Thursday, 31 May 2012

16 - Leaving








"Nurse! Oh my God, nurse!"

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

15 - Dietrich

Another city, another anonymous hotel suite adorned in every corner with too many flowers. And there sits maestro, bended over a bowl of his beloved semolina pudding. His entourage want him downstairs, or entertaining select patrons in his rooms, but his comfort and solace is here, alone, waiting.
It will come to him again tonight, that haunting story of wandering in a chill bleak landscape; but how, this time: some new nuance, some telling twist or accidental upon which the emotions will balance or fall? He seldom knows, even as it happens. Even the trembling excitement of his heart will affect the pace with which the story unfolds itself.
It is at once both his own story and anonymous, as are the best of songs which inhabit only the singer who can empathize. Maestro will stand in the salon and the weary traveller’s story of Winterreise will out; the audience will hear but not see the icy landscape or feel the chill on their weary limbs in the way he does. They will know nothing of the desolate heart.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

14 - Human Interest Story

Eddie and Bob were regulars, down at The Boatman. At the same time every year, the influx of new-agers looking for crop-circles would drive them to get tanked up and then walk along the canal to fetch the plank and string off Bob's boat, before heading up the Grimsdyke to do their thing. Their 'thing' was nothing too creative - Alan at The White Horse made up for that with his great line in flower buds. No, Bob and Eddie stuck to fractals in the corn; hence the string.

Often as not, their mathematical efforts might make the February or March images in some crop-circle photo calendar. More often, they'd be the talk of The Boatman for a week or two after their sojourn, and none more so than 'the night of the ball-lightning'.

Eddie was just finishing the 'seed' circle from which they'd planned to spiral outwards with other successively larger ones, and he felt like having a quick cigarette while Bob moved the peg. His roll-ups were none too tidy at the best of times, but after dark and with their maker the worse for beer they were very hit-and-miss affairs, with wads of tobacco sticking out at all angles. This night, lighting up, the loose tobacco flared and set light to his mop of wild red hair. Since he'd had seven or eight pints of 6X, his thinking was like his roll-ups - none too straight - and so he ran amok in panic.

High up on the Grimsdyke of course was one of the new-age protagonists to whom Eddie and Bob had dedicated their work, a Dutch holidaymaker hoping for a sign of some alien activity. What he saw instead was a ball of fire moving at speed across the floor of the valley below.

Next day, as you might imagine, the Dutchman ruled at the bar as he regaled everyone with the strange tale of his previous night's experiences. The ball of flame grew larger in the telling and its speed across the crops, which now miraculously sported a large circle looking like a kitten's unwinding ball of string, increased in similar proportions. What the Dutchman did not notice was that grasping a pint in a dark corner of the pub was a regular, sporting a 'threadbare' look with the clumped remaining tufts of his auburn thatch edged with charcoal.

What neither the Dutchman, Bob, or Eddie noticed was that all their efforts of the night before had been watched avidly by a dark silhouette hovering just above the horizon between Polaris and the dark escarpment of the Grimsdyke.

Monday, 28 May 2012

13 - Cooking for Men

“Alan, put that bloody pen down and listen; you’re here to learn, not write your memoirs.

“No you don’t need to note quantities, but you do need to absorb what I tell you about texture and consistency, right?

“So, while the sausages are cooking nicely, put a handful of flour in a bowl. Any flour, Peter – white, wholemeal, or buckwheat; we ran through ingredients at the end of the last session. Either, Alan: self-raising or plain, it doesn’t matter. Look the sausages are going to burn if we don’t get a move on, so concentrate guys.

“Now remember what I said about making batter last week, which is that any liquid will do? Well I brought some Old Peculiar for mine, since I chose beef sausages, but I’m also going to add a pinch of mustard powder to the flour before adding the beer. Alan asked if we needed self-raising flour, but if you want your Yorkshires to rise then it’s more important to avoid putting too much salt in in the batter. As I’ve added mustard, then I’m not going to use any salt, but you can add a pinch.

“Next crack an egg into the bowl. It doesn’t matter, Johnny, so long as it came out of a chicken’s arse. I did go through all this, didn’t I? Not the eggs? Okay, but you’ve all got eggs haven’t you? Peter, can Alan have one of yours? Thank you. Now … where … oh yes, put your organic free-range egg if you must in the flour and mix it in with your whisk. In the bowl, Alan. The cloth’s under the worktop; clean as you go. So then you pour your liquid slowly in, a glug at a time, mixing all the while. You’re looking for the consistency of single cream or runny custard, like Alan’s last week only without the lumps. This is the second way of ensuring your Yorkshires rise: whisk well and incorporate air into the mix. Good going, Peter: is that cider? Nice combination with pork and apple sausage, only if you’ve put some of that chili powder in too then it may be a bit overpowered with so many tastes going on.

“Alan, leave my beer alone; you can buy your own in The Nag’s after class.

“Well use milk, then.

“Nearly there? Okay, so the third bit of magic for making sure your Yorkshires aren’t limp and soggy is to have a very hot oven. ‘Very hot’ is a temperature, Jim: we covered it in week 1, remember?

“Now speed here is of the essence; clear your worktops to give yourself some room. Ready? Now watch me: open the oven – tray out – turn the sausages – pour the batter – and … Alan, get out of the bloody way you muppet! – back in, and close the door. Safety first, people; safety first: bloody hell, don’t creep up on me like that!

“What? Rest! Oh, interesting point, Peter, but even Saint Delia doesn’t go for that crap about resting batter for half-an-hour: life’s too short. Mix it, use it. Off you go, now, everyone: your turn.

“Well done; so now there’s just time to get them spuds up to boiling point and to julienne some carrots. It’s a fag break for me while I calm my nerves, but no-one – I mean NO-ONE open their ovens to sneak a look!”

Sunday, 27 May 2012

12 - Changes

I s’pose if she’d bin as ugly as sin, things might a worked out different, like, but she was a crackin’ young looker so that set wives ’n’ girlfriends agin her day one. From ’Ampshire I believe, a ‘creative’ like, workin’ o’er Plymouth way. TV, I think.
Any road, like to blend in wi’ the locals she up an’ joined the Enedoc ringers and like most towers these days they ’ad a job to get a full complement o’ bells, so they was most accommodatin’ of ’er.
Old ’Arry were the cap’n on’m though well past ’is sell-by date as you might say, and weren’t long before she stood agin ’im in the AGM and won ’ands down. Course, if’n you’d asked who ev’ryone ’ad voted for, they’d all a said ’Arry and so there wuz a few red faces down The Stanner’s that night, especially ’Arry’s ; ’n’ ’e ain’t bin back since.
Well afore long, she started to make changes, if you see what I mean. If’n you don’ know much about ringin’, there’s summat called the ’andstroke and summat called the backstroke, an’ round ’ere we gen’rally don’ leave a gap between ’m so they’d go one-two-three-four-five-six-one-two-three-four-five-six-one-two- an’ so on like clockwork, which is called “closed ’andstroke”. Mos’n elsewhere they d’ring wi’ a gap after the backstroke like one-two-three-four-five-six-one-two-three-four-five-six – gap – one-two an’ zo on, which is call’d “open ’andstroke”.
Well now Enedoc’s a bin winnin’ striking competitions ’ereabouts for years, but soon as she ’ad ’em ringin’ vurren-like, they adjudicators took agin um ’n’ docked points ’til Enedoc’s started comin’ last all uz time. But that were just a start ’n it.
She got to learnin’ ’em “Doubles” which is a fancy way o’ swapping bells around following patterns that look like some o’ they financial graphs in posh papers, whereas ’Arry ’ad alluz called the changes out loud, see, like “four-to-one-two-lead” and so on.
There was rumours; course there was. People ’ad ’er shacking’ up with Pete Willins, a gangly lad who’d seemingly a run a mile if’n she’d a started up’n ’im. Then with Gaz Trelown, who probably started that rumour ’isself but ain’t as well liked o’ the ladies as ’e dreams o’ bein’. ’E probably started the other rumour, too, which wuz that she’da like the new lady vicar but that was just sourness. Whatever ’er ways ’an’ whatever ’er fancies, at least she warn’t a weekender like some’n’em volk.
Last I ’eard she was out o’ work when ’er comp’ny went tits up in that there recession, ’n’ she ’ad ter look elsewhere for a job. Course there’s nothin’ ’ere for smart young folk like ’er, an’ I see as ’er cottage is out to let again. But she done gone ’n’ left ’er mark, fer I ’ear that the Enedoc ringers a got up a minibus ter go ’n’ try some o’ they church bells up country and ter ’ave a pop at competitions where they ain’t such sticklers fer th’old ways like ’round ’ere. That were young Pete Willins idea, ’im bein’ the new cap’n ’n’ all, and ’e’s like a new feller, confident in ’is ways: why, ’e’s a changed man.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

11 - Control

Not for the first time, Jack has lost control of the family. Back then, three headstrong girls and an errant boy born over a 10-year period made puberty and teenage rebellion a long-drawn-out affair in the household. Back then he withdrew into work, and the 70-mile commute helped keep them at bay until each night he put the key into the front door and wondered what new calamity he would have to face; which of them he’d have to show the strap to as his own father had to him.
Now too he withdraws into work, shutting out the bickering and the sharp-tongued exchanges as he mulls over contracts and development deals that only he has a full grasp of. Now when he tries to intervene with his wife, his offspring, their partners and offspring, it falls on deaf ears. They talk about him as if he too has deaf ears, then place their alcohol-fuelled faces before his and ask “Are you okay dad?”
He isn’t, and amid the strangers of his household there is another who when she isn’t eating his food says “C’mon Jack, let’s check that catheter and see if that’s why you’re ‘Mr Grumpy’ today, shall we? I’m just going to move your chair.”
Not for the first time, Jack has lost control of the family.

Friday, 25 May 2012

10 - The Trouble with Peyote

The fedora is lifted, admitting the merest hint of the Pyrenean sun. The baby’s crying having been smothered by a breast, the fedora is replaced. It is at that precise moment that a distant rumbling makes its presence felt rather than heard, at which the body beneath the hat emits a low groan matching its increasing intensity.
The progenitor of the approaching rumble is of course our anti-hero, Monsieur Peyote, and with the finesse of a Covent Garden porter he steadies the rolling barrel on its cobbled course with deft kicks from his clog-shod feet. His skilful footwork is lost on Frederick, entombed beneath the hat and who scarce two hours earlier had slipped from the café to make a granite pillow of the threshold of l’Église Ste Marie de Corrignon.
“Can’t you do something to stop that infernal chap following me, James?”
“How did you know I was here?”
“You’re always there. You’re like Ghandi, ever present to remind me of my shortcomings.”
“Only until Muriel makes an honest fellow of you, Freddy, at which point my best man duties are relinquished.”
“Muriel!” exclaims the fedora before being jettisoned as he sits bolt upright, the colour of alabaster. “What day is it?”

An exercise in continuing a story, taken from pp2-4 of Neale, Derek (ed, 2009), A Creative Writing Handbook, London: A&C Black.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

9 - London Pride

It is a Monet dawn, a ‘London Peculiar’ dulling traffic sounds to the background murmur of a gallery, and cold biting at their toes as they stand on Hungerford Bridge. Stretching high then springing up and out, they execute half pikes and plunge soundlessly into the mist below. Big Ben strikes one, yet the echoes mark noon before the bridge follows the divers below the surface.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

8 - Trilogy

"It simply won't work."
"Yes it will."
"Why must you persist? He's totally incapable of reading a monologue, let alone dialogue."
"He's not that bad; anyway, there'll be differences."
"What are you getting so hot and bothered about?"
"He says it won't work."
"It won't, not without tags, and that's that."
"What won't work?"
"Dialogue: keep up! He says he's incapable of reading ..."
"Which he is."
"... but of course he can: he's doing it now, isn't he?"
"You know I don't mean it that way: and anyway he's writing, not reading."
"Just suppose he can read; where's the difficulty?"
"Oh stop leading them on; they're as bad as each other."
"The difficulty is obvious. I mean what names is he using?"
"Do you always use everyone's names when you're talking to them?"
"Always: good networking."
"In fairness, you haven't used our names so far."
"Oh this is going to drag on. Look, even he's joined in now. I mean, 'Trilogy': who's he fooling?"
"He can't count either!"
"Actually, he can: I can see three parts to this conversation and we're just one of them."

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

7 - Underpass

(c) Icemoon
Sheila was running late, although in such heels she was not so much running as walking with the speeded-up gait of a geisha: toes crunched to the front of kiss-red leather, and spine arched so as to balance her momentum in the mid-morning rush.

Risking a twisted ankle, she hesitated before deciding to take the underpass. She had just enough credit on her proxi-card to use this short-cut which because of its nearness to the banking zone had charge-gates for the 'value added' of a traffic and beggar-free route to City Hall. Scuffed armoured glass displays held artwork from the National 'donated' as part of a premium deal financing the core collection's slow restoration after the Occupy bombings of '15.

Friendly plasma signs espoused that they were 'investing in your future while you invest in ours', but at the approach of her proxi-card few outlets invited her warmly in to 'browse and try'.

As she hurried along, she kept up a running commentary, though she knew Bill could detect her progress towards the court. Had either of them taken care to view the graphic, they'd have noticed the interest now being taken by the OCTV, through which their respective legal bloggers were monitoring for the slightest sign of weakness in the other's behaviour. Divorce hung on the niceties of lifestyles as lived, and her extravagant use of the underpass would cost her more than the euro deducted at the gate.

Monday, 21 May 2012

6 - Local

“Oh man, local news just does my head in. It’s so gay! Like who wants to know what people think about, like, picking up stuff in the streets? It’s such rubbish, and people like saying ‘oh it’s really terrible’ as if anyone cares. Why does local TV even exist? I mean any decent football is on Sky anyway so it’s not like we can see how United are doing, and no-one famous lives here, so what is the point? Look they’re giving the weather out now, but in a minute they’ll do it all again for the country, so CARRY AN UMBRELLA, muppet!”
“Chill, Joey. Fancy goin’ down the Coopers’?”
“Down the ‘local’, right?”

Sunday, 20 May 2012

5 - Different Strokes

She visits him after dusk has become deepest night, and enjoys teasing his passivity with her nearness, caressing and kissing intimately and without abandon. Throughout his body she sends shivers of delight and apprehension, and a breaking sweat. Rocking astride him, his breath catches and air is a struggle until all is over and they are spent.

Waking he finds her gone, leaving only a fleeting sense of her retreat into the shadows.

He switches on the lamp, fearful of its illumination of his all-too-real dream. In the mirror opposite he wonders at the oppressive gloom and the opalescence of the coyly smiling watercolour nude above his hotel bed.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

4 - Enigma

Cryptic crosswords are nothing to a mind such as Alan’s, and chess but a diversion. But the big puzzle in his mind is how to approach that beauty in the queue ahead. She’s not uniformed, and judging by the inked-in seam up her leg, no GI is treating her to stockings. He can’t remember on which finger people who are married wear a ring, but there isn’t one on any of them: chance, still, perhaps.
The queue shuffles forward, and more first-name-only acquaintances move off with their prize of sausage peas and mash. The table she sits at is full of wrens, and he blushes as one of them catches his eye. He goes elsewhere with his culinary consolation.
Soon he’ll be back in the hut, pencilling in algorithms that will help decrypt harbour traffic from the Führer’s North Atlantic Group. Tonight his work will save the lives of 350 sailors in a convoy south of Iceland. But he will end the war with no clearer idea of the enigma which is woman.

Friday, 18 May 2012

3 - Gone West

A 'villa' is how the builder's hoarding had described the new home near the extremes of the Great West Road, and Mable and Jeff had loved it from the start though neither knew at first how it was to be purchased. With adjoining gables that gave it and its mirror partner a surprised look, as if to say 'you!' it hid behind saplings that one day would have copper nails hammered into untidy un-municipal trunks by way of secretive arboricide. Even the lustre of the zinc-coated dustbins gave promise of a new world where HV Morton had said London ended.

Beige-tiled fire-surrounds and standard British fire-grates sang songs of home and home-making, as did the larder with its half-height meat-safe. This was the only place to raise a family, this suburban outpost: if only.

Then a continental war intruded, and Jeff was surprised to learn that the neat border on the pages of the Collins Atlas were marked not with printers ink but his own blood, smeared across the Lowland retreat to Dunkirk.

The cast-iron combined door-knocker and letter-flap rapped out the intruding call of the telegraph girl and her unwelcome news.

Mable herself had 'a good innings', they said in later years, though they wondered at the clutter and the lack of mod-cons. The round-pin electrical sockets, the bar-heater low on the bathroom wall, and over-painted iron window-frames cried out for a reforming visit from a B&Q card-holder. The estate agent's caress was complete with the injunction 'in need of some attention', as had been Mable for most of her life.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

2 - Hair of the Old Dog

Not sure I want to get into justifying or explaining the origins of the pieces, so straight away here's ...

2 - Hair of the Old Dog
Caught off-guard by an unseen camera, and in the digital equivalent of 1/125th of a second at f.8 the world came crashing down about his head, held in his hands now, and leaving him with no vestige of what was going on it when captured. Taken; pixelated; changed forever by Gestalt realization, with no air-brushing away of the horrible truth. Reaching out, with nothing within arms-length but a quieting bottle of uncorked solace, he seeks comfort in its dregs. “Here’s lookin’ at ya!” he groans in the mirror, and applies the dye.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

1 - Burnt Fingers

I was inspired by Creative Writing Challenges set by David Morley to try writing something every day if only as an exercise. Then today, National Flash Fiction Day, I heard from Josephine Corcoran about someone who decided to write flash fiction every day for a year.
Do I have the determination, the stamina the skill? Let's see ...

1 - Burnt Fingers
It was over, she knew, when she stumbled upon the half-empty packet. “Why only half? Why not the whole nine yards?” she thought.
What was galling, what really hurt, was he’d kept it from her; a secret life tucked away in a shoe box in his wardrobe.
She felt betrayed; humiliated; belittled.
Her anger bounced off the bedsit walls, rattling wine glasses, as she wailed “How could the bastard have started smoking again?”