Friday, November 29, 2013

The Alien

No-one seems to know how long the foul thing took to establish a hold on me. They tell me it had been there, growing steadily, for a long time before making its presence clear to me. Within a comfortable fold in my innards it latched on to my flesh, taking advantage of my bodily functions and feeding off my waste. Foul thing. They come in all sizes, I'm told, but this one attained a prodigious level before I knew. But how I knew! At the end of a long day I felt particularly tired, and weak, and nauseous, but when I rose in the night to throw up I suddenly felt the griping, stabbing pains in my side. Over and over again the waves of agony sliced through me. In hospital they photographed my insides, to reveal the ugly, misshapen entity lodged just below my ribs. Immediate thoughts of gory movies sprang to mind, but I have been assured there is no risk of sudden exit through my chest. We have formed a bond, and I must learn to live with my lodger. I am in no immediate danger, as long as I follow the rules. I must feed my alien correctly or face its wrath. It hates saturated fats, and sugar, and anything at all that tastes good, but if I eat them the pains return. Otherwise I rarely notice these days that I share my body cavity with an alien. Rarely.

Because I need to get back into the writing habit.


It's just a gallstone. Don't worry!


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thursday Extracts: Philip Larkin. (Because Hull is officially cultured)

Friday Night At The Royal Station Hotel
by Philip Larkin

Light spreads darkly downwards from the high
Clusters of lights over empty chairs
That face each other, coloured differently.
Through open doors, the dining-room declares
A larger loneliness of knives and glass
And silence laid like carpet. A porter reads
An unsold evening paper. Hours pass,
And all the salesmen have gone back to Leeds,
Leaving full ashtrays in the Conference Room.

In shoeless corridors, the lights burn. How
Isolated, like a fort, it is -
The headed paper, made for writing home
(If home existed) letters of exile: Now
Night comes on. Waves fold behind villages.
Don't you just love "the dining-room declares
A larger loneliness of knives and glass"
Hull yesterday won the title of UK City of Culture 2017.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thursday Extracts: Precautions against leprosy

“Now mark this well, for these are the rules you must henceforth live by. You are forbidden to enter a church, a tavern, or a bakery or to go into any place where Christian souls meet. You are forbidden to wash in a stream or drink except of that water which has been placed in your cup. You must not touch food, or garments, or well ropes, or anything that Christian souls might touch. You must never go barefoot. When you buy food you must not hand your coin to the merchant, but place it instead in a bowl of vinegar. You must not eat or drink except in the company of others like yourself. You are forbidden to have intercourse with any woman. You are forbidden to come near a child. If you meet any person on the road you must step off it and warn them not to approach you. You must not pass down any narrow street or lane lest you brush against a Christian soul. You shall sound the leper’s clapper to warn godly souls of your approach. You must wear at all times the appointed garb so that all men may see at once what you are. When you die you shall be buried outside the parish bounds and may God give you grace to bear your suffering in true humility.”
The Owl Killers
Karen Maitland

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Thursday quotes: Terry Pratchett on Books

“If you have enough book space, I don't want to talk to you.”
― Terry Pratchett


It's not an extract. It's a quote.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Not quite Adlestrop

Emerging from a tunnel, the train slows to a gentle halt.
Bare rails alongside are linked by concrete sleepers,
Bearing the word Tarmac: unlikely thought.

Evening sunlight highlights drifting willowherb seeds
Carried on a lack of breeze; bullied by exhaust
From between silent wheels.

Green banks enclose us in leafy isolation
Half-way from there to somewhere else.
Nowhere in particular.

And not even a station sign to inform our location.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

That feeling of isolation....

It is never completely silent inside a space suit; you can always hear the gentle hiss of oxygen, the faint whir of fans and motors, the susurration of your own breathing—even, if you listen carefully enough, the rhythmic thump that is the pounding of your heart. These sounds reverberate through the suit, unable to escape into the surrounding void; they are the unnoticed background of life in space, for you are aware of them only when they change.

The Haunted Space Suit
by Arthur C. Clarke

The guy was writing brilliant prose while I was still in nappies.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

And Yeats's version of Ronsard.

When You are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And, nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep.
How many loved your moments of glad grace
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountain overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

— A free paraphrase by W.B. Yeats
in his 1893 collection The Rose.

I'm a bit of a Yeats fan too.  See last week's post for an explanation.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Thursday extracts: Ronsard. (Yes, it's in French!)

Quand vous serez bien vieille, au soir, à la chandelle,
Assise auprès du feu, dévidant et filant,
Direz, chantant mes vers, en vous émerveillant :
Ronsard me célébrait du temps que j’étais belle.
Lors, vous n’aurez servante oyant telle nouvelle,
Déjà sous le labeur à demi sommeillant,
Qui au bruit de mon nom ne s’aille réveillant,
Bénissant votre nom de louange immortelle.
Je serai sous la terre et fantôme sans os :
Par les ombres myrteux je prendrai mon repos :
Vous serez au foyer une vieille accroupie,
Regrettant mon amour et votre fier dédain.
Vivez, si m’en croyez, n’attendez à demain :
Cueillez dès aujourd’hui les roses de la vie.
Sonnet pour Hélène, 1587
I had to recite this for a French speech contest when I was 15. I still think it's beautiful. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Thinking 10: three words: Bee, father, debit card

It’s a new bank account. I got fed up with the way the last bank was behaving and told them when they increased their fees that I would take my business elsewhere. Their reply was the equivalent of an electronic shrug of the shoulders: an email informing me of a 40 per cent price hike on the 17th. Well ha! I left the bank I’d been with since I first started work; the one my father was with before me.
I’ve just received the debit card for my new account but it’s a boring little bit of plastic with no decent distinguishing marks. When I was looking round for where to take my custom I found some very pretty bank logos: one had a bee on the corner of its cards; one even allowed you  to put your own photo on. In the end I went with the cheapest one. The one that would charge me less than the rest and not rip me off for services I don’t need.

“With our great deals you can download music files for a reduced price.” What’s less than zero? I don’t buy MP3 files, so how can that save me money? 
“You can get 10 per cent off London theatre tickets.”  It might as well be Dubai for all I care. So I’ll get fifteen quid off a ticket and have to pay 130 to get to the Smoke to see the play, not to mention another 130 for an overnight hotel room because I’ll have missed the last train home if I stay to see the end.

Thank you and goodbye Mr Bank Manager.  Hello boring, but cheap, plastic.

Thinking 10 is a daily challenge to write for 10 minutes based on a challenge. In this case, use the words bee, father, and debit card.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Never truly random

The human mind cannot comprehend true randomness. Our very natures seek for reasons and patterns to explain disasters that affect thousands.  Earthquakes, floods, eruptions, wildfires, all have scientific causes, and when we cannot calculate them, we call them acts of God. (Although, what kind of god wreaks so much havoc on so many souls to prove his power?)
But real disasters overwhelm millions more every day. Small but devastating events are happening all around us. A lost job, a parent’s death, a fatal diagnosis, ruin one, or a few, lives and the rest of the world goes on, indifferently, unaware of the destruction; leaving the sufferer to cry ‘why me?’

Just some thoughts after reading the news over the last few days.

Friday, July 12, 2013

A description

If you read yesterday's Thursday Extract you know that I rarely write descriptions of places. 
So I did one for Thinking Ten. 

The housing blocks were arranged in a square; rigid, upright and unforgiving, unbroken by any variation, unsoftened by any landscaping. Just four grey, concrete slabs, like gravestones: their windows etched a forlorn message in some foreign tongue, punctuated by graffiti. At their heart was a scrubby patch of worn-out grass, more khaki than green, surrounded by a sagging fence. Wooden uprights supported metal poles that bent in the centre from years of children's climbing games and teenage loitering. They made the place look like a boxing ring in a deserted gym, its canvas floor scuffed by endless sparring. Only a second floor curtain, the colour of cough medicine, brightened the monotony.

Challenge to include the words: boxing, curtain, cough medicine

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Thursday extracts:The view

Where the road descends from the summit, the whole valley opens out, hills sweeping back as far as the eye can see to a range of lavender mountains pasted against the rim of the sky. The August heat shimmered in silence. The land seemed vast and primitive, looking as it must have looked for thousands of years. In the distance, live oaks dotted the landscape, as snaggy and dark and hunched as buffalo.

C is for Corpse
Sue Grafton


I rarely do scenery descriptions in my work. Perhaps I should attempt a few.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Swings and Roundabouts

I could have sworn everything was bigger, but that's the way it is with childhood memories. I was smaller, so the world around me loomed larger than it does today. But, sitting on the bench, I wonder how I could have wasted so much time here. This was a centre point of my life, the hub of my universe, where I would hang around, night after night, hoping that the big kids would take some notice of me. I was younger than them, and smaller, and often overlooked. Most times I was driven away for being a nuisance, for needing to be looked after, and for being too babyish to join in with their fun. They rarely let me take part in anything, and I was left, disconsolate, swaying miserably on the swings as they wandered away and pretended to be grown up.
The place won't be here much longer because the bulldozers will be moving in soon. The site is being razed to make way for a new bypass, and this is where two roads will intersect. It didn't have to be so. The route could have missed this playground, and a small row of houses nearby, where two of my old antagonists lived until very recently. But the design ensured the doom. I don't suppose they realise the end of their homes and their treasured recreation ground came about directly because of their old hostility.

I left this village a long time ago, went to university and trained as an architect, and now I design roads. I designed this one, and I've made sure that what I lost on the swings all those years ago has been regained through a new roundabout.

Based on a Thinking Ten prompt

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Thursday Extracts: an Oriental viewpoint

In the third century AD was written the Lieh-tzu. In this book, Yang Chu says: ‘There are four things which do not allow people to have peace.
‘The first is long life, the second is reputation, the third is rank, and the fourth is riches.
‘Those who have these things fear ghosts, fear men, fear power, and fear punishment.’

Blade of Grass, the things you want are the things you do not want.
Hear the ancient story of the man who knew what he wanted.
He was walking by the riverside when he saw an Immortal. The man was very curious. He looked at the person from Heaven.
‘I suppose you want something special from me?’ said the Immortal.
‘Yes,’ said the man.
The Immortal touched a stone with his finger. It changed to gold. He said: ‘You can take.’
The man did not go. He stayed.
‘Do you want something more?’ said the Immortal.
‘Yes,’ said the man.
The Immortal touched three rocks nearby. They turned to gold. He said: ‘You can take.’
But the man still did not go.
The Immortal said: ‘What do you want? What is more valuable than gold?’
The man said: ‘I want something very ordinary.’
The Immortal said: ‘What do you want?’
The man said: ‘Your finger.’

The Feng Shui Detective
Nury Vittachi
Allen & Unwin

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Thursday Extracts: Spring Cleaning

The Mole had been working very hard all morning, spring-cleaning his little home. There were splashes of whitewash all over his black fur. His back ached and his arms were tired. It was spring in the world outside. Mole could feel the fresh air and sunshine calling to him in his dark, underground burrow. Suddenly he threw his brush down. "Bother!" he said. "Oh, blow!" he said. "Hang spring-cleaning!" He bolted out of the house and scrambled up the steep narrow tunnel which was his front entrance. He had to scrape and scratch, and scrabble and scrooge with his little paws, muttering to himself all the time, "Up we go! Up we go!" At last — pop! — his snout came out into the sunlight, and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Thursday extracts: The nature of disappointment

“It was one of those times you feel a sense of loss, even though you didn't have something in the first place. I guess that's what disappointment is- a sense of loss for something you never had.”
Deb Caletti
The Nature of Jade
Simon & Schuster

Don't ask!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Canals and poems

trent & mersey canal bridge no 1 I've been asked by an interesting blog whether they can use my photo of a canal bridge to illustrate a poem.

The site's called Waterlines, and it's a blend of history and poetry about the UK's waterways network.

This is the photo. It's of Bridge No 1 on the Trent and Mersey Canal. The poem is, apparently, about this very bridge.  I've said yes, and I await the blog post with interest!

Meanwhile, here's something I wrote some time ago, when Jobbing Writer Morning AJ was known as the History Anorak......

What Masefield Missed

Painted narrow horse-boat with its polished butty
Climbing through the lock pounds, one by one
With a cargo of limestone
Iron waste, spelter
Carpets, vinegar
Or pure black coal.

Based on Cargoes by John Masefield

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Thursday extract: you just never know.....

LANGUAGE WARNING - this quoted extract contains strong language and some words that could be considered insulting or defamatory.

'Who you?'
'Friend of DeLisle Marshall. Was on S block with him.'
'Lisle?' The skinny guy relaxed. Some. He looked away from the man who could break him in half and surveyed the world. 'Lisle out?'
Jax laughed. 'Lisle put four rounds into some sad motherfucker's head. There'll be a nigger in the White House 'fore Lisle gets out.'

The Twelfth Card
Jeffery Deaver

Yes - 2005.
Barack Hussein Obama II was elected President of the United States of America in November 2008 and assumed office on January 20 the following year.  Sometimes I forget how unlikely that seemed just a few years earlier!

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Thursday extracts: Scottish cormorants

Cormorants stand on the rocks of the Portwilliam shore of Luce Bay. Long-necked, ungainly birds, they stand there while the incoming tide creeps up the shore and mists drift across the bay and up the glen to the Alticry lodge. When the rocks are awash, the birds rise and fly slowly, less than three feet from the surface, out across the water, where they vanish into the mist. The gulls remain afloat on the swell and great waves crash with thunder on the shore. The crash echoes up the cliffs and fades into a soft sigh.

Wigtown Ploughman
John McNeillie

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Monday, April 29, 2013

Ooo. Sparkly!

I learned a new word.

clinquant  (klngknt, kl-kä)
Glittering with gold or tinsel.
Imitation gold leaf; tinsel; glitter.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Review: Raven Black by Ann Cleeves

If you saw the recent BBC drama Shetland you might find Ann Cleeves's Raven Black confusing. Clearly part of the TV programme was based on it, but it seems that maybe two books were combined. It was the drama production that convinced me to try this novel. I enjoyed the show immensely and thought the characters were worth more attention.  I wasn’t wrong. The brooding scenery and the intensity of island relationships come across very well.  There was enough emphasis on detective Jimmy Perez’s position as an outsider – a Fair Isle man making a living on Shetland – to highlight the oppression of living in a community where everyone else has always known your business.

At least I finally got an explanation of why a Fair Isler had a name like Perez in the first place! I just wish I hadn’t spent the whole read swinging from parts I recognised to a completely new tale.  And I was stuck with Douglas Henshall's face as the main character. Not that I’m complaining. It’s a perfectly fine face, but I probably wouldn’t have cast him if I’d read before I viewed.

If you didn’t see the programme you will have no problems at all with this well crafted and well written tale. Cleeve’s writing is tight and easy to read.  The plot is convincing and the killer’s motives are justifiable (in crime writing terms) .  There are sufficient red herrings among the genuine clues and a smattering of old Shetland history and culture woven among the details of a more universal crime.

The book opens with two young girls on their way home after a New Year night on the town, visiting an old man to wish him well for the coming year. He has been a recluse since the death of his mother and is distrusted by the locals for his suspected part in the unsolved disappearance of a young girl many years before.  When one of the girls is later found strangled in the snow near his house the rumours begin.
Since I knew the TV version of the story I can’t tell you whether you’ll see the ending coming or not. I suspect you might. But it doesn’t really matter if you do. Read the book for the atmosphere and enjoyment of it. You won’t be sorry.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Now that April's here........ (Thursday extracts)

Home Thoughts From Abroad

O, to be in England   
Now that April 's there,   
And whoever wakes in England   
Sees, some morning, unaware,   
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf            
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,   
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough   
In England—now!

Robert Browning (1812 - 1889)
Poem dated 1845

Monday, April 01, 2013

Book review: Murder on Ice

Backwoods Canada, depths of January, and the townspeople of Murphy's Harbour are getting ready for their Winter Carnival. One of the events is a beauty pageant, which turns sour when the out-of-town winner is snatched by kidnappers, just as she is about to receive her crown.

At first it looks as if it's a publicity stunt by a Women's Liberation group, but when local cop Reid Bennett and his police dog Sam find the strangled body of one of the feminists in a nearby motel it's obvious there's more to the crime than first suspected.

Bennett sets off to rescue the snatched beauty queen but his efforts are hampered by the interference of other group members, who seem not to understand that their scheme has been hijacked by vicious thugs with a murderous agenda of their own.

Corpses turn up in unlikely places and Bennett battles both the killers and the weather in his efforts to bring all the gang to justice.

It has to be remembered that the book was written in 1984, so some of its attitudes need to be forgiven. The world has matured since then. Much of the phraseology about feminism and homosexuality can be explained as being correct for the characters, but the book also gives the impression that author Ted Wood might have had a few issues of his own.

Murder on Ice, Ted Wood, 1984.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Thursday extracts: It's still snowing!

April Snow

by Caroline Spencer

The green was creeping o'er the brown,
The skies dropt bluebirds yesterday;
Again today the snow is down,
And spring a thousand miles away.

Full text here.

Yeah - I know it's still March. But it won't be on Monday.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Book review: The Sculptor by Gregory Funaro

Night by Michelangelo Buonarroti

The Sculptor isn't the best book ever written, but it's certainly among the best I've read recently. It's quite a chilling tale.

Someone is recreating the works of Michelangelo, only they're using real bodies, rather than marble. The first statue, Bacchus, turns up in a wealthy banker's garden and features the corpses of a well-known football player and an unknown teenage boy. At least - half of a boy. Because the man who calls himself The Sculptor has created a satyr from the top half of the teen's body and the back end of a goat. Frighteningly, the work is dedicated to art historian Dr Catherine Hildebrant, who is called in to help the FBI's behavioural analysis unit interpret the killer's motives.

Right from the start author Gregory Funaro allows us into The Sculptor's mind, so we can compare his thought processes to the conclusions being reached by the 'pretty art historian' and FBI special agent Sam Markham.

We also get a rapid development of the inevitable relationship between the agent and the 'pretty art historian'. Rather than leaving the association to provide a neat, happy ending to the last chapter, Funaro allows the pair to become close at the start. It means the reader is never sure that a happy ending is actually on the cards.

I won't be so mean as to spoil the end. Just remember, it's a chilling read. It's also an excellent, fast-paced novel with an unusual back story behind the Sculptor's behaviour. There's a bit of pop psychology, but nothing too trite, and there are a few blind alleys to be lost in before the book reaches its violent crescendo.

In fact my only real complaint is Funaro's insistence on (and presumably an editor's failure to spot) the repeated use of the phrase 'pretty art historian'. Unless you're a stickler for that kind of thing like I am, you probably won't notice.

And I guarantee you'll track down a photo of the sculpture of Bacchus before you reach Chapter Three.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Do you know where your towel is?

Today would have been Douglas Adams's 61st birthday. He died at the shockingly young age of 49, from an undiagnosed heart problem.

It also means that he was shockingly young - just 26 - when he wrote the brilliant radio series Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which spawned the later books, TV series and film.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Thursday Extracts: Smile

Sunny smile

Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it's breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you'll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You'll see the sun come shining through for you

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That's the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what's the use of crying?
You'll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile

That's the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what's the use of crying?
You'll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile

Words by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons, to a tune by Charlie Chaplin

If you'd like to listen to is sung by the great Nat King Cole click here

Monday, February 25, 2013

New words

I learned a new word. It's isogloss.

I like words. I've been a professional writer for most of my working life: journalist, public relations officer, communications manager. They are my talent, so it's quite rare when I learn a new one. I've already added it to my 26 words A-Z page .

One of the things about being a professional wordsmith is that I pride myself on being able to dissect words to work out what they might mean. I had no idea with this one.

The first part of the word, iso-, is derived from the Greek isos. It means 'equal'. It's sort of like the stem of isobar (a line on a map that shows connected points of equal pressure).  Or isomer (a compound with an identical chemical formula to another substance, but with differently-shaped molecules, like diamond and graphite).

The second part, -gloss, escaped me at first. It wasn't until I knew what the word meant that I made the connection. Like glossary, it's to do with language. In fact -gloss also derives from Greek, from the word glossa, meaning language.

So an isogloss is a line that defines the limit of a language, or more accurately in the study of linguistics, the limit of a dialect. It's the point at which "our 'ouse" (the way I pronounce the word) becomes "are 'arse" (the way they pronounce it in South Yorkshire).  Or similar boundaries in other parts of the country.

If you read my other blogs you'll know that this kind of thing fascinates me. I recently wrote a post about how different accents affect people's perception of the speaker. I discovered this word in a radio broadcast by the poet Ian McMillan called The 'Arse that Jack Built. It's still available online. Take a listen.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Thinking 10 again

There are Thinking 10 challenges every day but I don't get time to do them all. Today's was to write something with the word 'fork' in the second sentence.

The shiny, green slab bore no resemblance to any food I had encountered before, but I knew I would have to overcome my revulsion and eat it, for the sake of politeness. I picked up a fork and gave the offending square a hesitant push. Nothing moved. I would have had more response from a piece of concrete. Unhelpfully, my mind jumped to the idea of miniature gardens, and I could imagine tiny flowers and a small pond populating the rest of the dish.

Looking up I saw every set of eyes around the table focused me; the faces smiling, with a few helpful nods toward the plated paving stone in front of me. One of my hosts even let out a long ‘mmm’ as if to reassure me I had a treat in store.

I knew about foreign treats: sheep’s eyeballs, bulls’ testicles, dogs’ penises. But I could think of no animal that yielded small, green, geometric shapes. My mind suddenly leapt to the idea of cows, and the regurgitated grass they chew on all day. Please, don’t let it be cow cud. I couldn’t stomach something that had already been through a bovine digestive system. No-one else at the table had touched their share of the delicacy. Clearly I had priority, as the honoured guest.

Then one of the women took pity on me. She reached across, lifted a small jug from beside my plate, and poured its contents over the miniature lawn. Immediately, its corners began to crumble and a small piece fell away into the pooling sauce. I just had to brave it out and eat the fragment. Lifting the crumb to my mouth I hastily threw it as far back on my tongue as I could and swallowed.

Coconut! Sweet coconut, and some sort of honey syrup. To my surprise it tasted delicious. The rest of my companions let out an assortment of small cheers and giggles. One or two even clapped, then they all began to eat their own dessert, happy with my reaction.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Not just for Valentine's Day

Perhaps love is like a resting place
A shelter from the storm
It exists to give you comfort
It is there to keep you warm
And in those times of trouble
When you are most alone
The memory of love will bring you home

Perhaps love is like a window
Perhaps an open door
It invites you to come closer
It wants you to show you more
And even when you lose yourself
And don't know what to do
The memory of love will see you through

Oh, love to some is like cloud
To some as strong as steel
For some a way of living
For some a way to feel
And some say love is holding on
And some say letting go
And some love is everything
Others, they don't know

Perhaps love is like the ocean
Full of conflict full of pain
Like a fire when its cold outside
Or thunder when it rains
If I should live forever
And all my dreams come true
My memories of love will be of you

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Thursday extracts: cormorant

The common cormorant or shag
Lays eggs inside a paper bag.
The reason you will see, no doubt,
It is to keep the lightning out.
But what these unobservant birds
Have failed to notice is that herds
Of wandering bears may come with buns
And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.


Monday, February 11, 2013

Another Thinking Ten

In case you don't know about Thinking Ten it's an online workshop for writers. Every day there's a prompt and you have ten minutres to write something inspired by it. Monday's location day, and today it's The Theatre (Although it's an American site, so it says 'theater', but I refuse to miss out the U in colour, the E in axe or eat 'oregganno'.) Here's my offering for today.

It's his birthday soon and I really had no idea what to get him. Neither of us actually needs anything, and he's so soppy about presents that whatever I do he'll say he loves it. So I never know if he's truly happy with my gifts, or just being his wonderful, kind, considerate, polite self. When I saw the advert for the exhibition I desperately wanted to go, but it's hardly his sort of event. I offered him an opening by saying we could head London-wards for the weekend, see my museum piece and spend the rest of the time doing what he wants. I thought he'd say dinner and a bottle of good wine, but no. "Great," he enthused,"Let's see a West End show." How should I know he'd always wanted to see The Mousetrap? He never mentioned it before. I found myself nodding and smiling and agreeing and wondering just how I could afford all that. So now we're staying In Town at a plush but expensive hotel, seeing the exhibition, going to the theatre, as well as dinner and wine. He's even mentioned bagels and lox in Golders Green on Sunday. I wonder what I can sell to pay for everything.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Thursday extracts: today's Thinking Ten contribution

When the alarm went off this morning I really didn't want to leave my bed. I knew it would backfire, but I craved just another ten minutes in the warm, soft, duvet coccoon. Well of course I dozed off again and had to rush my normal routine. Made sure of the essentials: not quite a shit, shave and shower; more teeth, tablets and toast. And then out of the house. There was no time to sort out my day over a leisurely coffee like I usually do. I catapulted from the front door, still buttoning my jacket, because it was so bitingly cold outside. Forgotten scarf. And where were my gloves? Underdone bread gripped between my incisors after being ripped from the toaster before it was truly browned. No time to wait for it to pop. Looking back I suppose I could have saved a few minutes by skipping breakfast, but I really couldn't afford to be hungry today because of the presentation. I'm unlikely to make an impression if my belly's rumbling. Of course I'm even less likely to make one when I try to give the speech without notes. Papers I took home last night to rehearse, and left beside the coffee pot to remind me to bring them back today.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Thursday extracts: weather

When men were all asleep the snow came flying,

In large white flakes falling on the city brown,
Stealthily and perpetually settling and loosely lying,
Hushing the latest traffic of the drowsy town;
Deadening, muffling, stifling its murmurs failing;
Lazily and incessantly floating down and down:
Silently sifting and veiling road, roof and railing;
Hiding difference, making unevenness even,
Into angles and crevices softly drifting and sailing.
All night it fell, and when full inches seven
It lay in the depth of its uncompacted lightness,
The clouds blew off from a high and frosty heaven;
And all woke earlier for the unaccustomed brightness
Of the winter dawning, the strange unheavenly glare:
The eye marvelled—marvelled at the dazzling whiteness;
The ear hearkened to the stillness of the solemn air;
No sound of wheel rumbling nor of foot falling,
And the busy morning cries came thin and spare.   London Snow
Robert Bridges 1844–1930


Seemed fitting. Although the most we've had overnight is three inches. And I'm nowhere near London.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

I miss my Dad

May 93
Gardener, story teller, driver, encourager, toy-maker, first-aider, painter, sculptor, cartoonist, chef, carer, inspiration, comedian, mimic, walker, dancer, animal-lover, scientist, scholar, teacher, reader, supporter, helper, wonder, sadly missed, Dad.

Jan 12, 1926 - Oct 28, 1999

One of three linked posts. Please also see
An Inchie a Day

Friday, January 04, 2013


I'm a convert to eBooks but I couldn't resist this.


Copyright belongs to this man

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Thursday extracts: the nature of vampires

conscience is
the measure of the
honesty of your selfishness.
Listen to it

"We are all free to do whatever we want to do,” he said that night. “Isn’t that simple and clean and clear? Isn’t that a great way to run a universe?”

Almost. You forgot a pretty important part,” I said.


“We are all free to do what we want to do, as long as we don’t hurt somebody else,” I chided. “I know you meant that, but you ought to say what you mean.”

There was a sudden shambling sound in the dark, and I looked at him quickly. “Did you hear that?”“Yeah. Sounds like there’s somebody...” He got up, walked into the dark. He laughed suddenly, said a name I couldn’t catch.

“It’s OK,” I heard him say. “No, we’d be glad to have you... no need you standing around... come on, you’re welcome, really...”

The voice was heavily accented, not quite Russian, nor Czech,more Transylvanian. “Thank you. I do not wish to impose myself upon your evening...”

The man he brought with him to the firelight was, well, he was unusual to find in a midwest night. A small lean wolflike fellow, frightening to the eye, dressed in evening clothes, a black cape lined in red satin, he was uncomfortable in the light.

“I was passing by,” he said. “The field is a shortcut to my house...”

“Is it?” Shimoda did not believe the man, knew he was lying, and at the same time did all he could to keep from laughing out loud. I hoped to understand before long.

“Make yourself comfortable,” I said. “Can we help you at all?”

I really didn’t feel that helpful, but he was so shrinking, I did want him to be at ease, if he could.

He looked on me with a desperate smile that turned me to ice.

“Yes, you can help me. I need this very much or I would not ask. May I drink your blood? Just some? It is my food, I need human blood...”

Maybe it was the accent, he didn’t know English that well or I didn’t understand his words, but I was on my feet quicker than I had been in many a month, hay flying into the fire from my quickness.

The man stepped back. I am generally harmless, but I am not a small person and I could have looked threatening. He turned his head away. “Sir, I am sorry! I am sorry! Please forget that I said anything about blood! But you see...”

“What are you saying?” I was the more fierce because I was scared. “What in the hell are you saying, mister? I don’t know what you are, are you some kind of VAM-?”

Shimoda cut me off before I could say the word. “Richard, our guest was talking, and you interrupted. Please go ahead, sir; my friend is a little hasty.”

“Donald,” I said, “this guy...”

“Be quiet!”

That surprised me so much that I was quiet, and looked a sort of terrified question at the man, caught from his native darkness into our firelight.

“Please to understand. I did not choose to be born vampire. Is unfortunate. I do not have many friends. But I must have a certain small amount of fresh blood every night or I writhe in terrible pain, longer than that without it and I cannot live! Please, I will be deeply hurt - I will die - if you do not allow me to suck your blood... just a small amount, more than a pint I do not need.” He advanced a step toward me, licking his lips, thinking that Shimoda somehow controlled me and would make me submit.

“One more step and there will be blood, all right. Mister, you touch me and you die...” I wouldn’t have killed him, but I did want to tie him up, at least, before we talked much more.

He must have believed me, for he stopped and sighed. He turned to Shimoda. “You have made your point?”

“I think so. Thank you.” The vampire looked up at me and smiled, completely at ease, enjoying himself hugely, an actor on stage when the show is over.

“I won’t drink your blood, Richard,” he said in perfect friendly English, no accent at all. As I watched he faded as though he was turning out his own light... in five seconds he had disappeared.

Shimoda sat down again by the fire. “Am I ever glad you don’t mean what you say!”

I was still trembling with adrenalin, ready for my fight with a monster. “Don, I’m not sure I’m built for this. Maybe you’d better

tell me what’s going on. Like, for instance, what... was that?”

“Dot was a wompire from Tronsylwania,” he said in words thicker than the creature’s own. “Or to be more precise, dot was a thought-form of a wompire from Tronsylwania. If you ever want to make a point, you think somebody isn’t listening, whip ‘em up a little thought-form to demonstrate what you mean. Do you think I overdid him, with the cape and the fangs and the accent like that?

Was he too scary for you?”

“The cape was first class, Don. But that was the most stereotyped, outlandish... I wasn’t scared at all.”

He sighed. “Oh well. But you got the point, at least, and that’s what matters.”

“What point?”

“Richard, in being so fierce toward my vampire, you were doing what you wanted to do, even though you thought it was

going to hurt somebody else. He even told you he’d be hurt if...”

“He was going to suck my blood!”

“Which is what we do to anyone when we say we’ll be hurt if they don’t live our way.”

I was quiet for a long time, thinking about that. I had always believed that we are free to do as we please only if we don’t hurt another, and this didn’t fit. There was something missing.

“The thing that puzzles you,” he said, “is an accepted saying that happens to be impossible. The phrase is hurt somebody else. We choose, ourselves, to be hurt or not to be hurt, no matter what. Us who decides. Nobody else. My vampire told you he’d be hurt if you didn’t let him? That’s his decision to be hurt, that’s his choice. What you do about it is your decision, your choice: give him blood; ignore him; tie him up; drive a stake of holly through his heart. If he doesn’t want the holly stake, he’s free to resist, in whatever way he wants. It goes on and on, choices, choices.”

“When you look at it that way...”

“Listen,” he said, “it’s important. We are all. Free. To do. Whatever. We want. To do.

Richard Bach