The One Without The Humorous Back Cover
alan_j_sullivan

A November Retrospective on October 2014.

“He cosplays a fur-covered swing seat and awaits mini-skirted school girls…”
The First Thursday meeting for October at the Melton Mowbray had a very healthy turnout, in spite of there being neither birthday celebrations nor wardrobe malfunctions taking place at that particular point in the space-time continuum.

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“…”
As in September, the weather in October was a combination of storms and torrential rain - partly due to hurricane Gonzalo - broken by occasional outbreaks of blazing sunshine, often taking place over a couple of hours. Likewise, the main concerns of the media remained the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian crisis, the Israel-Palestine situation, the latest atrocities of the Islamic State, and the attempts by various governments to avoid actually doing anything. Meanwhile, the question of whether or not “Jihadi John” would release a single entitled Jihadi John remained unknown. No-one was convinced by David Cameron’s rash promises to hunt him down. Given the number of GI Joes already in the area, I wondered if this would involve sending in an Action Man task force. The fact that David Cameron was being advised by the Cabinet Office Briefing Room A (COBRA) committee - COBRA™ being the name of the organisation opposed by GI Joe™ - only made things sound all the more ludicrous. Nobody was surprised that what actually happened was that the British government followed the American lead as usual, making air strikes against the Islamic State forces, shipping aid and weapons to various resistance forces and denying that they would commit troops to the conflict.

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“Is it ‘cos I is a Bear...?”
Reason notwithstanding, the Monday night gaming sessions at the Penderel’s Oak in Holborn carried on, unabated. The flow-through of new staff continued to complicate matters more often than not, and booking issues did not help, although they did remember on a couple of occasions. In spite of this, the side plot in Shaun’s Cyberpunk™ story progressed. With some aid from the techs and a medic or two, Isi’s Netrunner had hacked the priest’s audio-visual implants, so we could see and hear what he said. What we learned confirmed that it was all down to the rivalry between DMS, the corporate running Playland, and Network 54, corporate sponsor of Fevre Dream, our Blood Nation carnival pack. DMS wanted us discredited, to damage Network 54’s reputation. The head of Playland’s Arasaka security team, de Souza, had contacted Enders, a Scientologist priest, who had an obligation to him. To pay off the obligation, Enders got Davies, an ambitious member of his congregation, to make a false rape charge against a member of the pack. He was also manipulating Farrell, the police lieutenant, a true believer of their faith. Enders’s ambitions, and concerns that things were not going as planned, made him a potential weak link. Now that we knew the nature of Enders’s game, and had some details of his own misdeeds, we realised we could apply pressure through his rivals. However, before we could act, we were contacted by Marlowe, a Militech representative with whom we had worked before.

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Hetalia: Eurozone Crisis…”
Civil disorder continued across the Eurozone as the cutbacks deepened and public anger increased. Economies teetered, international relations tottered and things looked grim. Meanwhile, the various leaders of the member states continued to bicker and backstab - just like their counterparts in Hetalia: Axis Powers, only without any of them actually being nationally stereotypical homoerotic pretty-boy anime characters. The fact that so few others noticed was a telling measure of the degree to which European internal socio-politics had taken on the aspect of tragi-comic opera.

“Who is the enemy? But he seemed so ideologically sound…”
Meanwhile, in a universe at least superficially not entirely unlike our own, Kevin’s G.U.R.P.S™ story, our adventures continued apace. Our work on previous missions finally paid off when we were able to infiltrate a shadow cell of the organisation we were now up against. With all the layers of conspiracy involved, it was no surprise to find ourselves being briefed by a particularly mysterious man calling himself “The Master”. Our first job was to create chaos at a Diplomatic Function, to cover a raid on the building. Faking a bomb scare and impersonating the bomb squad was easy. Getting out, when one of the team apparently went crazy and started shooting people was more challenging – especially when a third team arrived - but both we and the other raiders escaped. Afterwards, we learned that the raid had been to obtain data on a former Nazi scientist and certain projects he had been involved in. Based on this information, we were then sent off to Pompeii, where the scientist had been supervising an archaeological dig of some sort. Given the interest various covert organisations had been showing in the area, it was clearly nothing innocent. Also, it meant we had to act discretely.

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“It’s all gone Teen Spirit…”
Reason not withstanding, the universe continued unabated. The ongoing Ukrainian crisis vied with the latest outbreak of fighting between Israel and Palestine, and the depredations of the Islamic State for the front pages of newspapers. The pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong continued, with neither side willing to back down. However, both the protestors and the Chinese authorities seemed reluctant to push too hard, given that they were well aware that the rest of the world was watching. The chances of a peaceable resolution began to look better, when the authorities made an unexpected offer of talks, but further violence ensued as the month came to an end.

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“The Sprout on High, the Beer is Freely Flowing…”
The ZZ9 Third Wednesday meeting for October at The Sheaf, formerly known as The Wheatsheaf, had a modest turnout. However, we still managed to spend a while discussing news, views, politics, and the apparent increase in support for Nigel Farage’s United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and the attempts by the main political parties to court UKIP voters. We all agreed that we were particularly concerned about the tendency of the government’s promises and plans to resemble those of UKIP, in spite of official denials.

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“Life, death, tears, and laughter…”
In a world of hurts, filled with lands of confusion, October’s havens were all too few and far between. In some instances, the fact that they were there at all was a thing of wonder.

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“School Spanner in the Works…”
A number of years ago, The Mary Whitehouse Experience featured a routine about “The School Spanner” - the thickest kid in school. As someone who had been exactly that for as long as I could remember, the last thing I needed was to find that I was workplace equivalent. However, thanks to a combination of on-the-job-training - being buried in work, with little explanation - motivational management - accusations of laziness if I completed my tasks - and workforce right-sizing - meaning that there was never anyone available to assist, advise, or train me - I realised I was “The Work Spanner”. The employee fit only to be loaded down with the lowliest tasks at every opportunity, regardless of my existing workload, lest I sit around swilling tea and surfing the internet.

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Memento Mori…
As September segued into October, outspoken extremist politician Ian Paisley shuffled off his mortal coil, with a number of respectful tributes, amongst all the expected abuse. He was followed not long after by the last of the Mitford sisters, Deborah, and the former president of Haiti, Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.

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The One Without The Humorous Back Cover
alan_j_sullivan

An October Retrospective on September 2014.

“It’s probably not the lyrics to Gangnam Style...”
Reason notwithstanding, the Monday night gaming sessions at the Penderel’s Oak in Holborn carried on, unabated. The flow-through of new staff continued to complicate matters more often than not, and booking issues did not help, although they did remember on a couple of occasions. In spite of this, the side plot in Shaun’s Cyberpunk™ story progressed. In August, we met with the detectives dealing with the investigation, discussed the information we had passed to them and made our pre-arranged exit safely. In September, we were contacted by an officer, from another section, who apparently had an interest in the case. It seemed the detectives and their section were unpopular amongst the other sections, as they tended to appropriate cases that would serve their ambitions and take credit for the work of others. Although unable to add much to what we knew, the officer was willing to pass on non-confidential information about their activities - such as how they were acting on the information we had provided. So, we made the necessary arrangements and bid our new contact farewell.

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“It’s all gone Jilted John…”
As in August, the weather in September was a combination of blazing sunshine and occasional showers. Likewise, the ongoing Ukrainian crisis vied with the latest outbreak of fighting between Israel and Palestine for the front pages. However, they were trumped by the Islamic State, who released videos of prisoners begging for an end to western intervention, and captured journalists and aid workers being beheaded. The masked man seen carrying out the beheadings and acting as a spokesman for the Islamic State was duly dubbed “Jihadi John” by the British press, leading David Cameron to make rash promises to hunt him down. Given the number of GI Joes already in the area, I wondered if this would involve an Action Man™ task force. News that David Cameron was being advised by the Cabinet Office Briefing Room A (COBRA) committee - COBRA™ being the name of the organisation opposed by GI Joe™ - only made things sound all the more ludicrous. Somehow, it all ended up with the British government deciding that they would follow the American lead as usual, and begin making air strikes against the Islamic State forces.

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“But aren’t COBRA™ and GI Joe™ mortal enemies…?”
The First Thursday meeting for September at the Melton Mowbray had a very healthy turnout, possibly due to Helena deciding to celebrate her birthday there. We all agreed it had nothing to do with her outfit, or indeed the wardrobe malfunction that occurred later. There were cards and gifts, and Jim brought along his latest work, Scryefall. Very nice it was, too, as I found out later. We also had an unexpected visit from Graham, a long time fan and member of the Monday night role-plying group, which went very well.

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Hetalia: Eurozone Crisis…”
Civil disorder continued across the Eurozone as the cutbacks deepened and public anger increased. Economies teetered, international relations tottered and things looked grim. Yet, bizarrely enough, it was the possibility of Scotland becoming independent that led David Cameron and his cronies, Nicholas Clegg and Ed Milliband to start behaving like England from Hetalia Axis Powers, the satirical alternative world history with various countries personified as nationally stereotypical homoerotic pretty-boys. Acting like a whiney clingy ex who cannot accept that they have been dumped, albeit this time by Scotland, rather than America, they deserted parliament and toured Scottish cities in a bid to get voters to keep the union together. Given their usual anti-union attitude, the irony of this was not lost on some of us. The fact that so few others noticed was a telling measure of the degree to which European internal socio-politics had taken on the aspect of tragi-comic opera.

“Dum-de-dum, dum-de-dum, dum-de-dum…”
Meanwhile, in a universe at least superficially not entirely unlike our own, Kevin’s G.U.R.P.S™ story, our adventures continued apace. Part two of Dr Who and The Eunuchs of Shub-Niggurath involved us completing what had looked like a straight-forward dungeon-bash. However, thanks to some devious planning by Kevin, things built to a rather messy climax. Luckily, we had armed ourselves thoroughly, but even so, it was a close run fight, in which my character was killed. Luckily, we also acquired the means to resurrect him, so he was available for the mission that followed on afterwards.

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“It’s all gone Teen Spirit…”
Reason not withstanding, the universe continued unabated. The ongoing Ukrainian crisis vied with the latest outbreak of fighting between Israel and Palestine, and the depredations and of the Islamic State for the front pages of newspapers. Then, as the month drew to an end, a series of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong were met by riot police with tear gas and batons. With neither the protestors nor the Chinese authorities willing to back down, concerns were expressed worldwide. No-one, it seemed wanted to see another incident like Tiananmen Square. However, when the Chinese authorities warned that it was an internal matter and that the other nations of the world should not interfere, the chances of a peaceable resolution began to look very slim.

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“He’ll be living in a house, a very big house in the country…”
The ZZ9 Third Wednesday meeting for September at The Sheaf, formerly known as The Wheatsheaf, had a decent turnout. Naturally, we refrained from mentioning the latest World’s Greatest Miley Cyrus Joke, due to entertainment industry restrictions under a Twerk to Rule agreement with the unions.

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“Life, death, tears, and laughter…”
In a world of hurts, filled with lands of confusion, September’s havens were all too few and far between. In some instances, the fact that they were there at all was a thing of wonder.

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“West Side Second Storey…”
At work, having been told only three days before my contract expired that it was being extended for another two months, I was not surprised when the section was given five days to pack up and move to a new office. Given rumours that the head of the organisation wanted to be rid of all agency staff at all grades before the end of the year, I was glad that senior management had not simply decided that my contract had been terminated the week before.

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Memento Mori…
As August segued into September, the world of entertainment suffered a number of losses. The famous actor and director Sir Richard Attenborough passed onwards, amid many plaudits. Soon after, veteran actor Bill Kerr, best known for his work with Tony Hancock, went to join his comrades. Noted acerbic comedienne Joan Rivers died, leaving her critics with the problem of what to say about someone who aimed her most vicious and cutting comments at herself. The attendees at her funeral however knew exactly what to do - and made a big showbiz bash of the event, just as she had said she wanted.

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The One Without The Humorous Back Cover
alan_j_sullivan

A September Retrospective on August 2014.

“Women are not allowed the honour of combat. Unless they are insanely hyper girls in state-of-the-art combat suits, armed with paralysis whips, firing volleys of missiles, demolishing all in their path...”
Reason notwithstanding, the Monday night gaming sessions at the Penderel’s Oak in Holborn carried on, unabated. The flow-through of new staff continued to complicate matters more often than not, and booking issues did not help, although they did remember on one occasion. Sadly, it was one of the days when we had to cancel, due to players being unavailable. We also had to move to another part of the downstairs bar, when a large group of French tourists packed out the tables around us and began Talking Very Loudly In French. We did wonder if this was in retaliation for the traditional approach of British tourists abroad - namely crowding into bars and Talking Very Loudly In English.

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“Some things change, some stay the same…”
Like July, the weather in August was a combination of blazing sunshine and occasional showers. The ongoing Ukrainian crisis vied with the latest outbreak of fighting between Israel and Palestine and the depredations and atrocities of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant for the front pages of British newspapers. The spread of the latest ebola outbreak only added to the woes of the world.

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“These would be The Violets Inherent In The System, then…”
The First Thursday meeting for August at the Melton Mowbray had a modest turnout, due to people being at Nine Worlds. I was told it was aimed at the Young and Trendy, so why they told me, I had no idea, since Richard was meant to be the ZZ9er most in touch with Young and Trendy Fandom. Agents of ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha - Wag, Helena and the Waglets - were there and had a very good time, by all accounts. According to later reports, I got the impression that Nine Worlds had been the kind of convention that ZZ9ers used to attend because they sounded like fun. Given that light-hearted events tended not to be commonplace nowadays, I made a mental note to see about attending the next one.

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Hetalia: Eurozone Crisis…”
Civil disorder continued to rage across the Eurozone as the cutbacks continued and public anger increased. Economies teetered, international relations tottered and things looked grim. Naturally, when the leaders of the major European nations were temporarily replaced with the cast of Hetalia: Axis Powers and World Series - a satirical alternative world history with various countries personified as nationally stereotypical homoerotic pretty-boys - no-one noticed. It was a telling measure of the degree to which European internal socio-politics had taken on the aspect of tragi-comic opera.

“Three Days of the Con-goer…”
The weather in August continued to combine blazing sunshine and occasional showers. It was also the month when many of us had to choose between the Great British Beer festival and Loncon 3. Some people could afford both. However, they had to choose which programme items they were willing to miss, in order to visit Britain’s biggest annual beer festival. Originally, I had no intention of going to Loncon 3. I cited Lack of Funds, a socially acceptable excuse, unlikely to raise awkward questions. However, on the Wednesday before the convention began, a change of circumstances led to a change of heart and plans. So, on a mostly sunny Friday, I arrived at the ExCel centre, and headed for registration.

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“War, Death, Famine and Pestilence - Looks like the gang’s all here…”
Reason not withstanding, the universe continued unabated. The ongoing Ukrainian crisis vied with the latest outbreak of fighting between Israel and Palestine and the depredations and atrocities of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant for the front pages of newspapers.

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“I’m too pretty to be played by Stan Lee™…”
The ZZ9 Third Wednesday meeting for August at The Sheaf, formerly known as The Wheatsheaf, had a rather modest turnout. However, given that this was only a couple of days after Loncon 3, this was no surprise. We congratulated Sue on her birthday, and even refrained from mentioning the latest World’s Greatest Miley Cyrus Joke. This was due to entertainment industry restrictions under a Twerk To Rule agreement with the unions. We did however spend some time on Loncon 3, looking at photos and marvelling at how well the sales table had done. We then digressed onto news, views, politics, and the farce of the latest investigation into accusations of paedophilia amongst the high and mighty. Having covered sex and politics, we segued into religion, with the ease of a businessman Segway-ing off of a cliff, followed by employment, managers and their dislike of inconvenient truths.

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“Life, death, tears, and laughter…”
In a world of hurts, filled with lands of confusion, the havens were all too few and far between as August began. On the legal front, the ongoing celebrity child abuse scandal continued, with Sir Cliff Richard taking the place of Rolf Harris as Celebrity Least Expected to Face Accusations of Child Abuse. Meanwhile, Rolf Harris began his appeal. I wondered if his part-performance of Jake the Peg and demonstration of his wobble board technique in court would count against him. At least he had not given them a quick burst on the stylophone or whipped out his didgeridoo. Rumours about him doing Two Little Boys remained unconfirmed.

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“The erotic adventures of a sexually perverted sloth at a Japanese Worldcon…”
The Third Thursday Post-Loncon 3 Event in the Melton Mowbray had a very good attendance, although it was only days after the convention. Many of those who had come from overseas to attend the Worldcon turned up as they were still in London and the downstairs bar soon filled up. A Hugo winner turned up with her award, which was much photographed. In fact, the only group that seemed thin on the ground was ZZ9. The usual corner of the pub was deserted, and initially it was only Helena and I until Alex arrived. Some time later, Jim and Meike turned up, but there was no sign of any of the usual suspect regulars.

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“There’s no safe answer to that…”
At work, a weekly briefing from the management was enlivened by a correction to one of the events advertised on the in-house network. Apparently, the new Pilates exercise class had been advertised as a Pirates exercise class. I could only conclude that this was aimed at those naughty nautical types who were sick of hearing the phrase: “Avast Behind!”...

The Walking Dead meets Children of Men on The Road…”
Jim’s birthday celebration took place in the Craft brewery pub on Leather Lane in Clerkenwell. The turnout was modest, but dedicated. The range of beers was far more than we could have drunk, even if we only stuck to ones which sounded like Adult Film titles. This did not discourage us from trying.

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“The end of the beginning of the end - at least for now…”
In mid-May, I received two weeks notice that my three month rolling contract was to be terminated after only a month and a half. This was due to a senior management decision regarding agency staff. A week later, I was transferred to another section, with my contract extended by three months. So it seemed oddly appropriate that I was told just three days before this contract expired that it was being extended for another two months. Given rumours that the head of the organisation wanted to be rid of all agency staff at all grades before the end of the year, I could only hope that senior management did not simply decide a week later that my contract had been terminated the week before…

“Every one against us, with no-one to trust…”
Meanwhile, in a universe at least superficially not entirely unlike our own, Kevin’s G.U.R.P.S™ story sent our team to Belarus. The mission was somewhat complicated by the fallout from our pervious mission, and the dramatic schisms that had fractured not only the organisations that we worked for, but our trust in those who handled our missions.

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Memento Mori…
As July segued into August, the world of entertainment suffered a number of losses. Kenny Ireland, the actor best known for his role in Benidorm, bowed out. Mike Smith, the popular DJ and broadcaster, made his final sign-off. Veteran actor JJ Murphy, recently cast in A Game of Thrones as Ser Denys Mallister, passed onward. Shortly afterwards, the greatly loved actor, comedian, and gamer Robin Williams killed himself, during a bout of severe depression. Barely a day later, highly regarded veteran actress Lauren Bacall died. Then, as the month drew to a close, the veteran actor and director Sir Richard Attenborough passed onwards, amid many plaudits. Soon after, veteran actor Bill Kerr, best known for his work with Tony Hancock, went to join his comrades. Rest in Peace…


The One Without The Humorous Back Cover
alan_j_sullivan

An August Retrospective on July 2014.

“SMOF, SMOF, SMOF-ity, SMOF…”
The First Thursday meeting for July at the Melton Mowbray had a healthy Trufan presence. There was a whole lot of SMOFing going on, and talk of Loncon 3 (Worldcon) training events. Based on my own experience of corporate training, I hoped the Fhannish version would cover important issues, such as not mentioning recent events in the Twitterverse. An aside into the Hugo awards was interesting, although some comments about the nominees did leave me with the impression that becoming an Award-Winning Trufan required elements of homophobia, racism, and a side order of misogyny. Talent also appeared to be optional - which left me wondering if even I might be in with a chance.

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“Some things change, some stay the same…”
Like June, the weather in July was a combination of blazing sunshine and occasional showers. The Anniversary of the July 7th bombing of the London underground passed fairly peacefully, although there was some vandalism of the monument to those killed. Given that similar acts against war memorials to fallen soldiers had attracted a severe police response, I was left wondering if civilian deaths somehow meant less. The ongoing Ukrainian crisis fought its way back onto the British front pages, only to be displaced by a new outbreak of fighting between Israel and Palestine. Meanwhile, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant continued expanding throughout the region and carrying out atrocities, allegedly in the name of their deity. Expressed opinions in the media suggested that this was probably in retaliation for western military interventions in the area. Then Ukrainian separatists shot down a Malaysian Airways airliner, killing all 295 people on board.

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“We convinced them they had been turned into zombies - and their comrades, having seen too many zombie films, shot them repeatedly…”
Reason notwithstanding, the Monday night gaming sessions at the Penderel’s Oak in Holborn carried on, unabated. Unfortunately, the flow-through of new staff continued to complicate matters more often than not. As minor irritations mounted up, the groups began to thin. Table booking issues did not help. In spite of this, the side plot in Shaun’s Cyberpunk™ story progressed. In June, having realised our situation combined elements of Endless Eight and All You need Is Kill, we devised a plan. We passed evidence linking a high-ranking priest, a certain media corporation and the police lieutenant in charge of the investigation - which also revealed that the priest had made arrangements to bring the “victim” in to make charges, before the event - to the detectives who had made the arrest. We knew they were ambitious and that exposing their superior as corrupt could further their careers. In the end this meant us owing a few favours, but as high-tech nomads in the year 2020 this was business as usual for us.

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Hetalia: Eurozone Crisis…”
Civil disorder continued to rage across the Eurozone as the cutbacks continued and public anger increased. Economies teetered, international relations tottered and things looked grim. Naturally, when the leaders of the major European nations were temporarily replaced with the cast of Hetalia: Axis Powers and World Series - a satirical alternative world history with various countries personified as nationally stereotypical homoerotic pretty-boys - no-one noticed. It was a telling measure of the degree to which European internal socio-politics had taken on the aspect of tragi-comic opera.

“It’s all going a bit Shonen-Ai…”
The ZZ9 Third Wednesday meeting for July at The Sheaf, formerly known as The Wheatsheaf, had an excellent turnout, including a couple of unexpected visitors - David Haddock and Grant. When Deb turned up with a friend of hers, we realised that it had to be in honour of Meike’s birthday. Naturally, we refrained from mentioning the latest World’s Greatest Miley Cyrus Joke. This was due to entertainment industry restrictions under a Twerk To Rule agreement with the unions. However there was talk of the latest Twitterstorm of The Apocalypse, Loncon 3 (Worldcon) and the related training events. Based on my own experience of corporate training, I hoped the Fhannish version would cover the really important issues. However, we generally agreed that A James Bacon in Every Home might be in violation of several Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties.

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“War, Death, Famine and Pestilence - Looks like the gang’s all here…”
Reason not withstanding, the universe continued unabated. Sadly, it seemed that whilst nature or misfortune might kill many, humans were still more ingenious when it came to atrocities and abuses.

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“A vegetarian Barbie™? Ken™ won’t be getting any head then…”
Having chosen Hazel’s Vegetarian Birthday Barbeque over a visit to Hyper Japan, I was glad that the event went off well. The weather, which had previously been unbearably hot, had cooled off a bit that afternoon, so we were quite comfortable. The portable gazebo - not to be confused with The Dread Gazebo - provided ample shade whilst a gentle breeze was pleasantly balmy. Meanwhile, those of us in attendance did our best to keep everything else suitably barmy. The copious and varied alcohol, interesting foodstuffs, and miscellaneous conversational topics also helped.

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“Ents in Space! Badass Raccoons! Seventies Music…”
In a world of hurts, filled with lands of confusion, the havens were all too few and far between as May began. On the legal front, the ongoing celebrity child abuse scandal continued. Amid claims that his sentence was unduly lenient, Rolf Harris began an appeal. I wondered if his part-performance of Jake the Peg and demonstration of his wobble board technique in court would count against him. At least he had not given them a quick burst on the stylophone or whipped out his didgeridoo. Rumours about him doing Two Little Boys remained unconfirmed.

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“Every one against us, with no-one to trust…”
Meanwhile, in a universe at least superficially not entirely unlike our own, Kevin’s G.U.R.P.S™ story sent our team to China, in hot pursuit of a man who could lead us to the rogue agent behind the recent zombie-virus outbreaks. There was some hilarity, as he was in a tachikoma “think tank”. Luckily, our heavily-armed high-tech pursuit motor cycles were up to the job - and we didn’t do too badly either. Unfortunately, David’s character was blown in half by a 75mm cannon, but thanks to the available technology and the prompt actions of my medic character, he survived.

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Memento Mori…
As June departed, so did Eli Wallach, the award-winning method actor, best known as Tuco in The Good the Bad and the Ugly. In July, Alfredo Di Stefano, the famed footballer heeded the final whistle whilst Tommy Ramone, the last surviving member of The Ramones went to join his band mates. Elaine Stritch, the actress, singer and comedienne, ended a long and venerable career ranging from the Broadway stage to television situation comedy. John Dawson Winter III, better known as legendary blues guitarist, singer and producer Johnny Winter, played his final encore.

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The One Without The Humorous Back Cover
alan_j_sullivan
A July Retrospective on a Needlessly Messianic June 2014.

“We have to kill Tom Cruise’s character repeatedly, and then we kill Emily Blunt’s character, which should break the loop…”
Reason notwithstanding, the Monday night gaming sessions at the Penderel’s Oak in Holborn carried on, unabated. Unfortunately, the flow-through of new staff continued to complicate matters more often than not. As the minor irritations mounted up, the groups began to thin out. The ongoing table booking issues did not help. In spite of this, we continued to make progress on the side plot in Shaun’s Cyberpunk™ story. In May, Sean D had joined our group as a medic, so we no longer had to worry about getting into fire-fights. However, we did discuss the merits of Dr Zed over Dr Ned, just to be on the safe side. In June, Isi’s Netrunner acquired data on the people behind the girl from Biotechnica, aided by Siobhan’s Tech, whilst my Tech worked on our team’s vehicles and weapons. Then, in scenes reminiscent of the anime Girls Und Biotechnica, Jonny 5’s Fixer and Steve’s Solo engaged the girl’s friends in conversation, learning much about corporate attitudes and motivations.Read more...Collapse )

“…”
After several meteorologically interesting months, June settled into a combination of blazing sunshine and occasional showers. The 70th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings passed off peacefully, and the ongoing Ukrainian crisis was finally displaced from the British news by the beginning of the World Cup in Brazil. However, the sporting event found itself having to share the front pages with Middle Eastern politics. Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant carried out a series of massacres resulting in worldwide condemnation and much discussion on what should be done. Tony Blair’s claims that this was not due to British intervention were not well received. Some people even expressed the view that his claims to be an expert on the Middle Eastern situation was due to the number of wars he had dragged Britain into in the area.Read more...Collapse )

“Truffans! Fahsands of ’em!”
The First Thursday meeting for June at the Melton Mowbray had an unusually large Trufan presence. There was a whole lot of SMOFing going on, and talk of Loncon 3 (Worldcon) training events. Based on my own experience of corporate training, I hoped the Fhannish version would cover the important issues. Such as the necessity of situational update exchanges between left and right hands. How to fulfil operational commitments by means of applied digital extraction. The proper way to use both hands, superfluous technology, and the Arsefinder™ app to locate one’s own backside. How to differentiate between said backside and one’s elbow. Not mentioning Jonathan Ross. In short, the common sense stuff, all too often left out of corporate training programmes. Rumours this was due to common sense being deemed to be incompatible with corporate ideology remained unconfirmed.Read more...Collapse )
Hetalia: Eurozone Crisis…”
Civil disorder continued to rage across the Eurozone as the cutbacks continued and public anger increased. Economies teetered, international relations tottered and things looked grim. Naturally, when the leaders of the major European nations were temporarily replaced with the cast of Hetalia: Axis Powers and World Series - a satirical alternative world history with various countries personified as nationally stereotypical homoerotic pretty-boys - no-one noticed. Spain unexpectedly hit the headlines when King Juan Carlos abdicated and formally handed over to his son, who became King Felipe VI. Whether or not this would aid the country’s ailing economy remained uncertain, but there was much rejoicing anyway. Given the surge to the political right in the recent European elections, and the chaos that had ensued the last time right-wing politicians had taken over Europe, I could only hope that some good might come of it. It was a telling measure of the degree to which European socio-political events had taken on the aspect of tragic-comic opera.

“A deluge of French seamen? The mind boggles…”
During my time with the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) I had seen plenty of complaints from the public. One trend I noticed was that they were often about our failure to Do Something about some issue, company or similar. I also noticed that the only things that got more complaints were those instances where we did do something. The most recent example of this was the decision that the company running the channel tunnel was not allowed to subsidise a ferry service, because this would give them an unfair advantage over the ferry companies.Read more...Collapse )

“So long Mom, I’m off to drop The Bomb…”
Reason not withstanding, the universe continued unabated. America’s ongoing problems with wildfires, flooding and lunatics with guns - some of them police - shooting each other carried on regardless. It seemed that whilst nature or misfortune might kill many people, humans were still more ingenious when it came to justifying atrocities and abuses.Read more...Collapse )

“We have to kill Tom Cruise’s character repeatedly, and then we kill Emily Blunt’s character, which should break the loop …”
The ZZ9 Third Wednesday meeting for July at The Sheaf, formerly known as The Wheatsheaf, had a fairly good turnout. A certain amount of committee business was conducted, albeit without Sue taking minutes and John even got Alex to help fix his laptop. Naturally, there was no mention of the latest World’s Greatest Miley Cyrus Joke, about her plans for a holiday in Twerkey, or the De-Fhan-estration of Jonathan Ross and the Twitterstorm of the Apocalypse. However there was talk of Loncon3 and the associated Worldcon training events. Based on my own experience of corporate training, I hoped the Fhannish version would cover the really important issues. However, we generally agreed that A James Bacon in Every Home might not be a Good Thing.Read more...Collapse )

“They’re going home, they’re going home, they’re going home…”
In a world of hurts, filled with lands of confusion, the havens were all too few and far between as May began. On the legal front, the ongoing celebrity child abuse scandal continued. Yet again, Gary Glitter was hauled up before the courts, on further charges relating to past misdemeanours. Rolf Harris was convicted, with the possibility of further charges being brought. I suspected his part-performance of Jake the Peg and demonstration of his wobble board technique in court might not have helped. At least he had not given them a quick burst on the stylophone or whipped out his didgeridoo. Rumours about him doing Two Little Boys remained unconfirmed. However, lest anyone forget the late Jimmy Savile’s crimes, the ongoing investigation revealed he had apparently abused at least 500 victims, including the young, the old and the deceased. I suspected that it was only a matter of time before the accusations of bestiality emerged.Read more...Collapse )
“Very good! Very good! Yay!”
Meanwhile, in a universe at least superficially not entirely unlike our own, Kevin’s G.U.R.P.S™ story sent our team off to France. The rogue agent behind the zombie outbreaks in Britain had apparently sent some minions to capture a dam and bottled water plant. Although they were posing as terrorists, threatening to blow the place up with a bomb, we had information that they were planning to contaminate the water with the zombie-plague. Our fairly straight-forward mission was to get in, stop them, capture the leader, free the hostages and destroy the contaminated water. Oddly enough, we managed to do this with surprising ease - apart from capturing the leader - in spite of technical problems with Kevin’s projector, laptop and smartphone refusing to work with each other properly. Sadly, my character was rather badly injured, but survived and was repairable. Although we failed to take the leader alive, we did find some “interesting” weapons, which were capable of piercing magical shields, such as those we often used.Read more...Collapse )

Memento Mori…
As May drew to a close, writer and science-fiction author Jay Lake, and noted fans Andy Robertson and Ken Brown shuffled off their mortal coils.Read more...Collapse )

The One Without The Humorous Back Cover
alan_j_sullivan

A Needlessly Messianic June Retrospective on May 2014.

“The Sprout on high, the beer is freely flowing...”
No-one would have believed, at the start of 2014, the extended controversy that was to arise from Jonathan Ross being asked to present the Hugo Awards at Loncon3. Few would have anticipated the resulting Apocalyptic Twitterstorm. Yet, in spite of the best efforts of everyone to ignore or forget about it, the after effects continued to spread across the ensuing months, like ripples on a freshly disturbed pond.

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“There’s mischiefs and malarkies…”
After several meteorologically tempestuous months, the weather brightened up during April - with Easter Sunday a notably wet and miserable exception. The combination of sunshine and occasional showers continued into May, causing some concern when the early bank holiday weekend was unseasonably hot and sunny. That said, Moore and Parkhouse were on the comics shelves, so to many minds, all was right with the world as Pippa passed the port. Most of the British news was dominated by the ongoing Ukrainian crisis, as Russia massed troops along the borders, as part of alleged “military exercises”. It took attention away from the problems that had brought censure down on politicians and officials throughout Britain, including the expenses and bribery scandals, and the use of “zero-hours contracts”. The government continued to spout mindless nonsense, mostly about how well the country was recovering from the economic crisis. However, this was drowned out by the uproar after a three-day strike by underground workers brought chaos to London and cost the West End venues millions of pounds in lost revenue. Given how much money both strikers and venue owners normally got paid, I had no sympathy with them. Luckily, the follow-on strike was cancelled.

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“Not to be confused with that book by Adolf Hitler…”
Reason notwithstanding, the Monday night gaming sessions at the Penderel’s Oak in Holborn carried on, unabated. The food, prices and variety of guest ales remained pleasing and we still had enough space to get all the gaming groups back together under one roof. Unfortunately, the flow-through of new staff continued to complicate matters more often than not. As the minor irritations mounted up, the groups began to thin out.

[Spoiler (click to open)]

Meanwhile, in spite of interruptions, cancellations and bank holidays, we made some progress on the side plot in Shaun’s Cyberpunk™ story. In April, we had worked through our contacts list, gathering information and confirmed our suspicions that the girl from Biotechnica, who had accused a member of our pack of assault, was part of a set-up. We also scouted out the DMS-run rival carnival, Playland and spotted two people our Solos had seen scouting out our carnival. However, in doing so, Jonny 5’s and Siobhan’s characters acquired a taste for a certain beverage, due to illegal subliminal advertising.

May brought further developments, primarily the introduction of a new character. Sean D had joined our group as a medic, so we no longer had to worry about getting into fire-fights. However, we did discuss the merits of Dr Zed over Dr Ned, just to be on the safe side. Isi’s netrunner acquired data on the people behind the girl from Biotechnica, aided by Siobhan’s Tech, whilst my Tech worked on our team’s vehicles and weapons. In between we talked of various things, including Steve’s new favourite game, Minecraft. However, as the month drew to an end, Jonny 5’s Fixer and Steve’s Solo became the focus of the story. Their mission - in a scene reminiscent of the anime Girls Und Biotechnica - was to engage the girl’s friends in conversation. Meanwhile, the tension rose as the hearing drew closer…



Hetalia: Eurozone Crisis…”
Civil disorder continued to rage across the Eurozone as the cutbacks continued and public anger increased. Economies teetered, international relations tottered and things looked grim. Naturally, when the leaders of the major European nations were temporarily replaced with the cast of Hetalia: Axis Powers and World Series - a satirical alternative world history with various countries personified as nationally stereotypical homoerotic pretty-boys - no-one noticed. In the European elections, there was a not inconsiderable surge to the political right. Given what happened the last time right-wing politicians had taken over Europe, this suggested it was not just in Britain that the electorate were a pack of drooling imbeciles. I felt the only good news was that Nick Griffin of the British National Party (BNP) had lost his job as a Member of the European Parliament. It was a telling measure of the degree to which European socio-political events had taken on the aspect of tragic-comic opera.

“I know I can’t slow down, I can’t hold back, though you know I wish I could…”
For various reasons - including the obvious ones about August and the human gestation period - May was a month of birthdays, one of them mine. A number of friends were also celebrating and I was looking forward to joining them. However, various circumstances arose that made the month unexpectedly interesting.

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“So long Mom, I’m off to drop The Bomb…”
Reason not withstanding, the universe continued unabated. America’s ongoing problems with wildfires, flooding and lunatics with guns - some of them police - shooting each other carried on regardless. Rioting in Rio continued, as preparations for the World Cup got under way, whilst a mine disaster in Turkey left over 274 dead and resulted in violent protests against the government. In Bosnia and Serbia, the worst recorded flooding in 120 years resulted in landslides and mudslides that left over 44 dead and forced thousands more to flee their homes. Meanwhile, in Pakistan a woman was stoned to death, for allegedly dishonouring her family, in India two girls were gang raped and murdered, and in Sudan, a woman was sentenced to death for apostasy - the authorities having decided she was a Muslim, because her father was, although she had been raised as, and still was, a practicing Christian. All three cases led to worldwide outrage and condemnation, especially as the local authorities were either involved or apparently complicit. It seemed that whilst nature or misfortune might kill many people, humans were still more ingenious when it came to justifying atrocities and abuses.

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“Dave Lally does not give me The Horn…”
The ZZ9 Third Wednesday meeting for May at The Sheaf, formerly known as The Wheatsheaf, had a modest turnout. However, our numbers were bolstered by some unexpected additions. A couple of visiting fans dropped in, on the grounds that they happened to be in London that day. Sorcha and her significant other were present, whilst Sue’s partner turned up to celebrate his Last Day of Being 42. Alex had new merchandise ideas to show around and when Deb arrived, the conversation developed into what sounded suspiciously like a committee meeting, albeit without Sue taking minutes.

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“So it doesn’t mean he used to play the violin when he was a child…?”
In a world of hurts, filled with lands of confusion, the havens were all too few and far between as May began. On the legal front, the ongoing celebrity child abuse scandal continued to rival Game of Thrones as an epic saga of the rich and powerful doing as they pleased. There was great rejoicing as never-popular celebrity fixer and wheeler-dealer Max Clifford was convicted, jailed for eight years and then and divorced by his wife. By contrast, Freddie Starr was told he would not be charged over the accusations of sexual assault, to his apparent relief.

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“Well, that could have gone differently…”
Meanwhile, in a universe at least superficially not entirely unlike our own, Kevin’s G.U.R.P.S™ story sent our team off to America. The unknown enemy who had attacked our computer system in the previous episode had re-emerged and were now planning to disrupt the New York stock exchange with a virus. We had to find the building it was in, get to the computer it was being held on and then use a special smartphone application to disable it. Naturally, for something that sounded so simple, it was more complicated than we expected. New York was beset by a transport strike, meaning that we had to use taxis and out operation was so sensitive that we had to not only carry it out at night, we also had to kill or erase the memories of any witnesses. On the good side, the hacker who had written the programme had agreed to help us in return for amnesty, so we had some inside information.

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Memento Mori…
The last of April’s noteworthy deaths was much-loved British actor Bob Hoskins - famed for playing gangsters and hard men from London’s east end - passed onward. The tributes from friends, family, fans and fellow actors and actresses were a timely reminder of the depth and breadth of his career. In May, tests showed that Peaches Geldorf had taken heroin shortly before her death, whilst tennis star Elena Baltacha died of cancer, surrounded by family and friends. Scientist Colin Pillinger, the brains behind the ill-fated Beagle 2 Mars mission departed for the Undiscovered Country, Air-Commodore Peter Thorne, test-pilot on Lightning and Swift jets made his final flight, and H R Geiger, the artist whose bio-mechanoid designs characterised the Alien films, laid down his brushes.

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The One Without The Humorous Back Cover
alan_j_sullivan

A May (or May Not) Retrospective on a Foolish April 2014.

“Protecting the Interests of the Scum of the Universe…”
My new job at the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) had a challenging start due to some computer problems on the day we went live - April 1st appropriately enough - which dogged us throughout the month. My job description had been arbitrarily changed to call-centre duty, my working hours were drastically altered and our manager demanded daily workflow details on three different spreadsheets. We were even given direct orders to put calls through to the contact’s voice mail if the person was unavailable without informing the caller that we were doing so - which in most companies I had worked for previously would have resulted in dismissal. This was, we were told, in accordance with our Chief Executive’s vision of the CMA as an organisation that would take details of complaints about competition issues, but would not advise on or discuss such matters. It would, apparently, serve the public trust, without actually having anything to do with the public. How this would serve any interests apart from those of corporate executives and high-ranking Civil Servants was not explained…

“Like a Brick into Troubled Waters...”
No-one would have believed, in the first days of February, the controversy that was to arise from Jonathan Ross being asked to present the Hugo Awards at Loncon3. Few would have anticipated the resulting Apocalyptic Twitterstorm. Yet the after effects continued to spread across the ensuing months, like ripples on a freshly disturbed pond. As April began, the First Thursday meeting for the month at the Melton Mowbray had a sizable turnout, but there did not seem to be many Trufans at their usual table. Of course, with a Worldcon to organise, and Eastercon a fortnight away, this was not unreasonable. Dubious speculation about them being too busy playing Goat Simulator on their superfluous technology was just par for the course. Rumours of a “Blowing” option being available as Down-Loadable Content remained unconfirmed.

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“We’ve little dicks and big dogs…”
After several meteorologically tempestuous months, things brightened up during March and April looked set to follow suit. Concern was expressed about air pollution, particularly in London, with dire warnings about the impact on public health. This rose to near panic levels when storms in the Middle East blew sand from the Sahara desert as far as Britain. However, as in March, most of the British news in April was dominated by the Ukrainian crisis, as Russia took over Crimea and massed troops along the borders, as part of alleged “military exercises”. It certainly took attention away from the various problems that had brought censure down on politicians and officials throughout Britain, including the latest expenses and bribery scandals. The government continued to spout mindless nonsense, mostly about how well the country was recovering from the economic crisis. However, this was rather drowned out by the uproar over a three-day strike by underground workers, which brought chaos to London and cost the West End millions of pounds in lost revenue as people headed home early rather than going out to over-priced up-market venues. Given how much money both strikers and west-end venue owner normally got paid, I had no sympathy whatsoever with any of them.

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“What was our mission again…?”
Reason notwithstanding, the Monday night gaming sessions at the Penderel’s Oak in Holborn carried on, unabated. The food, prices and variety of guest ales remained pleasing and we still had enough space to get all the gaming groups back together under one roof. Unfortunately, the flow-through of new staff continued to complicate matters more often than not. Having made progress during March on the side plot in Shaun’s Cyberpunk™ story - obtaining information on Arasaka activities which Steve’s Solo traded for intelligence on the people we were interested in - we hit a snag at the end of the month. Shaun was unable to run on the on the last Monday of March. Then, owing to unforeseen circumstances, this hiatus spread into April. A couple of attempts by the rest of us to meet up anyway had varying degrees of success. The second such had 50 percent more people than the first and if Andy and I had stayed a bit longer, Jonny 5 would have joined us. That would have made it 50 percent of the player characters present and something like 40 percent of the group in total. Then came the Easter weekend, which meant we finally met up again on the last Monday of April.

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Hetalia: Eurozone Crisis…”
Civil disorder continued to rage across the Eurozone as the cutbacks continued and public anger increased. Economies teetered, international relations tottered and things looked grim. Naturally, when the leaders of the major European nations were temporarily replaced with the cast of Hetalia: Axis Powers and World Series - a satirical alternative world history with various countries personified as nationally stereotypical homoerotic pretty-boys - no-one noticed. It was a telling measure of the degree to which European socio-political events had taken on the aspect of tragic-comic opera.

Fifteen God Channels? That’s pretty good for a religion with only one God…”
The ZZ9 Third Wednesday meeting for April at The Sheaf, formerly known as The Wheatsheaf, had a very modest turnout, possibly due to the impending Eastercon. Alex and John Philpott were there when Jonny 5 and I arrived and we were joined in due course by Deb. Alex had much to say about merchandise matters, before having to depart for the Eastercon. John joined in with enthusiasm, talking about the old days of ZZ9 merchandise. He then fell to talking Swing dancing and the forthcoming Worldcon’s 1939 Party with Deb. Then for an encore he told us about the new Sky television package he and his wife had got. This apparently included a surprising number of Christian faith channels. However, there was no mention of the latest World’s Greatest Miley Cyrus Joke, about her forthcoming World Tour. Allegedly, the European leg would involve her playing with electro-pop veterans KrafTwerk after which she planned to go down under with popular Australian beat combo Men At Twerk. Luckily, the drinks and conversation flowed ever onwards and much was forgotten, including the De-Fhan-estration of Jonathan Ross and the Twitterstorm of the Apocalypse - unless someone wrote it up in a fanzine. Deb left just after Alex, due to various pressures including work. John decided on an early night soon after, making Jonny 5 and I the last to depart. Oh how we laughed as we maintained the old tradition - as per ancient charter - of talking toot in the pub.

“So long Mom, I’m off to drop The Bomb…”
Reason not withstanding, the universe continued unabated. America’s ongoing problems with wildfires, flooding and lunatics with guns - some of them police - shooting each other were added to by events such as a catastrophic mudslide that claimed nearly 30 lives and a series of tornadoes that battered Arkansas, leaving 16 dead. Chile was rocked by a sizable earthquake and riots broke out in Rio, as preparations for the World Cup got under way. Political instability, mass killings and corruption remained rife throughout Africa, but no-one took much notice, probably because there was no oil involved. The Middle East continued to teeter on the edge whilst problems with elections in Thailand resulted in a series of protests. North and South Korea fired on each other’s territory, as tensions rose over nearby military exercises and although very little appeared in the news, anti-government protests and food riots in Venezuela escalated. As ever, the otherwise un-noticed men and women of the emergency services stood to and did what had to be done, saving lives and demonstrating Humanity at its best.

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“I am returned from the grave. Let this day be known hereafter as Easter and stuff your kids with sugar and caffeine in thanks…”
My landlady went to Spain for Easter week with her boyfriend, so I was able to get at the kitchen for once. I was also up to date with my writing, both personal and ZZ9-related - there being a limit to what even I could make up. So, having the long weekend free, in between cooking for myself, I did some ad-hoc research into various forms of temporal sink. By Monday, I had come to some preliminary conclusions. Surfing the Internet had, for me, been the greatest time-sink in terms of hours spent, but it had not particularly satisfied, frustrated or interested me beyond a few moments here and there. Videogames, I felt, had proved to be both the second most frustrating and second most satisfying way to spend the second longest amount of time. Fandom and the Eastercon would, at one time, have made my Easter weekend into four joyful days spent busily doing nothing. Yet, whenever I thought of it, or read an Internet update from those at the convention, I felt only disinterest and alienation. I also felt rather perturbed, as I wondered how, why and when I had stopped finding it fun. However, the most frustration I felt all weekend was in the mercifully few moments when I thought of work.

“…”
In a world of hurts, filled with lands of confusion, the havens were all too few and far between as April began. On the legal front, Tony Blair managed to get name checked for “advising” Rebekah Brooks over the phone-hacking scandal, as the trial of the former News of The World editor proceeded apace. Meanwhile, the epic legal saga of the late Jimmy Savile’s crimes looked all set to rival Game of Thrones as a lengthy story of evil scumbags getting away with doing as they pleased. There was great rejoicing as never-popular celebrity fixer and wheeler-dealer Max Clifford was convicted. Clifford remained unrepentant whilst Conservative Member of Parliament Nigel Evans denied all and claimed to have suffered terribly. Dave Lee Travis went to face further charges and accusations were even made about the late Cyril Smith. Meanwhile, in South Africa, the trial of Oscar Pistorias - the athlete known as the Blade Runner, because of the carbon-fibre “blades” that replaced his missing legs - got under way. Having been charged with murdering his girlfriend, there was much legal debate over his claim that he had shot her, thinking she was an intruder. At least no-one suggested that he had thought she was a Replicant. In other news, the hunt for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight continued, with fresh hope raised as a specialist submersible searched for the flight recorder. Meanwhile, a South Korean ferry capsized, leaving nearly 200 people dead and more missing. Charges were brought against the officers and crewmen and many awkward questions were raised. However, true to form, teenage boys continued to be far too interested in picturing Natalya Poklonskaya, the Crimean Senior Counsellor of Justice, as a moe anime girl.

“Well, that could have gone much worse…”
Meanwhile, in a universe at least superficially not entirely unlike our own, Kevin’s G.U.R.P.S™ story sent our team off to recover a missing laptop with some important data on it. Or so we had been told. As we tracked the missing item, we came across unexpected evidence that this was all a set up, culminating in a trio of corpses in the house where we finally found the missing item. Then we had to try and get the item returned - an apparently simple task complicated by the arrival of an agent from the department whose laptop and data it was. On orders from above, we accompanied her back to the facility she had been told to deliver the laptop to, only to find the place locked down due to an outbreak of zombies. Consulting with our superiors, we were duly told to investigate, as there were several irregularities in the situation - not least the fact that a heavily armed containment and clean-up team had not been sent in, when to do so was standard procedure.

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“It’s got nothing to do with Vorsprung Durch Technik you know…”
In spite of the problems that dogged the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) throughout April, there were compensations. Our offices were in a Grade II listed 1920s building in the neo-classical style, complete with art-deco ballroom. The basement featured a bowling alley with 1950s style diner at one end of the building and a burlesque venue at the other. Naturally, these were nothing to do with the CMA, who only had offices in part of the building. Externally, it was the very model of an old-style government office. Sadly, much of the interior had been remodelled by some arty type who decided the building needed two huge glass-walled atria from ground floor to roof, with two meeting room “pods” suspended in mid-air at sixth floor level. I felt it looked far too much like a cheap knock off of a set from Star Wars. Not that the pods were needed, with the owners having already converted the staff café and rest areas into meeting rooms, leaving nowhere to eat or take a break. Luckily, the location provided some alternatives. I could eat lunch in Bloomsbury Square Gardens, visit the British Museum, or even wander off to Forbidden Planet if I felt so inclined. Or I could just sit and watch the tourists watch the office workers watch the nouveau riche go by. Weather permitting, naturally.

“Free shit? Yes, but at least it’s different shit…”
The Sci-Fi London anime all-nighter did not seem to be offering any “stand out” items, but several of them sounded interesting enough for me to go along anyway. I arrived just as it was about to start and found that ZZ9 secretary Sue was doing staff duty handing out goody bags on the door. Once inside, I noted that there was a relatively small turnout, but I decided to keep my outlook positive. The first film, Patema Inverted was from the makers of Time of Eve. In terms of its appearance and the heart-warming nature of the tale, it resembled a Miyazaki production. However, there were a number of deft and distinctive touches that set it apart, hinting at darker and more satirical influences such as Gilliam’s Brazil and Asimov’s Caves of Steel. I found the lead characters plausible and consistent in terms of their actions and motivations, although some of the others were a bit lacklustre. The twist ending was very much as expected, but remained uplifting and heartening. We then had the first break, with Bulldog energy drink on offer, with and without sugar, alongside both salty and sweet popcorn. This offer was repeated between each of the features and proved most welcome. The second film, Blood-C: The Last Dark was indeed rather dark. A thoroughly blood-soaked combination of action and conspiracy amongst those who hunt monsters and those who create and manipulate said monsters for their own ends. Not being a particular fan of the other Blood-C works, I felt I was probably missing some of the nuances, but overall it seemed a solid, straight-forward supernatural action-conspiracy film.

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Memento Mori…
March’s noteworthy deaths included L’Wren Scott, the fashion designer and girlfriend of Mick Jagger, who died by her own hand. In April, Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney bowed out after a long and distinguished career. Journalist, model and socialite Peaches Geldof, daughter of Bob Geldorf and the late Paula Yates, died suddenly and tragically young at the age of 25. James Hellwig, famous in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) as The Ultimate Warrior passed onward, shortly after being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. The tributes from the fans and his fellow wrestlers were many and heartfelt. Much-loved author Sue Townsend, creator of Adrian Mole, departed the literary scene after a short illness, with many plaudits from fans and fellow writers alike. West Ham youth forward Dylan Tombides lost his battle with cancer, Columbian Nobel Laureate and novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez laid down his pen and the noted philanthropist, travel writer and conservationist Mark Shand died in an accident involving a revolving door. Finally, much-loved British actor Bob Hoskins - famed for playing gangsters and hard men from the east end of London - passed onward. The many tributes from friends, family, fans and fellow actors and actresses were a timely reminder of the depth and breadth of his career. Rest in Peace…


The One Without The Humorous Back Cover
alan_j_sullivan

A Foolish April Retrospective on March 2014.

“You have Friends and Timber, but I have a Car and the Chainsaw…”
Reason notwithstanding, the Monday night gaming sessions at the Penderel’s Oak in Holborn carried on, unabated. The food, prices and variety of guest ales remained pleasing and we still had enough space to get all the gaming groups back together under one roof. Unfortunately, the flow-through of new staff complicated matters more often than not. As it turned out, Shaun was unable to run on the first Monday of March, so Jonny 5 and I held the fort with Zombie Fluxx™. This went well and the week after, the side plot in Shaun’s Cyberpunk™ story continued apace. One of the carnival’s crew had been accused of rape and the media had more or less besieged the camp, so we moved to a rented lock-up in Night City. We arranged accommodation, transport and did some surveillance on the victim, who had apparently been part of a set up. When we put the bugs in place, we noticed one of the media companies had done the same - and Andy’s Solo spotted an Arasaka security team impersonating a Chilean news crew. Meanwhile, Isi’s Netrunner saw some alarming news - Netwatch had cut both Militech and Arasaka right out of the network for 12 hours. Although few details were forthcoming, she suggested it might be the start of another corporate war.

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Realising that the next session clashed with Saint Patrick’s Day and concluding that the pub would naturally be very busy, we decided to take one of our regular breaks and go to Kimchee for a meal. Sadly, Jonny 5 was unable to join us, but otherwise it was a very good evening. The food was all we could have hoped for in terms of quality, quantity and all-round tastiness and once again we were left well fed and contented. Wandering home afterwards, I made yet another mental note that next time I would leave room for dessert. The week after, we got back to following up some leads and noticed some unusual movements of what appeared to be Arasaka forces. Steve’s Solo traded this information to his contact in Militech, in return for potentially useful intelligence on some of the people we were interested in. Thus we progressed towards our objectives as the month came to a close.

“…”
After several meteorologically tempestuous months, March looked set to follow suit. However, much of the British news was dominated by the Ukrainian crisis, as Russia took over Crimea and massed troops along the borders, as part of alleged “military exercises”. It certainly took attention away from the storms, flooding and related problems that had brought censure down on politicians and officials throughout Britain. Then legendary labour politician Tony Benn died. The sanctimonious hypocrisy soared to pandemic-level, as each tried to out do the others in praising Tony Benn and all he stood for, having previously denounced him wholeheartedly throughout his career. It reminded me very much of the Politicians sketch on Not the Nine O’Clock News with Rowan Atkinson and the late Mel Smith.

Nauseated by it all, I felt that whilst the Tories were hypocrites, at least they were not as bad as the New Labour scum who were unfit to claim they represented the interests of the working people. Sterilisation of the affected areas from orbit had never looked so attractive. Personally, I considered Tony Benn’s death a sad loss. He had been an unusually principled and forthright politician who made it his business to be a thorn in the side of the greedy, oppressive and corrupt. I was also rather taken with a Facebook posting that compared Tony Benn to a certain principled and forthright time-traveller who made it his business to be a thorn in the side of the greedy, oppressive and corrupt. It left me wondering when the country would be swept by Brussels Sproutism (BS) - the belief that all politicians should be replaced by Brussels sprouts. With sprouts not being given to making stupid comments in public, cheating on their spouses, starting wars, oppressing the starving masses or committing acts of genocide, it was easy to see how morally and intellectually superior they were to politicians. Sadly, the majority remained more interested in the daily soap-opera lives of fatuous celebrities than events around them, as per usual. Meanwhile, Nature, having delivered the wettest January in 100 years, followed by a similarly miserable February, actually brightened up during March, with several unseasonably hot and sunny weekends.


“Whatever You Do, Don’t Mention Jonathan Ross...”
No-one would have believed, in the first days of February, the controversy that was to arise from Jonathan Ross being asked to present the Hugo Awards at Loncon3, let alone the ensuing Apocalyptic Twitterstorm. However as March began, the most notable thing about the First Thursday meeting for the month at the Melton Mowbray was the sizable turnout, although the atmosphere was more reminiscent of the noted “Trufans” episode of Fawlty Towers in which a convention committee visited the hotel. Naturally, Basil’s increasingly frantic efforts to avoid mentioning Jonathan Ross were doomed to culminate in disaster and the inevitable closing line: “However did they win the bid for the Convention Hotel?”

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Meanwhile, Richard lamented the fact that he was no longer overweight enough to join Weight Watchers. Apparently, it was something pertaining to the gender imbalance in their membership, but I didn’t quite catch all of it, possibly because I was in the wrong state of intoxication. Helena managed to distract us with her colourful underwear, although tragically Reverend Jim was not available to be distracted. By contrast, Liam was busy considering his impending relocation, aided no doubt by beer and the thought that within a month or so, he would quite probably be speaking the language like a local and romancing the ladies like a Leather-Clad Raven-Haired Sex-God. There was no further mention of Helena’s purple furry onesie, but the drinks and conversation flowed ever onwards and the matter was forgotten - unless someone wrote it up in a fanzine afterwards. Oh how we laughed as we maintained the old tradition - as per ancient charter - of talking toot in the pub.

Hetalia: Eurozone Crisis…”
Civil disorder continued to rage across the Eurozone as the cutbacks continued and public anger increased. Various economies teetered, international relations remained rocky and things looked grim all round. As ever, Hetalia: Axis Powers and World Series - a satirical alternative world history with various countries personified as nationally stereotypical homoerotic pretty-boys - stood no chance against reality.

“So you mind-controlled Liam, gave him an Orgasmorizer Ray, and set him on the guards…”
Meanwhile, in a universe at least superficially not entirely unlike our own, Kevin’s G.U.R.P.S™ story sent our team off to investigate the theft of an important transponder device. Everything was remarkably low-key and unremarkable at the facility in Spain where the units were being made, on the “hide in plain sight” principle. Even the staff seemed unremarkable - until we found one guard was lying and had stolen the item, whilst a hacker at a French university took care of the security system. However, at this point four Garou in Crinos form and an air elemental burst in and started attacking people. The ensuing hilarity left numerous wounded and several dead - including Shaun’s character. So once everything was under control and a clean-up crew had been arranged, we headed off to deal with the French connection. On arrival, we collected our liaison man - Shaun’s new character, who had a connection with Anand’s character, albeit not a French one - and went to the university. To our surprise, Simon Noble, the hacker, threw himself on our mercy and begged us to help save his tutor, who was being blackmailed by the Logan, the person behind the Garou raid and the theft of the transponder. We agreed, mainly because this was our best lead. Also, we had been told that Noble was being groomed by Virtual Adepts - possibly even to join their ranks - so helping him would be a Good Thing. Some detective work led us to a port, where we saw our target, Professor French, boarding a boat.

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Due to a lack of local volcanoes, he had cunningly hidden his missile launch facility under a distillery, managed by one Liam Proven. We were no match for his untamed wit, but again the mind-controlling abilities of David and Anand’s characters won the day. We all agreed that giving Liam an Orgasmorizer Ray Gun to disable the guards was Wrong - so we did it anyway. Once we were inside the secret launch facility, we had to rely on our skills - especially when it turned out that Mr Blake had subverted Truth in Television by having more than seven people aiding him. My character got badly shot up - but being a bioroid, he was repairable. David’s character disarmed the missile, we took charge of the facility - and learned an unpleasant truth. Archangel was in fact an orbital area-effect mind-control ray, based on Mythos technology. Whether this would be a good or bad thing thus depended on who controlled it and how it was used. Then David’s character and my character found ourselves recruited into yet another layer of conspiracy, by Shaun and Anand’s characters. Thus the success of another mission - given the Crawling Chaos did not make manifest, not even as Nyaruko-San - had an interesting shade of ambiguity. Although the game had been shorter than usual, it had been enjoyably challenging, whilst the ensuing drinks and conversation brought the evening to a satisfactory end.

“So long Mom, I’m off to drop The Bomb…”
Reason not withstanding, the universe continued unabated. America’s ongoing problems with wildfires, flooding and lunatics with guns - some of them police - shooting each other having been reduced in significance by a “polar vortex” that took temperatures in America and Canada to their coldest for 20 years, faced further problems as things warmed up, including a catastrophic mudslide that claimed nearly thirty lives. As ever, the otherwise un-noticed men and women of the emergency services stood to and did what had to be done, saving lives and demonstrating Humanity at its best. Political instability, mass killings and corruption remained rife throughout Africa, but no-one took much notice, probably because there was no oil involved. The Middle East continued to teeter on the edge, problems with elections in Thailand resulted in a series of protests and although very little appeared in the news, anti-government protests in Venezuela escalated.

Meanwhile, Russian troops took over Crimea, the Russian parliament having approved the use of the military to protect Russian interests in Ukraine. There were numerous arrests and several deaths were reported in the news. Naturally, the various world leaders condemned the actions of Russian President and raging homophobe Vladimir Putin, but in spite of sanctions being imposed, very little seemed to be achieved, as Russian troops massed on the borders, as part of alleged “military exercises”. Personally, I wondered why Putin had invaded, when he could have aided the pro-Russian factions whilst cutting support to the rest of the nation, without attracting condemnation or sanctions. Sadly, it seemed he was determined to make a fight of it for reasons unknown. However, I did wonder if there might be some truth in a suggestion made in the pub that this was Putin having a mid-life crisis. Instead of buying flashy cars and taking up with someone half his age, he was going to start World War III to prove his masculinity…


“If you’re mugged on the way home, just breathe at them…”
Alex’s birthday featured games ranging from Munchkin, with various expansions, to Guardians of The Multiverse, with certain expansions and rules that most of us didn’t understand fully, via Dominion, which seemed to take all evening, but in fact turned out to be two sessions of the game, run in different rooms, one after the other. There was also a plethora of assorted food and drink. So much food in fact, that Alex’s kitchen table became a veritable cornucopia of snacks and nibbles. There were sliced vegetables for dipping, sour cream and garlic dip, crisps, Bombay Mix, crackers, paté with garlic, assorted cheeses, garlic sausage and cooked meats of various kinds. I was not the only person to feel that there was something of a theme to this, as I worked my way through the options. Alex also laid on a substantial vegetable chilli and rice, which was hot and filling, but not too spicy.

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Luckily, before we could start reading The Daily Seig Heil and voting Tory, I got to into an extended reminiscence with John Philpott and several others on conventions and Fandom of yore. We considered the days when Fen Were Real Fen, Truffans Blew Goats, ZZ9 were the 42 Hour Party People and Posthumous Guests of Honour at conventions were the rule rather than the exception. Sadly, we agreed that the days of legendary room-busting parties, when ZZ9 presidents had included The Dead, The Blind and The Cavefish were long gone. However, there was a beacon of hope: as one of the more accessible and light-hearted groups, welcoming non-fans and less-serious types into Greater Fandom’s realms, ZZ9’s role as a gateway organisation remained important. It was just a case of holding the gate through times of austerity and encroaching normality, whilst not becoming overly exclusive and purist. Fortunately, before we could become too serious, more people arrived and things livened up. Eventually, I had to head home, but the food, drinks, games and conversation flowed ever onwards and serious matters were forgotten - unless someone wrote it up in a fanzine somewhere. Oh how we laughed as we maintained the old tradition - as per ancient charter - of talking toot at parties.

"...”
In a world of hurts, filled with lands of confusion, the havens were all too few and far between as March began. On the legal front, Tony Blair managed to get name checked for “advising” Rebekah Brooks over the phone-hacking scandal, as the trial of the former News of The World editor proceeded apace. Meanwhile, the epic legal saga of the late Jimmy Savile’s crimes looked all set to rival Game of Thrones as a lengthy story of evil scumbags getting away with doing as they pleased. Never-popular celebrity fixer and wheeler-dealer Max Clifford was the latest to face charges, but remained unrepentant.

On the world stage, a missing Malaysian Airlines flight went from tragedy to conspiracy theory, as questions were raised about how the aircraft had gone missing and why debris had been found a very long way from the planned flight path. The Ukrainian crisis also took a turn for the decidedly, when Natalya Poklonskaya was appointed Chief Prosecutor in Crimea, before being promoted to Senior Counsellor of Justice. Some would have noted her legal expertise, or her pro-Russian views. However, for some reason, the news focused on her being young, pretty and wearing a military uniform. Teenage boys posting drawings of her as a moe anime girl on the Internet did not help, although she apparently claimed to be flattered. This led me to suspect she had only seen the non-pornographic ones and that far worse lurked on the World Wide Web.


“I Mentioned Him Earlier, But I Think I Got Away With It…”
The ZZ9 Third Wednesday meeting for March at The Sheaf, formerly known as The Wheatsheaf, had a very good turnout, for the second month in a row. Alex, Richard, Helena, Helen and Ian were there when I arrived and we were joined in due course by Deb, Jim and Meike, followed by David. However, the latest World’s Greatest Miley Cyrus Joke, about (Twerking) 9 to 5 - her cover version of Dolly Parton’s 9 To 5 - remained conspicuous by its absence. Helena was a little subdued, owing to some work-related violence, but her irrepressible nature and our sympathy restored her spirits somewhat. Jim had brought a couple of samples of Sloth Brewing’s Stoat - a hoppy oatmeal stout, which as I discovered later lived up to the description in a very pleasing manner. I even learned that I was sexually preferable to Simo, although which of us should be more offended remained unknown.

Sadly, several people had to leave early, including Jonny 5 and Sue, who had only been able to join us briefly for various reasons. Liam arrived a little later, for what was probably his last ZZ9 pub meeting before he moved to the Czech Republic. He was followed soon after by Dave Lally. To be fair, David had warned us that he was coming, but as Jim pointed out, since David had failed to yell: “DAVE LALLY IS COMING! RUUUUUUUUUUUUUN!” in a voice you could hear the length of the pub, no-one had noticed. Sadly, although Dave had brought chocolate, it was the kind Helena could not eat. However, the drinks and conversation flowed ever onwards and much was forgotten, including the De-Fhan-estration of Jonathan Ross and the Twitterstorm of the Apocalypse - unless someone wrote it up in a fanzine. Oh how we laughed as we maintained the old tradition - as per ancient charter - of talking toot in the pub.


“T-Day Minus 30 and Counting…”
My final month at the Office of Fair Trading had the air of Kelly’s Heroes. There were waste-of-time strategy meetings, where those who had clearly never worked in a customer-facing role in their careers spouted militaristic jargon. Those of us who did front-line contact felt like Non-Commissioned Officers at a planning session for Field-Marshals. People departed for other posts and the scramble to clear the work became increasingly frantic, with fewer staff available. The last of the corporate branded merchandise disappeared in a final feeding-frenzy that all but took the paint off of the stationery cupboard. Our orders, jobs and futures changed on a daily basis as The End loomed large.

“It’s a shame the Chain-Gunner’s dead - he could have got that Hobbit from here…”
The weather remained as variable as London’s public transport, but it failed to stop Kevin Davies II’s fantasy table-top skirmish game taking place. To my surprise, I arrived before Robert, but he had been having problems with False Widows, leading to suggestions about deploying squads of Colonial Marine figures against them. It was also established that one of the characters in his 40th Anniversary Dungeons & Dragons™ game was actually named Llebned - a vague anagram of Bellend - not Llebney. Sadly, no-one could remember what lewd term Muttock was meant to be. Various snacks and drinks were set out and the four teams were deployed around the small village using the In Her Majesty’s Name™ rules. The Company of D’Wharfs arrived on foot and the Practical Science Club were air-lifted in by Flying Monkeys, rather than being carried in by a bird so big it could pick up elephants in its talons. Meanwhile FO.Com arrived in a Mysterious Way and Mysterious Co. arrived by boat, rather than on the back of a Magically Weaponised Giant Flatfish. Thus, we were denied any opportunities for jokes about being caught between a Roc and a Hard Plaice.

So the game began, with objectives to achieve, buildings to be occupy and items to collect. Naturally, my Company of D’Wharfs and their Combat Mechanoids - Fairly Hard - and the Orcs of Robert’s Practical Science Club - also Fairly Hard - immediately began fighting each other, whilst the Techno-Magically Enhanced Leader of The Practical Science Club - Rather Hard - and his Creation - Very Hard - went to collect item tokens. Meanwhile, Kevin’s sons gained an early advantage, by collecting item tokens, occupying the buildings - and settling in for the duration. The game proceeded, with the fight between D’Wharfs and Orcs remaining pretty even and inconclusive throughout. However, as the game drew towards its final stages, Mysterious Co. deployed their Hobbit Scouts - Not At All Hard - and all but one of them was slaughtered by the Techno-Magically Enhanced Leader of The Practical Science Club and his Creation. The other one managed to run away. When the game ended and the Victory Points were counted up, Kevin’s sons were the winners by a very large margin indeed. However, Robert and I felt we had more fun, with our teams beating each other up and killing the Hobbits. Afterwards, we packed up and sat around for a while, eating drinking and chatting, before finally heading home. We had all enjoyed ourselves, so it had been a successful games evening.


“Five… Four… Three… Two… One... Zero…”
My final week at the Office of Fair Trading was a frantic rush to clear the work before the office was shut down. It was the Termination of our Team, the End of an Era and a Finale to Flirtation with the cute ethnic Hungarian/Slovakian girl on the front desk. Our last day consisted of holding the telephone lines with few answers, no backup and increasingly irate callers. As I wondered about our superiors’ master plan, I could not help but think of Captain Edmund Blackadder’s final line in Blackadder Goes Forth: “Whatever it was, I’m sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean who would have noticed another madman around here? Good luck, everyone…”

Another bottle? You’re going to have to open a new cellar…”
Ivan’s 50th birthday involved a trip to Manchester - and what in some ways felt like a journey back in time. Wandering through the city centre, on the last Saturday afternoon of the month, I was struck by how relaxed the atmosphere was, in spite of the crowds. It reminded me very much of how parts of London used to be, once upon a time, back when I was a student. Of course, I could have just been imagining it, my system awash with exhaustion after an insanely busy month at work, giving way to nostalgia and wish-fulfilment. However, there was nothing imaginary about the prices when I got to Sinclair’s and after several drinks at half what it would have cost in London, I found myself deep in conversation with a number of folk, some of whom I hadn’t seen in around 10 years. Most of them did not seem to have changed much. Ivan was resplendent in Cowboy boots and shirt, whilst Jim had found a rather striking purple velvet jacket that would have suited a Bond villain - although there would have been a problem with the white cat shedding fur on it. Concluding that he would have to get a minion to do the cat-stroking, we moved on to other matters.

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Eventually, things wound down, most of the guests departed and we packed up before heading off to get some sleep. The next day, in spite of having lost and hour due to the start of British Summer Time, some of us met up at The Bulls Head near Manchester Piccadilly station, for food and drinks before heading home. 1970s music played on the pub’s sound system whilst some of our group played a 1960s trivia card game. Jeff and I learned that we had missed an Excitingly Inept Fight or Possible Street Theatre outside the Ape and Apple, which had involved none of our group whatsoever. We also discussed the past, present and possible future of ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha, conventions we had been to and the revelation that my memories of the dance to the Joe 90 theme was in fact from the Joe 90/Wicker Man cross-over and the result of too much cheese before bed. It was that sort of an early afternoon, in the kind of pub where one wall of the Men’s toilet featured a mural of goblins grabbing each others bollocks. Naturally, Jim remembered when it was blue monkeys. Soon after, Jim, Meike and I left to catch our train, for a largely uneventful journey back to London. However, Meike did wake me up when we reached Macclesfield, to point out a shop called S & M Supplies. Oh how we laughed as we maintained the old tradition - as per ancient charter - of talking toot in the aftermath of an outstanding party.

Memento Mori…
March’s noteworthy deaths included Wu Ma Xiansheng, the Chinese actor, director writer and producer. James Ellis, known by many as Bert Lynch in Z Cars, but a veteran of many other shows, including Dr Who and Nightingales passed onward. The world of politics saw the departures of Marion Thorpe, wife of Liberal politician Jeremy Thorpe, Bob Crow, the notorious rail union leader and Michael Abbott, the noted unionist. None were mourned quite as much as legend of the Labour Left, Tony Benn, when he went join his fallen comrades. Sadly the worst thing about his death was the sanctimonious outpourings of the Tories. Not to mention the traitors who had the effrontery to call themselves New Labour.

Clarissa Dickson Wright of Two Fat Ladies fame joined her partner in cookery, Jennifer Paterson, whilst generally unpopular homophobe, Fred Waldron Phelps senior, head of the Westbro Baptist Church went to meet his maker. Raymond “Jerry” Roberts, one of the last surviving Bletchley Park code-breakers, mustered out and re-grouped with his comrades and noted author Lucius Shepard, best known for Life During Wartime, laid down his pen. Lastly but by no means leastly, actress Kate O’Mara, widely known as seductive schemer Caress Morell, sister of Alexis in Dynasty, but also noted for her numerous other roles including seductive schemer The Rani in Dr Who, took her final curtain call. Rest in Peace…


The One Without The Humorous Back Cover
alan_j_sullivan

A March Retrospective On February 2014.

“The Sprout on High, The Beer is Freely Flowing...”
No-one would have believed, in the first days of February, the controversy that was to arise from Jonathan Ross being asked to present the Hugo Awards at Loncon3. The most notable thing about the First Thursday meeting for the month at the Melton Mowbray was the sparse turnout. This was due to it being on the second day of the London Underground 48 Hour Strike, so many people decided not to attend. This was not good news for the Picocon 31 representatives, who had turned up with lots of flyers, since only a few of the various fan groups were present. However, we did our best to keep our assorted credentials up. Graham had the latest news about The Order of The Golden Sprout and we pondered the implications for the future of the society over the course of several beers. Whether or not future historians would look back on this as a pivotal moment in the founding of Brussels Sproutism (BS) remained unknown.

Meanwhile, Richard held forth on matters of health, diet and why he wanted to join Weight Watchers. Apparently, it was something pertaining to the gender imbalance in their membership, but I didn’t quite catch all of it, possibly because I was in the wrong state of intoxication. However, Helena managed to distract us with her Victorian Prostitute Boots, although as Graham pointed out, they probably were not all that historically accurate. Sadly, Reverend Jim was not available to be distracted, due to the transport problems, so I was unable to ask his views on Helena’s suggestion about cavorting on Alex’s stockpile of Beeblebears. Liam turned up, somewhat tense over his impending move to Brno in the Czech Republic, to take up a new job. However, some beer helped and as I observed later, on Facebook, within a month or so of relocating, he would quite probably be speaking the language like a local and romancing the ladies like a Leather-Clad Raven-Haired Sex-God. There was also mention of Helena’s purple furry onesie, but the drinks and conversation flowed ever onwards and the matter was forgotten - unless someone wrote it up in a fanzine afterwards. Oh how we laughed as we maintained the old tradition - as per ancient charter - of talking toot in the pub.


“We call upon our Troopers, in this our Darkest Hour…”
After a meteorologically tempestuous December and January, storms and flooding dominated British news throughout February, with troops being brought in to assist the over-stretched emergency services. Those who had to evacuate from their homes, or who had been left without power for the latter half of December, were especially concerned. However, the government remained too busy stirring up paranoia about Bulgarians and Romanians flooding into Britain in spite the alleged migrant deluge remaining conspicuous by its absence. I could just imagine David Cameron cursing perfidious foreigners who could not be trusted to come to Britain and claim British homes, jobs and benefits. Meanwhile, Nature, having delivered the wettest January in 100 years, proceeded to carry on regardless into February, although as the month wore on, signs of brighter, warmer weather made occasional appearances. Although the flooding began to ease, the anger and criticism of government inaction and incompetence remained and the rather dismissive response of David Cameron and his ministers did not help matters.

However, when the flooding started to reach areas full of Tory voters, the government suddenly could not do enough to help, promising unlimited funds and inflicting their presence on the victims of flooding - which if anything raised the hostility levels even further. It left me wondering when the country would be swept by Brussels Sproutism (BS) - the belief that all politicians should be replaced by Brussels sprouts. With sprouts not being given to making stupid comments in public, cheating on their spouses, starting wars, oppressing the starving masses or committing acts of genocide, it was easy to see how morally and intellectually superior they were to politicians. Rumours that an exception would be made for Herman Van Rompuy - but only if it turned out that he really had become President of The European Council by bribing everyone with beer and chocolate - remained unconfirmed. Sadly, too many people remained more interested in the daily soap-opera lives of fatuous celebrities than the events around them, as per usual.


“Tell me we made some progress…”
Reason notwithstanding, the Monday night gaming sessions at the Penderel’s Oak in Holborn carried on, unabated. The food, prices and variety of guest ales remained pleasing and we still had enough space to get all the gaming groups back together under one roof. Unfortunately, the flow-through of new staff complicated matters more often than not. Meanwhile, the side plot in Shaun’s Cyberpunk™ story developed. One of the carnival’s crew had been accused of rape and DMS, the rival media group to Network 54, were using it to try and discredit the pack. We were tasked with using our Night City contacts to try and clear him. We went through the security videos from the carnival’s cameras, the DMS news videos and the local mall security cameras. We saw the girl clearly making moves on the accused - and spotted she had spiked her own drink, indicating it was a set-up. With some additional research, we identified the man who accompanied her to the police station when she reported being attacked - a high-ranking local Scientologist. It turned out that both of them were associated with the Biotechnicha corporation, suggesting a tangled web behind things. The Solos also noticed that two couples in the crowd were actually two teams, working in pairs, scouting out the carnival. Whether this was part of the set-up, or something separate remained uncertain. Meanwhile, Jonny 5’s Fixer went to see someone about getting a lawyer - which, given how few real lawyers there were left after The Purge, was no easy task.

However, he succeeded and we were advised that whilst we could not be officially involved, any information that might happen to be passed on discretely to the lawyer’s investigators could be useful. Meanwhile, the media had more or less besieged the camp, so we moved out in ones and twos and rendezvoused at a rented lock-up in Night City. We arranged accommodation and transport and my tech divided his time between repainting the vehicles, rigging up bugs and cloning the girl’s mobile telephone, so that we could monitor her calls. When we put the bugs in place, we also noticed that one of the media companies had done the same - and we took care to leave their device undisturbed. Meanwhile, Isi’s Netrunner had noted some alarming news - Netwatch had cut both Militech and Arasaka right out of the network for 12 hours. Although no details were forthcoming, she suggested it might be the start of another corporate war. In local news, the police and the Blood Razors were engaging more than usual - possibly due to the death of a Network 54 employee and Inquisitor.

Meanwhile, our own research revealed that Torres and Lovell, the officers investigating the rape case, were not from the Vice division, but from a section with more “political” associations. Then a day later, whilst My Tech, Andy’s Solo and Isi’s Netrunner were on a supply run, we were stopped by those same officers. The fact that they had two squads of heavily armed support made it clear this was no coincidence. As Nomads - “Zeros” with no social security numbers or official existence - we could have been shot. Instead, they took our guns and Isi’s Netrunner had her cyberdeck confiscated. Then, having made their point about us being “known associates” of the accused, they let us go. Concerned by this development, we decided to plan our next move before re-grouping with the others.


Hetalia: Eurozone Crisis…”
Civil disorder continued to rage across the Eurozone as the cutbacks continued and public anger increased. Various economies teetered, international relations remained rocky and things looked grim all round. Even the attempts by David Cameron and Angela Merkel to lighten things with a comedy double-act completely and utterly failed. However, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cast a shadow over Ms Merkel’s upper lip with a fatefully-timed raised finger, he got rather a lot of laughs - except in Germany and Austria. As ever, Hetalia: Axis Powers and World Series - a satirical alternative world history with various countries personified as nationally stereotypical homoerotic pretty-boys - stood no chance against reality.

“Why is it always The End of The World with these people…?”
Meanwhile, in a universe at least superficially not entirely unlike our own, the latest episode of Kevin’s G.U.R.P.S™ our team was reunited and set the much more relaxing task of checking surveillance videos. Then an alert came in and those of us who did not already know, learned some disturbing facts. Something had turned the crew of a drilling platform crew into zombies. Unfortunately, it was on the edge of a Forbidden Zone, under a treaty with the ancient and extremely advanced pre-human aquatic civilization known as the deep Ones. Suspecting that the rig had accidentally drilled into something they should not have, we were tasked with leading two squads of troops onto the rig to find out what had happened. The weather was pretty rough when we landed - and we lost one of our transport aircraft. Regrouping, we entered the rig itself and began searching for survivors and information. Naturally, there was hilarity when waves of zombies attacked us. By the time we had the few survivors secured, our forces had been reduced by over fifty percent. Then the questioning began whilst my character tested them for zombie infection. Initially we learned little, but started worrying when the survivors told us that the Project K team had been behind a lot of the drilling and research work and had even taken away a number of samples and at least one unusual object. Given that taking samples and objects belonging to the Deep Ones was a treaty violation that could see our civilization wiped out, we realized things were worse than expected.

Then we found a Project K team member, and learned that the samples had been Shoggoths - a servitor race of amorphous proto-matter blobs. The Shoggoths had rebelled and killed their creators and were considered so dangerous even the Deep Ones were afraid of them. So, we cleared the rest of the rig - losing most of our remaining troops doing so, but killing a couple of the remaining Shoggoths. Then a Deep One Hybrid arrived. She explained that the rig had breached a containment facility for the Shoggoths and that a number of them had been removed along with a Stele that helped to seal them in. Although we managed to convince her that we wanted to help, we were left in no doubt as to how much trouble Humanity was going to be in if all that had been taken was not returned. Luckily, some of the information we had found included shipping records that told us where the samples had gone, so off we went. After examining the place where they were being held, we decided a subtle approach was called for and with Anand’s character’s special Warrant Card we persuaded the receptionist that we needed to see the supervisor urgently. The man we met appeared to be the one in charge of Project K - going by the information we had - but it turned out he had been replaced by a Shoggoth, who pointed out that if Humanity worked with them, they could break the power of the Deep Ones.

Wisely, we pretended to agree and took him back to the rig, with a sabotaged Stele, that would set the other Shoggoths loose. Then it was just a matter of killing him, giving the Hybrid the information we had, fixing the Stele and ensuring that the rest of the Shoggoths that had been removed were destroyed. That was the easy bit. Convincing the Hybrid that we knew nothing of why this had been done, or who was behind it and that the Humans had been ignorant pawns of an unknown third party was rather more difficult. Luckily, Anand and David’s characters had the skills we needed .Thus another mission was successfully concluded - given that the Crawling Chaos did not make manifest, not even as Nyaruko-San. Although it had been slightly shorter than usual, the game had still been enjoyably challenging, whilst drinks and conversation brought the evening to a satisfactory end.


“So long Mom, I’m off to drop The Bomb…”
Reason not withstanding, the universe continued unabated. America’s ongoing problems with wildfires, flooding and lunatics with guns - some of them police - shooting each other were reduced in significance when a sudden freeze and powerful winds combined into a “polar vortex” that took temperatures in America and Canada to their coldest for 20 years. Cities were reduced to a standstill by snow, supplies ran low and even Niagera Falls froze over. Naturally, there were deaths, but mercifully few of them. As ever, the otherwise un-noticed men and women of the emergency services stood to and did what had to be done, saving lives and demonstrating Humanity at its best. In Uganda, President Museveni passed a new bill toughening the legal penalties against homosexuality, whilst political instability, mass killings and corruption remained rife throughout the rest of Africa, but no-one took much notice, probably because there was no oil involved. The Middle East continued to teeter on the edge, problems with elections in Thailand resulted in a series of protests and although very little appeared in the news, anti-government protests in Venezuela began to escalate.

Meanwhile, in the Ukraine, after numerous deaths as protesters battled police, Viktor Yanukovych was removed as President and an interim government took over. Yamukovych fled to Russia, claiming that he was still the lawfully appointed leader, whilst pro-Russian forces occupied the parliament building in Crimea. There was also concern about how Russian President and raging homophobe Vladimir Putin would react. Like many others I wondered if he would be foolish enough to invade - which would turn world opinion against him - or canny enough to aid the pro-Russian factions whilst cutting support to the rest of the nation. Given the state of the Ukrainian economy and their dependence on gas and oil from Russia, such action would force the interim government to back down - unless the European Union supplied alternative aid. Given the state of most of the European Union, I wondered if the promises of David Cameron and his fellow self-serving traitorous politicians would be as empty for the Ukrainians as they had always proved to be for their own electorate. As it turned out, Russian troops took over Crimea, the Russian parliament having approved the use of the military to protect Russian interests in Ukraine, bringing an internationally tense ending to the month.


“That’s The Naughty Seat…”
The ZZ9 Third Wednesday meeting for February at The Sheaf, formerly known as The Wheatsheaf, had a very good turnout. Deb had made it home to Australia - and back to Britain - Alex had brought merchandise, James turned up and we even had an unexpected Civi. Sadly, Sue was absent, due to an accident the night before, so sympathetic messages were sent at various points in time and space. Jim and Meike were elsewhere whilst Helen and Ian were unavailable for reasons unknown. Even the latest World’s Greatest Miley Cyrus Joke, about her taste for Twerkish Delight was conspicuous by its absence. Helena was a little subdued, owing to a traumatic maths test at work, but her irrepressible nature soon came back to the fore. Meanwhile, Deb produced a rather interesting little mathematical puzzle that took most of us quite a bit of solving. Then she pulled out her big surprise: Robert Newman had told her that ZZ9 was now 331/3 years old and so she had brought a cake along. Naturally, this was very well received and the celebration went on into the night. A chair shortage led Helena to offer the services of her lap - which Civi described as The Naughty Seat, prompting Helena to demonstrate what was possibly the World’s Filthiest Laugh. There was also some manly bonding in the men’s toilet between Jonny 5, Civi and myself, but Vladimir Putin was conspicuously absent and no streams were crossed. The great Loncon3 Hugo controversy involving Jonathan Ross - a man capable of being knowledgeable and entertaining, but more incredibly talented at pissing people off than myself and Simo combined - was over a week in the future. The drinks and conversation flowed ever onwards and much was forgotten in due course - unless someone wrote it up in a fanzine. Oh how we laughed as we maintained the old tradition - as per ancient charter - of talking toot in the pub.

“Curse Yew, Predictive Spell-Chequer…”
In a world of hurts, filled with lands of confusion, the havens were all too few and far between. The end of January and the start of February saw the beginning of the Chinese New Year and people happily began celebrating the Year of The Horse. How the BBC managed to describe it as The Year of The Whores on their title cards remained uncertain. Slivio Berlusconi would have appreciated the humour of the situation. On the legal front, Tony Blair managed to get name checked for “advising” Rebekah Brooks over the phone-hacking scandal, as the trial of the former News of The World editor proceeded apace. Further legal controversy ensued when the men who killed soldier Lee Rigby were jailed for a minimum of 45 years and told they were likely to die in prison. Personally, I was unsure whose reaction I found more disturbing: those who denounced the sentence as barbaric - running a man over with a car and hacking his head off being such a civilised act - or the ones who felt it was far too lenient and sounded worryingly like Citizens of The Federation in Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.

Meanwhile, the epic legal saga of the late Jimmy Savile’s crimes looked all set to rival Game of Thrones as a lengthy story of evil scumbags getting away with doing as they pleased. William Roach was cleared of the charges he had faced, amid claims that he had been the target of a “witch hunt”. Dave Lee Travis was also cleared of a dozen charges against him - but was warned he faced a retrial on others. However, on the sporting front, the Winter Olympics managed to go off without too many problems, in spite of protests about Vladimir Putin’s homophobic policies, an attack by Cossack militiamen on Pussy Riot when they tried to perform in the host city and the ever-present threat of terrorism. Meanwhile, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced that data and observations from the Kepler space telescope had revealed a further 715 planets in the Milky Way galaxy. With the running total of planets outside our solar system now at 1,700 it was another great day for space science.


“I will have my Willies!”
The day of Picocon 31 dawned bright and warm, marking a pleasant change to the weather thus far for February. Sadly, it also clashed with the ZZ9 South Kensington Science Museum Slouch, but such things happen. I arrived at the gates of Beit Quad, home of the Imperial College Student Union, paid my entrance fee and filled in the form. For various reasons, I listed my Survival Weapon of Choice in the Event of a Zombie Apocalypse as a Saxophone - along with the requisite ability to play Yakety Sax whilst fleeing the Zombies in question. Then, having confirmed that my name was not Dave - to the obvious disappointment of the doe-eyed lady who had enquired - I headed for the bar.

Sadly, it was shut. However, I met up with a couple of friends and we headed across the road to where the talks were taking place. Charles Stross was reported to have been very interesting on a range of subjects - so it was a shame that we only arrived in time to hear his comments on the Dark Side of Steampunk. I did a little book-browsing, handed out my fanzine and some ZZ9 flyers and engaged in meeting-and-greeting, some of it unexpected, but equally welcome. Then I went to hear what Sarah Pinborough had to say about becoming a published, bought and sold author. Somehow, I gained the impression that making a living as an author involved being willing to blur genre boundaries, embrace flexibility, balance splurge-writing with planning and optimise the use of niches and social media. Also being remarkably lucky seemed to go without saying.

I returned to the quad in time to watch and photograph the destruction of some very questionable merchandise using liquid nitrogen and a very large hammer. Someone then donated some vegetables for no readily apparent reason. Much to everyone’s surprise, the Tomato got two Critical Successes on its Dodge roll in succession, before succumbing at the third strike. The Red Pepper was not so fortunate, falling at the first. Then it was time for beer, food and toot-talking in the Union Bar. Very enjoyable it was too. So much so, we failed to attend Professor David Southwood’s talk on Science Fiction and Fact. However, we did make it to the Guest of Honour Panel, via a rather entertaining Live Role Playing skirmish that left David and myself feeling suitably invigorated. The panel took in various aspects of Science Fiction, including satire, social reflection, genre boundaries, philosophy and socio-economics. However, it proved to be rather light on definitive answers, which was perhaps just as well.

Then it was time for the Turkey Readings. Of the books available, Satan Skin got a lot of bids to keep it shut, but none at all to have it read. The classic of the Turkey Genre, Astra and Flondrix earned quite a bit for reading and stopping, before finally being closed, but The Very Virile Viking was for some reason the one that went on longest and earned the most money. One bidder was particularly keen to have the word “Nay” replaced with “Willy” - and paid a sizable price for it. The rest of us just had to suffer. Ironically, this made the video item, Bollywood SF action film Robot rather entertaining by comparison.

Owing to various delays and the need to get back on schedule, the Silly Games item was shortened to one round of Just A Minute. It still was not as short as the Harmless Fun event that in no way involved a Duel with Fish as Weapons. This proved to be so short that by the time I had got a drink and made my way through the crowds to the quad, it was all over - in fact most of the people I been trying to get past had been returning from not watching any Piscine Combat. Personally, I felt this was a sad reflection of the times and wondered how you could possibly have a duel without the participants spending at least ten minutes ritually insulting each other. Concluding that it was a terrible indictment of modern university students, I returned to the bar for further beer, food and toot-talking. Very enjoyable it was too. The drinks and conversation flowed ever onwards and matters such as The Turkey Reading were forgotten - unless someone wrote it up in a fanzine afterwards.

The final event of the convention was the Pub Quiz or Are You Smarter Than The Picocon Committee? As per usual, the vast majority of us were not. However, there was some amusement value to be had from the winning team being named Virile Viking II: Revenge of The Woman-Cleft. Which we agreed was best not explained. People went their various ways and I found myself enjoying fine company and pleasing ramen at Wagamama, before heading home. The apocalyptic Twitterstorm over Jonathan Ross being asked to present the Hugo Awards at Loncon3 - a controversial choice, given his past record for offending people - had yet to break and all told, it had been another enjoyable Picocon.


Memento Mori…
January’s noteworthy deaths segued into February, when veteran actor, writer and director Maximilian Schell faced his final curtain and highly regarded Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead from a suspected heroin overdose. Director Christopher Barry whose credits included many Dr Who stories about the Daleks, passed onward, as did legendary child actress Shirley Temple Black, noted comedy actor and writer Sid Caesar and actor Ralph Waite, who was best known for playing John Walton senior in The Waltons. Reggae singer William “Bunny Rugs” Clarke sang his final encore, Preston and England winger Sir Thomas Finney heeded the final whistle, whilst actor Ken Jones - Ives in Porridge - bowed out. Bob Casale, guitarist and founder member of Devo played his last. Noted singer and actor Francesco di Giacomo sang his swan song. Maria Von Trapp, the last surviving member of the Trapp Family Singers, whose escape from the Nazis in Austria inspired The Sound of Music bid the world a final so long, farewell, auf weidersehen, goodbye. Former astronaut Dale Gardner headed for the final frontier. Lastly but by no means leastly, Harold Ramis, the comedy actor, writer and director, best known as Dr Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters shuffled off his mortal coil and departed for the spirit realm. Rest in Peace…


The One Without The Humorous Back Cover
alan_j_sullivan

A February Retrospective On January 2014.

“I have the record collection - I win!”
Les’s New Year’s Eve party was of modest size and enjoyable. Admittedly, it was not as exciting, adventurous or really wild as some parties of ZZ9 legend - the stains having mostly been removed by now - but the important ingredients were present. There was copious food, interesting booze, people I could talk to about things ranging from ZZ9 parties of yore to the present state of the music scene, via multi-cultural issues and a mellow atmosphere. With Les, John Philpott and Graham present, it even turned into a bit of a ZZ9 veterans re-union. Later on, there was music, merriment and party poppers. Sadly, due to seasonal ailments there was a dearth of Roberts, John Philpott had to leave early and Les began to succumb to the cold he had been heroically fighting all day, so things wound down a little sooner than expected. However, as I wandered off, dodging around the first vomit-pools of 2014, the skies over Blackheath were lit by occasional fireworks. In spite of the rain that had been dogging the day, I was in a really good mood. It had been an enjoyable New Year party.

“T-Day Minus 89 and Counting
Going back to work on the second day of 2014 was not easy. This was not made any easier by the fact that we knew when the office would be closing and how long we had left. We had all done our best to finish off as much as we could before the break, so there should not have been any problems. Naturally, several people who were supposed to have been back were conspicuous by their absence, so the rest of us had to pick up the slack. Finding that my line manager had been stockpiling the letters received added to my problems - and left me having to explain to the management why the response was outside the time limit of our Key Performance Indicator. It was a salutary reminder of how easily those of us who formed the backbone of the Service could be made into its scapegoats.

“No, ‘Telling her about The Prisoner’ in not a euphemism...”
The First Thursday meeting for December at the Melton Mowbray had a sparse turnout. This was possibly due to it being the second day of the New Year, so many people were either still recovering from the celebrations, or had yet to return from their seasonal break. This was not an ideal time for someone completely new to turn up, since only a few of the various fan groups were represented. However, we did our best to keep our new comrade entertained and informed as to what was what and who was who. Robert even saw to it that she was introduced to various people of interest. But Dave Lally managed to tell her about The Prisoner anyway. On the forthcoming convention front, Graham admitted that he was planning to hold Dangercon 60 to celebrate his birthday. By some arcane means, this led to the decision that Helena would be doing Dangercon 36. Or something like that. Meanwhile, Robert was informative about his new Valois army and entertaining with the story of the French invasion of Jersey. This had apparently ended in hilarity when the invasion force opened fire on a local pub - and were promptly set upon by the locals who had been drinking there at the time. Discussion of the recent New Year celebrations led to unexpected discoveries about some of the absentees at various events. However, it turned out that Les’s New Year’s Eve party in Blackheath was the most impressive. Some of us would have put this down to Les’s record collection, but apparently it was because someone called Rain had been dogging there all day. It was a telling example of how a misinterpreted fanzine write-up could make things much more interesting. Oh how we laughed as we maintained the old tradition - as per ancient charter - of talking toot in the pub.

“Family Matters? Of course it does
I spent the first Saturday of the New Year visiting family. As with the previous year, the conversation centred on family matters focussed mainly on issues of failing health, general decrepitude and other cheerful subjects. I was just glad my relatives - some of them my age, all highly educated - managed to avoid expressing what might politely be called “parochial” views on immigration, employment and welfare policies - and the abuses thereof. I would have found myself acting as a Voice for Tolerance - which given my own prejudices and bigotries would have been ironic. Luckily, religion, belief and gender issues did not arise, so the evening ended peacefully. However, it did leave me pondering the implications of having more in common with my second cousins - who were half my age. I could only conclude that having lived most of my life amongst the myriad creeds, cultures, and ethnicities of London, I had somehow acquired a broader outlook - in spite of having never been outside the European Union. Otherwise, there was food, games and gifts, followed by a relaxed journey home. I ended up with more chocolate and biscuits than I could eat, of course, but that was nothing unusual.

“Get your carnivorous arse out of my face…”
Reason notwithstanding, the Monday night gaming sessions at the Penderel’s Oak in Holborn carried on, unabated. The food, prices and variety of guest ales remained pleasing and we still had enough space to get all the gaming groups back together under one roof. Unfortunately, the flow-through of new staff complicated matters more often than not. Meanwhile, the main arc of Shaun’s Cyberpunk™ story reached a climax. We grabbed the main suspect’s henchman - in spite of the complication of him having a lady friend in the car with him - and hauled him away. She managed to get herself rescued by Trauma Team paramedics, whilst we took our prisoner to an isolated spot. Then the interrogation began, with Steve as Absolute Bastard Cop, Andy as Other Cop and Jonny 5 as Pervy Cop. My tech character sensibly watched the perimeter, aided and abetted by Isi’s Netrunner and Siobhan’s tech. We eventually got confirmation of what we had largely worked out - and learned that our prisoner was indeed an Inquisitor and it was being used as leverage on him. We then secured, sedated and stashed him with the pack, after which we reported back to our patron.

Then it was just a matter of holding the interview, with Steve and Andy’s Solos ready to charge in and protect our client, whilst Isi’s Netrunner and Siobhan’s tech set up the electronic surveillance to record everything, with multiple off-site backups. Meanwhile, Jonny 5’s Fixer and my tech protected our client’s wife and child. There was some initial hilarity, when the suspect activated a jamming device - but with Isi’s Netrunner aiding and motivating her, Siobhan’s tech managed to work around it and restored the link. The tension rose as the suspect tried to keep control, but eventually he cracked and flipped open his case. Inside were some explosives and a big gun. The Solos promptly intervened, stunning him with a microwaver, then subduing and securing him. On our patron’s advice, we then handed over to Network 54 security, to keep the matter “in house”. The rest of us left discretely, to meet up later and tie up the loose ends. We eventually handed our unwanted Inquisitor to a booster gang, the Blood Razors, who agreed to let us pass through their turf in return.

However, soon after getting paid, we were recalled to the pack, as minor side plot kicked in. One of the carnival’s crew had been accused of rape and DMS, the rival media group to Network 54, were making a big issue of it and clearly trying to discredit the pack. We were tasked with using our Night City contacts to try and clear him. We started by running through the security videos from the carnival’s cameras and the DMS news videos. Then Steve and Andy’s Solos talked to their contact in the local mall security, and got a look at some of their footage as well. We saw the girl very clearly making moves on the accused - and we even spotted that she had spiked her own drink. With some additional research, we also identified the man who accompanied her to the police station when she reported being attacked - a high-ranking local Scientologist. The Solos even spotted that two couples in the crowd were actually two teams, working in pairs, scouting out the carnival. Meanwhile, Jonny 5’s Fixer went to see someone about getting a lawyer - which, given how few real lawyers there were left after The Purge, was no easy task.


“Does he know what ‘Irony’ means…?”
After a meteorologically tempestuous December, storms and flooding continued to dominate the British news throughout January. Those who had already had to either evacuate from their homes, or who had been left without power for the latter half of December, were especially concerned. However, David Cameron and his government were far too busy to help them. They were more concerned with stirring up people’s paranoia about the Bulgarians and Romanians who were apparently going to be flooding into Britain, when visa restrictions ended in the New Year. Strangely, the flood of migrants totally failed to materialise, rather embarrassing the government. I could just imagine David Cameron cursing perfidious foreigners who could not be bothered to come to Britain and claim British homes, jobs and benefits. So the Tories returned to stoking fears about international terrorism and engaging in gratuitous pauper-bashing.

Nature, by contrast delivered the wettest January in 100 years, with double the normal monthly rainfall in most areas. The flooding worsened, with more people being evacuated and a rising tide of anger and criticism was directed at Environment Secretary Owen Paterson and Lord Smith, head of the Environment Agency. For some reason, aspiring comedian and Minister without Portfolio – Ooh-er, Mrs - Kenneth Clarke leapt to their defence, comparing the people complaining to a lynch mob and claiming that this did not help matters. Which I felt just went to show that some people had not learned from the French and Russian revolutions and what happened to anyone disdainful of lynch mobs. However, many people believed that the most deranged comment about the flooding came from David Silvester of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) who claimed it was due to same-sex marriages. I personally felt it was more likely that the floods were caused by people pissing themselves laughing at UKIP. I also wondered if Nick Griffin, British Nationalist Party (BNP) leader and un-sympathised-with bankrupt, was happy that UKIP were looking worse than the BNP. Sadly, too many people remained more interested in the daily soap-opera lives of fatuous celebrities than the events around them, as per usual.


“What does The Magic Eight Ball suggest we get a man who already has a Magic Eight Ball?”
By his own admission, Steve based his birthday celebration on Isi’s birthday event. We started off by meeting up at the Penderel’s Oak, in Holborn, for a couple of beers - albeit on a Friday rather than a Monday. This involved cards, presents and a number of people I hadn’t seen in a while. The Magic Eight Ball proved a popular solution to the eternal decision making problem, whilst the conversation about the www.plentyoffish.com website that became an idea for setting up a www.plentyofsith.com website had some interesting aspects. However, in due course, we headed off Kimchee. As usual, our expectations were set on high, as we had yet to have a disappointing meal there. Happily, our expectations were exceeded. The food was excellent, the conversation interesting and a fine time was had by all. My only regret was that I had not got enough room for a dessert. The final stage was going to Belgo’s for some Belgian beer. This being a Friday, we did wonder if it would be as crowded as the Penderel’s Oak and Kimchee had been. However, it was fairly empty - except around the bar area, where people were crowding together as if the place was packed wall to wall. In spite of some wholly unnecessary shoving and jostling, we managed to get drinks and sat talking for a while. Eventually, some of us had to depart, although I did stay long enough to witness Liam’s arrival. Fortunately for those present, the drinks and conversation flowed ever onwards and all else was forgotten - unless someone wrote it up in a fanzine afterwards. Oh how we laughed as we maintained the old tradition - as per ancient charter - of talking toot in the pub.

Hetalia: Eurozone Crisis…”
Civil disorder continued to rage across the Eurozone as the cutbacks continued and public anger increased. Various economies teetered, international relations remained rocky and things looked grim all round. However, possibly inspired by Slivio Berlusconi trying his hand at alternative comedy, French President François Hollande decided to lighten things with some classical bedroom farce, involving his wife and an actress. For some reason, this brought Le Bandard Fou by Jean “Moebius” Giraud to my mind, for no readily apparent reason. Again, Hetalia: Axis Powers and World Series - a satirical alternative world history with various countries personified as nationally stereotypical homoerotic pretty-boys - stood no chance against reality.

“SAN Chi PINCHI, SAN Chi PINCHI…”
The ZZ9 Third Wednesday meeting for January at The Sheaf, formerly known as The Wheatsheaf, had a very good turnout, although the weather was decidedly. Luckily, there was a distinct lack of New Year crowds, so we had very little trouble getting to the room we had booked. We ate, drank and talked of various things including Jim and Meike’s Groovy GCHQ Telecoms Mystery. The meetings book was passed around and the tone was lowered when reminiscences about the First Thursday raised the possibility of Helena, Deb and Sue collaborating on ZZ9 Slash. SAN-loss occured. Sadly, we didn’t have a string-of-imitation-pearls hair band being mistaken for a string-of-imitation-pearls cock ring as an excuse. Worse, the latest World’s Greatest Miley Cyrus Joke, about her duet with Madonna being Twerk experience, did not appear in Metro until the fifth Wednesday of the month. Fortunately, the drinks and conversation flowed ever onwards and all else was forgotten - unless someone wrote it up in a fanzine at some later point in time. Oh how we laughed as we maintained the old tradition - as per ancient charter - of talking toot in the pub.

“…”
Reason not withstanding, the universe continued unabated. America’s ongoing problems with wildfires, flooding and lunatics with guns - some of them police - shooting each other were reduced in significance when a sudden freeze and powerful winds combined into a “polar vortex” that took temperatures in America and Canada to their coldest for 20 years. Cities were reduced to a standstill by snow, supplies ran low and even Niagera Falls froze over. Naturally, there were deaths, but mercifully few of them. As ever, the otherwise un-noticed men and women of the emergency services stood to and did what had to be done, saving lives and demonstrating Humanity at its best. Political instability, mass killings and corruption remained rife in Africa, but no-one took much notice, probably because there was no oil involved. The Middle East continued to teeter on the edge, whilst in the Ukraine, protests and police clampdowns escalated towards the brink of civil war. Depending on your viewpoint, this was either the best of times or the worst of times for their President to go on sick leave, but he did so anyway. The violence carried on, regardless. In Russia, two suicide bombings in Volgograd, site of the forthcoming Winter Olympics led to a city-wide lockdown, with Russian President and raging homophobe Vladimir Putin apparently being very concerned about Islamic militants breaching his ring of steel. I thought they were just targeting the Winter Olympics, being personally unfamiliar with the thinking of madmen - and Islamic extremists. Meanwhile in North Korea, Kim Jong-Un, having executed his uncle Jang Song-Thaek, began purging his uncle’s relatives. Whether this would make people respect his authoritaaaiii remained to be seen.

“He reads Soldier of Fortune one-handed…”
Meanwhile, in a universe at least superficially not entirely unlike our own, the latest episode of Kevin’s G.U.R.P.S™ diverted back to our team of UN.I.T renegade, who had managed to protect a full-blood Garou chemist, whilst policing up the last samples of a drug that actually allowed people to see into time - and made them targets for the Hounds of Tindalos, Mythos creatures given to preying on those who meddle with time, unprotected. Things were simplified by the arrival of The Winter King - also known as Santa - who offered to shelter the unfortunate chemist in his Timeless realm. This was apparently due to the actions of our other team, in different adventure. He also suggested that we might want to form a band - or least become the road crew for a band - so that we could travel far and wide with large amounts of equipment without too many questions being asked.

Soon afterwards, we got a lead to the group we had an interest in - Harry’s Boys. After running the gauntlet at the Punch and Headbutt and not starting a fight, we got to meet the people in question. Although they had a fearsome reputation, it soon turned out that we had a lot in common - particularly the kind of people they were tackling. So in due course, we found ourselves stealing a cargo of SG4 Upgrade nanites, and then releasing said nanites into a bank - which was a Karotechia front operation - with the occasional late-night lock-in, followed by a party with Goths, punks and military wannabes in between jobs. Our crime spree culminated in a robbery on another bank that was a front for Pentex. As its protection included a Necromancer, a corrupted Garou and a Dragon, we ended up having to do a lot of planning. Not to mention thinking, re-thinking and strategising. Eventually though, we came up with a plan. Making use of our various resources, including Anand’s mage character’s research facility in the Fae realm, we constructed a device that would temporarily neutralise magic in the area, then carried out the raid using mundane means. Things went well enough that we were taken to meet the people we had really been looking for all along - Saviour, the organisation that Harry’s Boys were working for. Oddly enough, the nature of the operations that had got our superiors so concerned all made sense when we learned that this was being run by the Sisters of Hippolyta, an order of holy mages. Their leader was not at all happy to learn who we were, but we managed to come to an agreement, whereby we could work together, without handing them over to those who would destroy or exploit them.

So, another mission was more or less successfully concluded - given that the Crawling Chaos did not make manifest, not even as Nyaruko-San - with our team intact. Although it had gone on later than usual, we even managed to make our way home afterwards in reasonably good order, having had an enjoyably challenging game.


“…”
In a world of hurts, filled with lands of confusion, the havens were all too few and far between. On the legal front, there was a spike of outrage, when the inquest into the killing of Mark Duggan found that the police who shot him had acted lawfully. Given that the original killing in 2011 had sparked riots across Britain, it could have ended in further violence. Somehow sanity prevailed, fortunately. Meanwhile, the trial of Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson continued apace, having failed to outdo the epic legal saga of the late Jimmy Savile’s crimes. Ian Watkins of The Lostprophets, having admitted to abusing children, began planning his appeal, whilst Rolf Harris faced further charges. The “Higella” scandal ended, not that anyone was particularly interested in their pitiful attention-seeking. However, these were as nothing compared to the headline-grabbing trials of Dave Lee Travis and William Roach. Meanwhile, an Italian court overturned the acquittal of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito for the murder of Meredith Kercher, sparking further controversy. On the sporting front, racing driver Michael Schumacher was hospitalised after a skiing accident, although after a month in a coma, doctors said he was starting to respond to treatment. Meanwhile, in the world of science and technology, the Chinese Yutu lunar rover apparently began to malfunction, having not long begun its mission on the moon. However, rumours that Ireland were still planning to send Bono and his band mates into space remained unconfirmed. Meanwhile, the European space Agency brought the Rosetta probe back online, after shutting it down to conserve power. This left the way clear for Rosetta to intercept comet 67P and drop a lander on it. It was another great day for space science.

“Dude - Wrong Film…”
Deb’s 42nd Birthday celebration began at the AMF Hollywood Bowl, Canada Water, in London’s Docklands. Whilst the idea of turning up to go bowling in bathrobe and sandals, looking like I’d just got out of bed to channel my inner Jeff Bridges, was not without a certain appeal, Deb had specified that Grease was the word, not to mention the theme of the event. So, I coaxed my hair into a so-so quiff, donned jeans, leather jacket and a white T-shirt. Much to my surprise, I had the Best Natural Quiff and Size 42 Bowling Shoes, although Shaun had the Most Noticeable Wig and Helena won Best Dress and Hairdo hands down. Meanwhile, Deb and Rachel were the Pinkest Ladies and the Chuck Berry Reference went to Jonny “B Goode” 5. Naturally, the Lobster was the Surrealistest. When it came to the actual bowling, Alex was the Most Serious, although Hazel and Robert both beat him, whilst Wag and Helena were the First to Score 42, although they were beaten by their own children. All this beating may have involved whips and chains, but I didn’t like to ask - someone might have told me. Otherwise, we rejected common sense to make the impossible possible - because that’s the way Team Gurren rolls - and agreed that wherever he was, The Dude also rolled and abided. Finally, having got the cinematic references out of the way and finished our games, we departed. A couple of Deb’s friends joined us and we headed for the nearby pizza restaurant, where we were briefly joined by Liam, who had apparently come as The Edge. The rest of the evening was spent eating, drinking, conversing and wondering why Wag had a pink drink in a four-pint jug. It looked like something from the Kelis Yard of Milkshake Competition, but was apparently a daiquiri. Fortunately for those present, the drinks and conversation flowed ever onwards and the matter was forgotten - unless someone wrote it up in a fanzine afterwards. There were several renderings of Happy Birthday - including the one for Deb - and much merriment all around, before we finally paid our bill and went our various ways. It had been a fun night out and we’d all had a great time - which was all we needed.

“T-Day Minus 58 and Counting
In spite of the government’s claims that the economy was recovering, I still found the number of jobs I was eligible to apply for to be rather small. That said, a couple of the senior managers found jobs and even I managed to make a few applications. The worrying news was the number of vacancies that were either not as described or which had possibly been filled before they were advertised. Whilst I could sympathise with a Human Resources department desperately trying to avoid staff redundancies, it was not helping my fellow agency staff and I to find proper work. Reading about cutbacks in various sectors, I began to think that if this was what it was like during an economic recovery, I didn’t want to think about how bad it would be if it was failing. One report in the Evening Standard went so far as to suggest that with all the cuts, businesses could find themselves short of people who could afford their products and services. I suspected such companies would respond to a shortage of local consumers by outsourcing the consumer end of their business to other countries…

“I celebrated the 40th Anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons™ and I had [rolls dice, consults table] an Excellent time…”
On 26 January 1974, Dungeons & Dragons™ was officially launched. 40 years later, on 26 January 2014, Robert held a 40th Anniversary game, using original rules, dice and figures of the period. In spite of the weather and bus diversions, I was on time and the rest arrived soon after. We talked a while about Dragonmeet 2013, Ian Livingstone CBE, Steve Jackson and the early years of Games Workshop™. It was an entertaining reminiscence for those of us who remembered when White Dwarf was a games magazine, rather than a Games Workshop™ catalogue. The British gaming industry also got a mention, especially in terms of the gaming figures sector. Then it was on to the game itself. Robert had pre-generated our characters and given some of us secret agendas, for added depth. Thus began An Unorthodox Meander: Here There and Everywhere In Between as chronicled by Panzie the Hobbit.

At the Village Inn, our party learned that The Evil Wizard Llebney had been terrorising the village - until someone knifed him to death. This left his Dungeon Lair largely unguarded, so Muttock the Wizard, Deukesvault the Cleric, Luvvy the Elf and Clump the Dwarf were keen to get in there and loot the place. However, as Panzie, I managed to persuade them that a hearty meal and a night’s rest beforehand was a good idea. The next day, without even stopping for Second Breakfast, we departed for the dungeon, accompanied by The Annoying Hobbit Song. At the entrance we found a corpse, an empty Bag of Holding and nearby, a marker stone with a big red fish painted on it. It was indeed a Herring. Once inside, Clump and I found a door marked Undead - so we called in Deukesvault to turn them, leading to some lewd comments about Luvvy, turning. However, this was forgotten when Muttock set off a trap, unleashing a Dildo Monster. Luckily, it proved vulnerable to his Magic Missile Spell. In the Room of Undead, the skeletons were easily turned, but hilarity ensued when the Mummy proved unexpectedly resilient. Luckily, it wasn’t fire-proof, although it cost us one of our lanterns. Moving on, we stayed away from a Trapdoor over a Spiked Pit and found Llebney’s collection of Magical Items in a Storage Room. These included a Magic Ring that made everything invisible to the wearer, a Mace of Happiness that left anyone who handled it helpless with bliss, some Magical Gold Coins and a Locate Hands Spell Scroll. Luckily, Robert had decided to spare us the Exploding Balls Spell. Prying the Mace out of Luvvy’s hands, we moved on and eventually found a Room of Henchmen. Unluckily, they overheard me warning the party, but Muttock’s Sleep Spell put them all out for the count - and their Tap-Dancing Amphibians, too. Most of us felt that tying them up was enough, but Muttock decided that killing all but one of them was necessary. The surviving prisoner told us where to find Llebney’s Staff and we headed off, found the Secret Entrance and avoided the obligatory Slime before finding The Staff with The Knob on The End.

At this point Deukesvault revealed that he was on a Mission from his God to destroy the Staff. Muttock showed his true colours by threatening him and demanding the Staff, at which point I swallowed a Potion of Magical Immunity and revealed that Muttock was Llebney’s brother. There was hilarity, but we prevailed, killing Muttock and destroying the Staff. Then Deukesvault healed the mortally wounded Luvvy and I found a Secret Escape Tunnel that led outside. It emerged right next to the marker stone with a big red fish painted on it. Once back at the Inn we were able to examine our loot and Clump discovered that, in daylight, the Magical Gold Coins turned into mud. So ended our adventure, where it had begun. As it turned out, we managed to consume plenty of snacks and beer and learn that the Cherry flavoured coke had a vile artificial aftertaste. By contrast, the oat cookies with stem ginger naturally tasted strongly of ginger - resulting in a lewd Biggles joke. Fortunately the drinks and conversation flowed onwards until it was time to depart and the matter was forgotten - unless someone wrote it up in a fanzine afterwards.


Memento Mori…
January’s noteworthy deaths began with Phil Everly, of The Everly Brothers. Actor James Avery, best known as Philip Banks in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air followed suit, as did film producer Sir Run Run Shaw, the man behind numerous kung-fu films - as well as the science-fiction classic Blade Runner - whose signings included actor Chow Yun-Fat and director John Woo. Former Prime Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon died after eight years in a coma, actress Alexandra Bastedo best known for her role in 1960s television series The Champions succumbed to cancer, as did actor Roger Lloyd-Pack of Only Fools and Horses fame and Eric Lawson, the actor best known as The Marlboro Man, from the 1970s cigarette adverts, died of pulmonary lung disease, due to smoking. Singer, activist and folk music legend Pete Seeger laid down his banjo, amid numerous tributes from the musical world and last but not least, actor, writer and director Maximilian Schell bowed out. Rest in Peace…


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