DigiWidget, from Frobnicate.
Written by Richard Murray.


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[issue 15, Autumn 1997, page 20]

I've stayed away from computer games after my recent encounter with the PacMan ghost. I'm lucky I didn't wet my pants, he's lucky the yellow hungry guy wasn't nearby and the waitress is lucky she didn't see him. I had a few Cherry Brandies (getting drunk isn't something you worry about when you are already talking to a ghost) and he had a few beers. Apparently life isn't all it has cracked up to be. Okay, so you get eaten, your eyes fly back and you are reborn. Being eaten is painful and a serious blow to your pride. He wants to haunt the creator of the game for all eternity, as the poor guy is faced with something like military duty. When some snot-nosed brat presses a button, he must fly away to a tiny looped labyrinth and chase (and be chased) until snot-nose gets bored.

So here I sit, in the Café again. It is night time, raining and my life sucks. Not as much as the ghost, but Deunan Sector is boring. I'm the quality control girl. The job involves taking this little gadgets out of a box (well, one from every batch). I then hook it up and switch on my computer to monitor it. I zap it with an electrostatic probe, dunk it in a bowl of water and finally jump on it a few times and either break it or my shoes. I don't know what these things are (actually I do - environmental monitoring devices for military purposes - but I'm just the control girl and I'm not supposed to know!). If it survives all of that, I get the lads in. The lads are floor workers who wear Doc Martens and florescent orange padded overalls - a long way from the stuff I wear. I hand them the box and hold on to a very long lead attached to it. They then drop kick it around the place. If it survives that I dump the thing into a solder vat. If it survives that (and many do), I get the lads to run over it with the crawler. It often takes about a minute of that before conking out. Once one has been tested it cannot be put back in the shipment. As it is military, the things are incinerated after testing. So we find all sorts of fun ways to kill the thing. Okay, so it is a cheap thrill - if your life consisted of hook, zap, jump over and over - you'd want some excitement too. One of the lads has given me a dodgy LASER cannon that failed test (couldn't sustain a minute at full power) but should be sufficient to eradicate these little boxes. I might try microwaving one too.



But for now, I'm bored and depressed. Winter is closing in and it really gets me down. The ghost told me I should take a career change. "Nice young girl, experienced in FoxPro and breaking gadgets". Somehow I don't think that will set my mailbox on fire.

When I feel like this, I pull out my laptop and write screenplays. Most of them are crap, some weird and a few are dramatisations of sexual fantasies. Okay, I'm a bit embarrassed to be writing that stuff before ever having sex, but I watch TV - and the biology is only a few steps away from "This way up". I'm currently writing a rather sleazy tale of a girl who accidentally zaps herself during testing and enjoys it a bit too much. No, that isn't me! I guess I've been watching a bit too much Troma recently.

But right now there is me. In the Café. With another cherry brandy. The waitress is looking at me with pity in her eyes. Do I look that bad? Do I need a change of scene that badly?
I figure yes.
The Café is advertising for night-time waitresses. As I am often here at night, I figure I might as well do something. Part time and a change of scene. After covering myself in vinagrette and nearly frying my dress (I never was good in the kitchen), I get the hang of it.......and the job.



My first night is relatively quiet. The original waitress, Chantal, introduces me to the regulars and when they've gone we sit and swap life stories over a bowl of chips. Chantal is French and pronounces all her R's like a short burst of radio static mixed in with an R. Her E's are often exaggerated in strange places. The word "water" would become "woh-tearh" (with the "tear" as in to rip something, not a teardrop). It turns out she owns the Café. Could well explain the French menus in the place.

The next night was more interesting. A youngish man, say 25 or 30, walks in and orders an omelette, plain and an Earl Grey tea. Chantal panics because she didn't know the tea drawer contained anything other than Typhoo. He selects a song on the jukebox. The Spice Girls "Two become one" and spends the duration of the song pacing up and down the room. I, Chantal and the one regular watch him in astonishment. The cook calls out the order number six is ready. He is watching too.

"Sir? Sir? Your omelette. Sir?", I say gently. He still paces the room. I know the song. It'll finish soon so I leave it for now.

The song finishes and he sits at a stool. I walk over and hand him his order. He looks at the bag, both sides and then the bottom. He never looks inside the bag. He removes the order slip stapled to the side, screws it up into a tiny ball and flicks it gently off my head.
"I am not a number", he says.
With that, he lays down a five pound note for a one pound fifty omelette, and walks out.

I sort his change and run out into the night. I see somebody moving to the left so I run towards them. By the time I get to where I saw the shadows move, there was nobody. I stood in the rain for a minute, listening. Then I slowly walk back.

I'm drenched by the time I return. Chantal sits me down with a cup of tea and the regular ambles over and comments on how weird that was. He introduces himself as Richard and watches me drink my tea. Feeling a little disconcerted at being scrutinised, I drink up and wander back behind the counter. I'm still wet but the kitchens are warm.



"Get that often?", I ask.
"Sometimes the peculiar ones visit by. My favourite are bored girls like you once were, who drink a bit much. They can be very happy after a drink.", Chantal replied.
"Was I very happy?", I asked.
"No, you used to cry".

My heart sunk. I don't remember that at all. I never really showed my emotions to anybody except the face in the mirror. Now I find out I cried here. My life must really have sucked.

Chantal must have noticed my reaction to that. She put an arm around me and said "You are much more happy now". I smiled. She was right. Being a waitress might seem a bit of a dead-end job, but it was a change and that is what I needed.
Chantal is happy because she runs the place and juggles logistics in the dull moments. The chef is happy because he is a bit odd about his food. If it isn't perfect, it gets slung and recooked. And me? I have two contrasting jobs and friends.

By the end of the day my feet hurt and I can hardly undress before reaching bed.
But I'm happy now.



And that's all that matters.



[issue 16, Winter 1997, page 10]

Letter in the post this morning. It was Sam'n'Ella's café down the walkway offering me a better salary for less hours. They want to know if I can play the piano. Hmmm!

So I spend today in Deunan Sector. Another little black box comes in for testing. So much for secrecy, this thing had instructions. It's a piece of spy kit, or hacker kit - depending on who is using it. You hook one end to a phone line and the other end to a mains socket. Into it you attach a phone, modem or fax. This thing will then start cloaking your signal by bouncing it off as many telecommunications satellites in as many countries as it can. It also sends some kind of data to scramble systems like last number redial and some logging equipment. Microprocessor controlled, waterproof, microwavable and about the size of a pack of cigarettes. Works off any mains voltage and any telecommunications system anywhere in the world. I jump on it and, as is usual for these 'little black boxes', I come off worse. As mentioned, I microwave it, and the floor crew sledgehammer it. So, reluctantly, I have to let it pass. But, as they cannot sell test items and we can't keep them either, the floor crew and I take a certain amount of delight driving the forklift over it. Seventh time, with myself and the crew all riding the forklift, we hear a tiny pop and the thing lays flattened and broken. I don't know what they do down in the lab, but their stuff keeps getting stronger. One of these days they'll make a missile so strong it just bounces off it's target - 137mph straight down solid rock.



I head over to Chantal's place. She's decided she doesn't want to be called Chantal anymore. So she calls herself "Jzzooolia" after Julia Roberts. Previously it was Sandra Bollock, and Nastassia Kinski; neither of which she could pronounce. By next week I reckon either Bridget Fonda or Samantha Mathis. That satellite movie thing she had fitted last week has rather gone to her head. However I'll reserve my worry for when she wants to name herself Marilyn or Judy...



By the time I reach my second job, there is a rather nasty looking guy standing at the till and screaming. His gripe, apparently, is something about wanting a cup of bajoran coffee and not the home ground stuff we normally offer. Chant....Julia defuses the situation with a cup of the exclusive chicory coffee. What is bajoran? I don't know. Ch...Julia doesn't know either. I rather suspect that guy wouldn't know a bajoran coffee bean if it hit him in the face twice and then gave him flatulence for the rest of the week.

It quietens down around twelve. It is late, cold and raining. A nice winter night - all the more reason why I should blow some of my savings on a trip to the other side of the planet... Or at least the other side of the continent. I help Cha....Julia fix up the christmas lights around the window, a tree in the corner and some scented candles. More decor will come closer to the day.

One o'clock. Ch...Julia has gone upstairs to sleep. She offered me the sofa if I didn't want to walk home, but I had some reports to do for my other job. Something infinitely boring about why earth testing requires a low voltage and high current, not vice versa.

By the time I reach the front door, I'm shaking so hard it takes both hands to get the key in the lock. Sorry guys, but I'm calling in sick tomorrow. Right now I'm going to run a warm bath and lie in it for several hours; keeping it warm, then hot. Then, off to a pre-warmed bed and to hell with tomorrow.

Taps off. Céline Dion in the CD player. Cherry brandy in the glass and myself in the tub.
Night-night everybody!



[issue 18, Christmas 1998, page 4]

As you can see, I've had a bit of a make-over. This is to commemorate my new job. Poor Chantal was horrified when I announced leaving my nice £56K jobs bashing things up, to go into teaching which is earning me a £k figure that I won't even disclose.

You see, I always figured on teaching. I'm nice to kids so how bad can it be?



Well, it isn't good. There are barely enough textbooks to go around. One boy has a pathological problem which causes him to lose his pen every ten minutes (and they never turn up again - that's the weird part). Should I mention staying up until two in the morning marking papers?

Still, I'm not going to complain too much. It was fun breaking the Army's toys and being paid for it but it wasn't what I would call a fulfilling career. Imparting knowledge and helping to set people on the right path for their lives is more pleasant. And that feeling you get when "the penny drops" and a child understands is... there just aren't words sufficient to describe it.

I have three teaching jobs, or rather, my job is split into three parts. I act as a temporary for the lower juniors when a teacher is sick or otherwise away. It is easy enough reading stories and commenting on the appalling state of mathematics. But generally those children are in the "hey, so this is school? what can I do to annoy dad?" stage.

Next comes the upper juniors. Quite a respectable bunch if you ask me. I teach them a subject called "computer science" which is basically the same thing as the old "Information Technology". I'm sure they just reprinted a load of old I.T. textbooks with new covers on.

Finally, the most interesting lot. The seniors. For them I teach computing science again, but it wanders into deeper territories. Some of the boys are too shy to look at me. Some of them look at me a little too much. Yet others are the geeky type who would rather see a computer with it's lid off than me with my clothes off. But it is all okay, just as long as I try not to pay attention to Jessica who stares at me for the entire lesson and submits homework with little red hearts around the borders. Cute in a rather sick kind of way.



After a long day teaching, I stagger into my favourite café laden with papers. Chantal makes me a nice hot chocolate with cream and sits down to look over the homework. I don't know if she understands much of it, but she likes giving grades on how well the papers have been presented. Chantal is back to calling herself Chantal, after trying the name of just about every actress around. Or maybe she didn't like it when I started calling her "Miss Depardieu"?



Well, so much has happened in the last year that it is hard to fit it all into one page. I would like to include some holiday photos from the Summer, when Chantal took me over to France to see her country and her parents, but there is no room!

France itself is... it is similar to some parts of Wales. Some hills, some fields, a few cows and not much in between except the odd stone-built farmhouse. It is very peaceful.
I had an okay time in France. I suspect I would have enjoyed it more had I spoken the language. Maybe next year?

Anyway. That it it from me for now. Whether you're Christian or Wiccan or Jewish or whatever, whatever your holiday is - I hope it is a merry one.



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