Friday, 28 March 2014

Jewel of the Heart

The hesitant flutter of the saloon doors was barely audible amidst the noise of the bar, but it made every head turn to look.  Patrons of The Desiccated Husk usually entered boldly, pushing the doors aside and leaving them to flap and clatter behind them, but this visitor seemed to be struggling to get through.  The men inside watched with idle curiosity, but no one moved to help.

At last one door swung forward just enough to admit a woman in a lilac dress that was buttoned up to her throat and swept the floor.  She was gripping her handbag in both hands, knuckles turning white above the brass clasp, and her elbows were tucked tight against her waist.  It seemed she lacked the strength to keep the door from closing on her, or perhaps she was just reluctant to do anything as un-ladylike as barge her way through.

When she finally made it through she turned to watch the door closing, standing transfixed as it swung back and forth.  Then she picked her way towards the bar, keeping her head down with the brim of her hat obscuring most of her face.

"Can I help you, ma'am?" the barman asked amiably enough, his bushy moustache curving up into a smile as she stopped three feet from the bar.

"I'm looking for Ms del Rio," she said in a small voice.  "I was told she works here?"

"Roxie?" the barman asked, leaning forward and putting a hand to his ear.  "Did I hear you right?  You're looking for Roxie?"

Her eyes stayed fixed on the wooden boards of the floor, but her hat twitched in the tiniest of nods.

"She's not here right now."  He stood up straight, plucked a glass from the shelf behind him and started polishing it.  "Not due on for another hour, you see.  Why don't you take a seat while you wait?  Would you like a drink?"

"I don't touch alcohol," she said, her voice suddenly a little stronger.

"How about coffee?"  He swapped the glass for a porcelain mug which he gave a perfunctory wipe before filling it with steaming hot coffee and pushing it across the bar.  "There you are, ma'am.  On the house."

The rest of the bar continued to watch as she tiptoed forward to take the coffee, then seated herself at an empty table.  Her bag went into her lap, still gripped tightly with both hands except for the rare moment when she reached forward to take a sip.  She sat like that, her whole body tense, keeping her eyes fixed on the drink in front of her and not acknowledging anyone in the room.

Before long most of the patrons had grown bored of watching her and returned to their conversations, but a group around one table continued to cast glances her way and mutter to each other.  At last one, a burly man whose thinning hair was balanced by a thick beard, got to his feet and swaggered across to her table, looking back at his friends as he went.

"What's a lady like you doing looking for a girl like Roxie?" he asked, leaning on the back of the chair next to hers.

"She's an old friend of mine," the woman said in a tiny voice, cringing away from him as he loomed over her.  "I'm just here to catch up with her."

"A friend of Roxie's, eh?" he asked, loud enough for the whole bar to hear.  "Dressed for your day off, are you?"  He winked at his friends, all of whom were grinning broadly.

"I don't know what you mean," she whispered, her grip tightening on her bag.  "I always dress like this."

"Sure you do."  Now he was leaning on the back of her chair, talking down to her hat.  "Come on, darling, give us a look at the goods.  Maybe you could replace Roxie here, hey?"  One large, calloused hand landed on her shoulder.

"Please don't touch me," she whimpered.

"Come on, Charlie," the barman said, though he didn't move from his spot.  "Knock it off."

"I only want a look," he protested.  "If she's a friend of  Roxie she must let men look all the time.  What harm could it do to give me a peep?"  His hand reached round towards the buttons at her throat.


"That's the last time I suggest you come and see me at work."  Roxie stood in the doorway and surveyed the carnage, one corner of her mouth twitching and ruining her otherwise stern pose.  Her friend still sat primly at her table, sipping coffee and clutching her bag, and Eddie was still behind the bar, polishing the glasses for all the good it would do.  Charlie, on the other hand, was out cold on the floor.  This was a man she had seen down a full bottle of Eddie's 'special' hooch with nary a wobble, but it didn't look like he'd be getting up any time soon.  There were a fair few others nursing injuries, and none of them seemed willing to look at her or her friend.  "What the devil happened here?"

"Some people needed to learn some manners," said her friend, still in the same soft register.

Roxie sighed.  "All right, well, I think they've all learned their lesson.  Come on out back with me and stop terrorising these folks with your coffee drinking."

The woman rose gracefully to her feet and followed Roxie out through a door behind the bar.  The men at the tables she passed cringed away from her, but she did nothing more than favour them with a winning smile.


"All right, Lavendar," said Roxie once the door was firmly closed.  "Start from the beginning.  What's with the old lady getup?  That hat really doesn't suit you, you know."

"You told me to be subtle," said Lavendar with a shrug, finally talking with her own brash voice.  "Can't go attractin' too much attention when you've got a job for me.  And you know my hair is my most distinctive feature."  She took off the hat and let the matted, dirty blonde mess fall around her shoulders.  There hadn't been a brush anywhere near her hair since the day she'd left Momma's house.  The tangles always came back so quickly it had never seemed worth the effort, and now there was no one who could tell her otherwise.  As soon as she was free she'd twisted it into a series of rat tails that could be as scruffy as they liked.

"It's certainly unusual," said Roxie, gathering together her working clothes and starting to unfasten her dress.  "But don't you think laying Charlie out like that kinda goes against the whole subtle thing?"

"He thinks any friend of yours is a stripper who doesn't mind givin' people a free look.  I couldn't just let that stand.  Maybe now he'll think about keepin' his hands to himself."

"And the others?"

Another shrug.  "They didn't seem to appreciate me teachin' Charlie a lesson.  There was quite a rumpus there for a while."

Roxie pinched the bridge of her nose as she shimmied her dress off her hips.  "I knew I shouldn't have asked you to come here.  I wouldn't have, but this was the only place I could be sure we could talk.  At least you left Eddie standing so he can watch the door for us."

"I'd have left them all standin' if they hadn't started it."  Lavendar flumped down into a chair, no longer bothering with the ladylike facade.  "Now, what's all this about?  What's so important you needed a secret meetin'?"

"It's Theodore," said Roxie, the bright sequins of her working outfit shimmering as she pulled it on over her head.  "Things ended with him recently, and it wasn't exactly the friendliest of endings."  She pulled her head free of the dress and looked directly at Lavendar, pain written all over her face.  "He took my Jewel, Lavendar.  My one treasure in this rotten old world."

"And you'd be wantin' me to effect a retrieval, I suppose?"  Her face brightened at the mere thought of it.

"Is that okay?"  Roxie's hands were trembling as she fastened the ties on her dress and it took her several attempts to perfect the combination of concealment and the promise of later revelation.  "I know this is the kind of thing you do, but still I wouldn't ask if it weren't so important."

"Of course it's okay," said Lavendar, springing to her feet to envelop Roxie in a bone-crushing hug.  "I was expectin' a whole lot of showin' off from you on this visit.  Can't be leavin' again without so much as a peep."

"Thank you," Roxie mumbled into her shoulder, and Lavendar pretended not to notice how she was shaking.


Lavendar eased her way through the open window, silently giving thanks for the warm weather that made breaking and entering so easy.  Not quite as easy as it could have been, since Theodore apparently wasn't so dumb as to leave ground-floor windows open at night, but Lavendar had always been good at climbing.  The upper floor had a choice of open windows and it had been easy enough to locate one that didn't have snoring floating out to betray its occupancy.  Fingers crossed none of the help were quiet sleepers.

The dreadful lilac dress had been discarded, replaced by Lavendar's customary attire of a sturdy pair of trousers and a dark shirt that concealed layers of padding and protection.  She wore soft boots for silent running, and gloves with artfully roughened fingertips for an enhanced grip.  A handgun was holstered at her hip, though it was mostly for show.  A shooting match here would cause more trouble than it would solve.  Better to rely on her wits and whatever luck she could make.

She dropped into the room with the lightest of thuds and paused for a moment to check that no one had been disturbed.  When all stayed quiet she allowed herself to breathe again, and gently pulled the curtain across to enter the room.  There was very little light from outside to help with her search, but as her eyes adjusted to the dark she realised she had chosen the perfect window.  Roxie's Jewel was right here.

"Hello, beautiful," she breathed as she crossed the room and leaned over to make sure she was right.  In the crib, the baby girl stirred gently and opened large eyes to look at Lavendar.  "Hey, Jewel," Lavendar whispered, breaking into a smile.  "Your momma sent me to get you.  Are you ready to go?"  She reached down and lifted Jewel out of the crib, putting her against her shoulder and wrapping the blankets around her.  "You just go back to sleep if you like.  You'll be back with your momma before you know it."

There was no question of going back out the window.  The climb had been tricky enough with both hands free, but there was no way she could get back down while holding a baby, even one as willing to nuzzle peacefully against her as Jewel apparently was.  Breaking out of buildings was generally easier than breaking in, at least.

She opened the bedroom door and eased out onto the landing, holding Jewel close.  All was quiet, the other doors all closed as far as she could make out in the darkness.  One hand on the wall, lightly brushing along, helped to guide her towards the stairs and she slipped down without a sound.  Jewel had gone back to sleep, the front door lay ahead and there was nothing between her and freedom.

As Lavendar reached for the door it suddenly swung inwards towards her, bringing with it a man who smelt of cheap whisky and was hanging onto the doorknob.  He looked up at her, his eyes unfocused and watery.  "You're not the nanny," he slurred.

"She had an... emergency?" Lavendar ventured, thinking on her feet.  "I said I'd look after this little bundle while she took care of it.  I just got her back to sleep, so be careful."

"Why were you taking her outside?  Were you stealing my baby?"

"Well, who wouldn't want to steal such an adorable little thing?" she beamed.  "I guess you must be Theodore, then."

His eyes narrowed and he straightened up to look at her properly.  "That's Mr Anderson to you," he said.  "How did you even know my first name?"  Suspicion spread across his face.  "Roxie sent you, didn't she?  She sent you to take my child.  I won't have my girl living with a cheap tart, you know.  Not a chance."

"Oh, because havin' her live with a ragin' drunk is so much better?" Lavendar hissed back, keeping her voice low so as not to wake Jewel.  "Roxie ain't never been cheap, as long as I've known her.  She makes more money than you, for one thing.  I never did understand what she saw in you, though I always figured I just wasn't well placed to judge these things."

"You won't take her," Theodore said again, and he spread his arms wide to block the doorway.

Lavendar wondered for a moment about finding another door, but she didn't dare turn her back on him.  There was really only one thing for it.  Sighing, she pulled her gun from the holster and pointed it straight at his heart.  "You'll let us through," she said, "or I'll make you wish you had."

They stood, caught in an impasse.  Lavendar was closer to him than she would have liked, but backing up would take her further from the door and make her look scared.  With Jewel asleep on her shoulder her options were limited, and so everything depended on convincing Theodore that it would be better to get out of the way.

Theodore was too drunk to blanch in the face of a weapon.  "Shoot me and you'll have the law on your tail," he slurred.

Lavendar shrugged.  "You think that's somethin' new for me?  Ain't never met a lawman could give me a run for my money."  She held the gun rock steady.

Without warning, Theodore lunged forward.  For a moment Lavendar thought he'd lost his balance, but he was grabbing for the gun.  She made no effort to hold onto it, concentrating instead on not being pulled over or dropping Jewel.

"That's better," said Theodore, pulling himself upright and pointing the gun back at Lavendar.  His hand wasn't as steady as hers and the barrel waved erratically, sometimes pointing at her head, sometimes at her feet, sometimes at the baby.  "You're going to give me my daughter," he said, "and then we'll see what we're going to do with you."

"Or what?" Lavendar snorted.  "You'd risk shootin' your own baby?"

"There'll be no shooting if you give me the baby," said Theodore.

"There'll be no shootin' if you let me through," she retorted.  Tired of trying to reason with a drunkard, she stepped forward and prepared to push him out of the way.

Theodore pulled the trigger.

There was a click, but nothing more.  He stared in disbelief at the gun as Lavendar barged through with Jewel.

Once Lavendar was safely out of the house she turned to look at him.  "Nice goin'," she said.  "Firin' a gun when you're too drunk to hold it straight?  Riskin' your daughter's life?  You're lucky one of us has the sense not to bring a loaded gun near a baby."  She reached out and lifted the empty gun from his unresisting hand, dropping it back into its holster.  "You know, the sensible thing would have been to let me take her and then work it out as a legal matter later.  The really sensible thing would have been to work out custody as a legal matter in the first place, instead of just stealin' her from her mother."

"Her mother's a whore," Theodore said, but there was no real conviction in his voice.  His shoulders had slumped and he didn't look inclined to stop them leaving.

"You and I both know that ain't true.  Roxie ain't never let the punters do more than look at what she's got."  Not that it would have mattered to Lavendar if she had, of course.  It seemed to her that were plenty of worse ways to earn a living.  "If you had such a problem with what she does then why did you ever take up with her in the first place?  Seems to me you were just put out 'cause she wouldn't give up her job and become your cosy little housewife.  Well, you've lost it now.  Ain't no judge that'll give you this girl after what you did tonight."  And with that, Lavendar turned and walked into the night.


"You ready to go?"  Lavendar had taken Jewel straight to Roxie's house, where her friend had been packing a few necessary items and preparing to get out of town.  They'd both known that retrieving Jewel would mean heading for a new life somewhere else; Theodore wouldn't let them leave peacefully if he knew where they were.  Not once he sobered up and got over his shock, anyway.

Roxie gave a cry as she saw her daughter nestled on Lavendar's shoulder, and came over to take her.  She held her close, burying her face in the baby's soft golden curls.  "How can I ever thank you enough?" she mumbled.

"Don't thank me till you're safely out of here," said Lavendar.  "And even then, do it by looking after the little one.  She's been good as gold the whole way.  Clearly doesn't take after her father."  As Roxie wrapped Jewel up in extra blankets, Lavendar shouldered the bags that had been packed.

Before they left, Lavendar took one last look at the sleeping girl.  "Never could resist rescuin' a princess," she said with a smile.

[If you missed Lavendar's previous escapade, you can find it here.]

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Out of Focus

I seem to have a lot of stuff on the go at the moment.  There's an enormous crochet project, which is probably going to take about three months and an awful lot of wool.  There's the novel to edit, of course, which currently stands at twenty thousand words of second draft.  There's Lavendar, who keeps poking me and insisting that I write more stories about what she did when she grew up.  There are all the other people who keep sending me stories and asking me for feedback (I love you all, guys, honestly!).  And of course there's work and family and the all-important Twitter to keep track of.  And, just occasionally, this blog.

I envy anyone with the focus to do one thing really well, rather than my usual trick of doing lots of things in a half-arsed, mediocre manner.  I have to have deadlines to get stuff done, and even then I can't devote too much time to something before my brain begins to itch and I need to do something else.  Writing every day in November is wonderful, but by the 1st of December I'm desperate to get back to other things.  There's simply no way I can sustain that kind of pace outside of November.  Not when there are things to crochet and giant squids to make and jackets to sew and...

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Lavendar and the Random Acolyte

[This story was written in response to a challenge from a Chap in my writing group, to write something with the above title.]

Lavendar hefted the sword, taking a moment to assess the weight and perfect the grip before lunging forward on the attack.  The enchanted blade made swift work of the slavering monsters that guarded the tower, dispatching them to whatever afterlife they considered worthy without a moment's hesitation.  There could be no hesitation when there was a beautiful princess to save.

And yet, Lavendar hesitated.  The monsters were slain, the door to the tower stood ahead, but there was an old man in some kind of robe walking up the road.  Lavendar regarded him warily, holding the sword ready just in case.  One more fight wouldn't make much difference, not in the long run.  The princess would be safe.

The old man stopped some distance away, holding up his hands to show he wasn't a threat.  He looked Lavendar up and down, one corner of his mouth twitching into half a smile.  "My, that's a big sword for such a little lady," he said gently.

Lavendar looked down at the blade in her hand.  "It's just a stick," she said at last, wondering how on earth the man could have thought it was a real sword.  "I'm only pretendin'."

"Slaying fearsome monsters, no doubt," the man said, coming a little closer.

"And rescuin' princesses."  Lavendar's chest puffed up with pride.  "I'm the mightiest hero in all the land."  The sorry-looking bushes on the edge of the property were a testament to that.  Not one of them had put up a real fight when faced with her and her magic sword.

"Well, Mighty Hero," said the man, "I'm just a humble acolyte, so I hope you'll let me pass unmolested.  I'm not hiding any princesses, I promise."

Lavendar screwed up her face in confusion.  "What's an ag... aglyte?"  She kept the stick gripped firmly in her hand, just in case.  Momma said you never could tell when some nice old man would turn out to be a horrible monster, and that tatty brown robe of his could have held any number of tentacles.

"An acolyte," said the man, pronouncing the word carefully.  "It means I've devoted my life to following my god.  You've probably seen people like me in the temples in town."

Momma didn't take Lavendar into the town very often.  She didn't like the hustle and the bustle, she said, and it always brought on one of her bad heads.  But when they did go in for something, Lavendar always liked to look at the temples with their fancy statues and to wonder about the lives of the people inside.  There were the High Priests of Glor, reciting the 1,667 words of power before images of their insatiable god in his squidly form, his mechanical form and his rotten form.  There were the Servants of the Hidden Eye, who covered themselves from head to foot and who Momma said liked to eat little girls who didn't behave themselves.  Lavendar's favourites were the Sisters of Glamour, who wore shiny, colourful clothes that she could only dream of.  Momma said they were no better than they should be, but Lavendar figured that meant they must be very good indeed.  She was never as good as she was supposed to be.

"How come you ain't in a temple, then?" she asked the acolyte.  "You don't look like none of the ones I've seen."

"You won't see many of my order," he replied.  He sat down on the grass at the edge of the property, basking in the sunlight and making Lavendar hold her sword a little bit tighter.  "We don't keep to a temple, as a rule.  We follow the path laid out for us by our god."

"This path?"  Lavendar scuffed at the dirt with her bare feet.  "Never thought this path would be chosen by a god for anythin', 'cept maybe gettin' rid of someone they didn't like."  She cocked her head to one side as she looked back at the man, curiosity overriding her nerves.  "Does your god not like you?"

He laughed, a surprisingly high-pitched laugh for such a big man.  "I don't mean a literal path, necessarily.  I just let my god decide where I go and what I do.  I follow His will in everything."

"He talks to you?"  She knew a lot of people in the temples claimed to talk to their gods, but she'd never once heard one actually reply.

"Not in the way you're thinking."  The man pulled a small leather pouch out from under his robe, where it had been hanging from a string around his neck.  "He uses these."  He gestured for her to hold out her hand, so she offered him the one that wasn't holding her sword.  He tipped the contents of the pouch into her hand.

"He talks to you with these?  But they don't look holy or nothin'."  She was holding a set of gaming dice of various sizes, plus a well-worn old silver coin.

Another high-pitched laugh.  Lavendar decided she didn't like the way he laughed.  It made something itch between her shoulders and she took a small step backwards, still holding out the dice in one hand and her sword in the other.

"They don't have to be holy," said the man.  "They're just tools.  Say I reach a junction, where I could go left or right.  I flip that coin, and the way it lands tells me which way to go."

"That ain't god," Lavendar snorted.  "That's just luck."

"Some call it that, yes," the man nodded.  "I prefer to think of it as my god guiding me down the path He has chosen."

"And you do that for everything?"

"Everything," said the man.  "Where to go, when to sleep, who to ask for food or shelter.  He guides me well."

"You ask folks for food?  Don't you have money?"  Lavendar knew some grown-ups had more money than others, and most had more money than Momma, but she didn't know it was possible to have no money and walk around like nothing was wrong, instead of begging on the streets or going to one of the poor houses.

"None but that coin you're holding there," he said, smiling like it was the finest thing in the world to be so poor.  "And I need that one, so I can't just spend it on bread."

"So you just walk up to people and ask them for somethin' to eat?"

"When He tells me to, yes."

"What if he tells you not to?"  This was a major stumbling block with any religion, as far as Lavendar was concerned.  Momma was always telling her not to do stuff, and she hated it.

"Then I go hungry."  The man sat up straight, abandoning his sunbathing in favour of addressing her in a more serious manner.  "If He says no, it's usually because the folks in question don't really have much to spare.  Or because asking would get me more trouble than an empty belly.  I just have to trust that He knows the best course of action."

"Are you gonna ask me for some food?"  The dice were getting heavy in her hand and she wanted to give them back to him, but he seemed in no hurry to ask her for them and she didn't want to just drop them in his lap if they were special to him.

His eyes flicked over to her house.  Lavendar followed his gaze to the peeling paint, the straggly clematis that grew by the door and tangled worse than her hair did, and the shuttered blinds behind which Momma was sleeping off one of her bad heads.  She held her breath as she waited for him to comment.  People always commented as they went by the house.  Often they didn't even bother trying not to be heard.

"Let's see what He says, shall we?" was all the man said.  He plucked the coin from her outstretched palm and in one fluid motion flicked it up into the air and caught it on the back of his hand.  Lavendar didn't manage to see which way it landed before he dropped it back into her hand, saying, "Looks like I won't be asking you for anything.  Good job I had a hearty breakfast this morning."  He patted his belly cheerfully.

"That's it?"  Lavendar used the question to hide her relief at not having to try sneaking food out of the house.  There'd be hell to pay if Momma thought she'd been stealing, holy man or no holy man.  "He says no so you don't do it?  What if he keeps sayin' it, over and over, till you starve to death?"

"That's the chance I take, following this path."

"Has it ever happened?  Not starvin' to death, but goin' for days and days without food?"

"Once or twice."  The man shrugged.  "Not as often as you might think, though.  He takes good care of me."

"But it's just luck," Lavendar burst out.  "You're just tossin' a coin.  What if it always comes down the wrong way?"

"It never has yet.  That's why I keep following this path.  It works out surprisingly well.  All you need is a little faith to see it through."

"Show me some more."  Lavendar finally crouched in front of him, putting the sword down on the ground at her feet and gently dropping the dice into the pool of his robe that covered his lap.  "Make another choice."

"You want me to ask Him to perform for you, like a circus entertainer?"  The man's eyebrows disappeared up into the fringe of his dark hair.

"Show me somethin' else," Lavendar insisted.  "I want to see how it works."

"Far be it from me to cross the will of a fearsome hero like yourself," he said.  "What would like me to show you?"

A world of possibilities opened up before her, and at first she was unable to think of anything to ask for.  "Where are you goin' next?" she asked at last.  "I know which way you came from, but there's a few places you could be goin' to from here.  Did you already decide which one you're goin' to?"

"I hadn't made a final choice, so let's find out together, shall we?"  He poked through the dice until he found the one he was looking for, then held it out to Lavendar.  "Here.  You throw it for me."

Tentatively, Lavendar took the die from him and inspected it.  It was just like the ones she'd seen used for games, with the same sorts of spots on each side in different patterns.  She rolled it around her hand, feeling the edges tickling her palm as it flipped over, then she tipped it out onto the dirt.

The man looked down at the top face.  "Looks like I'm going to Harbourtown.  Maybe I'll end up on a ship sailing to some foreign shore."

"All that's in Harbourtown is fishin' boats and a bad smell.  You should roll it again till you get some place nicer."  Lavendar picked up the die and looked at that one face more closely.  "How do you know it's Harbourtown?  I don't see no letters.  It could be anywhere."

"Yes, it could," the man agreed.  "That's the point.  I could hardly have a special die for every occasion.  One for right now with just the places I could go from here?  And then another for the next choice?  I'd never manage to carry them all around."

"Then how do you know which side is which when you do it?"

"I let Him tell me that when it falls."  There was a look in his eye that she'd seen once or twice from teachers when they really wanted her to figure something out.

"You decide which is which before you throw it?"  She turned it over in her fingertips.  "Like, this is Harbourtown?  And this is the redwood forest?"

"Not before I throw it," he said, still giving her that look.  "After it lands."

"After it lands?  You mean..."  She stared at him, and at the triumphant smile on his face as he saw that she'd figured it out at last.  "You're cheatin'?"

"Not cheating," he said mildly as he took the die back from her.  "We make our own luck in this world, little hero."  He scooped up all of the dice and dropped them back into the pouch, but the coin he held onto and looked at for a moment.  Then he tossed it into the air and caught it like before.

"What did that tell you to do?" Lavendar asked, rising up to try to see how the coin had landed even though she knew now that it didn't matter.

"Here," said the man, holding out his hand with the coin balanced on top of it.

At first Lavendar thought he was just holding it out for her to see, but then he gestured and told her to take it.  She stared at him in confusion until he repeated his offer.  "All good heroes need a lucky charm.  You can have this one."

Long after the man had disappeared out of sight down the road, Lavendar was still crouched in the dirt staring at the coin hidden in her hands.  It was old and worn, so much so that the two faces were nearly indistinguishable, but it was still a good coin.  She should probably give it to Momma, or use it to buy some nice white bread for them both, but it was her lucky charm.

Tossing it into the air was easy, but Lavendar lacked the grace and practice to catch it on her hand.  She looked at it as it glinted up from the dirt where it had landed.  We make our own luck in this world.

Lavendar smiled and picked up her sword.  There was still a princess to save, and you should never keep a girl waiting.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

A Permanent Fixture

Today I got the official confirmation that I have passed probation and am now employed in a permanent capacity at the COBOL factory. Needless to say, this pleases me immensely.

The odd thing is, a year ago I'd sworn I wouldn't go after a job like this. After hopping around through various temporary and retail jobs, I'd finally settled into something I thought I could see myself pursuing as a career (online marketing and SEO, if you must know). And so I'd told myself that I was going to do exactly that. The job I was in wasn't exactly brilliant in terms of pay and conditions, but I thought I could take the experience and use it to get a better job doing the same sort of thing somewhere else.

But life's a funny thing, ain't it? As soon as I decided to focus on looking for marketing jobs, an advert in the local paper for this position caught my eye. I was done with trainee positions, I thought, but as previously discussed I've always had a hankering to code. So I took the plunge.

There were certain provisos. I wouldn't have taken the job if there had been any suggestion that a job wasn't guaranteed at the end of the six months. If the four of us who were taken on had been competing for a single position when it was over, I'd have stayed in my old job. I'm too old to take that kind of risk these days, especially with a mortgage and Small Girl to consider. Fortunately it was made clear that if we were all up to scratch then we'd all be kept on (and indeed that's exactly what has happened).

The time between accepting the job offer and actually starting was tense, to say the least. First there were the hurdles to jump; a ten-year background check that had to be completed before the job offer would be absolutely concrete. Then there was the general fear of the unknown, the panic that making this leap would turn out to be a bad idea. That disappeared as soon as I got here and started learning. The phrase 'duck to water' has seemed fairly apt over the last six months.

I got some very nice comments on my final probation paperwork today. In particular, it was nice to see an acknowledgement that, although I may make it look easy, I'm actually working damn hard. I'm blessed with a good memory (for things I actually want to remember, anyway) and the right sort of mindset to approach a coding problem in a reasonably structured manner, but those things alone don't get you through. I have a folder packed with notes that I refer to regularly, links to useful sites for researching commands and syntax, and a certain amount of dogged perseverance that often leads me to spend time looking for elegant solutions rather than just taking the easiest route. I've been less likely than the others to ask for help from others in the office, but that's not because I don't have the same problems as them. It's just because I prefer to try to solve the problems myself and hopefully learn something in the process.

In some ways, I can relax now. I've passed, I've got the job, panic over. In other ways, the hard work is only just starting. Now is the point where I really need to prove myself, to get myself established as 'programmer' and not just 'trainee'. I can see a lot of rungs on the career ladder above me, and I'm ready to start climbing.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Make Do and Mend

Of all of the cardigans, jumpers and other assorted warm tops that I own, there is one that's a particular favourite.  Not that I don't like the others, but this one is particularly special.  It was bought a few years back, to mark my seventh wedding anniversary (that being wool), but that's not the reason why it's my favourite.  Not that it means nothing, but I'm pretty sure the jumper I bought for Husband on that occasion has long since bitten the dust, what with him being in possession of the World's Sharpest Elbows and all.

No, it's my favourite because it's comfortable, it's warm, and it looks damn good.  It's not the workaday black rollneck, nor is it the huge, snuggly, not-terribly-smart cardie.  It occupies that hallowed territory right at the centre of the Venn diagram, meaning that I'm extremely reluctant to ever part with it.

This, naturally, became something of an issue.  My elbows may not be quite as sharp as Husband's, but I do still have a terrible tendency to lean on them when sitting at my desk, and that takes its toll on knitwear.  The sleeves of the cardigan developed increasingly threadbare patches, until I could no longer wear it in good conscience, certainly not anywhere that required a reasonable standard of dress.  Was this to be the end for Favourite Cardigan?

No.  Of course it wasn't.

Darning isn't something that comes up much these days.  Modern socks are both cheap and fairly flimsy, so nobody really bothers trying to mend them when they develop holes.  It's not something I'd ever tried myself, but the need to rescue Favourite Cardigan spurred me into action.  Fortunately, although it may not be as widely practised as it used to be, there are plenty of websites out there that will give you an introduction in how to darn.  And it's actually remarkably simple.  Some thin mending wool.  A cardigan with a threadbare patch.  Something to stretch it over (I bought a cheap wooden mushroom from my local Large Craft Chain).  And then it's basically just weaving.  A row of threads going one way, weaving in and out of the existing wool.  A row going the other way, weaving in and out of both the regular wool and the mending wool.  Easy as pie.

The work is all done on the inside of the garment, because it ends up looking like this:
Darn it!

Part of the reason for the ugliness is that you leave a loop at the end of the line every time you turn around, to give a little space for stretching.  That's why the edges of the patch look so fuzzy.  Fortunately, when you turn it the right way out it looks like this:

Flawless Victory!

I followed some advice that suggested making the second set of rows (the weft, if you will) diagonal rather than perpendicular, which again allows for a little more stretch.  It's also best to catch the problem before it turns into a full-blown hole if you can, because the darning is a lot easier (and will be stronger) if there are still threads left behind to work in and out of.  Although I'm told that if a large hole has developed you can cover it with mesh before you start, to give something to work with.

I'm immensely pleased that it worked and I can continue to wear Favourite Cardigan for a while longer.  I still don't plan to start darning my socks any time soon, but there's a chance that if I can keep an eye on Husband's elbows he won't have to spend quite so much of my hard-earned money on knitwear...