Originally I was going to review each Hobbit film separately, but having watched them all, I’ve decided to review the trilogy as a whole. It is after all, intended as one big movie right? Right?!

So, what can be said of Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth? How does it stack up to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (and is it fair to compare the two sagas?)

The first thing of note is that if you have seen Lord of the Rings prior to The Hobbit, there are several nods to it throughout the new trilogy, that nonetheless don’t require prior viewing of Lord of the Rings for the films to work. As a standalone piece of work, it does work, in terms of setting up the characters, and telling their story.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t problems. The principle cast of dwarfs numbers some 13-strong, plus Bilbo Baggins, plus Gandalf, plus other supporting characters that turn up over the course of the trilogy. As a result of this, some characters are inevitably caricatures and lack any meaningful backstory or narrative, even with three films in which to tell the story. The secondary storyline concerning the Necromancer (later revealed to be Sauron) seems completely disjointed with the main plot (though, this does tie in somewhat in The Battle of the Five Armies), but it does provide a little insight into the histories of the powers that reside in Middle Earth.

The weakest part of this trilogy is An Unexpected Journey, which seems to wane during the middle, picking up the pace as the film draws toward its conclusion. To me, the trilogy is at its best whenever Smaug is on the screen – Benedict Cumberbatch lends malice to this monstrous beast, which is impressively realised.

You cannot help but warm to Martin Freeman’s Bilbo, who sees the world very differently to his companions. He is driven to do what is right, even if his Dwarfish friends don’t share in his opinions, and puts himself in harm’s way for his friends, despite his small stature. Sir Ian Mckellen lends gravitas to his familiar role as Gandalf, and it’s clear that director Jackson has poured a lot of love into his craft. I cannot say that The Hobbit Trilogy is as good as the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, but it has been maligned in some quarters, unfairly so in my opinion. It is worth watching, and it will enhance viewing of Lord of the Rings as well.

 

So now we know a little bit more about the upcoming Nintendo Switch. We know what the price will be. We know some of the additional items that will be available with it. We know a launch title. Am I an excited meerkat at this moment?

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The answer is very much yes. Already criticism is coming in about the Switch, and I understand why, but let’s focus on the positives shall we? The recommended retail price here in the UK is £279.99. This is actually slightly lower than I’d expected. For this, you get the console, the docking station, the controllers and the docking station for the controllers. You also get a HDMI cable for linking the docked console to the TV. The console has a touchscreen. It’s battery life is up to six hours, but with the warning that this depends on how it’s being used (the website advises that when playing Breath of the Wild, the console’s charge will last around three hours).

What else can we expect? It’s nigh-impossible to go into detail about the Joy-Con controllers (the detachable hand-held controls seen in the trailer), but suffice to say, they offer a range of motion controls and an individual Joy-Con can be used as a stand-alone controller. Nintendo are also launching a subscription-based online service (probably similar to those found on the PlayStation and Xbox systems). Multiple Switches can be linked together for local multiplayer too.

What of the software? For me, the biggest news is that Breath of the Wild will be a launch title – Nintendo showed off a new trailer for their latest, biggest Zelda game alongside their Switch presentation, and it reaffirms why I badly want to get my hands on both the Switch and this game. This latest trailer revealed quite a lot of voice acting, something previous absent from Zelda games, and in my humble view, this is long overdue. Whether this voice acting is present in both the Wii U and Switch versions of the game remains to be seen, but both versions launch on the 3rd of March, and both versions have an optional Master Sword edition available.

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This game will be amazing, I just know it

A Nintendo announcement wouldn’t be a Nintendo announcement without mentioning their other big A-lister, and sure enough, Mario is coming to the Switch, in an open-world game that might be similar in scale to Breath of the Wild. Details are sketchy, but Mario visits a city that looks very much like New York, as well as several other locations, and Bowser is suited and booted in a style reminiscent of Humphrey Bogart.

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Guess whose back

Super Mario Odyssey won’t launch until nearer Christmas.

The UK site also hints that big third-party titles like FIFA and Elder Scrolls will be hitting the Switch. If so, this is big news. The Switch lacks the raw power of the PlayStation and Xbox, but might there be enough to handle titles like those mentioned? If so, Nintendo might have cracked a winning formula.

All that remains now is to wait for the 3rd of March!

 

 

“… and then came that shot.” Andrew said. “Fucking bullet, nicked my ankle, hurt like hell. I enjoyed killing that bastard.” Eric couldn’t help but laugh. The older man had started to recount stories of his younger service days, ones that predated Eric’s own service. “Them death squads were brutal wankers, never get caught by ’em, we were told it was better to slit our own throats than let them catch us. Things they used to do to women too…” Andrew shook his head. “Put them out of business, one by one.” By now half the bottle of whisky was depleted, and Andrew grunted. “So, you quit the service.”

Eric stirred his glass. “Yeah. I was tired of it. I was tired of killing and not seeing an end to it. I wanted a normal life.”

“Do you miss it?” There was a knowing gleam in Andrew’s eyes.

“I… ” Eric pursed his lips. “Sometimes. I know we made a difference, here and there, and yeah, it was exciting, at times.”

Andrew leaned forward. “And then you went into IT!” He exclaimed, slapping his thighs. “Knew you were good with the computers, but didn’t think you’d fancy being stuck in an office every day!”

“It’s peaceful enough, at least it was.” Eric mused. “It’s safe.”

Was safe, and let’s be honest, safe is another word for boring. Right…” Andrew heaved his frame off the sofa. “I need a piss, taxi will probably be here any minute, won’t thank me if I piss over their seats.”

“Never change Andrew.” He replied as he finished his own drink. He could hear Andrew’s footsteps as he started up the stairs.

The doorbell rang. Andrew was muttering.

“I’ll grab the door!” Called Eric. He stepped out into the hallway, and caught his toe against a bit of threaded carpet, stumbling into the banister. The clumsy act saved his life.A bullet smashed the glass of the porch door, having just punched a hole in the wooden front door, and Eric hurled himself to the floor as another sprayed still more glass everywhere.

Andrew had made it upstairs, and was cursing. “No fuckin’ thief is taking my stuff…” Eric could hear him mutter. If it was a thief…

The front door shuddered, hard, then again. Whoever was outside was trying to kick it in, and a third, particularly hard boot achieved that goal. Eric was on his feet by the time the door broke open, and had ducked back into the living room as the porch door gave way.

“Get the fuck out of my house!” Yelled Andrew. Even at his age, he started to come down the stairs at a fast pace.

“Andrew, stay upstairs!” Eric shouted, hoping the attacker would prioritise and go after him. After all, I’m the target…

He kept close to the wall as a pistol swung round and several gunshots fired off, hurting Eric’s ears and sending plumes of fluff from the sofa and cushions into the air. The attacker strode with practised confidence into the room, and Eric’s training kicked in. With his left elbow he struck for the assailant’s face, grabbing the for the gun with his right hand. The attacker was wise to the move and slipped backward, attempting to get a clean shot at Eric, but Eric stepped forward and to his left, throwing a right hook that forced the attacker to dodge to his right, where he stumbled backward against the coffee table. Wrong-footed for just a second, the assailant couldn’t stop Eric from landing a punch to the face. It was now that Eric noticed a few things. The attacker was male, wearing a black balaclava, and was wearing a tatty dark green coat that was zipped up to the neck. The man fought back, shoving Eric against the wall and drawing his weapon back up…

Andrew appeared, his face like thunder. He held in his hand a thick glass figurine of an elephant, that he brought down with a satisfyingly wet crunch against the attacker’s face. The attacker grunted in pain and staggered backward, firing his pistol again. Eric re-joined the fray and snapped a kick at the man’s left shin, then drove his left fist into the man’s face. The attacker tripped over the table and fell back upon it; it smashed under his weight and sprinkled the carpet with shards of glass. Before he could get his bearings, Eric stamped on the man’s left hand, causing him to let go of the gun. Kneeling down, Eric delivered two more quick punches to the man’s face, and then added a third for good measure, before scooping up the weapon, pointing the business end squarely at his face.

“Andrew, are you alright?” He asked without looking away. The attacker’s balaclava was starting to look damp where blood from a broken nose was seeping into it.

Silence reigned. Stuck between keeping watch on the mystery attacker and checking on Andrew, Eric stepped backward, continuing to do so until he saw the blood. Resolving himself, Eric took another couple of steps back, and laid eyes on the body of his former commander. Andrew’s dark green jumper was stained, with blood pouring from a wound where the bullet had punctured his right lung.

Anger rose in Eric. It rumbled up within him and his fingers tightened ever so slightly on the trigger. He looked back at the assailant, who had sat up but hadn’t moved. The man’s eyes were errily calm.

“Give me one reason…” He began, stepped back toward him. “Why I shouldn’t kill you.”

“You want to know why? Because I know why you’re so scared.”

“You came here to kill me, you killed my friend, and if you want to live through the night, you’ll tell me why.”

The man’s demeanour was haughty. “I won’t talk. I have dealt with threats before.”

Eric took a deep breath, considered his options. There was no way the shots hadn’t been heard – the assailant’s gun had lacked a silencer, and the commotion would have attracted attention. That meant by now the police had been called, and they would respond quickly to reports of gunfire. How had he been found so quickly?

One thing at a time…

“Get up.”

“Fuck you. I am going nowhere.”

“Oh really? So you want the police to come here and find you?” Eric retorted.

“And you don’t?” Sneered the man.

“No, I don’t, and I think you know why, so get up, now.”

Sirens kicked up in the distance. They looked at each other.

“You know who I am yes? You know what I’m trained to do.”

The man’s eyes narrowed. A choice was being weighed up.

“Fine.” He said after a moment. He hauled himself up, and Eric was sure to keep the business end of the pistol pointed squarely at him until he had ushered the man outside. Eric followed him, taking note of the black cab parked on the kerb outside.

“Your car?” When he didn’t get a reply Eric jabbed the man in the back with the gun.

“Yes.”

“Give me the keys, take them slowly out of your pocket.”

“They’re in the ignition.”

“Keep walking.” Replied Eric. He walked around to the driver’s seat and noticed the keys were still indeed still in the ignition. His attacker had planned on a quick getaway. Realising that Andrew’s neighbours were peering through the windows (but wisely choosing to remain indoors, given the recent sounds of gunfire), Eric popped open the trunk, and gestured with the gun. “Get in, now.”

“What?” The attacker was momentarily perturbed. One look into Eric’s eyes and he resolve faltered. The man glared at him but wordlessly climbed in. As soon as he was inside Eric pistol-whipped him, then shut the boot hard, and jammed his backdoor key into the lock, twisting it and breaking it, making it virtually impossible to somehow open from the inside. It would pose a challenge to open from the outside, but that was a bridge Eric would have to cross later.

With the sirens getting louder Eric climbed back into the driver’s seat and closed the door. There was only one other place he could turn do now, he just hoped he wouldn’t be exposing anyone else to danger.

Chapter 4

Back to Techno Fail

Black glass held the sort of minimal look that appealed to the suited and booted man seated behind the desk. It was a pity then, that he had to look into replacing it, and even more of a pity that this would involve removing and refitting the intergrated computer panel that was tucked away in the desk. A visible crack, where his mug had come crashing down far too hard, was now irritating him enough that he couldn’t even bring himself to turn his brown leather chair around. With a great deal of effort he resisted the urge to grind his teeth.

“Sir, what do we do?” Came a nervy male voice. The seated man looked out over the South Dock. To his right, the red trains of the Docklands Light Railway trundled over the choppy, murky water, veering to the left and disappearing behind the concrete constructs on the other side of the Dock. People looked like ants as they scurried across the South Quay Footbridge. They looked insignificant from where he sat.

“This is a strange place.” He began. A Nordic accent lent a dispassionate sound to his voice. “Two centuries ago, it was the hub of some of the world’s largest trading companies, with sailing ships and boats pouring in from all over the world. Then, in the aftermath of World War II, it fell into decline. By 1980, every dock of this once thriving location was closed. Now, the Docks are a tremendous business opportunity, a real hub for exciting and upcoming companies, the ‘go-to’ venue for the young and determined.” He stood and turned around in one fluid motion, keeping his Armani pinstripe suit impeccable. The other man, similarly dressed in suit and black tie, shuffled nervously on his feet.

“Of course, if I have learned anything, it is that history can repeat itself. The men who ran their powerful little empires during the British Empire’s glory days never imagined it could end, but it did. Even when everything worked perfectly, it didn’t mean everyone who came looking for a slice of the action came away in one piece. People who made mistakes, who got greedy, or sloppy, or complacent… you know what happened to them, don’t you?” He kept his voice measured.

“No sir?” Came the mealy-mouthed reply.

“They either ended up destitute and on the streets, or they died. How they died… well, that depended on their circumstances.” A dangerous smile made the other man sweat. “Those who worked well, who showed initiative, they ended up living almost as well as royalty. Start random employee searches here, under the guise of anti-theft measures. If you have any initiative, you’ll already be checking CCTV?” The voice was deceptively warm and pleasant.

“Yes sir, everyone is on it. We think we have a lead.” The sense of victory in the assistant’s voice was aggravating.

“You think? Tell me what you know.”

“Ah, yessir, one of our older employees, Eric Cooper – it was his terminal anyway – downloaded the full code onto a USB device. Minutes afterward, CCTV shows Mr Cooper leaving the building.”

“How did the code get onto his terminal?”

“We don’t know sir. It’s unclear as to whether he found it and assembled it himself, or someone sent it to him.”

The man took several deliberate steps toward his assistant. “You mean to tell me there may be a wider security issue, but you can’t be sure?” Every word was laced with danger.

The other man hesitated. His hands pressed down his suit, before finding each other and clasping. “The computer is being analysed…”

“So you aren’t sure. Do you have any idea…” He walked around the assistant, who kept completely still, afraid to even breathe. “Of what this could do to our plans? Of the damage it could do, to you, to me, to all of us?” Cold fury was entering into his voice now.

“Mr Lanker, we are doing everythi…”

You are not doing enough!” Lanker took a deep breath. “I apologise for my outburst, but if everything was being done, you would not be here, explaining to me of one security breach, whilst alluding to another. We may have someone in our ranks who is betraying us. We may have someone who has accidently stumbled upon the information now in the hands of Mr Cooper, and for whatever reason, they are using him rather than handling it themselves. First things first, we must find Mr Cooper and have him dealt with. He has stolen top-secret company information, and is in breach of several laws. I want him prosecuted. Harshly.”

“Yes Mr Lanker, I’ll see to it personally.”

“Good. Go.”

Once his assistant had left, Lanker sat back down in his chair and returned to his view of the Dock. This is a strange city, a city of contradiction. He could not understand London. The people alternated so easily between brusque and rude, to unbearably polite, to aloofness so refined it would make a fortune if such a trait could be bottled.

The expansive office that cradled his vision had been designed to be as minimalist as possible. The (now broken) desk, chair, and a large flat-screen TV on the left wall were the only visible features in an otherwise featureless room. Blank white walls kept the room looking bright, but also served to focus attention on the desk, and the man behind it – which was exactly what Alfred Lanker wanted.

His black shoes clicked upon the floor as he stepped back behind his desk. After a moment’s contemplation he pressed his left palm to the surface. The entire desk area lit up, with blue symbols and touchscreen buttons. Lanker tapped a few then sat down.

“We have a problem. A security breach. I’m sending you the relevant files now.”

“I’ll take care of it.” Came an androgynous, computerised voice. His contact had so far, despite two years of discussion, failed to reveal anything about themselves.

“Thank you.”

Chapter 3

Back to Techno Fail

 

What was the saying about greatness? That it was thrust upon those who didn’t want it? Did anyone also say that sometimes, problems – big problems – were thrust upon people who didn’t want them? That was the case for Eric, as he shuffled down the corridor of his workplace, past the cork boards with their cheesy motivational slogans and workplace info. He headed for the stairwell, down the end of the corridor, through the thick fire doors. He wasn’t about to trust the lifts, not now. Dark blue carpet was thankfully muffling the sound of his footsteps, but he dared not breathe too much, in case, somehow, someone would hear him, find him, and…

You’re being paranoid. Or are you? You have reason to be after all…

Maybe no one would suspect a thing. There were thousands of employees working for One Touch Security, including hundreds in their London office. Would they know without any doubt that his computer was the one that had accessed the data now stored on the USB stick in his coat pocket? Even if they knew it was his computer, everyone knew old Eric was terrible for letting others use it…

No one was calling for him from the main office, and none of the bigwigs had stepped out of their private offices to call him in, so maybe he was safe. He strode by banks of partitioned desks, each one stationed by either men in black suits or women in grey suits. None of them paid him any mind. The only conversation he could hear from his colleages concerned football scores, who was secretly shagging who, and plans for Christmas. He reached the stairwell, pushed open the big heavy safety doors and started his descend down three flights to the ground floor. He’d have a short walk to Canary Wharf tube station, and from there, he could get himself well away from any possible harm.

Assuming there’s anything actually wrong, and you’re not being a stupid old man…

The young woman, Sally, Sarah? She was coming up the stairs and Eric had to try very hard not to appear worried as she flashed him a warm smile as she tucked a loose strand of blonde hair behind her. He politely smiled back and carried on walking, hoping it didn’t look like he was rushing. There didn’t appear to be another soul on the stairs, a small mercy. Angelo was behind the arching security desk as Eric stepped out of the door. He looked up briefly in Eric’s direction and then turned his attention back to his monitors, and the cup of tea on the black marble surface. Visitors and employees were always coming and going, so it probably wasn’t that unusual to see someone leaving the building. Trying to look cool calm and collected, Eric walked out onto Bank Street and into the crisp December air, over the zebra crossing, and toward the glass construct that marked the entrance to Canary Wharf’s expensive little shopping centre.

His long woollen coat kept the cold out of him, and he was grateful that his role in IT meant he was wearing a thick blue jumper and blue jeans. Comfortable black trainers meant he could move just that little bit quicker too. Once into the throngs of Christmas shoppers, Eric began to feel more uncomfortable. The sheer weight of bodies around him was raising the temperature, but more importantly, it would both help and hinder him now. There still appeared to be no sign of anyone coming after him, in any way shape or form. Still, Eric couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched. Years of training and experience had taught him to trust his instincts and they were telling him to be careful now. Entering the station frontage, Eric already had his ticket in his hand, keen to save every possible second (besides, he hated people who faffed about at ticket gates), and became one with the swarm of Londoners and tourists traversing the Underground as he headed down the escalators and toward the platforms.

In the end, the crowds were probably a benefit, though as he stood, impatiently awaiting the next train, Eric took off his coat, but not before he pocketed the USB drive. It would be all too easy for someone to pickpocket his coat, and he wasn’t going to make things that easy. Glancing along the platform, he took note of all the faces, many of which here staring at their phones. The row of glowing screens gave Eric a pang of regret. Society is becoming obsessed with those things…

A female voice announced the impending arrival of a north-bound train. It would take Eric away from where he wanted to go, but he couldn’t go home, not right away. The Jubilee Line would take him as far as Stratford, and from there, he could connect to the Central Line. He wasn’t at all sure if what he was planning was fair, but he couldn’t trust official channels, not after what he’d seen. The changeover to the Central Line went without incident, and from there Eric kept scanning the carriage for any faces that were familiar. No one leapt out at him, figuratively or otherwise, and after a couple of stops Eric allowed himself to relax, just a little. He also paused to think a little about what he’d seen, and the data that was now safely stored on the USB drive. Every so often his hand went into his pocket, feeling for the little plastic box, gripping it tightly, to assure himself it was still there.

“The next station is Gants Hill.” Came the voiceover. By now the carriage had started to thin out a little, and Eric stood to leave as the train pulled into the platform. He did his best to look calm and casual as he walked along the magnificent Moscow subway-inspired curved ceiling, lit by broad black-iron lamps that sprung from the tiled floor. The busy nature of the station kept Eric nicely concealed, and before long he had emerged from the underground station to the rapidly cooling December night. Other commuters bustled around and kept their heads down as they rushed past one another, whilst Eric got his bearings. After a brief pause, he started walking west, down the A12. To his left were the embryonic beginnings of new buildings; big diggers and bulldozers were at work, preparing the ground for foundations and workmen in high-vis jackets were barking at each other. Eric ignored them and carried on down the road. As he passed a Burger King his stomach growled – he had skipped lunch, as he often did, and now his hunger irritated him.

From memory, his friend had lived around the area. He took a right at a junction, doing his best to not look suspicious or nervous, and entered into the rabbit warren of London’s streets. Street lamps had switched on and cars would provide semi-consistent illumination as they sped up and down the streets, paying no mind to the aging man with a thick head of silver hair. The sound of traffic grew fainter as Eric took a right turn down another street. His eyes scanned the rows of faded white-wall houses, some of which had wild and overgrown gardens, with weeds sprouting from seemingly everywhere. Others were well-maintained, with hedges trimmed back, and rows of Cowslip and Bluebell plants were controlled, waiting for spring to return so they could delight passers-by with their colours. Several homes had no front gardens at all – they had been paved over to make way for cars, something that disappointed Eric. He valued nature.

It was that appreciation of nature that helped Eric recall the house he wanted to find. The lawn at the front was nigh-impeccable, along with turned-up soil prepared at the front of the garden for future plants to thrive in. Another bank of soil was directly under the front three-piece window; here, several little green shoots were poking out of the earth, waiting for the return of the sun. To the left was a red-painted wooden door with a thick red panel at the bottom, and two thing glass panels divided by a strip of red wood above. Eric felt a momentary stab of guilt – was it fair to draw his old friend into this? I don’t have a choice… He walked up the stone path, took a deep breath, and pressed the door bell.

There were sounds of movement from inside the house, and through the glass Eric could see a light come on. Another door opened, creaking as it did, and then the front door opened, revealing the face of a wizened old man.

“Bloody hell, Corporal Cooper!” The man exclaimed. “What in God’s name are you doing here?”

Eric smiled, despite the situation. “Captain Harper, good to see you sir.”

“It’s just Andrew now.” Replied Harper, offering a hand, which Eric took and shook. The old boy still had a strong grip. “Don’t just stand there in the cold man, come in, come in! Take off your shoes first though…”

Eric kicked off his shoes and also took off his coat at Andrew’s insistence, though he was careful to take the USB drive and slip it into his trouser pocket. He couldn’t help but notice only one pair of black shoes in the porch, and only a single, grey sheepskin coat. Faded maroon carpet looked worn and just slightly threadbare, suggesting that Andrew did a lot of walking – but mostly in the house. To the left was a staircase supported with an old oak bannister, and the maroon carpet stretched toward the kitchen, where it met with gloss-beige tiles. To the right stood the entrance to the living room, and in the door way stood Andrew.

His old friend was, well, old. Eric couldn’t remember his age, but the eyes were sunken into a wrinkled face and only a few tufts of grey hair remained. A scowl seemed to live permanently upon his jowly cheeks, and Eric couldn’t help but notice he had put on weight underneath the dark green cardigan he wore.

“Come on, follow me, sit down!” Andrew steered Eric toward a brown fabric one-piece with big arms, facing away from the window and toward the small LED TV that was secured to the external wall. The walls were a reasonably dark shade of red that gave the room a warm appearance, especially with the trio of lamps being the only source of light, that turned the faux-glass shades into architects of pretty patterns. Next to the TV was a large walnut-coloured cabinet with several bottles behind the glass doors that stood above the cluttered worktop. As Eric scanned the room, he took note of several framed photos of Andrew and his wife, with different venues on show in the background. He couldn’t help but notice the silver urn behind one of the glass doors.

Andrew caught the look. “Caroline passed a couple of years ago.”

“I’m so sorry.” Replied Eric. He couldn’t think of much more to say.

“She led a full life, despite being married to a grumpy git like me. Come on, I’ll get you a drink, what do you want, tea, or something stronger?” The voice was as gruff and commanding as Eric remembered, even when asking such a simple question. Eric smiled. “I’ll have whatever you’re having.”

“Whisky it is then. You didn’t drive here did you?” Eric shook his head. “Good. Not that I’d have given you a choice anyway.”

A chuckle escaped Eric’s lips. “I’m not surprised.”

“I keep my emergency heating…” Andrew knelt down and opened one of the bottom doors on the lovely walnut-coloured cabinet, pulling out a decanter of amber liquid. “In here, in case you’re likely to drop by again and I’m out. Don’t drink it all.”

Eric laughed again. “I was never much of a drinker sir… I mean Andrew.”

The older man scooped two small glasses, placed them on coasters on the small glass table in front of the sofa, and sat down beside Eric, before pouring a generous sum of whisky into each glass. “No, you weren’t. I vividly remember that mission in… north Africa, you know, where we had to drag your unconscious arse out of that bar…”

“Funnily enough, I don’t remember that one at all.”

“Ha! I suppose you wouldn’t. To absent friends…” Andrew held his glass aloft, and Eric held his up as well. There was pain in Andrew’s eyes, and not only for Caroline. Eric knew he meant fallen comrades as well.

They both took a swig of the liquid, which always had a powerful kick as it went down. Silence briefly followed, before Andrew piped up.

“So you didn’t come here, out of the blue, just for a chat. What’s wrong?”

Eric opened his mouth to start speaking, then closed it again. Had he made the wise decision in coming here? Did the old man he had looked up have the contacts he needed? No sense in doubts now you’re here Eric.

“I… I found something at work. Some information, and it scares the hell out of me. I don’t know who I can give it to.”

Andrew leaned forward, perceptive blue eyes narrowing slightly as he studied Eric. The face was worn now, cragged, but the eyes reminded Eric that age had done nothing to dampen Andrew’s mind. “Something that scares Eric Cooper. Sounds interesting.”

“Yes. Look, Andrew, I’m sor…”

“Shut it. You’re about to apologise for dragging me into some sort of shit. Don’t. I could do with an excuse to be awkward.”

“You never needed an excuse before.” Eric said, grinning.

“Yes well, marriage calmed me down. Most of the time anyway. Caroline would probably tell me to not be a fool. I’d usually listen, but this time… well, I suppose it depends on how juicy this is.”

Eric took another sip of his drink. There was no doubting Andrew’s taste in whisky, and Eric watched the stuff swirl around in the glass as he spoke. “It’s juicy alright. I work for a computer place, One Touch Security.”

“Never heard of ’em.” Remarked Andrew.

“Not surprised. They’re one of these ‘behind the scenes’ companies. They make a lot of stuff for mobile phones, smartphones actually, tablet PCs, laptops – wireless security stuff.”

“Boring shit.”

Eric laughed. “Yeah, it can be. I took it on when I left the forces, to stay busy. Would have driven Mary mad otherwise. A lot of what I do is about checking and testing the anti-virus stuff. To do that, I have certain access rights to bits of the code, but the company doesn’t let everyone see all the code. That way no one can sell it off to a rival.”

“Sounds like strategic division of labour to me.” Replied Andrew. “Clever.”

“Their projects are worth billions. In fact, the company is about to be worth a load more money, because they’ve just got contracts for big public sector stuff. Water works, power grids, local councils, education and healthcare, things like that. That’s what I was working on…” Eric pulled the USB drive out of his pocket. “When I noticed something. I’m not sure how it ended up on my computer, but it was a line of ‘back door’ code.”

“Ah.” Andrew sat back. “Even I know what that means. A way into a system that shouldn’t be there.”

“Exactly. It’s everywhere, and when I checked, it turns out this code is in smartphones too. OTS sells their hardware and software to manufacturers of them all over the world. This code lets them into any device, any time, and I have no idea what it will let them do.”

“You could just go to the spooks you know.”

“I thought about it, but… Andrew, some of this code is military grade. Stuff that no private company would ever been given access to.”

Andrew’s eyes sparkled. “Ah, you think they have an inside man?”

“I think so. Andrew, I don’t know what this code does, but something that could get into more or less any device, any major system, all over the world, and it’s military, and this company shouldn’t even know it exists, much less be using it… I don’t know who to trust. Someone sent me this, someone on the inside.”

“This is juicy. Alright, so I’m still welcome down at the barracks, and I bet you would be too. You drive here?”

“No, got the Tube.”

“Bugger.” Andrew stood up, stretching. “Not allowed to drive at my age. Fuckin’ stupid if you ask me. I’ll call a taxi…” Eric grinned to himself as Andrew picked up the old-fashioned green telephone, complete with rotary dial. Despite the twenty or so years of age difference, Eric had often seen Andrew as a kindred spirit, and his utter disdain of modern technology was but one way that was true.

After a few moments, the taxi was booked. Andrew sat back down and poured himself another whisky, insisting on refilling Eric’s glass too. “To adventure!” He boldly declared, before knocking back the glass in one gulp. Eric raised his glass and did likewise. Andrew wasn’t wrong about that.

Chapter 2

Back to Techno Fail

The old man had always been vindictive and cruel, bullying those who he felt were beneath him. As this feeling extended to every last soul he met, the old man lived alone, with only his dogs for company. Even they were not often spared his misery and contempt.

So the old man wore his smoking jacket and puffed his pipe and ambled around his large yet empty stately home. He grew sick, and no one cared, not even enough to phone him. He wrote of his disdain for the ‘idiots of the village’, and pledged to hide his wealth from those he deemed unworthy. Upon his death, his will bequeathed his fortune to his two dobermans, and once they were to pass, the money was to go to the sea.

Unless…

Unless his wealth – hidden in the form of bonds and shares – was found before the dogs, now being cared for at a local trust, died.

****

“We shouldn’t be doing this…” The young man muttered, but he drove the shovel into the earth anyway, throwing the dirt behind him.

“If it gets us fourteen million quid then we should be doing this.” Replied his girlfriend, who was also pushing a shovel into the ground.

The air was still and not a creature made a sound, lending a creepy air to proceedings as the pair dug their way deeper. Sweat poured off them, even though they had reduced themselves to t-shirts and shorts – such were the trials of grave-robbing on a hot July night. Every once in a while they paused to grab a swig from the bottles of water they’d brought with them – it barely took the edge off the close humid heat.

Fortunately, their efforts were soon rewarded, when the young man’s shovel scraped the top of the coffin. From that point on, it was a case of hands and knees, and pushing away as much as earth as possible, until it became possible to actually open up.

“You still wanna do this?” He asked nervously.

“Yeah.” She replied, after a moment’s hesitation.

“Alright then, on three… one, two, three…”

They shoved away the top cover, bracing themselves for the sight (and stench) of a corpse. Instead they both cried out in shock and fright as a pair of dogs burst out of the coffin, barking like crazy. The pair scrambled their way out of the hole they’d dug and ran, not keen to check the coffin for anything else.

Chapter 2

Back to The Coffin and the Dogs

I just know the title of the post has you itching to read it.

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I doubt it…

You never know…

So, how was 2016 for the site? How did it compare to 2015?

Well, in 2015 the site had 2,224 visitors. In 2016 the site had 3,405 visitors – an increase of 1,181! Not too shabby…

I posted 217 time in 2015, and in 2016 553 times – so clearly I had more to say in 2016!

Ignoring the homepage visits, the most successful page or post in 2016 was my page on F1 legend Ayrton Senna, which received 191 views. In the runner-up position was my page ‘Why Meerkats?’ The UK provided the most views, with 2,549, with the USA in second place on 2,386 and Australia in third on 601. There were views from all over the world, including Nepal, Pakistan, Egypt, Barbados, Bahrain and many other locations. It’s fair to say that Meerkat Musings has gone international!

So, will the site gain even more views this year? Watch this space!

Inspired by this post from Paul, over at The Captain’s Speech, I thought I would create my own list. Can I list out 101 things?

It had better include me…

Yes, it will include you.

1. My family. Less of a like and more of a love (obviously!). I am fortunate enough to have a loving family, and I am eternally grateful for them and to them.

2. The Lion King. This is obvious to anyone who knows me.

3. Star Trek. Again, obvious.

4. Star Wars. I am a geek.

5. Doctor Who. Yeaaaah.

I’m not seeing me on this list yet…

Oh be quiet. Moving on…

6. The Bacon Double Cheese Burger from Burger King. Any burger that’s the size of your head is a worthy burger, and this is the best piece of fast food out there. It can be made healthy if ordered with an orange juice.

7. The Marvel Cinematic Universe. I mean come on, the scope of what they are doing is remarkable. It’s worthy of being liked!

8. Writing fan fiction. I don’t do this nearly enough.

9. Pigs in blankets. Simply put, mini sausages wrapped in bacon. Traditionally only eaten at Christmas, and they are gorgeous.

10. Formula 1. There’s nothing quite like it. Fast cars, thrills, spills and high drama.

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Ahem. Am I not even worthy of placing in the top ten?

I told you, there’s no set order. Besides, I mentioned The Lion King already.

11. Liverpool FC. This is something of a ‘love/hate’ relationship, but in the end, I always come back, no matter what they put me through.

12. The Legend of Zelda. Not every game in this series has been an outright classic, but there’s more gold than coal here, and the standout game in the series for me, A Link to the Past, is the best game of all time.

13. Nintendo in general. I just love them. They’re awesome.

14. Roast lamb. This is simply gorgeous. Cooked properly, it melts in your mouth.

15. Cadburys. You can keep your Hershey nonsense, I want real chocolate, and that’s Cadburys for me. Boost bars, YUM.

16. Terminator 2. One of the few occasions where a sequel has been as well received as the original.

17. Old Speckled Hen Ale. Henry, this shout out is for you, and your fine ale!

18. Ale in general. I don’t mind lager, but ale has depth and flavour that lager just cannot match.

19. Game of Thrones. Just don’t get attached to any of the characters.

20. Coffee. This is one of a trilogy of great gifts that humankind has given itself.

21. Cuddling. Sometimes, left can be made just a little bit better by snuggling up to someone you love.

22. The Star Trek vs Star Wars debate. Yeah, it’s frivolous, but I don’t care. It’s provided some stimulating conversation down the years and I’ve enjoyed it.

23. Peanut Butter. Just wow. This stuff is addicitive.

24. Bacon. Part 2 of the trilogy. In fact, it’s part 3, but I’m not going to tell you what part 1 actually is.

25. My daughter’s laughter. There is something therapeutic and uplifting about hearing my little girl laugh, especially when she’s hysterically chortling. It is hilarious and brilliant.

26. Storks. This animated film is an unexpected hit for me. It’s surprisingly emotional and very funny.

27. Summer. The warmth of the sun, the sweet smell of flowers in bloom, and an excuse to get out the barbecue. Definitely preferred over winter.

28. My job. Yes, I like my job. It’s thoroughly enjoyable!

29. Trains. To some, trains are Victorian relics, but to me, they are the most romantic form of travel. It’s exciting!

30. Rail maps. Related to the above. I just like looking at them.

31. Timon. See,  you made it!

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So why Timon? He’s a neurotic yet fun and outgoing guy. So 1 out of 3 ain’t bad?

32. Trinity. hni_0048

Sadly we had to say goodbye to this wonderful and loving cat in 2016, but she will never be forgotten. She always had time for a cuddle, and never turned down space on someone’s lap. She was always happy, and very gentle.

33. Chinese takeaway. I need to be good this year. If I can get into a good shape my wife will let me open my Star Wars Micro Machines, so I will need switch to protein-rich foods like eggs and chicken, and curb takeaways. This. Will. Be. Tough. Sweet and sour chicken balls, egg fried rice, shredded duck and pancakes… drool.

34. Bananas. My favourite fruit.

35. Lions. These majestic animals carry such power. They are ferocious, yet you can look at them and see in them the behaviour of your average housecat, which never fails to amaze me. Like their feline cousins tigers, lions need protecting.

36. Australia. I went there once, all the way back in 2004, and if I had the means to retire there one day, I would. It’s a beautiful country (just watch out for all the things that can kill you), and a place I would love to see again.

37. Super Mario Kart. The original SNES version is still the best for me, but there is something to be said for playing it online (my wife may disagree with me here, given the sailor’s language I use whilst playing!).

38. Football Manager. Like Mario Kart, this is capable of inducing rage, but when you’re winning it feels very good!

39. London. Don’t get me wrong, the city can be a stressful place, but London has so much history, found in every corner, and it fascinates me.

40. I’m struggling now. Indian food. It’s gorgeous.

41. I’m not going to name all my friends, but to each and everyone of you, you have touched my life in a variety of ways, and thank you.

So, I’ve made it to 41. I am completely stuck for more. 


You quitter!

It’s late and my Brian is fried! For now, this is the list. If I think of more stuff I’ll add it.