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Baking & Stories

A small collection.

Velvet

I am here in San Francisco for work. I decide, this sunny Saturday, to go and see the Painted Ladies, that row of colourful houses, hoping to cross another classic tourist spot off my list after the very disappointing “Asian Art Museum”.

I arrive, snap a few photos, self-conscious at behaving as a tourist does, and quickly walk away, up the hill of Alamo Square Park to see what other views I could enjoy of the city from this elevated spot.

Then I see a fat Jack Russell Terrier leave a group of four picnicking middle-class Asian-Americans and chase after a homeless man, trudging along wrapped in a dirty blue sleeping bag. The dog yaps, barks and snarls as its big thighs chunkily power it along. It seems pretty harmless, being a comically overweight dog, circles the homeless man a few times, continuing to snap and yap. The homeless man seems wary, recoils slightly from the wobbling drool, but otherwise he does not seem too concerned.

An overweight, gay white man sitting on a bench nearby overlooking the grass on calls out, “VELVET. VELVET! COME BACK VELVET.” He shouts, laughing. He looks at the Asians and shrugs, grinning from ear-to-ear, “He just doesn’t like homeless people! I just don’t know where he gets it from!”

They all look at each other and then look at him, and burst out laughing, the homeless man metres away. Velvet circles back round to another group of people, now all white, and they play with him, scratching him behind the ears.

Velvet decides to make another pass at the homeless man who has already begun to make a move down the hill, away from all the happy, laughing wealthy people, the clear blue sky bright and clear, the sights of bridges and skyscrapers all around.

The fat gay man calls out to Velvet again and laughs, repeating himself – “I just don’t know where he gets it from! He just doesn’t like them! I don’t get it!” He continues to shrug and smile at no-one in particular, and no-one seems to find this peculiar. Tourists walk around. Polaroid cameras click and whir, and the wind is quite soft and pleasant.

Velvet jumps onto a nearby bench and plays with a new couple and the same Asian girl continues to watch, and laughs, that same open mouth shrieking laugh. I walk away, to the other side of the part, and I can still hear her laugh, ringing through the air, at what now, I do not know.

A few minutes away, I see a black man, large and bald, explaining to another young Asian-American woman what venture capital firms like to see in start-ups: “autonomous income streams”, apparently. That is, companies into which you don’t have to put any more work to pull out endless amounts of money. She nods. He stares at me as I eavesdrop.

I walk to the bus-stop and I overhear a young couple talk about enjoying the snake carpaccio with white truffle cream sauce.

Then, my phone runs out of battery and I accidentally take the trolley bus in the wrong direction.

What’s in a word? Or in an armamentarium?

This article was (rapidly) rejected from both The Lancet and the BMJ.  I also link here the PDF version for lovers of typesetting and weird humour.

— 

A. Shah Idil*

I was perusing through Brown’s 1998 revision of the epilepsy needs document for the UK [1] when I came across on page 439 a word unfamiliar to my engineer’s eyes: “armentarium”.

I asked the Oxford English dictionary to define the word for me, and it returned to my surprise: “no exact matches”. It did however suggest an alternative with two extra letters: “armamentarium” (from the Latin armāmentum – “arsenal”). This had the meaning: “the medicines, equipment, and techniques available to a medical practitioner” – much more in line with a paragraph regarding new trends in anti-epileptics.

I thought perhaps Brown had made a simple mistake, but a quick search on PubMed delivered 113 articles with the same non-word. Google Scholar gave me 2,390! There have already been a few papers published in 2019 containing “armentarium”, with phrases such as “the therapeutic armentarium”, and “the interventionalists’ armentarium” abound [2]–[5]. If one goes back far enough, we can even find 5 papers with the typographical error in the title itself [6]–[10]!

I believe the error started from one of these five, specifically with Fox’s 1968 paper, with not just one, but two typographical errors in the title: “Endodontic armentarium for the genral practitioner”. I cannot find the full paper, or even an abstract, so I cannot say if he struggled with spelling or had a particularly poor editor. From there, the error probably propagated.

After a brief investigation I found that there is indeed such a word as “armentarium” – just not in English. It is the accusative singular of the Latin word armentarius, meaning a herdsman, or a cowboy [11].

So, let us then all not be “cowboys” and allow ourselves to engage in the proliferation of incorrect terminology.

*A. Shah Idil (corresponding author, email: a.shahidil@ucl.ac.uk) is with the Implanted Devices Group, University College London, London, UK.

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<hi>

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<hi Ben, how are you?>

<good thanks n u>

<good good having a beer – long day!>

<where>

<just in the living room>

<oh at home lol>

<yup!>

<where do u live>

<Wiley Park>

<ur close I live at punchbowl>

<working tomorrow?>

<nah I’m on holiday>

<im home at 3 come over>

<pics?>

<like nudes lol?>

<I won’t say no! but whatever really>

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it was the happiest night of my life

Its “It’s” you TWITS

My young mind’s confusion between when to use “it’s” and “its” was forever resolved, once upon a time, in a Year 5 Computer Studies class. We were made to do grammar exercises in a program consisting of dragging and dropping the appropriate words into empty spaces in sentences, having to choose between oft-confused words, e.g. there/they’re and their ilk. My very arrogant 11-year old self breezed through this program faster than everyone else as usual, enjoying all the flashes of 100% and “Great!”/”Well Done!” privately gloating to myself while present​ing airs of humility and studiousness (I mean, I’d been reading gigantic tomes of multi-volume fantasy series for years by now, this was utter child’s play!) right until I was roundly slapped in the face by a big red 0% and all my choices tumbled back down to the selection box, accompanied by an incredibly condescending: “uh-oh”!

I tried again.

“Uh-oh!”

I think I tried at least 3 times before daring to doubt myself, flipping my binary choice, and then felt shame and incredulity wash over me in alternating wash cycles.

I still claim sometimes, until today, especially when I’m drunk and/or feeling particular argumentative, that the apostrophe of “it’s” should be interpreted as possessive rather than contractive. “I bet you it was “ites” once upon a time!”

As I’m still harping on about it until today, clearly I know I’m wrong.

Horror

There are stranger places to wake up, he wondered to himself after a while.

He breathed out, shivering. Misty fog curled away from his mouth, unseen in the low light.

Please be a dream.

He opened his eyes again, slowly, but the bodies were still there, alas. Strewn about him everywhere, skin pale and sallow in the flickering light.

Suddenly, again – darkness.

He knew he had to move eventually. He opened his eyes again and looked straight ahead, avoiding having to look at the situation around him. There was a spot on the wall. It looked grey to him but it was too dark to make out any colours.

The light flickered again.

As his eyes adjusted to the darkness he began to make out the outlines of their bodies.

There are 4 bodies around me, he thought to himself, daring to count them for the first time. They were all face-down, in strange positions, their limbs bent awkwardly.

He realised he knew who they all were.

He was standing now, the last of the pins-and-needles kicked out of his feet. He walked over to the nearest body and squat down next to it. He knew who it was. He could recognise that body anywhere; they’d known each other for almost their whole lives.

He reached out a hand to touch the arm of the body he was next to, but pulled back.

It’s just Omar, what are you so scared of?

He reached out and as his finger touched skin he felt a shock and the light went out.

He felt the cold concrete wall against his back again.

Doughnut

“We have to.”

I looked at him.

“We don’t have a choice.”

I looked away.

“Look. I know it’s fucking awkward. It’s not like I want to do this, but we have to.” I grimaced. “No one else is even awake. No one will ever know.”

I looked at him and looked away again.

I saw a brown spot in the wall in front of me. It looked like the sticky residue of brown tape. I looked at it for a while. I reached down and unbuckled my belt, my hands shaking, my heart pounding against my chest. I undid the button and stood there looking at the spot. It had four sides. Or five. Maybe it wasn’t brown.

I heard him coming towards me and I clenched my fists by my side. It definitely had four sides. I felt him unzipping my pants and I slammed my eyes shut.

…four sides, four sides, four sides…

He started to pull my pants down but they were very tight. My tight brown jeans. My favourite pair of four sides. Pants. I like pants.

Four pants. Pants.

He gave it a one hard tug and then my pants were at my feet, my moist white underpants in a pile on top.

I felt him take my soft cock into his mouth. He started sucking on it, sucking on it like a soggy doughnut. Sucking on my slimy soggy doughnut.

My body shook as my nails dug into my palms. He kept sucking, sucking with disgusting rhythmic pulsating noises.

Shlop.

Shlop.

Shlop.

I felt him touch my belly – then I punched him.

Then it was darkness.

Colouring Pencils

He likes colouring. I’ve seen him zone out when he colours. That stern, worried look on his face goes away, and he seems to just enjoy life. I never see that look on his face, that carefree, child-like freedom, except when he is colouring.

I bought him a new set of pencils the other day. The good kind, Faber Castells. The cheap set he’d been using ran out of red; I noticed he was using pink instead. He frowned a lot when he coloured the firetruck pink.

Do I pay too much attention him?

Maybe.

All the other kids seem to be doing fine, making friends and bullying each other and being bullied in return. But this one kid… he’s different. Too adult. It disturbs me. He doesn’t sound like an adult or talk like one even, but there is something about him that strikes me as so adult-like.

He seems so sensible.

He stopped asking for permission to go to the toilet a few weeks ago. Now he goes whenever he likes. Which is not often really, he doesn’t like to stand out – oh he really doesn’t. It usually happens when he is caught up in something really engrossing, and he forgets to do other things. Once I saw him stop breathing as he did a maths problem, and he gasped for air a minute later. Everyone turned around and looked at him. He turned red as a beet! But when nature calls, nature calls, and he slinks out of the room and out the door, and I pretend not to notice.

One of the other kids, a big boy, Khalid, borrowed his blue pencil once and broke it in half. He gave it back to him broken, and laughed when he asked him “Why?” I told Khalid to apologise, but you know with these kids. Morality always takes a while to develop, and empathy sometimes never turns up. I already show the kid too much favouritism, anything more and I risk overstepping my boundaries as a teacher.

Gosh he looked so heartbroken I just wanted to give him a hug and tell him it was just a silly pencil, and that everything is okay and the world is perfect, but I knew it was bullshit. This kid was just too soft for this world.

Another blue pencil incident and he’d be the one that’d break.

I gave him the new pencils after the recess bell went off. I called him to stay behind. Panic flickered across his face for a fraction of a second before the mask slipped back on. He was so young, but his defences were so high, stone and mortar towering around him.

He took them, and mumbled a quiet thanks.

I’m sure he was delighted.

He gave me a drawing a few days later. It was a nice one.

Ewok

Laboured breathing, pain.
A life of energy, vigour, comes to a close.
And, too, her soft and gentle love.
A family gathers to say goodbye;
hesitation, guilt struggles with sadness, fear.
A blur of tears, screams and pierced hearts.
“So, cash or card?” – the body still warm.