The Carrot Ranch is changing. This week’s prompt as ‘I made a wish’. This is the link to the challenge post. I’d like to link to the collection of stories form all contributors, but there will be a period before that is available and, if you want to join in, you need to follow the link. . Please click through, here, and see how this prompt has inspired another 99 word takes
Nervy Arrhythmia, Little Tittweaking’s blacksmith was commissioned to make a wish for the Reverend Dimpled Whitethigh to reward her contribution to village life, viz keeping her sermons were under twenty minutes.
It was a surprise to all that on the day the wish was presented, Nervy was to be found drowning his sorrows in the back bar of the Compost and Rot.
‘What’s wrong?’ the assembled multitudes asked. ‘This is a day to celebrate your amazing creation. It’s beautiful. And you can put on your mantelpiece.’
This little piece was written as a guest post for Esther Chilton’s blog. Esther, among her many other talents, is my editor for all my books. If you’ve read any of my books and been delighted not to be distracted by plot holes, typos, non sequiturs and similar, then that’s Esther. If you ever need an editor, you really should use her.
So near and… Lindsay Martins smiled at her son, not that he was about to reciprocate. The thunder in his expression was a few shades beyond furious. She was about to tell him to take some deep breaths, that he shouldn’t strain his heart but what was the point.
‘It’s not something to laugh about, Mum.’ Toby Martins sounded, to his mother, like he wanted to be the grown up. That made a nice change.
‘I know, darling. I realise this must be…’ she paused as another storm began to brew in his features.
His face twisted into something unpleasant. ‘What? A shock? Surprising? What about utterly devastating.’
She wanted to suggest that was going a little far. Perhaps she should change the subject. ‘We need to think about your father.’
Now he looked frankly incredulous. ‘That’s exactly what we haven’t been thinking about.’ His voice was barely a squeak.
‘Gerry needs to be our priority.’
‘Yours, maybe. I don’t see why he’s mine.’
‘He’s spent his life caring for you, loving you. Doesn’t that count?’
‘That’s not the point. That’s a…’
‘Right now it’s all that matters. We both know a bone marrow transplant is his only realistic hope.’
‘Would you have told me? Would you?’
‘As we know, there was little point. Don’t we?’ Lindsay hadn’t wanted to sound bitter but the last few hours had been emotionally shattering. ‘We have to rely on finding a match from their donors. If there is one.’
Lindsay watched as Toby slumped into a plastic chair on the far side of the waiting room. He held his head in his hands, as if he had to, to stop it falling. Everything about him made it seem as if he was weighed down, beyond endurance. She was thinking about the moment he’d been born, that painful ecstasy, when she realised he was staring at her with rheumy red rimmed eyes.
‘I’m forty seven. I suppose you never planned to say, did you?’
She couldn’t. It would have broken Gerry’s heart. Maybe Toby realised because he added, ‘It was his… dad’s decision?’
She looked up quickly. He’d said dad. Had he meant to or was it just conditioning?
‘You mustn’t think that…’
‘But it was because of him, wasn’t it?’
‘It doesn’t really matter…’
The laugh was bitter. ‘Oh, I’m not exonerating you. Even if it was his machismo that was behind this secrecy, you were complicit.’
‘It wasn’t like that. The world was different back then…’
‘Seriously? For as long as I’ve been alive I’ve looked up to that man. My father. The hero. All I’ve ever wanted to do was make him proud…’
‘You did. You do.’
Toby appeared to ignore her. ‘And at last, here’s the one big opportunity for me to do something for him. Be a match for bone marrow. Be the hero. And it takes some doctor to tell me that not only am I not a match but that’s because I’m not his son.’
‘You are! In every real sense.’
‘You know, mum, if you’d told me I’d been adopted, back when I could have first understood it, I’d have gone along with it. But no, you’re my mother so you couldn’t do that, could you? It’s just that little twist of DNA. A sperm donor, I suppose. Some total stranger. I…’
The door opened and the doctor put his head inside. ‘Ah you’re both here. I thought I’d let you know that Mr Martins is alert. He’s tired but if you want to have a few minutes with him I think that will be fine.’
Lindsay stood quickly, hastening to the door. ‘We mustn’t stress him, must we, Doctor?’
‘No, that wouldn’t be a good idea. I’ll leave you to it.’
Lindsay breathed a sigh of relief. Toby had moved next to her side. ‘I’m angry, mum but I’m not heartless. I’ll not make a scene, not now. I’ll wait until his stronger.’
Lindsay Martins watched her son head for her husband’s room. She loved them both and couldn’t be without either of them. But if Gerry survived and got strong enough for Toby to berate him, how would he react? After all, Toby wasn’t the only one in this family who didn’t realise Gerry wasn’t his father.
In one of those coincidences that probably isn’t I read a review of The Thursday Murder Club, by Richard Osman (he wrote it; the review is by KL Carey, here) as I was thinking about this post. KL enjoyed it as I did. There’s a little bit of improbability but it’s a neat conceit and overall enjoyable. I was painting the utility – part of my ‘keeping sane in lockdown’ decorating plans – when I listened to it last year and I made a note that, if there was a follow up, I’d give that a go too.
That follow up is The Man Who Died Twice. It’s been out for a while to fairly good reviews and critical acclaim so I put it on my phone and gave it a listen.
Without giving too much away (though if you are intending reading it, you may want to pass the next paragraph) Osman takes his characters and drops them into another mystery. But this time they are front and centre involved and, boy, are they involved. This is no Miss Marple more a geriatric James Bond for the ladies. And the more I listened, the more disillusioned I became.
It’s a thing, this need to ratchet up the ante to keep the punters happy. Every soap opera falls prey to it. Start on a human scale and eventually you end up with the most egregious examples of human behaviour all set in some twee West Country little village or London Square or Liverpool estate.
Happens in literature, certainly modern literature. Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was a decent effort, readable, page-turny even with some gratuitous violent sex. But the next two – The Girl With A Fly In Her Ointment and The Girl With A Pain In Her Arse or some such – were frankly ludicrous, over written and boring. Same characters but their jeopardy had to be bigger, their traps more impossible to avoid. What a waste of my eyesight.
It didn’t happen in Lord of the Rings; it didn’t happen in Harry Potter. Maybe because they were plotted as a trilogy/series from the outset. It’s this grafting a second and third book on top of a successful first that might be the issue.
TV’s not much better. I loved Broadchurch, part one. Part two was a waste of oxygen. Downton Abbey managed several series at an easy pace but the Julian Fellowes lost grip on the reins and, whey-hey off we went down rabbit holes of more and more bizarre storylines. Even Line of Duty, one of the great police dramas of the last twenty years fell into that trap with series six.
It takes a brave writer to give up when ahead and not let ego/flattery/the inevitable growth in the bank balance persuade them to write just one more instalment. Like cake and chocolate, there really is a point where ‘enough’ has been achieved.
And, having written this I shall begin the edit of Book Four of my Harry Spittle Saga. Hey, no one is perfect!
This could be a post about my years as a pogoing punk rocker and the glories of Dr Feelgood circa 1979.
It’s not. It’s about art. Specifically something called strava art.
I’d not heard about this until a WhatsApp from No. 1 son. He’s in the midst of a fitness january organised by some friends. Every run, bikeride and swim gains various points allocated according to strict criteria. Ish.
‘I need points.’
‘Any chance you can come up with a strava art walk?’
We looked it up. This is an example
As you can see it is a mapped walk on these strava gizmos that creates a picture.
‘It has to be at least 5 kilometres. And the more complicated the better.’
No amebos then.
So she with two left brains and me with my map fixation had a ponder.
By Thursday we’d sketched this on our OS map that covers South London.
The questions were:
– would it look like this
– could we link some parts together
– and how long?
We guesstimated 15 kilometres and a close study of Google maps suggested it should be possible…
So on Saturday the Broker and I met up at Brockwell Park in Herne Hill a stone’s throw from his flat.
It was cold and gloomy but we pottered about carving the head and eye and ear before heading into the mean streets…
It was fun. I’d plotted each road and turn. He had his strava on, I had Google fit on my phone.
We visited some bits of South London we’d never seen before, such as the alphabet streets around the Church of Queen Mary in Streatham, built in the 1890s amongst early social housing (‘homes for tradesmen and artisans’).
And eventually we returned to Brockwell Park where, nervously we checked the apps.
And if you don’t know those doyens of a melodic pop song…
Back in 2014, a rather amazing installation took place in the moat at the Tower of London. I imagine most of the readers know about the Tower which, like a lot of TV celebrities, is smaller than you expect. It’s ancient, has some ravens which aren’t allowed to leave because of some mumbo-jumbo about the British royalty falling into disuse if they do – though frankly some of the peripheral royals do a pretty good job without having to restrict the travel urges of a few ratty corvids – and is home to a quite extraordinary quantity of bling called the Crown jewels that it does make you wonder if it is actually real or some paste-based charade.
For all my sneery tone which might be the result of one too many school trips when I was a preteen it does get some stuff right. That installation of ceramic poppies was one such. I went back several times and had the honour to listen to my great uncle Willie Dyson’s name read out before the last post was played, he having been killed during WW1. I still have a couple of the ceramic heads of those poppies as garden ornaments.
This year, Queen Liz hits her platinum disc for surviving 70 years on the throne. Quite an amazing feat of longevity and we rightly will celebrate this modern miracle (which has had the incidental benefit of keeping that worzel, Andrew as far away from the throne as possible).
One such celebration is a superbloom installation which involves filling the moat with wildflowers. This week we’ve just acquired a couple of tickets to wander amongst the blooms in mid July (the exhibition lasts from June to September) and I’m looking forward to it already (after the last two years, any outing like this will be a real treat even if it rains, the trains are cancelled and England don’t improve at cricket, all of which are more likely than not).
Beyond that and collecting the lawnmower which has had its annual service it’s been a quiet old walk. I’m reading a slightly weird book about this woman who turns into a flea – like a werewolve only without the full moon and ripping apart thing. I’ve watched a good Irish-Belgium drama called Hidden Assets and a grisly reconstruction of serial killer Stephen Port’s victims alongside the egregious hoophobic incompetence of one section of the Met Police. Four Lives is worth a try, esp for the performances of Sheridan Smith (a new Judy Dench perhpas) and Stephen Merchant playing very much against his comic personas. Have a look at the excellent Outlaws if you need confirmation of his comedic talents.
And watch out for tomorrow’s most excellent post about walking the ‘dog’.
Harmony Plectrum and her boyfriend Frank-Lee Incredulous exchanged glances. The cough from Mrs Workaround brought them to the moment. The older woman essayed a smile. ‘You ready?’
Harmony quivered with excitement. ‘Oh yes please. Aren’t we, Frank?’
‘Yes well, I believe in being frank,’ replied Mrs Workaround. ‘No point not spitting it out. That’s what I say to my Runcible. Spit out, Runcie.’
‘Yes. No.’ In her confusion, Harmony looked rather desperately at her boyfriend whose expression suggested a level of bewilderment that she knew from experience might trigger something unfortunate and prove difficult to suppress. She moved to block him as she said, ‘We’re ready.’
‘Good.’ Mrs Workaround took hold of the doorknob. ‘This is the suite. It’s just perfect for you.’
‘It’s a long way up. All those stairs.’ Frank-Lee peered down at the hall floor some five stories below.
‘The view is perfect. That’s what you said you wanted, wasn’t it? An uninterrupted view of the river and forest.’ Mrs Workaround’s voice had the belligerent and passive aggressive tone associated with maiden aunts when offering offal pies to the preteens.
Harmony began bouncing again. ‘Oh yes! To be able to wake up and see for miles… it’s been our dream for ever.’
‘Right then.’ Mrs Workaround decided there had been enough dithering. To her dithering was one of those things to be best avoided like incest and Morris dancing. She turned the knob, pulled the door to her and stepped back, allowing the youngsters to go first. She half closed her eyes, waiting for the gasps of surprises, the squeals of delight, the clapping and excited voices. What she didn’t expect was the silence followed by a surprisingly dolorous tenor voice saying…
Mrs Workaround opened her eyes, ready to do battle. To her left Harmony had her hand over her mouth, her gaze transfixed by the unfolding magnificence of the Forest canopy. To her right, Frank-Lee leant out of the window and peered at the ground below. That young man, she thought, had an altitudinal attitude she did not care for. ‘Well, is it or is it not quite the thing?’
Harmony gulped and said, ‘It’s certainly uninterrupted.’
‘I told you…’
‘Where’s the glass?’ Frank-Lee tentatively pushed a hand through what would have been glass had there been any, apparently checking he’d not made some egregious assumption.
Mrs Workaround knew his sort. A smarty-pants. ‘If there was any glass it wouldn’t be an uninterrupted view, would it?’
Frank-Lee rubbed his arms. ‘It’d be a mite warmer.’
‘That’s your trouble, isn’t it?’ Mrs Workaround was quite prepared for a fight. ‘You talk about wanting a spectacular view, waking up to the breathtaking vistas that can only be obtained from this tower, yet when you’re presented with exactly what you’ve asked for, you quibble.’
‘Quibble? I’d hardly call expecting one’s bedroom to be protected against the weather a quibble.’
Mrs Workaround tutted. She was pleased with the variety of tutts she could call to her aide, one for any given situation. Feeble youth demanded a ‘disappointed but not really surprised and what is the world coming to’ two tone tutt which she delivered with both suitable decorum and just the right overlay of snark. ‘If it’s a bit nippy you can always pull the curtains.’
‘There aren’t any.’
‘They’re in the ottoman by the end of the bed with some nails and a couple of hammers to ensure they stay put.’
‘That’s what I mean. If we have to spend our evenings covering each of these apertures in cloth…’
‘It’s Burmese Taffeta.’
‘It might just as well be Nepalese neoprene, all the good it will do. We want a refund.’
Harmony, who had watched this exchange with a deteriorating sense of dread started at this. ‘Oh I’m sure we can cope, darling.’ She glanced anxiously at Mrs Workaround. ‘Do you have a step ladder?’
‘Yes, dear.’ The sweet girl deserved better than this Neanderthal numptie, she thought. ‘In the cupboard, with the leaf blower and awning.’
‘Awning?’ Harmony looked more than a little anxious.
‘Very occasionally a small squall might blow through and things can become a little damp. Just a precaution you understand. Now,’ she glared at Frank-Lee who had moved to the ottoman to see what the curtains comprised, ‘why don’t I show you the rest of the facilities. The twin beds and made from the very best…’
Harmony’s voice went up a couple of octaves. ‘Twin?’
‘Of course.’ Mrs Workaround folded her arms tightly across her capacious and petulant bosoms. ‘I’m sure you wouldn’t expect me to allow any hanky-parky.’
Frank-Lee looked up from his inspection, his jaw lolling like a somnambulant sloth. Harmony’s expression had begun to harden as if her foundation contained a slow acting epoxy resin. They looked at each other. The view was one thing but…
‘We need a refund.’ Harmony Plectrum may have given Mrs Workaround forty-two years in passive aggression but the idea that she had wangled a weekend away from her parents with Frank-Lee and it might not involve a supersized tub of chocolate spread and two nights playing with Mr Perky and his tubular bells ticked none of her boxes.
Frank-Lee met Mrs Workaround’s surprised expression. As he began to follow Harmony down the stairs, he added, ‘If you’re not sure what just happened, go and have a word with Runcible. I’m sure he’ll remember.’
No one’s garden, at least this far up the Northern Hemisphere, looks any good in January. There’s a bit of green, a lot of bare patches and an unconscionable amount of cleaning up to do.
That latter has kept us busy so far this month.
The wildflower and herbaceous beds were stripped, the few weeds removed and the whole lot raked and seeded with poppies. Some poppies are coming up elsewhere already.
Our vigorous apple has needed a bit of radical surgery for a while; one bough has been pulling it over so today we removed it and painted the end with a cauterising gloop. Horrible but I believe mightily effective.
Crocuses and daffs are poking through.
And there are decent views to be had in the frosts and sunshine we’ve had recently. It’ll soon be a riot of colour again.