Monthly Archives: March 2011

#oneaday Day 90: You’ll Never Win

Got an iPhone or some sort of portable telecommunications device which supports push notifications? Take a look at its home screen and count how many notifications you’ve got. Not counting emails, I have 39, and I know the second I go through all those apps and “clear” them, they’ll be back with a vengeance.

The same is true with emails. My inbox count on my iPhone has been hovering at somewhere around the 650-700 mark for a long time now, and there seems to be absolutely no way to shrink it down. My GMail button in Chrome claims I have 948 messages, but I think that’s the total in my inbox, not unread. And like the notifications, I know that as soon as I batter the shit out of my inbox and get that number down to something approaching zero (it can never be zero, because there’s always at least one message you find that you think “I’ll just leave that in my inbox, I might want to refer to that later”, conveniently forgetting the fact you have labels, folders and a search facility) those messages will be back to haunt me. Well, not those same messages, but some new ones.

It’s the age of Web 2.0 that has done this to us, of course. The fact that we get bombarded with messages from various social networks on a minute-by-minute basis, everything vying for our attention (when in fact most of these emails are asinine, vapid crap that we really don’t need — who gives a fuck if someone just commented on a photo you were tagged in? Check it later.) and, in many cases, causing the important stuff to get lost.

I remember back in the CompuServe days, receiving an email was A Big Deal (particularly if it was from Julia, at least until The Incident) because it didn’t necessarily happen every day. Largely because not everyone Had The Internet, because some people didn’t have a modem, or others were concerned about phone bills, or whatever. But at that time — oh, that golden time — you were lucky to get five emails a week, and certainly none inviting you to extend your penis with Biblical quotes (and no, sadly I’m not making that up).

I guess the solution would be, of course, to turn off notifications and to stop Twitter, Facebook and whatever else from emailing me every time someone in my network does ANYTHING… but then how will I know that someone just tagged me in 300 photos? (With an email for every photo, obv.)

In other news, it’s probably about time I cleaned out my aforementioned GMail inbox. I’m going in… if you don’t hear from me in 3 hours I’ve probably died.

#oneaday Day 89: Tick

Time zones are a big pain in the arse. Particularly when you find yourself inadvertently operating on one that you don’t live in. I’ve had a pretty ballsed-up body clock for quite a while now, but it sort of doesn’t matter.

It started towards the end of my time in Southampton last year, when I made a new friend online who happened to live in the mountains in the States. We frequently talked until stupid o’clock in the morning which meant that I’d go to bed as the sun was rising and often not wake up until the afternoon of the next day. Like, late afternoon. The kind of late afternoon that made staggering into the local shop and having the man with the smelly armpits behind the counter asking “how my day had been” to be a little embarrassing. Of course, there were extenuating circumstances at the time that meant I wasn’t particularly concerned with social niceties and a sense of “normality” because frankly, at the time, my life was anything but “normal”.

But anyway.

(The fact I was also doing some writing work based on Eastern time shifts probably didn’t help matters. The closest approximation to a “working day” that I had started at about 7pm and ran until 11 at night. But I digress.)

A trip to the States over the holiday period last year offered the opportunity to live like a normal human being for a while. There was also the fact that at roughly 7am (or sometimes before) I’d be woken up by either a large dog wanting a cuddle or children watching television. I don’t begrudge them those things, particularly as I was sleeping in their lounge, but it did mean that I could wake up at a “normal” time.

Currently, it’s not quite as bad as it has been. I still stay awake quite late—despite trying to get to sleep early in many cases—and find myself able to get up anywhere between 10AM and 12PM GMT. Oddly enough, this is only the case when I’m at “home”. When I’m staying with someone else, whether it’s sleeping on a floor, couch or hotel room bed, it’s absolutely no problem to wake up at a normal time—and go to sleep at a normal time, for that matter. It’s curious.

Still, I’ve pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I’m essentially operating on Pacific time for much of my waking existence. This isn’t so bad, of course, as the work I’m currently doing is based around Pacific time and I have a lot of friends in the States with whom I can chat via Twitter and various IM systems. (There’s also the fact that some of those people clearly never sleep at all, but that’s an entirely different issue altogether.)

So if you need me, don’t ever worry about it being “a bad time” because chances are, I’ll be awake somewhere, somehow, sometime.

#oneaday Day 88: Help Wanted II: The Helpening

After the resounding success of the Help Wanted post from a few days ago, here’s another challenge for you all. This time, the ads are all in an attempt to recruit the parts people play in various board games, making them either more or less obscure depending on where you’re sitting. Or anyone who knows any of the answers to either post a massive geek.

So without further ado, here we go:

WANTED: Exploratory self-starter with keen negotiation skills required for this exciting new opportunity. Play a key role in the challenges of running a successful startup. Candidates with an nderstanding of mining, logging, agriculture and bricklaying will have a distinct advantage. £DOE

WANTED: Keenly creative cartographer sought for the mapping and development of a potentially affluent French region with ties to the monastic orders. Forward planning an essential quality. £good

WANTED: Programmer with experience of languages such as LOGO required for exciting new factory-based robotics project. £OK

WANTED: Investigator sought for project in Massachusetts. Background and past experience not important, but an open-minded nature and desire to explore the supernatural is essential. Some risk of death and/or mental disorders. £excellent

WANTED: Crew for spaceship. Must deal well with crises under immense pressure and be able to tell their left from right. Good communication skills, forward planning and a collaborative nature are essential roles for the successful candidate. £allrightIsuppose

WANTED: Crew for spaceship. Must deal well with crises under immense pressure and not be a cybernetic sleeper agent. £fairlygoodish

WANTED: Family-focused agricultural type with good time management sought for ambitious farming project in 13th century Germany. Accommodation provided. £good with significant bonuses for good performance.

WANTED: Spatially-aware type with fondness for single colour required for immediate start in collaborative, decorative block-laying art project. Must be focused on own contribution, potentially to the detriment of other collaborators’ work. £awesome

WANTED: Are you a bit like Brother Cadfael? Then perhaps you belong with our monastic order. We seem to suffer a bit from violent crime and are in urgent need of new members of the Order to keep the peace. £voluntary

WANTED: Travel enthusiasts sought for railroad excursions across the United States, Europe, Scandinavia and Germany. Must have a knack for booking entire routes and then inexplicably blocking them off for anyone else’s use. £pro rata

WANTED: Bean farmers urgently required for spectacular new bean-farming opportunity. Type of beans unimportant. £dependent on performance

WANTED: Electricity enthusiasts with good mathematical and financial skills sought for employment in Germany and the United States’ national grids. Must be able to count. Forward-thinking skills a distinct benefit. £good, but in a weird currency you’ve never heard of.

WANTED: Ambitious megalomaniac type sought for systematic conquest of provinces by fair means or foul. This is a somewhat unpredictable position where you can be sure of a new experience every day. £variable

WANTED: Warlike conquistador sought for conquest of entire world and/or stalemate situations with similar types. Must have considerable amount of patience and competitive nature. Would particularly suit people with too much time on their hands. £spectacular

So, any ideas? Make your guesses in the comments.

#oneaday Day 87: Don’t Worry

Some people are perpetual worriers, concerned about every last detail of every little thing they (and others) do, utterly convinced that if appropriate preparation for every single possible disaster isn’t adhered to then something awful will absolutely, certainly and totally happen.

I’m not one of those people. But then neither am I their antithesis, the laid-back, breezy type who lets crisis after crisis wash over them in a totally infuriating manner, managing to stay calm amidst people’s heads exploding, zombies bursting through the windows and/or their dwindling finances. (Specific crises depend on the person, obviously.)

I’m somewhere in between. There are times when I panic about things. Like proper full-on panic attacks. (They’re not pleasant, if you’ve ever had one.) I haven’t had one for a while, but in the past, they’ve been caused by two things—working in education and money. I have dealt with one of those two issues by kicking it in the balls and telling it never to come back into my life ever again, at least until I get totally desperate, which hopefully I won’t have to. I’m working on the other one.

But then other times I find myself unconcerned with things, thinking them more trivial than they perhaps actually are. This is good for short-term mental well-being, but not great when you put things off until it’s too late and then they end up causing panic. Actually, saying “unconcerned” is perhaps misleading; it’s not that I don’t care. At times, though, things are difficult to contemplate and even harder to talk about, even amongst the people you trust the most. Some things are scary, and so putting them to one side is a way of facing them later, an attitude advocated by Final Fantasy XIII, of all things. It’s a good feeling when you get up the confidence to say something that’s been bothering you for ages and you feel like you can get the help or the support you need—but at the same time, you don’t always have people there to help you or just to listen, so those are the times when being able to compartmentalise your thoughts and set them aside for a little while becomes useful.

It is one of those things, I suspect, that there isn’t an easy answer to. The way I am may sound like something of a “happy medium” but in practice it’s not; it’s the two extremes and nothing in between. Everything negative is either a total disaster that keeps me lying awake at night, or unimportant bollocks that I don’t need to think about right now. If only there was a way of compressing everything in just a little bit so that the disastrous things became simple irritants that I actually felt motivated to deal with and the unimportant bollocks also became mild irritants that, while not exactly pressing, were just niggling enough to make me want to swat them away like flies.

Perhaps this is one of the things people deal with in therapeutic sessions.

#oneaday Day 86: Defiant Destiny

If you’ve read any fantasy (or, to a lesser extent, science fiction) novels or played any RPGs (pen and paper or computer-based) you’ll be familiar with the concept of “Fate” or “Destiny”, whatever you want to call it. The idea that everything that happens is part of a string of events that are “supposed” to happen, things that are planned out, destined to come to pass with an eventual goal which isn’t necessarily completely clear.

It’s a spiritual, quasi-religious sort of concept, I guess, but despite not being a religious type in the slightest, I’m a bit of a believer in the idea.

Or perhaps it’s not Fate or Destiny. Perhaps it’s simply the fact that everyone makes choices in their lives, and those choices have consequences that can continue to affect things months, even years, down the line. Not only that, but one person’s choices can affect the lives of other people and the choices they make too. Without one simple little thing happening, things might be entirely different.

Take something as seemingly inconsequential as, say, joining Twitter. Without joining Twitter on whenever-it-was (a piece of information that I’m sure used to be easier to find out) there’s a ton of things that would never have happened. It’s entirely possible that the Squadron of Shame SquadCast wouldn’t have happened and that the small but tight-knit community that has grown around that over at the Squawkbox wouldn’t be what it is today. Without that happening, I might not have been spurred on to quit my job and try and “make it” writing—something which yes, I’m aware I still have some way to go on, but it is at least considerably further along than it once was. Without that happening, many of the events of the last year might not have happened, for better or worse. I might not have met a number of awesome people who have become very important to me (in very different ways to each other, I might add). And I might not be sitting here now wondering what the future holds in a positive, forward-looking manner rather than dreading it.

Of course, some may point out that some of the events in that sequence of things indirectly led to bad things happening, which means that without my joining Twitter in the first place I might be sitting in a very different place right now in an alternate timeline. But then that’s where the question of “Fate” or “Destiny” comes in. Perhaps that’s one key event that was “supposed” to happen in order to make all that other stuff come to pass. And even the bad stuff, in that case, happened for a reason to lead me on towards some sort of eventual future awesomeness that hasn’t quite happened yet but feels like it’s finally starting to get there.

You can really over-think things if you’re not careful. Live in the moment. Do what seems right. Tackle the consequences as they come. Life will throw you challenges and big, steaming lumps of shit along the way, but at some point, eventually, you’ll find yourself on the pathway to something that’s “right”, something where your eventual goal is clear, if far away.

Am I on that pathway yet? Couldn’t say. But I know that for the first time in a long while, I’m looking forward to finding out.

#oneaday Day 85: Help Wanted

Sometimes it’s not clear how video game heroes got themselves into the situations they’re in at the start of a game. It’s at times like this that I like to imagine they answered a job advertisement like one of the following. Can you spot the games they’re from?

WANTED: Caretaker for large medieval castle. Some internal renovations required. Successful applicants will have good athletic ability and will be unconcerned by stories of “the undead”. What is a man? Anyone who can apply for this job—we don’t discriminate. £DOE. Call Simon.

WANTED: Pest control technician to operate in secluded literacy-heavy society. Good performance in this role will lead to quick promotion prospects and the opportunity for a considerable amount of travel. The successful candidate must have good interpersonal and leadership skills, be open to the idea of taking on seemingly insurmountable challenges and be interested in their own lineage. £excellent. Ask for Gorion.

WANTED: Computer specialist for exciting new project in space. Must be well-versed in use of lead piping for improvisatory technical solutions, interested in the ethical implications of artificial intelligence and not easily terrified. £available on application. Call 01010011 01001000 01001111 01000100 01000001 01001110 and ask for Sharon.

WANTED: New recruits to police force for small Mid-Western town prone to outbreaks of bizarre crime and disease. Must be able to handle small to large firearms with no training, and have difficulty running both in a straight line and around corners. Floppy hair is beneficial, though not essential. £good. Call Claire.

WANTED: Refuse collection operative to trial new system of collecting waste. Successful applicant will have good ball-handling skills and be open to the idea of travel. £amazing. Call K. Cosmos.

WANTED: Ex-soldier with good leadership skills sought for assistance with new environmental project. Background unimportant. Familiarity with anachronistic weapon technologies a distinct advantage. £stupendous. Call Mr Wallace.

WANTED: New recruits to police force for the most geographically diverse region in North America. Must hold full, clean driving licence and be familiar with the operation of high-powered sports cars—we don’t do things by halves here. Split-personality applicants who enjoy occasionally delving into street racing themselves are welcome to apply. £outrageous. Call Dispatch.

WANTED: Rapping dog to assist with unexpected noodle-related issues. Specialist problem requires specialist recruitment. £inconceivable. Call C. C. M. Onion.

WANTED: Color-blind gentleman with large neck sought for friendship, camaraderie and maybe more. Must not be afraid of insects. £not bad. Call Dom.

WANTED: New owner for ailing bookshop in French Quarter. Assistant provided. Your role will involve very little working in the shop and a lot of wandering around town. Would suit lazy, arrogant prig. £rubbish. Call Grace.

WANTED: Witch sought for a job that is “out of this world”. Height a distinct advantage, as is familiarity with the use of pistols with both hands and feet. Can you sparkle, are you gonna shine? £fabulous. Call Rodin.

WANTED: News reporter. Must be able to dance and produce bulletins that look good but have no real content whatsoever. Female applicants preferred. £superfabulous. Call Fuse.

#oneaday Day 84: The Crossovers That Will Never Be

There’s a ton of untapped potential in the world of the crossover. Comics have been wise to this for a long time, with DC and Marvel in particular being highly aware of the fact that all their superheroes are running around disparate parts of the same world and might just bump into each other on occasion.

But what would happen if some of the more bizarre crossovers came to fruition? Well, let’s explore that, shall we?

Castlevania: Deep Space Nine

The most modern the series has got was with Soma Cruz, and even then it was still all bats and caves and swords and whatnot. Castlevania should go to space, and specifically to Deep Space Nine. Why? Because I had a dream about it so therefore it must be a good idea.

Benjamin Sisko discovers that as well as being the Emissary he is also a descendent of the Belmont clan and—horrors!—Dracula has found a way to harness the power of the Bajoran wormhole to summon forth the forces of Darkness into our reality. Fortunately, power of said wormhole also manages to summon Alucard, with little to no explanation as to why (this is Castlevania, you don’t ask silly questions like “why?”) who very carefully passes Sisko the Vampire Killer whip. Thus begins an exciting and thrilling co-operative adventure throughout the many decks of Deep Space Nine, culminating in a thrilling showdown with Dracula, who reprises his famous “What Is A Man?” speech in zero gravity.

Features narration by Patrick Stewart, as is the law for all new Castlevania games.

Dragon’s Den: Origins

The Archdemon is rising, and the world needs a hero. But heroes don’t just come out of nowhere. They need to be found.

Enter The Dragons: Peter Jones, Deborah Meaden, Theo Paphitis, Duncan Bannatyne and James Caan. A series of aspiring Heroes of Ferelden climb the stairs of destiny and pitch their ideas with which they believe they’ll be able to take down the Archdemon. Only by securing a Dragon’s investment in their expedition will they have a chance of success, otherwise they’ll be doomed to wandering the land in rusty chainmail using swords that fall apart as soon as you hit a log with them.

Superman: The Krypton Factor

A brand new gameshow featuring Superman attempting to overcome a variety of physical and mental challenges, all of which are laced with kryptonite. Will Superman survive this episode? Will he finally succumb to kryptonite’s influence? As the series finale, Superman has to defeat Gordon Burns in single combat, as it turns out that Burns, too, is also a superhero, but one who draws power from kryptonite instead of being weakened by it. WHO WILL PREVAIL?

Total WipeOut HD Fury

A combination of futuristic racing and people falling in the water repeatedly, the twist is that the courses which the high-speed anti-grav racers and the people running around have to follow are the same, causing significant risk to life and limb for anyone hopping over those giant Super Mario mushrooms whilst the pack bears down on them at approximately 700mph. The winner is the team whose antigrav racer and panicking human both survive.

The Hairy Bikers in: Road Rash

The Hairy Bikers have had enough, and have decided to take on a gruesome, brutal world tour atop their throbbing motorbikes. Along the way, they smack the shit out of anyone unfortunate enough to cross their path, collect the meat from the smouldering corpses and cook it into a delicious recipe between each stage of their journey.

#oneaday Day 83: Read The Gorram Manual

I bought a new Xbox headset a few months back because several years of accidentally standing and/or sitting on my old one had caused it to finally give up the ghost. I was excited to see that they’re now made of black plastic and have a mute switch on the cable instead of sticking out of the controller. (I wasn’t really excited.)

What I was a little surprised by, though, was this:

One of these must be useful for something.

Yes, those are six instruction leaflets. For a headset. A headset whose functionality can be summed up by telling the chronically stupid and/or non tech-savvy to plug it into their controller, attach it to their head and talk into it whilst making sure the switch is green, not red. And making sure their Xbox is turned on, obviously, and that they’re in a situation where they are able to talk to people.

Actually, most of those leaflets aren’t taken up with useful information on how to use the headset. A considerable proportion of them are spent making sure you don’t spend your time jamming it up your arse or swallowing it or accidentally dismantling it instead of talking into it. In several different languages. Which is nice and Continental, but ultimately rather redundant.

Ironically, considering we live in an age where things are supposed to be so intuitive we don’t need manuals, then, that even the most mundane things come with instruction leaflets designed to ensure we 1) don’t kill ourselves with things that you’d have to work really hard to kill yourself with and 2) don’t sue the manufacturers when we accidentally kill ourselves with things that you’d have to work really hard to kill yourself with.

Imagine, then, if literally everything had an associated instruction leaflet. Can you identify what the following three things are?

INSTRUCTIONS FOR USE

1. Remove from storage and place on flat, stable surface.
2. Ensure receptacle is empty.
3. Fill receptacle with liquid of your choice, ensuring to leave 1-2cm of empty space.
4. Grasp handle with dominant hand.
5. Raise, apply to front facial orifice and tilt back slightly, ensuring that liquid flows into orifice and not around.

IMPORTANT NOTICE

This device operates in different manners according to gender and required usage. Please follow the appropriate instructions.

1. Switch seat to required position. Ensure there is an open space available and receptacle is not covered.
2. If male and requiring usage (a) (see Appendix), stand in front of device. If female and requiring usage (a) or either gender and requiring usage (b) (see Appendix), sit on device, ensuring feet remain firmly on floor if possible.
3. If male and requiring usage (a), ensure clear line of sight is available between appendage P and device (see diagram 4.1) before commencing. For all other uses, ensure lower body is free of obstructions.
4. If male and requiring usage (a), activate flow from appendage P using muscle F (see diagram 6.9). If female and requiring usage (a), activate flow from region V using muscle F (see diagram 5.2). For all other uses, release safety catch on region A using muscle Q (see diagram 7.6).
5. Continue use until no longer required. Discontinue flow or return safety catch on region A to Regular position.
6. If usage (b) has been undertaken, use of accessory T may be required. Follow instructions in the Appendix for appropriate usage of accessory T.

NOTE

This device requires a compatible accessory. See Appendix B for suggested devices to use in conjunction with this one.

1. Ensure device is firmly attached to compatible accessory via smaller end.
2. Insert larger ends of device into aural cavities.
3. Activate compatible device. In the case of discomfort during use, refer to compatible device’s instructions to minimise aural discomfort and/or ensure content compatible with local guidelines of taste and decorum is in use.

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#oneaday Day 82: Mind. Blown.

It’s a really good thing that humans have the capacity to take things for granted. It’s not always the best thing to do, but occasionally, it’s quite fun to just step back (not literally, otherwise you’ll bump into that guy behind you and he’ll drop his fine china tea-set, making a horrible stain on the carpet and making him wonder whether or not he should ask you to pay for it because he’s actually quite anxious about talking to other people and doesn’t want to become acquainted with someone by yelling at them, but at the same time that tea-set was very expensive and belonged to his grandmother so he feels like he should at least say something so basically, don’t bump into him) and think about how awesome “things” are.

Take cars, for example, and by extension most means of motorised transportation. Most of us use some form of transport every single day and don’t give it a second thought. But think about it. You get into a car through a door, like a room. It has carpets and windows and furniture, like a room. But it moves. When you sit in a car, you’re in a room that moves. When you’re driving on the motorway, you’re sitting in a chair that’s going 90 70 miles per hour. That’s pretty amazing, right?

And the Internet. Particularly wireless Internet. Walk into pretty much any coffee shop and the Internet is in the air around you. You can’t see it, feel it, smell it, taste it, but turn on your iPhone (other smartphones and Wi-Fi compatible devices are available) and it’s there, allowing you to watch videos of cats at your convenience while you enjoy a half-caff skinny tall frappucino with extra coolwhip spoogebang sprinklywotsits and a slab of cake. Cat videos from thin air! Amazing.

Or the fact you’re reading this blog (which is amazing in itself) — I’m sitting here typing this in my makeshift study in Cambridgeshire while you could be sitting absolutely anywhere, even high in the sky on some airline services, reading this. Perhaps you’re in the future right now, scanning back through my past entries to get a better picture of who I am and whether I’m the sort of person who likes bludgeoning kittens to death (hint: I’m not… although that’s just the sort of thing someone who had a secret life bludgeoning kittens to death might say) — and you’re reading this. You’re in my brain, sucking up my soul. Stop it. But it’s still pretty amazing.

Of course, if you take all this to its natural conclusion, the fact that we’re here at all doing the things we do is pretty amazing, too. We are walking, talking lumps of chemical reactions that are reacting in such a way as to make us aware of our own existence and able to control our own destinies… or at least, so it seems, anyway. Chemical reactions who can write blog posts, talk to people who are 160 miles away, drink coffee and listen to music at the same time. Amazing.

I’ll stop now before my head explodes at the fact we’re on a big lump of rock hurtling through space that just happens to move in a nice elliptical orbit around a MASSIVE BURNING GLOB OF GAS and start taking everything for granted again.

#oneaday Day 81: Improv Theatre

[Preamble: We listen to stories when we're kids because they have a soporific effect. There's no reason why you should stop telling stories when you "grow up", particularly if you enjoy improvising. This is a story I came up with on the fly at the request of a certain young lady who couldn't sleep last night, given the stimulus words of "robots", "clocks" and "cheesecake". No preparation was involved, hence the total lack of structure and nonsensical, improvised nature of it. But I was quite pleased with the eventual result.]

There once was a robot. His name was Trundlebot, because he wasn’t very good at moving quickly on the wheels he had instead of feet. Trundlebot didn’t mind though, because he was a robot and didn’t know any better.

Trundlebot was the only robot employee at the Grognak clock factory, the first of his kind and something of an experiment for the factory owners. He was made from leftover clock parts and a few electronic gizmos that old Mr Grognak had ordered from the Internet against the express wishes of Mrs Grognak.

The Grognaks’ son, Jeremiah, who was five years old, was fascinated by Trundlebot, but Mr Grognak, still wary of the robot’s unproven track record, didn’t let him too close. But Jeremiah longed to see Trundlebot up close, to look at him, talk to him and see what sort of person he was.

Mr and Mrs Grognak indulged Jeremiah with fanciful tales of what Trundlebot used to get up to before he came to the Grognak clock factory, taking care not to disappoint Jeremiah with the sad truth that Trundlebot was an unthinking, unfeeling machine who knew nothing of human life.

But Jeremiah was unsatisfied with just stories. He wanted to know what made Trundlebot tick himself, so one chilly winter night, he wrapped himself up in the warmest clothes he could find, stole his way downstairs and crept out of the house door and into the grounds of the factory.

The chill wind battered his young face, but it wasn’t far to go. He crept across the courtyard to the front door of the main building and knowing that his father always left it unlocked due to the big iron gates outside, pushed it open slowly and carefully. It was dark inside, but the faint glow of the power-saving lights was enough for Jeremiah to see by. He heard the familiar ticking of the clocks as he walked through the corridors, looking around for what he desperately hoped would be his new robot friend.

He found his way to a door, which he recognised from the times his father had shown him around as the staff’s break room. It was eerily quiet inside, the ticking of the clocks outside a stark contrast to the gentle hum of the fridge that was the only sound in here.

Overcome with curiosity and not really knowing why, he reached for the fridge door and opened it. The bright light from within flooded out, and he shielded his eyes as they adjusted to the sudden change in ambience. The fridge was mostly bare, save for a single plate on the middle shelf which bore a cheesecake, topped with sticky sauce and sweet berries. Jeremiah reached for the plate, then paused for a moment. The cheesecake clearly belonged to someone, but it also clearly hadn’t been touched. Who would leave a delicious-looking cheesecake like that just lying around? He extended a finger and took off just a tiny blob of the sticky crimson sauce atop the cake, and licked his finger. It was as good as it looked, but he knew he shouldn’t touch any more.

He closed the fridge and was about to walk out, when he heard a clattering from outside the break room door. It sounded like someone was coming. Jeremiah didn’t know what to do. The only way out of the break room was through the door he’d come in by, and that was where the sounds were coming from. He looked around frantically and eventually opted to dive under a chair and hope whoever was coming wouldn’t see him. He heard the door open, and a ticking noise, along with what sounded like something being dragged along the floor.

Looking out from under the chair, he saw a familiar set of wheels. It was Trundlebot, but what was he up to?

The ticking robot trundled over to the fridge and jerkily extended one of its arms, yanking the door open rather forcefully. Jeremiah was fascinated. What on Earth was the silly little robot doing in the fridge? He heard the “clink” of metal on porcelain, and it was apparent that the robot was taking the cheesecake out of the fridge. Jeremiah heard the door shut again, and Trundlebot wheeled himself out, apparently oblivious to the young boy’s presence.

Jeremiah followed Trundlebot back through the factory corridors at a discreet distance, to the building’s front entrance and out into the courtyard. Across the courtyard, and into the Grognak household.

Jeremiah didn’t follow the robot in straight away, because he didn’t want to get caught. But after a moment, curiosity got the better of him and he crept in.

Inside, he was astonished to discover Trundlebot had not only set down the cheesecake in the middle of the dining table, but also set three places with plates, knives and forks.

“What are you doing?” said Jeremiah, unable to restrain his childish curiosity, and not even sure if the robot could understand him. The robot, apparently only now becoming aware of the child’s presence, paused for a moment and turned around on his wheels.

“One year since activation,” he said in a raspy metallic voice. “Operator Grognak efficient and kind operator. Protocol dictates giving of gift.”

Of course, thought Jeremiah. Trundlebot had been a part of their life for a year from tomorrow, and he wanted to celebrate.

“Did you make the cake?” asked Jeremiah.

“Affirmative,” said Trundlebot. “Internet recipe. Delia Smith.”

Jeremiah smiled at the robot. He was sure this would be a big surprise for his mother and father, and he looked forward to seeing their faces.

There was a sudden “snark” sound, and a long strip of paper began to emerge from a slot on the front of Trundlebot. Jeremiah took hold of it as it came out, further and further. Eventually, the other end dropped from the slot and Jeremiah picked up the finished article.

It was a banner, printed in red and gold. “THANK YOU”, it said in large friendly letters. Trundlebot raised his arms and Jeremiah, sensing what the robot was thinking, carefully laid the banner across so it looked like he was holding it up.

“Gratitude for assistance,” said Trundlebot. “Now child-unit must engage sleep programme.” Jeremiah nodded, and crept up the stairs to bed.

The following morning, the Grognak family rose early and went down to breakfast. They were astonished to discover Trundlebot standing mutely in their living room, holding a large red and gold “THANK YOU” banner, and a delicious-looking cheesecake on the table.

“Oh my goodness!” said Mrs Grognak. “Did you do all this, Jeremiah?”

Jeremiah peered at Trundlebot, who said nothing. He swore that one of the robot’s eyes blinked on and off briefly, and he smiled.

“Yes,” he said. “It’s Trundlebot’s birthday. So it’s only fair we celebrate it, even if he can’t, isn’t it?”

So they all ate cake and had a lovely breakfast. Trundlebot and Mr Grognak made their way back to the factory and started their day of work.

Jeremiah didn’t hear Trundlebot speak again, but he knew that the silly little robot was more than just old clock parts and mysterious electronics. He was alive, and that made Jeremiah very happy indeed.

The End.