The Dressing Table

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This is probably my favourite poem of my collection so far. Based on a line from T.S Eliot’s The Wasteland.

In vials of ivory and coloured glass
the scents of lilac and primrose rests.
The vials stand in order of height
with proud and puffed out chests.

They linger and sicken the fragrant air.
Afore them, pots of rouge.
In pastel pinks: the sugared gloss,
and balms in cherry hues.

An incense stick, long turned to ash
effuses jasmine swirls,
And in the dancing smoke there is
the image of boy and girl.

In pride of place a single rose
lies on the table, petals wilting.
The thorns still sharp and deadly though –
the leaves dark brown and crisping.

The battered photo of a teenage man
nestles in the mirror frame.
The chiselled jaw under beret that
Hides the curls he could never tame.

And on the back of the velvet chair
hangs a kimono of finest cotton.
With floral patterns – in cherry, of course –
and the blossom that’s never forgotten.

The Health(ier) Week: Part 3

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The final countdown! I can almost taste the fry-up at the end…


Day Five – Doris Day

Breakfast: Honey Nut Cornflakes
Second Breakfast: Berry granola yoghurt, banana
Lunch: Leftover stir fry
Dinner: Lemon and dill salmon with sour cream and chive mash and steamed veg


Today began like an ordinary work day, albeit a bit windy – though I thought nothing of it at the time. I ate quite healthily and really enjoyed my leftovers lunch.

Then someone said a tree had fallen down on the tracks at Bedford and I realised that would have a direct impact on my journey. And it wasn’t just that tree; in the end I watched as every single train I could possibly get home was cancelled. Luckily, a colleague gave me a lift most of the way there, but the stress of not knowing if I could get home nearly drove me… to McDonalds.

But I held out. By the time Storm Doris had had her Day (heh) I couldn’t be bothered doing anything except going home. I didn’t make anything extravagant for dinner, but I did stay healthy. I used the remaining salmon fillet from the pack-of-two and cooked it with veg again. This time with lemon and dill, like the best Season & Shake bag. It wasn’t as good, but still nice.

The mash however, is excellent. If you have never tried using sour cream in mash, I highly recommend it. And everyone knows you can’t have sour cream without chives.

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Day Six – Hash It Out

Breakfast: Honey Nut Cornflakes
Second Breakfast: Brown toast
Lunch: Salami and salad wholegrain wraps
Dinner: Beef hash with jacket potato and sour cream


Standard boring breakfast to keep me going on the train. Followed up with some brown toast to get me through the two hour conference without my stomach growling. Might have had a cheeky cookie too. Hey, they were free…

For lunch I made a simple salami and salad wrap which, although somewhat boring, was pretty nice and still a vast improvement on my boring ham sandwich.

I managed to get home tonight without any angry weather trying to keep me in work. So despite the past two previous failures, I decided to give Jamie Oliver one last shot at redemption with his Beef Hash recipe; and it was worth it.

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Once again, I made substitutes for the ingredients I didn’t have; leeks instead of red onions, my trusty friend soy sauce instead of Worcester… although most unforgivably I forgot to add bacon bits… However that isn’t exactly healthy, so uh… yeah…

This is also the first jacket potato I’ve eaten without a pebble of butter for as long as I can remember. Sour cream and chive though, it’s all about the sour cream and chive!

Overall, it was pretty damn good. Don’t worry Mr. Oliver, your cookbook shall remain on my bookcase. For now.


Day Seven – Failure

Breakfast: Greek yoghurt and honey with crushed walnuts and banana
Lunch: Leftover hash wholegrain wraps
Dinner: ………….Frozen pizza


So today went well. As you can guess by today’s menu, it didn’t go to plan. Pipped to the post. Ruined. Today I went home to visit my parents for a few days. I used up as much as I could in the fridge, so the last of the Greek yoghurt:

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Then the last of the hash with the wholegrain wraps, and then I set off on the two and a half hour journey home. I didn’t even eat any snacks on the way! All was going well, I could see the finish line in the distance, and then…

My parents fed me pizza.

Ruined.

Pizza night was always a tradition when I lived at home though, and it was quite nice spending it watching Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway like old times (which coincidentally Jamie Oliver was on). But goddamnit one more meal!!


Overall, this experience has been easier than I thought (despite falling at the last hurdle). I thought it would cost a lot more to eat healthier, but a £25 shop isn’t much more than what I would normally spend in a week.

I think in the future I shall try to limit myself to two unhealthy meals a week, so that the craving for a greasy burger or good ol’ fish and chips doesn’t get to me. I’ll definitely be experimenting with drinks with the blender (milkshakes in the Summer!) and cannot stress enough the importance of a good working lunch. It’s what gets me through the day!

The Health(ier) Week: Part 2

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So I survived two days of healthier eating. (Holy Hell, you must be thinking sarcastically. You must be a God!) Well I can assure you I’d think the same in your shoes. But I have no willpower when it comes to food, so making it this far without reaching for the Doritos is a breakthrough. Instead, my hand is wandering towards the banana.The fruit, guys, take your mind out of the gutter.

Day Three – The Honey Monster

Breakfast: Honey nut cornflakes
Second Breakfast: 9Bar and an apple

Lunch: Pita bread strips with tzatziki dip
Dinner:
 Jerk Chicken… sort of.


Breakthrough people, breakthrough… I’m eating whole fruit! Without anything with it! Without it being mushed down into a smoothie!

…I didn’t enjoy it though. Apples hurt my teeth and are incredibly messy without bringing a knife to work…

For dinner I gave Jamie Oliver another chance. After trying and enjoying it at Turtle Bay, making my own jerk chicken seemed like a good idea. At the time.

Having not read the recipe properly before I went shopping, I had to make a few alterations. For one, I don’t own a grill pan. I didn’t have any rum. Or chillis. Or white wine vinegar. Or all spice. I didn’t really have a lot of anything, so I switched the rum for sake, the all spice for Chinese 5 spice and the white wine vinegar for normal vinegar. And then went mad scientist and added some lime juice, soy sauce and a dollop of mustard. Goodbye Caribbean, hello China. I had plenty of honey though, so that’s good.

I served the Cherk chicken with roasted sweet potatoes and steamed veg.

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Basically… Don’t try this unless you can follow the recipe properly. It was edible, but it wasn’t enjoyable, so I followed it up with some honey roasted peanuts and camomile and spearmint tea.

Hint from a friend: If you detest the weird, greasy taste of flavoured tea like I do, stir a spoonful of honey in. Somehow it takes the grease away and makes it taste much better.


 

Day Four – You Bokin Wok M8!

Breakfast: Honey Nut Cornflakes
Second Breakfast: Brown toast and coffee (Oops)
Lunch: Ham, salami and salad pita, banana, 9Bar
Dinner: Chicken stir fry


I got hungry and gave in to some toast. Bread practically makes up most of my diet. There have been days where I’ve had toast for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and pizza with garlic bread for dinner. At least this toast was brown!

After the disaster of last night’s meal, I decided to stick to something I know I can cook well; stir fry.

Don’t forget to take notes, kids! My own recipe for once:

Ingredients:

  • Chicken breast (1 per person)
  • Noodle nest (1 per person)
  • Vegetables.* In mine: carrot, baby corn and broccoli
  • Bok choy, or ordinary cabbage as a substitute
  • Spring onion and regular onion
  • Ground ginger
  • Chinese five spice
  • Sweet chilli sauce
  • Dark soy sauce
  • Garlic clove, chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • Half a lime (Leftovers)
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter

*All veg are subject to taste and you can use as many or as few as you like. I would’ve had beansprouts but once again my trusty friend Tesco had sold out.

Method:

  1. Dice the chicken into cubes and fry off in hot oil in a large wok.
  2. Meanwhile, chop the garlic and prep the broccoli, baby corn and any other harder veg you want to cook. Once the chicken has browned, add all of this to the wok.
  3. Boil some water and leave your noodles to cook, swirl with a fork occasionally.
  4. Keep stirring the wok (it ain’t Stir fry for nothin’) and multitask like a champion to get your onion, spring onions and cabbage chopped, as well as coat your chicken with a layer of ginger and Chinese five spice.
  5. Add the chopped cabbage, stir for a while, then all of the onions. Peel carrot shavings into the wok.
  6. Carefully pour in the soy sauce. Not too much that it drowns out every other flavour; maybe a tablespoon? I don’t really measure, just wing it! Experiment with how much you put in and learn the hard way. I certainly did…
  7. Add sweet chilli sauce and lime juice, and as a surprise twist (that I plopped in the wok on a last minute whim) add a tablespoon of peanut butter! It was so, so good. It makes the sauce like Chinese satay, but much more subtle.
  8. Lastly, drain off the noodles and add them into the mix, stirring thoroughly until the sauce is mixed and everything is mixed in the sauce.

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You’re welcome. 🙂


So far so good, I think. Definitely craving pizza right now though. Only three more days…!

The Health(ier) Week

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My name is Claire and I’m a foodaholic. I don’t count calories or worry about cholesterol. I’m not fat, but I am unhealthy. So I made a meal plan for a whole week and did a big shop (the healthiest I’ve ever done for only £25) to see if I could manage a controlled diet. Even if I only manage a week it’s an achievement!

Before you read any further, however, have a disclaimer:

If you have come here for inspiration, you’re probably in the wrong place. I am not an expert dietitian. I am not a hippy, pro-vegan, Instagram perfectionist. My idea of healthy might not even technically be healthy. Many of my meals are likely to go horribly wrong and look shit, so if you try and hate them, it’s your own fault.

This might well be the most boring thing you’ve read today. I am literally writing about what I’ve eaten for the past week. But it’s a break from Donald Trump stories, so give it a go.

Now, with that out of the way:

 

Day One – Testing the Water

Breakfast: Greek yoghurt and honey with crumbled walnuts
Lunch: Ham salad pita, peanut butter and banana smoothie
Dinner:
Spinach and Feta Pie with mashed potatoes and veg


I’d considered getting a Nutribullet, but the £69.99 pricetag was making me wait. I ended up buying a Magic Bullet blender on a whim from Wilkos for £17.50; ever so slightly cheaper!  After a quick Google in the shop I saw reviews concluding that both were good, so I risked it. I am so glad I did.

Peanut Butter and Banana Smoothie

Ingredients:

  • 2 bananas, chopped
  • 2-3 spoonfuls of peanut butter (depending on how much you like it)
  • 2 spoonfuls of vanilla ice cream (the dirty cheap stuff)
  • a generous amount of milk
  1. Shove it all in the blender and blend the living peanut out of it!
  2. If yours comes out as thick as chewed gum like mine did first time round, add more milk.

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Spinach and Feta Pie:

This is a Jamie Oliver recipe from his book 30 Minute Meals which I bought recently from WHSmith for £6 (bargain).

However, me being me, when I discovered a bag of pine nuts was going to cost over £3, I scoffed and decided the walnut halves in my cupboard would suffice. Then, forgetting to cut the recipe down from four people to two, I used the specified five eggs with less feta and spinach than I was supposed to.

I’d also never worked with filo before. Absolute nightmare. Needless to say, the end result looked pretty, but tasted pretty odd:

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Part of my meal plan was to have tzatziki and pita bread for lunch, but evidently everyone else thought this was a great idea too, and thus the great Tesco Tzatziki Depression began. So I made my own before bed. Fried off some chicken too. What a champion.

Overall today went okay. Obviously the pie could have gone better; it tasted a bit weird and I’m not the biggest fan of quiche anyway (it was totally a fancy quiche). Feeling optimistic about the week though!


 

Day Two – Back to Work

Breakfast: Honey Nut Cornflakes
Second Breakfast:
Leftover peanut butter smoothie and 9Bar
Lunch:
Chicken and tzatziki pita bread
Dinner:
Lime, chilli and ginger salmon with fresh veg


Don’t judge me for having two breakfasts; I get up at six and don’t have second breakfast til 10, it’s perfectly justifiable.

Today I found myself really looking forward to lunch – and not just for the break from work. These past two days I’ve actually been excited by my lunch options, rather than depressed by my bleak ham sandwich. I did stink of garlic all day though. But I didn’t really feel hungry afterwards, which is rare for me!

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However, on the way home I did pass Burger King and McDonalds, and both made my tastebuds long for salty chips burning my tongue, fatty beef torn between my teeth. I was so tempted. But I stayed good.

I stopped off for a couple of drinks after work for a friend’s birthday, but I had them with cranberry juice, so that’s sort of healthy… right?

By the time I got home it was nine o’clock, so I made a quick meal with lime, chilli and ginger baked salmon with steamed vegetables and sour cream sweet potato mash. And it was divine:

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Two days down, five to go. I bet you can’t wait to see what happens next! (I’ll give you a hint; it involves me eating more).

 

The Regal Rat Dream

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Taking God Save our Gracious Queen to a whole new level.

That was the premise of the game. Not many people would have jumped at that. The games company should have fired their marketing team (and hired me instead!) But the chance to be an undercover detective with the prospect of high employability rates and the royal family’s eternal gratitude? You’re on to a winner!

This game required skilled detective work and strong willpower. In teams of three we were expected to uncover and terminate any plots against the queen’s life. I was picked last for my team, being the only female of the party. I was left with Johnny Depp and a man named Lewis.

We began in a basement, where an apparent clue had been left as to the identity of the latest plotter. I however, never saw any of the clues. The guys dealt with that. In fact, I never really did anything other than tag along. Any time I suggested an approach they looked irritable I’d spoken at all, so for the most part I just watched them.

When they found this clue, they discussed where to go next – without me, of course, and began the steep ascent out of the basement. It was a high gradient slope that led to the outside world instead of the ground floor of a house. At the top was a Metro-esque sign on curly black iron, enveloped slightly by the bushes and trees on either side.

Johnny managed one foot on the slope before a sound like thunder rolled above us. A singular rat ran towards us, large grey body covered in mangy wet clumps. Following him were his brothers, hundreds of them, all running straight for us.

Johnny and Lewis raced up the slope, with me following closely behind. I had to leap over several crowds of rats for fear of them dragging me down with them. One misstep, one stampeding rat stood on and it was game over. The thought of being stuck down there covered in those feral creatures was enough to get me out.

By the time I’d made it to safety Johnny had already gone. I walked behind Lewis for a while as he spoke to Johnny over his walkie talkie.

“Can I have one of those?” I asked.

He barely glanced at me. “No.”

“Why not?”

“Because you have nothing useful to say.”

I fell back behind him. He meandered along the roads for a bit, then struck off in a more purposeful direction.

“Where are we going?” I asked

am going back to the palace. You should go somewhere else.”

Despite his somewhat uncalled-for doucheyness I too returned to the palace. There was bound to be clues there from where the schemers had planned their schemes. The guys took to the restaurant whilst I went up to the royal chambers. I didn’t bother telling them where I was going, they wouldn’t care anyway.

The Queen’s bodyguard awaited me outside the royal apartments. He had a suit, shades and an earpiece like your average stereotyped secret service man. He held his palm out to stop me, then listened to the person in his ear before saying,

“The Queen says she fancies you. You have her royal pardon to search wherever you deem necessary in your quest.”

Awesome. Wasn’t sure how I felt about that, but hey, it worked in my favour.

I was about to proceed past the guard when I heard two annoyingly familiar voices. It was Lewis and Johnny, but they were nowhere near me.

“Yeah, but you wear it in your ear like this. No-one will suspect a thing.”

I doubled back and followed the sound of the idiots all the way back to the banquet hall, where they were surrounded by diners all staring at them. They’d found an upgrade to their walkie talkies in the form of a state of the art earpiece. I couldn’t believe they’d spent our whole team budget on something so unnecessary!

Somehow, they’d inverted the audio into a microphone. This resulted in their voices booming across what I could only imagine was half of London. I walked up to their table, trying to avoid the irritable stares and titters of the crowd around us.

“You idiots, we can all hear you.”

Johnny looked at me with disgust, screwdriver in hand and wires all over him. “We know. We’re trying to fix it. You wouldn’t understand.”

I ignored him. “Where’s mine anyway?”

Lewis vacantly tossed me his old humongous walkie talkie. “Go look in the basement, would you?”

My heart pounded. I knew what await in the cellar. It involved lots of fighting, and I could barely punch. “Can’t one of you guys go?”

They tittered like I’d told a hilarious joke. “If we went down there, who’d do all the important stuff?”

“Yeah, the queen would die if we left it to you. Then you’d be up for treason with the culprit when we catch him!”

I sighed. There was no way of getting round these stubborn bastards. But I knew the secret lay in that room. If I didn’t go we’d be here forever and other teams would get ahead. “Fine… but if you’re insisting I go, give me one of the earpieces. Carrying this big thing around will hinder me down there.”

They looked at me as if I’d asked them to suck their grandmother’s toes. I realised it was futile even trying, so I left them to their tinkering and sought out the basement.

Evidently it went horrible wrong because I found myself back at the start of the level in the cellar. I could sense the impending rat stampede. You’d think after the first time I’d be well prepared, but for some reason it took me a lot longer to get out. Several times I nearly toppled over but somehow I stayed alive and on my feet.

At the top I paused out of reach of danger to catch my breath. As I did, I saw eight of the largest rats carrying a dying rat towards the cellar. He was clearly of important rank; he had a pimp cane and cane rows and looked inexplicably regal. I think it was the Rat Prince, come to the end of his reign. This was a ceremony for the people to say goodbye to their beloved leader. So moving! I believed I saw his royal ratness moaning and holding his little paw to his head.

Woe is me!”

Something out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. There was no breeze tonight, but the trees still moved. Squinting against the darkness, I realised they weren’t leaves at all, but even more rats. Each of them held onto their comrades’ paws, making star shapes with their bodies like synchronised swimmers against the night sky.

After watching this religious rite of passage, it dawned on me that I hadn’t seen my teammates in a deliciously long while. I searched the nearby alleys and eventually found Lewis yelling at his earpiece.

“Where’s Johnny?” I asked. Lewis threw me a quick glance, then shrugged. “Trying to find him. This stupid thing ain’t working.”

Then without warning he he ran off again, down random alleys and off into the town. I tried to keep up but lost him.

Damn I wanted a new team. One with actual intelligence and less sexism. I sighed and set off for the palace again.

The Hypnotic Ham Dream

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I don’t know how I’d gotten to this low point in my life, but I was suddenly conscious I was working and living in an old lumber mill. (If you’ve seen Netflix’s new series, A Series of Unfortunate Events, this will give you a visual idea of how my dream looked, as this was the last thing I saw before I went to bed).

Our uniforms were khaki green and pyjama-like. They were ill-fitted and made of basic, itchy cotton. My boots were already worn in at the toe and slightly too big. I hated to think what had happened to their previous owner.

Our tiny bunks were made of leftover timber from the mill, meaning you were lucky if you didn’t wake up with splinters in your hands and feet. Our bedsheets were of an identically horrible material to our clothing, ensuring even rest periods were hell. The only decency we were shown was in the form of bacon. Every mealtime our plates were stacked with crispy pink meat. The mouthwatering smell was almost the only thing to persuade me out of bed each day.

After a while of being conscious to this world, I started to realise that everyone else was strangely subservient to the boss. Considering we outnumbered him fifty to one, and the poor pay and poorer conditions weren’t fit even for a criminal, I’d have expected a riot by now. Yet each worker kept his glazed eyes on his task, working swiftly and efficiently and never ever talking. I decided some digging was in order. Maybe it was because in his spare time, our lumber mill boss was also a scientist. Scientists could be scary.

Shortly after clocking in I hid outside the boss’ cabin and waited. Nobody seemed to noticed my absence or raise any alarm. It was beautiful sitting outside, breathing in the fresh air without the sawdust clamming up my lungs. If it wasn’t for the ten foot high wall surrounding the mill, I’d have turned my thoughts to escape.

Eventually the boss returned to his cabin and headed straight for the kitchen. I peered in through the window and watched as he pulled out a massive griddle pan and whacked it on the stove. He started piling bacon into the pan and whistling to himself. Surely he had a chef? His cabin was certainly fancy enough to suggest so. I was still perplexed when he pulled a small vial out of the top pocket of his lab coat, uncorked it and emptied the purple contents all over the bacon.

Oh, so that was how he controlled them. There was a hypnotic substance in their food. Let’s be honest, it was a genius plan; nobody could ever turn down bacon.

But I’d been eating it for days and I hadn’t been affected. How was that possible? Did it only work after a certain time, when the spirits of the workers had been broken? Unfortunately I found that out much sooner than I would have liked. I hadn’t realised the boss had seen me, and before I could react he was dragging me inside. He dropped me down into a chair in his office and paced in front of me, deciding what to do.

“How come I can eat the bacon and not be hypnotised?” I blurted out after a minute, sick of the silence.

He smirked and stopped pacing, completely unsurprised I’d fully figured it out.

“Because child, you are an orphan, and orphans are exceptionally good at not doing as they’re told. Which is why you’re here, of course. I’ve written my whole scientific theory on the defiance of orphan protagonists.”

I almost physically saw his lightbulb Eureka moment.

“You shall be new subject! Somehow an orphan of my own has always eluded me. How do you feel about electric chairs?”

 

So there you have it. Bacon is the way to a man’s heart. Unless that man happens to be a main character who also happens to be parentless. Then, they are invincible. (Go Batman!)

You guys learn so much from my dreams.

The Stew Maker Dream

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In times of war, we look to our leaders for guidance and courage. But who do the leaders look to?

In this particular war I was looked upon as a leader. In real life, I might have been called General, or President, maybe even Queen. But in this, I was known as a Stew Maker. 

Stew was a sacred food in this war, and few of us knew how to make it. But there were ancient and sacred rules the Gods decreed upon my duty:

1: Thou shalt not give thy stew to any other mortal unless in dire need.
2: Thou shalt not divulge the sacred recipe to any living mortal.
3: Thou shalt never be without thy bowl of stew.
4: Thou shalt not fight for fear of spilling thy heavenly supplement.

Follow in these commandments and thou shalt have our holiest protection.

These rules saw me standing on the sidelines of battlefields, watching my men die around me whilst raising the tender, slow cooked beef to my mouth. It was torture. I watched men die of starvation in the trenches, the last thing they remember being the succulent scent of home-cooked stew. Every day I walked through the poverty and famine of my people, forever eating and never gaining weight.

Sometimes, when nobody else was looking, I would throw pieces of meat to the hungry, or use it to keep my family alive. Of course the Gods would know this, but I couldn’t help myself. I felt powerless without their protection, but if I kept it a secret, people would still believe I was untouchable, and that would prevent me getting instantly lynched.

I wasn’t the only Stew Maker in our district; there were a few of us, including my little brother. We were seen as guardians, as good omens. As long as the Stew Makers followed their duties, the majority would be safe from harm.

The only people more revered than us were the priests. Every time they sang, thousands and thousands of people would make the ascent up to the ruinous castle, myself included.  No matter which side of the war you were on, everyone followed the rituals. The hill was situated in the very centre of the country, easily accessible from each of the four districts.

Each night we would all gather at the top of the hill in quiet contemplation, listening to the humming melody of the priests.

My African-American warrior friend sat with me on a rock as I gazed into the night’s sky. She wasn’t a Stew Maker, but she was well-known and cherished among our people for her feats in battle. Today, however, several idiots from our enemies’ ranks decided to mess with her.

They picked and pressed and bullied her until she stood up on a high rock and hissed, “dammit, don’t you know who I am?” I saw her fists clench and I prepared for the wrath of the priests when a fight ensued and the holy song was disrupted. But the men just shrugged and laughed at her. She sat down, ego instantly deflated.

When the dawn began to break and the first stain of colour spread across the horizon, the song dissipated and we all went home. My parents sat on the sofa in our humble house. Our allies surrounded us; they felt safer being near us at all times. My parent’s stew making days were long over, but they were still sworn to keep the recipe secret. However, the Gods were not kind, and did not permit previous Stew Makers to continue eating once their time had run out.

My mother’s face was gaunt and thin. After a life of constant delicious meals, the latter years of her life had not been kind. I stood on the balcony and occasionally chucked them a piece of beef when no-one was looking.

A couple of hours later I set off for work, stew bowl still in hand. All this war and tension around me and I still had to work. Typical life.

It was a foggy morning and I could barely see anything. Still, I knew I was early. Through the bleak whiteness I saw the men from last night on the other side of the street, jeering at me but not daring to come near. I was wary of them. But soon I began to daydream as I walked, completely unfocused and yet walking automatically towards my goal. My mind became as fogged as the air.

When I finally came to my senses, the first thing I realised was that my hand felt considerably lighter. I looked down with dread to see that my stew had disappeared. How was that possible?

The air was clear now, and I figured someone had placed a sleeping draught or hallucinatory into it in order to steal my stew. I began searching for the men, but had no such luck. Turning into the nearest alley, I fell to my knees in grief.

My little brother, only six years old, was chained to the wall and slumped in death towards the floor. His angelic blonde floppy hair shrouded his face, his knees bent at awkward angles. Beside him in the dirt was my stew bowl, recently washed up and still warm. The stew was no more.

The Wonders of the Universe Dream

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My life is just one big game. No, literally. Or at least it was in this dream. I was on a team with the cast of Community, exploring a submerged and ruinous world in our little jet-ski-motorboat hybrid. The game glitched an awful lot (we were in Beta) so whenever there were waves or little pockets of land, we drove over them in a straight line.

We were supposed to be discovering the mysteries of the universe. Somehow they were the key to beating the game. In the final level we found four statues facing a wall with an intricate circular pattern. Abed studied the markings and decided it looked very much like a closed gateway. The exit!

Having played many games between us, we decided the key must lie with the creepy statues. Each had an intricate carving on their blank stone faces and unlike everything else in that city weren’t so much as chipped or scratched. They were each placed on unusual square tiles; the kind that blatantly need something heavy on to make the switch work. But they were already on them, and we couldn’t so much as budge the crumbling stone figures. Jeff  tried with all his might, but the only thing he managed was a broken nail and a blow to his ego.

In the end we decided the key must still be out there. We left Britta to watch the statues in case anything happened and the rest of us split up. I went with Abed on the jet ski. Sometimes the glitches would go from its straight line facepalmery to dipping us underwater and, of course, we got wet despite not properly going in.

After one of these soakings we stopped amidst a glorious turquoise sea to dry off. We could see many broken islands on the horizon. It was a wonder the purple sky didn’t affect the vibrant blue pigment of the sea. Was that one of the mysteries? Probably just science I didn’t understand.

“I think we should explore the nearest island and then work in a clockwise rotation from there so we don’t miss anything,” Abed said logically.

“Yeah? I just want to explore a bit. I might go for a swim, catch you up in a bit?”

Abed gave me a look. “You know what always happens when teams split up in movies.”

“I know. But this is a game. Dude, I’ll be fine. If I don’t find you in the next hour just go on without me.”

He sighed, then waited for me dive overboard before starting up the engine.

“Good luck!”

“You too,” I smiled reassuringly.

The water was beautifully warm and clear, and surprisingly shallow. I almost forgot we had a mission to complete, I was so relaxed just floating along. Something on the sea bed pricked my hand and brought me back to the moment. I looked underwater and saw nothing. There was no blood, no sign of anything. There wasn’t even so much as an urchin, just smooth sand. Something pricked my leg.

“First wonder of the universe,” I whispered excitedly. There was a grinding sound from somewhere in the distance. I swam to a nearby rock and prepared for a cutscene.

Sure enough, I watched in my head as one of the statues turned all by itself to face East.

One down, three to go, I thought. Abed would be mad he’d missed this. And about the fact I’d been right to go off on my own. Hah.

Someone coughed. Looking over the edge of the rock I saw an old man, knee deep in water and wearing nothing but a white loin cloth. He had a long stick in one hand and was covering his mouth with the other. During his coughing fits he was prodding at something out of his reach on another rock. As I approached I realised, impossibly, that he was prodding at an iPhone.

We conversed briefly, but I couldn’t get much sense out of him.Whatever language he spoke it wasn’t English. Not anymore, anyway. After a while he seemed to decide I wasn’t a threat, and shared with me the second wonder of the universe; the iPhone. I reached up and took it uncertainly. But when I turned it over, my breath caught. Somehow, in the camera lens, was a full-sized thimble. I grinned and thanked the old man. I had to show this to Abed!

I swam quickly to the nearest island, which Abed was thankfully still on.

“Abed look! One of the wonders! I think we have to find four of them to turn the statues!”

“I know,” Abed said. “I saw the cutscenes. I found something too.”

He led me to a crumbling old wall with centuries old Egyptian engravings. There were sketchings of robe-clad men on a long boat and lots of cats. Like, loads of cats. But in the centre of everything were four monumental figures commanding all. Abed gestured to take a closer look. Just above the four Gods someone had scratched something. The player before us had scrawled:

A/
ED

Abed looked at it thoughtfully. I could almost see the possibilities running through his head. “Do you know what it means?” I asked after several minutes of complete silence.

“Not entirely,” he replied. “But I have a vague idea. What was it you wanted to show me?”

I took the iPhone out of my pocket and handed it to him. He took it, looking horrified.

“We have to get to Britta.”

 

The models had already begun moving by the time we made it back. They marched slowly towards the gateway, which was already open and casting a striped shadow across the figures. The wind gushing forth from the other side made it all the more difficult to get there in time. We yelled at Britta to stop the statues from entering the portal. The wind carried away our words, but not our intention. Britta grabbed the arm of the nearest one just before he made it through. She pulled with all her might. Then suddenly everything stopped moving and Britta fell to the floor with the statue.

Silence.

We sat for a moment and caught our breath.That was a close one. Now we just had to figure out how to get the Gods through properly…