X is for X-rays #atozchallenge

For the last two years I’ve joined in the #atozchallenge, namely to post every weekday in April using each letter of the alphabet in turn. In 2015 it was places I’d been to, in 2016 it was London themed. This year it is a dictionary of my family, recounting incidents small and large that have taught me lessons down the years, caused me consternation or generally seared themselves into my memory. I hope you enjoy them. To find other bloggers doing the challenge and maybe be inspired yourself, check out the A to Z Blogging Challenge Blog, here.

I have been described as clumsy, heavy-handed and a klutz and it is true I have laid waste to a significant number of ornaments, furniture, structural elements of real estate and a variety of transportation. This song, by Jake Thackerey was played at me at University as a warning.

However down the years I have done as much damage to myself as to other things, animate and inanimate. Indeed at one point aged about 9 the doctor warned my mother to try and keep me safe as he worried about the number of X-rays I had had in the previous 6 months. I’ve already mentioned here the milk bottle with which I perforated my bottom and the needle from the Archaeologist’s experiments with sound that ended in my heel necessitating an operation. I had conkers exploding into my right eye, a thumb dislocated playing stuck in the mud, a lacerated foreskin cause by an over vigorous closing of my fly, my brother crushing my head between his rear and the path way when we timed our synchronised descent from an oak tree to a tee and a face plant from my bike when I lost control downhill with what my dad told me was wheel-wobble.

But the one I want to share today is this…

Mrs Greening in year 4 taught us Scottish Country dancing. Having had to suffer years of Music and Movement when vigorous little bodies were expected to imitate a petal falling in Autumn when their repertoire comprised solely an ICBM hurtling towards Moscow it was a pleasant change. Some may remember Joyce Grenfell’s fabulous version which is so close to the truth…

Well Scottish dancing was fine until I ricked my neck performing a rather epic Stripping of the Willow. Boy do I remember that. The pain was awful, every movement sending shots of fire across my shoulder and down my side. The treatment was manipulation followed by a deep heat burning of the affected area courtesy of an enormous infra red lamp. It was bloody medieval, people. However the worst bit was mum. She accompanied, as you’d expect a caring parent to do. She could see my distress and brought along a Famous Five book to read to me as distraction. So far so marvellous. Save while this mini solar lamp did its magic I was strapped into a stretching machine. Literally a strap was placed under my jaw and another round my ankles, I lay on a bed and the ratchets were applied to keep my tortured neck straight. For 5 minutes mum set the scene with George and Tim and Anne and the rest and then she dropped off to sleep. Could I wake her? With my jaw strapped and my feet tied? Hardly. I lay there, for an hour with nothing to focus on but my neck while mum caught up with several consecutive sets of 40 winks.

I learnt a lesson that day; however loving a parent, sleep will take precedence if given the chance. Now, a parent myself, I understand why…

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Without a Bat, how do you have a Ball? #microcosms #flashfiction

This is my response to Microcosms 68, using character a dove place Gotham and genre crime

‘Peace? That’s a relative concept.’ Mayor Brown scratched his head.

‘How?’ Chief Blue was a man of few words. He couldn’t see why Brown was so off. Since the Bat had upped and left followed by all the misbegotten misfits who’d inhabited the sewers and junk yards and alleys he’d gotten fat and he liked it.

‘Look it’s been fine for you and yours, cruising about looking good but tourism’s down, hospitals are closing and the construction industry is barely functioning. Throw in the closures of hardware stores, gunsmiths, Gentlemen’s lycra outfitters, car repair shops, rocket boot makers, spotlight silhouette artists.. You name it. We’re struggling. We had a Bat based economy and now we have a business mutiny that is ready to explode.’

The Chief nodded at his state of the art police response vehicle bristling with the latest ways to disable, main and if necessary vaporise any challengers. ‘They wouldn’t dare.’

‘If I was you I’d enjoy your indolence, Blue. Arianna Dove has just been signed to the Chamber of Commerce. She’ll get rid of you as fast as she did for the Bat. Once her polling showed the only reason there was so much crime was because he was here. Setting himself to be shot down. He had to go, sure enough… so do you think we need you and all that, that stuff now they’ve all gone?’

The Chief looked sombre; Mayor Brown patted his shoulder. ‘Don’t worry, I kept the hotline, just in case.’

‘You’re going to call the Bat?’

‘God, no. What we need is crime, lots of it. Once the Joker, the Penguin and the rest are back that Bat won’t be able to resist. That was always where his strength really lay. In one mother of an ego.’

Posted in creative writing, flash fiction, microfiction, prompt | Tagged , | 4 Comments

W is for Weather #atozchallenge

For the last two years I’ve joined in the #atozchallenge, namely to post every weekday in April using each letter of the alphabet in turn. In 2015 it was places I’d been to, in 2016 it was London themed. This year it is a dictionary of my family, recounting incidents small and large that have taught me lessons down the years, caused me consternation or generally seared themselves into my memory.  I hope you enjoy them. To find other bloggers doing the challenge and maybe be inspired yourself, check out the A to Z Blogging Challenge Blog, here

Today I’m combining with Irene Waters Times Past memoir prompt which this month is ‘weather’. I’m a late blooming Baby Boomer for Irene’s categories…

It wasn’t always sunny when I was a kid that’s for sure. Yes, I remember sunny days – one especially sticks out when I sat down in some long grass and found a broken milk bottle – by the expedient of lacerating my bum. I was maybe 6. It was horrendous but my parent always told me I was very brave. Whatever, it hurt to all buggery and started me on my collection of stitches that down the years have easily topped 100.

No, the two climatic conditions that really stick out are the winter of 1962/63 and especially the period around February when we had snow for a month or more. School shut regularly and mum pulled us to the shops on a  toboggan. I think that was the first, maybe only time, when I really really didn’t want any more snow. Now it is so rare it’s a treat to see, even with the chaos that ensues. Or it means skiing.

The other is rain. I loved downpours. Not drizzle or brief pulses of rain but proper old-fashioned ‘it’s set in for the day’ rain. One memory especially sticks out. We lived in a cul-de-sac called Anne’s Walk. Number 5 – was it oh brother of mine? I’ve gone a blank. Anyhow, the houses started at the top of a short but steepish slope and when it rained – this being the highest point around, the water ran off, down the gutters at a fair old rate. One day – I’d have been 7-9 ish and I was on my own which probably meant the Archaeologist was at Scouts or something and I wasn’t – I was already soaked by the time I reached the bus stop down in the town, maybe half a mile from school. It was still hosing down when I got off, about a quarter-mile from home and, turning into Anne’s walk, with no one around, the world utterly drenched and a small tsunami racing down the guttering I danced up through the deepest water and back down and up again, three or four times. It was bliss.

My school sandals – so this was the summer term and a summer storm – were drenched and my socks so full of water that they had wrapped themselves round my shoes. My raincoat – ha! – blazer, shirt and vest plus shorts and pants were saturated and I was in heaven. It was only as I approached our front door that I wondered if Mum would appreciate how wet I was. Probably not.

So I knocked and waited to be let in, somewhat tremulous.

She took one look at me and laughed fit to bust. She said after that I looked so happy she couldn’t be cross. Mind you she made me strip off every stitch of clothing in the hall was which was embarrassing so she had some retribution.

The Lawyer it turns out is the same as me, utterly in love with rain. Nowadays, I’m more reticent but, you know, there’s still a part of me that on warm sultry days when a storm breaks, wants to head outside…

 

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Gardens of Love #parents #poetry #gardens

As spring is a gorgeous month and in memory of my parents and their love of the garden here are a couple of dad’s poems to mum, based around her love of the garden, interspersed with pictures from our garden this week… your tour guides are ready to show you around.

The Garden of Marriage

21/10/89

Is married life a garden?

Comfortable, easy, secure,

Which seems to progress without undue stress

Or even the need for manure?

Where no season is early or late

And frost doesn’t dare to appear,

And snow only falls when Santa Claus calls,

And like him, has all gone by New year?

Well, is married life a garden

Where there’s never a problem or pest?

And the flowers and the shrubs in your planters and tubs

Never look less than their best?

Where no matter what you sow,

Perennial, hardly or tender,

Whatever the crop it won’t fade flop or drop

But just fills the borders with splendour.

But if married life was a garden

Where there was never a tear,

Where all of your seeds – but none of your weeds

Grow – year after year after year…

Where every job’s always a pleasure

And nothing is ever a chore;

If that’s married life, don’t you think, dearest wife,

It would all be a huge crashing bore?

But that is what some people like

With everything ordered and clear

All ups and no downs – and never a frown

Do I want to change ours? No fear!

Untitled

21/10/92

Barbara’s gone into the garden again

Like she has so often before

I know I’m not wrong ‘cos her anorak’s gone

And her slippers are by the back door

I knew when we woke on this cool Autumn day

With hardly a cloud in the sky

And the whole world sun-kissed, that she’d never resist

And would soon wave dull housework goodbye.

Look thro’ the French windows – see, there she is now

With her barrow loaded with tools

Where the October sun glows on a climbing pink rose

And late daisies still glimmer like jewels.

A robin is watching her every move

And now hungrily, hopefully lingers

As she kneels, trowel in hand, where bright dahlias stand

Untouched as yet by frosty fingers.

She makes things grow where none grew before

(Unlike me, her failures are few)

For the plants that she tends she loves like old frineds

And, like us, I think they love her too.

Barbara’s gone into the garden again

And there she will busily stay

‘Midst her flowers and shrubs and plant pots and tubs

And be happy the livelong day.

And when, all too soon, winter takes bitter hold

And lowering skies threaten snow

While we shiver and whinge and by fireside cringe

We all know where Barbara will go!!

Too much? Someone thinks so…

Posted in family, gardens, miscellany, poems, poetry | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

V is for Versailles #atozchallenge

For the last two years I’ve joined in the #atozchallenge, namely to post every weekday in April using each letter of the alphabet in turn. In 2015 it was places I’d been to, in 2016 it was London themed. This year it is a dictionary of my family, recounting incidents small and large that have taught me lessons down the years, caused me consternation or generally seared themselves into my memory.  I hope you enjoy them. To find other bloggers doing the challenge and maybe be inspired yourself, check out the A to Z Blogging Challenge Blog, here

I mentioned in an earlier post that I fly until 1981. I didn’t go across the Channel until 1976 at age 19. 1976 was an odd summer for me – it was baking home for starters and I was home from uni and bored rigid with life in the new Forest with no transport beyond a decrepit bike. I worked in hotel full of febrile weirdos whose antics gave me the material for my first book. Working was solely for the purpose of getting away which in this case meant joining three other friends and driving around France for 3 weeks. Two of the friends were from school and one from uni – they’d met but I was the conduit-cum- lightening conductor.

As the man in charge I had to book the ferry, buy the maps and work out what sort of accommodation we could have. It became clear we would take two tents and camp. To start we planned on heading for Tours to meet up with Dave 2. Dave 1 we would meet in Calais. Having two Dave’s felt a little like the Bruce sketch in Monty Python…

But Mike and I decided against adopting the popular nomenclature for the duration.

Dave 1 to the right, Mike to the left; this was in fact in Amsterdam at the end of the trip and Mike’s found one of those ‘knitting’ windows for which Amsterdam is famous…

Back then, I was obviously more competent than in later life as we managed the ferry and met Dave 1 easily enough. The dynamic was good too. Dave 1 and I were law students with, essential humanities as our A level subjects. We liked beer and hankered for some serious female company, largely unfulfilled. Mike and Dave 2 were engineers. While Dave 2 liked beer, Mike only drank vodka and lime but by the tureen. Dave 1 was reasonably fluent in French while Mike and Dave 2 spoke mostly in Widget.

Dave 2 – ineffably cool at least in his own head. He modelled himself on Skunk Baxter for a reason… and it wasn’t hsi guitar playing…https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Baxter

We meandered through northern France heading to Mont St Michel first because we’d heard it was spectacular.

Mike however was unimpressed because he couldn’t get the car up the steps…

We stopped near Rouen for our first night. I recall a rather forbidding curé giving Mike the hairy eyeball for smoking outside the Cathedral and Mike spending an age in a small disgusting Tabac debating in his non existent french what Gaulloise he would buy.

I’m pretty sure this was Rouen…

I don’t know what they were but they smelt utterly toxic but he kept to them throughout wherever he could get them.

a flea market from later in our trip. We liked flea markets but never could find any fleas…

As a cigarette aside Dave 2 had developed a fondness for Camels by the time we met up and it took the two mechanics the best part of a week to decide they would stick to Gaulloise.  It only occurred to me later that this was a strategic decision on Dave 2’s part since it most often fell to Mike to buy the ciggies, having gone for his selection and save Dave 2 some money.

another flea market… maybe it was the language thing again

Having two engineers in the car did change things rather. Dave 1 and I might be having a light conversation about, say, Led Zeppelin when Dave 2 would say ‘Jimmy Page’s sub-optimal reforbing woofer uses transpositional  ungrinding…’

To which Mike might respond, ‘Yeah but the hand grip ins a neo-existential pri-volting carbroid demonstrible so he’s not peaking on the batrian parabola like Frampton or Clapton…’

we couldn’t get enough of the pissoires either – silly children… Those legs are Dave 1 and don’t you love the old Renaults and Citroen

Dave 1 would look at me and then in the rear view mirror waiting to catch Mike’s eye. When he did he’d say, ‘Did you like Show me the Way?’ and Mike would look blank and ask for a fag.

In Tours we found a rather splendid campsite and bar where some young local woman hung out. Dave 1 spun them a little french but either he didn’t have the technique he thought he did or he didn’t have the French or both because they just laughed.

We did make it to the odd Chateau

Culturally Tour wasn’t good for us but we moved on to Bourges and on the way west stopped near Pouilly sur Loire. Here we did a degustation and discovered Pouilly Fume on hot dry afternoon. The shade of the cave, the local cheese and the wine were, for three of us at least an intoxicating combination. Wine, to this point had been essential reisling or paint stripper something that might be both. This stuff would retail at a price we students could not afford but here it was cheaper than beer.

and another…

Talk about a conversion.

Sadly, as with many instant Damascene moments the lack of experience meant we never again found anything quite so delightful. Indeed we bought a whole range of different strippers that could remove most unwanted  attachments – paint, oil, acne, those physics students you meet at the beer society on your first day at uni…  but not a wine that was drinkable like that nectar. My, though, was that day delightful.

this looks like a decent camp site with our wonderfully reliable transport a mustard yellow Ford Escort Estate… Dave 1 far right, Dave 2 centre and either sheltering to light a fag or worrying at some electrical doofee (seated) Mike…

Our days were spent in a fairly similar vein. Wake. Late. Find cafe. Wait for Dave 2 to try, and again fail, to shit. Drink coffee with croissant and, sometimes a pastis. Argue whether we would visit a town/museum/Chateau or the local garage for some unnecessary but exciting repair that might be undertaken on the car. Default to a bar. Head for a town for (a) cigs (b) the cathedral/church/ancient monument/ garage and find another bar. Decide we couldnt afford lunch so buy a  baguette and fight over it. Buy lunch anyway. sometimes we’d see a place to hang out that might include women in swim wear. If it had a bar/cool spot/garage we’d head for it and spent some hours being indecisive, usually in the bar. Where we might stay until the alcohol induced munchies meant we needed to find somewhere to eat after everywhere had shut. Argue. Bed. Repeat.

It was marvellous. The Loire which we followed for a piece, was beautiful to this 19-year-old who knew nothing about beauty then. I read sci-fi avidly – Dave 2 and I had this in common – as well as a love for Vonnegut, we talked Asimov and Clarke and Bradbury and Blish.

And we listened to the tapes we had all brought along. Mike, car supremo had made it clear that he wouldn’t allow anything longer than a C90 to be played because they almost always snagged in the car stereos of the day. The C120s were notorious and were the prefered medium of Dave 2. In fact I would hazard a guess this was done mostly to try and limit the amount of aurally obnoxious music that Dave 2 brought along rather than a worry about his stereo – not that it worked because Mike was too nice and warned us all in advance so Dave 2 had a fun summer re-recording some of the most cerebrally challenging pieces on his collection. If you like the Mahavishnu Orchestra then, well, bully for you but frankly I’ve had more entertaining hernia repairs..

After two weeks we lost Dave 2 and headed for Paris.

If there’s one piece of advice I’d like to leave with the impoverished visitor it is DO NOT CAMP IN THE BOIS DE BOULOGNE CAMPSITE.

This is not the Bois de Bouglogne.. the shadow-prat is me

Paris itself was grand, the sites all you’d expect but the campsite was a car park. We’d grown accustomed to hard ground but nothing prepared us for sleeping on tarmac.

Notre Dame, or maybe not…? Dave 1 being a silly…

The toilets, which I must say brought down the average mark for visitor friendliness had a piece of graffiti behind one door that roughly translated into

Sliding happily down the bannister of life, the campsite at the Bois de Boulogne was the splinter up my arse

The high point though had to be Versailles. It’s a very grand building if you’ve not been and the decor utterly ott. It lacked much by way of furnishings but we’d got used to that.

Ok so I didn’t know the Statue of Liberty was a French gift nor that they had a replica… Wiki didn’t exist back then, ok?

No, what really got to me were the gardens. The scale and the effort. Even now I can still recall sitting on some steps and watching one of the fountains play  a scale or whatever it was programmed to do. I fell for Paris with my two friends. For the Champs Elysee and the Etoile, Concorde and the Tuilleries, for the Jeu de Paume and the rive gauche. I think then the seed was sown for my honeymoon there 8 years later. Oddly I have no photos of this… maybe I’d run out of film.

Not Paris, clearly – maybe Tours but frankly I’ve no idea… could that be the Loire?

Somehow we dragged ourselves away and headed for Amsterdam on the spur of a moment. That was special too as were our visits to the Normandy beaches and the memorials to both world wars. perhaps it was fitting to end on such a sombre note and to realise, probably for the first time that however ‘foreign’ things seemed and they often did through the expedient of little understanding of the language, we had a deep and bloody shared history and never could we really think of ourselves as anything other than part of this continent even stuck on a rock 20 miles out to sea.

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Moth eaten too

As you’ll know the stage before the moth itself is the chrysalis. The Lawyer acquired some last autumn, to see what emerged this year. He kept them in a  cool place over winter and now’s the time to ready for the moth’s appearance. Ideally you need somewhere where the newly emerged imago can climb and dry its wings before it is ready to fly. And since one cannot watch then all the time and there is this habit of flying away it is good to have somewhere for climbing but netted so we can see and photograph the beauties before sending them on their way.

Since the lawyer is working abroad just now guess who is charged with the task of setting this up. Anyway this is what we did…

first the chrysalis are taken from their box

then we half fill a pot with soil and make a frame for some netting.

next we place the chrysalis on the soil

some of the cotton wool in which the sat over winter stick to them

and finally we tie on the net… lots of twigs to climb up too

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Garden of Eden #shortstory #blogbattle

This is written in response to Rachael’s weekly blog battle, using the word ‘Garden’ and genre ‘Fantasy’ as prompts 

Drognad the Green lent on his hoe and mopped his brow. The double suns of the First Spring were intense this year just as Magrod the Seer had surmised. But that didn’t matter because she’d also Touched the white earth and expressed her belief in this year’s fertility. The soil was friable, the compost fecund and the worms just the right side of slimy. Yes, the cropping would be good.
Behind the Gardener the screens bulged as the crowd pressed forward. He smiled. They had never been so keen to see the results of his efforts. He had planted their seeds as they asked, he had offered nourishment and the usual incantations. During the winter hollowing when the ice blasts from Gormorrad bite into his very soul, he’d ensured the screens keep the earth free of frost.
And yet, and yet, those suns. He narrowed his eyes to slits and stared at the Pecule, the larger orb. Surely it was closer this time, closer than before.
Of course he’d heard the stories from the city visitors saying things were changing; how Bigness the Observant had prayed for Pecule to be lassoed as it had in ancient times so it could be brought closer, the better to keep the evils of Gormorrad at bay. But he was but a servant of the soil; theologising about gods and wisdom seekers was not his place. Not unless it affected his seedlings, his children.
Thinking of the suns spurred him to drop the hoe and hurry to check the Sorce-place. It never ceased to fascinate Drognad, how the Seedgivers gave their essence to create the feedstock that ran via the pipes to each seeded hope. The agglomeration of essences thrummed with life, squeezing the nutriments that Drognad offered it into the fertiliser for each planting. This year like never before in his eons of custodianship he had added the holy water, just to keep every seed succulent.
A hush had fallen in the crowd; Drognad looked towards the priestlings guarding the shutters. It was time for the weekly Showing. He marvelled at how the Seedgivers would peer at their plots, able to discern the slightest changes in the surface soil or in the pulsing of the feedpipes in ways that, despite years in post Drognad had never managed to spot.
He nodded and the priestlings, excitable little things, dispersed to start the process of unhinging the shutters. Someone would see a Sign this time, Drognad knew. Hadn’t Magrod foreseen that this would be the time for the first Show? Earlier than ever but hardly a surprise given the heat and the extra feedings.
Drognad moved to stand with his back to the screens, so as not to interfere with the sightlines. He held his breath, waiting for the first cry.
At first Drognad thought someone had collapsed. Hardly surprising in the heat. Then he realised it was a Murmur. It started at the far end where the shutters had been opened first and, like a rippling wave, surfed the screens as the Seedgivers sought out their plots. Thrice before he had experienced a Murmur and each time it was despair, as it became clear that the crop had failed for many. But that Murmur had been sporadic, affecting a random selection of shutters. This was different. It felt uniform, across each shutter. And it was a different type of Murmur. Anger. Disbelief.
Drognad peered at the rows and he began to understand. For weeks he had wondered at how few were the signs of growth. How the soil seemed to remain a crusty cover, yet the Sorce-plate showed the croppings were still alive, still growing.
Now he understood. As the crowd of Seedgivers, soon to become Birthers began to howl he rushed to the first plot. What he had taken to be the smooth white surface of the earth was the rounded back of a new child, its skin bleached to a pale hue by the sun, losing its expected dark lustre. He moved between plots, recognising each child was not what the crowd expected.
He turned to look at the angry, uncomprehending faces. He knew what they were thinking. That he had tainted their seed, allowed the Ice king Gormorrad his way to create a generation of hybrid monsters. But surely this was the result of interference with Pecule? Sun-pullers had caused this, trying to use nature to defeat an enemy and instead releasing a power and creating a bigger problem.
The priestlings were trying to stop the crowd climbing though the unshuttered openings but they couldn’t on their own. He wanted to run, to hide and never return, but he wouldn’t. No, as his father had said, after a poor crop, the Garden is the responsibility of the Gardener and he alone accepts the praise for success and the consequences of failure. He would try and explain but if that didn’t work then they could bury him in his beloved Garden.

Posted in blog battle, miscellany, prompt, short story | Tagged , | 6 Comments