid, stupid man.

She breathed out heavily, lifted her eyes from the paper and focussed on window. The muscles clenched around her shoulders bound her to the chair; she wanted to throw things, clear the dresser of its mess in one straight sweep of madness. She wanted to scream, but her lungs weren't responding to commands. She needed a mad rage like she craved for caffeine, but her body denied her such pleasures.

You always leave instructions. This isn't your letter, is it, Bill. Someone told you what to write, what words to put in, what words to keep out. You like instructions. Who helped you write this letter? Who gave you the paper – nice paper, too. Who gave you the idea that buggering off like this would sort things out?

Shit, shit, shit. Sun's glaring on Mary's window across the street straight into here. Shrivel me up like an ant, like that poor ant you burned for Barney with the magnifying glass – come here, son: this is what we do to ants who don't follow instructions. Burn them. Burn them with light and letters. Shall I scream as you burn me, Bill? Is that what you want me to do?

Beyond the closed door, Charlotte watched her mother through the keyhole, like a spy. She knew something was wrong from the moment she had handed over the letter, but what? Dad had said that Mum might not be happy for a few days, and to take special care of her – clearing up toys without being asked, making sure her brother was quieter than normal. He told her not to worry, that Mum would cope – she was a 'coper', was Sammie. Apparently, Charlotte thought, being a coper meant shutting yourself in bedrooms for five hours in the middle of the day.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Are people reading the stories?

Are you enjoying them?

Are there improvements to be made to them?

Am I wasting my time posting them?

Talk to me, folks. Leave a comment if you've got a pulse.

Story: A Little Bit of Culture

John looked through the open door to see another room of cabinets. "It's boring here," he said. "Do we have to stay?" But Jane was already heading towards the first display.

"It's interesting," she murmered.

"It's a pile of old pot shards, that's what it is." He stared accusingly at a neat display of battered clay fragments, each with a tiny number pinned to the wood next to it. Around him, the room was hushed, only the slightest hint of noise venturing through the great shuttered windows high in the whitewashed walls. Ceiling fans spun slowly, whispering the lazy air through the room. Even the air was bored, thought John.

"We could be down on the beach," he said.

Jane looked up at him. "We've spent two days on the beach with Sue and the boys. We've spent another two by the pool – or at least I have. You spent two days perched on a stool by the pool bar. We wasted a day on that island tour with that awful Rep whose only interest was pointing out where all the nightclubs were. Oh, yes, and where to buy the best handbags and jewellery. You agreed we'd look around the town today!"

"I thought it would just be an hour or so. I didn't expect to be dragged round every poxy museum we came across!"

Jane screwed her eyes into That Look: "You're here now. Why don't you soak up some culture to go alongside the rum and cokes you've been throwing down your throat all week."

"How can I soak up culture? They don't even tell you what your looking at?"

"You're looking at pots, John. Pots made three thousand years ago and buried in graves. It makes me wonder about how people did funerals differently in those days. You don't need labels, John. You need a bit of wonder and imagination."

"But you can't even touch things here! Why can't you do this back home, visit a museum or something?"

"John Stewey, if you continue to make a fuss, then I promise you you'll be wearing that cabinet up your arse for the rest of the week! Every day on this holiday I've done what you've wanted to do; now it's my turn. Pretend you're enjoying yourself now, and in a couple of hours you can be back on your bar stool and we'll both be happy, okay?"

John sighed as Jane turned back to look at some arrow heads. He glanced again at the crockery lined up in their shattered ranks, as broken and bored as he felt. At least he could walk out of the door; these bits of clay were here for the duration. Perhaps the ghosts of their owners turned up at night to look at them – now there was a thought.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Kalieda time

People over at the ZBB have been talking about time. It's not just about tenses; what if you design a universe where you can go back and kill your Grandparent - and live. Given that the Kalieda universe is the same as our universe, the grandma issue remains a puzzle. But here's a contribution from me on how my confolks think of time ...

Kaliedan science does not view time as a sequence of events - that's just cause and effect. Rather, they view time as an accumulation of information that passes from one moment to the next moment (as perceived by humans, who they believe tend to operate by taking 'digital' snapshots of their 'analogue' surroundings). In this view, information is continually gathered, but is also lost as it is forgotten or destroyed.

Kaliedan science sees people mostly as a bundle of reactions to stimuli. Large-scale future actions of people can be predicted on knowledge of their past reactions - leopards don't change their spots. Consciousness (sp?) is an artifact of brain activity - a predictive mechanism for guessing the short- and long-term possibilities based on history. Free will exists within the constraints of habits and physical possibilities.

For Kaliedan science, time travel is not an issue. If you want to change the past, you change the information. The idea of travelling back in time to kill your grandfather is nonsensical, as your grandfather is manifest in your genetic information - which is impossible to supress. It makes a lot more sense just to claim your grandfather was in fact someone else - killing your grandfather by denying the existence of his information in you; if enough people believe you, you have killed your grandfather.

Many Kaliedan scientists are also religious people. Religion is seen as a human construct - a social contract between people which is part of humanity's genetic inheritance - a survival trait, if you like. It's also a big comfort to believe in something. God (or gods, spirits, demons etc) exists because people have constructed an information base in which god can exist, and their reactions and decisions are based on this information base - thus god is made manifest in the world without having to go to the bother of actually existing.

The cognitive metaphors associated with the passage of time vary between languages. Ramajal, the main Ambostak Society language, has a view of time a a road to be travelled upon (information is gathered as you journey along the road, you have limited information of what is in front of you, but a more extensive collection of information about the past, stored as memories, notes, photos, friends, offspring, etc). Thus the past, present and future are viewed as an integral part of space-and-motion within the language.

Gevey, the main Balhe Society language, prefers to view time as a series of interlocking circles and springs - for Gevey speakers time is a separate entity from space-and-motion; it has its own oblique case. Gevey also has two past tenses, one for acts with unavoidable consequences and the other for acts whose consequences can be ameliorated by applying some free will.

A third example are the Telik languages, spoken by the Telik peoples. Their languages' view of time is similar to the Ambostak view of time, except here the direction of travel is different - the direction of time is upwards, from the future beneath one's feet to the past above one's head. For the Telik, the future is not something that is encountered as one travels, but rather something that can be prepared, tended, planned for. The past is in the skies (some believe you can see history in the formation of clouds or the position of the stars - information that can be used to cultivate a preferred future).

Monday, August 13, 2007

Wanted: Purpose

She'd taken her time dressing, strapping the depressingly slight bra around her still slim body without thinking about it, pulling out a clean pair of panties from the un-ironed pile and slipping them on. She'd brushed her straight, shoulder length hair, then mussed her slim, ringless fingers through it, then thought better of the resulting mess and brushed it again. She'd considered the idea of facing the world without makeup, checked the state of the skin around her eyes, automatically reached for the foundation cream.

Joan had wanted to wear red today, but she was wearing business blue. Now she was ordering the usual coffee and the usual chelsea bun.

She collected the items and searched for a seat. Her favourite table was already occupied by two gossiping suits, but her second choice, further back towards the kitchen, had just been vacated and cleaned. She strode over to it quickly and settled herself down. As she studied the crossword puzzle in her paper she picked at the bun, consuming it in absent-minded portions pulled away from the motherlode and popped into her mouth.

When the phone rang, Joan checked the clock: 2:30 on the dot, as dutiful as always. "Hello, dear," she said.

"Hi, mum, how are you?"

"I'm doing fine. And you? Are you eating well?"

"Yes, mum." Lizzie already sounded bored. Without thinking, Joan picked up the pen and started doodling on the sugar-dotted napkin.

"So what have you been up to?"

"Oh, nothing much. Just the usual."

"The studying's going fine?"

"Yes. I'm enjoying the course. We've moved on to Picasso."

"That's good, dear." At least Joan managed to get both eyes on the same face when she drew them. "Have you heard from your father?"

"He, um, came to dinner a couple of days ago. Chris cooked one of his chinese specials."

Joan glanced down at the drawing, which was turning into a half-decent carnation. "Is that the Chris you told me about, dear?"

"Yes, mother! That's the Chris I've been living with for the past 2 months! Do you ever listen to me when we talk? Shit ..."

Joan listened as the phone line clicked off. "Apparently not, dear," she said to the dead connection.

She chewed the last tear of bun, wiped her chin with the drawing. Joan'll cope; that's what everyone always said of her. Having a baby? Joan'll cope. Getting divorced? Joan'll cope. Losing her mind? Oh, Joan'll know what to do. Dependable Joan, always in the background, always willing to give a hand. Sometimes she wanted to scream at people, but she knew they'd not notice.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Story: The Hunter

So have I caught any? It's a bit of a strange question, if you don't mind me saying; they're not the sort of things that like to be caught. I've recorded plenty of signs – I've got quite a nice collection of tools for that, now. And, yes, I've seen a few. But I've never been tempted to put one in a jar and bring it home, if that's what you mean. That would be mucking about with the environment!

Talking of which, they turn up in the strangest places, environments you'd never expect to find one. For instance, a couple of years back I was visiting a cousin down in Kent. She lives in an ex-council house – one of those terraced jobs built between the wars; a proper house, I'd say, not one of these overnight builds you get today with cardboard walls. She'd been living in that house for nigh on 30 years and had never mentioned having one to me, even though she knows they fascinate me.

Well, after their last boy had moved out, her and her husband decided they'd do some DIY on the house - knocking through a wall to join their sitting room to their dining room, that sort of thing. It was a nice job, too; their eldest is a builder by trade, so he'd helped them out at weekends, but most of the work they'd done themselves.

Now listen, if there's one thing that's guaranteed to stir things up, its a bit of building work. They don't like it, see. Change is not what they're about, and if you go round changing their environment – their home – then that's when they're more likely to show themselves. So there was me, sitting with my china cup perched on my knees in their new room and admiring what they'd done, and there was it, perched on the end of the mantle piece over the fake fireplace they'd installed. I didn't notice it at first – I mean, I'd seen it a couple of times before on previous visits so it didn't occur to me to question its presence.

So me and my cousin, we were chatting away about this and that, as you do, and I said to her: "Missy certainly likes the new layout. She can get a good view of both gardens from the mantle". And do you know, my cousin gave me the strangest look. "Oh, no", she said, "Missy's gone now. We lost her 18 months ago. It was her kidneys, you know, and we couldn't let her suffer anymore".

Well, blow me down! Me and that cat, we'd been eyeballing each other for a good ten minutes and it turns out the damned thing was a ghost! Of course, I couldn't say anything to my cousin; they'd doted on that cat for years. And typically I didn't have any of my equipment with me – not even a camera. But it just goes to show that they turn up in the most unexpected places, do ghosts.

Friday, August 10, 2007

First line frolics

Heather (thanks for popping by!) commented in my Graham thread below that I shouldn't be so down on myself or my ability. I'm not (he says big-headedly). What was disappointing me was the quality of the poems being produced by the exercise, specifically how my efforts were failing to tie the starting line with the rest of the poem. For example, which poem is better:

the red version

Imagine a forest of clown-trees,
she says, with revolving bow ties
for leaves and bright red nose buds.

Do the flowers squirt the bees
with nectar, I ask. Oh yes,
she agrees: it's a necessary prank;

how else can the long shoe pods form?
They dangle in pairs from the boughs,
you know, and drop with the first frost

to the hard ground, among the powder puff
balls and the slapstick stinkhorns:
who painted your face so sad?

or the blue version

Imagine a copse of clown-trees,
she says, with revolving bow ties
for leaves and bright red nose buds.

Do the flowers squirt the bees
with nectar, I ask. Oh yes,
she agrees: it's a necessary prank;

how else can the long shoe pods form?
They dangle in pairs from the boughs,
you know, and drop with the first frost

to the hard ground, among the powder puff
balls and the slapstick stinkhorns:
who painted your face so sad?

I know which one I prefer ...

Sharia: what's it good for?

Well, it advocates the execution of gay men for being, um, gay men, which must please some people. I'm sure there'll be lots of happy people in Nigeria, looking forward to a good old fashioned stoning party.

But does the Koran, which is the basis for Sharia really demand that all gays must die?

Hmm. It turns out that people have been feeding me - let's be generous and call it 'inaccurate information'. For many years I've goaded myself into disliking the Saudi Nation on the grounds that they behead homosexuals, don't they. When I see headlines and reports linking gay activity to Saudi Arabia, it tends to involve the decapitation of gay men (and similarly with Iran, though in that place they string'em up).

So I was about to write something snarky and dismissive here about the Saudi preference for lopping the top-nobs off of their bender brothers when a residue of Civil Service ethos still lodged in my hind-brain popped up to suggest a quick check of my facts before posting my judgments to the blog.

And just as well I did, because it turns out that the Sandy Sheikhdom is a hotspot of homosexual activity - though not of homosexual identity - according to Nadya Labi in an article in May's edition of the Atlantic Monthly (alternative link here for those too damn tight to pay for an AM subscription).

So now I'm not able to be justifiably outraged in my accustomed, decadent western manner about the filthy sub-human habits of people who go about murdering people just because those other people wanted a bit of comfort'n'love from their same-sex mates. Instead I'll resort to hoping that the men arrested in Nigeria get a fair trial and don't get themselves stoned to death just for finding love in the 'wrong' place.

Sometimes I hate myself for being so fucking wooly and liberal ...

Thursday, August 09, 2007

W S Graham

So I've been doing these pointless poetry exercises for a week now, carefully following the injunction to write the poems from the first lines provided without looking at the originals.

This morning I looked at the originals - each of the ten opening lines come from poems by W S Graham. I shouldn't have done it. I can see now how juvenile and stupid my pointless poetry exercises look in comparison to the originals. Of course I knew this would happen: an opening line is generated by the poet who has a very good understanding of how they want to use that line as part of the rest of the poem; whereas the Guardian unlimited workshop is just asking a writer to take a first line and run with it. The end result is, necessarily, shoddy - a tacked on thing, a dangling misrepresentation rather than an innovative reinterpretation.

Now I can't bear to look at my pointless poetry attempts; I shan't be writing any more. Instead, some links to a few of the original poems:

The constructed space (Meanwhile surely there must be something to say)
I leave this at your ear
Imagine a forest
A beast in the space (Shut up. Shut up. There's nobody here)

And here's one I particularly loved:

Letter VI

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Can it be true ...?

... that there really is a gay poet originating from the Romney Marshes who's on the right track to poetic fame and fortune?

Indeed it is true! His name is - Ben Barton (damn), and it looks like his hard work is beginning to pay off. Kudos to Ben and all my best wishes to him for a successful and prosperous poetic future!

And no, I'm not jealous. Not in the least.

(At least I don't live in Folkestone)

Pointless poetry exercise #7

If you're not aware of the concepts of flarf or google sculpting then, um, be happy:
This morning I am ready if you are
I am not much of an athlete,
I will take at least ten seconds.
After a good night's sleep
am ready for my final day:
if you want to see more
about this great new product
then see my new blog.
If you are experienced in data mining
and have sophisticated programs,
I'm Ready for Easy Morning Routines!
I am ready for Pat to move
out of my extra bedroom;
I feel that I am ready to consider
certification as an instructor.
My conjecture is that if you can
search and reuse translatins
I am Ready Now! This morning!

These lines are fragments taken, in strict order, from the first 9 results presented to me by Google using the search string "This morning I am ready". There's a lot of blogging poets who would consider this to be a poem; I think I need a bit more convincing on that front. Though it is better than the shite I wrote when trying to produce something out of my own imagination with the starting line This morning I am ready if you are.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Pointless poetry exercise #6

Oh, dear ...

I called today, Peter,
and you were away
in Paris, or Rome,
sizing monuments
to your thumb.

I called today: Peter
and you were away
to the country
focusing cows
in your cameras.

I called Peter today
and you were away,
he said, in London
signing contracts
for double spreads.

I called today, Peter,
and you were away.
I saw the prints, but
no credit for you; is she
with someone new?

I called today, Peter,
and you were angry,
I know. She wanted
a new model to spread
on her lens. Sorry.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Pointless poetry exercise #5

Meanwhile surely
there must be something
to say. Let's talk
of mittens: their uses
are manifold, cold
oppressors knitting
their threads into nets,
keep safe new fingers,
a balance of woolen
comforters, hand-wombs.

We can hold a mitten each
between us, let swing
the knotted flesh.
Watch them reach and grasp
at unguessed ghosts.
Can you see the glove
give ease to sore gums?

There must be something
to say. Look in the road:
a mitten, lost in speed.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Pointless poetry exercise #4

A question that worries me: is it possible to write good poetry about a nasty person committing a nasty act? Even if it is technically possible, is it morally permissible to write such a poem? I've always said that the poet has a responsibility to write about any subject they see fit, and from any perspective - as long as the poetry's good. But now I've actually done it I feel, well, dirty and vulnerable.
"Shut up, shut up. There's nobody here!"
But I can see you, your eyes pinched hard
behind your wicker-woven fingers, your smile
stretched tight so it twangs across your skull.
Why do you hunch behind those long limbs,
my easel? You've hinged yourself into a nook
and I've dabbed my knuckles in fresh blue ink
to scribe my billet-doux across your spine -
shut up, shut up, there's nobody here
to hear you howl as I sign my name!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Pointless poetry exercise #3

'Kay, I'm going to admit defeat on this one. It's one of those opening lines that drives me towards wanting to investigate what that "whatever" is, and frankly I don't care what it is anymore. Hence I've had to resort to a fuckyu sequence:
you've come here to get,
we sold it!

We wanted
to keep it aside for you,
but you died -

we read it
in the newspapers, you know.
Did it hurt

when you pulled
the trigger? And now you're here
to collect

with a hole
in your skull and a bullet

There's no need
to swear at us like that, sir!

it was that
you wanted us to keep safe
has been sold.

You could have
left us instructions, clues on
what to do

with the goods
in the tragic event of
your demise.

By the way,
what was it that you kept safe
in your box?

Friday, August 03, 2007

Pointless poetry exercise #2

When in doubt - triolet it!
I leave this at your ear
for when you wake; the babe
is sleeping now. I fear
to leave this at your ear
because it might appear
like I'm, you know, ashamed -
I leave this at your ear
for when you wake your babe.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Pointless poetry exercise #1

Feel free to blame Rob for what follows. I do; it's his idea of a good time, after all.

Anyways, it's about time I took pen to paper in anger once more. I haven't written a line of poetry since finalising my latest chapbook a few months back. I've no intention of submitting any of the crimes I'm about to commit to the Guardian poetry workshop, but I need some sort of displacement activity to keep me away from writing my novel.

Forward, brave hearts! Here's the results from day 1 of this 10 day torture:
Imagine a forest of clown-trees,
she says, with revolving bow ties
for leaves and bright red nose buds.

Do the flowers squirt the bees
with nectar, I ask. Oh yes,
she agrees: it is a necessary prank;

how else can the long shoe seeds form?
They dangle in pairs from the boughs,
you know, and drop with the first frost

to the hard ground, among the powder
puff balls and the slapstick stinkhorns:
who painted your face so sad?

Well, I did warn you ...

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Here I am, slowly working through the stuff I need to do to revamp my website - new maps, new descriptions of civilisations in my conworld, etc, etc - and it strikes me that one of my 'Societies', the Telik peoples who speak the Ákat language, are a bit too touchy-lovey and tree-huggy for my tastes. So I've decided to give them some vices. A gambling vice, to be precise.

So I've had to come up with a game they can gamble with. Now I'm sure they have six-sided dice, and I'm certain their money has coins with different images on each side, so there's two methods of gambling right away. But I decided that they needed a game which is a little bit different from the norm. A game which requires a bit of skill and thought, but is simple to play. Also a game where chance is minimised to the opposing player's mistakes rather than by the roll of dice or shuffling of cards. A sort of cross between backgammon and mancala (seeding games fascinate me because of their apparent simplicity).

I've called the game òicustiỳtac (joicustijytac), which very roughly translates as dogfight, though an alternate name for the game could be òicusỳdahczy!ut (joicusjydahczy!ut) which is the action form rather than the object form of the word. The logographic rendering of the word is:

The field of play was traditionally a large branch, cut in half lengthways with 10 "traps" carved into each half of the branch - though any board with 20 (2 x 10) divisions will do. Two players sit opposite each other, with the playing area between them - the branch closest to a player is their "Land". For each player, the six rightmost traps on their Land - known as the "whelping traps" - are traditionally coloured light green (the colour of new life), while the two leftmost traps - known as "home traps" - are coloured blue (the colour of safety). The remaining four traps are either unpainted, or are painted brown:

Each player starts with 15 white or 15 black stones. The game is played in rounds, where each player attempts to score points by "bringing down" opposition stones or "bringing home" their own stones. The first player to score 21 or more points wins the round, and the first player to win 3 rounds wins the game. There are numerous betting strategies, including winning the game, winning rounds, scoring more points than your opponent in each round, bringing down or bringing home more stones, etc. It is common for 2 or 3 strategies to be employed for each game. I'm going to assume that playing the game without betting is unheard of.

I've tried to keep the rules down to a minimum:

1. All the stones are placed in a bag and each player draws out 5 stones. The player with more white stones has the right of first turn. If both players have equal numbers of white stones, then both will draw a further stone, with the player drawing a white stone against the opposite player's black stone winning the right to first turn. Bets are usually placed on who wins the right.

2. The player who wins the right to first turn takes 15 black stones, the opponent takes 15 white stones. Black plays first. Play moves in turns, during which each player may move one or two of their own stones or, if three of their stones occupy the same trap, those three stones. Moving more stones than permitted in a turn gives the opponent the right to "bring down" a stone of their choice before commencing their turn.

3. Each stone must first be introduced - "whelped" - to the field of play by the player placing the stone in one of their whelping traps. Up to two stones may be introduced in each turn. A stone can be whelped at any point in the round, and once whelped can be moved in any permitted way across the field of play. A player may choose to whelp a new stone and move another as part of their turn.

4. A player may move a stone vertically into the opposite trap in their opponent's Land.

5. A player may move a stone diagonally to the left out of the opponent's Land, the diagonal movement being either 1, 2 or 3 traps to the left.

6. An individual stone may only be moved once during a turn. An individual stone may only be whelped once during a round.

7. A player cannot move a stone to a trap if that trap is already occupied by a sufficient number of opponent stones, where at the end of the player's turn the trap will have two more opposition stones than the players stones. For instance white player cannot place a white stone in a trap already containing 3 black stones, but can place two or more white stones in that trap. If the trap contains 3 black and 1 white stones at the start of the turn, then white player can move one or more white stones into that trap. If the trap contains 4 black stones and no white stones, then the white player will have to move 3 white stones into that trap (assuming they wish to move stones into that trap).

8. Players may remove - "bring home" - their own stones from the field of play if the stone is in one of their own Land's home traps, but only if such a move leaves at least one stone (of any colour) in the trap. Bringing home a stone scores the player 2 points. Once a stone has been bought home, it may not be re-whelped to the field of play.

9. A trap may not contain more than 5 stones after a turn. If a trap does contain more than 5 stones, then the player who has just played their turn may remove - "bring down" - sufficient of their opponent's stones from that trap until it contains just 5 stones (for instance, if white player moves 3 white stones into a trap already containing 4 black stones and one white stone they will bring down 3 black stones, leaving 4 white stones and one black stone in the trap). If a player has to remove one or more of their own stones to bring the number of stones in a trap to 5, the stone must be given to the opponent as if it had been bought down by them. Bringing down an opponent's stone scores the player 3 points per stone.

10. The player who wins the round wins the right to play the black stones in the next round.

The problem with these rules as they stand is that I have no idea how workable they are, whether they lead to one colour almost always winning, how quickly the game proceeds, what sort of strategies are available - though I've played the game against myself and already found that the most obvious starting moves can be countered by good defensive play. My experience to date has been that the game is more of a cat-n-mouse effort than a proper dogfight - the player to make the first mistake often loses; I'm also beginning to think that the player who is too defensive, or too reckless, will also tends to lose.

In other news, I've finished my Open University writing course. Hopefully I'll be able to post a few micro-short stories here in the not-too-distant future.