Letter to Scott Mann MP about the Syrian crisis

My very lovely wife just wrote this to Scott Mann, our local MP.

I read it, nodded so much my head nearly fell off and asked her if I could post it on my blog. She said yes.

Dear Mr Mann,

It is a year ago that I contacted you about my concerns about UK military intervention in Syria. At the time there seemed to be no certainty across those who supported UK bombing in the House of Commons about what it would achieve. In your response to me you said that your reason for supporting military action was to “defend our country and our people” (against ISIL). You also said that “we cannot sit on our hands on this issue, and I believe we must extend action to defend our country and protect the long term security of the Syrian population”.

A year on and I see THE worst scenes of horror and human suffering that I have every witnessed in my whole life time. The security of the Syrian population is now so far beyond secure that I am unable to comprehend the level of suffering taking place in Aleppo.

It seems that the UK government were not prepared to sit on their hands a year ago, but have done so for the people of Aleppo. We are standing by while a city is massacred. People like me. People like you. Young. Old. Male. Female. Children. Babies.

I have just looked on your twitter timeline and see nothing about this humanitarian crisis. I have just looked on the PM’s twitter timeline and see nothing about this humanitarian crisis. Really? You have nothing to say about this?

The civilians in Aleppo are being left to the mercy of Assad and other civilians in other cities will also suffer too if we continue to do nothing. We must act now so that other civilians in cities in Syria are spared the fate of the people of Aleppo.

As someone who felt strongly enough to vote FOR military action in Syria last year I hope very much that you attended the emergency debate on Syria in Parliament yesterday. If you did not I hope you can find a way to be involved in future debates and action. We must be looking ahead and trying to prevent such atrocities continuing. Civilians in Syria need our help. UK MPs should be focusing on this, rather than standing by and saying nothing.

I want to register my utter despair with you about the situation in Syria. I urge you to support and push for any humanitarian support the UK government can provide. I urge you to represent the many members of your constituency who feel the despair that I do as they watch the news each evening.

I urge to think about the civilians of Syria and search for ways as a Member of Parliament that you can help them.


Rachel Ellis
Bude, Cornwall.

Kids own too many gadgets

I’ve been resisting writing this, as I know it’ll get up some people’s noses. I know there’s a danger I’ll come across as fairly sanctimonious – and definitely an Old Victorian Arse. But you know, along with getting a bit older is a certain dontgiveashitness, so here goes.

My contention is this: things have gone badly awry in a world in which our kids (and by “kids” I’m focusing on 7-15 year olds) own their own gadgets, expect their own gadgets and spend most of their time glued to gadgets. As parents we should be thinking harder about this, and not resting on our arses quite so much.

Why (apart from the fact I’m a grumpy old git who thought the world used to be a better place when we were kids) do I think this..? Funny you should ask..

#1: adults are spreading their addiction

We have a problem. All of us. Me, you, that bloke over there. We go to the pub with our friends, and sit there looking at our phones. We walk down the street bumping into people because we’ve just seen another narcissistic fuckpump posting a picture of how beautiful they look in their carefully curated, manicured, beautiful Facebook world. We feel more naked leaving the house without our phone than we do leaving it without a key. We “don’t work in the evenings” but, sure, we read our work emails.

Our relationship with mobile devices is badly, badly skewed. And we’re passing it on blindly to our kids.

#2: the money is really badly fucked up.

I see kids, and we have friends, who own an iPad, an iPhone and maybe also a laptop as well. This is, what, £1500 worth of kit? And £600 of it they’re carrying around in their pocket. To school. To town. To the beach.

Stop and consider. And, unfashionable though it is, think about what things used to be like: what you had in your pocket when you were 10. For me it was all about spark plugs and springs and unidentifiable gadgets I’d pulled out of the back of radios.

The idea of a 10 or 11 year old kid owning something – anything – worth this much is, frankly, utterly insane. Not only do kids break shit all the time but they lose it too. And, to be honest (and much as it pains me to say it, as I run screaming from the room as my boys lose another shoe/Lego model/book/bit of homework/etc) – losing and breaking stuff is a kind of childhood right of passage. It’s that losing, breaking thing which teaches you not to, well, lose and break things. But, FFS, learn that stuff with a bit of broken radio and not the latest iPhone..

#3: kids owning gadgets = totally unnecessary.

Just to take an example from an – albeit slightly geeky – household: our two kids have access to the following: a PC, a laptop, a Macbook Pro, an old Macbook, an iPhone, an android phone, an iPad mini and a Hudl. Oh, not forgetting a few Raspberry Pi’s for good measure. They seriously aren’t wanting for gadgets.

The difference is these gadgets aren’t theirs, and so they have to ask to use them – and their time is limited when they are allowed. (Hint: sometimes they aren’t allowed. I know, crazy, huh?).

Also (really heading into “In my day…” territory now..) – we didn’t have phones when we were kids and we didn’t get murdered / lost / in trouble (alright, maybe a bit), so I’m really not sure that the “they need a phone for safety” reason washes. We all accept (with the exception of SHOUTY DAILY EXPRESS HEADLINES) that life isn’t any more dangerous now than it was then. So why do our kids suddenly need phones? And if they really do need to get in touch then why not a £4.99 Nokia dumbphone rather than a £600 iPhone?

#4: owning gadgets almost always means “unrestricted web access”

Most of our friends with kids aged 7-15 have totally unrestricted access to the web. Yes, you might foolishly believe that your ISP can provide complete protection from All The Bad Stuff, but we hopefully all know (we do, right..?) that this is total fiction.

The problem gets worse when kids have gadgets that they own: they install stuff, they go online whenever and wherever they want – and you as a parent lose visibility of what account they’re creating, what apps they’re using, who they’re talking to and when.

I have a problem with this. It’s great that kids get to go on the web. Is it great that they get to see the whole, unfiltered, crazy-assed tangle that’s out there without their parents having a scoobie what they’re doing? No, I don’t think it is. This isn’t about spying on our kids – it’s about slowly introducing them to the world out there so that they can cope with some of the subtleties we adults live with all the time. How do we know that source X is to be trusted? Should I click that link? Can I install this app safely?

#5: “….but my daughter has to have an iPhone because all her friends have iPhones“.

Peer pressure isn’t going to kill anyone. It didn’t kill us as kids when we wanted that Grifter and our mum couldn’t afford it, and bought us a home-painted racing bike instead, and it won’t kill our kids now.

The thing is, Life is this place where some people have things and some people don’t have things – and actually: this is ok. And – more importantly – the sooner kids get used to this and realise there are other paths to happiness than rampant materialism, the better.

Finally: “No” is a thing.

You’re a parent. And as such, you have the power to say “no”. You have the absolute right to say – “no, I’m not buying you that tablet for Christmas” or “not in your room” or “not now, you have homework to do” or “I’ve turned off the WiFi, read a book”. It’s your house, your rules, and you’re a responsible adult with the means to absolutely define how some things are going to be done.

Your kid may cry or stomp their feet or shout at you or run screaming from the room. But that’s OK. You’re a parent. They don’t have to like you all the time. That’s part of the journey, too.

I know. I’m a sanctimonious Victorian twat.

Letting kids on the web

I’ve got kids – they’re 7 and 10 – and they’re at that age when they are just starting to spend a bit more time online. The last few months have seemed like a good time to look around and see what other parents are doing, and make some decisions about how best to approach this.

The first observation I have from doing this looking around is a depressing one: parents are mostly clueless. They either don’t have a strategy: “oh, I just let him/her do what they like – they’re much more tech-savvy than me anyway”, or they have a “oh my god, this shit is evil, I never let them go on the web” thing going on. There doesn’t seem to be much that is moderate, measured or thoughtful. This strikes me as a mistake.

My thoughts are these:

Cameron’s Firewall is a terrible, dangerous thing.
It’s utterly (and to anyone with half a brain in their heads) obviously futile to try and categorise the web. There’s porn, yes, but the whole “esoteric content” thing includes – as we know – sex educaton sites, stuff on suicide, drugs, etc. This represents censorship, pure and simple, and is enough of a reason on its own to rally againt it. But – more dangerously – as this excellent article points out, it leaves (mostly clueless) parents feeling like their kids are safe – when they just aren’t.

Kids ultimately need to be taught how to create their own, personal filters
The problem we’re trying to teach our kids about here is this: there is some horrific, horrible shit out there, some total loons talking total bollocks, some awful images and all manner of viruses, phishing sites and god knows what else. Hiding this away from them, pretending it doesn’t exist: this is prohibition – and if we’ve learnt anything about prohibition it’s that it makes things more desirable, not less. See also: drugs, alcohol, fags…

The thing we want our kids to come away with is self-awareness and empathy. At that inevitable moment when they do stumble across something horrible on the web (and lets be really clear here, this absolutely is inevitable – if they can’t get it at your house, they’re sure as hell going to have a dodgy mate who knows how to get around their parents’ crappy filtering system) we want them to have the mental capacity and maturity to say “I have seen this, but I have the knowledge and toolset to know to ignore it, to move on, to tell someone”.

Now, there is an age at which this self-filtering can’t take place, because there isn’t enough maturity or knowledge to do it. I’d say for instance that my boys are much too young right now to begin to understand this. So unfettered access to the web isn’t going to happen, not for a while. But – when they’re a bit older, I fully intend to say to them – look, you can use the web at home and should you want to, it’s all there. But I trust you to know what’s right, what isn’t and when to come and ask us for help.

Make the internet a sociable thing
As of right now, and for the forseeable future, my kids aren’t having personal internet devices, laptops, PCs. They have access to all of these – we have ipads, phones, laptops, PCs around the house – and on occasion they can, and do, ask to use them. But I simply don’t understand any need whatsoever – at the ages they are – for them to have ipods, tablets or phones of their own. The internet is a sociable thing, done in social spaces with other people – if they browse the web they don’t do it in their own room but downstairs where we are. This seems important to me, a way of making them and us feel safe. The moment will come when they get personal devices, but that time isn’t here yet, and I have to say I do find it kind of weird when kids this age have their own screens – it seems highly superfluous to me, and potentially dangerous.

Give them an email address
I have no issue whatsoever with my kids having their own email addresses – in fact having taught lots of CodeClub classes I can say that kids not having an email address badly gets in the way of stuff. Also – if they’ve got an email address they can set up stuff like Lego profiles, I can email them interesting things, and so on and so forth. What we’ve done though is to set up gmail accounts for them where all incoming email also gets cc’d to me – so I can keep an eye on anything dodgy coming in. They know this – it’s not a secret – and in time I’ve said I’ll turn it off, but it seems a sensible safeguard for now.

That’s it for now. It’s a changing strategy, but I think the fundamental points will remain the same whatever age they are – transparency, freedom, responsibility – but within a framework of safety.

The life project

My good friend @bealers just posted “Make life a side project” and it got me thinking.

My first reaction was something along the lines of shutup-you-crazy-person but now I’m veering slightly more to ah-i-think-i-kinda-see-what-you-mean. But not much.

The main thing that I reacted to was this notion of “sideness”. Putting life (yeah, we need to talk about what we all mean by that in a mo..) into a box marked “side project” seems to me to do something that’s potentially quite dangerous: It makes life “just another activity”, one which can be stalled, cut down to the minimum, fitted in around everything else, somehow made efficient.

I try* to think of this shit in a different way, a way that is a bit more redolent of Buddhist ways of thinking. I tend to think of us as being submerged in our lives, in life – and that the other shit that comes along: money, stress, illness, death even – are momentary interference. Another way of putting it: we float in life, and these things are ripples, tides, storms – but passing, not enduring.

There’s another complication here – one which Tolle alludes to when he talks about “life situation” – he famously said “Forget about your life situation and pay attention to your life”. This distinction between life and situation is crucial, I think, and “making life a side project” seems to miss this point.

* I say try above – because I am, like many of my peers – struggling a bit right now to keep things on the straight and narrow. Work balance, life balance, ill parents, moving house, finding time for the important things – this stuff can be a bit of a battle, and I’m not at my most shining at this moment.

But if there is one thing that I’ve taken away from all the reading, meditation, study and listening that I’ve done over the past ten years it is that things aren’t going to get better – by that I don’t mean fuck this shit, it’ll never get better but the notion of future-me-is-a-BETTER-me (or it’ll-all-be-great-as-soon-as-I’ve…) is a mind construct full of deceit. Those highlight reels on Instagram, the 18th new Javascript framework that just came out and YOU JUST GOTTA LEARN IT TO BE COOL, the new way of working, the smarter office you’re dreaming of, the future when business just ticks along and you get to spend time with your family on your yacht – these are all ok things to aspire to but as soon as they start running your life, you’re sunk.

The truth is this: you’re you, and life is now.




Childproofing relationships

So this piece: Who comes first, your partner or your kids? did the rounds yesterday. Go read it if you haven’t then come back…

I was struck by the negative comments to the piece – and also the fact that people clearly seem to think this is an OUTRAGEOUS thing to say. Personally, I read it and thought “er, yeah, that’s absolutely right. Of course it is. How could you possibly argue otherwise..?”

Looking back at 8 years of parenting we’ve always (not with any particular grand plan) done three things that seem to fit what Marshall says:

1) always said a firm and absolute no (apart from moments of illness where it was absolutely necessary and those first few weeks of non-sleep hell when – frankly – anything goes) to having kids in our bed.

2) Had a solid evening / bedtime routine back to very early on which still maintains to this day – thereby giving us “adult time” after the youth are in bed. No pissing about with fussing “I don’t want to go to bed” kids, no “oo, go to bed when you want” (IMO: wishy-washy bollocks that confuses the fuck out of both adults and kids alike), but a known, solid time when The World is No Longer For The Children. I should say BTW that now ours are 8 and 6 we can adapt this bed-time should we fancy a family night at the boozer or whatever – and the boys are very happy now being out and about until late every so often – but it’s only IMO by having a routine that you can break it once in a while…

3) Always been very open in our affection for each other and – more importantly – our solidarity as a married, coherent, loving unit. We spend a lot of time being supportive of each other’s parenting rather than combatative – I think we both know how hard the other works both in work (money-earning) terms and in family work. (To see the opposite of how I think this works, try reading that bullshit article recently about money being the last taboo in a relationship – there you’ll find a childish, gnarly, nit-picky way of being in a relationship which is wholly NOT how this should go if you want stuff to last IMO..)

We have – I know – been pretty lucky. We’ve got kids who (now) sleep like logs every night. They don’t come and find us in the middle of the night. They don’t fuss about bed-time. I really – REALLY – feel for people who have problems with this stuff. But….I also believe that parents are quite often walked all over by their kids, and this can quickly become a vicious circle: needy kids that always get what they want (“I won’t eat vegetables! I won’t sleep!” – er, yeah you will if you’re hungry and tired enough…) end up taking and taking – usually at the expense of increasingly tired and increasingly unable-to-cope parents – who inevitably, obviously, end up giving the kids what they want. Getting kids to eat non-crap, or into a solid sleep routine, or liking reading, or not spending 24 hours a day looking at a screen or..whatever – is bastard hard work – but you persevere, and persevere and persevere. And eventually it works.

The main thing for me, though, is this: If your solid central unit of family – (in our, traditional case, the man and woman who started it all..) – falls apart, then so does everything else. You and your partner are the hub of the whole thing, the central bit that everything else revolves around. This doesn’t mean (OBVIOUSLY – I hope) that you don’t love your children more than anything on earth – but if you don’t give yourselves time to consolidate, be together, talk about what’s working and what isn’t, be intimate, drink wine – whatever – then it’s gonna break. This central relationship needs as much – probably more – help to maintain than the relationship with the kids.


How long writing takes

For a long, long time, The Bone People was my favourite work of fiction. I haven’t been back to it for a long while, but found a battered copy again recently and have started it again. As I started it I was wondering whether it’d fit into that “I enjoyed it when I was a teenager but I’ve grown up now” thing – but instead I’m being reminded what a blindingly original, beautifully deep roller-coaster of a story it is.

I did a quick Google search for the author, Keri Hulme – and landed on this page which describes in some detail the astonishing journey behind the novel. Hulme won the Booker Prize with The Bone People in 1985, and also published a selection of short stories which I’ve also read (and recommend) but apart from that her literary career has been somewhat sparse. It seems amazing in some ways that an author who writes with the extraordinary scope and creativity represented in The Bone People hasn’t been more prolific, but this is explained perhaps by the obsession which obviously drove her to write it in the first place. According to the piece on the New Zealand Book Council site, one of the three characters of the novel, Simon Peter, a mute boy of unknown age and origin, began haunting Hulme’s dreams an incredible 17 years before she wrote and found success with the novel. The article describes the journey she took – and in particular how this character kept appearing in some form in her short stories, being slowly moulded into the person he is in the final work. It also explains how Hulme had to fight to keep the original text as various editors and publishers tried to cull it.

I found this stuff very interesting from a budding writers’ perspective – not only does it make me feel better about the long time it seems to be taking me to pull together a chunky piece of fiction, but also that this strange, ongoing, intimate relationship with the characters you’re writing about seems to be quite common amongst those of us trying to write a novel. I think a lot about my main protagonist, Palmer while I’m out and about – and find I’m very often coming back to ask: “what would he do here? how would he react now? can I use this somehow?”. Hulme’s obsession with this lost boy character was obviously hugely intense and drove her through nearly two decades of writing before arriving at some kind of end-point. I don’t dream about my characters (yet..!) but find it fascinating that they occupy large chunks of my thinking time. As a reasonably new arrival in the land of fiction writing, I also find it reassuring that this process of writing can go on over a long period of time and still reach some kind of satisfying and rounding conclusion.

Printing is broken.

In fact, as the ever-spot-on Oatmeal says: Printers were sent from Hell to make us miserable.

I own a printer. I’d rather not, and I run a mostly paper-free life, but there are still occasions when I need to print stuff – end of year stuff, the odd invoice, a letter or two.

Every single time I dust off my printer, these things happen:

  • The ink runs out. I go to Smiths, spend half an hour looking at a vast wall of different cartridges for printers with slightly different model numbers before realising that my exact model isn’t represented here and so I apparently need to order online instead
  • I go to Amazon and find an incredible array of possible inks – the official ones come in at about half the price of my printer. Let’s consider that again: my printer costs £45 new. The ink costs £25. This is like filling up a £5,000 car with £2,500 of petrol every time you want to use it.
  • I inevitably choose a dodgy non-HP ink and then suffer a deeply irritating “non compatible HP ink will DESTROY YOUR LIFE” message until that ink runs out too (normally only about 3 minutes, I grant you, but hey)
  • The printer crunks 15 sheets of paper with every print
  • The printer requires a 100 Tb driver download every time I’m in a hurry
  • If something breaks, I have absolutely no option but to bin the printer. I believe as an individual I have owned at least 5 inkjet printers in the last 10 years.

We all just accept this as the norm, and it’s obscene.

I refuse to believe that printers are SO complicated they need official inks, or can’t have replacement parts. I refuse to believe that in this year of our lord 2013, we can’t build a device that’ll print out one page of text without performing complicated origami techniques on the next 14 pages in the tray. I refuse to believe that I absolutely MUST download that fucking printer application, edit suite, Chrome toolbar, desktop helper and new OS in order to PRINT A FUCKING LETTER.

I’d much rather pay £100 upfront for a decent, open-sourced printer. One where I could buy spare parts and £5 replacement cartridges.

If it were on Kickstarter, I’d fund that shit.

Freelance tips, two years in

[Edit: I was interviewed by The Freelance Web about these tips – hear me talk about this stuff over here]

So we’re just signing off our accounts for the second year of Thirty8 Digital (crazy business: two years? Where the hell did that go?). Things have been brilliant so far ~clutches hard at large piece of wood~ and I wouldn’t now do anything apart from work for myself.

I just got an email from my friend and ex-colleague Frankie Roberto, telling me he’s going freelance and asking for some tips. I have much to say about this stuff, and stopped myself writing him a thesis, but thought it might be interesting to throw the things I said into a quick blog post.

So here it is, the things I’ve taken away from the first two years of business:

> Get an accountant, it’s worth every single penny

> Don’t bother with stuff like FreeAgent, at least until things get much more complicated. Use Google Docs instead and save yourself the monthly fee.

> Find a blinding host if you’re going to be doing that stuff (ours is Vidahost, who are bloody brilliant: disclaimer, here’s an affiliate link… http://my.vidahost.com/aff.php?aff=1450).

> Try to avoid really low budget stuff, even though you’ll probably have to do that shit when you first get started just to get rolling – but in my experience the people who have £500 to spend on a website almost always want a £5000 website, whereas those who have £5000 to spend probably want a £5000 one…

> Genuinely under-promise and over-deliver. It’ll hurt a bit now, but later on people will come back because of it.

> Run your entire business life out of Google Docs. There really isn’t a viable alternative, which might hurt from a privacy perspective but you’re going to have to live with that right now.

> It’s hackneyed, but *everything* takes twice as long as you think. Make sure your estimates reflect this.

> Back every bastard thing up in at least three different places. This includes files, images, code, websites, everything. You probably knew that already, but worth making sure 🙂

> Introduce lots of people to lots of other people. I’m pretty sure there’s a karma thing going on here somewhere..

> Fix a single rate for everything you do, and then apply a discount if you want to do things cheaper for, say, a specific sector or client. It’ll make them feel good that you’re cutting prices for them and it won’t force you to do something over-complicated with your pricing.

That’s mine. What are yours?


I’m 17,000 or so words into my first novel and I realise I’ve been suffering a bit of writers’ block. It’s probably been a couple of months if I think about it realistically. I now see I’ve been in avoidance mode, ostriching the fact that I couldn’t get past this particular issue, and it’s been bugging the shit out of me.

I’ve realised for a while from friends who write or from poking the web that cracking on and just bloody writing is a good strategy for doing fiction. But it is also the case that a bulk of text this size needs a good (sorry: office bingo alert) “helicopter view” to make it flow. I’ve got a plan, of course, and a plot (yay), but there was a crucial motivation thing missing for my main protagonist – Palmer – that I’ve been really stuck with. For the last two months this one question has been whirling around my head: Why the hell would he do what I need him to do? 

(What I need him to do, by the way, is to leave his hugely successful company and the love of his life and run away from it all so he can live in isolation in the arse end of nowhere…) (oh, and later in the book head back to the company to face his demons..)… so the motivation had to be big, overwhelming, unstoppable.

I’ve come up with pages and pages of notes riffing around the motivation that might make this rupture happen, and things got fanciful and weird and then frankly terribly unbelievable – and then I read the amazing, emotional and heart-lifting last interview with the brilliant Iain Banks:

“…only real life can get away with the really outrageous stuff. The trouble with writing fiction is that it has to make sense, whereas real life doesn’t. It’s incredibly annoying for us scribblers. A lot of the time you’re simply deciding how far down the path of unlikeliness you can go while still retaining the willing suspension of disbelief in the reader…you’re trying to decide how much you can get away with”

…and realised that this needed to be blindingly simple to make it believable.

And finally, I’ve got it. It came to me yesterday after about a hundred beers. I’m not going to tell you what the motivation is – just, you know, so you buy my BESTSELLER when I finally get it done (the butler did it)…but needless to say, it’s terribly simple, and I think (think) will work beautifully to tie up a whole bunch of stuff I needed to tie up.

So yay to breaking the block, and thank you to the gods of beer for helping out.

Meanwhile, as they say, here’s an excerpt. Just to give a bit of context, this is the first time the crack underlying the business (it’s a kind of virtual reality escapism holiday company, if you must know..) shows, and things start to go to shit:


We’d been back at the beach for the day, hanging out and enjoying exploring an environment which I’d designed out there but had no recollection of. The sun was setting and bright stars emerged in the clear sky as we walked back along the beach towards the boat. Suddenly, Lang stumbled, half falling, and ending up on his knees, his head in his hands. I thought he was just drunk, and sat down next to him. Then I turned to speak to him and saw with shock that his eyes were wet with tears, his jaw clenched and his upper body shaking.
Behind us in the darkness of the jungle, a long, loud moan rose up, ripping the quiet night air with its intensity. The yacht, the sea edge, the deck chairs – all suddenly faded and we were pitched into an impenetrable blackness. Lang cried out; the noise from the jungle stopped briefly, and then there was the sound of hard galloping hooves, heading inexorably in our direction, louder and more intense, pounding at what was once sand. My heart was thumping as I reached for Lang, pulling him upright and beginning to run. I could feel his breathing, and his terror, and it matched and built with my own until we were both screaming with the intensity and running as hard as we could, holding on to each other for fear of losing it – whatever the fuck “it” was – completely. Behind us, the noise increased in volume, the hooves dashing down against the ground, a rush of air as the noise gained on us.
The darkness was absolute. I knew and understood nothing apart from fear; a primal fear of the thing behind us but also a deeper, stronger fear of being left alone – alone in this place, with the darkness and the noise. Lang obviously felt the same: we ran holding on to each other, stumbling over each other, pulling each other up, willing ourselves to get the fuck away from whatever was making the noise.
Suddenly the darkness was split by a flash of white light and I saw the thing, reared up on its back legs, its horrific red mouth poised open above Lang’s head. I pushed him to one side and struck out forwards as hard as I could with my fist but I hit nothing but air. The light came on again, and then again, beginning to strobe. I turned with my back to Lang, and we twisted a circle together, back to back, staring outwards into the beyond. Whatever it was had evaporated and instead the space was filled with people, their faces twisted in pain and suffering. With horror, I realised I recognised some of them: Lang’s brother, his father, his mother, shuffling forwards as their broken, bloody arms flailed towards our centre. Lang just stood and screamed, frozen like a rabbit in headlights, the horror burnt on him. I fell to my knees, and covered my ears, needing the rasping sound of Lang’s terror out of my head, unable to offer him any more comfort or solace.
Suddenly, the light stopped flashing, and with one fluid movement, the figures receded and were gone. I suddenly found strength from somewhere and pulled mentally upwards with everything I had, feeling myself slipping back into the darkness for a moment, but just about managing to open my eyes and pull myself up and out. I ripped the headset off and opened my eyes again, and instead of the darkness or the beach, I was back in the kitchen, slumped forwards on the table, the computer still chattering away as the hard drive worked on the simulation…