Tag Archives: heroes and villains

Heroes, villains and the Victorian Underworld!

A heroine in peril.

Have you wondered what horrors lie beneath the suburban streets of Britain? What nasties lurk in the dark while we go about our daily lives? And when they show their evil faces which heroes do we call to save us from their murky blackness? Well, I found out this week as I came back from a run to find water dribbling up through my front path. Not very nice water either, water that, er, smelled of wee…I needed a hero and I needed one fast.

Enter, a hero.

On a dark and stormy afternoon Welsh Water Guy came to my rescue, or tried to. Who knew there were such dark lairs under my house until WWG (Welsh Water Guy) turned up with a long camera on a tube and revealed to me the unseen world beneath. Yeah, we had a blocked pipe. I could see the block in nasty bubbly glory as the camera snaked down beneath our feet, via the manhole, through crazy pipes with more twisted angles and weird drop offs than the rides at Alton Towers.

This was Victorian sewerage at its, well, not best exactly. I don’t think Joseph Bazalgette, who designed the fascinating and elegant London sewage system, would have employed the guys who laid the 15 metres of fun-house piping from the side of my house under my six foot high steps to the street.

So how do you get rid of a block? There’s a big high-pressure hose thing on a pipe that can work wonders if the WWG is willing, and he was, to heroically swish and push and pull to vanquish the demons below.

The villains.

Do you know who the arch-drain villains are? Wet Wipes – arrrgghh! Don’t ever put one down your loo. They act like ‘Velcro’ and never, ever degrade, and trap all your unmentionables in their evil web; and kitchen roll, so strong and absorbent they football-net-catch your toilet items. WWG told me this – and he knows!

Sadly he couldn’t flush the evil monster out, but he had some mates who might help.

Enter, two more heroes.

Dyno-Rod men arrive – da, da daa! Two heroes who we’ll call Dai (Dyno) and Rod (er, Rod, obviously) to protect their secret identities. Dai wiggled his foot on my flagstones where the wee-water had been and said, ‘bet there’s an access there’. He pried up the slab, pulled up a bit of lead capping that had been down there 100+ years poked a plunger in and, voila! – the black terror showed its face, gurgled in its death throes and fled back into its lair (hopefully) never to be seen again.

Dai did the thing with his camera on a tube and said one of my pipes had ‘slipped’ meaning the bore was much smaller than it should be.

‘I won’t be putting any wet wipes down there then,’ I joked. His thousand-yard stare said never, ever joke about the nemesis wet wipes. To ease the tension, and being a writer, I asked Dai if he’d ever found anything interesting in a drain, like fingers, treasure or fighty turtles. Mainly rats, apparently.

Hurrah!

So, thanks to Dai and Co, Casa Bev is once again safe from the wiles of the evil wee-water monster. I mustn’t forget Rod, though, who was a very good sidekick, ‘assisting’ with the camera. He also knew a surprising amount about British wildlife – my hedge is Alder, and is poisonous so I should wear gloves when trimming it. He was also able to name a large number of British birds of prey and native woodpeckers.

So, with water flowing freely into the underworld Dai and Rod sped off to the aid of their next homeowners in peril.

For those of you who’ve read this blog before and know I am partial to sarcasm – let me be clear about this. Anyone who comes to your house and can keep a smile on their face while fighting sewer monsters then leave you with no wee-water where it shouldn’t be and confidence in the musical flushing of your loo is a hero in my book! No kidding.

Thanks WWG, Dai and Rod, wherever you are tonight!

*****

Don’t need Dyno-Rod? Adventure underground and keep your feet dry with:

Stephen King’s It. Yep, ’We all float down here!’ That Pennywise the Clown gets everywhere. Didn’t that kid’s mom tell him not to stick his arm down storm drains?

The Fugitive movie – if you live near a big dam in America there’s a fair chance Harrison Ford, aka Richard Kimble, might be doing his uniquely ‘awkward running’ under your house. ‘Don’t slip!’

The Third Man movie (Graham Greene and Orson Welles). It’s a stone- cold classic and the Harry Lime chase through Vienna’s sewers is pure cinema art-scape. Bleak, whimsical, creepy and no happy ending!

The Great Stink (novel), Clare Clark. It’s 1858 and the sewers of Victorian London smell so bad ladies are fainting and parliament is shut; even worse, dead bodies are bobbing up, left right and centre. (Based on the actual summer stink that led to Bazalgette’s wondrous sewer system being installed.)

Every season of fab US TV series Supernatural – evil stuff comes up through sinks and baths all the time in this show and people get whisked into the depths. Keep the plug in in case Sam and Dean, the demon-hunting, ghost-busting catalogue models are out of town!

Creep, the movie starring Franka Potente – okay, it’s not technically set in the sewers but in the London Underground. Locked in at a deserted station at night Franke soon realises she’s not alone…nasty and, er, creepy…

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Lost in Translation? It’s the little things…

A few weeks ago I was in a bar in Cardiff. It was that time of night, stupid-loud and three deep at the counter, when a big guy in his late twenties loomed up at me, bent down and yelled into my ear, ‘You’re very fat!’

Yeah – nice!

I wasn’t sure I’d heard him so I gave a too drunk/too loud/whatever smile. But he thumped a meaty hand on my shoulder and said it again. This time I made the universal hand gesture for I can’t hear you, which I couldn’t properly. I was pretty annoyed though. What a thing to say to a woman minding her own business at the bar. I don’t think I’m very fat – I’m not particularly thin but am I very fat? Am I? Either way he seemed to want to keep saying it until I responded. Eventually I made an, ahem, ‘please go away,’ face and gesture. At which point he shoved past me and lumbered away.

I was torn between wanting to rip his head off and knowing it was better to forget it. Common sense won and I got my drink. Have I forgotten it, though? NO.

Some days later (listening to some boys talking about girls in Tesco) it occurred to me that maybe what he’d said was ‘You’re very fit.’ Okay. I don’t think of myself as ‘very fit’– I don’t think I’m really ‘unfit’ – but I thought I was looking alright and he was pretty drunk and it was stupid loud etc. Maybe it was a misunderstanding? Maybe that’s why he got so ‘annoyed’. Perhaps he was trying, in his lumpen-meat-head fashion, to chat me up when I’d given him the great two finger flag-off. Naturally, I prefer this explanation to the one where he just felt compelled to tell me I was a mega- bloater!

Maybe I missed the point – was one rogue vowel, an ‘I’ instead of an A, lost in translation, literally and metaphorically. It’s the little things…

Writing is a bit like this sometimes.

A lot can be lost between what the writer writes and the reader understands or takes from a novel. I should know. I had my first one star review this week – boy did this woman hate both my books! I was baffled by the intensity of her diatribe. She hated the female characters most, saying they were vain and self-obsessed and, well, not very nice! Sorry, but may I politely suggest that she, though completely entitled to dislike my books, maybe missed the point a bit?

I wasn’t trying to write about ball-breaking heroines, kick boxing secret agents or romantic outsiders harbouring secret yearnings for the gardener/vampire/fetishist next door.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with these characters, far from it, they’re just not what I was trying to create.) I wanted women with flaws and doubts and active self-interest and well, they’re not nice all the time.

Traditionally, stories have always had heroes and heroines but, be honest, how many of us fall into this category? Oh, we like to think we’re the headliners in the story of our lives (You’re very fat!? Bloody hell, I’m the likable, attractive plucky bloody heroine, mate! Aren’t I?)

But what if we’re not? If we’re not the hero or heroine? We’re the villain, or maybe even worse, we’re not either, we’re the supporting players, the ones there’s nothing really special about. The one’s who are neither very fat nor very fit?

In Telling Stories, my first novel, Lizzy asks, ‘Which lies are the worst? The ones we tell others or the ones we tell ourselves?’ I think I know the answer.

In Joseph Conrad’s turn of the century seafaring tale Lord Jim, Jim goes to sea and dreams of the moment he leap heroically into the fray and the realm of myth – his exploits will be remembered in sea shanties and by swooning women forever more. But the ship begins to sink – the moment comes and what does Jim do? I won’t tell you but suffice to say he spends the rest of his life reliving that one moment.

Faced with adversity are you or I really heroic and self sacrificing? Do we think we could be? Know we ought to be, but underneath are scared, vain, wracked with doubt and indecision? Which lies are the worst?

But can you still care about a character who does a reprehensible thing for the right or wrong reasons? Or is weak enough to allow questionable things to happen? I certainly think so.

Sympathy for the devil goes back a long way (before The Rolling Stones sang, ‘Pleased to meet you. Hope you guess my name.’) John Milton invented it in the 17th century in Paradise Lost when Satan was cast out of heaven, landing on the burning lake of fire, blackened and shorn of his brilliant ‘star of the morning’ Lucifer light. In Satan’s song of his own sorrow he has been unjustly punished for his love of a tyrannical God who demanded absolute obedience. He’s not the villain! He’s the victim! And he knows he’s prey to the coils of his own mind.

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven,” he laments.

Right with you there, Satan!

So was it all a little misunderstanding in the bar? Has Satan really just had bad press? Did Jim merely need a second to get a rewind? Has something been lost in translation? Did Ms Terminator reviewer miss the point?

Don’t ask me. I’m STILL wondering if I’m fat or fit…..or maybe I’m neither…oh bugger…

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