A Little Fiction – Return to ‘Another Unfinished Novel’

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It had taken Dinah a little time to settle into the job and to adjust to Shaw’s more eccentric work practices, which he claimed were based upon the Chaos Theory, but were in fact, way more chaotic than that.  He could be very grumpy at times, although he could also occasionally be very sweet.  On balance, she preferred grumpy.  When he was being sweet he brought her things that she could never possibly want – last time it was a four-legged star fish that he had just found on the beach (explanations were requested as he was supposed to be looking for a hamster in Birmingham, but none were forthcoming) together with a bowl of water, a sachet of salt from the café below and the instruction to ‘See if you can make it better.’  It didn’t get better.  It got smelly.  At least when he was grumpy, she wasn’t given decaying invertebrates to resurrect.

Shaw was generally grumpy when he had a case to solve.  Although most of the time he was employed by people hoping to relocate missing pets, what he generally found were lost people, most of whom had no idea they had ever been misplaced in the first place.

Whenever they were out together, Dinah found herself tagging along at distance, either struggling to keep up or asking passer’s-by whether they’d seen where he’d gone.  It didn’t help that he would never tell her where he was heading.  It didn’t help that he never actually went there anyway.  She grew tired of tramping the streets with the photograph of a misplaced ginger cat only to find that Shaw had spent most of the day in the pub chatting to a man from Builth Wells who had no idea his wife was looking for him – in fact, had no idea he had a wife.  Often that did at least give him one thing in common with the woman to whom he was subsequently introduced, who either had no idea she had a husband or, if she did, mistakenly thought it was the man with whom she had been living for the past forty years.  A grumpy Shaw would waft away any discussion – he knew that they belonged together and if they claimed never to have met before, well, they were obviously mistaken and, by the way, had either of them seen a ginger cat?  By the time that Dinah found him, Shaw had normally mellowed in the face of the liquid hospitality of the happy couple and persuaded his cat-less employers to accept that they were not suited to cat ownership in the first place, which often left Dinah with a homeless moggy and blisters that made her extremely tetchy.

‘You really should relax more,’ he would say.  ‘Take things as they come.  Why don’t you go and buy yourself a drink.’  Shaw never had money.  He never got paid and he never paid for anything.  Dinah found that she spent most of her time trying to persuade clients who were searching for a precious pooch to accept that they should pay the bill for a service that far from reuniting them with a beloved pet, had merely introduced them to the son that they had never had.  They were seldom persuaded by Shaw’s admonition that ‘You can get a dog anywhere’ and quite often unhappy to find someone they had never met before living in their spare bedroom.  Dinah tried to remind herself not to get too obsessed by it all, it was just a job – except it wasn’t, was it?  You get paid for a job.  You have regular hours and days off.  Your employer seldom, if ever, asks to borrow your shoes so that he can go down to the corner shop in the clothes he has slept in to get milk.  Particularly since the shop’s owner had threatened to set the dogs on him if he didn’t pay his tab.  A normal employer does not wander out to get milk on Monday and return on Friday with a packet of flatbreads and a chinchilla.  Without your shoes…

…It was no use in asking him where he’d been, he never answered.  He just handed over a matted clump of bills and muttered, ‘Pay these will you?’ before falling asleep in the chair.  Dinah sighed, ‘With what, Shaw?  With what?’  She unfolded the papers and laid them out on the desk, attempting to find some kind of chronology to them, except that they were not bills.  They were merely scribbled notes in Shaw’s erratic hand, each detailing in one word or two the failings that she regularly attributed to him.  On the last one he had written ‘I will repay you somehow.  Would you like to adopt an elderly gerbil?’ 

Against every screaming instinct, Dinah allowed the faintest of smiles to flicker across her lips.  She shook her head and flicked the switch on the kettle.  ‘If you’re making tea,’ said Shaw without opening his eyes, ‘We’ll need milk…’

Dinah and Shaw first appeared in January and I liked them.  I feel that I might return to them again, but first I have to decide what to do with them.  If I think of anything, I’ll let you know…

Reinventing the Wheel

 

Invention

So, today’s folderol is down to Inkbiotic. During a recent ‘conversation’ she suggested that I should invent something, and I haven’t been able to get the idea out of my head ever since. (I should point out that in that same comment she did, herself, suggest the invention of Kaleidoscope Windows – an idea that is so inspired I know that anything I propose will not come close to matching it but, hey ho, sitting back and doing nothing will butter no parsnips, so failure, as usual, is my starting point.) Now, I should start by saying that I can think of hundreds of things that should be invented: gardening gloves with a built-in sensor that will warn you when you are about to plunge knuckle-deep into a subterranean mound of cat crap; a device that shuts down the phone if the user spends too long on it without a break (i-phones already have one – it is called the battery); sunglasses that remove glare whilst still allowing you to see; sensors that activate an ejection platform under anyone who stops at the top of an escalator – what I can’t think of is how you actually go about inventing them.

The first obstacle is IT. For a start, I make a point of never trusting an acronym. They are generally invented to make the hostile sound more friendly. I am not exactly IT-phobic, just inept. I deal with all IT issues in the same manner:
1. Turn off the device
2. Unplug the device
3. Shout at the device
4. Walk away from the device, making threats against its very existence
5. Return after a while, turn it on and hope for the best.
In this I am almost uniquely unsuited to the invention of anything that requires the use of micro-circuitry. I can safely leave Messrs. Google, Microsoft and Facebook to subjugate us in that respect – I must find another field to furrow.

Which brings me to the purely mechanical – and here I am faced with a whole new set of difficulties. Add ham-fistedness to ineptitude and you are on your way. Engineering is not one of my strengths. I made a car out of Meccano once, but the wheels kept falling off. It sloped to the left at an angle of forty five degrees. The little nuts kept falling off the bolts and lodging between the floorboards. I was fifty. We didn’t have floorboards. God knows where the little nuts have gone.

At the most basic of levels, there are things that I simply do not understand (and not understanding the most basic of scientific principles must be seen as something of a stumbling block tossed into the path of true invention): why don’t huge cruise ships, with tiny underwater hulls and huge skyscrapers on top, just fall over? If I put ice in a glass of water, it cools it. So how does melting sea-ice contribute warming oceans? Why is the magnetic North Pole not at the Actual North Pole – have they fallen out? I still don’t understand why the tail doesn’t hit the ground when an airplane takes off.

So, we dismiss anything even vaguely technical. I will not be inventing the remote control bath because:
1. I would not be able to get to grips with the remote control and constantly changing the channel on next-door’s TV every time I try to take a bath is probably not the best route to neighbourly harmony
2. My grasp of the basic principles of plumbing is about as great as that of the ‘plumber’ who recently mended our downstairs loo without reconnecting the pipes.

We are left with the possibility of reinventing something that has already been invented. Refining, perhaps. Re-assigning, if we’re lucky. A bit like recording a cover version of a great song – fine for anyone that hasn’t heard the original, but otherwise, what’s the point?

Even then, I’m not certain that my imagination works in that way. Would I look at a wedge of wood and think ‘I bet that would be a good way of keeping a door open’ or would I think ‘cheese – I fancy some cheese’? My imagination is vivid, but not always reliably so. Given some construction materials, an electric motor and a spot by the seashore would I think desalination plant, or would I think Crazy Golf Course? (I think you know the answer.)

Most of the early, truly important inventions: fire, the wheel, metal smelting happened by accident, and I have loads of those. Leave me in a room with a hammer and you will quickly comprehend the full implication of the ‘Chaos Theory’. A thoroughly inebriated Thor could not compete with me on the mallet mayhem front. However, even though Watt accidentally invented the 3.15 from Clapham Junction whilst attempting to make a cup of tea and Fleming stumbled across penicillin after being slightly reckless with his cheese sandwich crumbs in the laboratory, they both had some element of genius in order to take their discoveries further.

So, here’s my Big Idea. When I was a child, you could buy ‘X-Ray Specs’ with which – they claimed – it was possible to see the living skeletons of those around you. In fact, they were simply a pair of cardboard glasses with cardboard ‘lenses’, each of which had a tiny pin-hole at the centre of the spiral that was printed upon them. To say that they didn’t work is obvious. To say that you were much more likely to see portions of your own skeleton after falling down the stairs whilst wearing them, probably equally so, but they provided the seed from which my big invention has grown. I have invented spectacles that do let you see through people: not what’s inside them, but what they really mean. Wear them and no-one will ever be able to lie to you again. Now, how cool is that?

OK, that’s my bit over: the big invention has been, er, invented.

Now it’s just up to you to make it work…

To invent an airplane is nothing.  To build one is something.  But to fly is everything.       Otto Lilienthal (Manned flight pioneer)

He’s a germ free adolescent, cleanliness is her obsession
Cleans her teeth ten times a day
Scrub away, scrub away, scrub away the S.R. way   Germ Free Adolescent – (X-Ray Spex)  P. Styrene