In the Navy, not… #carrotranch #flashfiction

April 20, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a navel story. It can include a belly-button, feature an omphalos (geological or cultural), or extend to navel-gazing (used in meditation or to describe excessive self-contemplation). Go where this oddity leads you.

I learnt camp fire songs in the Scouts, from Ging Gang Goolie Goolie Watcha to Kumbaya.

That was what we were meant to learn, anyway. There were those other songs, hushed songs sniggeringly sung in the tents after lights out.

Like “We’re off to see the Wild West Show, The Elephant and the Kangaroo…’

us? Sing smutty songs? Never!!

Or ‘She’ll be coming round the mountain…’ only with verses such as

‘She’s got a lovely bottom set of teeth,

She’s got a lovely bottom set of teeth,

Oh she’s got a lovely bottom,

She’s got a lovely bottom,

She’s got a lovely botto set of teeth.’

WEven naive me understood that but for the life of me, aged 10 or so, I relaly didnt understand why this caused sniggers…

‘She’s has a lovely navel uniform,

She has a lovely navel uniform,

Oh she has a lovely navel..’

Why, or so my mind had it, did anyone think a belly bottom worthy of such giggling and inclusion in a risque song? Ah me…

And the flash, well, Penny has some embarrassing moments…

Life Gets Complicated

 

‘Penny come here.’

Penny looked at her form teacher’s stern face, mystified at her tone.

‘Did you call Melanie a freak?’

‘I…’ Penny’s face flushed. ‘I just said her belly button was weird.’ Everyone had laughed, even Melanie. She’d showed them after all. ‘Is she upset?’

‘Melanie doesn’t know we’re talking. Someone else told me.’

Penny felt anger swell inside her chest. Sophie.

Miss Johnstone sighed. ‘She has an umbilical hernia. Just be a little careful what you say. You don’t know who might be upset.’

Penny held her gaze. ‘If Mel doesn’t care, why should anyone else?’

‘Indeed.’

To catch up on Penny and her family, click here

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Beach Fayre #writephoto #flashfiction

The excitement in the venerated halls of the Royal Geographical Society were palpable. Not since Surtsey had burst forth from the Atlantic, propelled by huge volcanic forces, had anything of this scale suddenly appeared out of the oceans and this time the new land mass, the size of Surrey had leapt into existence with dazzling speed some 500 miles south of Hawaii. At the same time, though the reports were confused, a large piece of the coast of Chile seemed to have disappeared. Of course the loss of life was terrible but these geo-planetary discombobulations were what made geographers and geologists salivate. So much to explore, so many new avenues opened. The big question – why – of course, was on everyone’s lips but no doubt there would be a clear scientific explanation.

‘Horace! Come here, right now.’ Athene’s hair glowed ultraviolet as she struggled to control herself. She’d just done her nails and having involuntary thunderbolts exploding from the tips did nothing for the patina. ‘I don’t need this just before your father and I go out. You know it’s Uncle Zeus’ party tonight and your father and I have enough to do to pander to his ego without your latest trick.’

Horace dragged himself indoors, wiping at his mouth furiously with his sleeve.

Athene peered at her son; if he was ever going to make it as a fully functioning inspirer-of-awe he needed to smarten up his act. ‘Your father tells me there’s been uproar on Earth again. When we gave you this planet we expected you to learn how to interrelate with its inhabitants. Yet he says you’ve decimated a continent.’

‘I was peckish, mum. And it looked… tasty.’

‘YOU ATE IT?’

‘Just a small bite, mum, to see what it was like but it was like that time we went to the beach. Everything was covered in sand. I kind of spat it out, see and sort of created another island. All I did was move some of it around.’

‘You’ll have to make it up to them.’

‘Mum… must I?’

‘Yes. You go and take some of that money your granny gave you and buy a new species from Mr Gruber. Put it somewhere near that nice David Attenborough. When they see his cheery face, it’ll take their minds off things.’

This is in response to Sue Vincent’s latest #writephoto prompt here

Posted in #writephoto, creative writing, flash fiction, prompt | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

S is for Steam #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 spent a large amount of my childhood in steam. Mum’s kitchen was like a cauldron of cooking and boiling. At most times of the year it seemed some industrial catering process was underway – marmalade, chutney, jam, preserving vegetables like beetroot – and when the smells weren’t culinary they involved boiled clothing or some other mechanical process.

This was, you might understand, back when a vegetable was cooked to a pulp, or so it seemed. Cabbage wasn’t eaten crisp, the only thing stir fried was a chip pushed around the pan and had we heard the term Al Dente we would have assumed it was an Italian dentist.

Mum used a pressure cooker a lot of the time, which generated both steam and a series of whizzes and fizzes that made her kitchen appear to be a prototype for a Potions lesson.

Sometimes mum could become a bit reckless. On one occasion she was trying to rush and had the heat turned up too high on the pressure cooker. For those of you who have never experienced these marvels they cooked whatever it was in pressurised steam but as with all things under pressure there needed to be an escape; and in this case there were weights on the top. Were the pressure to get to be too much and the neat little vent to prove insufficient, the weights would pop off the top and roll to one side letting all the steam out and avoid turning the cooker into shrapnel.

Unfortunately in this instance the weights didn’t so much roll as rocket. One minute the kitchen was full of a low level crackle, the next it was filled with an enormous pop. The weights hit the ceiling, as I tried desperately to exit stage right screaming, mum, who was in the process of tieing up an airer of clothes  let go mush to her annoyance, and the dog, all 27 kilos of muscle proved once more that the only thing entirely frictionless in the known universe is a sprinting dog on wet linoleum.

If I escaped steam at one end of the house, I might well find it at the other. The Archaeologist was fascinated by many things and the power of steam was one. He acquired, as a present I expect, a Mamod – a scale model of workings steam engines – which was powered by a small power source that used methylated spirits to heat the water.

for once I’m in charge of the matches…

Looking back you do have to wonder at my parents and their gullibility, allowing an eight year old Frankenstein loose with such inflammable material. They trusted him which in one sense is meritorious. And really something that might be used to conflagrate the house was small beer for him.

This was the boy whose imagination was beyond his years.  Somehow – blue eyes, blond curls, whatever, he persuaded mum – and remember this was well before his tenth birthday to buy him some Salt Peter – potassium nitrate because he wanted to do a small chemical experiment. Back then fertilizer bombs were a thing of the sci-fi imaginings but not beyond the wide reading of the Archaeologist. Souring sulphur and charcoal wasn’t tricky either. And the small ‘accident’ that occurred when he lit a small metal dish with some of these compounds in it ‘to see how it went’ leading to a sooty mark on our bedroom ceiling and some melted sticky-backed plastic on our table wasn’t noticed. Eventually he managed to blow up a small amount of lawn – not telling anyone of course – and there, we must be grateful his experiments in ordnance ended.

‘Psst. I’ve had this great idea to make a moon rocket. Fancy being the pilot?’ ‘Will I come back?’ ‘Sometimes there has to be a needless sacrifice…’

Neither of us thought there was anything wrong with this; even when he built a horn for an old fashioned gramophone player that lacked the same leading to the needle being so deeply embedded in the heel of my foot that I required an operation to remove it, we didn’t want the experiments to stop. A little collateral damage was a small price to pay to satiate for a while an otherwise unquenchable curiosity. Would he be the polymath he is today, had that urge been restrained? Maybe not. Anyway I’m sure he’s forgiven me now for breaking that needle given how long it took him to make that horn…

Plotting, always plotting…

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A Quiet Passion #filmreview

This film is one of those that I go to thinking I’ll wish I hadn’t. Costume dramas and a lot of moody lingering camera shots at sumptuous gowns and stiff backed men. Ideally these trips would pay for themselves in the extra sleep that comes with them but rarely do films I don’t enjoy send me to sleep.

The other side to that slight ennui as I collect the tickets is the knowledge that rarely am I disappointed by such fare, possibly because I come to them with such low expectations.

I did wonder at this one because while I’ve admired Emily Dickinson’s poetry it’s not of the jolly pick-me-up-on-a-wet-Wednesday genre.

You kind of know where this is going, don’t you? The audience was, inevitably, of the thoughtful turns-off-the-phone-and-doesn’t-eat-popcorn sort – those types had plenty to enjoy on the other screens with Fast and Furious 8 and Get Out. As a result there weren’t any distractions and we settled back to see how they could make entertainment out of a poet’s life that was unremarkable in its reasonable longevity (no 20 something early demise here) and stable family (minor scandals apart) and comfortable home life.

There were lingering shots, of snow and cheery blossom, bonnets and parasols galore; there was incidental stress over some infractions with her father and the local reverend. And there was a continuing battle to have her worth as a poet recognised in her lifetime that sadly failed.  Her faltering contempt for organised religion played out nicely against the horrors of the civil war but largely her’s was a life externally untroubled and internally at war with itself. We heard a lot about the concerns for her soul and its earthly nourishment and we had some well-chosen voiced over poetry that complemented the scenes.

The acting was a little mixed: Cynthia Nixon and Jennifer Ehle were multi faceted and clever in their portrayals; the male actors less so, in the case of the chap playing her brother the picture on the poster at the entrance was at times more effective in communicating his feelings than his acting.

As she sank into some later life bitterness her waspish tongue came to the fore and those were some of the best scenes. When asked if she wanted to come down as her brother’s lover was departing she mused ‘This life I hope?’ Was she so beautifully and breathtakingly rude? Maybe not but it rounded her off and gave the chance for Nixon to display a range of acting skills in what was otherwise a constrained characterisation.

So, yes, the trip was worthwhile. Perhaps to say I ‘enjoyed’ myself might be stretching things in the same way Dickinson would have though it overstated. If slow moving and thoughtful (but neither glacial nor thought provoking) are your bag and, especially if you like her poetry then this is for you. If you’re not sure it might be too racy for you, maybe try some of the Slow TV the Norwegians like – you know, where you watch a leaf float down a river for two hours or a sultana swell in a  cup of marsala over night – and if that leaves you mellow, pop along. If however you even think seeing Fast and Furious 8 might be worth a shot then avoid this as you would an ‘Evening of Song and Dance with Boris Johnson’. If the HHGTTG contained a section on Earth Films this would probably come in under ‘essentially harmless’.

I must report no ice cream. I know, how can that be. If you take a delayed skype call to No. 1 Son, an early showing and some uncooked fishcakes you end up at the cinema craving salt and buy crisps instead – I had some of those deep fried beetroot and sweet potato johnnies which I usually poo-poo but they did the trick. And no I didn’t eat them in the auditorium. Please, give me credit…

Posted in Film, miscellany, review | Tagged , | 5 Comments

R is for Rabbits #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

Earlier in the show, at G is for… I recounted my experiences with Gertie my guinea pig. And I’ve told of the family dog, Punch and my parents’ cat Misty whose poem, written by dad, I revealed a while ago, here if you are interested.

But the one pet that I haven’t mentioned was a rabbit whose name escapes me. He wasn’t the only rabbit to whom we gave a home but he was the first.

Thing about… damn, what was his name? Wotsit will have to do. Wotsit was a stray.

One of my mother’s most disliked habits, at least to the Archaeologist and me, was to miss no opportunity to acquire any form of compost for her garden. Preferably for nothing. The route to my first senior school (before the family moved to the New Forest I spent a year at Purley Grammar School) crossed some woodland and common land that was popular with riders. Hence on the few occasions mum drove me to and from school, she would always have a plastic sack and spade in the boot so she could stop and shovel up the horses’ offerings to be composted.

I’m not sure when it was, possibly in the year before I started, now I think about it, we were driving across the common, mum’s eyes scouring the verges for suitable offerings when one of us – probably the Archaeologist as he had front seat visitation rights – spotted a rabbit sitting on the verge. Oddly he didn’t move as we drove slowly up to him, looking up briefly from where he was feeding.

Carefully we all hopped out (ha, sorry about that!) and circled the indifferent beast. ‘He’s tame.’

My mother, I am certain, had the words ‘rabbit pie’ dangling on her lips when the Archaeologist pointed out this obvious fact.

I can now imagine the parental dilemma. On the one hand mum liked nothing more than foraging for food. We spent hours collecting berries, fruits and nuts. On the other to capture and kill a tame rabbit would seem, well, unseemly.

‘Can we keep him?’ This from the Archaeologist.

‘If we can catch him.’ Ever practical mother.

It proved surprisingly easy and soon enough he was in the car, being taken home. The guinea pig cage, now redundant but still available was prayed in aide and that evening we had a new pet.

I must say Wotsit wasn’t universally popular. Dad, for instance, had a sort of hate-hate relationship with him, partly because he had vampiric tendencies towards dad and partly because one time he escaped he ate all dad’s lettuce plants.

He did make a bold bid for freedom, ending up under a neighbour’s shed. Dad, reluctantly was dispatched with the two of we boys to fetch him back. Dad knew it would end in blood. His. But by using a juicy carrot, a necessary transfusion was avoided and Wotsit returned to his life of indolence and eating.

He died, of what I don’t know, before we moved, in 1969, to Hampshire. I know this because Punch was the only pet to come with us on that long and terrifying displacement. And but for Richard Briars we might have left it at one rabbit, over fed, in our pet history.

Self sufficiency, which mum had been dabbling with forever really took hold in the 1970s following the popularity of The Good life (above). In our little corner of Hampshire it began with an increase in vegetables grown by dad. But mum wanted more. They thought about bees – dad went on a course that took weeks only to be told our garden wasn’t suitable due to the proximity of a riding stables – and even mentioned chickens and a goat but eventually settled for rabbits.

I don’t remember being party to this decision but I do remember mum telling both of us that we mustn’t name them ‘They’re not pets, they will be killed and eaten’. That was ok with us – we both liked rabbit pie.

‘Will dad do the killing?’ I’m really not sure why we asked; we both knew the answer.

‘No I will,’ this from mum. Dad was a man’s man who could be as squeamish as a Victorian heroine. Oddly this hardened killer trait seems to have carried down the generations as the Vet, dainty blonde and all that, was the one volunteer to kill and skin a rabbit on an army camp she attended aged circa 15. Now she’s keen to save them. Go figure.

Anyway, we were now the owners of our own meat source and all the peelings and shed lettuce leaves and what-have-yous were given to Rabbit A and Rabbit B pending their eventually demise.

And all would have been well but for a film and 2 cousins.

My cousins, trying to put the terrors behind them…

My two delightful cousins lived a few miles away in the pub their parents ran and would visit from time to time. No one thought to mention the rabbits, and certainly not their fate when these two bounced into our garden, saw the pen and squealed.

‘What are their names?’

‘They don’t have any. You see…’

Louise: ‘This one’s Hyzenthlay.’

Alison: ‘This one’s Fiver’.

Watership Down. A crapulous carbuncle of cinematography. Who’d have thought they would have just seen this?

By the time my parents emerged it was too late to explain. Mum was in a bind. This wasn’t the idea at all.

Over the next few weeks the cousins appeared and made a beeline for the bunnies. Mum explained to their parents who told her not to worry. When the time came she should just tell a little white lie – about how they’d gone to a new home. Mum wasn’t happy, exactly, but it would have to do.

And it would have been fine. But for the Archaeologist. The dread day dawned and the two lapin de dejeuner were re-categorised, and the pen removed.

The cousins arrived and headed for the garden. They looked around for their friends. ‘Where are the rabbits?’

Mum swallowed and prepared to explain about the re-homing but the Archaeologist, undoubtedly having a George Washington moment interjected. ‘They’re in the freezer.’

Mum and dad never kept livestock after that.

And my cousins? I think the counselling is going well…

Alison manages to deal with a dog as long as it doesn’t wrinkle it’s nose in the cute bunny way…

and Louise is ok with dogs as long it doesn’t ever hop…

Posted in A to Z blogging challenge, family, miscellany, pets | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Q is for Quiet #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’ve never been thought of as a quiet person. Not loud, per se, just a bit wordy, a bit verbose, happy with the sound of my own voice.

But there are times when quiet, silence even is welcomed and that is the morning after.

These days I don’t do mornings after. I don’t drink alcohol and haven’t for some 28 years. I can’t give you the exact date I gave up but it was about 1 year before the Lawyer was born, making it winter 88 to spring 89. Alcohol has slipped past my guard since then but only maybe 4 or 5 times and all but one was accidental. These days, if I get the hint of alcohol I do recoil; I’m no longer prepared for it.

But…

…back in the 1970s, drinking alcohol was a rite of passage, more so than drugs or sex, if I’m honest. Given there was little to bugger all to do in the New Forest in the first half of the 1970s, finding a way to persuade a pub landlord to serve you a pint was one of the great challenges.

Well, so it seemed. Though, in practice, they’d pretty much serve anyone to get the business, the motto being ‘If you can pay, you’re old enough’.

Locally we youngsters (17ish and access to one car) had the Wheel at Hordle while Dad had the Hare and Hounds or the Wheel at Pennington, so never the twain should meet.

He always enjoyed a pint

Once or twice I cycled until the occasion I tried to cycle home when the world was turning somersaults inside my vision. I do recall thinking it might help if I closed my eyes and shook my head. All that did was send me into the ditch – which just happened to be full of run off from the goose farm. Mum wouldn’t let me in the house until she had hosed me down. That worked as an optical corrector as I recall.

My 18th birthday, therefore, had to involve booze. I had 4 close friends back then who joined me in the Lymington challenge – a pub crawl up Lymington High Street as far as you could go before the lack of sobriety and the pavement collided to end the evening.

Lymington for those who don’t know it has changed little so far as street scene and topography are concerned. It starts at Captain’s Quay by the expensive boats and climbs steeply for about 250 yards (four pubs, one wine bar back then). It then bends slightly towards the right, opposite the hotel  before flattening completely by the small department store and solicitors, Moore and Blatch after which it gently slopes down to the one way system.

The hotel – The Angel – was deemed out of bounds as being too posh and pricey. On the stretch to the bend there were from memory three more pubs and two wine bars. After the solicitors there was a gap before a group of about four more boozers from when you reached the Church up to one way system and the job centre. All told Lymington had 18 places that served mainly alcohol back then. Make it to the solicitors (8) and you achieved a pass , reach the church (10) and you’d done well, liable to get a star. All the way to the one way system (14) and you approached mythical kidney status.

I recall reaching the wine bar next to the Angel – it was the only place that served Wadsworths 6X which was the God of Bitters in my town back then – but after that I can only visualise some shameful regurgitation next to St Thomas and All Saints. How I got home is also a mystery but here we come to one of the most complicated logistical nightmare to confront me, the trainee drunk.

When my family home was built in the early years of the 20th century the builder decided on the access to the upper floor to be via a narrow and steep staircase that was marginally offset from the front door and which started no more than a yard inside.

To add to the potential from pratfalls the treads seemed to slope down making ascending in anything other than tiptop mental and physical condition something of a nightmare.

So far so bad for the young man intent on making it to his bed in a smooth and sophisticated way. There were two other issues to surmount.

One, there was a porch and said porch had a door that needed to be opened and closed (and locked) before the front door could be similarly opened and closed.

Two, dad’s last words rang in my ears: ‘Don’t wake us up when you crawl in’.

Sometimes he could be a serious businessman…

Looking back, a night in the shed or under the hedge might have been both sensible and beneficial but the mind doesn’t always come to crisp and well considered conclusions when its owner is bladdered.

I reckoned I had a foolproof method of attack to overcome these obstacles and end up at the top of the stairs upon which I would enter the bathroom without even a modicum of risk of either noise or falling or both.

To do this I needed to access the porch slowly and carefully and make sure the door was locked. I would then open the front door. Taking a firm hold on the edge of the open door I would push off with one foot pressed against the closed porch door. As I passed the front door I would pull it after me, letting it close (note, I didn’t consider the slamming front door to comprise ‘noise’ for these purposes) behind me. My momentum would take me sailing up the stairs until the second half where I could use the banisters to give me a final bit of assistance to make it to the top.

What I didn’t do was factor in the displacement between the front door and the stairs. And so it was that, with all the force a drunk can muster I ran straight into the newel post at the bottom of the stairs, rebounded off the screaming and creaking wood and was only stopped from crossing the Lymington road backwards and at high speed by the already carefully shut and locked porch door.

that sodding porch…

Drunks are notorious for falling well. I was no exception. I was still triageing myself and taking the register on my limbs (‘Elbow Left?’ ‘Present’ ‘Thigh Left?’ ‘Present’) when my parents’ bedroom door opened and a heavy male footfall told me of the approaching supplier of my X chromosome.

Outside a street light did its best to illuminate the scene but all I saw was a silhouette of simmering anger. However, having shaken the newel post and satisfied himself it was still intact, my father helped me to my feet. ‘You’re home then.’ A hand touched my cheek followed by a ‘hmm’ and what might have been a sigh but could have been a laugh.

He helped me upstairs and pushed me into the bathroom. ‘Drink water. Lots.’

And that was it.

What a decent bloke. Momentarily my faith in his humanity was restored.

and sometimes we couldn’t help ourselves… guess which one hadn’t given up drink at this point in pour lives…

Anyone who has allowed themselves to become completely rat-arsed will know that one of the challenges no one explains to you is how to stop your legs floating up to the ceiling as soon as you lie down in bed and close your eyes. It was gone 2 by the time I stopped looking at the bedside clock and I lapsed into some sort of coma-cum-sleep.

‘Morning! Good night?’

The ‘decent bloke’ had gone, replaced by a total arsehole who saw fit to bring me a cup of tea and pull back the curtains on a sharp sun-filled window.

‘Just thought I’d pop in to see you before I left.’

Left? (I didn’t actually speak – all this was done by thought transference.)

‘I told you. I have to leave early to drive to Luton this morning.’

Luton? Why?

‘Work. Important meeting. But,’ a face appeared close to mine, blocking out the unforgiving sun and allowing me to slit-open my eyes, ‘I couldn’t go without letting you know. I knew you’d want to say goodbye.’

I thought he had gone but no.

‘Oh and mum’s cooking you a nice greasy bacon sarnie. She’ll be up with it shortly.’

What time is it?

‘Just after 6. It’s a lovely day too. See you tonight. Maybe we can have a pint now it’s legal?’

Sometimes you just have to take your punishment like a man…

For those of you interested I wrote a short story based in part on these and other of my experiences as an 18 year old in Hampshire. It was for a course I did some years back.

The Mechanic pdf

 

 

 

 

Posted in A to Z blogging challenge, family, miscellany | Tagged , , , , | 15 Comments

Moth eaten

As a child we had a moth trap. This isn’t as cruel as it might sound in that moths aren’t killed in said trap but captured during night flying hours and held until freed in the morning. When dad died I inherited the old thing but it was basically clapped out and never really worked. Then last year, last autumn I had the chance to buy one. Hmm, tricky.. not.

There’s not a lot of point using it during the winter months; sure there are moths and indeed other insects that fly during these months but the best times are the spring through the autumn.

So last night I dusted it off, and set it up in the garden to see what, if anything could be tempted inside. I took a few short videos setting it up and checking on the contents which are below. The camera work leaves a lot to be desired but you’ll get the picture…

and what did I find in the morning…?

Posted in gardens, moths, nature | Tagged , , , | 25 Comments