Friday, 1 September 2017

Old Farts Solve Mysteries

The other day I was sitting in a cafe in Hexham, a rather eccentric old market town in Northumberland, just watching the world go by. Like everywhere in Northumberland, Hexham is a weird mix of the very wealthy and the very rural - two worlds co-existing side-by-side, one in which everybody is a solicitor who shops at Waitrose; the other in which everybody is a farm labourer whose parents are cousins. (China Mieville missed a trick with The City & The City - he should have set it in the English countryside without a doubt.)

A group of old men - old farts, let's face it - were sitting on the next table on the pavement, having what seemed like a regular meeting. They were old friends who may very well have been meeting up for a cuppa every day for the last 40 years; that was the kind of vibe they gave off. However, you couldn't, if you had tried, come up with four more different characters.

One of them was big, Jabba the Hutt corpulent, wearing a black waxed jacked despite it being summer, and with his thinning hair plastered to his scalp with styling gel in a manner that suggested he had scooped fistfuls of the stuff out of a bucket and lathered his head with it an hour previously. But, to top it off, he had somehow managed to get what looked like a half dozen or so pigeon feathers stuck into it. He didn't seem to be aware of this, and his friends were seemingly too polite to tell him, but they were right there, plain as the nose on your face. I imagine his name was Derek.

Next to Derek was another portly character but one who carried it with that sort of rotund dignity which some older men can pull off - he was the kind of guy who would pat his stomach after dining on a dessert of a cheese platter and port and announce "I always say that a belly on an older man signifies a certain joie de vivre!" He was wearing an expensive blazer and a turtle-neck sweater and had a neat beard. He looked like a retired art salesman. Let's call him Jeremy.

Standing chatting to them, obviously not quite having got round to ordering a drink yet, was a more wiry character dressed head to foot in expensive cycling gear as though he had literally just finished completing a stage in the Tour de France five minutes earlier. Skin-tight blue lycra, slipstream helmet, the works. He had the body that most fit 55-60 year old men have: skinny everywhere except an overhanging pot belly they can never get rid of. He was plainly having his mid-life crisis 15 years too late. He looked like a Brian.

And pulling up a chair as I sat there was somebody we'll call Gary - tall, thin and slightly dreary, a long drink of water. He was an ageing hippy sort, wearing a colourful woollen garment I can only describe as a smock, sandals, and ragged denim shorts. He was the kind of guy who has thumb rings. I think he may have been wearing a CND badge. What I am absolutely sure of is that he was carrying a Waterstone's bag and brought out of it to show his friends a biography of Bob Marley he had just bought.

I felt immediately like somebody ought to write a novel about Derek, Jeremy, Brian and Gary. They were, clearly, a cabal of wizards, vampires, or occult investigators. Why else would they be meeting up like that, except to discuss the sacrifice of virgins or plot the assassination of a shaman in Mongolia via astral projection?

Better yet, they were self-evidently NPCs in a campaign of Call of Cthulhu, instantiated into our reality from a gaming session taking place among a group of teenagers in a flat nearby. These gamers had concentrated so hard, and smoked so much weed, that their shared imaginings had actually manifested themselves corporeally in the form of these men sitting in Hexham high street. That could surely be the only explanation, couldn't it?

The good thing about Call of Cthulhu and World of Darkness, I always think, is that you only have to really look just around the corner for inspiration to smack you in the face. With D&D you have to work a little bit harder. Fantasy is one thing. The real world is a much stranger place.


  1. "The other day I was sitting in a cafe in Hexham, a rather eccentric old market town in Northumberland..."

    I love it when you talk English to us!

  2. Only in the UK would a retired art dealer be named "Jeremy." Here, I'm sure he'd be a Winston or something.

    A cabal is a good idea, but otherwise it sounds like the making of some depressing 21st century Dickens novel. Regardless, it is clear the strange is all around us...

  3. I must commend you Brits on the quality of your farts. (Try quoting that out of context with a strait face.) ;)

    We have them here in the States as well, but not quite so evocatively picturesque. Or perhaps that's just the familiarity talking. They tend to be just craggy parts of the landscape when you don't know them.

  4. Consider it done. Gary, Jeremy, Brian and Derek are going to go on some fantastic adventures, I have no doubt.

  5. Real people, in general, but older folks in particular are great inspiration for NPCs. My favorite quote from my father is "If there is a Heaven, I hope none of these ignorant sons of bitches are there." This post also reminded me of the Geezer! setting for Risus. How old do you have to be before you become an old fart, a coot or a codger? Is the fact that I have to ask an indication that I am one?

  6. Plot of the novel:

    Gary "woke up this morning," to find sitting at the edge of his window "three little birds singing." Whoever actually writes this thing is going to need a song in the public domain, but suffice to say they weren't whistling birdsong. Since you brought up Call of Cthulu, let's say for now that they were singing that old chant about "That which does not live cannot die, that which does not sleep may eternally lie..."

    Gary is having a weird morning. The birds finish their song and fly away, and Gary decides he needs coffee. Might change coffee to tea or something, but emphasis on it being strong and full of enough caffeine. Strong enough to wake someone up and chase the "dreams" away, and as Gary sips his hot beverage he begins to feel normal again.

    Maybe it was just a dream after all. Then the birds start singing again, at his kitchen window. The three birds knew he would pull something like this, so they "flew away" to the kitchen window. There they waited for him to fully wake up before singing again.

    There are exactly three birds, all different, but you see the same three birds in the exact same triangular arrangement. There's also a lot of mythology about three witches or three goddesses like "the three fates." Maiden, mother and crone, that sort of thing. Now if you know Bob Marley, you know "three little birds" is from a song.

    However, the three little birds are not singing "everything's gonna be alright." Clearly something is wrong, and if Gary isn't dreaming, then it might be... drug related? It can't be "something he ate" before breakfast, but he was in an "experimental" band.

    Could that stuff he was supposed to stay away from be having a delayed effect? So he calls up his old band members, who took the same drugs just like they played the same music, to see if anything similar was happening to them. Enter Derek, Jeremy and Brian.