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Friday, 16 December 2011

She Promised Me Snow


1

The bathroom door creaked open and little Aiden’s seven year old fingers curled round the frame to try and stem the noise. He peeked his head round the corner to check the coast was clear before reaching for the light cord and tugging on it ever so gently. During the day you could take these noises for granted but sneaky little children soon discovered that during the night time when surroundings were stiller that they lent their allegiance to anti-tom-foolery and gave vigilant parents an insurmountable advantage. Still though, you had to try, didn’t you?
                Liam was watching his little double-o agent from the island between the two flights of steps, the darkness in the landing screening him like he was sat behind the observation mirror of an interrogation room. In truth he’d quietly resigned himself to the fact that little Aiden probably wasn’t going to make the secret service, sure he had the cunning, but physically he’d never make the cut. He was short for his age and ‘Little Aiden’ was how he had come to be known to all the other parents, teachers and grownups he’d encountered. It was like a hex, the longer they said it, the longer it was going to stick, and somehow Little Aiden’s little mind had absorbed it to order. Besides, how many secret agents do you know that go to work in bright blue, matching Thomas the Tank Engine pyjamas?
                He waited for Aiden to finish on the light, the painfully loud twang as it receded engulfing the hallway in relative darkness.
                ‘Oh no you don’t kiddo.’ Aiden let out a little gasp and turned around, searching for him in the gloom.
                ‘Dad?’
                ‘Where do you think you’re off to?’
                ‘To bed?’
                ‘Not without cleaning your teeth you’re not.’ There was a pause for thought.
                ‘I’ve already done it.’
                ‘So why are you sneaking around?’ By now his eyes had adjusted to the dark and although strained, the pair of them were making eye contact.
                ‘Umm.’
                ‘Turn around mister.’
Aiden did as father instructed, completing the full one hundred and eighty degrees turn and marching back into the bathroom. As he turned on the light he glanced back over his shoulder and Liam caught sight of his big doe-eyed grin before Aiden pushed the door further open and walked inside, disappearing into the light. Liam’s heart sank a little. Using it as a beacon he made his way up the stairs and followed him into the bathroom.
                When he got inside he found Aiden holding his toothbrush in one hand and a tube of toothpaste in the other, pushing them together and staring at them like he’d gone on a trip to Europe and forgotten to bring a two pin plug adaptor. He strolled over and relieved him of his possessions.
                ‘The quicker you can get this done, the quicker you can go to bed.’ He handed them back and Aiden took them but not before a big roll of his eyes. ‘What’s the matter? It’ll be over and done within minutes.’
                ‘But it’s so booooring.’
                ‘It’s not meant to be exciting.’
                ‘But it’s Christmas Eve! Don’t I get a day off?’
                ‘Father Christmas only gives the best presents to the children with pearly white teeth.’ Aiden grumbled.
                ‘When he’s not giving presents, is Santa a dentist?’
                ‘Ho, ho, ho. Don’t let him hear you say that! You might just get yourself a lump of coal after all.’ Or a fresh set of dentures, he thought to himself.
                With a big exaggerated sigh Aiden finally relented from his protest. He flicked the top off of the tube of toothpaste and angled it over his toothbrush, squeezing out a thick strip of red, white and blue from one end of the bristles to the other. Setting the toothpaste down on the ledge over the sink he then slowly brought his toothbrush up to the level of his mouth and exposed his teeth, before he jerked it away at the last moment.
                ‘Dad?’ Liam felt like screaming.
                ‘Yes?’
                ‘Why doesn’t Santa have a normal name like we do?’ Liam grated his teeth and not just because of Aiden’s blatant attempt at avoidance. Try as he might he just couldn’t get him to drop the ‘Santa’ tag he’d picked up from all the American TV he watched and sometimes, like now, he’d pronounce it in a drawling American accent that tipped him over the edge. He was forced to let it go.
                ‘How do you mean?’
                ‘Like my name, Aiden Norton.’
‘I suspect it’s to keep him out of trouble and keep his identity a secret for the rest of the year whilst he keeps himself busy.’ Aiden raised an eyebrow. ‘Okay, so as you suggested, he could have an alias as a dentist that goes by the name of Harold McCavity. When Harold goes off on his winter holidays all of a sudden Father Christmas starts showing up down the local shops. And just like with your dentist Harold reports back for duty, working year after year, outlasting all his colleagues and never looking a day older than when he first arrived.’ In fact Aiden’s dentist was also his own and he couldn’t recall him changing much since he was a child, could be I’ve stumbled onto something here… He chuckled to himself. ‘It would explain why people never hear from Father Christmas for the rest of the year don’t you think?’
He loved talking intelligently to Aiden, hoping that just a small part of it might be absorbed. It was a warm feeling he got when occasionally Aiden would use his extended vocabulary about the house, a real moment of pride when he got it right (or horrendously cute when he got it wrong).
                ‘Maybe.’ Aiden said airily. ‘Tommy says Santa doesn’t exist and that he’s just something your parents make up so you’re good.’
Tommy.
Tommy Tinkerman, one of the older boys in Aiden’s class had already had his appendix taken out, which made Tommy cool. If you were to listen to Tommy’s account of events, the doctor couldn’t cope with the sight of all the blood, leaving no option but for Tommy to finish the surgery on himself, blindfolded. (If he had seen all that blood Tommy said, the doctors warned him he’d have gone crazy.) Tommy Tinkerman was an attention seeker who was on course to become a neurotic, pathological liar. Liam made a mental note to add ‘Pinocchio’ to the Christmas viewing list.
                ‘Tommy only says that because he’s never seen him for himself. Now come on, would you please clean your teeth? Father Christmas also knows when little boys have been procrastinating.’ He wasn’t sure Aiden understood what procrastinating meant, but eventually his toothbrush disappeared into his mouth.
                Of course, once he’d started cleaning his teeth it was pretty smooth sailing. Aiden’s hand moved from left to right, down to up, fight the plaque with fisticuffs. Auto-pilot had kicked in and his facial expression glazed over in conformity.
                ‘Aidie? Are you in bed yet?’ A sparkle returned to his eyes and both he and Liam looked at each other. Aiden was about to withdraw his toothbrush to reply but Liam halted him with a raised hand.
                ‘Don’t you even think about it.’ He said softly before turning to the doorway and elevating the level of his voice. ‘Just finishing his teeth now honey.’
They could both hear her as she hobbled her way up the stairs with some difficulty. He considered sending her back, but she’d only have to struggle her way back up when Aiden was in bed. He thought it cruel in her state, so he let her continue. He didn’t offer to help mind, last time he’d been stunned at the salvo of abuse with which he’d been afflicted. Besides, he didn’t think he could trust Aiden to get on with the job unattended.
As he looked over a mischievous smile crept over Aiden’s face from the cheeks up and a slimy dribble of spittled toothpaste escaped from the parting in his lips. The boy had just confirmed it for him.

2

Holly reached the bathroom, poking one crutch round the doorway and Liam lurched forwards to open it the rest of the way to let her in. He opened his arm out to display Aiden at the sink in order to prove he was telling the truth, but to her the gesture instead felt as though he were an estate agent showing her around her own bathroom … And as you can see the room comes complete with troublesome boy… which Holly did not appreciate. He smiled affectionately towards her but she shot him a frustrated glance, annoyed at the distinction.
Liam felt instantly saddened as her eyebrows crumpled inwards, her beautiful brown eyes narrowing at him. It wasn’t how she was supposed to look; her normally flawless mousey blonde hair was unkempt and flatter on one side of her head from disturbed sleep, greasy and pressed into her forehead with the occasional outcrop of spindly strands that fell untidily over her face from her fringe. Her skin was pale, littered with cuts and areas of stitching like a patchwork quilt. Bruises darkened areas with an unhealthy mixture of deep purples and formed haloes of even brighter skin around it, a nasty one that had taken place around the eye furthest from him looking almost comical in its vulgarity and weighing down her lids so that it mercifully hid most of the red streaks of bloodshot that the impact had caused on the eyeball itself. She’d only been allowed to take the patch off yesterday.
                As she shifted her gaze towards Aiden her face sharpened.
                ‘Aidie! Stop that!’ Liam looked over and Aiden was leaning into the sink with his hands rooted on the side, pressing down all his weight as he stretched his head out under the running tap and filling his mouth as the water ran down his cheek. He withdrew instantly at his mother’s raised voice, not quite managing to collect what he’d consider a mouthful. ‘Don’t be so stupid! You’ll slip and hit your head! Use a cup!’ Of course, he was more likely to hit his head if he was surprised by someone screaming his name but neither Liam nor Aiden were going to tell her that.
                Aiden spat out the water before wiping at the side of his mouth with his sleeve, walking jelly legged towards her at the door, his eyes wavering like a wounded animal.
                ‘Where are you going?’ She barked at him. Aiden cowered a step backwards before finding a feeble response.
                ‘To get a cup?’ It was almost inaudible, but Holly’s ears were attuned now.
                ‘You’re not going downstairs again.’
                ‘But how will I …’
                ‘Use the tap.’ The tap she’d just berated him for using. Aiden couldn’t process it clearly but a look to his dad, who widened his eyes sympathetically, indicated it was not a time for questions.
                She visibly winced as Aiden stuck his head back under the running water but Aiden kept his gaze forward, didn’t want to see mummy’s angry face when he could already feel it burning into the back of him. He didn’t do a thorough job and didn’t even gargle to clear the minty essence from the back of his throat, just wanted to get away, but fortunately Holly seemed satisfied by his efforts.
                ‘Okay now come give mummy a kiss. Then get to bed already, do you have any idea how late it is?’ She shot Liam another disapproving glance, the question although worded to Aiden was definitely meant for him.
                Unsure of himself, Aiden walked up to her and stood in front as she hobbled another step closer, the crutches spreading out on either side of him like a spider encircling its prey. Using them as support she swung herself forward to make up the distance.
For a moment, Aiden rocked back on his heels like he thought she were going to head butt him, and in truth she nearly did, but she kept her balance and puckered up. Liam was thankful that as she did so she closed her eyes as she waited because it would have crushed her to have seen the scared look on Aiden’s face as he braved himself forward to kiss her, her injuries surely making Aiden think she was some kind of imposter.
‘Alright now get to bed Aidie, please!’
Aiden wandered off toward the doorway, his body disappearing behind the wall but his hand lingered on the frame. He popped his head back round the door to see if Liam was coming. He didn’t ask the question out loud, just prompted with an upwards flick of the chin.
‘Go on, I’m on my way.’ He smiled and Aiden left the two of them alone in the bathroom.

3

Liam waited until he could hear Aiden’s door close before turning back to Holly, who watched him.
                ‘What are you waiting for? It’s gone eleven o’clock. He should be asleep.’
                ‘Honey, are you feeling okay? Another headache?’ He walked over and wrapped his arms around the back of her, his hands criss-crossing over her chest and with his head resting ever so gently on her shoulder. Meanwhile Holly closed her eyes as she rigidly kept her balance.
                ‘A couple of paracetamol, I’ll be fine.’
                ‘I’ll bring some down with me shall I?’ He looked up out of her shoulder and caught sight of himself in the bathroom mirror. His skin was pale even next to hers and his big dark brown eyes were heavy from lack of sleep, prominent bags forming under his eyes. His fringe had been combed out over his forehead instead of raised in his eloquent gelled quiff and the bottom half of his face was covered in an unshaven neglected shadow. His general demeanour looked dishevelled and the contours of his face were dark. The pair of them burdened a heavily haunted appearance and when eventually Holly opened her eyes, the two of them looked into each other’s reflections.
                She wriggled free of him.
                ‘Yes, now come on. Put Aidie to bed.’ She hobbled over to the doorway and waited for him to open the door. Liam did so, stepping out after her and pulling the light cord, leaving the bathroom in darkness, before pulling the door shut and sealing that horrible image away with it.

4

As they reached the halfway point in the landing Liam held back a step in order to let Holly swing round into position at the top of the stairs and there seemed to be a long pause before she made any attempt to descend. A large sigh escaped her and Liam assumed it to be with effort, but when a couple more steps had been completed and he’d made his first movements towards Aiden’s room, Holly muttered something deliberately indecipherable under her breath. Liam ignored it, but then it came on a little louder.
                He walked back to the stairs and waited for her to reach his previous vantage point in the central island. In a long, wide arc, Holly swung round and faced him.
                ‘Take a picture, it’ll last longer.’
Liam’s eyebrows scrunched into his forehead and his body jerked backwards.
                ‘Whoa, what was that for?’
                ‘You seem quite content to watch me struggle down the stairs on my own.’ Oh yeah, he thought, and if I offered to help you down you’d accuse me of treating you like an invalid. He tried cheek as his bailout.
                ‘You seem to be coping.’ He said, loftily.
                She paused, and in that moment the hallway light seemed to dim. Aiden stuck his head outside his bedroom door just as Holly’s face began to curdle.
                ‘Coping? I think I’ve been coping very well all things considered. I’ve been redressing my own bandages, cleaning. I cooked your dinner tonight if you’d forgotten that? And did you help me?’ Her voice was gradually rising in decibels.
                ‘No.’ Liam replied sternly, his own emotions pulled into the mixer. ‘Because you wouldn’t let me. The same way you’d have thrown it back in my face if I’d offered to help you down the stairs.’ Bit scared now, her eyes were blazing at him.
                ‘Is it too much to ask for you to offer? Even if you were so sure I’d turn it down?’
                ‘What would be the point in that?’
                Compared to most of his friends Aiden rarely had to put up with listening to his parents argue all the time and he was also in the increasingly unique position of only having one set of parents to listen to, no step parents or new partners. Perhaps then that was what made it so hard to deal with? The rest of his friends were desensitised to the shouting, and bickering could be channelled into background noise. For Aiden, arguments between mum and dad were one of his true fears, it happened so rarely that each one carried worries of it being their last, and having to visit dad every other Sunday like his best friend Lester. Of course, they’d been a lot more frequent recently.
                ‘The point is it might make me feel better!’
                ‘How would it do that? The only thing that makes you feel any better is those painkillers!’
                ‘I mean EMOTIONALLY you bast- AIDEN!’ Aiden’s heart almost shot out of his chest, inverting his body as it pushed its way through with everything still attached. His eyes sprung open, the rest of him petrified to stone. ‘AIDEN! GET TO BED!’ It may only have been words, but he was sure the demon woman from the middle of the stairs was voicing pure bursts of fire at him. ‘NOW!’
                The dams inside Aiden’s tear ducts burst and a flood of them started streaming down his face. A quick foraging look to Liam and he turned tail and fled noisily and clumsily back to the safety of his room, culminating in a large slam of his bedroom door that shook the ornaments  balanced in the display cabinets across the hallway and rattled the frames of pictures that lined the walls.
Liam was angry that Holly had snapped at Aiden like that, but he also understood it wasn’t intentional. You just had to look at her face to realise it was a mistake; a fresh, worried look of apologetic guilt sheening over the worn in troubles that had hardened her features into a constant scowl. She made as if to come back up the stairs and seek Aiden to apologise, but Liam raised that flat of his hand.
                ‘I’ll go.’ She looked first at Liam, then somewhere towards Aiden’s room.
                ‘I didn’t mean to –‘
                ‘I know. I’ll be down soon.’
A sorrowful look down the other side of the hallway forced a tear to escape her and she relented, navigating the first of the lower flight of steps.

5

Liam watched as the top of Holly’s head disappeared from view, descending like an aeroplane escaping over the horizon, before his first meaningful step in the direction of Aiden’s room. He took long strides and forced himself to lock his vision forward and onto Aiden’s bedroom door, resisting the urge to glance to the picture on his left, feeling it inappropriate whilst the positive mood of the household was disturbed.
                Succeeding, he knocked on the door three times, using the first joint of his middle finger, his hand arched backwards.
                ‘Aiden? Can I come in?’
                ‘Hang on.’ Came the muffled reply.
Liam contented himself to study the name plate on the door. The letters were made out of a gabble of long socked legs with shin pads, the letter ‘e’ from a classic pentagonal black and white patched football in flight for the top half and with the player’s boot acting as the tail as the ball whooshed (depicted by straight lines and a dust cloud) towards a hapless, goofy faced goal keeper.
‘Alright, come in.’
Liam closed the door quietly behind him and turned round to see Aiden perched on the end of his bed, his big bright red stocking with the fluffy white top slung over his shoulder, a pen in one hand and his football autograph book in the other, open with a space primed and waiting next to Monsieur Thierry Henry.
‘Oh.’ He said playfully. ‘I thought you were somebody else.’ Liam couldn’t help matching Aiden’s massive grin.
‘You really think Father Christmas signs autographs?’
‘I’ve never asked him.’
‘Well if he does I don’t think he’ll be signing that…’ He watched with glee as Aiden looked the book over, trying to figure out what was wrong with it. In doing so he revealed the darker patches of blue on his sleeve where he’d dabbed the tears away before he’d allowed Liam to enter the room.
‘Why not?’
‘Because I heard he’s a Spurs fan.’ He expected Aiden to laugh, but it was easy to forget that he was only seven years old. Apparently he didn’t understand the concept of footballing rivalries yet, and instead he just sat there genuinely confused by the conundrum.
‘Oh… so he…’
‘Never mind.’
Aiden took his cue, setting his stocking down in the warm patch that had been his seat and placing his autograph book back into the drawer he’d taken it from. When he came back towards his bed Liam had already folded back the duvet and he crawled in, waiting patiently as his dad tucked him in. It got him every time, this duvet. The design was that of an Arsenal football player from the shoulders down so that whenever it was pulled up completely Aiden’s head on the pillow completed his transformation into a player, similar to head slots on naff picture boards at the seaside. Liam thought it little Aiden’s only chance to make it past six foot.
 He noticed that Aiden’s eyes were still a little raw from the tears he’d shed earlier.
‘Don’t worry about mummy okay? She’s just a little stressed out at the moment, we all are.’
‘Okay.’ He said quietly. ‘Don’t forget to hang my stocking on the door.’
‘Alright.’ He waved the stocking in front of Aiden’s face, Christmas was high on his list of priorities right now, obviously. ‘I know you’re excited but try and get some sleep okay? Night, night.’ He gave him an affectionate little stroke of his hair.
‘Night, night.’ Aiden echoed.
Liam made it all the way to the door, opened it, and even got so far as to step outside before Aiden called out to him.
‘Daaaaaaad?’ Liam turned round.
‘Yes?’
‘Do you think Santa will give me what I want for Christmas?’ Liam smiled.
‘Wish hard enough little man, and he just might.’ He turned out the light and stepped all the way clear of the door. ‘Goodnight.’

6

Liam entered the living room after a quick trip to get Holly’s paracetamol she kept by the bedside table. She was sat on the sofa, numbly watching whatever passed for television at this late hour, the absence of the room’s ceiling light causing the screen to bask her in a white-blue glow as she sipped from the wine glass in her hand, an open bottle of red on the table.
                Meaning to add some more colour to the room he leaned behind the Christmas tree and flicked the switch. He was dazzled by a full spectrum from the rainbow’s palette decorated around the tree in swathes of flower head bulbs, reflecting gently off the underside of gold and silver tinsel. Smiling, he looked over towards Holly. It soon dissipated as she scowled back and suddenly he remembered that the lights had been on before we went to watch Aiden.
                ‘Oh.’ He said, ‘Do you want me to…?’
                ‘No.’ She replied, but by now she was more concerned about what he held in his other hand.
                Visibly frustrated, he made his way over and held out the packet of paracetamol between two fingers, setting the glass of water he held in the rest with his palm down on the table.
                ‘I’m not sure about this.’ He said as she took the packet from him. When she slipped out the blister pack it was riddled with empties. She popped out a couple more. ‘When was the last time you had some?’ Her expression was severe.
                ‘You want me to be in pain?’
                ‘No, I’m just concerned is all.’ He handed her the water and she accepted it graciously enough… before putting it back on the table in favour of her wine, washing down the acrid taste of the powdery tablets with a couple of big gulps. ‘Not too happy about that either if I’m honest.’ But she ignored him.
                Liam resigned himself, gesturing with his head towards the TV.
                ‘Anything good on?’ He asked, unenthused.
                ‘I’m not really watching. I’m… just passing time.’ The second half was no more than a whisper, and she turned to face him with an apologetic smile.
                Being careful not to touch anywhere that would hurt, he shuffled closer to her and put an arm around her back.
                ‘I know.’ He said softly as she cuddled herself into him as best she could, and he planted a tender kiss on the top of her head.

7

So it’s not looking like a white Christmas this year either Sally?
                … No. Barring a Christmas miracle I’m afraid it’ll just be another cold one. So remember to wrap up warm and have a very Merry Christmas from all of us here at…
                Sally was the regional weather’s pretty blonde, blued eyed girl, dressed the part in a cute Christmas hat and wrapped in a deep red woolly scarf who’d be warming the beds of most of her male viewers’ imagination tonight – not that Liam had noticed. Instead he found himself staring over at the presents under the tree and imagining Aiden as he opened them, imposing a gauged reaction as he worked his way from the smallest box to the largest, same as every year. It sometimes meant that the more expensive gifts were housed in bigger boxes to avoid disappointment as the world continued its fascination with miniaturising anything with a digital interface. That wouldn’t be the case this year however.
                Out in the garage Aiden’s main present was waiting to be wheeled in at some point tomorrow afternoon.
                ‘Do you think Santa will give me what I want for Christmas?’
                ‘Wish hard enough little man, and he just might.’
                Aiden hadn’t stopped pestering him for this bike up until recently and under the circumstances Liam decided to break the bank. He was planning the classic move, waiting until all the other presents had been opened and letting Aiden think his time to receive was over before surprising him (and Holly) by wheeling it in front of the tree at some point when they’d both left the room. At the same time he was going to bring in the locket he’d had specially made for Holly. She’d harangue him over the expense but in all honesty he’d found throwing the money around to be a (not so) cheap form of therapy.
                Thinking of a way to placate the argument when it came his eyes wandered back to Holly’s head nestled into his torso. She looked gaunt and restless, her body in a perpetual state of micro movements and adjustments as she struggled to get comfortable. The way she’d managed to resist picking at the loose stitching on her face would have filled him with admiration, had he not know it was because her mind was distracted by the all-consuming, misplaced guilt. How was it her fault some ignorant prick decided to run the red light?
                Realising his hands were trembling, Liam took a deep breath. The TV might as well not be on, he realised, for Holly was staring longingly at the presents too.
It was a difficult subject to broach but Liam seized his moment, and with a heavy heart, he spoke.
                ‘Would you like me to move them?’ He asked softly.
                ‘I don’t know.’ Holly replied after a time, on the verge.
                The presents under the tree were colour coded; Holly’s wrapped in matted silver, Aiden’s in Gooner red and Liam’s in Chelsea blue. They were talking about the small number of presents wrapped in glossy gold.

8

Aiden tip-toed down the last few steps and followed the dim light down the hallway. His eyes were wide with excitement and slapped across his face was one of his best ever cheesy smiles. His heart pounding, he stepped inside.

9

‘… I don’t think it’d be a good idea for him to see them all leftover when the other presents have been opened, but at the same time, I don’t want to upset him and make him think we’ve forgotten about her.’ Liam was the one doing all the talking, but he didn’t push Holly too hard for a response.
                ‘Dad?’ He’d crept up on them totally unnoticed; perhaps there was hope for the secret service yet. ‘Where’s Kara?’
                So far Liam and Holly had been avoiding using her name. Whereas adults are adept at avoiding the elephant in the room, kids much prefer to say what they see. Hearing it now cut like a knife.
                Holly wailed out in pain as she struggled to rise and tears streamed down her face. Liam felt helpless as he watched Aiden’s face fall from an inquisitive grin to something feeble and frightened as Holly lurched her way past him on her crutches as she made desperately for the staircase. He could almost be angry at him, had he thought Aiden capable of any sort of malice.
                He knelt down and put a consulting hand on Aiden’s shoulder.
                ‘Aiden, Kara’s gone, I thought we had been through this?’ Perhaps he didn’t fully understand.
                ‘I know.’
Confused, Liam probed a little further.
                ‘So why would she be in the living room?’
                ‘Because she wasn’t in her bedroom.’ He offered quietly. ‘I checked.’
                ‘Okay,’ Liam said as he raised a hand to his head. He thought he could feel the start of a headache coming on. ‘I’m lost Aiden. Why would she be anywhere in the house? God took her to heaven with him, remember?’ It felt kind of patronising to put it that way but at the moment he wasn’t sure how else to word it. Aiden looked upset.
                ‘But you said –‘
                ‘What Aiden? What did I say?’ He realised then that he’d been snappy and apologised quietly. It took a little while before Aiden spoke.
                ‘You said if I wished hard enough…’
                A warm flush of blood swept through the entirety of Liam’s body, standing the hairs on the back of his neck on end as a precursor to the enormity of his pride.
                ‘Come here little man.’ He whispered as tears started to form in the corners of his eyes, and he reached out to embrace him.

10

Aiden was quick to bed this time around and Liam had found Holly sobbing quietly in Kara’s room, but she had told him she wanted to be alone. He went back to chat with Aiden for a little while and the subject had flirted around presents, football and various tales of what Tommy might be getting up to before it reached the lull in the conversation that Liam had anticipated. He counted twelve Mississippi’s…
                ‘Dad?’
                ‘Yes Aiden?’
                ‘Do you think Santa would let me trade all of my presents to bring Kara back?’ Liam was touched, he didn’t think many boys Aiden’s age would consider such an offer. He moved closer and started to tuck him in.
                ‘I think he would if he could Aiden, I really do, but it’s beyond his power I’m afraid. And I think Kara would want you to keep them. She’s comfortable too, you wouldn’t want to bring her down now, it’s cold and miserable, much warmer where she is at the moment.’ He realised he was babbling but Aiden didn’t seem to mind.
                ‘Do you think she’s watching us?’ Liam ruffled Aiden’s hair, the way Kara used to.
                ‘Always.’
                There was another lull as both of them sank back into their own thoughts.
                ‘Can you tell mummy I’m sorry?’
Liam swung round and had a very deliberate look towards the bedroom door. It took a second or two, but then Holly realised she’d been rumbled. She came in and sat on the bed and offered her arms out for a hug.
                ‘Don’t be sorry Aidie, you’ve done nothing wrong.’
                Liam reckoned they’d picked up their eavesdropper during the tale of Tommy’s battle with Rudolf as he struggled to get control over the reins of the sleigh. Aiden’s laughter was adorable and drew people in like a magnetic field.
                ‘Come on Aidie, try and get some sleep.’ She said as she kissed him goodnight. ‘It’s technically Christmas day.’
                ‘If you don’t fall asleep at some point tonight Father Christmas is going to have to reschedule.’ Liam added.
                Suddenly Aiden began to wriggle free of the covers and Holly shot Liam a glance as though it was his fault.
                ‘Aiden!’ He said, aghast. ‘What are you doing?’ He leapt free and started searching for his slippers.
                ‘It’s Christmas day.’ He repeated, ‘I want to see if it’s snowing.’
                ‘I think you’re going to be disappointed…’ The last time they’d had a white Christmas Aiden would have been too small to remember. Kara had only been fortunate to see a few, and she would have been fifteen in January. ‘… The nice lady on the weather said –‘
                ‘She promised me snow.’ Aiden said, adamant. No need to ask who he meant.
               
11

When he ripped open the curtains Liam could see Aiden’s disappointment in the reflection of the glass. He pressed his face up against the window and searched the sky desperately as Liam walked over to him, but to no avail. Liam could feel his shoulders slump when he rested his hands gently on top, and Holly hobbled over and perched beside him on the big toy box he kept under the window, rubbing a consoling hand up and down the top of his arm.
                ‘Sorry.’ Liam whispered, almost to himself.
                Holly stayed in place, looking out at the sky as Liam led Aiden back over to his bed without a word as Aiden fought valiantly to prevent the gathering tears from escaping.
                ‘Wait.’ Holly called out softly.
                Aiden came bounding over, the movement jerking one of the stemmed tears free so that it rolled down his cheek and glistened in the reflection of the light. He looked out but pulled back confused. Holly dabbed away the wetness on his face with her sleeve.
                ‘Look closer.’ She told him.
                Liam watched as he took another concentrated look outside and this time came away full of hope and excitement, reaching out to hug his mum. It was the first time since the crash he’d seen Holly smile as she took him in her arms and he wandered closer. In truth it was sleet rather than snow but the clouds behind were dense, the occasional full flake leaking out amongst the fine slush.
                Liam sat beside Aiden and wrapped an arm around his shoulder. Aiden turned to him, full of hope.
                ‘Can we stay up and watch the snow dad?’ Liam looked over at Holly for confirmation and she gave him a nod. Her smile had lingered and he was relieved, slightly worried it had been a flash in the pan. It looked good on her.
                ‘Of course, I’ll go and fetch us a duvet.’

12

The three of them had huddled together under the duvet by the window and by two o’clock little Aiden had finally fallen asleep, Liam could feel the deadweight of his head resting against his shoulder. When he looked across to ask Holly whether they should put him to bed he discovered that she had fallen asleep too.
                Kara had kept her promise.
                The snow outside had by now settled a fluffy sugar coating and transformed their small garden into a winter wonderland a couple inches deep with no sign of let up from above. Liam continued to watch his daughter’s work until his eyelids grew too heavy, drifting pleasantly with her face in his mind looking down on them until he lost his thoughts completely and surrendered himself to sleep.



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Thursday, 1 December 2011

Blog - 01/12/11

This month I had a change in direction. I was working on the sky-pirates thing until about half way through the month and I suddenly realised that 2011 is almost over! I knew I wouldn’t have the sky-pirates ready before the end of the year but I wanted to have at least one more piece of writing available before the year is out. I considered a flash fiction, but with my track record I was reluctant to start a whole new project just in case it developed beyond its confines once again. Therefore I looked back through some unfinished projects that could be completed within the time frame, and stumbled across a short story I’d started last year.

It’s a seasonal piece, and back when I started it I had originally planned to have it out for Christmas 2010. I think you can guess what happened. So after the deadline passed I was disappointed but planned to continue and release it earlier this year. However a friend convinced me to wait until next Christmas so I set it aside and one way or another here we are. I’ve finished the first draft so I’ll at least have something ready to release, no excuses necessary. The plan is to release it on 19th / 20th of December, as I’m going to make a Facebook Fan page and include it as part of the grand unveiling. I didn’t really want to make the page and not have anything new to read so it’ll be the first piece uploaded with that.

I finished reading ‘A Game of Thrones’- I loved it and highly recommend it to anyone. I was charging through it at a rate of knots towards the end and my only problem now is that I don’t own the next in the series, ‘A Clash of Kings’! From a budding writer’s perspective I found it both daunting and incredibly inspiring to get stuck into my own fantasy series and maybe, just maybe, write something half as good as George R. R. Martin one day!

As this is the last blog post of 2011 I’d just like to take the opportunity to wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

Don’t forget to check back for the short story later this month!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Blog - 01/11/11

Yip, still on the sky-pirates thing. I never claimed to be the quickest of writers and I’ll never be one of those authors who’ll produce a new book every year, that’s just me I’m afraid. Having said that I definitely need to improve, and maybe one day I will, but for now I enjoy not being so strict on deadlines because it means I can fly off on a tangent and develop background thinking and research for other projects. Recently I’ve been working on designing and constructing my whole fantasy world which I’m finding quite exciting! It also means that it’s sort of on topic though as it’s the place that the sky-pirates writing is set, so it’s not all bad eh?

A group of friends convinced me to start reading ‘A Game of Thrones’ recently so I’ve just started on that. I got as far as reading the prologue and I was taken aback at how well written it was compared to my drivel. It’s amazing how much you can hype up your own work to the point of believing it, reality checks like this are most welcome. Also the old hardback editions include maps similar to those included in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy and have encouraged me to introduce my own in my series, probably going some way to explaining the aforementioned tangent.

In the last month I’ve finally caught up with the new series of Doctor Who and Torchwood, and again, have been impressed with the writing. ‘Miracle Day’ in particular was brilliant and made me think more about editing the sky-pirates writing to have enough content in each section as I release it. Matt Smith is by far the best doctor and the two series in which he is in have been the best. Without a doubt my favourite enemies are the ‘Weeping Angels’ so don’t be surprised if they inspire one of my own in the future.

I might actually get some more work done this month, we can but hope!

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Blog - 01/10/11

This month I’ve been mostly working on the sky-pirates thing, albeit it at a leisurely pace. I’ve had some really good ideas for other projects including the fantasy series though so a lot of the time I’ve been making improvements to story lines not yet seen by you guys.

You may have noticed that I’ve made a few changes to the blog itself. I’ve added a ‘follow by email’ option because I’m not sure how many people bother using RSS feeds like I do. I’ve also removed the ads because there really was no point in putting them there in the first place. The most interesting addition to the blog though is the introduction of the new tipping system.

I was shown a thing called 'Tip The Web' and instantly approved of the idea. It’s a quick click donation system that encourages readers to tip based on the quality of the content you’re reading / viewing / listening to. It’s totally optional and is a way to show support, and in any case it’s not really about the amount tipped but demonstrating that the content was worthy of any kind of tip in the first place. The article I read stressed this and mentioned the fact that you can gain so much from the internet for free with so little effort and that finding the equivalent abundances of information used to be time consuming and expensive. It’s a great tool for the lesser known creative people of the web and a possible hint at how things could be done in the future.

I’ve included the tipping option at the end of pieces of creative writing and also on the sidebar but I can’t stress enough that it’s optional, and just an alternative way of expressing support. If you leave a tip you aren’t even committed to paying it if you have a change of heart because it sits in a list of unpaid tips that you can review before making payment. What’s more there is no middle man taking any cuts of your tips because the organisation is funded entirely by the tipping system itself. If you know anybody else who produces creative content it’d be great to tell them about it because it’s the kind of thing that needs popularity to get it get started, so thanks in advance if you decide to help spread the word. Please check out the website for more information. –

www.tiptheweb.org

This month saw the conclusion of the US Open and I’m happy that Novak Djokovic was able to keep up his amazing run, and also happy that Sam Stosur beat Serena Williams to take her first Slam. If you saw the women’s final you’ll know about Serena’s behaviour and at the time I was shocked and lost a lot of respect for her. The issue was she screamed a ‘Come On!’ before the point had finished which could have distracted Stosur, even if it didn’t look like she’d have got the ball back. The umpire then awarded the point to Stosur but it became an even bigger issue due to the unfortunate time of the match and ended up being the point that secured Stosur another break. Serena lashed out at the umpire and said some pretty pathetic things at the change of ends. But, then there’s the complication when you look back and find out that the same umpire was involved with Serena when the exact same situation happened, but crucially in that game the umpire decided to replay the point. So you can see why Serena felt hard done by, but the point is she shouldn’t have called out in the first place and there’s no excuse for some of the things she said.

Also this month my mate invited me to go see Avril Lavigne perform at the Hammersmith Apollo. I had a much better time than I had anticipated and despite being told I was his last choice, I’ll thank him anyways… He recorded the whole concert and you can find it on his Youtube channel here –

http://www.youtube.com/user/QueegSV

Until next month, ta-rah!

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Blog - 01/09/11

Not a lot to report this month. I’ve still been working on the sky-pirates thing and it’s taking me longer than I anticipated so it may be a little while before you see anything. I’ve basically restructured the entire thing and given it an overhaul so most of what I’d written before is either void or going to need a lot of editing. It’s almost like I’ve started again but this is a common process for me and it always make it turn out better. I go in with a basic idea of what I want to happen, but as I write, the ideas start to flow until I have pages of notes about what’s coming up and changes to be made to what’s already been done - maybe it’d work better with a bit before it, oh wait actually if I was to put that there and introduce a new character…. Until I have to go back and make sense of it all. I love how it all evolves in my head, it’s my favourite part of writing! Just knowing you’ll go in with something but it will change and change until your first storyline is almost unrecognisable! It’s taking a lot of thought and even some improvised 3D modelling to get my head round things!




I can confirm now though that what I’m writing will be sample text from a later book. I’ve had to spend some time thinking of the story for the whole book to work out where it fits in. It’s tricky because I want this piece to be easy to dive in on the situation and have a basic understanding of the importance in the grand scheme of things but without revealing exactly what. I’ll probably end up including lines about back story and character descriptions that will be removed or adjusted when put in the book.

The book it comes from will be the first from my second fantasy series (set in the same world as the first) meaning it will be a long time before the whole story goes to print. I’m still working on the time line in conjunction with the first series so it may even be that I don’t write it until I’ve written the first three of the first series. Add to that the novella I’m going back to work on after this, finishing the first novel I planned, (which got me started on the whole writing thing) as well as occasional short stories and it could be years. This is the power of the ‘Three Words’ section though! It means if the idea is good enough then you get to read the writing before it even reaches print!

Plus, I’ll admit I’ve been slacking again. I started playing Pro Evo again (09) and became obsessed. The 'Master League' mode is why I’ll choose Pro Evo over Fifa forever and a day. It took eight seasons starting in the second division but I have finally won it all on the hardest difficulty setting - with Bracknell Aces beating Barcelona in the Champions League final with a dramatic 6-3 score line! Bracknell Aces eh? Who’d have thunk it! But… I get the feeling this might be another slow writing month because I’ve just decided to try the ‘Become a Legend’ mode which was a new feature on this game - and I love it. A full eighteen seasons of my professional career beckons! Oh, and there’s that small matter of the US Open starting…

A quick opinion on Arsenal’s transfer activity. I’m glad we were able to get 40 million for Fabregas, we got a pittance for Henry. He’s been a great player for us and I just hope he doesn’t end up being a bench warmer for too long. I’m upset that Nasri left, but 20 million for a player in the last year of his contract is good business. I don’t know a lot about Santos but I can’t see him being signed as cover for Gibbs, and with the exit of Clichy and Traore I was hoping Gibbs would be first choice. We’ve lost a big character with Eboue’s departure and his replacement Jenkinson looked massively out of his depth in the drubbing against United but he was only ever signed as cover for Sagna. Mertesacker is an interesting one. He’s experienced and solid and could work well with Vermaelen (I’m not Koscielny’s biggest fan) but we’ve with been linked with him in the past and every time I worried about his lack of pace. The Premier league is quick, really quick - his positioning is going to have to be spot on.

The one year loan deal for Benayoun is a great piece of business whilst other new signings Oxlade-Chamberlain and Chu Young Park integrate, and don’t forget Miyaichi’s got his work permit now. I’ve heard good things about his time in Holland. Gervinho looks useful so long as he can work on his final ball and one of the commentators I heard was right - he’s a dribbler, not a typical Arsenal player, but I like what I’ve seen so far. And finally Arteta is a wicked signing. Very happy about this. Some are suggesting we’ve signed him a few years too late but I think the timing is perfect. Everton used to have a really good midfield and he was the pick of the bunch, but our midfield was better. With Fabregas and Nasri gone now though we needed to strengthen and not rely on Rosicky to be the sole source of experience whilst Wilshere, Ramsey and others develop. Arteta can do that and is good enough a player to slot straight in so long as he can keep clear of injury, his ability is unquestioned. All in all, it’s been a busy summer for Arsenal!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Blog, blog, blog!

First things first, I'm actually blogging a bit more conventionally!

I keep making promises about regular updates with pieces of writing but the thing is I keep failing my targets for different reasons, so now at least I can almost gauruntee there will be a new blog post every month, that's something, right? I have a real problem adhering to self imposed parameters when it comes to writing and as soon as I get an idea for something it just keeps expanding! Whilst I am only truly responsible to myself I'm going to take advantage and let the creativity flow before third party commitments shackle me in the future! I hope you guys understand!

I did consider the possibility of making an actual website because I'm misusing this slightly in that it's actually a blog but I've taken advantage of the static pages feature to craft a 'website' here. Maybe if and when things kick off I might have to move it but for now I'm comfortable. I like the page views tracking (though I'm sure you can get that somehow for your own website) and also the fact that it's third party. If there was ever a case of somebody plagiarising my writing to use in competitions and such I feel safer having dates of publish logged with somebody as credible as Google! Anything you post online is your copyright, remember that people!

I've also deleted my other blog (Paul106i - No Pen in Hand) and moved all the content into the other section on this blog.

Okay! So in terms of writing I've been up to over the past month I once again got carried away with one of the short stories. The winning three words were 'sky-pirates', 'sword-fighting' and 'avalanche'... come on, I didn't stand a chance.

I'm currently four sevenths / five eighths of the way through the first draft and enjoying it. In fact I like it so much that I've integrated it into the same timeline as the massive fantasy series I have planned for the future! It is set in the same world although I've not quite sorted it's when in comparison to the main series. I'm considering running this alongside as a web writing series though I'm not sure on that yet, I'm still figuring it all out! So, when I do eventually post it on here it might be better to consider it as sample text from future publishing. I can tell you now that it starts straight in the middle of a situation so the build up to how they got there is still undecided and might be revealed later on... or you might have to wait until I put it in a book... in that case I might rewrite and refresh parts of it - I just don't know yet! In any case I'm going to roll it out on here in parts when it's all finished.

In the past month I've finished reading Stephen King's 'Wolves of the Callah' from his 'Dark Tower' series. I'm disheartened that I've nearly finished the series now (two books to go) as it's great stuff, hence why I'm breaking it up and taking so long to finish it! Whilst reading it I've had an amazing example of what the power of suggestive thinking can do because during the time I've been reading it I've been adding random sequences of numbers and 'everything is coming up nineteen'! It's crazy!

Anyways there was a new character introduced in the book and revealed that his back story is included in another book that Stephen King wrote outside of the series, so I've now started reading ''Salem's Lot'. You see? Other authors do it! Now my idea for the setting my short story in the same world as the mega series doesn't seem too outrageous! I'm just following the example of master craftsmen!

TV wise I've finally caught up with 'Smallville' in its entirety. I think there are 217 episodes just over 40 minutes each. Maths can frighten a person. I did enjoy it though and I have developed a lot more respect American writers to keep it interesting and story crafting over such a long period of time. I dislike that thing that happens in TV shows though where they use the same actor to play a sibling, it's just not right. Moved onto the new series of Doctor Who and Torchwood now and enjoying it thus far!

In other news my resolve has been broken and I've rejoined Facebook, I'm super stoked to get Trivium's new album 'In Waves' and I'm going to be very cranky over the coming months as the tennis tour has gone to America. I love my sleep.

Oh, and finally, I'm removing the restriction for comment posting so now you don't have to have a Google account or sign in with Twitter. I won't hesitate to reinstate it though, you've been warned.

Until next month, buh-bye!

For Richer, For Poorer - by Victoria Coren - Review - 04/04/11

Despite being written by a professional poker player this is not a ‘poker’ book in terms of strategy guides, instructions and poker education, it’s a biography written by a poker player about her time in the game. Therefore to read this book I had to be interested in the person, so let me quickly explain why.

My own poker journey began when I was seventeen years old. Friends of mine had been playing the occasional drunken game. Having heard this I decided to do a little research in case I might be invited and then all of a sudden it became something of a passion to me. I used to stay up late and watch a lot of poker on TV for tips (Only shows with professional players, I was worried if I watched the celebrity editions I’d pick up bad habits) and Vicky Coren used to be one of the regular commentators. I can’t remember which of the many shows I was watching but I became loyal to it because I liked her commentary. Then one day there was a stand in commentator and I was disappointed - Until they revealed the reason was because Vicky was sitting at the table!


I was instantly captivated and had a new poker hero. Obviously I rooted for Britons against the sea of Americans and Scandinavians but to watch the very player whose voice had guided me at the start of my poker journey? Yes she’s a woman and I was a seventeen year old boy so I can’t deny the crush element. There weren’t a lot of women on display at the tables, it made her something of an enigma to me and mystery encouraged interest.

To stop myself falling into trouble I elected to go the way of Chris ‘Jesus’ Ferguson and build a bankroll from nothing, playing freerolls in the hope of moving on to bigger things. As years passed and I didn’t win big, my love for the game subsided somewhat. I still enjoy playing, I just don’t rack up the hours online like I used to, the occasional play chip sit and go a couple of times a week is enough for me and live action has only ever been social with a competitive edge. However Vicky didn’t completely drop off my radar.

The thing is she’s not strictly a poker player. She’s been writing a weekly column for the Guardian since her teens (Not that I would’ve been interested in reading them at the time, I’m only 21 now and she’s erm … not.) and made appearances on a few TV shows I’ve watched, including hosting her quiz show ‘Only Connect’. I joined Twitter last year and following her has kept me interested and up to date in her pursuits. If I was ever going to read a poker player’s biography it would be hers and maybe quite possibly Gus Hansen if he ever chose to write one.

I got the book for Christmas because at the time I was reading ‘Black House’ by Stephen King and Peter Straub and it was so good I felt the next book I read had to be something non-fiction else I’d unjustly judge it too harshly. Vicky had been advertising her book on Twitter that same day so it seemed an obvious choice. I’ll admit I didn’t get round to it for a while because I read ‘Black House’ through a couple of times to try and educate myself in writing technique, but when I did eventually pick up my hardback copy of ‘For Richer, For Poorer’ I was in for a treat.

The strange thing was although I chose to read non-fiction to get away from a storyline, it kind of reads like one. Like a lot of fiction novels it starts with a glimpse of the ‘future’ before dropping back as far as when poker was first introduced to her by wanting to join in her brother’s game, the very beginning. It’s her first glimmer of interest in the game, though it’s not really about the cards, it’s more the environment and atmospheric conditions required to play it that she finds appealing.

In any case it marks the start of her poker journey and from that point on every chapter ends with an account of her thoughts when she made the final table of the European Poker Tour in London 2006 and is laid out in a hand by hand approach. It’s a nice recurring reminder during her description of the early years that the toils and struggles are not without reward and the constant flashes between eras feel quite cinematic.

We follow her progress in poker via plenty of little snippets that read like diary extracts which I found quite refreshing at times. Sure, more writing is dedicated to bigger events and milestones but it doesn’t hurt to have it broken up occasionally with a funny thought or unattached moment of humour; you get a real sense of her personality through what she deems notable but not of any profound significance.

She makes her first loose and as it turns out binding commitment to the game when she starts to meet new faces and gets invited to the first of the ‘Tuesday games’. Kindred spirits are formed and from there as her confidence grows she slowly elevates herself to the fringes of ‘The Vic’; a dark, gloomy and subdued traditional building full of people who play poker as it should be, every one of them enshrouded in a mystery and a back story, but in no way inclined to divulge it. It takes her a little while to consider herself a true regular there and in the mean time her journalistic connections get her invited to the occasional ‘celebrity’ game, even if she doesn’t count herself as such. It’s when she gets knocked out of a ‘Late Night Poker’ edition and chooses to hang around to watch the main event that she first meets a few notable players including Dave ‘The Devilfish’ Ulliott and more importantly Joe ‘The Elegance’ Beevers and gets truly swept up into the game, likening it so brilliantly to hot footing it after Alice.

Reading that she had a relationship with Joe Beevers was something of a revelation to me that took me by complete surprise. I knew she was linked to the Hendon Mob but not that the connection was so intimate. This stuck out to me because Joe Beevers was a huge influence on my game based on the first time I’d ever seen him play. He was the first person I’d ever seen on the televised events who laid down Ace-King pre flop. I just didn’t know you were allowed to do that. It changed my game forever and taught me that playing situations was just important as playing the cards.

As Joe sweeps her off her feet and gets her playing poker around the world we get to see how the game works through Vicky’s eyes. There are ups, plenty of them, but there are also downs and moments of danger. The game at this point is only just rising to the surface of TV exposure, the majority of it is still played underground and as such is still sometimes a bad place to be if you get caught up in the wrong situation. When he takes her to games guarded by gunmen it’s a stark reminder of how dangerous the environment was at the time. it’s also very interesting to read about how she got caught up in a strange situation where some self proclaimed defenders of society tried to force the game to remain underground by plating up a documentary that would ‘expose’ the game as seedy and degraded, and how it felt to be on the other side of such an exposé.

Eventually a few of the place names become familiar and you suddenly realise that at least a year has passed because the poker ‘tour’ is doubling back on itself. It’s a testament to her writing that it takes a while to realise because she chooses to write about new faces in old places, delving into a bit of their back story and how their personal and game orientated philosophies have changed her perspective to keep it fresh where it could have fallen into repetition. Her game is improving and it’s nice to read that she’s improving on results of the year before because it shows progress and builds nicely to the final table flashes as mentioned before.

In a moment that might please a few haters the second time she goes to Vegas its glamour is tainted or rather exposed by heartbreak and depression. It’s no longer a place of wild optimism and spectacular visuals and is stripped down to being little more than another place where there is a lot of gambling. It’s like you start to see the real Vegas; a place where punters are encouraged to spend money they can’t afford to lose, because the pretty bright lights and abundance of opportunities to win big are placed there cleverly just to reel you in and cash in on the self appointed marvel of the location.

Yes, she’s a poker player and yes, she went through a period of clinical depression. You can wipe that sneer off your face though, if anything the poker saved her. It wasn’t gambling and losing control that was the cause, her problems lay away from the table. That was the solace; she could play just to play, to immerse herself in the game in an act of therapeutic escapism. It’s in this respect that poker is like her true love; every time she has a break up or a bad event, poker is always there with open arms. It’s like a crutch she can always fall back on that won’t judge her or ask her probing questions, just be there for her whilst she works thing out in her own time.

One of the things that make this account of poker such an interesting read is that Vicky’s world changed with the popularity boom of the game she was tied so intricately to, dragging her into poker as we now know it from the underground culture like vampires brought to light. It could only be described so dramatically and honestly by a player of her generation who had lived it, and her background in writing makes her an ideal guide as we hold her hand and don our extra strength sun screen.

The best example of this to me is in describing the characters she met at The Vic. They come across as fictional characters from a novel and I could fully picture them in a card room. Obviously some of the credit goes to them for being such interesting if reserved people, but the way Vicky describes them transforms them from the pages into images lurking just out of sight in the mind’s eye.

The moments with her father are special and really intimate so I’ve chosen not to include them in this little write up because I’d hate to spoil what she’s created; you have to hear it from her. That goes for other moments of loss in her journey. I couldn’t do the way she described the situations justice so I encourage you to read it for yourself.

Yes, I do have a ‘favourite line’ in this book. It comes when Vicky is in talks with Pokerstars about officially joining their roster of professionals. The commitment would be a big one; it would mark the end of casual play and thrust her into the spotlight. Not quite committing, but not wanting to reject them outright she writes:

‘So I say, “Why don’t you put me in the London EPT, and we’ll see how it goes?”’
If you know anything about Vicky Coren you’ll know that she of course won it outright, the first woman to win such a prestigious event. It touches back on that fairytale theme, making the whole read something storyesque. I like to try and write fiction and parts of this book make me feel like I’m reading some, this line is so perfect for that. The fact it’s what really happened and had sets up a fairytale ending is why it strikes all the right chords for me.
__________________________________________________________________________


For a link to purchase the Hardback Cover version of the book from Amazon click:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Richer-Poorer-Love-Affair-Poker/dp/1847672914/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1301924854&sr=1-2

For a link to purchase the Paperback Cover version of the book from Amazon click:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Richer-Poorer-Confessions-Player/dp/1847672930/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1298342723&sr=1-1

To visit Vicky Coren's website click:
http://www.victoriacoren.com/

To follow Vicky Coren on Twitter click:
http://twitter.com/victoriacoren

True Grit - Review - 24/02/11

The story starts off with small fourteen year old girl Mattie Ross looking to bring her father’s killer to justice. Much like the rest of the characters she comes into contact with, you soon learn how deathly serious and determined she is to do right by her father in one of the most honest, courageous and honour driven adventures you’re likely to see from a little ’un. She’s incredibly capable and independent and soon proves her mettle early when forced to spend the night at the undertakers in the company of the corpses of the men she’s just seen hanged with minimal fuss, and boy can she haggle!

Equipped with determination and a good understanding of the law she goes about hiring a bounty hunter and is presented with a few options. Having sat in on Marshal ‘Rooster’ Cogburn’s latest dressing down for his itchy trigger finger she decides he is the perfect man for the job and makes her approach, but as you’d expect he wants nothing to do with it or her. Enter Mr LaBoeuf the Texas Ranger who reveals he has been in pursuit of the same man for several months for a different crime he committed back in Texas. He tries to reason with her that they are after the same thing, so she should back off and let him do his job, but she is adamant that Tom Chayney will hang for the crime on her father, not some poxy Texas crime that happens to offer a higher reward.

Eventually she persuades the Marshal to take her offer but he is aghast at terms that she goes with him and tries to set off without her. She’s having none of it, and when she sees him on the other side of the river about to depart in union with the Ranger she shows just how adamant she is in a stunt with her newly acquired horse ‘Little Blackie’ that is the first step in winning the Marshal over. Begrudgingly the Ranger agrees to travel as a trio and now with the Marshal’s knowledge of the area as well as the Ranger’s knowledge of the target the adventure can officially begin.

One of the first things I’d say about this film is that it really does take you to another place. At first I found it slightly off-putting that almost every single character seems to be equipped with an abundance of intelligence in the form of quick wit and every conversation felt like an intense standoff and battle of the mind. Okay the girl is a spectacular example but being one of the main characters you’d expect there to be something special about her. Although she is vastly superior the rule seems to spread throughout the characters and even the exchange between her and the little stable boy is far more intellectual than anything you’re likely to eavesdrop on nowadays as you mill about on public transport. The one exception is a scene where there are a couple of kids are aggravating a horse with a stick, but the Marshal soon deals with them in one of the most comic yet understated moments I’ve ever seen on film. (I’m giggling right now as I think back to it.)

As soon as you surrender and allow yourself to become immersed into the story however it’s like being given the key to unlock the colloquial barrier, and phrases and expressions make perfect sense - every conversation had me captivated as I basked in this new language. It truly draws you in and this western world, although based on an actual period of time feels otherworldly yet inviting and desirable.

The chemistry between the main characters is brilliantly done. One of the things that I find impressive about this film is the lack of a true romantic love story. It seems nowadays that one gets slipped in to almost every film just to tick a box. Instead it focuses on a paternal bond that the girl starts to form with the Marshal which is subsidised with similar moments of bonding with the Texas Ranger whenever doubts start to form over whether the Marshal is actually a suitable candidate for the recently vacated position. Obviously there’s a hole in her heart that she is unknowingly trying to fill and this comes across brilliantly.

The relationship between the Ranger and the Marshal is also a highlight. They are reluctant to get on and their constant sparring for superiority of the situation is their own personal bond through one up man ship. This provides hostility and humour, the Ranger walking out on them multiple times and a great scene after the Ranger has been injured where a drunken Marshal sets up a one arm vs. one eye corn bread clay pigeon shoot out. Less ‘mine is bigger than yours’ and more ‘I can make better use of it’. When it matters though they are able to put their squabbles aside in the interests of protecting the girl in that natural ‘do it for the kid’ reasoning. Through joint effort they look out for her safety and a touching honourable exit from ‘Little Blackie’ ensure she makes it out of the film alive.

The three character performances were superb. Jeff Bridges makes an undisputed Marshal and I couldn’t think of anybody who’d have played the role better. I’ve often heard people criticise Matt Damon’s role in a number of films, but I can gladly say his performance as the Texas Ranger shouldn’t be one of them. Hailee Steinfeld’s big screen debut will be hard to top now such was the calibre of her performance. I just hope she can play another role in the future that can measure up to such an impressive start of what I’m sure will be a long and prosperous career. Their on screen chemistry is believable and refreshing and each of them supports each other when one character drops out of the loop to make a perfect trio. Their roles are clear and when the two men start their bickering it is the only time that little Mattie Ross drops her bravado and shows her age, trying her best to patch things up like a kid caught in the crossfire when mummy and daddy start fighting again.

Are you one of those people who don’t like Matt Damon’s acting and want to see Jeff Bridges literally try to rip his tongue out of his mouth? Maybe you want confirmation he’s a bad person and want documented evidence, like say if he were to bend a fourteen year old girl over his knee and give her a good old fashioned spanking? Or perhaps you just want to watch a thoroughly enjoyable western that is unlikely to be topped in a long, long time. In that case I recommend this film to you. The Coen brothers have done a fantastic job.

127 Hours - Review - 10/02/11

The first thing I’m going to point out is that I’ve seen this film twice in quick succession. I’ve never done that before and I’m also poor, let that be a measure of how good this film is. I even paid more the second time due to seeing on a weekend, and I didn’t mind.
I found myself in a similar situation recently.
 Luckily I was trapped for 125 hours less and
saved when the 'rock' was enticed off with
the rattling of some cat biscuits.


Going into the film you’d be hard pressed to find anybody who didn’t already know the story and it uses this to its advantage because the whole time you find yourself waiting for THAT moment. It teases brilliantly with the ups and downs of emotion filled scenes and each time his mood plummets you start to think ‘this is the moment’, only to be amazed at the man for finding more resolve and considering he is stuck in one place, how he does it is quite remarkable. That goes for the sceptics too; I was worried the film might consist of flashback after flashback, but there is enough event going on around him to pad it out effectively. Fear not though young bloodthirsty one for it is worth the wait, and the use of sound to go with the visual feast is splendidly horrific.

As you can imagine, in such a situation the film has its darker moments. I found it particularly chilling when Aron starts leaving messages to his parents telling them how much he loved them and apologising to his sister for not making it to her upcoming wedding. The thought of his family watching that footage can tug heartstrings when you think about it more deeply and in one moment he breaks up his current log to scream for help when he thinks he hears somebody. It’s filmed in random bursts and he watches it back on his camcorder in one of the grounding moments of his peril whilst he is still functioning reasonably well. Some more harrowing moments come as his body begins to deteriorate from malnutrition and the hallucinations start to take their toll, but Aron is a survivor and battles admirably through it.

This leads to some of the lighter moments as the best way he deals with the gravity of his circumstances is through humour. It’s deadpan but it lifts the spirits and the film follows suit by replicating the formula with several visual comedic moments, and a particular furry investigator proves to be a welcome recurrence. This is also subsidised by moments of personal triumph, whether that be a new idea for escape (again Danny Boyle’s choice of music provides a highlight) or taking pleasure in the rewards of his surroundings despite the adverse situation he finds himself in. The ultimate motivation for escape comes just when all seems lost. A vision of his unborn son helps him over the finishing line and it’s touching to read in the ‘what happened next’ script at the end of the film that his premonition came true. After all, if he went on to find he could only produce daughters I couldn’t help but feel a little cheated if I was ever in his position.

I genuinely felt like I want to be a better person at the end of this film. Credit must go to the real Aron Ralston for surviving such a horrible ordeal but also to Danny Boyle for recreating it so brilliantly and above all accurately. I also thought James Franco’s performance was superb.

Unfortunately, I don’t think everybody who watches this will feel that new respect for life or appreciation of what they have because some people are idiots. The first time I saw it there were a couple of old ladies who reacted when Aron brought blood to his mouth like he was some barbaric, self afflicting cannibal. The second time, there was a young couple some way to our right. The dude seriously said ‘Hurhur, imagine if he accidentally cut off the wrong arm’… I could not believe it.

But they are few! Everybody else who watches this film will feel as uplifted and inspired as I did, especially enjoying that wave of good feeling that courses through them when the final piece of music comes in, signalling the end of the film and the end of Aron’s ordeal. Go ahead! Live your life and remember, if the going gets tough just follow Aron Ralston’s example and do it for your unborn son! Although it might not be such a good idea to have him watch over as you perform gruesome DIY surgery on yourself; you’re going to create a psychopath.