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Monday, April 30, 2018

The Banshee Scrappy Doo

The Husband worries that one fine day, I will come home from Giant Supermarket with one black eye. This is because (when shopping for groceries at Giant) I keep getting into scraps with huge men 1.5 heads taller than I.

Scrap Number 1
This man was like fat bear. For some reason, we both kept hanging out in the same aisles. In my first interaction with him, he was blocking the whole aisle. I stood there waiting for him to make way. He looked at me and continued blocking the way. So, I said, "Excuse me." Then, I made my way carefully past him whilst he stared at me.

In the next interaction, on another aisle, someone shoved me roughly to the side. I turned around and saw Irritating Fat Bear. Actually, I shouldn't call him a bear because bears are nice. This man was not nice.

Finally, the Irritating Fat IDunnoWhat queued behind me at the cashier's. There was a person in front of me and I was patiently waiting to be served. Before the other person had even paid up, Irritating Fat IDunnoWhat shoved at my cart and used his head in a rude chin up gesture, telling me to hurry up.

I blew up at him in loud strident tones, lecturing him on good manners and the virtues of patience. He was rather taken aback that something so small as I, had such a LOUD voice. Everyone was soon staring at him. I decided to get out of there before I ended up on STOMP.

I did it all in Chinese because the Irritating Fat IDunnoWhat had a thick PRC accent.

Scrap Number 2
This next one, was all done in English because the Irritating Skinny Beanpole was definitely Singaporean.

This gal (with a PRC accent) queued behind me sweetly and patiently. She was half a head shorter than even I am!  The Irritating Skinny Beanpole shoved her out of the way and yelled to the counter staff his order. The counter staff had not even finished serving me.

My heart went out to the Little Miss Shorty because hey... us shorties of the world must ARISE and stand up for shorty rights, no? I mean, there are just some things that tall Amazonian women like Diana Prince (aka Wonder Woman) will never experience. Men just don't shove Amazons out of their way but they do it to shorties all the time in Singapore.

So, I turned and glared at the Irritating Skinny Beanpole and then I loudly exclaimed to the counter staff, "The other lady came first."

That should have been all except that the Irritating Skinny Beanpole said, "It doesn't matter. It is just one person."

I blew up at him in loud strident tones, lecturing him on good manners and the virtues of patience. He was rather taken aback that something so small as I, had such a LOUD voice. The other lady was grinning. I decided to get out of there before I ended up on STOMP.

I think that if I had a superpower, it would really be my high pitched screeching voice. Men don't mess with Wonder Women. They should not mess with Banshees like me either! I might damage their ear drums.

The Robot Rebellion

Big Son (who used to be Little Boy) wrote the story below in P6. It has never been published. I hope readers enjoy it.

It is year 3012, the year of despair for all the unemployed. At the turn of the century, an inventor by the name of Robert Taylor had invented what the press dubbed “mankind's greatest innovation thus far”. Strangely enough, it was created with the single purpose of enslaving men. The robotifier was a small circular plate with a few buttons, a USB port and minimal cost. However, with suitable machinery, one could insert it into the head of any human. This would strip him or her of all emotion, will, opinion and thought whilst causing the wretched victim to be entirely devoted to any chosen master at the press of a button. In short, he or she would be reduced to an “It”, an opinionless slave, an emotionless machine ––– an organic robot.

So the race was on, as companies and nations dashed to haul outlaws, pickpockets and murderers alike from their dark and dank cells for the operation. Shrieks of terror and spurts of blood escaped from the operation room as the convicts leapt from the frying pan into the fire. These robots of flesh and blood were soon found nearly everywhere, from dark-as-dungeon coal mines and smoggy factories to rich households and posh restaurants. Nevertheless, there was a limit to the number of crooks they could find. Demand soon outgrew supply. The prisons were soon barren, the click of the guard's footsteps ringing loud through the deserted corridors. The moans of the depressed old men, mingled with the hoarse shrieks of distressed young lads were replaced with eerie pin drop silence. Within a decade nearly all felons and jailbirds had been robotified.

A couple of years later, the solution was found. They turned their attention to the people living in poverty. Sweeping through the slums, they nabbed the pitiful, woebegone people and seized their meager belongings. Driven by the fear of capture some took the easy way out with a knife through the chest, whilst countless others turned on each other in desperation and despair. The scourge of terror broke more men than the scourge of robotry ––– as the process had been named. It was during one of these immoral campaigns that a young man named John was abducted.......

Gulping down the revolting mug of stale beer, he grabbed the improvised dagger he had crafted for himself and staggered to his feet. Clutching it tightly, he creaked open the half-rotten slapdash door. With adrenaline pumping, he peered out into the repulsive pigpen of a dirt track. He was scanning for signs of danger. It was imperative in those days. His neighbour went insane just the other day and stabbed a friend. Two men down the road were killed, having been mistaken for being organic robots. Seeing that the coast was clear, he sidled onto the street. Verminous, vile muck sloshed over his bare feet as he waded through the sea of filth. An enormous rat scuttled past. There were probably more rats than humans in the slum. Arriving at his only friend's door, he rapped on it. Nobody barged into houses lest they be mistaken for an organic robot and found a knife in their eye. From within came the raspy voice, “Come in.” Swinging the door open, he found a sharpened stick leveled at him. The decrepit old inhabitant then lowered the spear as recognition showed on his face. “Welcome John,” murmured the ancient man. Gazing into the bloodshot eyes fixed on him, John thought back to his knowledge of this hardy survivor. He was the oldest man in the slum who had not succumbed to illness or the pall of gnawing fear and suspicion which lingered in the air.

His train of thought was broken by an ear-piercing yelp. He snapped out of his reverie in time to see a man stumble to the top of the hill before crumpling to the ground, a dart in his back. Within the blnk of an eye, a truckload of organic robots drove over the hill. They were armed to the teeth with dartguns and knock-out gas. Faced with this dire situation, a variety of reactions were displayed. Some were paralysed with fear, rooted to the spot and frozen in time when they saw the shadow cast by the vehicle in the afternoon sun. Others fled like madmen, racing as fast as their malnourished bodies could take them. John leapt for the ditch at the double. Cowering in the mud, shielded by the sides of the ditch he witnessed the chaos and havoc wreaked by the intruders. The hunted were picked off with astonishing accuracy. Columns of smoke rose from all around obscuring vision. A platoon of organic robots emerged from the fumes.

Grasping a steel pole, with the strength of a tiger and the fury of a fiend, John swung it in a wide arc, striking an advancing attacker on the forehead. The emotionless creature stared blankly at him, with crimson blood trickling down his pale face and attempted to raise his weapon. With a fluid swipe, John lopped his head off before plunging his knife into the robotifier of the next assaulter. A surge of blood gushed from the open vein with an explosion of electrical sparks. Gawking at him with bewildered, pleading eyes, the dazed man let out a pained groan before collapsing to the ground in a jumbled heap.

He had killed a man.

An upwelling of sympathy blended with John's hatred and instinctive fear. For a split second, he hesitated. That was his folly. In this hard world, sympathy was punished. Before he knew it, a dart buried itself in his flesh. The potent potion set to work at once. A wave of fatigue overcame his strained body. He tried to suppress the effects, but his efforts were futile. Vision was closing in. From his peripheral vision he saw the old man fighting for his life, downing organic robots as they neared. Still, it was clear that he too, would eventually be brought down. The thud of his skull on the stiff stony soil was the last thing John felt as he passed out.

With agile, practiced movements the nimble fingers of the organic robots bound the unconscious men before lining them up on a separate, boxed up truck in an orderly fashion and injecting them with Heimia salicifolia. Heimia salicifolia is a drug which operates as a subtle sedative and tranquilizer causing the victim to be extremely calm and compliant. During robotry, it was used to subdue the victim in order to ensure that he does not resist the operation. The injection of this devilish extract was done in no time flat as organic robots were far from slow and sluggish. In fact, one of the reasons why they were favoured over traditional workers was that they were swifter and speedier than the average man. Another advantage is that their ability to focus is greatly increased. However, once in a blue moon, human error will still occur. In this case, despite weeks of prior observation, counting of population and meticulous calculation, there was a shortage of Heimia salicifolia. As luck would have it, due to John's opposition and struggling coupled with his obscure hiding place, he was the last to be handled. As a result of this and the fact that there was insufficient Heimia salicifolia, he was only administered a twentieth of the usual amount of the foul concoction.

Two hours later, John woke up in a terrible fright, finding himself dripping with cold sweat. His doze had not been peaceful at all, plagued by nightmares of death and robotry. Testing his hands, he determined that they were roped together. He scrutinised the area for a means of escape. As his eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, they homed in onto a shard of glass. Glancing about warily, he slowly edged his way towards the glimmer of hope. With his hands closed around the potential triangular piece, he spliced his bonds. He flexed his aching hands before approaching the first captive. His intention was to liberate his fellow captives and together, mutiny against the organic robots. But he saw that there was a flaw in his grand plan as he noticed the uncannily calm and composed expressions on the faces of his company.

Just then the vehicle trundled to a hasty halt. John immediately pocketed his new-found weapon, scampered back to his former position and promptly tied himself up. The door swung open for the captors to file in. Helping their prisoners up brusquely, they pushed them out into the open. They had arrived at the city centre. It was nearly midnight. The streets were still bustling with traffic. A bus full of people sped past, letting out strings of jeers. They clearly were not particularly welcome. John took this all in whilst maintaining a facial expression as close to the idiotic grins plastered on the faces of his company, as he could manage. Then, they were shoved towards the gigantic edifice before them. At the top of the edifice large, bold letters, spelled out “Robotry Department”.

With his heart in his mouth, John reluctantly passed through the doors. Glancing warily at his guards, he proceeded down the whitewashed hallway which to him, seemed to resound with the wails of tormented men. They entered an intimidating waiting room. The walls were of cold metal. The floor was bare. Even the blinding white light seemed unfriendly from his vantage point. The emotionless piercing gaze of the soldiers made him want to retch. Numbers were assigned to the various men. John received number thirty-eight. When they called a number, the man was to enter the Operation Room. One after another, the crowd gradually disappeared. Not long after, his turn came to pass through the imposing doors.

As the somber doors slammed in behind him, he leapt into action. Clasping the fragment of glass hidden beneath the folds of his tattered garments, he whipped around. Swift as lightning, his hand darted out, severing the head of a guard. Spinning back around, he meant to charge his remaining opponents when a sparkle of light caught his eyes as it glanced off the razor sharp surgical blades assembled on the counter. Seeing their potential as weapons, he generated a better plan and made a beeline for them at once, frenziedly slashing and striking a path of blood for himself. Spurred on by the stone-age instinct to preserve his endangered life, he struck in hot blood, without a second thought. He snatched up a scintillating shiv, before assailing the white machinery by his side with unfaltering resolution. He did so with good reason as this was the dreaded apparatus utilised for the insertion of the robotifer. But, outnumbered and outarmed, defeat was certain. Within a matter of seconds he was struck down, overpowered and restrained. The operation was set to begin.

Forcing down his saliva, he glanced apprehensively at the surgeons. Then, a gleaming needle plunged into his thigh, within seconds, he passed out. Later on, he woke up to find himself still in control of himself but immensely confused. The truth was that John's rampage with the surgical knife had, in fact, knocked the power source of the robotifier from its socket. This parasitic gadget would simply sap power from its host the moment it settled in. However, during the takeover, it relied on itself. So, without energy, the annexation of his mind did not commence. He later learnt that he was in the Recuperation Hall. It was basically a long winding hallway, lined with rooms and ending with a canteen, gymnasium and lavatory. The rooms functioned as the dormitories of the new organic robots, whilst the canteen and bathroom provided them with their basic necessities. The gymnasium also allowed them to exercise, raising their value. This area was run by a puny crew of twenty organic robots which were specifically programmed to care for the new robots whilst these recuperated from their operations. At first glance, this would seem like the perfect opportunity to escape, and a terrible flaw in the robotification process.

However, when one considered the fact that outside the Hall, were hundreds of surveillance cameras monitoring a maze of alien corridors and thousands of guards patrolling the perimeters, the building would turn out to be a foolproof prison. John wisely decided to lie low and wait for a chance to make a break for it. The Recuperation Hall allowed him and his inmates to heal from the injuries inflicted during robotification. John was able to recover from the emotional shock and upheaval caused by his operation. Here, the new robots were bathed, dressed, and trained for duties.

In spite of this chance to recuperate, John was still extremely unhappy, living in constant fear. He knew that this blissful period would be succeeded by the market. There, they would be sold to a millionaire with his nose in the air who would more likely than not, be a brutal and harsh master. After an eternity in the hospital-like ward, the time to depart eventually came. Packed into a truck, the cargo left the Robotry Department. The vehicle left the shadow of the looming building, but the shadow cast by the memories of that place would never be lifted from John's heart.
Arriving at the market, they were ordered from the automobile and on to a platform. Looking down, he sighted a score of plush, well-to-do merchants, business men and high ranking government officials. An overweight individual identified a muscled young man to John's left. “Turn him off for me!” he demanded. The product was shackled. Then, with the push of a button, the cloudy fog which had numbed the pain faculty, the steel clasps which had gripped the emotional centre and the iron bars which had imprisoned the young man's will all vanished into thin air. Stunned and dazzled by this sudden change, the young man took a while to come to his wits before the fear and rage came on. Ensuring that the goods had not simply been drugged, the buyer nodded acknowledgement. “I'll give two hundred thousand for all fifty.” he hollered. “Two hundred and eighty hundred thousand!” bellowed a blubbery man, so fat that he looked like two Santa Clauses in one. “Three hundred thousand” yelled another from the buzzing crowd. The fifty young men were marched over to their new owner. Amongst them was John who had been continuously watching and observing throughout the event. Grinning contentedly, the customer marched his purchases home.

Soon after, John arrived at the mansion. Majestic towers rose from the ground. Well trimmed bushes lined the path. Moving forward they soon arrived at a hulking pair of double-doors. Entering the awe-inspiring entrance, they were met with regal chandeliers, sky-high, ornamented ceilings and a well-dressed servant. A single glance at the stony face revealed that this worker had been robotified. “Prepare these!” growled the Master, before hustling off. The robots were then led to a bathroom. “Bathe.” said their instructor in a monotone. Squashed together in the cramped up bathroom, they showered without complaint. Next the orders were given. They were each handed a thumb drive containing the map of the palace, their role and their daily routine. This was to be plugged into the robotifier. John was then faced with a challenge, for his robotifier was faulty. Making a split-second decision, he returned the thumbdrive. Mantaining a semblance of the impassive voice his companions used, he claimed that the thumb drive was damaged. Immediately, he was passed a hardcopy version corresponding to his thumb drive. He had crossed the first hurdle.

Most of the poor were illiterate, though the robotifier enabled them to read and write. However, the robotifier was unnecessary in John's case, for he had been partly educated and understood simple English. From the booklet, he learnt that he was to wait on the Master in the gardens where the pompous fellow dined. This placed him in the perfect position to observe his master. He was determined to utilise it fully. So, throughout lunch and dinner, amongst his countless myriad of tasks, John kept his eyes fixed on his master.

The Master was a self-important man with a bulging head and waistline. Lounging in his armchair, robed in extravagant clothing, the conceited singleton gorged himself on a feast fit for a king. Another defining characteristic of this egoistic man was that he was constantly in a temper. This was a bitter pill for John to swallow, but he bore with it in impassive, stony silence.

That night, when he retired to bed, he was well and truly exhausted. Yet, he could not enter the land of dreams. Tossing and turning under the covers, he wondered at the stark contrast between the flamboyant lifestyles of the rich and the ways of the impoverished poor. He thought back to his old friend who had been robotified. Despite his age, he had killed organic robots. His mind then wandered over to the scene at the market when the robotifier was turned off. Then, a bulb lit up over his head as a brilliant idea struck him. If he turned the robotifiers of the other servants off, they could rebel against the Master and escape. He would be the hero of the story, a beacon of light in an era of darkness and repression. He smiled.

Immediately executing his plan, he crawled out off bed and depressed a button on another robotifier. Leaping from the bed, the man he had freed slammed him against the wall. “Where am I?” shrieked the distressed man, “Who are you?” After explaining the situation to him and outlining the plan, John moved on to the next servant. One by one, he liberated his comrades. Each displayed a different reaction. Some were relieved, some were afraid and others were furious. Nonetheless, they all showed full-hearted support and agreement with his plot, whether with enthusiastic shouts of approval or solemn nods of acknowledgement.
So in the dead of night, they crept into the kitchen quiet as mice and armed themselves with knives of every sort, serrated and barbed, pronged and spiked, whetted and keen. The former robots who had acted as security guards retrieved their weapons ––– pistols, rifles, batons, grenades. Antique blunderbusses and flintlocks were dug from the “Personal Museum” of the mansion. Next, they fell upon their master, unleashing their pent-up hatred and vengeance, slaughtered their “owners”, massacring the occupants of the villa. With both the element of suprise and sheer numbers on their side it was a clear victory. Kicking the doors open, with guns blazing, they filled their victims with bullets. For some others, they simply hurled grenades into the room and waited for the blast. Before long, the mansion was theirs. The second hurdle had been traversed and the skies were all clear, or so they thought......

Rifling through drawers and wardrobes, they tried on the magnificent cloaks of their late masters. Rummaging through the bursting larders, they feasted on savoury morsels they had never tasted. Breaking into the cellars, they were drunk on vintage wine. Jubilant as ever, they reveled in the sweet taste of victory. It was a night of merrymaking and festivity lasting into the wee hours of morning.

Then, from the North came an incessant whirring. All of a sudden throughout the mansion thundered the rattle of machine gun fire. Whipping their heads around they were met with a mob of choppers equipped with guns of every type, accompanied by a score of bombers. Some were so deep in their cups that they simply lay there like sitting ducks, waiting to be slaughtered. Those who were not drunk senseless, scrambled for their weapons at once, fleeing to the Keep.

The Keep was a structure which remained from the Dark Ages. Stampeding into their only safe resort, the rebels shut the door behind them. Then a blast of heat emanated from the upper floors. A beam of light hit the ground as the roof was torn open. The fort was being bombed! The Keep had withstood many a trebuchet or mangonel in times long gone, holding off more than a few invaders from medieval times. However, the oaken supports had rotted and crumbled, the stone walls pockmarked by millions of arrows. In this state, it was certainly no match for the advanced explosives of modern weaponry. The stronghold was slowly being demolished.

Not long after, the place was reduced to rubble and the fugitives were massacred. John had also been captured. For a rebel leader with such a poor standing in the social hierachy and no lawyer to fight for him , the charge was clear, it would be the “Painful Death” the contrivance of some demented lawmaker. Hauled from his cell, John was strapped to a chair. Clips were attached to his fingers. Then, the horror began as pain signals coursed through his nerves.

He opened his mouth to howl but no sound was emitted. He felt a jolt of excruciating pain course through his body. It was as if every one of his nerves were overloaded with pain. The pain sent him into spasms though his bonds held him fast. He had found a new name for pain, “The Obliterator”. That was precisely what it did. It quenched every inkling and crushed every thought as it rampaged through the alleyways of the mind, leaving a trail of destruction It felt as if a thousand needles were piercing his skin. It flooded his mind, wresting control from him. Barricading himself within the confines of his mind he mustered every iota of strength remaining and gave one last, desperate effort to survive. But his efforts were to be in vain. His resistance would be vanquished. Moments later, the minute long torment which felt like an hour long ordeal was ended. Splayed out in an ungainly manner, his face was convulsed in agony too terrible for words.

He was dead.

Friday, April 27, 2018

More Chicken and Egg Stories

Some chickens live in the trees near our house. They are normally very shy. My neighbours have tried to catch them for years without success because they fly and roost in the trees. Yet, lo and behold, one of their young roosters came over to the house to check out my teenage hens.

He was a lean and mean flying machine, swaggering around with biker chic, eyeing my pullets up and down. I was not sure if he had lice and mites so I shoo-ed him back into his trees. I run an upstanding home for good citizens, not a hen brothel. Shoo!

In contrast to above lean and mean rooster, there is my fat hen, with her round butt and gentle disposition. In true Singaporean fashion, I was not able to keep up the British polish. Maggie is now called Ah Bui, in a respectful nod to Petunia's coolie ancestors. From tomorrow onwards, Ah Bui is on a diet.

Whilst we might choose to be coolie casual in how we speak to the chickens, it is still important to maintain high standards of hygiene. We will not have coolie standards of hygiene in this home. In addition to sand baths, the chickens all get chicken spa. Twice a month, they are bathed in a warm solution of sulphur soap and citronella oil. I discovered that chickens are sensual creatures. They love the warm water and look surprisingly human when they lounge therein. The one below was prodded a few times but he did not want to get out of the bath.

And finally, we have been getting eggs... yummy eggs that taste different than store bought eggs. Eggs delicately flavoured with the herbs that I feed Ah Bui (aka Maggie).

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Grumpy Baker

Best macarons in Paris.

Delightful pastries that burnt a hole in my pocket.

The Grumpy Baker makes brownies that are God's gift to Singaporeans. My kids are brownie snobs and they practically inhale these brownies and then gasp for more. I feel like I have found an exclusive treasure trove of baked goodies lodged in an HDB flat inside a neighbourhood with a problematic reputation - Yishun.

When I serve these brownies on a chi-chi platter to guests, people ask which hotel or which high class bakery I bought it from. So, I will let you in on a secret. I bought them from a guy who bakes world class pastries out of his little 2 bedroom HDB flat.

I buy them at a fraction of the price it costs to get them from the big name shops, and I get better tasting pastries too. What is not to like? The ONLY reason why this guy does not have a pastry shop that sells his creations at world class prices, is that he does not have the initial capital to set up shop. Rentals are high in Singapore and business set up costs even higher.

I cannot eat his brownies because they are not gluten free. I did eat his macarons. Mind you. I have eaten the best macarons in Paris from Gérard Mulot (at 4 Euros per piece). I have even eaten those from Ladurée in Takashimaya (at $30 for 8 pieces).  Macarons tend to be too sweet. I liked neither of Paris' best macarons. The Grumpy Baker makes better macarons, using fresh roselle fruits.The Grumpy Baker's roselle macarons (with chocolate ganache filling) offset the cloying sweetness of a classic macaron with roselle's tartness. He only charges $30 per 25 pieces.

Go browse his creations HERE. You need to do your own pick up. The grumpy fella does not deliver. Remember to be nice to him. He is called grumpy baker for a reason. This said, once you get past the thorns, inside... the man is pure unadulterated durian of the best quality.