Archive for August, 2010


August 23, 2010

Thus far modern pentathlon has been anything but modern. But today it took a huge step towards truly living up to its name. Fans of this beautiful sport are rightly excited: now all that’s left to do is to replace the antiquated épée with lightsaber duel and showjumping with pod racing.

Although I’m still not entirely convinced that organising shoot-and-run competitions in parks and shopping malls is sending out the right message.


August 19, 2010

I’m not a massive fan of publishing stories from my own life, mostly because I hate reading about other people’s. Let’s face it, lives are like pubs: they’re rather more interesting from the inside than the outside.

But this story might be an exception, even though telling it is against my better judgment.

Similarly against my better judgment it was that on the Ides of March I bought a Kinder egg. I mean, the sort of rubbish they put in it nowadays is just not worth it, Long gone are the days when you had something interesting in them, something you can assemble, like a little car or anything really but those awful happy hippos .

This time though, I was genuinely surprised. The egg contained a single plastic gear, it could barely fit in the egg. It had exactly 223 teeth, I counted them. (Yeah, I know.) A bit odd, I thought, but at least it wasn’t some horrible grinning creature covered in garish urethane paint. But it was odd enough to tempt me into buying another one the next day. So I did, at the same dingy off-licence that I’m so convinced is but a vehicle for money-laundering.

If anything, finding another gear was even more perplexing than the first. This time a slightly smaller one, but the teeth had a matching profile, the two gears were clearly meant to connect to each other.

The day after I found a baseplate with lots of tiny holes I could precisely fit the gears in, and so passed all the days thereafter with gears, more gears, planetary gears, slightly off-kilter gears, gears that fitted on other gears like a teacup ride and dials with inscriptions too small to read and hands, all fitting seamlessly to form a neat little box with the dials and hands on the top and a crankshaft on its side.

And today I acquired the final piece: a tiny handcrank and although I was suddenly overcome with tiredness, as if I had just arrived home after a long journey, I knew I had to give it a turn or two to find out more about the mystery of this minute mechanism.

‘But which way should I turn it? For some reason, left-handed rotation (when my thumb is pointing towards the box) feels like forward. Hang on, what kind of “forward” is this? How do I know there is one? Where has this idea come from at all?’

‘Anyway, let’s just turn it backwards, the hands have swung into action, so far so good, the smaller ones are slower than the larger ones, that’s pretty much what I expected. Just a few more turns, that’s it, and these two hands will line up…’

All the birds have suddenly fallen silent. And the pigs. And the humans, all of them wearing funny-looking paper-rimmed glasses of aluminised polyester too. A whiff of a cloud moves in to cover the diminishing Sun, almost ruining the spectacle but it clears up just in time. An eternity passes. The pigs break their silence first, then the birds but soon the chitter-chatter of humans drowns them out.

‘That was…interesting, Yet strangely I can’t really say it came unexpectedly. Anyway, just turn that crank a bit more, see, this time a different pair of hands are about to line up, I wonder what will happen this time…’

A coppery red moon hung low over the squat tower blocks and the leather-tanning factory. The bedroom window was wide open and in the night breeze I caught a whiff from the unmistakable stench of artificial putrefaction. I turned away and in the mirror on the wall I saw a coppery red moon hanging low over the squat tower blocks and the leather-tanning factory.

‘How long ago was this? Twenty, twenty-five years? That means any minute now I’ll reach…’

The handcrank snapped with a sharp, reverberating crack. But I had to turn it further, I just had to see what was beyond.

‘Now where’s that old wind-up toy I bought in a charity shop last week? Here it is and they key fits snugly too. What a stroke of luck!’

I kept turning they key frantically and the eclipses blurred into a rhythmic, flickering pattern, like an early silent movie, and I saw solemn gentlemen with top hats on their heads and belief in progress in their hearts, I saw medieval peasants fearing God’s wrath, I saw anxious priests of Babylonia breathing a sigh of relief that their calculations had been correct, I saw monkeys staring at the sky in puzzlement, I saw ferret-like creatures hiding in their subterranean nests and I saw a shadow falling over unheeding trilobites, and something that was about to rise from beneath the waves…

I never got to see what would’ve happened when all the hands would line up, one of the planetary gears gave way just as they were almost aligned and sheared several teeth off another one.

This is what I’ve always found so frustrating about Kinder surprises: the cheap plastics.

A Glowing Recommendation

August 9, 2010

It’s nice to know that more than 24 years on, it is now possible to visit the Chernobyl Zone, to see the true costs of overconfidence.

I think it’s a brilliant idea, if somewhat depressing and creepy, especially this promise: “We can tell with confidence that participants of our trips come back different people.”


August 6, 2010

Apparently if you hear a story from three separate sources, you accept it as fact.

Hard to believe?

To be honest, the first two times I didn’t believe it either.