The Penrose Conundrum (After Escher) #carrotranch #flashfiction

‘My bloody mother.’

‘What’s she done now?’

‘She asked me to take her car for a service…’


‘…so I was in a rush to get to the Post Office to pick up her letter, which had her new credit card in it and she had to sign for it…’

‘…which meant you needed the car to take her…’

‘…who’s telling this…?’

‘…but you couldn’t get it without her paying by her new card…’

‘…has she been talking to you?’

‘Only you…’

‘It’s my Dear Liza moment…’

‘…I was thinking Catch 22…’

‘… and there lies the difference between us…’

This was written in response to the latest prompt from the Carrot Ranch, here

March 21, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a bucket of water. What is the condition of the water and what is the bucket for? Drop deep into the weel and draw from where the prompt leads!

Dear Liza moment...

Penrose/Escher – the steps discovered by Penrose and sons and drawn by MC Escher

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Out Of Place

I had two experiences this week that, in their contrasting ways, made me feel both good and awkward and almost certainly said more about me than anything else.

Last Friday, I took part in a demonstration outside Parliament. It was on the vexed subject of climate change and was the domain of 20,000 school children out to make a noise about their concerns for their planet’s future.

There is no Planet B

read a poster. I know there are those who think climate change worries are made up conspiracies but, me, I’m a believer. And anyway, that wasn’t, for me the most important part of the day.

Nope it was the fact that there were hundreds, thousands of school age children bunking off school to make a thundering and, frankly mostly incoherent racket. They splashed paint, they climbed on statues and they were seduced to carry self-serving posters from unsanitary left wing cadres like the socialist worker and Marxism today who tend to feed off anything that smacks of anti-government and anarchy. Of course they shouldn’t but sod it, let them. They took part; they made themselves a piece of the political furniture in this country; they stood up for something they believed in. And that made up for the fact that, there I was, a sixty something old geezer mingling with this vibrant youthful mass like I was meant to be there. I felt like I was. It took me back to Uni and after, to the time when I finally bothered. Much later that these youngsters and no less incoherent and unfocused. But despite being utterly out of place, it felt good.

Yesterday the Textiliste and I went to our local cinema where a talk on underground London was to be held, to be given by someone from the Archaeological section of the Museum of London. As we entered the foyer we dodged a phalanx of parked buggies; presumably there was a baby and carer friendly film running in another screen. A smiling woman – who had a small child in one of those wrap round papoose thingies – checked us in and sent us the screen one. I should have guessed then.

We pushed open the door and, well, yes froze. The talk was due in five minutes and the auditorium was two thirds full. And every adult, or couple, had a sprat, an under-two strapped to their fronts, on their laps or rug-ratting the carpet.

We looked at each other; had I been alone I would have scarped then and there but Herself is not so easily put off. She nodded to the woman on the door – blond dribbler on hip – and took a seat. I subsided next to her. The screen made it clear the talk was what we expected and told us the organisers were ‘Babble’. The other seats filled and an awkward man with a mike came on stage and welcomed all these parents and carers out to garner some intellectual stimulation as well as airing their offspring. Babble, it seems, run talks for the newly terrified.

I sank lower. I did a ridiculous thing. I clutched my rucksack (contents: ipad, battery pack, re-usable coffee mug emblazoned with our pets, Sainsbury’s carrier bag and newspaper) to my chest like it was my very own newborn.

I couldn’t have felt more out of place in the woman’s only changing room at the local pool – though at least there I might have been thought of as presenting my gender differently. Here, we, and more to the point, I was inappropriately accessorised.

Surely someone would point, huff, raise a complaint? Of course not. It was great and we were made very welcome. Perhaps they assumed we were on day release or the Textiliste was my carer – that’s happened before, I kid you not. The talk was fascinating: if you dig down to Roman London – some nine metres below where we sit today – there are three black strips: the Blitz, the Great Fire and Boudicca’s burning of Roman London. Maybe that could be the new pond project.

I am very grateful to live in a city that is chock full of both such interesting talks but also events aimed at groups like the newly parented, who might, otherwise be turning to intellectual mush. And, oddly, having some hundred or so small persons in a confined space wasn’t as noisy as might be anticipated. And in future my carer now knows where the changing facilities are if ever she needs to cater for my needs. At least today my incontinence was limited to the verbal sort…

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If You Want To Get Ahead….

It is a fact, sad or otherwise that these days I am follicly challenged.

I have perhaps grown too far upwards, experiencing the human equivalent of the tree line on mountains, above which hair will not grow.

Some suggest it is an excess of manliness…

Or erudition…

Or shit genetics.

The fact remains that where once I was topped by a luxurious mane, of which many larger felines would have been proud…

I now sport nothing so much as a solar panel for a sex god.

And of course, said sparkling pate attracts more than its fair share of ultraviolet light leading me to a habit which, in my younger years I forswore readily but now I embrace with, if not total enthusiasm then at least a reluctant acceptance.

Namely the desporting of a hat. I am to be forever more be-chapeaued.

Here are a selection of the bonnets de jour that I have worn in the last several years.

So the question that occurs is which one should be in use for the Vet’s wedding later this year? Suits are being chosen and I know I will be made into a ‘Dapper Dad for the Day’ by the expedient of cunning highlighting and the use of innumerable distraction techniques.

But what of the top knot? What should be the winning entry?

I rather thought I’d sourced something suitable this last week but apparently something wasn’t quite right…

So good people, which would you recommend; your choices will of course be given fair consideration even if the final decision will lie with the Star Chamber namely the Vet and The Textiliste….

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Dalby Udder’s Cunning Apprenticeship #writephoto

Dalby Udder’s school days had been memorable in one respect. He had failed to do much forward planning. Even choosing a pudding before he had eaten his main course proved an intellectual challenge too far. So it was no surprise that his interview with the career’s master proved to be one of frustration for the master. ‘You’ve never even considered life after school?’ Mr Plinth couldn’t hide his incredulity. ‘Pop star? Footballer? Prime Minister? Vacuous Reality Star?’

‘No sir.’ Dalby’s ability to remain impervious to sarcasm was already highly developed, albeit in an instinctive rather than deliberate fashion.

Herman Plinth studied this blank canvas and scribbled a note. ‘Take this to the address I’ve written, knock three times and ask for the Psycho. Tell him Herman says thanks for mother and we’re now even.’ He paused, perhaps momentarily concerned about the path on which he was directing this naive young lad. ‘If you ever need a hand, sorting things out with your new employer, then don’t hesitate to call.’ He felt pretty sure he would never have to fulfil this promise.

Dutifully Dalby did as he was instructed. The door on which he knocked was clearly old and scarred in indescribable ways but which left most sentient visitors with an immediately antipathy to constipation. Dalby, while sentient in a strictly Linnaean sense, failed to conceive what such a confection of marks might mean for the observer and knocked with a confidence to which the door was unused. As a result the resulting echo was less underworldly and more underwhelming.

‘Yes?’ The Eye that appeared around the frame suggested to a keener observer than Dalby that it might once have belonged to a different face.

‘Hi. A note. For Psycho.’

A hand, gnarled by time and torture snapped through the gap and dragged a surprised Dalby inside. ‘We don’t use that homonym here, lad.’ The eye/face/hand combo were but parts of a sparse lean figure dressed in black leather and incongruous plaid slippers. He read the note and turned inside. ‘With me, lad.’

Dalby followed. In short order he was sworn into the Disreputables, apprenticed to the Pater, or Psycho to those who ‘needed a job doing’ and taught the basic principles of commercial assassination and body dismemberment. Dalby was a willing learner but his inability to think too far ahead made his mentors feel he was something of a liability on the termination side of the business, though in terms of personalised butchery he appeared to have something of an aptitude.

Thus it was that, one dank afternoon he found himself left with a wheel barrow, two thirds of an uncooperative planning officer and a rather out of date map, standing in Nethermost Wood with one instruction in mind. ‘Hide the parts.’

The crack or rift in the stone appeared to Dalby to be perfect for what Pater had instructed.

Quite why it was that day that Dalby discovered curiosity is perhaps one of the mysteries of the universe, up there with the offside rule and the point of Prince Edward. Suffice it to say as he pulled the packages from the barrow and laid them out it occurred to him that some of the parts were missing – the Pater had considered it prudent not to share with Dalby the fact that he had dispatched the remaining parts to a local pig farm.

Dalby was naturally concerned that if he was to do his job properly he should dispose of a complete and anatomically correct deceased. It was as he mulled over his dilemma that the words of Mr Plinth came flooding back. Yes, he could do with the hand Mr Plinth had offered those months ago. Dalby looked at the jigsaw laid out on the grass in front of him. Two in fact.

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

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The 2019 Annual Bloggers Bash Post Competition

The Annual Bloggers Bash Competition will be closing this Sunday and your opportunity to win some fabulous prizes will cease if you haven’t entered. This year’s theme, to recognise this is the fifth anniversary of the first Bash, is


Please follow this link for the rules and entry form. And if you need some inspiration here is a short story to send you on your way


Martin Nonplussed hated his Aunt Etherea with a passion born of her passive-aggressive put-downs and constant tormenting.

‘It’ll be yours when I’m gone, lad,’ she’d say, patting her pocket book.

They were all that was left of the Nonplussed clan and he had only agreed to care for the old witch because his mother had made him promise.

‘You’ll have all the wine, women and song you like, when I’m gone. Promise me you’ll given me a proper send off, sweetie.’

He promised and then headed for the garden to prune his frustrations away.

Finally Aunt Eherea ate one chocolate bonbon too many, swallowed too soon and expired in a phlegmy explosion of part masticated caramel and dentures.

After a cup of tea and a quick wipe with some convenient unguent, he took the pocket book to the Bank. The Manager, a droopy dyspeptic man called Undulate told him the current balance: fourteen pounds thirty-five pence. ‘There’s a safety deposit box, too.’

The box was encouragingly large and crammed with notes. Five pound notes. Mr Undulate whistled. ‘Haven’t seen these since I were a kiddie.’ A pause, then, ‘Shame the old lady didn’t get them changed.’

The notes, some seventy-one thousand, had ceased to be legal tender in 1961.

‘You might get a few quid at a dealer,’ Mr Undulate said helpfully.

Martin filled his shopping bag and returned to his Aunt’s house (rented, he now realised). He stared at his Aunt’s waxy and disturbingly scented corpse – the unguent hadn’t been a good call – sighed, and fetched the wheelbarrow.

In life, his Aunt had been many things he would have liked to have changed but there was one characteristic he found himself grateful for; her remarkable degree of desiccation. Combining her former fortune and her natural flammability he created a spectacular bonfire. The informal and no doubt illegal cremation lasted seventy one minutes. As the last of her rayon bloomers fizzled to an unnaturally bright neon green conclusion, Martin stomped on the ash pile and filled the barrow. Tomorrow, when she was cool, he would feed his aunt to his roses. Perhaps, at last, she would prove herself some use.

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Being Royal Can Be Normal #shortfiction

‘Hello,I… Oh My God!’ Jemima Preston took a step back. ‘Are you…? I mean… Him?’

The balding, smiling man nodded, ‘Yep. William Windsor. You were expecting me? Odd Jobs For Normal People.’

‘Well, yes, I suppose. I did book for someone to come round only… Not you.’ Jemima felt her knees flex and she stumbled forward. As he caught her, she apologised.

‘No sweat. Happens all the time. Involuntary curtsying. Can’t be helped. They say it’s hardwired. So,’ he picked up the bucket, ‘where so I start?’


‘The note said cleaning? You’re expecting a cleaner?’

‘Yes… But…’

‘Then shall we?’

‘But you’re, you know,’ she glanced at her neighbour’s window, ‘royal.’ She added with a giggle, glancing at his head. ‘The heir.’

‘I wish.’ William brushed his sparse lock back in place. “Kate wanted me to use this gubbins Dad has made from peonies and ground commoners but it smells like Harry after a kebab binge. Anyhoo, what’s first?’

Jemima didn’t know what to do so showed him through to the kitchen. ‘Maybe the washing up?’

William looked disappointed. ‘No blocked drains? Kiddies’ vomit’ He looked serious. ‘Thing is granny’s getting a bit cranky… you know the sort of thing – “in my day we understood what the peeps were going through, the Blitz, blah blah”, so Katie-poos said we should all do a sort of Bob a Job thingummy, get down with the masses. One is a bit lacking when it comes to u-bends and boiling hankies so it’s learning as we go, wot? If there’s something really horrible, let me at it.’ He held up his pink-gloved hands.

‘I don’t know. It really doesn’t seem right, giving menial work to one of you.’

‘No, really. I insist. I can throw you in the Tower if that would help.’

‘Can you?’

‘Don’t see why not. Still, you sure you’ve nothing more than washing up?’

You sure?’


‘Ok. If you go through there, you’ll find four sets of sick-stained sheets and two boots covered in dog-dirt.’

‘Marvellous.’ To Jemima’s surprise, William spun on his heel and headed for the front door.

She said, ‘Aren’t you going to sort it out?’

He nodded. ‘I’ll have my people here in a jiffy. Wouldn’t want to make a mess on my first day.’

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It Shouldn’t Happen… But It Did: The Dye and the Doberman #lawyerlytales

Silvertown is part of the former docklands out east of Canary Wharf and still a poor, tired and industrial area. But as the need for housing grows, those sites, especially with a river frontage, like Silvertown become valuable for residential developments.

I hadn’t thought about this upgrade recently until I was dispatch by the Vet on a collection task lined to her upcoming nuptials. But passing through last weekend brought back a memory from my legal career and one of the oddest cases – what might be called the yellow-faced Doberman.

It started in the late 1980s when an American client spotted an opportunity with the increase in colour printing in our national newspapers. Today, a free daily launched by a chubby entrepreneur called Eddie Shah, had the USP of incorporating colour in its pictures unlike the rest of Fleet Street’s publications. After all the old joke

what’s black and white and red all over?

a newspaper!

would have had no resonance if the papers were coloured.

Said client manufactured industrial dyes at an old site in Silvertown near to the enormous Tate And Lyle sugar factory. It wanted to expand and it happened there was an adjacent site that was a former paint factory. There were however two issues.

First the factory site was heavily polluted; paint had been made there for over 100 years so the ground was saturated with significant amounts of lead and cadmium amongst other heavy metals.

Second, the client’s existing premises were separated from the paint factory by a short passage that gave access to a public Park, a scrabby bit of open space that had seen better days. If the client was to proceed it needed to be sure that the environmental risks were covered off and it could buy the passage so the two sites could be merged into one.

The local authority were very keen on the deal. Employment, bringing a derelict site back into use, business rates – there were all sorts of pluses. They agreed to fund an impervious barrier between the paint factory and the park to ensure there was no additional migration of pollutants from one site to the other – our client would then dig out the paint factory Earth and dispose of the polluted soil. Where? No one asked.

As for the passage, well the nerdy Lawyer in me was very excited. The local authority owned it but, as it was technically part of the public park it was subject to the provisions of the Open Spaces Act of 1906 which, amongst other requirements, stops local authorities selling off public open spaces for some expedient short term gain. There are exceptions where the land is derelict and has been ‘appropriated for planning purposes’, which is all a bit technical and geeky and the sort of stuff that delights lawyers and annoys the pants off clients.

‘Sure, Geoff, but can we buy it?’


‘So? You sound unsure.’

‘It may take some time.’

‘How long?’

I didn’t want to say what I really thought so I tried a bit of a joke. ‘Oak trees mature in less time’ but all that did was bring on a depression and some oddly artist hives behind his ears.  He sighed and muttered something about ‘this crazy-assed Limey legal system’.

Eventually we passed through these hoops and the paperwork to buy the strip of land landed on my desk. I rang the client. He sounded nervy.

‘What’s up?’ I thought he’d be pleased.

‘We’ve been talking to the authority. They’ve agreed to extend the barrier (to stop migrating pollution, you will recall) to cover the passage as well as the factory.’


‘We found crap in the passage – old migration- and we don’t want it going further under our site.’

‘Sure. That’s good, isn’t it?’

‘It was. Not so much today.’


He took his time. ‘I don’t think this is a good time for the Council to be digging next to our boundary to put in a barrier. We’ve had an incident.’

You see, our client had banged on about environmental protection throughout, boring the pants off the British side that was only just coming to terms with its own Environmental legislation similar to that which had been in place in the US for a couple of decades. At moments of frustration the client had suggested we in the UK were somewhat stone age in this particular area. Smug condescension with a New York accent really settles the stomach. However, the moral high ground rested with the client and he had milked it.

Now it appeared likely to be payback time.

‘The security guard for our facility was called to an incident in the Park yesterday. A local man had started threatening our staff.’

This local man was a well known member of certain right wing groups who used his body to display various less than liberal slogans via tattoos. He sported all the expected paraphernalia of one of such inclinations: the shaved head, the aggressive piercings and the attack dog held in control by a heavy chain and spiked collar.

He was spitting with rage at the security man. ‘What have you done to my dog?’

Dobermann Pinchers are excellent scent dogs. This one had a penchant for sweet smells and, it seemed had picked up some trail when our local jack-the-lad was walking him in the park. He hightailed it to the fence with our clients site, at the junction where it met the passage and where, any time soon, the local authority would be sending in its contractors to build the pollution barrier.

Unbeknownst to anyone – well that’s what I was told – the dog had found an area where a spillage of dye had leeched under the fence. A yellow dye. A strong concentrated yellow dye. The dog – let’s call him Spot – dug furiously in the ground hunting the source of this delectable smell. Spot pressed his face into the hole to lick at the sticky soil before our hero – let’s call him Horacio – could pull him away.

I expect Spot was disappointed. He probably looked at his owner with a long lingering expression. Disappointment was his overriding emotion. But it was nothing to Horacio’s reaction. His dog, his status symbol, his exemplifier of his masculinity had a yellow head. I expect Horacio tried to wipe the offending colour away but it was a forlorn hope. This was industrial strength dye. Spit and a hanky were never going to shift it.

My client had lost his natural ebullience. ‘How can I face the authority if they find we are the polluters? I need you to slow things down until we clean up our site. Can you do that subtly?’

Me subtle? He clearly had no idea. ‘How long will you need?’

‘You know what you said about oak trees….’



Posted in creative writing, flash fiction, miscellany | Tagged , | 29 Comments