Taking It On The Chin #writephoto #flashfiction

The Pacific Basin

 

For three days, the coasts of eastern Australia, New Zealand and all the Pacific islands were inundated with a strange matted fibrous material, unlike any seaweed or plant life ever seen before. Samples were rushed to laboratories to analyse its composition. Its DNA was sequenced. Rumours began that it contained mystical healing properties and a market soon flourished in pastes and unguents that could be applied to the skin or added to a kale smoothie to protect against all known diseases. Other groups, based in remote wooden huts situated on mountains above tree-lines communed over the web and speculated what dastardly chemical weapon had somehow been released into the Pacific causing the inevitably deadly fibres to gather on the world’s beaches.

Meanwhile, far above the earth, Atlas sank onto his throne and accepted the tea from Athena. She gave him a quizzical look. ‘So why are you looking so smug? Apart from the fact you’re a god?’

‘I’ve just helped Horace have his first shave. He’s growing up, you know.’

Athena shook her head. ‘I’ll be the judge of that. He and that boy of Zeus’ were caught trying to extinguish a star by peeing on it, you know.’

Atlas waved the objection away. ‘It’s a big moment, removing the bum fluff from your chin. He only nicked his chin once, too.’

She narrowed her eyes. ‘What did he use as a sink? I hope he didn’t use one of those oceans? Atlas, tell me… come back here at once.’

This is in response to Sue’s #writephoto prompt

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Apprenticed to My Mother: fine wining and constant dining

My mother loved to cook. That’s not really the full explanation of the importance of food in her life. She loved to be the creator of comfort and food featured highly in that equation. When I was a child she tended to a fairly traditional menu of British staples: roasts and home grown vegetables; puddings to add ballast; fried and grilled flesh of all kinds; and tea, lots of tea.

The selection depended, as so much did, on my father’s current philosophy – perhaps prejudice would have been nearer the mark – and as his focus widened so did his tastes. A tin of curry powder appeared circa 1971, the assumption being it didn’t matter what you curried the spices remained the same. Then pasta joined in – spaghetti at first then penne but the sauces stayed largely of the bolognaise disposition until the 1990s. There followed exotic and not universally successful experiments involving kidney beans (too explosive), chow mein (too viscous) and artichoke (seriously explosive).

If you wanted to follow one path along my parents’ culinary journey, their relationship with alcohol would be a good place to start. When I appeared in the 1950s beer was my father’s staple. And that’s the flat warm ale beloved of old men in pubs and trendy micro-brewers residing mole-like under railway arches, and not the fizzy amber dishwater that passed for lager back then. If he felt flush he might have had a whiskey – a blend like Bells, not then anything as subtle as a single malt – and if he felt sophisticated it would be a G&T. Mum drank the G&Ts too but also port and a yellow by product of medical experiments called Warninks Advocaat or some such. The only saving grace about this sweet sharp gunk was the glacé cherry that floated on the top and, if I behaved mum would let me steal.

But come the 70s wine appeared. To begin it was distinguished solely by colour. Whites, usually capable of immobilising Mammoths and Reds that must have been sponsored by dynorod as they certainly cleared the sluices. Gradually wine categorisation narrowed: French = sophisticated; German = sweet and cheap; Australian = not taken seriously. Then finally we had a Cote du Rhone and the die had been cast. By the time dad died I’d say spirits had retreated, though scotch had been replaced by a taste for calvados, and while beer still featured in the right company it was the wine that was making a bid for the top spot.

dad and the boys in Spain circa 1995

Inevitably mum and dad tried to make their own, with no noticeable success. Do not believe anyone if they say oak leaves can be made into wine. They can be made into floor cleaner or one of those mysterious ungents that my grandmother used for rheumatics and which made her whimper at the same time as walking quickly with her legs oddly apart. But fit for human consumption? I think not.

Mum believed food should be fun. As boys we made fudge and fondants and we were encouraged to join in creating meals – making chelsea buns was a popular choice.

grandchildren, of course, made it even more fun

And of course, cooking did feature on The Mum List.

The Mum List comprised the skills the Archaeologist and I had to acquire before we left home. The philosophy of the Mum List was to imbue in us

a set of skills that all young men should have but which your father hasn’t.

So far as she was concerned she was not going to allow us out on the world and in particular prey on some unsuspecting but probably gullible female as ill-equipped to survive as dad had been when she fell for him.  As examples of the more critical skills, we had to learn how to

  • iron a shirt and fold same
  • ditto a pair of suit trousers using a damp cloth to create a sharp crease
  • cook three meals involving meat, fish and a pie and three puddings
  • wash clothes (no washing machine allowed) including handkerchiefs
  • rewire a plug
  • Make a bed
  • pack a suitcase
  • put up a shelf
  • clean a bathroom (and why)
  • check the vital signs of the internal combustion engine viz check oil and water levels, spark plugs and tyre pressures.

There were other skills I failed to acquire: changing the tap washer for instance, but if we grasped the main list we were forgiven the extras.

dad’s cooking was what you might call functional

When dad died, mum’s cooking retreated somewhat though it remained as a metaphor in a way for the ongoing relationship between mother and son. I would arrive at mum’s, probably with a list of jobs to do, places to take mum, etc. By now she was in her 80s yet she’d usher me into her kitchen, sit me down and make tea while asking questions of her grandchildren’s latest doings. She’d then start cooking a meal. Unconsciously, since this is what had happened forever in my life – from coming home from school to returning from university and later visiting with my own family, I let her potter around her domain, talking, listening and letting her cook.

‘Aren’t you going to help your mum?’

It was the Textiliste. She watched with a degree of horror as I slumped back and chatted, waiting to be waited on. She was already up, peeling potatoes or something but, like my father before me, I was in mum’s zone, playing by her rules so I sat, sharing my bon mots and repartee while mum worked – slaved perhaps.

I stood to wash up; Mum tried to stop me. She wasn’t cross with her daughter-in-law, not at all. And her resistance was half-hearted. But I think, for her, by sitting and allowing myself to be waited upon, I served the purpose of reminding her of dad, of how he couldn’t really function without her. And how the centre of their world was the kitchen even if her truly happy place was her garden. She let me help – she understood male guilt better than most – but she would have preferred I stayed put and let her pretend, for just a little while longer that something of her beloved Des still remained nearby.

She had this silly carved sign on her wall by her stove which said it all really:

No Matter Wherever I Place My Guests

They Always Like My Kitchen Best

 

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One Kingdom, Comes With Own Monarch #filmreview #aunitedkingdom

This film came and went from our local cinema with undue speed so, having been encouraged to see it, I could only find it showing at the Odean Beckenham at 11am on Tuesday. That happens to the the ‘Seniors’ slot and since I clocked my reboot last November to Geoffle 6.0 I’m eligible. The Textiliste is, however, a spring chicklet by comparison but she came as my carer.

It’s an all round win, this. £3 for each of us including tea and custard creams. The downside is a cinema full of, mostly, women with hairdos that  are both a fire hazard and as impenetrable as an African acacia. And the noise. Geez, and I thought giggling teens annoying. Get a bunch of Dorises out for the day and you could drown out an Airbus 380.

And when the management started showing I, Daniel Blake in error, well…

‘ere, it’s the wrong bleedin’ movie’

‘Mable, you near the door? Tell that Kevin ‘e’s bollocked again. And grab us a bourbon, dearie, while you’re there.’

The incompetent Kevin having been put in his place, we settled to the rustle of support stockings in lieu of popcorn, and the slurp of ill fitting dentures in place of litres of fizzy pop as the film began.

And boy was it good. Now I studied this period of history, the immediate post war Cold War and collapse of Emprie at A level but the Seretse Khama farrago passed me by. It’s a super story, full of great characters, shady and shabby politicos, expedient politics, a sickening sycophancy towards the Apartheid tilting South Africa under DF Malan, and some wonderful filmography. Botswana – Bechuanaland as was – a large, sparsely populated country – is gorgeous and, well, I welled up on more than one occasion. I can understand the ‘bigger picture’ given the times people were living through. The idea of South Africa tipping towards Moscow would have horrified any British government and US administration but to treat a whole country with such contempt. Well I for one am horrified. Yet another blot on the British  escutcheon.

What it did bring home was the part played by maverick MPs in keeping Khama’s plight in the public eye when in lifetime exile in London, in this case Tony Benn. We need men like Benn, men who stand up for principles against expediency. Men indeed like Corbyn before he became a party leader and in sway to the corruption of the party whips. We need a press that can disclose what the government of the day doesn’t want to hear. It may be a truth, a part truth but if it shines a light on a government’s own attempts to control the truth we need it. As we live in times where there are understandable concerns about press behaviour post Dowler it isn’t surprising there are calls for curbs. But in the glare of the unflattering orange light emanating from the White House just now we need to be careful, tread softly about our press. Their right to be unpleasant, to be wrong was hard won and as this film showed we should be reluctant to see it curtailed by the main beneficiary of their being neutered. Governments.

See it. You’ll love the love story and learn again some valuable history lessons.

As for ice cream it didn’t really go with the biccies but, you know what, I didn’t actually miss it.

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It’s A Sign

I think I should have seen the signs… stop drinking NOW

When I was a child a new set of street signs came out, following one of those Commissions that are beloved of governments who give sinecures to old white males who might otherwise have opinions and voice them. My favourite was the warning of men opening umbrellas

The thing is, when my mother received her first Highway Code in 1944 there were ten road signs. The new signs above were introduced in 1985. People have tried, ever since to cut down the number but it’s like a flu epidemic. One begets another dozen. Rightly the authorities are clamping down on phone use in cars – people text while driving for pity’s sake – but even without such distractions the plethora of road signage, indeed signage generally blows your mind and makes trying to drive and exercise in multi-braining. Is it any wonder we have accidents.

However, like wallpaper music and white noise we block out these optic interferences. So more go up, more shouty, larger, with greater threats. They’re like motoring pop-ups – just bloody irritating.

a ‘make your mind up’ sign

Today I walked Dog to and around the park.

Like everyone wants this detail I love the out of hours emergency number; most likely it’s when you’re locked in making a sign facing away from the Park really useful…

I photoed a range of signs, most of which I’d walked past a hundred times or more and never consciously spotted.

Ok, so can someone explain why this sign was ten feet up a wall; do they expect a class of spidermen to want to practice here?

How many assisted me on my way, informed my journey, filled my life with wonder, added to the store of human knowledge, peace on earth and general understanding?

You couldn’t make it up. This is in a wood.

The square root of buggerall, that’s how many.

I give you the four hundred metre signage trail. Go on, tell me your favourite.

number one where I parked

Why can’t they name bridges? I am not a number. This one feels like a Arnold

let’s make our children’s lives fun shall we? Nope, let’s pander to the aged voters who get us re-elected and have forgotten what it’s like to be 12…

Peabody do good things with their social housing; first one that I can’t diss but did it have to be sooo HUGE

All sorts here but basically don’t park between 12 and 2 or it’s £80.

good to see the notices are bang up to date; plus I’ve hidden the list of no-nos

These terrify me; if Dog was dognapped I’d be devastated

I tried this once; the ‘testicle hammer’ isn’t for the faint hearted…

Do you find this bizarre? So you are a random person about to ‘commence work’ on a major gas installation and the Gas Authority aren’t aware of your plans. That probably means you are up to no good, yet because all British park visitors are essentially law abiding they expect you to call the emergency number…

at last, some clarity and sanity, though if you can’t find your way through the gate…

… they mark where to put your feet…

… and in season they sell stuff; I won’t knock this one – i do actually look out for it.

… unlike this one; I’m mean FUCK RIGHT OFF… please

who cares? Really. And isn’t one ‘Lottery Funded’ enough?

another board with a rather out of date award..

we, too, have an obesity crisis clearly… this is on the side of a pedestrian bridge across the ponds

 

to be fair I don’t think this is a sign but some sort of brain freeze my phone went through, not that I can blame it

I think we all need this by now … oh right, it’s shut…

… but there are more… phew.

I know families like these things and we wouldn’t necessarily have as many benches without them but they creep me out; like sitting on a grave

this one though is ok…

ha! Back to it; good old Lambeth. I couldn’t find the rude notice. As for whoever commissioned this, why did they think it necessary to tell us it is polite? Surely the reader is the one to decide if it is polite… how much did it cost too? *heart sinks…

This one was new to me; affixed as it was to the clock; ok, it’s basically an unnecessary piece of self aggrandisement but we’d not know much about the clock without it

said clock…

and then we come to the cutesy little railway and its dull and unnecessary health and safety ‘model trains may eat your children’ notice…

are you lost…?

just maybe you need a sign…

so, ok, this one I approve – well done Lambeth…

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Encore Une Fois #microcosms #flashfiction

Jerome Kay piloted his boat towards the harbour. It had to be France but which bit he’d wait to find out.
Patrice Lefond watched as the skiff approached, allowing a stereotypical shrug to reach his knotted shoulders. Not again, he thought. When ‘Le Louvre’ was within hailing distance he cupped his hands in an improvised hailer and called, ‘Monsieur Kay, you need to keep going.’
Jerome frowned. The French chappie knew him it seemed though he was darned if he could recall seeing him before. He steered towards the dock. ‘Do I know you?’
Patrice nodded. ‘You need to sail on, Jerome. You cannot stop here.’
Jerome pursed his lips. Damned rude, he thought. Typical bloody continental. Still no point antagonising the local officials. ‘Where are we, by the way?’
Patrice nodded again, a slight smile on his lips. ‘Where do you think you are, Monsieur?’
Jerome let go a short laugh. ‘I know. Sounds incompetent doesn’t it. Lost in the jolly old fog. Somewhere French, of course.’
‘Belgium, in fact. Ten kilometres north of Dunkirk.’
‘Course. Thought I recognised it.’
Patiently Patrice held the rope that Jerome tossed to him. When the boat was alongside, he met Jerome’s rheumy gaze. ‘You need to set sail, Monsieur. For the Port de Dunkirk. Your daughter will be waiting for you.’ He paused and added, ‘For the rescue.’
Jerome nodded. The rescue. Course, that’s why they needed him. He ignored the daughter reference. Some Belgium thingy, he supposed. Never did understand those johnnies. He pulled the tiller as Patrice pushed him off and watched him go. He should have kept a note of the visits. One day Jerome wouldn’t reappear. Patrice watched the sails shrink into the horizon; what, he wondered would be the greater tragedy?

This was written for the Microcosms Friday prompt. It is worth trying this as you get the chance to compete a little and receive comments which always helps improve the writing. 

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Art is not a Luxury #flashfiction

Charli’s latest prompt is rather gloomy

March 16, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) go down the rabbit hole to a place where art is not allowed. It could be a small story or a dystopian vision. Is there a power struggle over art? Would the general public miss it? Is the end of art a natural evolution? Go where the prompt leads.

Mary is in reflective mood this week.

Artists Are Golden

‘What’s that?’

‘Mary smiled to herself. ‘Oh, a silly dream.’

Paul hugged her shoulders and peered at the brochure. ‘Away artist retreat. You exploring your creative side?’

‘Stop teasing.’ She closed it.

‘No, I’m not. It’s just, I never thought….’

Her face was unreadable. ‘When I was 15 we had to choose our O Levels. Because I was good academically I was told I couldn’t do art. Dad, too, wasn’t keen.’

‘I never knew.’

‘Yes, well it’s a silly dream.’

Paul picked it up. ‘A great man had a dream once. He was right about that too. Come on.’

If you’d like more of Mary and Paul, click here.

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Always Learning #edithardeditoften

There is, truly, no such thing as the perfect piece of writing. It can always be improved. Recently I wrote  short piece for Rachael’s Blog Battle which, by public vote, won. Part of the goody bag that came with the kudos was a critique from Cathleen Townsend. I thought others might be interested in Cathleen’s thoughts both generally and to see if any resonated with you, or indeed with which you disagreed. So here, in full, is the story and Cathleen’s suggestions. See what you think.

Green=passage referenced, Blue=my thoughts

‘You ready to be let loose?’

Betty meant well, Rich knew.

It doesn’t work well when you mix characters on a beat. I’ve learned this one the hard way. You can mix in an action or thought from another character if you use a dialogue tag (as long as the tag identifying the speaker is closest to the dialogue).

Ex: “Come away from that, dear,” she said, and Jordan spat in disgust.

You can’t do it with a beat. It has to be pure. Speaker only—dialogue.

She took a deep breath. “Come away from that, dear.”

Jordan spat in disgust.

Mixing a beat with other character thoughts will result in some readers becoming unsure of the speaker. This is many beta swaps talking.

In this case I’d suggest: Rich sighed. Betty meant well. This will also eliminate the unnecessary filter.

Getting out of quarantine was something everyone looked forward to. Air that wasn’t filtered, food you can could chew, <pick one> taste, the touch of the cold or the heat undiluted by spacesuits and sun screens. This last could be closer, more intense. For example, something like: the comforting warmth of sunlight on your skin, undiluted by spacesuits and sun screens.

But mostly it was the human contact.

‘Where first? The spa? The mall? The senzone?’ She Betty—remind us of her name smirked. Easy sexual fulfilment in the senzone for those who’ve been in space for more than 2 years. This is a sentence fragment—it needs a verb. Sex in limited gravity wasn’t the same and for the unattached like Rich the perfect release. This sounds like sex in limited gravity was the perfect release, which I don’t think was your intent. Or so a sister might think.

‘What about ice cream?’

Rich nodded. He had to keep moving or she’d begin to suspect. Betty’s bodysense was trained to pick up clues in ways sentients didn’t normally achieve and bots did. Why’d he have to have an empath for a sister? Suggest: This would be a lot easier if he didn’t have an empath for a sister. Gets rid of the awkward have to have.

‘So, you shaken off Mars dust yet?’

She meant well, trying to get him to talk. Another classic effect of the hibernation of space flight was the awkwardness later when normal interactions were expected. He nodded again, noticing the crease of worry on her forehead. She suspects, he thought. This repeats suspects and contains a filter. I’d suggest something like: He had to speak, to turn her thoughts in other directions.

‘Vanilla.’ His first word outside the debriefing, the investigation.

She laughed once Sounds odd, and it can be assumed that she didn’t laugh multiple times. ‘What happened to chocolate? Has Mars done for I’d prefer a stronger verb like ruined or stolen your tastespacebuds? Or is that a space myth?’

‘Kind of.’

She linked arms. It took all his will power not to pull away, to let her get so close. She looked ahead as Character whiplash here—I’m not sure which one I should be following he squeezed his eyes shut, inhaling fem this threw me, her perfume like a cruel echo of that blast.

‘They kept you forever. Everything okay?’

Even a simple nod was beyond him. No, he’s already nodded twice. And that’s enough nodding for flash. I’d just cut this and maybe add, When he didn’t reply, she added…

‘People are saying…’

He slipped his arm free. He knew. They’d told him. The disbelief that he could survive when she Who? This pronoun isn’t working hadn’t. The complete and utter certainty everyone had that he must shouldit would be strange to say he must have died when he’s walking and talking have died and yet, and yet…’ You’ve got an end quote here with no beginning.

‘They say you’re a miracle.’ She didn’t sound like he was a miracle, more a freak. Cleaner without. All she wanted, he knew it, was something, some rational explanation. Not even plausible just something. This doesn’t add, and it repeats something.

He forced his arms wide. ‘Yet here I am. Home.’ He blinked and surprised himself by saying, ‘Whole.’

Yes. Come on. Let’s get normal.’

Againcomma a simple enough thing to say but it loosened something This is vague. Suggest replacing with something more specific inside and he stumbled.

‘Here sit. It takes ages, doesn’t it?’ She added, unnecessarily he thought, I don’t think this adds, and it breaks up the dialogue ‘to get your legs back.’

He looked at her violet nobody has violet eyes eyes, her barely concealed worry. She didn’t know, he thought. It was stamped on his head, he had been certain, like a branding on cattle of old.

This gives me whiplash—she didn’t know, she must know because it’s stamped on his head. Suggest: She couldn’t know, even though it felt like it must be stamped… Killer. But no one said. Not even the most skilfull of bots had been able to delve deep into his psyche and prize out the truth. Ohcomma how they’d triedcomma but they’d given him a clean bill of health and released him.

As his gaze locked on Betty’scomma the beast within removed the shield and revealed to her, just briefly, the horrors that awaited. If you want to keep the ending phrase, don’t let Betty see it. It’s implausible to me that Betty would be horrified and not pull away. You could flood him with the horrors in store.

He fought, as he’d fought since being infectedcomma but he knew it hopeless. It wasn’t him who was now loose. Cleaner without, and you no longer need to use this word. He put a hand on Betty’s forearmcomma letting the essence seep through. It wouldn’t be long.

Hope this helps. Story-wise, this is good, or it wouldn’t have won blog battle, but I’d like a little more ending. Specifically, what will happen, at least to him. Something like: And then he’d finally be free. Or: They’d promise the torment would stop once he obeyed. Some final ending note.

Hope this helps. Take only what resonates.

If you are interested in finding out more about Cathleen here is her blog; thank you for your insights Cathleen they are fascinating. 

 

 

 

Posted in criticism, flash fiction, miscellany, short story | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments