Shoes Have No Soul

I bought new shoes for the forthcoming nuptials. Brown lace ups from Sons of London, an online emporia of gentlemen’s shoddery. This was under instruction from the happy couple to ensure I am fully compliant with the tonal requirements of the big day.

They look nice, these shoes. All shiny and brown. Like a highly polished… Anyway, when I put them on they feel fine. Okay. Alright. But, you know, untried.

There is one month to go and I look at these two puppies and wonder what to do with them. I’ve not had many issues with breaking in new footwear, certainly not in the last thirty years. There’s a Tony Hancock sketch, where he joins the police force. He complains about the uniform but is especially scathing about the standard issue boots.

‘But they don’t bend!’ Our hero complains.

‘But your feet do. Now put them on.’

That’s pretty much been my lot. My feet accommodate shoes with the feeble minded sycophancy of the political researcher promised an internship.

But can I trust to history here? The shoes will go on at about 11am on the day and are unlikely to be allowed to go to their bed until over twelve hours later. They and my feet will have the same intimate relationship that a chrysalis has with its case.

What to do? Begin to wear them around the house? Take them for a walk? My fear here is my innate levels of incompetence, the inevitability I will scuff these little treasures and have to face the ignominy of a bridal scowl.

But not to at least share a little time together, to bond, sock to sole. is also a recipe for disaster if, after an hour or so I’m hobbled. After all I’ve spent decades perfecting my dad-dancing just for this day.

It could be this event amongst events is scrambling my perspective. It’s hot here right now, 35C and heading up. Sandals not shoes are the order of the day. I think I’ll hire a scooter or maybe a wheelchair as back up…

…in brown of course.

Posted in humour, memories, miscellany, thought piece, weddings | Tagged , , | 21 Comments

Corona: Part Ten #short story in instalments

Janice sunk into a brown velour-covered winged armchair, defeated. Her brain focused on the windows to the front but some sort of shrub blocked a view of the street. It was hopeless.

Meanwhile Christopher fussed with the tea things.

She let her eyes go round the room taking in the books and the few ornaments, the sort of thing you might get as a job lot in Ikea or Next homeware department. She needed to distract him. Keep him talking. “You saw your mum, then? She never said.”

“That would have been Roger’s doing.”

“Roger?”

He smiled. “He was the guardian of the family morals.”

“Sorry?”

“Sugar?”

“What? No thank you. Roger didn’t say anything about you.”

“He was the one who tracked me down. Told mum, even though he’d been instrumental in keeping us apart.”

“Can you explain?”

“What do you know about me?”

“Not a lot.” She sipped the tea. There had to be a way to raise the alarm. Maybe if she really screamed, threw a book or ornament through the window. “You had a twin, Colin. You were older than Roger. You left home and never came back. When I first went out with Roger it was said you’d disappeared. When his, your father died,” our father, she thought, “Roger said his mother asked him to try and find you but he said he failed and persuaded her to drop the urge to keep digging. That’s pretty much it.”

He sat back in his chair, a mirror of hers. “No one explained why I left, what happened? Why I kept away. Why I hid away?”

She shook her head.

He sighed. “It was like this…” He stopped. The doorbell rang once, twice, Then there was a banging on the door. “I’d better get this. Please pour yourself a refill.”

Her heart rose. He left the phone on the tray as he moved into the hall. As soon as he was out of sight she took two strides to pick up the phone and fumbled with the code to unlock it. She had just found and pressed Thorne’s number when Christopher reappeared. Behind him stood Inspector Thorne holding up his phone with her number identified as the caller.

Christopher smiled. “Oh you found your phone? Good. It had fallen on the floor.” He ushered in the policeman and constable. “Quite a party. Shall I make me tea, Inspector?”

As Christopher disappeared, Thorne titled his head and held Janice’s gaze. “You know your half-brother then? Why didn’t you say?”

“I’ve only just met him. He…”

Thorne held up a hand. “Shall we wait until Mr Scrutt comes back? Just so we can hear everyone’s side of the story?”

Janice sung back, shutting her eyes. The relief of seeing the policeman made the idea of explaining why she was where she was all the harder.

After what seemed to Janice like an hour but was less than five minutes, Christopher had provided everyone with tea, opened a tin of biscuits and dragged in two kitchen chairs for the policemen to sit on. “Well, Inspector, how may I help?”

He looked at Janice. “We traced the investigation agency who gave us this address. They didn’t mention speaking to you?”

She shook her head once, incapable of speech. She was conscious of Christopher smiling in the way she was beginning to think was his default expression. Maybe he wasn’t so much creepy as simple.

Thorne sighed deeply. “Mr Scrutt, I…”

“I call myself Watson, Inspector. My mother’s maiden name. To begin with it was through an understandable reluctance to be found and then, well, it became more difficult to explain. I’ve mean to have it made official, but I’ve not bothered. I don’t drive and have a passport.” He shrugged. “Mostly it’s fine, though with these modern checks it is becoming more inconvenient.” The smile seemed to droop a little. “So if you would, I’d prefer Watson though of course, feel free to call me Christopher.” He positively beamed at that.

Thorne nodded. “Let me fill in some background so we are all of us,” he looked at Janice, “are on the same page. Mrs Scrutt’s husband died of an apparent heart attack. Roger.”

“I heard. He came to visit. After he tracked me down. I don’t suppose it was that hard, what with me living in the same town I was born in and still having to use Scrutt from time to time.”

“Did he say why?”

“My father had died. I didn’t know but then we never got on.” He shook his head, a rather sad gesture, Janice thought, “My mother hadn’t dared try and find me when he was alive. His temper was…” it looked like he was struggling for the right word, “incendiary.” He nodded as if he approved of his own choice. “Mother wanted to restore relations though Roger wasn’t keen. He told me father was dead and he had tried to persuade Mother to give up the idea of finding me. But she insisted and he fixed for us to meet. After that we met once a week or so but always here. His business had a branch in Canterbury so Roger drove her, left her for the day and took her home.” He glanced at Janice, nodding again.

Thorne caught the gesture. “Janice?”

“I knew Roger went to the Canterbury office and I assumed she went to see a friend. I had no idea what Roger was doing.”

Christopher smiled broadly. “As I was saying just before you got here, Inspector, he wanted to keep my existence secret. He told me to stay away or he wouldn’t allow mother and me to meet.”

Thorne looked up from making a note. “Did he say why? Did you know?”

“Oh I’m the back sheep, Inspector.”

Thorne and Janice waited but Christopher didn’t elaborate. Thorne looked out of the window and then back to Christopher. “Mr Scrutt’s death wouldn’t have involved us, normally but after your mother died, the house, her house was sold. By Mrs Scrutt here. The new owners, well the current ones, carried out some work that involved digging in the garden. They discovered a pit and in it were the carcasses of two pigs and the bones of a human hand. We think it was your brother Colin’s and he must have been fed to them.”

Thorne paused, astonished at Christopher’s reaction. He was laughing, almost hysterical.

The Inspector looked at Janice who shrugged, equally bemused. It took Christopher several moments to regain some composure. As he did so he slowly and laboriously rolled up his sleeve.

“I have a prosthetic, Inspector. I’m lucky to leave bear a hospital with a state of the art facility for modern prosthetics and robotics. If you are familiar with them you’ll spot t immediately but neither you nor Janice have, I suspect, come across these wonders.” He reached out and carefully but successfully picked up the mug of tea and moved it to his lips. “I tend to use my good hand but really I can do nearly all everyday tasks that don’t involve too much strength work with this.” He wiped his eyes again. “Colin and I were identical twins so we have the same DNA. It could be his but since my arm was cut off by my father and fed to pigs, I guess it’s most likely to be mine.”

Janice covered her mouth with her hand. “He cut off your arm? Why?”

Christopher looked at her. “Family shame is a strong emotion.”

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The Garden – Mid July 2019

I’m not sure this place has ever been so colourful. A lot of it is accidental but that makes it all the more splendid. And dotted around are examples of nature that are well just delightful…

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Corona: Part nine

Part Nine

“I… how do you know I’m your sister?”

“Sister in law. I thought, with my brother, your husband dead the informality might be appropriate. I didn’t mean to offend. Come. Let’s have a cup of tea and you can tell me how you found me.”

“Why were you hiding?”

He looked pained. “I imagined you might have known. No one said?”

“No.”

“All the more reason for tea and confessions. Please.” He stood back and indicted the back door.

Janice glanced around desperately hoping to see an escape route. The back gate stood behind him, firmly shut and also padlocked. She had no way of scaling the six foot panels that surrounded the garden and screaming might lead to an extreme reaction. She took in a breath and headed for the house, wondering how easy it would be to get to her phone, currently sitting in the bottom of her bag on the work counter.

“Why don’t you go and get settled in the sitting room and I’ll come through with tea.”

She nodded, keen to get away from him. She picked up her bag and moved towards the hall. As she stepped through she eased the door shut behind her. The chain was still on the ront door but it was just a few steps. She could open it and be on the street, in front of who knew how many twitching curtains and calling Thorne in moments. She felt a weight lift as she took hold of the chain and lifted it free. She pulled the door latch hard.

Nothing. She yanked harder, now desperate. The door refused to move. The mortice lock had been applied and without a key she wasn’t going anywhere.

The kitchen door creaked open behind her. Christopher stood framed in the light from the back of the house. On the tray stood two flowery china cups and saucers, an ornate teapot and strainer on a stand with, incongruously, a carton of milk. He saw her looking at the tray. “I know, I’m sorry but I broke the jug a while back and haven’t yet replaced it.” He indicated with his head to the sitting room. “Please. Do go in and sit.”

But Janice wasn’t looking at the tea things or milk carton. It was the keys the front door and her mobile phone that were also on the tray which caught her eye.

Posted in creative writing, short story | Tagged , , | 18 Comments

Sink Or Swim, The Choice Is Written In The Stars #writephoto #flashfiction

Claude Bobbin’s lucky break came, he realised looking back, on one gruesomely chilly June Thursday in year five. His class were on a field trip to Westwitheral and as part of the ‘fun’ the whole year group were to be taught bodyboarding.

Claude’s experiences of full body immersion in water to that point had been during the weekly humiliation of a swimming class when he and Repson St Mewl -a weedy boy with an already highly developed hypochondria – were bombarded with abuse as they cowered in the shallow end while the teacher, Miss Tansy checked her makeup and bellowed at them to behave. His parents were part of a small, some might say exclusive sect of hydrophobic Zoroastrians and discouraged any unnecessary contact with water – what passed for bath-time comprised a prayer for drought and a swift scouring with a dry flannel. Claude’s parents fought the requirement for him to undertake swimming lessons with a diminishing enthusiasm and finally decided to allow it when they were promised he would never be expected to actually swim but could stand in the knee deep water for the forty minutes of the class. Only once did that agreement falter, when Claude slipped on an abandoned sheet of dinosaur knee plasters that Repson had been using as a germ shield, but everyone agreed that no harm had been done and the incident was forgotten.

The parents and the school assumed the same arrangements would apply to the field trip when they noted the need for Clause to take his ‘swimming togs’, but, sadly, or as Claude later saw it, fortuitously Patrick Oldcolon, the master in charge, who had recently joined the school from teaching woodwork and Etruscan philosophy in a peripatetic young offenders institution, wasn’t informed of the agreement.

‘Get in the bloody water, boy,’ bellowed Mr Oldcolon with a voice that brooked neither warmth nor compromise.

Claude entered the freezing excuse for fun and stood, shivering as the waves lapped his knees, his body turning the sort of blue usually seen in carbon monoxide poisonings.

“But sir…”

Individually those words would have had little impact on Patrick but in combination when articulated by a rather lumpen and malodorous youth, they triggered something base and bestial. Barely containing the rising anger the teacher strode into the water and to the astonishment of the class and the understandable terror of Claude, he picked up the boy and tossed him as far as his well-developed guns allowed.

The ensuing silence as Claude described a nearly perfect parabola was counterpointed by the crash and scream as the parabola ended and the plumb-lined plummet to the seabed began. Claude was out of his depth in circumstances where he and his depth were merely remotely acquainted. Mr Oldcolon had thrown Claude beyond the seabed’s natural shelf and he sank with the confidence of a granite boulder which, having been freed of the constraints of gravity is suddenly reacquainted with its powers of attraction.

Many heads turned to the spot where Claude had entered the water, a spot that now rippled with the thoughtless insouciance of a one year old that has just peed in his father’s eye while said parent changed his nappy. “Sir, where’s Claude?”

Indeed many turned their thoughts to that conundrum. Including Mr Oldcolon who belatedly bestrode the distance to the point of entry. However before he could reach the spot Claude bobbed to the surface, face up blinking the salt water out of his eyes.

Mr Oldcolon stared as did the class. The teacher stepped forward and with an expression similar to that of a naturist who has just found out where the missing cucumber had got to as he sat down for a salad lunch, he discovered the precipitous seabed shelf and disappeared from view. He, too, reappeared moments later, spluttering and floundering and swam to the shallower waters. Claude meanwhile remained afloat, watching the activity. He did nothing to remain afloat beyond merely being so.

“How are you doing that?”

“Doing what?”

“Not sinking?”

“I don’t know. I just am.”

Indeed Claude was unsinkable. Many boys tried but coupled with an ability to hold his breath longer than most – a requisite skill he developed as a youngster given his whole family’s antipathy to washing – he would bob to the surface long before they had been able to cause him any distress.

Some tried to teach him swimming after that but they still had to deal with his parents’ beliefs and the fact that Claude was a shit swimmer.

And such a new found skill may have remained a curio of childhood but for an unexpectedly novel sport developed in the salty warm waters of Grand Cay – the International Buoyancy championships. Under encouragement of Mr Oldcolon, who had never forgotten the unsinkable Claude, Claude entered and won all categories. He wasn’t typical in terms of physique for a sporting superstar and that won him a small but loyal band of supporters keen to promote sporting success alongside an appalling body image.

When finally Claude the Unbeatable as well as Unsinkable brought the world championships back to Britain they were hosted in Westwitheral where Mr Oldcolon started the first mechanized sink. The whole event was sponsored by St Mewl’s Pharmaceuticals, though its CEO and founder, Repson, couldn’t attend to give out the prizes as he was halfway through a cycle of thrice daily kale and cardamom enemas that had been prescribed to cure a persistent and wholly imagined eczema caused by the over-application of dinosaur plasters.

This story was written in response to this week’s #writepoto prompt

Posted in #writephoto, creative writing, flash fiction, miscellany | Tagged , , , | 31 Comments

Jellyfish – A Review and Thoughts On Differences #theatre #review #thoughtpiece

I am a product of my upbringing and environment and have lived through many changes in attitude and the acceptability of cultural memes and the understanding of how societal approaches can impact others adversely. Today there’s a storm around the latest US Presidential twitterfart concerning four congresswomen and whether they should ‘go back’ to, in three cases, their ancestral homelands and for those who don’t like America to leave. It smacks of language and attitudes that were common when I was a teen but which, amongst people who are aware of the many differences that make up a multiethnic and multicultural population have disappeared from speech. Thank goodness.

But still, I find myself in knots, not at this most obvious example of offensiveness but the unintentional stupidities that we are all prone to.

I went to see a new play, recently transferred to the National Theatre ‘Jellyfish’. It’s a simple love story set in the down at heel faded glories of Skegness, one of many tired seaside resorts that dot the English coastline. There’s a protective mother, a feisty heroine, a diffident damaged young man and their wise, world-weary friend. So far, so trite. What makes this one different is that the heroine has Downs and so does the actress. The young man doesn’t. On the surface he’s ‘normal’ or that’s what I think were meant to believe. He too is damaged – you’ll need to see the play to understand it – and probably needs as much support as the lead.

What makes it a fascinating piece and challenges the audience to shelve their preconceptions and prejudices is the interplay between mother and daughter and the former’s understandable, if ultimately self-defeating attempts to persuade her daughter she is ‘as good as them’ ie the rest of us, yet treating her as different when it comes to adult relationships and especially sex and pregnancy.

It’s messy, awkward and uncomfortable and that was just me. It poses many questions I suspect we have all asked ourselves when dealing with anyone different from ourselves. We see the stereotype, the assumption, the facade and not the person.

Jess the super star of this production makes the point early with a crab she finds on the beach about assumptions. About identity and the importance of naming.

There are some nice touches and jokes, there’s some stilted parts and there is pathos and just a little understanding of what it’s like to be in Jess’s shoes. And the mother’s and the boyfriend’s who is treated as some sort of paedo-weirdo cross but needs her love as much as she his. She’s tougher, more robust than him though the assumptions from others is it’s the other way round.

If you liked ‘the Curious Incident of a Dog in the Nighttime’ then you may well enjoy this. Don’t expect to feel comfortable.

I also learnt a new word too: homophily – the tendency for people to seek out or be attracted to those who are similar to themselves. It seems to me that this is a bane of our complicated societies, be it hate crimes or Presidents sounding off on twitter or even an urge to decouple ourselves from Europe. I spent eight hours on Sunday going through agony as I watched England try and win a cricket World Cup. I screamed and cried and screamed some more. The objects of my ludicrous passions were eleven men of a mixtures of races, religions, creeds and backgrounds all of whom were desperate win a game for a bunch of equally disparate people. It couldn’t really have got more diverse and yet be so inclusive.

I may have wondered what sort of psychosis envelopes me that I will spend significant bundles of sterling to spend hours in an agony of indecision only to feel, not joy but gut ripping relief when it was all done and we had won. But there was one joy and that was the accumulation of differences that made up that team and that audience. Just call me mad if I say I’m going to watch another final.

Posted in cricket, miscellany, review, theatre, thought piece | Tagged , , , , | 19 Comments

Corona: Part Eight #short story #instalments

Janice nearly gave up then and there. If she hadn’t already told Godfrey, who she sensed was watching her, she might have turned and run away. Instead she took a deep breath and opened the door.

“Hello?”

Silence. Taking several breaths she headed for the kitchen and eased open the door. The tins of food were in the high cupboard near the sink. She was just reaching up with a sound like a door opening triggered a squeal.

She turned to see the cat flap swinging madly and Colin twisting in circles near his bowl as he waited for the food.

Concentrating on mundane tasks made it easier to relax a little. The cat was as good as gold and, to Janice, really rather lovely. She sat on a barstool by the breakfast bar and watched the cat eat with dainty nibbles. She should go, call the police and leave it at that. After all, they could do all the questioning they wanted, which was more than she could. Still, now she was here…

She re-entered the hall and wondered what to do. She wished now she’d brought some latex gloves. She imagined the police doing a forensic sweep of the place and if her prints were everywhere… She returned to the kitchen to look under the sink. A pair of pink rubber gloves sat on top of some cleaning materials. Feeling slightly foolish she put them on and went back to the hall. As she turned to go up the stairs she noticed the cat had sneaked ahead of her and now stood at the top as if barring her way. She wondered if he might attack her as he apparently done Godfrey if she tried to push past him. She was being silly. She needed to be methodical, that’s all.

Keep cool, she told herself. That made her turn back to the front door and slip on the chain. If Christopher did return or anyone else come to that, she’d know soon enough.

Struggling with the gloves she opened the first door on her right. A bedroom. The wardrobe had clothes and shoes but no interesting boxes. There was nothing under the bed or the mattress as far as she could judge. The second bedroom produced some boxes but they were a mixture of old crockery, some paintings done by an amateur – Christopher? And old clothes. The bathroom was even less interesting. She headed downstairs and checked the lounge. There was a photograph of his mother, amongst several of him and his father at a much younger age. The one of his mother was clearly on a trip to visit but that was all. Finally after an hour she stood in the kitchen again. The place lacked personality, apart from the photos, as well as anything that might explain a link to Roger and her.

A thought occurred. She peered into the garden. At the far end sat a small shed. The door was clearly padlocked. Remembering a key board in the hall she retraced her steps and checked the keys. Sure enough one said ‘shed’. Smiling she headed outside, careful to keep her head lower than the fence and hoping none nearby was in a back bedroom and looking out.

Her hands shook as she unlocked the door and pulled it open. It was musty and crammed with garden paraphernalia, much more than she imagined he would need for the size of garden. Maybe he was very keen. She began to pull tools away from the walls and checked under sacks and in the drawers of an old desk that held string and labels and seeds of all kinds. Nothing. This was hopeless. She needed to lock up and call the Inspector.

Pulling open the door, she stepped out into the sunshine and froze. Standing a few feet away, Christopher Scrutt or Parsons faced her, a small tight smile playing on his lips. “My sister Janice? So kind of you to want to look after the garden as well as the cat.”

Janice had a job holding herself together.

“Do I get a kiss? This is some reunion, don’t you think?”

Posted in fiction, short story | Tagged , , | 14 Comments