Book Review – Life in a Grain of Sand

Graeme has reviewed my anthology Life, in a Grain of Sand. You can obtain your copy for £1.00 on Kindle, here


Before I say anything about this book, I need to get something out in the open.  My own name appears in the acknowledgements at the back.  I did wonder why when I first saw that, then remembered Geoff had put out a call to fellow bloggers for ideas, prompts and themes for a project. As someone who has read his books and followed his blogging for a while, I did respond to that, suggesting a title, and presumably that’s why I’ve been acknowledged – along with nineteen others.

In case you hadn’t guessed by now, Life in a Grain of Sandis the result of that project, which Geoff explains at the beginning of the book.

A lot of short story collections have a theme, but this one doesn’t. It does include a few episodes of a continuing story line; it also has some stories that inter-connect with others.  But there…

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Pretzel Logic #flashfiction


Morrison did a double take. The woman on the yoga mat was definitely calling him.
‘Sorry. Can you help? I’m stuck.’
Despite the glorious weather the park appeared empty. Holding Harlem’s lead firmly, he approached what looked like a human pretzel.
‘Something clicked.’ The woman sounded in real pain.
Morrison tried to focus on her face, mimicking her twist to meet her gaze. ‘What do I do?’
‘An ambulance. Please.’
‘I don’t have a phone.’
She groaned. ‘Can you use mine? It’s there.’ Her finger appeared between her knees and pointed at her bum.
The distinctive shape of an old Nokia, its lit keys and screen showed through the taught Lycra. ‘I think I can dial.’
While Morrison rang 999, Harlem licked the woman’s face. It didn’t help.
It took twenty minutes before the paramedics came. Given the woman’s discomfort as they moved her, Morrison slipped away quickly. He wondered, if he ever saw her again, would he recognise her? Maybe not but he’d remember her phone, of that he was sure.

Written as part of Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers. The challenge is to write a flash fiction story, in around 150 words based on the weekly photo prompt. For more information visit HERE.

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Apprenticed to my mother: downsizing part 2


Mum organising some male relative circa 1926

It was two weeks before the designated move and mum and I began to pack her kitchen. Mum had this sign

No matter wherever I place my guests, they always like my kitchen best.

As a family we spent most time in the kitchen. And while there mum cooked, she prepped, she bottled and she preserved, she peeled and she pummelled. Over the years the combination of her catering love and her inability to get rid of anything meant every cupboard and every drawer was chock full. Add to that two dressers in the garage that were also full of equipment and you had enough stuff to set up a  catering college with the left-overs sufficient to back up the Great British Bake Off.

I began well. Two cracked and chipped casseroles were unceremoniously given the heave-ho. A teapot, once a favourite but now with a spout that poured side-saddle went the same way.


Mum, top right, and her mother bottom right; the rather gruesome duck’s heads should be ignored but maybe explain her granddaughter’s obsession with animals

But then I reached the heatproof glass bowls, some of which were pyrex (are you old enough to remember pyrex?). Often mum made pies and puddings which she froze in these vessels. That way they could go straight in the oven from the freezer.

I pulled them all out. There were four different sizes and thirteen bowls in total. I lined them up in size order on the work-surface.

‘Ok. How many?’

Mum glanced my way. ’13.’

”No I meant how many are you taking.’

‘I know you did.’

Sometimes mum was so many steps ahead of me I needed a moment to work back through our conversation to realise what she meant. ‘You can’t take all of them.’

Ok, yes, I sounded a little petulant. And miffed.

‘Why not?’

‘There isn’t space.’

‘How do you know that?’ She’s now meeting my gaze with a steady stare.

‘Mum, you’re kitchen is a third larger here and…’

‘Haven’t you heard of space saving?’

‘Of course, mum but…’

‘And that lovely kitchen designer (note the ‘lovely’ – if this particular form of endearment was added as an appellation it usually spelt disaster to argue with such a person’s opinions – the equivalent of telling Stephen Hawkins he couldn’t add or that David Attenborough was unkind to animals) said my new kitchen had the latest in space-saving (she was referring to a neat pull out cupboard-thingy that was one door wide, rose from floor to ceiling and had access on both sides to the five shelves).’

‘I know but…’

‘So, and please don’t interrupt my flow (as if my feeble attempts could ever interrupt the inexorable Ganges of logic swamping me), if the new kitchen is an improvement on the old it must be able to hold more per cubic meter (now I knew she was toying with me, the evil predator of hapless lawyers – when did she go metric, for pity’s sake: we were ruled by the rod, as in the rod, pole and perch as a system of measurement – (if you are unsure what I mean, these are different names for the same unit of length, which is five and a half yards)) than the old one.’

‘I get it. You think all this,’ I swept an arc around her kitchen, ‘ will fit into the new one.’

‘No darling.’

‘No? I don’t understand.’


Mum and her cousin, circa 1952; oddly she seems happy that dad is in charge of a moving vehicle

She hugged me. ‘I know you don’t.’ She looked up, smiling her goofy smile, chucking my cheek – is there a more annoying motherly gesture ever devised? ‘You are as impulsive as your father…’

Pausing here for a moment, the expression you are as [add characteristic] as your father has been adopted by the Textiliste in what might be described as a ‘braking’ expression. Describing something I have said, or worse, have done, or indeed, am in the process of saying or doing thus, renders me instantly immobilised. I adored my dad but comparisons with, say, his politics, his ranting at the radio, his ideas on best business practice, diy, house buying, his driving, his.. well you get the idea, does not cut it. I am different. As in DIFFERENT. I shaved off my moustache for heaven’s sake in 1998. Didn’t that show my intention to be my own man (ok, so I was 42 but I don’t like to rush)?


Yes, glamorous but rather scary…

So for mum to make such a comparison was, as she well knew, liable to (a) make me bristle (b) become defensive and (c) instantly do the opposite of what I was about to do. Namely argue with her.

‘I’ll put the kettle on. The thing is, darling, it may not all fit and if so we can decide then what we do with the extras but unlike your father (and implicitly, me) I prefer not to make assumptions based on a flawed thinking.’

‘Which is what?’

‘That just because I want to move means I want to get rid of anything.’

‘Anything? Haven’t we only been discussing glass bowls?’

‘I think they are what you lawyers call a test case.’

‘You mean you expect to apply the same logic to everything in the kitchen.’

Her smile grew, Cheshire-cat like. She didn’t respond, at least not verbally and just held my gaze. It was a caring, teacherly face. One I saw many times as a child when I couldn’t grasp a concept: like algebra or ironing a shirt. She knew I would grasp it eventually; I just needed time to absorb what she had said and my subconscious would do the rest.


She resorted to torture often to get her way…

‘You don’t mean you plan on taking everything,’ my waving arms described windmills of arcs encompassing the house, the garage and beyond, ‘with you and then sort it out.’

She had the grace to giggle. ‘That would be logical, Captain.’

I didn’t give in easily. I dutifully ate my cake (apple and cinnamon) and drank my tea while testing the edges of this theory. But she’d planned it out, even to the extent of agreeing the arrangements with the removal men. All the boxes that contained the absolute essentials (no, I didn’t dare ask how she’d identified these) would go to their chosen destinations in the bungalow. Ditto the furniture (mum had ten sofas and chairs and expected them all to come). The rest would be stored in the garage. And the summerhouse we were taking. Or, at a pinch on the sitting room which was the biggest room in the new place. Gradually, a box at a time would be emptied, its contents reconsidered and, if found essential, or likely to be, it would be kept. If it failed that test it didn’t go. Oh no. It was repacked. Once every item had been reconsidered, if there was space over, some of the unessentials would be kept (because you never knew, did you?). If however there wasn’t space then a clear out would be instigated.

Mum was 82; of course there were circumstances when she might need 13 glass mixing and cooking basins. I just couldn’t imagine them. No one I asked could. When regaled with this conversation, family members sighed and smiled; friends laughed and said things like ‘Isn’t your mother great’ and ‘doesn’t she have spirit?’ and ‘It’s marvellous she knows her own mind’.

Fuckwits, all of them. It was going to be a nightmare. And that was before the intervention of my sister-in-law.

And so to Dad’s poem. This was written from the heart after he was made redundant a second time in 1986, even if the ending sentiment was not one he worried about.

Why Me?

Joe was made redundant on a Friday afternoon,

His world came tumbling down just after three,

He went back to his office, sat down and shook his head,

And whispered to himself ‘Why me?’


He tried to recollect just what it was they said,

Some word or phrase, perhaps, would be the key,

He remembered words like ‘rationalise’ and ‘viable’ and ‘facts’

But they were not the answer to ‘Why me?’


‘It’s nothing personal, Joe,’ they’d said, ‘You’ve done a damn good job,’

‘It’s just a basic economic fact, you see,’

‘And if we had our way, we’d leave things as they are.’

And that left Joe still wondering ‘Why me?’


He’d worked here now for – how long? Why nearly thirty years,

And at least he’d climbed some distance up the tree.

The department he now managed – surely this was a success?

But all that did was emphasise ‘Why me?’


And driving home that evening his mind was in a whirl

At nearly fifty-five what would he do?

But the thing that most concerned him was what to tell his wife

Who was surely going to ask ‘Why you?’

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A storm in a sand cup #carrotranch #flashfiction

Charli Mills’ prompt this week is:

October 12, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a walk across the sand. It can be a literal day at a beach, in the sand box or a metaphor of your choosing. What is the sand like and what does it reveal to the reader?


As a child my holidays were spent at Herne Bay, on the north Kent coast. I have many happy memories but the one I don’t have is of sand. The beaches were large unforgiving pebbles until the tied disappeared to Norway when a sticky gloopy version of sand appeared. But spending 22 out of 24 hours underwater made it (a) prone to suck you in and (b) absolutely shit at making sandcastles.


My uncle Les loved to follow the tide out and scrape for cockles with homemade rakes. For two little boys this was so exciting, carrying canvas buckets and carefully following the paths that only he could identify but which looked the same as the surrounding sand.


He knew. There were large patches of quick sand into which you could easily sink but he knew what he was about. Happy memories.


Which leads to a less happy recollection: the infamous modern slavery tragedy that took place at Morecombe Bay when Chinese cockle pickers became trapped by the fast, in-rushing tide and drowned.


In a post I did on Anthony Gormley’s extraordinary sculpture park on the sand near Liverpool – Another Place


I was reminded about those poor souls and penned this poem.

Iron Men

Sharp shapes stand sentinel

Guards of the horizon

Canutes in iron

Broody? Or dreaming?

No feature reveals their mood.

Just an illusion of calm

As the tides approaches

and laps at their feet.

Inexorable, the flood covers

all, slowly, powerfully


A cry is heard

from Morecombe Bay

floating along the Mersey coast.

Another time, another group

trapped by the self same tides.

Brooding? Thoughtful?

Hardly. Frozen by panic, concreted

into their glutinous prison.

The sea is not a muse

but a curse, death, a cruel deceiver.

Finally the surface is still.

Nothing disturbs the calm,

reflective pacific sea,

lapping my shoes.

I still hear cries, now seagulls

and untamed children.

I turn for my car, carefully freeing my feet

with each step.

And so to the latest part of my long (too long?) saga of Mary and Paul

The best laid plans…

‘Oh bloody hell.’

‘What’s wrong?’ Mary put down the cup.

‘That bloody dog. Look.’

Mary stifled a giggle. In the carefully pressed sand that Paul had spent hours levelling a set of canine paw prints stood out.

‘I spent hours getting that right.’

‘Maybe we should all make a footprint. Like they do in Hollywood.’

‘I’m making a patio, not Sunset sodding Boulevard.’

Mary waited until he smiled. ‘It’s a point though. Maybe Penny and Charlotte could leave hand prints when you do the concrete. Nice memory for them.’

Paul nodded. ‘Those sort of memory triggers are so important.’

To catch up on their back story, go here.


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Philosophically thinking #learnedfrommovies #THHGTTG

This post, from Sarah Brentyn, loped into my inbox today, a little bedraggled because my inbox was flooded and rather unannounced in truth. It is part of a blogathon, here offering a ‘things I learned from the movies’ meme and a hashtag thingummy #learnedfrommovies.

So, I mused: what have I learned most from any one movie? Turned out to be straight forward choice, as a writer and poet of no noticeable acclaim.

The movie is really a book. Well a series of books. In fact it’s a radio series first and foremost but we are splicing editing suites rather.

It is

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

By St. Douglas of the Adams

My take-ways?

Even the Vogons get to read their poetry

Vogon poetry is the worst in the universe. Their captain reads it to Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect, admittedly not willingly. But it gives all nascent performance poets hope, and if one day I’m in charge of an interstellar demolition fleet I too may get to read Le Pard’s first oeuvre to some passing hitch-hiker.

A cool frood always knows where his towel is

This reminds everyone of the essential rightness of one’s hyperawareness for personalised terrycloth. Clearly the towel is a metaphor for having about one’s person any form of absorbent material. Indeed note 25th May in your diaries as International Towel Day.

There is a restaurant at the end of the universe

Of course, at one level this idea encapsulates hope, hope that one day you too will reach a  spectacular end if you strive for long enough and have enough patience. But the real message is more prosaic: that however much you might save and for however long, all you’ll end up with is enough for a bag of chips and a scrawny burger.

It’s the mice who run everything

A good reminder this that just because they are small and whiskery doesn’t mean they are unimportant; the young should bear this in mind when looking at we of more marinaded years.

I could never get the hang of Thursdays

It is a truth that should be universally acknowledged that each of us has a Dud-Day. Custom suggests Mondays as the start of a lot of working weeks but with seven days to choose from each person needs to understand when it is utterly excusable to pull the duvet back up, kill the alarm and just snuggle. If trains can be excused school because of the wrong sort of snow and children not beaten soundly because their homework is still proving in the airing cupboard, then adults should be entitled to their Dud-Day.

The world desperately needs to discover a babel fish

I hanker to travel more but part of why I don’t (there’s the time:money conundrum stuff but passing that by) is the fact not everyone speaks a version of English I can understand. I’m not saying they should (though good manners would suggest they give it serious thought). But because they don’t and I will certainly not be able to speak whatever it is they are articulating, I end up either (a) frustrated because  I can no more make myself understood than my dog when he pops out the the butchers to buy some sausages or (b) embarrassed that someone can speak English in a structured and intelligible way because they have made the effort to and, well, it rather shows me up as the lazy good for nothing tosser that I really am.

A lot of you might have expected me to comment on the unveiling, in amongst these other revelations of the fact that the Meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything is (spoiler alert)


That’s the thing and I learnt it years ago. It’s just a number and, well, as I hope we all know by now, it is that, whatever Life, the Universe and Everything looks like on the outside, inside it is whatever number it wants it to be. And that’s probably the most important take away for all of us. And it really didn’t need five books to show it.

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Penny for ‘im, mister #pictureprompt #microfiction

Jane’s prompt is this week


‘Blimey George, you’ve excelled yourself this year. I thought, you know, you’d maybe give it a miss?’ Tina glanced sidelong at her brother, wondering at his mood.

George rubbed his eyes, tiredness showing through. He managed a smile. ‘Couldn’t miss Guy Fawkes night, could I sis? Haven’t done so yet, have I?’

Tina stood and touched his hand, noticing the slight shaking. ‘Remember the Guy you made when Dad had that rant about Blair? ‘We don’t burn effigies in England, boy’.’ Tina mimicked their late father perfectly.

George nodded. ‘I was never sure if he was serious.’

‘Mum told him not to be so stupid, remember. ‘What do you think a model of Guy Fawkes is if it’s not an effigy’. Right, shall we get him onto the bonfire. Goodness, he’s a weight.’

‘I’ve filled him with firecrackers and some other fun stuff. Helped bulk him out. Maybe Ron and my hunky nephew can help?’

As the three men eased the figurine onto the stack of wood, Tina said to George, ‘So things better? You and Maggie ok?’

George pursed his lips. ‘I think we both realised we’d come to the end, you know. Time to move on.’

Tina smiled and hugged her brother. ‘You’re well shot of her. You know what I think. At least she’s not going to be moping about here, casting a downer on everything.’

George smiled as he took out his lighter. ‘Oh I think for once she’ll light up the whole occasion.’ As he sparked a flame and reached forward he looked around at his family’s happy faces. ‘Ok?’


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The Eyes Have It #writephoto

Sue Vincent’s #writehoto prompt offers us this, this week


Eyes on the World


‘And this is the Optic Room.’

‘That’s the eye, is it?’

‘Technically it is the lens. Looks like a nice day out there, doesn’t it? Full sun.’

Techie 27 squinted at the glare. ‘Shouldn’t we stop him? I mean…’

Suddenly the area went dark. Supervisor 4 smiled. ‘Right on cue. This one is a bit sun stupid. Always out in it, always staring at it. One of your jobs, if you work in Optics, will be to try and keep the lens clean and avoid scratches. Give it a few years and he’ll have a cataract. Now what next?’

‘Super, I have a question?’


‘The tree, the scenery? In Body School we weren’t told the eye had these things.’

Supervisor 4 grinned. ‘Each body has to have a staff rest facility. Most house it somewhere not used much – the appendix is always popular or the wisdom teeth though that’s often very noisy. I heard one body had there’s strung from the coccyx. We took the view – ha, sorry pun coming – that setting up the facility in the eye would give us have a different perspective.’

‘But surely this interferes with our body’s ability to see?’

‘Lazy eye, Techie 27, lazy eye. He doesn’t use it even though it still functions. Now what say you we go and check out the heart? Always fun, getting inside the pump room. I… What the…’ Supervisor 4 grabbed his phone, holding it close while the sirens blared. Techie 27 looked up as the eyelid opened and a blurry image appeared through the lens.

‘Is that…?’

Supervisor 4 grabbed his sleeve and pulled him away. ‘Yes, he’s disturbed his girlfriend in the shower. We’re needed immediately. They’ll be understaffed in hydraulics and god knows what’s going off at the seminal launch pad.’

The lid began to blink rapidly. ‘He’s getting excited, isn’t he?’

‘I’d say he’s a T minus ten minutes, maximum.  Grab your tool bag and let’s go.’ Supervisor 4 ran for the door. ‘We’ll abseil down the optic nerve, catch a fat capsule in the aorta and do a stomach jump. Hope you’re ready?’

‘Is it always this crazy?’

Supervisor 4 looked up, a scowl on his face. ‘Only when those know-all goons in mission control lose grip and don’t give us any forewarning.’ He sighed. ‘If you can get a secondment to the brain, take it. Damn sight safer up there than counselling a million sperm who are about to find out that their entire existence was utterly pointless.’

(Credit must lie with Woody Allen for stimulating this piece)


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