Monday, 15 October 2012

78 - Car Boot

Several early bird car-booters bagged bargains such as a packaged GPS for £20 and a pair of travel rugs for a fiver. The best deal had to be the alloys and slightly muddy tyres for a ton, but the Spear & Jackson stainless steel fork and spade were okay for a tenner. The boots, the overalls, and the box of disposable gloves were £10 the lot, after which pretty well all the forensic evidence was gone.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

77 - Elizabeth David and Me

Early one Winter solstice I settled into the top deck of the X5 with Jack Kerouac as my companion and serenaded by kids from St Johns heading for their breakfast club. Down at street level, I saw the handwritten sign: trainee baker wanted – enquire within.
Sal, Dean and Marylou sat quietly in the ’49 Hudson waiting for me to get on board with them. Eddie was starving, but wasn’t he always?
I wondered.
The tall mist–enveloped beeches of the West Woods leaned towards the bus, the rising sun silhouetting us against their boughs. I’d criss-crossed the downs for over a year now, burning in the unremitting summer and freezing in snow-bound traffic. Was all this an escape?
The college catering course had left its indelible inedible stain on shelves of library books. There were five cracked copies in the same paperback edition of English Bread and Yeast Cookery, and there and then I fell in love with the woman who sold out enough to have her own cookery range, but not to the extent that she’d sell garlic presses.
We bicker now and then, Elizabeth David and me. She uses far too much salt, I complain, but maybe I just sold out more than she did in the matter of taste. And I can’t remember on which Midwest sidewalk I left Sal, Dean and Marylou, but Eddie and his kin visit me often. There is always someone hanging around the rubbish skip in the car park behind the bakery.
Some of my best bread goes there.

Friday, 5 October 2012

76 - After Dark

Night fell in the hydroponics lab as if ‘at the flick of a switch’, though only a few of my great-grandparents recalled seeing such a device. The texture of the silence mutated from livestock and distant traffic to wildlife and love-murmuring. There was the staccato snap of a twig broken underfoot, and my hearts skipped a beat. This was a simulation: where in hell did a twig come from, and who or what trod on it?

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

75 - Games People Play

Tony looked up, a frown of curiosity crossing his features as he wondered what Martin was up to. He heard what sounded like a clockwork boat; surely not? Then he saw the boat, but not clockwork at all: a little steam toy that Martin had bought at a festival some years before. A fully grown man, in his second childhood evidently, playing with a boat in the bathroom sink of all places!
Martin changed the unspoken subject.
“Could you do me a favour? Would you take the egg boxes back to Sandy?"
“Er, okay."
Tony picked up the cartons and turned to the door. He paused awhile, and looking back added: “You alright?"
“Yes: why?"
“Oh, no reason."
Closing the door behind him, Tony raised his eyebrows and breathed out. Dad was being dad, he supposed, but still ….
Back at the washbasin, Martin drained the water and cursed the noisy little toy. He wasn't playing, he was just … okay he was playing, but only to see whether the boat actually worked. In the 10 years since he had bought it on a whim, he'd never even tried it out.
“Well," he mused, “at least now I’ve something to write about.”
Egg boxes delivered, and greetings exchanged with his friend’s mum, Tony ran upstairs to resume the previous day’s game.
“You okay?”
“Good, yeh: you?”
“Yeh. Zombie Revenge?”
“Nah: World of Fury?”
“Okay. Does your dad ever do strange things?”
“He’s an oldie: everything he does is strange.”
“Yeh, but does he play with toys?”
“No! Does yours?”
“Looked like it just now: weird. First to score 300?”
Martin sat down to type. He still hadn’t settled on a plot, and he didn’t want to turn out a stream-of-consciousness ‘literary’ novel, but he had the bones of a character. ‘Edward’ would be playful, enquiring of mind, handsome – of course. Artistic license, it was called.

Monday, 17 September 2012

74 - Job Satisfaction

For some reason, cutting the hedge didn’t appeal. It stretched away to his right, perhaps forty metres long; forty metres that spoke of chore, of labour, of boredom.
Too old, and too surrounded by maturity that there was any hope that Tom Sawyer-like he might find friends who’d druther take on the task imposed upon him by the woman of the house, he looked down at the trimmer. It wasn’t showing signs of getting on without him, so he picked it up.
A few perspiring hours later, he stepped back from the hedge and surveyed the forty metres to his left. For all he hated Leylandii, he had to admit that trimmed Leylandii was better than untrimmed. There was, he supposed, something satisfying in such work after all.

73 - Whatever Happened to the Daisy Wheel?

Philon the curator, such a lazy man as ever lived on the Isle of Saru, was asleep. He was always asleep, but his sleep was to acquire more than a tinge of guilt.
There were no visitors to the miserable little museum of finds. There never was much call to spend time viewing relics in these humid winter days after the flood. Philon had taken one of the exhibits – a moth-eaten fabric bag of polyvinyl waste – and placed himself upon it under the shade of the welcome sign.
Welcomed to the quiet isle that day – which day? – and arriving who knows how, perhaps by barge, perhaps by sled, was someone after just a single item. Nothing else was touched.
Philon swears even now that no item but one was missing, though its absence was only noted when he roused from his slumbers to eat, to drink a little, and to reluctantly carry on his task of cataloguing the collection. Thus in time perhaps further stock will be reported as missing, but for now …
Now Philon stands mute and helpless in front of the glass case. The fabric backing shows the dust-free silhouette surrounding the nail from which, according to the handwritten label, is missing a “Printer Wheel (Daisy), circa 20th Century”.

72 - Portrait of Ginny

Leonardo da Vinci, Ginevra de' Benci

The street-market traders outside the once fashionable Florentine window are a strain on Ginny’s nerves, and she looks away for distraction.
“Please don’t move, signorina”, says Leo.
She sighs and resigns herself to the tiresome young man’s lens. She practices her Italian by trying to understand his ramblings. He seems to mutter to himself about too much light, of wanting to throw the background out of focus. Small wonder he wants to blur it, she thinks, having chosen juniper and laurel branches as a backdrop. What was he thinking: questo pazza?
She supposes her lover Bernie – is he her lover? she wonders – is too stingy - ‘avaro’ or ‘trichio’? - to have paid for Andreas himself to take her picture. Instead she has this apprentice; has to make do with ‘From the studio of …’ rather than ‘By …’; the lot of the mantenuta, the kept woman.
Will things be different once she marries Louis?

Sunday, 16 September 2012

71 - Fall Colours

From ice-free pole to ice-free pole, the world is in trouble enough already. Every tree is sacred, so much does the human race’s survival depend on the forests to absorb every extra ounce of CO2.
There is a bitter irony – you know, the sort that leaves an aftertaste – in that it all started with a climatologist accidentally killing a tree by ripping its branches off. He fell the whole way down, grasping furiously until one stopped him about twenty feet up.
State Police told us later he’d been in a light plane taking samples of the air, and had to bail out when he got into trouble, but with trees everywhere in this part of the park he’d no option but to land in the treetops. It was the plane catching fire that was the end of it.
We stood helplessly by as the flames caught him. We had to be rescued ourselves.
Now we stand helplessly by as the last great hope of mankind burns horizon to horizon. It’s hard to be angry. What’s the point?

Saturday, 15 September 2012

70 - Honest!

“Honest! He’d an entire conversation with a dung beetle: said the beetle was the fourth reincarnation of Lawrence of Arabia and was desperate to find his old motorbike. Asked the whole audience to help find it, if it was under their seat, ’cos the beetle was really upset. Jeez: just as well it wasn’t a camel! The best 10 euro I’ve ever spent, I tell you: just wait ’til I do my Best Man speech …”

Friday, 7 September 2012

69 - After the Party

“I do like the Chenin, but I must admit a penchant for Gavroche in its many guises.”
“Cynthia dear: you’re looking splendid! You must tell me your secret.”
“… and then he had the cheek to quote some footpath number at me! I sent him packing toute de suite.”
“Chardonnay is much maligned, but of course you know that.”
“His number dear, your trainer: I must have it.”
“Cigar, old chap? Cuban.”
“Howard! What’s the matter?”
“Sorry, I was just ear-wigging.”
“What do you mean, ‘ear-wigging’? There’s no one here to listen to. What is up with you?”
“Nothing … nothing really.”
He looked once again around the dust-sheeted dining room, then closed forever the front door of his childhood.

68 - Right, said Fred

The mirror-wall of the downtown studio sucked in the Fall gloom, thinning rather than enhancing the weak evening light. Mae stood, expectant, in front of her reflected self, willing him to begin his god dammed audition and let her get her tired god dammed body back to her apartment. She blew cigarette smoke up at the ceiling, and waited some more.
“I, er, haven’t got anything prepared.”
Her dark eyes showed she knew that already.
“Look, I’m more of an actor than a dancer.”
“You’re what the studio says you are if you wanna work in this town, honey.”
She relented a little.
“Come towards me; come at me; and when you reach me, stop as if I’m just too precious to touch.”
He raised an eyebrow; he raised a god dammed eyebrow! She almost liked this guy and his hutzpah.
“Your résumé says you can act and dance a little. Well dance, dammit!”
He thought about it, cupping his chin and smirking. His look seemed to ask: ‘Are you ready, sister?’
He walked. He walked for Christ’s sake! Only, he heel-toe-kicked as he did so, and the nearer he got the quicker he tapped and the harder her heart beat until he stopped dead in front of her. His head inclined to her neck, she could feel his breath, and his hands were either side of her waist, she could feel their warmth. This was so unprofessional, she thought; I’m blushing!
She breathed once more.
“Screen tests begin 7am. Be there.”

Saturday, 25 August 2012

67 Well met, Stranger

I know you! You're the guy
I bumped into last year.
"Do I know you?"
I asked,
Thinking we had met.
Only we hadn't
We have now.
You're the guy I bumped into last year.
Do I know you?

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

66 - Last Wishes

“It’s quite clever how they can keep yon coffin level when they go up steps like that, isn’t it Muriel?”
“I’m sure they’re doing Alex proud, Gwen, quite proud.”
“Oh we’ll miss him at the Kirk, him and his sense of humour .”
“We will too. Of course he missed Mary so; I dare say it was a broken heart that carried him off.”
“It was that or The Grenadier’s steak pies. I dare say you’re right, though, and what with all that nastiness after she died.”
“Why whatever do you mean?”
“Oh well when Mary died, Drummonds laid her out in the chapel of rest. Only, they made a gay auld mess of her. Alex said she looked like the laughing policemen in the arcade at Leith.”
“Never! Why when he gets laid in his grave, he’ll be fair spunnin’ round that Drummonds did him too!”
“Oh Drummonds was his choice, hen. He paid up front against one of their policies: “Ensure you get the funeral you want!” D’ye remember the flyers they left in St Giles?
“But I don’t understand why he’d go to them when they did his poor Mary so bad.”
“Oh that was Alex’s humour getting the best of his Christian upbringing. He got them tae agree to have pall-bearers carry his coffin from his flat in Hannover Street to the Kirk on High Street. Gave them the map o’ the route, saying he wanted to be taken the way he always walked to Matins.”
“But his arthritis …”
“Aye, hen: wi’ a career in rugby behind him, Alex’s knees were long gone and nae up to walking further than the corner of Princes Street. But Drummond – that’s the red-faced lummock at the rear – disnae have a full set o’ marbles and didna twig when he saw the map.”
“He must’ve had a bit of a shock this morning, then.”
“Oh aye: Playfair Steps is hard on the legs at the best o’ times, but in high summer and carrying the mortal remains of a prop forward … they must feel every one of those steps. What is it: a hundred?”
“Oh the scoundrel! Guid on ’im.”

Monday, 6 August 2012

65 - Beauty

Horn blaring, the silver TT sped past the truck and on under the road bridge.
“Up yours!”
“Is that the tree up there, Billy?”
“Strange shape, isn’t it.”
“It looks like there were three boles but they took one out to dig the cutting for the by-pass.”
“Sort of gives a hollowed-out look on that side, as if some giant took a bite out of it.”
Billy looked askance at his mate.
“What? Can’t I get a little poetic? ‘I think that I shall never see’, and all that?”
Billy breathed deeply.
“Put the cones out, Ed. I’ll get the chainsaw ready.”

Sunday, 5 August 2012

64 - Power

“I said I bet that you look good on the dance floor…”
Jayz clipped his harness on and started craning the basket out over the lip of the tower.
“I don't know if you're looking for romance or …”
He began the slow descent from the service deck to the top glazing, keeping an interested eye on a passing police helicopter.
“Don't know what you're looking for …”
A surprised look came at him from the other side of the glass as an IT guy was distracted from adjusting a projector.
“Well I bet that you look good on the dance floor …”
Jayz clipped his squeegee to his glove and started to clean off the guano that was a particular feature of the topmost floors of the building.
“Dancing to electro-pop like a robot from 1984 …”
The screen in the executive meeting room went blank and the room fell dark.
“from 1984…”
The basket lurched as the emergency brake fail-safe clicked in. Jayz stopped his iPod, and reached for his radio.
“Chris; Jayz. What’s goin’ on, man? Are you pissing me about?”
“Jayz, we’ve got some sort of power-out. Hang on.”
“good choice of words”, thought Jayz, and he watched the IT guy inside the room. The guy reached for the desk socket, trying to get power back to his projector.
Far below the basket, the sound of car horns swelled. Then came the police sirens. The power drought had started, and Jayz’s abseiling ropes now seemed pitifully short.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

63 - Lonely

“Oh no, dear: it’s number four you want. Only she won’t be in, not on a Thursday, because her Vera comes to take her to lunch and bingo at the Cornmarket. Maybe number five’ll take it for you? But don’t ask her to sign for it, will you, because the poor dear can’t see very well at the best of times and this strong sunlight’ll bring out the worst in her glaucoma. Oh no dear, not with my lumbago, and anyway I don’t want to be interfering with someone else’s business. And it is such a lot of responsibility taking things in for someone: what if I broke it? Well really! A bit of respect, young man, wouldn’t go astray. I mean, people these days …”

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

62 - Foreign Field

“Such a beautiful smile, and hanging from so blushingly youthful a face.”
Catherine affirmed his description with reddening cheeks, and re-started counting his weak pulse against her fob watch. As she did, Frederick slipped one last time from consciousness and back to the mute battlefield. The gulls outside the ward window segued into German whizz-bangs, and the crashing surf into artillery blasts.
Numb, tinnitus-bound in blast deafness, he lay at the edge of a crater, overshadowed by the shattered remains of a tree. Every inch of its bolus and boughs was stripped of bark and leaves, and splinters like the one in his chest radiated out from its heart in silhouette against the blue Belgian winter sky.
Oak? Ash? He cried at the rape of the tree, and mourned that it never would be subject of or material for an artist’s easel, nor home for rook or nightingale. He would not carve his beloved nurse’s initials upon it; its fibres would not be mashed to make a writing block, or imprinted with his posthumous collection. It would, rather, finish its existence in mute attempt to warm the bones of shivering soldiers in their muddy trenches.
Repatriated to a convalescent corner of Albion, the war poet died with words pinned to his heart, and the science of war-mongers lacerating his body.

Monday, 30 July 2012

61 - A Moot Point

Sam Peppardino was an historian, and Sam knew that history is always written by the victors. What Sam suspected – what he was exercising his brain on this evening – was that so were the fairy tales.
“Do you think ugly sisters are always nasty, Pippi?”
Pippi purred at the mention of her name.
“Or that step-mothers are invariably cruel to their step-children?”
Pippi stretched and then turned three times in Sam’s lap before settling down.
“Are all princes brave, charming and handsome?”
Pippi licked a paw and began cleaning her shiny black coat in a particularly awkward place behind her right ear.
“And what about old women who live in the woods: they can’t all be witches, can they Pippi?”
Pippi opened one green eye and stopped her cleaning paw in mid stroke, as if to ponder the question before answering it. Only she didn’t; not then.
Later, when Sam was fast asleep from all this brain-work of his, she would put the question to her friends in the forest glade where they were accustomed to meet on nights like this. For the night was a full moon night.

60 - Pit Lane Incident

Paul sipped at the water and stared at the blotter pad on the huge meeting table in front of him.
“Take your time, Mr Coelho.”
Paul counted the players in his mind. Fifteen men, excluding the driver, all trained as a team: three to each wheel; Jack-men front and back; and the release, Graham.
Paul had known Graham Greenaway for many years, but this had been only his fifth season with Coulthard: his second as release. Graham had never missed a practice and always chipped in when the team were looking to shave a half-second here or there. Practice, practice, and more practice: car up to the line, nut-men unlock the old wheels; front-wheel men roll the wheels away; rear-wheel men lift new wheels in place; nut-men lock them on and hold their hands out ‘ready’; jack-men drop the car, and the release checks the pit-lane is clear before pressing the tit to give the driver the all-clear. Clockwork.
“You seem hesitant, Mr Coelho. Please be assured this isn’t a court, and neither you nor anyone else can be found guilty of anything. We just need to establish the cause of Mr Greenaway's death.”
Paul looked down at the blotter and the expanse of polished oak, and wondered what the hell to say. All had gone just as they practiced it to, but something had made him look back. He’d rolled the worn front-right wheel away and normally wouldn’t stop until the wheel was in position on the rack in the garage, awaiting any surprise inspection by the stewards or the manufacturers. Yet this time he’d looked over his shoulder as he moved away.
Someone was whispering into Graham’s ear. Absurd! No-one whispers in anyone's ear in a pit-lane during a Grand Prix: they shout, they gesticulate, if at all. And certainly no one distracts the release man during a wheel change – ever. Yet someone had, Paul was sure of what he’d seen. Or, he had been until he’d watched the TV playback.  Fifteen men around the Coulthard Racing car – no one else – and all going like clockwork, right up until the time Graham released the car and stepped back into the path of the oncoming Jaguar, to be crushed between the two.
Paul would swear that Graham the consummate professional would never release a car into pit-lane traffic. Yet there on the replay being shown on every channel around the world was Graham putting himself in the path that would inevitably cause a collision, his own body caught in the middle of it. Paul was sure the stranger, the sixteenth man invisible to the cameras, had made Graham do what he did.
If Paul sensed that no-one around the table would accept his story about the intruder being there, the fact that he had also after the event recognized the stranger didn’t help. Without question, the man whispering in Graham’s ear had been Graham’s own father: the unmistakable blue overalls and white shoulder flashes, and the tricolour helmet had been plain to see, if only to Paul. Except Graham’s dad had died in a pit-lane fireball twenty seasons earlier: at this same circuit.
Paul looked up and caught sight of his own pathetic reflection in the chairman’s glasses. Clearing his throat, and convinced that his own F1 career was about to end, he began his tale.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

59 - A Rebus Mystery

Harry glanced at the returns trolley to see if anything caught his curious eye. Scene quickly assessed, he proceeded to a thorough investigation of the crime section. No new Hamish Macbeth stories ("I wonder if M C Beaton is still alive?"), and no unexplored Morse ("I'm sure I read that Dexter was writing another").

Head inclining first to the right and them to the left, Harry continued to trace the line-up spine by spine, shelf by shelf, looking for new cases to solve. Passing Wallander by, he eventually came across the library's small selection of Rebus books, and stopped dead. The edge of one was covered in bloody fingerprints.

"Mm ... 10 out of 10 for arresting jacket design", he thought. Then, pulling the volume from the shelf for a closer look, he felt the stickiness and noticed the scarlet stain on his fingers.

One surprised librarian and four tut-tutting readers looked up at the sound of Harry's yell. The book had fallen open to reveal a hollowed-out space, and in it a severed ear.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

58 - Rocking Chair

"You're quiet today, Nathan. Are you being bullied at school again, darling?"
"Grandma is unhappy."
"Nathan, we talked about this last week, didn't we? Grandma has gone away: she went to sleep."
"She's dead."
"Yes, dear, she's dead, and mummy would prefer not to talk about it, and for heaven's sake stop kicking the rocking chair!"
"I'm not, mummy; I'm nowhere near it. Grandma's in it, and she's not happy."
"Go to your room right now, Nathan. I won't have you talking like that!"
"Now she's smiling. She's won again, hasn't she?"

Friday, 20 July 2012

57 - Drawn

In a corner of the vast open-plan office sits David, embarrassing everyone. He smiles at the thought.
Jeremy clicks 'save' and glances over. "What does he think he's doing?"
Martin looks up from his tablet, stylus wavering. “It sure beats me. I can’t think why Christine took him on, let alone made him a partner.”
Jennings Tubney Partnership have an oddball architect on their hands, and as it happens one popular with the clients. God forbid, but he designs using an HB pencil and an A2 pad.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

56 - Like as the Hart

Norwich Castle Museum is alive with clip-boarded Year 6s, most of whom horseplay their way about the exhibits. One, whose purple blazer and green checked dress is notably unkempt even among her friends, is transfixed before a side-lit display in which sits a small bone.
“C’mon, Chrissie; let’s go find the dungeons!”
Chrissie, tongue trapped between her jaws, is writing ‘astrolagus’ and won’t notice her spelling mistake until her first Michaelmas term at Oxford some years later. She adds ‘RAIHAN’ , the runic inscription.
“It's just an eggy old bone, anyway” snorts Phoebe, who runs off.
Meanwhile, Chrissie transports herself to the Norfolk of the dark ages, wondering who the inscribed bone belonged to and what they did with it.
“In the small band, the Dane stands out among his swarthy companions. They’re playing ‘Jacks’ with sheep-knuckles and the ankle-bone of a deer. They’re getting irritated with their friend: he’s a foreigner, he uses strange words, and he’s beating them at this game he’s taught them. He wins, and claims his prize, his belonging according to the inscription on the astragalus: he wants one of the young girls of the tribe as a bride. Having misread the bounds of hospitality among these Angles, he is knifed, his body burned, and his remains interred with his gaming pieces in a shallow pit in the burial field.”
“But surely that’s all speculation, Professor?”
“Of course, James” says Chrissie. “I can no more tell you that these bones are gaming pieces, or that we should interpret ‘RAIHAN’ as ‘belonging to Raih’, than I can guess accurately what may have happened before the death of whomever was interred in the Caister pit. Indeed, the consensus is that the bones were shamanic, and that ‘RAIHAN’ simply means ‘roe’ or ‘deer’. But we need always to retain a speculative imagination with which to challenge consensus; to see ambiguous evidence in the frame of multiple possible truths. Besides, those of you working in the field will soon tire of the pressures of digging just metres in front of developers’ bulldozers: how else are you going to lighten the mood?”
With a brief laugh, the students disperse to tutorials and Chrissie gathers her notes together.
In the shallow trench, kneeling in mud and under pouring Cotswold rain, Chrissie is tired, mightily pissed off, and long overdue a pint of Hook Norton. Her dig is so poorly funded she cannot afford to cover her team with the knackered B&Q gazebo usually provided for such conditions. The director has told her to close the dig next day and hand it back to Costain to turn into a new housing estate, and even her chair at Oxford cannot win the argument. Guard down, she takes a full five minutes to realize that ochre mud is giving way to a circular smear of brown with shiny black lumps.
“Hey, I think I’ve got an inhumation.”
“No shit, Sherlock; in a Saxon graveyard, too!”
Chrissie stands the card-snap stand of someone whose spine is protesting ten years of abuse in wet digs across Europe, and her cynical companion moves in. She quickly tags, measures and photographs the context. Then she notices that one of the black objects is bigger than the others.
“What’s that?”
Roll-up half formed, Chrissie peers over her companion’s shoulder leaning on her as she scrapes away with her trowel. As the mud is washed away beneath the cleansing rainfall, they both see the inscription at the same time.
“Hey Phoebs,” says Chrissie. “Remember that ‘eggy old bone’ you ribbed me about on that school trip? I think we’ve just got ourselves another astragalus.”

Thursday, 12 July 2012

55 - Not to be Moved

I first met Billy about six one Saturday morning. I’d volunteered on the Laverstock Railway a few years before as a steward and now I was getting the chance to learn to drive, starting of course with cleaning duties.
Most of the crew had turned up the night before and stayed over on an old carriage in the sidings. I drove up early instead, so as a ‘newbie’ I was last to be paired with a buddy.
“Good to see you’re in the right kit,” said the Depot Manager. “You’ll find Billy over there,” and he pointed to where a pair of steel-toe-cap boots were sticking out from under a ‘Castle’ class locomotive, then turned and walked away with a funny little smile.
I walked over and introduced myself to the feet. “Hello; I’m Geoff. Are you Billy? I’ve been paired up with you.”
“That’s me. I won’t shake hands just now – pass me some more emery, will you?”
“Er …”
“The strip of glass-paper by my feet.”
I knew what emery paper was, but I’d been thrown by Billy’s light voice. Most engine drivers growled, in my experience, but maybe that was only when I was dressed as a steward. An oil can was passed out by a hand encased in industrial rubber gloves, and I exchanged the can for the paper.
“Cheers. What did you say your name was?”
“Thanks, Geoff. I’m just cleaning some pipework. You need to oil copper pipe first before rubbing.”
While I listened to the emery being used, I turned to look the engine over. It’s majestic lines were spoiled only by a sign, poking out from a lamp holder, which announced ‘Not To Be Moved’. Someone had just started to create a racket from inside the cab as the fire was being laid, so I didn’t hear the rubbing stop, or the scuffling of the boots.
“Right, Geoff: welcome aboard” said Billy, who took off a grease-top railwayman’s cap to reveal shoulder-length auburn hair kept up in a net. Gloves off, she thrust a well-manicured hand in my direction, and I couldn’t help notice that she’d chosen to paint her nails in Great Western colours; unconventional, to say the least.
That was three years ago, and now I’m trusted to drive ‘Hardwick Castle’ and most of our other engines. But try as I might, I’ve never been able to get Billy to come out for a meal. We do work together, though, cleaning the bigger engines as a pair beneath the sign which reads ‘Not To Be Moved’.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

54 - Job Share

“Yo Baz!”
“Smiffy says she needs more Yorkshire, Wiltshire, and Gammon ham slices on deli.”
“I’m on it, Pete.”
Barry knuckles down to the job. He’s well liked, and he never complains about the work. Going the extra mile, he remembers there weren’t too many pasties left last time he went on the shop floor, so adds a tray and heads out of the chiller.
“Hiya, Barry. How are you, love?”
“Good, thanks. You?”
“Mustn’t grumble; except to the customers, eh,” Liz laughs. “Oh you star: I’ve just sold the last Cornish.”
Barry smiles and loads the cabinet for her. He’s just standing back when he feels his mobile rumble in his pocket. They’re not allowed on the floor, so he slips out with his trolley and asks his team leader for a comfort break.
In the locker room, he checks the phone.
‘Tiger like outline – 6 full script soonest pls. D’
Barry takes his net cap off. A txt, a whoop and a leap, and the shelf-stacker is transformed into a screenwriter.

Monday, 9 July 2012

53 - Spin Doctor

“Anything exciting happening to you today, dear?”
He pulls in front of the station and, not waiting for her reply, grabs his laptop case and pecks her on a dutiful cheek before heading off for the city.
In her mind, it plays so differently. She accelerates the Cherokee up the ramp into the car park, and guns the engine on the approach to the ticket machine. A hand-brake turn to the drop-off zone, and the passenger door bursts open dropping her husband at the feet of the waiting Monday crowd. A tight donut spin closes the door, and she flies off the end of the ramp back into the High Street. Her lover is probably stepping from the shower, so no time to wait …
… but she steps meekly from the passenger side, and walks round to her daily gift of the steering wheel. She adjusts the seat and pulls carefully away to while away the time until the whole routine is reversed and she once more takes up her proper place as a passenger.
As she moves off, she catches her own eye in the rear-view mirror and winks. Today; yes, today will be different.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

52 - Changing the Wheel

Carl is sat on a grassy slope at the side of the M4 motorway, while his taxi-driver deals with a flat tyre.
“Beautiful irony; the guy looks to be really ... ‘shirty’ in his idiom.”
Carl is Brechtian Professor of Literature at Bonn, and is on his way to a seminar on German poets at UWE. He makes a mental note to bring up 'Radwechseln' in his talk, then looks at his watch.
“I’m late already: no matter, they’ll wait.”
Carl’s reputation is such that many host universities will reorganize their programmes around his availability. He lies back and thinks of the meal Greta will have ready for him when he flies back home late tonight. He knows he is very lucky, and reminds himself that on Sunday it would be nice to join the rest of the family in giving thanks to God at the Minster before lunching on campus.
Carl knows where he’s come from, and is pretty relaxed about where life’s leading him.
"The driver needs to chill: it's only a puncture."

Friday, 6 July 2012

51 - Welcome Neighbour

Quietness enfolded the village hall, with the merest hint of a cough here and there, of shoes scuffed across the wood-block floor, and of papers shuffled and straightened on the formica top of the meeting table.
Sylvia had berated them singly or in couples before the meeting; shaming them that in such a small parish there should be dissent between church and social committee. She had listed the best of times they could remember, when both had worked as one to leave a legacy; a memory.
It had worked. They knew the group needed to get its act together. It needed to renew its sense of purpose, its unity.
Before they knew it, they had elected Sylvia to the chair. She, of all people: barely a year in the village. She, they realized, who had never actually been present at any of the events or good times she had reminded them of.
They looked again at her face, now less shaming and rather more shameless. They heard her call the meeting to order.
“Now, about this footpath across my land …”

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

50 - A Slight Hiatus on the Journey

“Where to now, then?”
The clock ticked, and the air-con hummed. The traffic fumes seemed to become worse as the heat outside intensified.
“I really need to know where I’m going: I’ve lots of people to reach.”
The music Stephen had put on as a background distraction was now distracting him. He switched it off in irritation, leaving only the ticking clock and the air-con.
He tugged at his collar.
“If you’re not going to guide me, it won’t be much of a sermon, Lord. I mean, you’re the one that brought me to inner-city ministry in the first place!”

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

49 - Street Life (4)

Brian loved his mother-in-law; looking after her kept his marriage to Sheila on steady ground. Yet it seemed to Brian that once Edna died he and Sheila would have little in common. Indeed, he suspected that Sheila had found a lover.
A steady stream of suitors passed before Brian’s eyes. Somewhere beyond these imaginings, Jennifer and her son Sam were hidden from view as they took the zebra crossing in Brian’s path.