Damaging Civil Society Through Re-enactment #writephoto #littletittweaking

This week’s #writephoto prompt takes us off to Little Tittweaking unexpectedly…

The Little Tittweaking Reenactment Society has been a hot bed for intrigue and unpleasantness. Its committee comprises three elderly rebarbative grandmothers, the jaundiced Nan King, the icy Nan Tucket and and the monstrous Nana Purna. Despite being congenitally incapable of agreeing with the others, the society somehow functions. In 2019, a decision of a sort was taken to reenact the principle events of World War Two, commencing on the 80th anniversary in September.

As was customary in Little Tittweaking, little forewarning was given of the upcoming plans. Indeed so surprised was Ivor Goneski, the one Polish resident to find the three harridans, dressed as members of the Waffen SS invading his allotment that he took to his shed and refused to emerge without a police guard.

The town began to complain at the regular occurrence of air raid warnings that followed, variously, the unexpected arrival of an Ocado van, a swarm of Estonian bees, which found a home on Postillion Gerund’s overzealous architraves and the perturbation caused by the Vicar losing his kite during a particularly poignant exorcism of Mrs Jeroboam’s radishes.

Happily, the lull that replicated the period of ‘sitzkrieg’ coincided with the first lock down in 2020. The three witches had plans to invade Madame Pincenez’s novelty toiletries emporium but when the route via Hard Ken’s woods was closed, they retreated via the Churchyard while consoling themselves that no one really cared about the French anyway.

Hopes rose, as some of the restrictions were lifted that their next extravaganza – to replicate the Battle of Britain, through the medium of corralling all the German shepherds and English bull terriers and getting them to fight – might take place, but the dogs, when approached, said they were essentially pacifist, they preferred sniffing anuses to ripping off ears and could they please have more chicken?

Disappointed but far from downcast, the Nans plotted their next campaign. The lack of a beach initially made the Battle for the Western desert seem unfeasible, but the entrepreneurial Nans offered to childmind their seventeen grand offspring in the school sandpit. In an unexpected turn of events, five year old Jemima Piddle forced a retreat of the forces of good, aka Mrs Plectrum’s nursery class when she evacuated her bowels in Horace the Dinosaur. Other planned evacuations of the children were thus put on hold.

Now on a roll, just before a second lockdown in December 2021, Nan King donned her Madame Butterfly wig and attacked her neighbour, Pearl Sofwisdom’s hedge. The damage to Pearl’s Arbour didn’t go down well and ever since the Sofwisdoms have tried to undermine the Nan Plans.

The controversy arising from such wanton foliage destruction, has caused a rethink of the events. An injunction was sought to stop the planned Operation on Barbara’s Roger as being both tasteless in the light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and likely to cause Ned Stalin to stop supplying illicit sachets of psychotropic borscht to the residents of Little Tittweaking’s Home for the Permanently Bewildered.

Consequently, the Nans have gone underground while they plan their reenactment of the D Day landings. No one knows what or where this might take place which has led to the residents of Little Tittweaking fortifying their front gardens with new fences and the occasional gun battery. Everyone is on edge and not looking forward to 2024. As the Reverend Hamish McTatty recalled at a recent town meeting which was called to try and raise funds to repair the damage to the Church when the Nans withdrew from their early attempts to squat in the Toiletries Emporium in Early 2020, ‘They Dun my Kirk, so whatever next?’

Posted in #writephoto, creative writing, humour, little Tittweaking, miscellany | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Week Twenty-Four: 2022

I’ve never had a massive urge to attend the Glastonbury festival, or any of the other biggies that dominate the summer weekends hereabouts. Maybe it is the idea of standing for hours; maybe it’s the risk of mud topping one’s boots, having heard horrors of people, knee deep in gloop, just about ready to embrace the ‘experience’ when a small yet perfectly formed stool pops to the surface next to one’s wellies; maybe it’s the idea of the communal loos and the state they will inevitably be in by the Sunday. It’s all a little Sub Sherlock – ‘It’s Alimentary, Dr Watson’ – for me. But I enjoy watching the broadcasts, bands and artists old and new.

While the Vet and the Pest Controller are there, telling one and all how great it is, I’m entirely happy to be an armchair critic – Paul McCartney’s voice isn’t as bad as I thought it would be but he really does need to give up on Hey Jude; Billie Eilish’s whispering style doesn’t translate to the small screen; Elbow are a fabulous band; and Diana Ross should be told that taffeta isn’t her thing but while her voice still has the wheels she can wear what she likes; and I do like Sam Fender.

While on the subject to music, how splendid is it that Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill is back in the charts? I remember liking Wuthering Heights in 1978 despite myself. At that time I was a dedicated follower of all things punk, even though my nascent legal career and some genetically indisposed follicles meant I couldn’t carry off the spiky haired punk look. You’d have been more likely to have found me listening to the Ramones, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, the Stranglers, Dr Feelgood, the Pistols, the Jam, the Clash et al. But you couldn’t ignore that extraordinary debut. What I hadn’t realised until this latest moment in the sun for La Bush was how she broke so many glass ceilings in her career to date. I shall have to go to her back catalogue and remind myself of her skills.

about as radical as I got…

For the purposes of balance, I should remind readers that my career as a follower of the modern music genre didn’t start high on the cool spectrum with my first two albums being by, respectively, Gilbert O’Sullivan and the Carpenters. The only way is up, or so they say.

The news that the SCOTUS has repealed Roe v Wade is depressing. I have no affinity for or truck with religious zealotry which seems to be at the root of this change and it is just so regressive. I have early memories of my (Conservative leaning) father moaning about the Labour government that lasted from 1964 to 1970, and naturally assumed he must know a thing or two. But as I look back on the extraordinary achievements during that period, I have to wonder if any government, before or since was as reforming. They didn’t get it all right – their attempts to control rents for private tenants effectively destroyed the private rented sector over the next twenty years. But amongst the legislation that started then we have: Equal Pay, Equality in Race Relations and banning sex discrimination in work, legalising homosexual relationships and Abortion, the ending of the death penalty, criminalising drunk driving and a Prime Minister who defied convention and the Special Relationship and refused to join the US in Vietnam. Harold Wilson may seem like a grey man, more civil servant that dynamic political leader but, in truth, couldn’t we do with some of that clear sighted insightful government right now? All I can say of the current administration is that it shows no signs of trying to reverse any of this hard won progress. That, at least, is something.

The garden continues to be be splendid though we have competition. I was walking Dog back from our morning’s perambulation on Sunday and passed the grand vista that encompasses Dulwich College, one of three large, well endowed and successful private schools hereabout. Around the edge of their playing fields that are overlooked by the stunning Victorian buildings there was this, one part of several strips of wildflowers they have planted.

I may not have the backdrop of a significant gothic pile, but I still think mine are better…

Posted in 2022, thought piece | Tagged , , | 16 Comments

Translating Heroes #theatre

I saw a film in 1985 called Letter To Brezhnev. It was fairly popular but I doubt it travelled widely. It told of a romance between a Liverpudlian woman and Russian sailor and I might have imagined there would be subtitles. There weren’t – the Russian spoke English – but in the first ten minutes I wished there were as the woman and her friend had such thick Scouse accents that I was clueless what was happening.

Last night I saw To Kill A Mockingbird at the Gielgud Theatre in the West End. The opening is a bare stage where the three narrators emerge. These are Atticus’ two children, Scout and Jem and their friend Dill, unlike in the book when it is just Scout. It was when Scout first spoke that Letter to Brezhnev popped into my head. The actress adopted such a thick Southern accent that I had no clue what she or indeed they were on about.

It turned out they were talking about a character falling on a knife and that foreshadowed the ending.

Which was one of many ways in which the play differed from the book.

Which was something of both a challenge and a risk.

Which led me to wondering about adaptations of the classics.

That start and the early court scenes were unsatisfactory. Scout isn’t six, she’s nearer thirteen; the judge is too obviously on the side of the accused; Atticus almost preened.

By twenty minutes in, I was discouraged which was a shame. It’s a great story, the reviews from New York suggested the adaptation maintained the essence of the novel and, in Rafe Spall they had a supreme actor at the peak of his powers. What’s not to like?

Well, truth be told, once the split scenes settled into some sort of coherence and we’d deep dived into the meat of the story, things really picked up.

There were still some clunky pieces that flattened the enjoyment. Atticus’ cross examination of the accuser and his final speech to the jury felt a bit like they’d been drafted by a rap artist before being polished in the editing room. The final scene when Jem is knocked out and there is a question over whether he killed the main antagonist is played like a opera with out the music and bouncy baritones.

But overall it worked. If you know the book inside out, this will seem simplistic and lack depth. If, like me, you remember it from school and enjoy how the themes within are portrayed then the occasionally clunky dialogue and irritating triple narration won’t put you off.

It’s lucky we went, in truth. The original tickets were in 2020. Then it was rearranged twice in 2021. Persistence pays off, clearly.

Posted in miscellany, theatre | Tagged , | 21 Comments

History Repeats

‘She’s there, just by the shore.’ Sarah glanced nervously at Martine, hoping for some response. Any response.

‘How far?’

Sarah sighed. Martine was like the others. ‘About 200 yards, at two o’clock. She’s staring out to sea.’ Of course she was. ‘You don’t think I’m bonkers, do you?’

Martine put an arm round her friend. Yes, maybe a bit, she thought. ‘Course. Always were. But only after a couple of peach mojitos.’

The smile, when it came, was forced. ‘She never looks back. Not once.’

‘When did you find her?’

Sarah nodded, grateful that Martine was at least trying to believe. No one ever saw the woman. Only her. Of course, only her. ‘Three years ago. I thought I was mad.’ She snorted a short laugh. ‘I think the really mad bit was coming back the next year, to check. I had to know.’

‘Know?’

Sarah shook the tension from her shoulders. ‘Come on. I’ll explain as we walk.’

‘Where are we going?’ Martine vaguely hoped it was coffee. June on the beach wasn’t always welcoming.

‘To prove I’m as sane as you.’

Good luck with that, thought Martine as she followed her down the steps.

Sarah started speaking, in a flat voice. ‘Her name was Kate Atkinson. She was nineteen, married, with a daughter. On 25th June 1944 she came here to stare at France, knowing her beloved husband Albert was there, part of the D Day landings. He was a radio operator.’ She swallowed. ‘He was killed outside a small town about ten miles inland. A gas explosion, apparently. Kate received a telegram the day after hew as killed.’ She stopped and looked at Martine. ‘You wouldn’t think they could have been that efficient.’

‘How’d you find that out?’

‘The coroner’s court records were put on line a few years ago. Kate came here the same day she heard the news. She dressed her best. Nice skirt and blouse. Patent leather shoes. Shoes for dancing. She took them off and walked into the sea.’ She checked her watch. ‘In about five minutes.’

‘Geez, you’re not serious?’ Martine stopped and stared at the empty beach, trying to imagine being that depressed. Especially a mother of a child.

Sarah had kept going but she paused to wait for her friend. ‘I don’t get too close until she’s gone. I worry I might see her expression. I don’t think I could cope with that.’

‘Earlier, when I said how did you find out I meant how did you find her name.’

Sarah smiled. ‘It’s why I came first time. She was my grandma. When mum went into the home I found a shoebox in her wardrobe. There were pictures of Kate and Bert, a newspaper article about his death and hers. They only knew it was here she walked into the sea because she took off her shoes. It was foggy that day, a real peasouper, and no one saw her go.’ Sarah turned towards the shore and stood very still.

To Martine, it looked like a thousand yard stare, but she knew now what Sarah was seeing. Then Sarah sighed, her shoulders dropping as the tension left them.  Like the relief at the end of the minute’s silence, Martine thought.

‘Is it over?’

Sarah nodded. ‘Come on, before the tide turns.’

In silence the pair trudged across the wet sand, both of them gazing towards France as Kate has done seventy five years before. Sarah began hunting for something, her head down concentrating hard. ‘Here.’ Her voice spoke of relief not triumph.

Martine walked over. Sarah stood a few feet from a set of prints: the sole and heel of two size six, or so Martine guessed, women’s shoes placed side by side. Leading away from those two prints and into the sea were more prints but these were bare feet, deep and determined. She looked up and met Sarah’s gaze.

‘You can see them?’

‘Yes. Yes I can. Oh my dear, how utterly poignant.’ A thought struck her. ‘If you can see your grandma, what about your mum? Do you think she might? Even now?’

Sarah crouched down and traced the edge of one shoe print with her finger. A wave curled across the toe softening the edges. She stood, brushing away a few grains of sand. ‘Let’s get a coffee.’

As they headed across the beach, Sarah peered at the flat white sky. ‘I thought about that but it’s too late.’ Tears which Martine had expected earlier poured down Sarah’s cheeks. ‘She’s gone into the fog, just like Grandma did.’ She sniffed and took her friend’s arm. ‘Let’s hope they find some comfort in there, eh?’

Behind them the waves spread across the sand, smoothing it for another year.

This is another story that will feature in the upcoming anthology, Life and Soul.

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I Swear

As a child I was sheltered from the adult world in many ways. One part, to which I returned this week was swearing and what one might describe as Oaths, Ancient and Modern.

During my primary school years, I became aware of swearing though it was mild by today’s standards. The worst swearing imaginable was to insert ‘bloody’ into a sentence such as: ‘That’s bloody ridiculous.’

Dad also had problems with ‘damn’. And he squirmed if either the Archaeologist or I said ‘Oh God.’

Being told ‘Don’t swear,’ if we used these words was pretty common the older we got. The hypocrisy too as he wasn’t able, as was mum, to control his language under strain. But then again it was a time of don’t do as I do, do as I say.

As for the F and C words? I couldn’t have guessed what they might be, back then. Flipping? Cripes? Possibly the C might be a bit more blaspheming in a dad’s eyes: Oh Christ! That was a no no. So what could be worse than that?

I turned two corners in my early teenage years, in terms of language.

First, when my Uncle un-emigrated from Australia. I remembered my uncle and aunt from the early sixties but only snippets. They had a car before mum and dad. They loved picnicking. And uncle sang ‘There was an old lady who swallowed a fly…’ with lots of actions, just for me.

Then they decided to try their luck as ten pound poms, or whatever scheme was in place. When they returned, ten years or so later, they brought my two cousins. My first cousins, two lively super blonde girls of about six and four. We met at my gran’s in Kent and that first day is memorable for a walk to the shops. My aunt had us play a game of not treading on the edge of the pavement. When my cousin lost her balance and crossed a crack, her response shook me.

‘Oh bloody hell!’ She was about six.*

(* my cousin, however, denies this. Of course she does. She has the same, or similar, genes, the same instinct to snobbery as me).

I looked at my aunt. She smiled back at me. It didn’t matter. It was just a word.

I’m not sure how I processed this. But I’m pretty sure, after that, I wasn’t so intimidated by the power of language.

And the second thing? Chaucer. Studying English literature was eye opening. His language was… erm, earthy? Extraordinary? And we were being taught about it as if it was normal. No longer would the C word be cripes…

The power of language is extraordinary. So many words are used to hurt, to control, to embarrass, to belittle. But of course, it’s not the word itself, but who’s using it and to what end. Watching the Hoffman film on Lenny Bruce in the 70s had a strong impact. Since then I’ve been cautious about those who try and dictate what language I can use. I understand some words have been made to carry associations that give them a power over and above others. I am happy to abide by the cultural norms, if otherwise it would cause offence. They will no doubt change as they have changed before in my time.

But swearing? Nope, I enjoy it too much to stop now.

Posted in family, memories, miscellany, thought piece | Tagged , , , , , | 41 Comments

A saucy postcard and a Limerick

As a child, I had a summer holiday every year at my Gran’s house on the north Kent coast at Herne Bay. It had all you could want as a holiday destination: a beach, albeit mostly made up of stones, two sea water pools to risk life and limb in as they were slathered in seaweed, a pier, a clockhouse, a promenade, a cinema with Saturday morning pictures, fish and chips and cockle stalls. It also had those ubiquitous tacky gift shops. We weren’t allowed to spend our pocket money on the most off kilter examples but a postcard for the other grandparent or a school friend was permitted.

When sifting through the selection, I was always intrigued by the cartoon cards. Cartoons were for children yet these were ones that caused laughter amongst the adults but seemed daft to me. This was my introduction to the saucy postcard.

This memory came to me when Esther Chilton provided this week’s Limerick prompt

Boil

Imagine if you will a surprised nurse, holding a pan of water, a doctor looking aghast and a horrified patient gripping the blankets. This was in mind when I wrote this little ditty

Trainee nurse, Christopher Tick

Was as mustard keen as he was thick.

When told to prick Colin Doyle’s

Large and aggressive buttock boil,

He, instead, heated water and boiled his…

Posted in humour, limericks, miscellany, poems, poetry | Tagged , , , | 33 Comments

Wishing Yourself Free #99wordstories

The #99wordstories prompt from the Carrot Ranch this week is

June 20, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about what freedom feels like. Whose point of view do you use? Does the idea of freedom cause tension or bring hope? Let the reader feel the freedom. Go where the prompt leads!

Wishing Yourself Free

Save a Sprite, get a wish; it was Little Tittweaking lore. For many it meant freedom; for Norman Nocoff, not so much.

Norman played a set at the Compost and Rot. He allowed the foot high piano-player to join him. A visiting pig castrater, sipping dubonnet gawped. ‘Who’s he?’

He couldn’t explain, not again. Norman was broken; why had the sprite been partly deaf? Norman was young, only thinking of girls. Slipping his wish away, he returned to the horrible moment his wish had been granted, and he had opened his hand to find a twelve inch pianist.

Posted in #99wordstories, Carrot Ranch Congress of Rough Writers, creative writing, humour, little Tittweaking, miscellany | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Week Twenty-three: 2022

We went to the theatre last week to see Middle at the National.

As the name suggests, it’s the middle play of three. We missed the Beginning or the Start or the Commencement (I’ve not checked) which didn’t seem to matter. It’s a challenge writing something in parts and making each part standalone yet echo and foreshadow the other elements without overdoing the catch up. This managed it ok.

In this case the setting was domestic, the middle section of a marriage that was at a tipping point. The wife has decided it had come to an end, the husband wanted to avoid considering anything beyond the pork roast he planned on cooking the next day and so the jeopardy of the drama was established.

Some of it was a little stereotypical, trite almost, a lot thoughtful discussion belying the inherent difficulties in determining something had ended and having a neat explanation of why when the whys comprised nothing nuclear. Incremental breakdowns have no defining features, no stopping point. Sometimes, as here it seems that the lack of an inciting incident made it harder to handle than the crushing car crash of an affair would be.

The couple tried to talk but there was no territory that held firm long enough. It was painful and funny, too.

At one point the confused Gary despaired at his wife’s attempts to keep everything civilised as if such a catastrophe could be handled with grace. ‘We’re from Essex,’ he sighed. ‘We don’t do conscious uncouplings in Essex’… he looked wistful. ‘A few unconscious couplings, sure…’

At the end, as with the marriage itself, nothing was clear. Was it over or could it be saved? I’m guessing, as this was the Middle, it was the latter. Maybe not. It’ll make the Ending interesting if a little short, if it all finished in the Middle. In truth it was excellent and it didn’t really matter. They were muddled and they would keep on muddling.

Like so much in life.

Coming out of a play like that leaves me a bit discombobulated. I’m not sure what to think, I need to process things and so am not really in the frame of mind to be confronted by a new electronic barrier to exit the car park. I sat starting at the stand, looking where to put my ticket and failing to ascertain a slot while the peeps behind me told me to stop bring so senile. It was only as I moved my gaze to the mirror to glare behind me that I caught a glimpse of an open barrier. I drove through feeling (a) foolish and (b) nervous in case my delay caused the barrier to get bored and close on the car roof.

I was back hanging quilts on Saturday. The Textiliste will be curating another show in September but, meanwhile a charity she has worked for – Fine Cell – who teach prisoners to quilt enjoyed their 25th anniversary and hired Bell House, the venue of the Quilt Show, for a celebration. Naturally, given her knowledge of what works Mrs LP was inveigled into the organising which meant me and a ladder were called upon. I rather hoped that the quilt she managed from conception to completion as part of a V&A commission for their first quilt exhibition some years ago might feature.

One section; I’m sure our cats sat on this corner a fair bit.

Apparently, despite being manhandled by goodness knows how many clammed fingered cons while it was being made, now it has joined the V&A collection it costs several £000s to hire, you need to give at least a year’s notice and amongst other conditions when hung, it must be behind a Perspex screen. I am sure it’s absence was toasted.

It even made it into the garden…

Temperatures here soared into the low 30sC. To some that will seem chickenfeed. To we Brits, it’s Death Valley and Mercury rolled into one. Dog just can’t get it.

Posted in 2022, miscellany, theatre, thought | Tagged , , | 33 Comments

Life And Soul #shortfiction #flashfiction

Every year I collected together the pieces of short fiction I’ve written into an anthology. The current set I’m working on is from 2019 and it can be a challenge. The most difficult bit, as the writers amongst you may concur is finding an example which really isn’t up to the mark. Then you have the challenge of trying to improve it or, if it’s incapable of remedy, binning it.

This short piece is a case in point. It’s not long and I’ve trimmed it and changed it. I wonder what you think? Worthy of inclusion?

Little Helpers

‘I hate this time of year, you know.’

‘I’m not listening, Elvis.’

‘I don’t ask to get picked, Ernie, but I always am.’

‘It’s a privilege, you know. Errol’s never had a turn.’

‘He can take my place, any time.’

‘Don’t be silly. The Missus chooses. You know that.’

‘Yeah, but why is it always the same people? You know it’s true. Eric, Elrond, Edward…’

‘It’s because we’re good at what we do. And those lads love it. Look, they’re nearly running.’

‘Yeah well. I’d be happier if they left me in jigsaws. I’ve found my niche in jigsaws.’

‘Don’t you get bored, cutting up the same pictures year after year?’

‘Nope. The patterns are always different. Do you know there are two hundred and seventy one million permutations?’

‘You are as boring as everyone says.’

‘Thanks. Maybe if I was more chummy I wouldn’t get this de-icing gig.’

‘You know it’s not that. It’s them.’

‘My hands?’

‘Of course your hands. There’s no one else with hands like yours. The Missus says you were sent by a divine gift when you appeared with those hands.’

‘Ernie, can I ask you a question? It’s a bit personal.’

‘Go on.’

‘I’ve been thinking. It’s just because of something Ethelbert said, after last year’s Freeze. Something about why the fellas don’t treat me like they do the others.’

‘You don’t want to believe what he says. You know he’s been in toy trains too long, don’t you? Keeps losing track.’

‘Yes well, it’s just it made a bit of sense, see. Do you think the boys hold it against me, what I do with my hands?’

‘Do?’

‘Where they go?’

‘They know someone has to, erm, do what you do.’

‘Yes sure but until I came a long it wasn’t the same each year. It was shared around, yes?’

‘True. Everyone got a turn.’

‘And it’s not like people were crying out for that turn was it.’

‘Well, no, it wasn’t exactly a privilege, but given your gifts, we could all see it was your destiny.’

‘I really don’t want to do it, this year. Maybe I could do his ears and…’

‘Noooo. No, that’s not the attitude. You’re so good. If any of the rest of us tried it would take weeks. You can knock them out in a couple of days.’

‘But still, it’s not exactly how one wasn’t to be remembered, is it? It’s one thing to be part of a special elite chosen by Missus Claus to go and de-thaw Santa, ready for the Christmas delivery; it’s a bit different to be known as the hot-handed elf who each year melts Santa’s balls.’

‘You can hardly leave them frozen, can you? It’d be like having a pair of maracas, clickety-clacking every time the sleigh hits a bit of turbulence. If that didn’t wake up all the kiddies I don’t know what would.’

‘I suppose…’

‘Come on, cheer up. The sooner you get his gonads glowing the sooner you can get back to those puzzles.’

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The Garden – Mid June 2022 #garden

It’s been a bit mixed and today it’s nearing 30C with 34C threatened tomorrow making it one of the hottest June days on record. The colours, though have been stunning and while I’ve let the lawn grow shaggy to preserve it against browning off, everything else seems to be thriving for now. Cooler, nearer average temperatures are due this weekend we hope.

I think I’ll leave the pictures to speak for themsleves.

And Dog?

Posted in dog, gardening | Tagged , , , | 30 Comments