Monthly archives: February 2009

Sounds of Soldiers- Bomb

I don’t flinch. There’s a twitch of my head at the noise, then the old reflexes tell me the explosion was at a safe distance. I’m the only adult on the street standing upright.

Little Robert is looking up at me. I pick him up and we scan the sky above the rooftops. “There.” The cloud is rising, a darker grey than the others and with flecks in it that glint in the weak sun.

“Was that a bomb?” Sally asks.

“Yeah.” There’s not a lot else it could be.


“F’ck.” says Robert. He’s learning all the wrong English words. Sally goes red.

“That’s…..” I do some triangulation on landmarks. “Right on Market Street.”

There are sirens. People are moving, to and from the explosion. Time was, I’d have been heading for the bomb site. But I have more important people with me today.

As we walk away the paranoia starts. Over there is a row of recycling bins. How deadly could a bomb dumped in a bottle bank be? All that flying glass. There’s a lone car parked outside the Central library. Have I seen it there before?

We are down a side street- no parked cars, no suspicious packages- when my phone starts ringing. I put Robert down. “Hold Tante Sally’s hand.” He’s picking up on my fear, I have to calm down. I know who’s calling without even looking at the phone’s screen. “We’re alright.”

“Thank goodness. Where are you? I can send a car for you.”

“No, that’s…..” actually a really good idea. This isn’t a time for bravado. “We’re just off Portland Street. We can wait at the junction with Oxford Street.”

“Very good.” There’s the crinkly sound of a hand over the mouthpiece, as instructions are passed on. I swap the hand I’m holding the phone in and reach out to Robert. With a nod to Sally we set off for our rendezvous.

“Did you see anything?”

“No, we were quite a few streets away. I reckon it was on Market Street. Large enough to be a car bomb I’d say.” The Americans, logical first choice for any violence, don’t like sending suicide bombers. They prefer booby traps- one repurposed anti-tank mine buried beneath one town’s main square nearly finished the work started by the raiding party that planted it.

Marianne would ask me more questions, but she knows that I’m not in war zone mode and won’t have the answers.

“I have to make some more calls. Thank you for looking after Robert.”

The car arrives at the junction a few minutes after we do. It makes a sweeping U-turn and pulls up next to us. It’s one of those gorgeous multi-fuel hybrids styled after the Citroen DS of old. Up to now I’ve only seen pictures so, despite everything, I just stare for a moment before opening the door.

“I could never send a car for you.” Sally bitches as she settles into the plush seats.

“I’m sure you would if you could.” There’s a rear facing child seat behind the driver. I buckle Robert in and fuss over the straps until I’m sure he’s secure. “C’est bien Papa. Merci.” he eventallty says when it gets too much. I’m still not used to being someone’s Papa.

As we silently roll back to the French consulate Robert regales us with details of how the driver sometimes lets him sit in the front and all the other cars have the steering wheel in the wrong place. The consulate is in Salford Quays, occupying a former hotel. Marianne is waiting as we pull up at the door.

She’s calmer than I managed earlier, but that doesn’t keep her from checking her son for damages. He tells her all about the big bang and exploring empty streets. He’s dropping the occasional English word into his speech, which is gratifying until he punctuates a sentence with “fuck”. Marianne looks at me, trying for a severe expression but failing. “I see you are teaching our son good Anglo Saxon.”

“That was me I’m afraid.” offers Sally, “Sorry.”

“He is a Navy brat. He should know how to curse. And he hears far worse from his grandfather.”

That trips a few connections in my hand. “Oh. My parents are visiting next week. They should meet him. I haven’t told them about him yet.”

“Absolutely. He should know his family. May I meet them as well?”

“I look at Sally for the answer to that. It will all be happening at her house after all. She shrugs, “The more the merrier I guess.”

“Thank you. If you leave now the driver can take you home before he ends his shift. Say goodbye to Papa and Tante Sally Robert.”

He hugs my legs, “Au’voir Papa.”

I pick him up and kiss the top of his head, “Au revoir, petit Robert.”

The proper goodbye performance is saved for Tante Sally. My son is such a tart and I love him even more for it. He reaches up, demanding to be picked up, and they have a long goodbye chat in Franglais.

Marianne turns slightly away from Sally and Robert to talk quietly to me. “This is the first bomb in Manchester in a long time. I have been hearing rumours.”

“About the true identities of some of the Brits returning from the continent?”

“Indeed.” She’s impressed. “Of course, they couldn’t cause long term damage by themselves, but they could create a lot of suffering.”

“I’ll be on the lookout Though I’m sure some folks will be suspicious of me as an incomer.”

Sally puts Robert down and he bounces off through the doors. She gets that broody look again. Marianne turns to her and opens her arms for an embrace. Sally’s taken aback and doesn’t know how to react for a moment. Then she accepts the hug and a kiss on each cheek. Neither says anything. They’re both navigating their strange relationship and can’t think of any phrase that couldn’t be taken the wrong way.

Sally and I sink into the seats in the car and wave to Marianne as we drive away. Then Sally takes one of my hands in both of hers and smiles at me as we hum along empty roads.

Sounds of Soldiers- A chat

Sally is very quiet. Marianne has taken Robert off to meet more expats. As he gave a little wave goodbye Sally had the broody’ “want one” look. But now there’s so much she wants to say but isn’t. Perhaps she doesn’t know where to start. I offer her my hand. After a moment she takes it and I lead her out of the hall.

There are tables and chairs on the pavement, with parasols over them- incongruous under the grey sky. We take a couple of seats and order teas.

“He’s beautiful.” Sally announces quietly.

“Yes.” I think I’m going into some sort of shock, but I can’t withdraw into myself, not whilst Sally’s with me. Especially as she wants to talk. “I never……”

“Were you in love?”

“No. I mean….. We only knew each other for a few days. I haven’t told you about it have I?”

“I didn’t ask, apart from when we were talking numbers.” No-one really wants to hear stories about their partner’s ex- unless it involves schadenfreude or slapstick.

So I tell her about Toulon, and the spy who fucked me. I lay off the more lurid details, though I may talk up the nuke a bit. From that point on Sally stares at me with wide eyes and open mouth. “Do you have more stories like that?” At least I seem to have taken her mind off what was upsetting her.

“Some of them may sound unbelievable.” I stroke the back of her hand with my thumb. “You’re angry?”

“I’m upset. No. No, I am angry. How can she tell you like that? Why did she have to be so dramatic?” For a moment there’s a look on her face- don’t cross her. “If your son wasn’t so fucking charming I’d have left you there.”

“She’s going to be around for a while, and now I’ve found out about junior I want to get to know him. Are you going to be okay with that?”

“Probably not. But there’s a problem.” I get that chill again. I don’t think the dramatic pause is for effect. She looks down at her empty teacup then straight at me. “I love you. So I’m going to trust you.”

I pull her across the table and kiss her. She takes it further, coming round to wrap her arms around me and sit on my lap. When she pulls away it’s to wipe her cheeks. I kiss her again. “I love you.” I think I mean it, but it gets her crying again and I feel guilty.

They’re happy tears, though. “Who’s being the drama queen now?” she asks with a smile. “Let’s go find your babymama and see when we can steal the baby.”

Sounds of Soldiers- Frenchtown

Notes My French in this bit is probably way off. My apologies.

As I’m not sleeping in my room I’ve turned it into an office. The walls are filling up with pictures. I’ve found a source of vegetable based inks and ressurected my old printer. Some of the colours are a little off, but it’s good to have physical versions of images I’ve only ever seen on screen.

They’re all happy pictures, none of the nightmare inducing material. People I met in Europe- Marianne, the band of counter-insurgents who took me down country, Vanderbrook. I’m seeing how many of them I can track down.

In the limbo period between the end of hostilities and being allowed out of France I was at a loose end. Somehow peace meant that my movements should be restricted, so I was confined to the city limits of Apt. I had access to the internet, but it was spotty. I did what I could to get back in touch with my family, and catch up with the rest of the world.

Amongst the sites I discovered was the French government’s war registry, their attempt to catalogue the dead and bring families back together. I registered everyone whose name I knew and forgot about it. Until messages started arriving a few days ago. The list of the dead is longer than I’d like, but I’m finding out all about the families of the survivors.

There were a more emails this morning. Three crosses and two ticks. I’m only two off tracking all my counter-insurgents. Meanwhile, none of the official government representatives I interacted with have shown up in my results. You’d think they’d be the easiest to find, until you consider that they were mostly interacting with me on covert matters. They could check to see if I’m a troll, but they probably don’t want to waste the time and have opted to keep me in the dark.
Sally’s not so sure about what I’m doing to her spare room. “It’s beginning to look like where the murderer lives in a serial killer film.” she says, looking perky and paint spattered in the doorway.

“Except someone else did the killing. I’m thinking of putting something about this in the book. If I can get the permissions sorted out.”

On cue, the laptop beeps. “Is that thing permanently connected?” Sally worries.

“It connects every half hour to check my mail servers for a few seconds. I’ve learnt a lot of tricks for using spotty connections over the years. Let’s see.”

I’m quiet for long enough that Sally comes and stares over my shoulder. “‘Sup?”

“Basically, the French government appreciates my concern for the welfare of its citizens and would like me to meet a representative who is visiting the expatriate community in Manchester.” Why does that send a cold shiver all the way down from my neck to my balls.



“I’d heard there was a Frenchtown. I never knew where. Can I come along?”

The trams still run, though not as often as they used to. You have to make a day of some journeys.

Eccles is still a grim place, grey and dark in the shadow of a chemical plant. I’ll have to see what’s going on with that old industry some time. We’re meeting the French representative in the market hall. Stereotypically, the French have taken over many of the stalls, offering galic takes on local products.

The invasion has been welcomed, judging by the local accents around us as we check out the wares. The core of Manchester’s French population was a group of students over on an exchange programme when everything kicked off. Catering students, by the look of things. Their trapped countrymen gravitated to this little town, moved into the same neighbourhoods and crated a community. When the war ended quite a few of them didn’t want to go home.

“So which one’s the government contact?” Sally asks.

“Don’t know. I guess he’ll show up. Let’s browse.”

Standing by a stall of wooden toys I feel a tug at my trousers. I look down at a cherubic round face topped by black curls. “Bonjour m’sieur.” the little boy says.

I drop down to nearer his level. “Bonjour monsieur. Comment t’appelle tu?”

“Je m’appelle Robert.”

“Oui? Je m’appelle Robert aussi.”

“j’sais. Ma mere est la bas.” He points down the row at a woman who smiles and waves. I guess the child’s age, do the maths and get that chill from neck to balls again.

“I called him my atomic baby, and that I was naming him Robert after Oppenheimer. Some people must think I am such a bitch to make my child’s name a sick joke.” Marianne shrugs and smiles. “But you know he is really named for his father.” I nod. I’ve not been able to say much since I saw her. Sally has put the pieces together and decided she doesn’t want to be part of this conversation. She’s a table over, being charmed by Robert junior. “At first I thought the morning sickness was actually some sort of delayed radiation poisoning. Maybe the mushroom cloud had blown our way. When I found out the truth, well, there was no way I could do anything but keep him.”

“I tried to find you.” I manage at last.

“I know. I could have sent the news to you many times over, but I kept putting it off. I think I was being selfish, keeping the bebe to myself.”

“So why tell me now?”

“I realised how selfish I was being. The war is over. It is a time for rebuilding and looking for good things to celebrate. We made a beautiful child and you deserve to know that.”

“Thank you.”

Marianne lays a hand on mine. “I would like it if you were a part of his life. I am not asking for maintenance or any kind of support, merely that he can know where he came from. And I hope that we can be friends. Nothing more, I would not want to jeopardise your relationship with Sally.”

“Did I introduce you two? No, I don’t think I did did I?” Her expression is readably unreadable. “You’re still keeping up the family tradition then.”

“I have been assigned to the French consulate office covering the north of England, which obviously includes Manchester.”

I’m at the Rag cider fest

I’m at the Rag cider fest, originally uploaded by spinneyhead.

And not drinking because I’m on my bike. But I am providing signage as usual.

Old meets new in an eco house

Few people can afford to spend £800,000 on a house, even one that’s going to start paying for itself with the electricity it generates. Architect Richard Hawkes did, and the result is stunning. The timberal roofing is a modern take on an old technique, and will be planted for added insulation. Heat will be stored during the day to be released when it cools, a simple idea made more efficient with new materials.

Few of the technologies Hawkes uses could be affordable to the average housebuilder, but the principles can be adapted for the lower end of the market.

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Facebook’s new Terms Of Service are a bit dodgy

Hopefully it’s just someone in their legal deprtment being dense, but Facebook’s new Terms Of Service demand that you-

hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof.

For an example of how unlike (most) other social networking sites this is, take a look at Amanda French’s comparative post of Terms Of Service.

I’m going to remain a member, but I’ll do my best to keep their hands off Spinneyhead product. If you’re on Facebook join the group protesting the new Terms Of Service.