Thursday, July 31, 2014

Novel Update

For those of you who follow me on Facebook, you'll know that I'm taking a month off so that I can concentrate on writing my novel. Well, just under the halfway point and the removal of all social media distractions has (thus far) been a complete boon for my output.

I've successfully outlined the novel, solved some big timeline problems that I'd been struggling with for some time, and am closing in on the 20,000 word mark again after some real scorched-earth editing. I have a name for the novel (I'll tell you later), I have passion and excitement for it, I have momentum, and I hope that it's only a matter of time before I publish it for your consideration.

Right, back to writing! Hope you're all having a great summer...

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Caretakers

The Iconoclast dropped out of Patch-Space at the very edge of the system’s gravity well, rippling serenely back into corporeal existence as its drive wound fully down and relativistic physics took hold of it again. It hung there silently in the darkness for a few moments, an iridescent starfish against the cold black background, before smoothly rotating on its axis and initiating a course that would take it on a trajectory towards the inner system.

Alana Dshae stared intently at the field screens as they flashed a torrent of information and images, her nano-net seamlessly integrated so that she was able to navigate through the diagnostic displays by thought alone. This planet, tucked away in a small corner at the edge of Gathered Space, was set to be her first awakening since her training and she was damned if she wasn’t going to impress them with how well she did.

“You’re taking this all rather seriously, aren’t you?” said the Construct, which for reasons known only to itself had recently taken on the form of a small bear.

“Just being thorough.”

“I was thorough, once.” mulled the Construct. “But I found it got dull after scarcely a few centuries.”

She flicked the displays away with a thought and swivelled in her chair to look to where it sat in the corner, wiggling the stubby toes at the end of its hind paws. “You can stop right now if you’re going to try and give me another one of your life lessons.”

“Fine,” it said, its face contorting into a reasonably passable ursine expression of sadness, big black eyes glistening wet. “Don’t take the benefit of my more than extensive experiences.”

“Has anyone ever told you you’re a total attention whore?”

“It may been said once or twice before.”

“Now, are you going to let me get back to completing the diagnostics?”

“Oh really,” it yawned, “you’re wasting your time. I ran through all of those diagnostics and 37 more in the several nanoseconds that followed our displacement.”

“And you couldn’t tell me that?”

“But it was so much fun watching you all serious and busy and thorough.” It said with a grin that exposed a set of sharp little bear teeth. “How could I pass up the opportunity?”

“You are such an asshole.”

“Also been said before.”


“And what?”

“And did you find anything wrong with the sensor array? Because I am getting absolutely nothing here.”

“Not a thing,” it said. “Which means that we may well have another Sygma 5 type incident on our hands…”

“Fuck,” said Alana under her breath.  Every effort was made to ensure systems with caretaker planets were suitably neutered; asteroid and comet orbits played out in simulations and any potential rogues farmed out, and Patch-Space beacons broadcasting the system’s existence and status. But, even with all that in place, accidents sometimes happened. Sygma 5 was a case in point; the system had been swept and the planet was heading happily towards the final period prior to awakening. Then came a gamma-ray burst, origin unknown but possibly some Unfettered tech; but by the time an awakening vessel arrived it had found the planet with its atmosphere boiled off and utterly devoid of life.

“That’s curious,” said the Construct. “I’m picking up emissions.”

“So there is a signal?”

“No,” said the Construct, clambering slowly to its feet and padding on all fours to the other side of the environment blisters. “That’s what curious. No signal, but there are a variety of EM emissions coming from the planet.”

“But that doesn’t make sense,” said Alana, shaking her head. “If they’re at that tech level then they should have put out the signal by now.  Can you dispatch a probe? We can get it do an exploratory sweep and see if there are any systems it can connect to...”

“Done,” said the Construct, one paw idly scratching behind its ear. “I should have an uplink available shortly.”

“Can I see visuals?”

“Of course,” said the Construct and a new field screen washed over the near wall, displaying a planet of blue, white and green. It grew rapidly before steadying as the probe dropped out of impulse mode and prepared to enter a low orbit.

“Are you seeing what I’m seeing,” said Alana as something glinted silver and white at the edge of the screen.

“Yes, even though I don’t believe it. I’m picking up just over 10,000 individual objects in orbit of the planet; the majority are small – pieces of debris – but there are numerous artificial satellites and I’m also detecting two separate inhabited space constructs. Multiple life signs and it’s definitely the caretaker species.”

“How the fuck could this happen?”

“I really don’t know,” said the Construct, “I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve already searched historical records but there’s never been a case like this before.”

“What’s the probe telling us? Do we have a connection to their systems?”

“We do,” said the Construct, its little voice quivering slightly, “and I suggest you take a look at this. The problem is much bigger than we thought.”

Alana began wading through screen after screen of information; it took a few minutes to decipher the material since – the second big surprise of the day – the caretaker species spoke a myriad of languages. After the first hour, she found that she had to walk away from the screen and be physically sick.

“It’s a tad concerning, isn’t it?” said the Construct.

“Bit of an understatement,” said Alana, swigging on a water bottle. “They have gone so far outside the parameters I don’t even know where to begin.”

“Did you notice that they are actually killing each through the means of organised nation states?”

“How is any of this possible? I thought the Flood Protocol was designed to steer caretaker species in their primary phase?”

“That’s the idea, but it clearly hasn’t worked.” replied the Construct. “It seems they’ve become advanced enough to complete rudimentary genetic analysis of their species so I’ve pulled that data and am running an in-depth analysis. I may be slightly distracted for the next four seconds while I complete that.”

“So many problems,” breathed Alana as she scrolled through more screens of data.

“Data error,” said the Construct finally. “How it got missed, I don’t know. Sequences A376-Delta and A-912 Proxy are misconfigured slightly. Only a small error, but over time it’s a problem that will have only be exacerbated.”

“In words I can understand.”

“As you know we fast-track evolution of the caretaker species but make them capable of growing in their own direction; we don’t guide them with a strong hand, we give them the chance to develop in culturally unique ways so that they can eventually add to us, to the greater good of Gathered Space.”

“Get to the bit that’s news.”

“Well, apart from the Flood Protocol – genetic hardwiring to believe in a prior catastrophic event that wiped out the world due to unacceptable moral behaviour – we instil caretaker species with the capacity evolve in a cooperative fashion.”


“Well, that’s what went wrong.”

“What do you mean?”

“The misalignment of the sequences means we have a caretaker species here that’s wired instead for competition.”

“But, that’s insane.”

“Absolutely,” nodded the Construct. “But it explains everything and it also explains why they’ve not built a signal – they don’t have the normal caretaker species complusions. They compete so there’s not one language, there are thousands. They compete so they strive to be better than each other; they compete so they are greedy and selfish and weak and angry. From what I can see, they even seem to have taken the Flood Protocol and twisted it into hundreds of different contrary ideologies .”

“But surely there’s no winning end game outcome from all this? They’re expanding their population at an unsustainable rate and they’re burning through natural resources at a speed their technological progress can’t keep up with. They’re poisoning the environment, altering the atmospheric composition and they’re not even close to interstellar travel. Their only end game seems to be a losing one.”

“I concur. The planet is heading to an environmental catastrophe that will alter sea levels; the nature of the species will then inevitably lead to physical confrontations. Models forecast this will lead to the 74% likelihood of a conflict occurring between nation states involving fusion devices within the next thirty years.”

“So what do we do here? We can’t awaken them.”

“That would be pointless, they simply aren’t compatible. Unfortunately, we’ve never had a case like this so we have no rules to guide us.”

“So we’re on our own,” mulled Alana.

The screen showed a montage of images; an infant with a distended belly with a fly crawling across its face, primitive flying machines launching missile strikes on a populated area, a nuclear power station leaking radioactive waste into the ocean, forests being levelled and burnt.

“They can’t be redeemed,” she said finally. “They are utterly lost. It’s hard to comprehend them even as sentient.”

“It is sentience, but it’s a totally different way of thinking. It has influenced every aspect of their civilisation; their religions, their social structures, their technological expansion, their economies…”

“They can’t be allowed to escape this system. If they ever obtained the technology to leave this system, they would devastate everything. Is it possible to build a two way suppression sphere around the system?”

“Possible,” said the Construct. “It would prevent signals from getting into them and alerting them to the existence of other life in the Universe, and it would prevent any of their emissions leaking out into the galaxy and encouraging someone to come along and investigate. There’s a slight danger that they might notice it eventually; the suppression sphere will create a frothy magnetic field at the edge of the system and if they ever send a probe out that far then they could detect it.”

“Do you think there’s any chance they could develop superluminal capacities on their own?”

“Normally I would say no, but this species is highly unpredictable. Some of their technologies are far more advanced than we would anticipate in this time frame; their conflicts seem to have encouraged accelerated bursts of innovation. Although their nature makes it more likely they would weaponise the technology before using it for the purposes of exploration.”

“It’s not a risk I’m prepared to take,” said Alana after a few moments of silence. “They represent a cancer that could spread and infect the entirety of Gathered Space.”

“So what do you suggest? A full purge?”

“No. We install the suppression shield but we also move a Cobalt Class Frigate to the edge of the system. If anything ever physically leaves the system then we make damn sure it doesn’t get any further. And if we get a hint that they’ve crossed the technological plateau to faster-than-light travel, we need to have it ready to conduct a purge of the planet surface at short notice. This becomes an Embargo Class 1 System.”

“I’ll make the appropriate preparations.”

“And then let’s get out of here. If I spend any more time in their vicinity I worry I’m going to be sick again.”

“Understood,” said the Construct and began plotting a path that would take them a safe enough distance to initiate a jump to Patch-Space.

“Humans,” said Alana, rolling the word that they called themselves across her tongue.  She hoped that she would be able to forget them but she was certain that they would live on in her memories and haunt her dreams.  And, as they finally made the jump and faded out of physical existence, she wondered if she would come to regret her decision to let them live…

Friday, May 16, 2014

Godzilla (2014) Movie Review

The Golden Gate bridge rarely last long in monster movies...

I think it is only fair to be upfront with you, dear reader, and tell you that I have been looking forward to seeing this movie ever since they first leaked details of its existence all the way back in 2010. I got even more excited in 2011 when it was announced that Gareth Edwards, who had previously brought us Monsters, would be the director; after all, in his interview he stated that "our biggest concern is making sure we get it right for the fans because we know their concerns. It must be brilliant in every category because I'm a fan as well".

By the time the first teaser trailers hit I was desperately hoping for a Godzilla movie that would scrub away the horrible memories of the 1998 version; a Godzilla movie that would drag the radioactive lizard's franchise firmly into the 21st Century and build upon Pacific Rim's excellent work in making giant monsters cool again. Hopes that were fuelled by the official trailer that was filled with a smorgasbord of destruction and emotions, alongside hints of conspiracy and Godzilla himself...

So, how did it turn out? Well, it's very much a tale of two parts...

The first part is contained within the first 30 minutes of the movie in which Bryan Cranston - he of Breaking Bad fame - puts in a star turn as a grief stricken father who is certain that the government knows far more than it is willing to admit about the destruction of the Japanese nuclear reactor that he and his wife worked at. And, frankly, as I was sitting through the first 30 minutes I was thinking to myself  'wow - if it keeps going like this, they are going to have not just made a great Godzilla movie but they'll have made a genuinely great movie - full stop."

So maybe it was my fault. Maybe I jinxed it. But, you see - for reasons known only to the film makers - they decided not to make Bryan Cranston the main protagonist but, instead, passed that mantle onto his son (the wonderfully named, Ford Brody, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who just so happens to be an American-as-apple-pie marine cut from the same nondescript cloth as a thousand other action movie heroes (with an equally nondescript wife in the shape of Elizabeth Olson waiting for him at home). And, from that point on, the second part begins and things descend into a world of contrivance and illogic as Ford somehow manages to find himself in every single place in the world that the monsters happen to pop up...

And yes, I did say monsters - plural (although, that's not too much of a spoiler if you caught any of the later trailers) - but, unfortunately, we spend the majority of our time having to make do with two generic monsters that look like they were the unwanted love children of the monster from Cloverfield and the bugs from Starship Troopers. Indeed, considering the title of the film is Godzilla, you may well end up surprised by how little Godzilla you actually get to see...

I really wanted to be blown away by this movie. I wanted something utterly bombastic, a testament to all that is good about monster movies but instead I got a generic 'action hero must save the world single handedly' character arc and not enough Godzilla. And maybe I shouldn't have wanted more than I got, but you see the first 30 minutes of the film served as an advert for how good this movie could have been - a big, fat what if that only highlighted how insipid and uninspired the remainder of the movie ended up being.

Yes there is destruction on a glorious scale, yes there are monsters fighting and yes Godzilla looks like he should and is a whole lot bigger than the puny version seen in the 1998 version. But, this could have been so much more, could have been so much better. It's not so much that Godzilla is a bad film, it's just that it's an unsatisfying one. I wanted to love it but, as you probably guess by now, I didn't...

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Printed version of the Eurovision 2014 drinking game rules...

Due to overwhelming demand (well, ok, there was one person who left a comment on the blog - but you take what you can get, eh?), I have created a printed version of the rules....

I know, I'm too nice.

Why, if you don't have a need to be conscious tomorrow, feel free to try it out on tonight's second semi-final!

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Eurovision Drinking Game 2014

Just under five weeks from today, we will - for one night only - abandon all musical taste and dive headlong into the world of pyrotechnics, ballads and unpronounceable acts that is the Eurovision Song Contest. And so, with a fair number of people already turning up on the blog every day and checking out last year's rules, I figured it was about time I knuckled down and create a new Eurovision drinking game rule set for 2014.

Now, last year's rules were pretty deadly thanks to the pyrotechnics, but still people have been getting in touch with me to encourage me to up the ante, to raise the stakes, to ensure that there can be no possibility of making it even half way through the night vaguely sober. And so, I have done my level best to ensure Eurovision 2014 is one to remember...or not, as the case may be...

As with previous years, some of the rules are slightly UK-centric so, if you intend to play this in another country, just ignore rules 1 and 23 and knock back two shots before you get started for good measure. Or, watch it on BBC and pretend to be British for the night so you to can feel our pain.

Now, - as ever - I need to issue a word of warning; this game is based upon the consumption of strong alcohol. I cannot, therefore, be held responsible for your health (or lack of) if you stringently follow the rules of my game and drink yourself into oblivion. Play this game entirely at your own risk…


1. A shot glass for every person playing (probably best to have a couple of spares in case people get overexcited).

2. The national drink of Denmark is akvavit which, frankly is a little unimaginative as it's also the national drink of Norway who hosted the contest in 2010. Now, since it's not the sort of drink you're necessarily going to run into at your local Sainsbury's, I would suggest that you feel free to play hard and loose with the rules and pick something suitably alcoholic and to your tastes...

The rules are really very simple. You take a sip of your chosen spirit if:

1) Any time the British entry - Molly Smitten-Downes - is referred to as a 'newcomer' or an 'unknown'. Take a whole shot if she's described as a refreshing change (or words to that effect).

2) The host attempts to sing.

3) The host pretends to be surprised at something that's going on in what is clearly a vaguely-rehearsed piece of improvisation.

4) The host loses track of their autocue or messes up their timing.

5) The video shown before an act contains shots of people in traditional Danish costume. Drink a shot if anyone is doing a traditional Danish folk dance. If you're unsure of what a traditional Danish folk dance looks like then check out an example here. If you're too lazy to follow that link; don't worry you really haven't missed much.

6) You see Denmark's national animal, the Mute Swan. Drink three shots if it’s a person dressed in a Swan costume.

7) You are not entirely sure whether the singer is man who looks like a woman, or a woman who looks like a man. 

8) A country is represented by a singer from somewhere else in the world. Drink an entire shot if a country is represented by what seems to be a random person (or persons) scooped up off the streets and then pushed out on stage.

9) The act involves people on stage banging large drums or objects acting as large drums.

10) An item of clothing is removed on stage. Drink an entire shot if it is removed by someone else.

11) The act is bald. Drink an entire shot if they are also female.

12) The act possesses a large moustache.

13) The act is dressed in leather. Drink an entire shot if they are dressed in leather and have a large moustache.

14) If you hear a language used other than that of the nation who is singing (for example, English words in a song by Ukraine). One sip per language. If in any doubt, just take a sip.

15) You recognise the song immediately as being a blatant rip off of a previous winner of Eurovision.

16) The song is an ode to world peace. Drink three shots immediately if there are any children on stage at any time during the song.

17) There are dancers on stage who, by their movements and lack of synchronism, appear to have perhaps had three dance lessons as a child and have never heard the song before tonight. 

18) People are pretending to play instruments on stage. Drink an entire shot if they take a pretend solo.

19) Every time there's some kind of pyrotechnic on stage.

20) Every time someone employs the use of a wind machine.

21) If the act attempts to distract attention from the paucity of quality in their offering by getting some kind of celebrity on stage with them (for reference, see Germany in 2009 who employed the services of Dita von Teese to no effect whatsoever)

22) Every time there is an awkward silence and/or miscommunication between the hosts and the people reading out the votes. Drink an entire shot if the votes get mixed up.

23) Every time one of the people reading out the results of a country’s voting attempts to secure their 15 seconds of fame by babbling on incoherently and generally delaying things and winding a few hundred million people up.

24) Every time it’s "Royaume-Uni? Nil point!". Drink a shot each time, at the end of a voting round, the UK is in last place.

25) Every time a country gives top marks to someone for geographic, political or ethnic reasons.

26) If there is any alcohol left once the show is finished and you’re physically capable of coordinating the movement of alcohol from the bottle to your mouth...take a sip!

At some point in the next five weeks I'll try and fashion a printable version like I did the in the last two years. Oh and I would suggest that, in order to maximise the chances that your rules survive the night's entertainment, you may want to think about laminating them! Have fun and please don't blame for the pain and misery you will have to endure...not to mention the hangover the day after!!

Edit - here you go, if you fancy a printed version of the rules.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

British Airways provides delay and comic relief...

Now, as regular readers may know, I am not always the luckiest of persons when it comes to travelling and - true to form - I managed to run into problems yesterday when travelling from London Heathrow to Rotterdam...

Boarding all went fine - in fact, better than fine! It was smooth and quick and I was in my seat with minimum wait and absolutely no fuss. But, no sooner was the whole plane boarded when there was the first hint that all was not well.

"I'm afraid there is a problem with one of the emergency exits," said the Captain over the intercom, "and we need to have the engineers to come and have a look at it."

I was sitting next to one of the emergency exits but, when the two yellow coated engineers boarded, it was the exit on the other side of the plane that they examined. Cue some removing of panels, a modicum of fiddling and some muted discussion before the engineers departed and left the plane. Problem solved? Oh no!

"Unfortunately," said the Captain, a few minutes later. "The engineers haven't been able to resolve the problem and they've gone to find a manual."

Gone to find a manual??? I tried to feel reassured (hey, at least they had a manual!) but instead found my confidence in the engineers had decreased just a smidgen. Twenty minutes passed (it was clearly either a really big manual or just a long way away) and the engineering team again boarded the aircraft and set to work...

Now, to the uneducated and untrained eye, it appeared they did exactly the same again (pop the panel, fiddle around a bit, look confused, and then mutter at each other) but I'm sure that - since they'd spent twenty minutes consulting the manual - this was an optical engineering illusion. But, either way, it didn't help because within minutes they had tromped dejectedly off the plane again.

Another twenty minutes or so rolled by - passengers idly wondering by this point whether or not we were going to actually leave Heathrow today - when a third engineer arrived. This one looked altogether more senior, considerably more knowledgeable. With a level of ethos befitting his appearance, he popped the panel. He fiddled. He muttered. He tromped back down the aisle and left.

The flight was now over an hour late and there was still no news of when we would be getting on our way. Just as I began to fear that this might be a problem beyond the engineer's capability, the engineering team re-emerged and strode with some confidence down the aisle - surely, I thought, surely they have solved the problem at last. And then they started doing this...

That's right. They are sticking black tape across the exit and adding no exit signs. An hour of deliberating and consultation of manuals and senior engineers resulted in the - highly technical - solution of slapping on a bit of tape and some stickers. To be fair, they did have a fair old game getting the 'no exit' stickers in place (perhaps the manual wasn't very clear) and they even made sure to pop some black tape on the exit sign on the ceiling (in case, after this hour delay, there were still some people who weren't aware there was a problem with the emergency exit):

And thus, after ten minutes of careful sticking, we ended up like this:

But, at least we were ready to go...right? Wrong! Due to losing two emergency exits, we now had to engage in a sort of musical chairs (sans music) to shuffle passengers around the plane to make sure that their distribution was suitable for our reconfigured plane. This took another 15 minutes of deliberation and moving and hand luggage shifting but, finally we were ready to depart. Right? Right? No. Not right at all. You see, while they had masked one ceiling exit sign, they had forgotten to mask the other one:

Now, I noticed this just after they left but was I going to draw attention to it? No, I just took a photo. But, one of the reshuffled passengers unfortunately was unable to restrain themselves. They had to tell a stewardess. Why, Mr. Shuffled Passenger? Why would you do that? We were ready to go and you had to point out a missing piece of black tape that no one cared about at all! Well, whatever his rationale, it brought a halt to the proceedings as we then had to call the engineers back on board in order to place two 8cm pieces of black tape over the exit sign and delayed our departure that little bit more....

Still, at least we got there in the end. The passenger sitting next to me told me they'd had their flight cancelled twice on this route so I guess I should consider myself lucky that we only needed some cosmetic surgery in order to get on our way...

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A glimpse into the future of Google...possibly.

The last two days, I've been attending a conference in which a range of professionals from different industries get together to discuss developing trends in the media industry and take a peek at where those trends might be leading us in the next decade...

One of the tasks everyone was given was to take a company (selected from a range of possibilities such as Kickstarter, Oculus, Amazon, etc. - but each company could only be used once) and write a short narrative that depicts a future for them ten years from now. We only had 10-15 minutes to write this so there wasn't much time, but I got Google and I thought it might be fun to type up what I wrote and share it here and maybe encourage people to write shorts visions of the future as they see if for a media company...

Technology companies are like sharks; should they stop moving then they die. Google was the biggest shark of them all in 2014 and they continually sought to evolve and grow; they never stopped moving and acquiring - whether people, concepts or companies - and, as 2024 dawns, we find Google still as the largest digital predator. Central to that has been the morphing, evolution, and amalgamation of their technologies into AESOP (Autonomous Embedded Search Optimisation Persona).

John is 35 and works as a lawyer; he single and interested in sports (particularly baseball - he supports the Red Sox) and music (he listens to blues rock) and he relies upon his AESOP for every part of his day. He is woken at 6am by his alarm, not because he set it but because AESOP knows that he has a 9am meeting and that, if he is to get ready and make it through the projected Boston traffic, this is how long he will need. AESOP also communicates to the cappuccino machine in the kitchen to begin brewing coffee while waiting for John to wake. Once John has staggered to the kitchen, AESOP activates a wall display to highlight interesting news stories, media, and events that is has been collating while John slept. It also has a list of suggested gifts that he might want to send to his sister for her birthday (based upon previous gifts he sent and limited communication with his sister's AESOP).

While John eats breakfast, AESOP brings up some suggested recipes for the dinner John is planning on cooking for a date this weekend; it doesn't require he give an auditory response since cameras monitor John's face for micro expressions using the facial action coding system, it can determine which of the recipes he likes most purely from this information. John showers, gets ready for work and then gets into his car - whose navigation is powered by AESOP - and this means that he can focus on work preparations while his car drives him. AESOP has been searching for case files that could aid him in strengthening the legal case he is currently defending and John reviews these, saving the best of these to the cloud for later evaluation. AESOP then lets John know that the star pitcher of the Red Sox is due to sign copies of his autobiography at a book store two blocks from his work, and gives him the opportunity to buy tickets since it fits into his current lunch break.

AESOP is an AI that learns who we are, what we want, how we feel, and helps satisfy demands we are sometimes not even aware of ourselves...

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

El hombre de la lluvia

The first time I heard the name el hombre de la lluvia was on a bright February morning.

I was sitting on a bench alongside Barcelona harbour, drinking water from a bottle and watching the way the sunlight reflected off the water; I was talking to a girl I’d only just met and feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin. Looking back, it seems a very different time in my life; a time when I felt that I was a good judge of character, a time when I didn’t find myself endlessly looking over my shoulder, a time when life made at least a cruel kind of sense.

                “El hombre de la lluvia” she had said, pronouncing it slowly so that I could grasp the nuances of the language and smiling as she did so. “My abuela, my grandmother, she used to scare me with the story of him when I was little to make me go to sleep. Go to sleep Reina, she would say, go to sleep before el hombre de la lluvia comes out to play.”

                “El hombre de la lluvia,” I echoed back to her, “The man of the rain.”

                “In English, I think the Rainy Man sounds better.” she said.

                “And he steals children?”

                “Not just children. He steals the lost.”

                “But only when it rains.”

                “Yes,” she smiled again and I found myself unable to resist smiling in return. The wind whipped her black hair and I held her gaze for long seconds, realising that there was just some instant connection between us.

                A seagull had initiated our conversation, it had come wheeling in off the sea and scooped up half my sandwich, which I’d briefly put down on the bench beside me while I had opened my bottle of water. As the seagull had lifted off with my lunch in its beak, I had sworn rather rudely and the girl, who had been sitting at the other end of the long bench, had laughed at me as I shook my fist and threatened it – and its immediate family – with all manners of revenge.

                Conversation came easily after that; she told me that her name was Reina and that she had lived here for her whole life; I told her about the lecture I had done the day before in Girona and how, afterwards, I had been given a delightful tour of the city by some of the University staff who had talked about some of Girona’s legends. They’d told me about Tarla, who had supposedly brought cheer to the sick in times of plague, and about the witch of the cathedral; and they had shown me the statue of the lioness – whose bottom one is supposed to kiss for good fortune – but I’d passed on the opportunity.

                And that, of course, had led to a discussion on the legends of Barcelona. I’d done my homework on Barcelona the night before, so I already knew the story about the Alchemist (and the house that remained empty for centuries), and about the legend of Saint Eulalia (who, we’re led to believe, was tortured by the Romans for defending Christians) and so I challenged Reina to tell me a legend of the city that I wouldn’t know.

                She had stared out to sea for a few seconds and then turned back to me with the hint of a smile.

                “El hombre de la lluvia.” she had said.

                “I’ve never heard of him.”

                “Be glad. Be glad and hope he hasn’t heard of you.”

                “Say the name again,” I’d asked, and so she’d repeated it and then told me how her grandmother had used the Rainy Man as a threat before bed time. It was a new story to me, not one of the legends listed on any of the web pages I’d browsed the night before in my hotel room, and there was something about the sound of the name that appealed to me.

                “Not many people know his name,” she said, as the seagulls cartwheeled in the blue sky above us, “Most people who meet him never get a chance to talk about it again.”

                But then the conversation had moved on and we instead got to talking about music and literature, finding a common ground in Hendrix and Stephen King respectively and arguing Purple Haze against Hey Joe, It against The Shining. And as the sun had slowly arced across the sky above us, she told me about the degree in fine art she’d earned and yet never found a use for, and I told her how I’d eventually stumbled into the world of education. It was one of those conversations where everything comes so easily and it’s obvious that you are both on exactly the same wavelength.  And it had been a long time since I’d felt that, indeed I’d have probably told you beforehand that I wasn’t in the right place in my life to be capable of that kind of instant connection. But there it was.

By the time we had paused for breath it was already late afternoon and so when Reina offered to show me to her favourite tapas place where we could enjoy a few glasses of vermut I didn’t take an awful lot of persuading. It had been a long time since I’d enjoyed someone’s company like this.

We ended up somewhere in the heart of the Gothic quarter - exactly where, I have no idea; I don’t remember the name of the place and she threaded us through such a maze of tiny cobbled streets and archways, into small alleys illuminated by slabs of dimming sunlight and flanked by high stone walls and shuttered windows, that I would never be able to find it again even if I wanted to. I sometimes play that scene through my head and wonder how life would have gone if I had turned her down, if I had gone on my way. But of course, there are no replays in life. We make our choices and we live with them.

The food was great but the vermut wasn’t really for me and so I switched to beer instead; but not many. The longer this story goes on, the more you’re probably going to question that part, but you have to believe me when I tell you that the closest I got to drunk was a pleasant underlying buzz, that smoothing of the thought processes that enables you to better tap into your intuition. We talked more over a plate of pinxtos and she asked me if I was single and I guess I must have hesitated for a second too long before answering, or there was something in my eyes that betrayed me.

“What is it?” she asked, “You have a girlfriend?”

My gaze instinctively slid away from her and to the window, where the sun had edged behind thick clouds and the day was darkening noticeably. But I wasn’t paying attention to the view; I was gazing off in the middle distance, lost in thoughts and memories.

“No,” I said finally, my voice sounding like someone else’s. “I don’t have a girlfriend.”

“Are you ok?” she asked, leaning forward and reaching out to touch me on the arm. Her fingers were soft, her touch delicate.

“Yeah,” I said, lying through my teeth. “It’s nothing.”

“Look, forget I even asked,” she said, “It’s really none of my business.”

“No,” I said, hesitantly and felt my chest tighten. “There was someone.”

“But you’re no longer together?”

“She,” I started and looked away again, blowing out my breath as I felt tears gathering unbidden at the corners of my eyes. When I continued, my voice was shaking a little in a way it hadn’t done for months. “She died last summer.”

The sentence hung in the air for a few seconds. It was only in moments like this that it felt tangible; the rest of the time I had dulled myself against it, kept my grief locked away in a little box deep in my head.

“I’m sorry,” she said, finally. “I’m really sorry.”

“No,” I said. “I’m sorry for spoiling the mood; it’s just not something I ever talk about.”

“I understand how that feels,” she said, a compassion shining in her eyes. “I’ve lost people as well.”

I had lost Ellie; I lost her one weekend and I never got her back. All it took was a weekend away with friends in Amsterdam for a hen’s night, a collision with a bike - a bicycle, for fuck’s sake – and an awkward fall. And then a call in the middle of the night and my world fell apart. I wanted to be angry at someone. For a time I was angry at the guy on the bike, even though I know it was Ellie who was drunk and looking the wrong way. Then I was angry at Ellie for not being more careful. And finally I became angry at myself for not being there and, even though that made no sense, that kind of inner guilt – varnished over and dulled with time – was what I lived with, even as I pretended to get on with my life nearly a year later.

A solitary tear slipped from my eye and began to trickle a hot path down my cheek and I wiped it away angrily with the back of my hand, annoyed with my body for betraying me like that.

“We can get out of here,” she said, “Just go take a walk.”

I nodded in silence, fighting hard against the surge of suddenly raw emotion that was pulsing inside of me, and she waved the waiter over and got him to bring the bill. I fished money out of my pocket, left it on the table and slid through the crowd until I stood outside. The sky had grown thick with roiling black clouds and I felt the splash of a raindrop on the tip of my nose.

Reina followed and took my arm. “Let’s walk,” she said. And so we did.

We walked in silence for a few minutes, me trying my best to lock away all the feelings that I’d managed to keep so successfully under lock and key in these last six months and her just watching me and leading me through a series of left and right turns until we ended up in a small enclosed square with a well.

She turned to face me and took both of my hands in hers.

“I felt your pain,” she said, looking into my eyes. “Even as we sat by the harbour, I could sense the pain that lay hidden under the surface.”

I said nothing, just fought to hold onto control.

“You miss her, and that’s so natural.”

Another tear rolled its way down my cheek but she held my hands tight and so I felt it trace a slow arc. I felt more rain splash against my face, fat drops as the rain began to get heavier around us.

“I’m sure Ellie misses you, too.”

I started, snatching my hands away from her. “What did you say?”

“I said that I’m sure she misses you, too.”

“No,” I protested, loudly. “You said you’re sure Ellie misses me. How do you know her name?”

“It has been hard, hasn’t it?” she asked, ignoring my question. “You’ve felt like she was the one thing that you could depend on, that she was the anchor holding you in place and that without her there’s nothing to give you traction.”

It was like she was pulling thoughts from my head and giving them voice and that was the first moment that I was overcome with the sensation that something was very wrong here. It was like something fell from my eyes, like some glamour was lifted from me, and for a second a glimpsed something cold and dark in Reina’s eyes.

“I’ve got to go,” I said, and took a step back from her.

“Go?” she said, and stretched her arms out wide with her palms upturned. “Just as it’s starting to rain?”

I took another step back from her, my stomach lurching and shifting like I’d just stepped off a violent roller coaster.

“I saw your pain,” she said. “I saw how lost you are. Wouldn’t you like all that to just go away? He can make it all go away.”

And even as she said it, I could feel a presence behind me. I remember the moment distinctly; the hairs on my forearms were standing up and I swear I could see the vapour of my breath in the air. And then I was turning and looking at the figure standing no more than ten feet from me.

He wore a long coat, stained with mud, and hob nailed boots. A wide brimmed hat cast a shadow across his face but his eyes shone like shards of jade and, when he smiled, his mouth seemed impossibly wide, impossibly wide and filled with tiny, white sharp teeth. Trust me, I know how crazy this sounds but I swear to you that he was there. And he reached out to me and it was as if his arms warped and stretched to close the distance, strong hands closing around my arms and dirty nails digging tightly into my skin. And the touch burned cold and he smiled this wicked smile and, at the same time, I didn’t feel afraid. Everything seemed right in that moment, even as his black tongue forked between his teeth and he moved closer to me, even as his hands squeezed my arms tight and held me in a grip like iron. The rain coming down around us in thick sheets now.

“You will be free,” said Reina from behind me and it seemed such a good idea.  I wanted to be free in that moment; there was no fear, just this terrible calmness as he came closer and closer. Even as I smelt the stench of carrion on his breath, there was a calmness and acceptance of my fate. I would be free.

And then the voice of Ellie exploded in my head like a siren. “Fight it!”

It was as if someone had thrown a bucket of cold water over me. Alertness suddenly returned and, even as the world tilted madly and the thing shaped like a man lunged towards me, I somehow found the strength to break free from his grasp. Reina reached out to stop me but, fuelled on adrenaline, I swatted her aside effortlessly and charged out of the square through an archway. My feet hammering the cobbles, sending a spray of water with every step as I charged forwards blindly.

I remember very little of what happened next. I ran madly through the streets and alleys until my lungs burned and my heart felt close to bursting; I fell at least twice and tore my jeans and bloodied my knuckles, but I always got up and I never stopped running. I only stopped when I tumbled out from an alley into an actual road with traffic and then I just flung myself across the bonnet of a passing car and clung to it even as the driver started cursing at me.

The police came fairly soon and I tried to tell them what happened but they didn’t listen or didn’t understand and they just assumed that I had been mugged. They put me in the back of their car, took me to the station and tried to make me write a report and, after a few hours, even I began to think it all sounded crazy. The mind is like that, I guess. It tries to file away the rough edges, make sure we don’t have to live with those kinds of things in our head. And a day later, I was on a plane back to London and the details were all fading away like a bad dream.

                That was three months ago and I told everyone that someone tried to mug me and I fought them off. That’s the revised history now. People seem to fall into two camps, they either tell me that I was a hero or they tell me how stupid I am – what if he’d had a knife or a gun? And I’ve told the story enough times that I even started to believe it myself. The other stuff, the weird stuff, I figured that was probably just something my mind cooked up in the heat of the moment. I was upset, I rationalised; that girl managed to get me to open up to her so I was vulnerable. And maybe, I theorised, maybe she’d even slipped something in my drink to make me more emotional; some kind of drug. It all made sense.

                At least, it all made sense until two weeks ago when I was walking home from University on the evening as it started to drizzle and I saw him again near Tufnell Park Road; standing beneath a bus shelter, waiting for me. I quickly turned and walked away in the opposite direction and I tried to pretend that I’d imagined it, that it was just my mind playing tricks on me. And that worked until three days later. It was raining again and this time he was standing in the park at the end of my road when I got off the bus. There was a teenager getting off the bus at the same time as me and I pointed and asked him if he knew the guy in the park. The teenager looked at me like I was mad “What guy?” he said and then walked off, plugging his headphones in as he went. But I could see the Rainy Man as he stood in the light rain and slowly tipped his hat to me.

                I saw him again yesterday. He was standing at the end of my driveway as a thin rain fell around him.  I had come to the window to shut the curtains for the night and there he was, green eyes shining as he smiled that wicked smile at me. I shut the curtains instinctively and counted to ten and, sure enough, he was gone when I opened them. But I know he’ll be back. It’s just a matter of time.

                The weather forecast says there’s going to be heavy rain tomorrow and so I’ve decided I’m going to wait for him. I’m not going to run anymore, I’m going to face him again. Maybe Ellie can help me, and maybe she can’t. Maybe I am too lost. I’m leaving this on my kitchen table now so, if you’re reading it, then I’m guessing I am…