In A Bit Of A Flap #writephoto #microfiction

Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt this week is

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When Harold Lark passed beyond his mortal state he didn’t, in truth, give the ‘what next’ much mind. Mainly because he’d not expected to die while sitting watching TV. And if Harold had been given to metaphysical philosophising, which he wasn’t, his demise was so quick he would have struggled to string ‘what’ to ‘the f…’ before his fridge detonated, vaporising both Harold and the rest of Pretty Trees Close and its twenty residents.
In truth it was all so quick Harold barely had time to consider whether, in this newly acquired state he was standing or floating. It was then he realised he was in fact hovering, using wings that had grown out of his back.
When you’ve spent your life as what you might describe as an incurious Anglican, to find that, in effect you are Buddhist and you have reincarnated as a moth is a bit of a shock. Harold fluttered to a ledge and sat, giving himself a moment to think things through. His thinking went something like this.
‘I’m a moth.’
‘Why a moth?’
‘What do I do?’
‘Is that a lamp?’
‘But why a moth?’
Harold wasn’t ignorant. He had Buddhist friends at the Glee Club he attended – they were particularly good at harmonies – and he was sure they said you reincarnated to a higher state each time. If so surely a moth was a few steps back.
As he pondered this troubling idea – that he must have done something bad to be punished so – an urge to fly gripped him. It was the light, pooling from the other side of the street, that dragged him forward. The part of Harold’s mind that was still human – a part that was beginning to fade – urged caution; the instinctual moth mind shouted ‘tally’ho!’ and urged him forward.
As the newly fragile Harold hurtled across the night sky, homing in on the lamppost, he had two last human thoughts. The first was that he had become a moth because he’d accidentally killed himself and twenty others as a result of forgetting to remove that bloody yoghurt; it probably exploded, short circuiting the chiller unit. The second, and last thought before he smashed into the glass that surrounded the lantern was: ‘Next time, I hope I don’t come back as a sodding moth.’

Posted in #writephoto, creative writing, flash fiction, microfiction, prompt | Tagged , , , | 38 Comments

Manchester By The Sea: a film review

I had a choice; this movie or La La Land. Now, because of some over active cultural snobbery I took a quick glance at the blurb for Manchester, realised it wasn’t set in the North of England but Massachusetts (so I wouldn’t need subtitles), understood it was ‘thoughtful’ and ‘made you think’ (which should be the same thing but of course isn’t) and plumped for Manchester rather than the feel-good, light up your day bit of fluff that is La La Land.

Will I ever learn? I saw my firm Pinter play – the Birthday Party – on the Beeb in the 1970s. Pinter was much derided by dad and fought over by mum, who didn’t necessarily enjoy his work but felt she should and so kept on trying.  What wound up the old man was what he saw as Pinter’s pretensions in making a big thing of distinguishing between the hesitation, the pause and a silence – and especially his two sorts of silence, that where there is an absence of speech and that where there is a torrent but it is masking the true silence beneath the words.

Dad’s sneering popped into my head as I fidgeted through yet another Casey Affleck hesitation cum pause cum silence. In his desperation to avoid communicating Affleck’s character reverts so far into his shell he might as well be an unborn embryo chick.

The film unfolds slowly, like an anaconda after a particularly large dinner, keeping the essential truth behind Affleck’s steel hard carapace hidden for a significant part of the movie. This is, I believe, intended to be a ‘good thing’. Hmm. It rather felt like joining a queue at the post office and realising, too late, that the man in front of you is sending Cornwall to his relatives in Switzerland one rock at a time.

The acting is fine, probably somewhere on the Oscar spectrum. The camera work was perfectly lovely and it didn’t inspire me to add this Manchester to my must visit list anymore than I would add the one on the north west coast when it is full of United and City fans – if the cameraman intended a travelogue he failed rather – it worked to portray tortured humanity and turmoil in all its grisely blotched complexion and furrowed brows.

There was a nice byplay between Alleck and his nephew to whom he becomes guardian and those moments were worth waiting for. But for the rest…?

In truth, it was all a bit meah. It dragged. I discovered an itch I’d lost last week, lurking four inches above my right buttock; once again I despaired at the stupidity of cinemas who sell industrial-sized boxes of pop-shite and the morons who eat it during the movie; I turned my phone on and off three times, once checking twitter and the other two times checking I’d turned it off only to turn it on again in the process.

And then, like being told  by the dentist that it was all over and feeling oddly cheated that there hadn’t been any discomfort because you were still numb, the film finished.

I can always tell when a movie had failed me; I have had no urge whatsoever to fall asleep.

I should have done the fluff. If you want something that is the cinematic equivalent of a set of Ikea instructions this is for you.

The ice cream was nice, though.

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Apprenticed to my Mother: Unpicking the Family History

It was Mum’s idea. ‘You need to know who’s who.’

She had a small blue attache case, the sort that usually contained cotton reels or buttons. This one was jam packed with black and white photographs. She picked up one near the top, running her finger around the figure on the right. ‘Your grandpa was a handsome man.’

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Mum adored her father. He could do no wrong.

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He was  a dashing WW1 pilot, a romantic who saved my grandma from some degree of shame, who drove cars around the race track at Brooklyns in Surrey and who died of injuries he sustained in that awful war at the tragically early age of 50 with her nursing him (she was 14) while her own mother went out to work.

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My grandfather convalescing in 1918

Oh and she cared for her two younger brothers  too, at the same time.

A lot is made of our Queen and her sense of duty, her belief that she has no choice but to serve because of the example set by her father, George VI, an example which contributed to his early death. Mum, in her own way, was forged from a similar set of ideals.  She had a duty to serve, in her case her family. It brooked no compromise: she’d no more abdicate her responsibilities than will Elizabeth II.

As one of many examples, her mother became so frail, in the mid 1980s that she needed some sustained care to restore her health.

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Mum’s mum as a young girl, sometime before WW1

For mum that was easy: she had to come and live in the family home. At the same time my father’s mother, happily ensconced in sheltered housing began to complain at the favouritism being shown to mum’s mother.

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Dad’s mum, about the same time

Mum curtailed any debate. She invited her mother in law to come and stay too.

We all said she was mad; dad used riper language. She went ahead anyway.

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And later, just about holding it together…

For ten years the two elderly woman, who frankly detested each other much like the two ‘grannies in the wainscot’ from Laurie Lee’s Cider With Rosie, occupied different parts of the family house. Dad retreated farther and farther down the garden, while the Archaeologist and I lived away from home so avoided the daily sniping. Mum rose above it all, keeping the peace, finding the best in people and just getting on with things. She kept sane by (a) finding humour in most situations (b) taking no one very seriously and (c) treating any behaviour that was childish as she would if it was enacted by a child. That and keeping the supplies of Harvey’s sherry (for her mother) and Stones ginger wine (for her mother in law) well topped up. It seemed to work as everyone thought she was a total treasure. And she believed that it was a small price to pay compared to so many other sacrifices made by so many others not least her revered father.

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My mother’s mother, plus great Uncle Bernard and another (on the left) looking utterly startled…

‘This is your great uncle Bernard and Aunt May.’ She held out a group photo. Bernard was Percy’s elder brother and May his older sister. ‘You need to write on the back who is who. After I’ve gone no one will remember.’

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Three generations; my mother in the middle, her mother on the right and her grandmother on the left.

We spent three Sundays, sampling her scones, her lemon biscuits and her fruit cake, me scribbling and her talking. As I listened to the stories of her family and what she remembered of dad’s I thought of the book I could write – a 20th century family saga – my very own Any Human Heart, following William Boyd’s masterpiece.

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One of the last pictures of my father’s dad, with a small me

My father’s father was illegitimate – usually a recipe for a life of toil and hardship but his mother was the local squire’s wife and his father a tailor (who brought him up with his sister); somehow the scandal was avoided and he, too, became a tailor who built his own business in Northamptonshire only to see it collapse in the Depression. My mother’s father came from far more affluent stock – his father, Benjamin Francis was a dress maker who dressed royalty at the end of the 19th century, having fashionable premises off Oxford Street and appearing in the Lady magazine in the 1880s as the inventor of a method of copying patterns.

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‘This is your great aunt Ethel. Your grandmother saved her from becoming a prostitute. She liked the attention. Very busty, if you know what I mean.’

I’m not sure how I reacted to that. Probably I processed it by assuming it was an exaggeration and said so. ‘On no. She was definitely on the game. Doing her bit during WW1. Your gran had to drag her home. Didn’t help much. She married a Norwegian sailor in the end. Divorced as well when the club she was in was raided and her name appeared on a list of those charged.’

It was good to find out some of the family scandals, some other black sheep. Mum wasn’t finished.  ‘Mind you, your grandmother had her moments.’

That did surprise me. She was proper, my gran.

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gran never did drive so I’m not sure what was going on here; my great grandmother is in the back, in all her finery.

‘During the Great War she was engaged three times. It was the only way to go out without a  chaperone. This was before she and your grandfather ran away to get married.’

We have the usual smatterings of alcoholics, crooks, at least one arsonist and a sad case of incest that sounds dreadful to anyone’s ears – my great grandfather’s brother appears to have had a child with his eldest daughter and to avoid the shame the child was treated as his and his wife’s youngest child until he, or she, was given away.

I don’t suppose my family is much different to many others with its fair share of tragedies and individuals defying the odds. But there is romance too. The elopement for instance.

‘After the war, your grandfather was seriously injured – he flew a plane into the cliffs at Dover; he lay there three days before he was found. When he recovered he set up a motor cycle and home electrical business in an abandonned pub opposite your grandmother’s family bakery.

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My grandfather’s shop in the early 1920s

‘He was so shy he found it difficult to talk to women, especially one as forthright as your grandma. But she adored him, not that she could say. So she helped him with his accounts – he had no head for business – and dreamt.

‘Her father was an alcoholic and womaniser. Horrible man,’ mum shuddered at some memory I didn’t think it prudent to probe.

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The old gent on the left is the much derided great grandfather; according to mum he drank so much stout the middle of his white moustache was permanently stained brown…

‘And one day in 1923 they had one argument too many – by then gran was 27. She told her mother, a tough woman who’d had the family business transferred into her name so the old soak couldn’t drink or gamble it away, she had to leave. Her mother understood but gran had nowhere to go. Who knows what made her cross the street to tell your grandfather she was going? She did, he proposed flooring her utterly and she said yes.

‘To marry properly you needed 3 weeks of banns read. Your grandfather had been in the forces with someone who was the Secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury. I don’t know what favours he pulled in but he sourced a special licence meaning they could marry immediately. And Bernard, your great uncle lent them a plane from his flying school. Imagine. One minute your grandmother is homeless, the next the man she’s adored from afar is flying her in an open cockpit by-plane to Paris for a honeymoon.’

I don’t know about you but I wasn’t dry eyed when mum finished. Mum just patted me on the leg while I controlled my breathing. She stood creakily. ‘I’ll go and pop the kettle on. Then I’ll tell you how your father met me.’ That’s even more romantic but for another time, methinks.

Posted in families, home, memories, miscellany, WW1 | Tagged , , , , , | 33 Comments

Microcosms 55

Today I’m the judge at Microcosms 55. Feel free to join in the fun and try the prompt but be quick. It’s a one day only bargain!!!

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The Books Piled Beside the Bed: Pt 3

Pauline has done me a significant favour with a lovely review of my second book here. You’ll find it available at Amazon at 0.99 (pounds/euros/dollars) if you are intrigued…

The Contented Crafter

Christmas always brings me a new range of books courtesy of my dear eldest daughter, The BookRep.  This past Christmas was no exception, despite the fact that we had all agreed  ‘We Aren’t Doing Christmas This Year!’.  She sends me enough reading matter to get me through to Mother’s Day, I think it’s the second Sunday in May here.  Then I take delivery of a few more books to get me through to my birthday in early September, which in turn stocks me up til the following Christmas.

Aren’t you envious?  I LOVE my regular restocking of the pile of books beside the bed.  It is an eclectic and enjoyable pile – books I’ve never heard of, books I want to read, books of fiction, fact, good literature, old literature, poems, essays, short stories; books instructional and uplifting, books containing new thoughts and information, books by loved authors and books…

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Seminar Life: The 10 characters found in a lecture hall

I sat in a seminar today. Run by some cheery people from Companies House who look after all limited companies set up in England and Wales they took new directors through their liabilities and responsibilities in a clear and confident manner. But actually they weren’t the interesting people in the IBIS conference centre. No, it was the seminar attendees who included the following:

The notetaker

At the outset the speaker told us her talk would be sent to us. Yet a man three rows in front of me and to my right has spent the last hour writing furiously. Maybe he’s writing the next great novel set in a dry seminar room… He writes left handed, with that hooked way dragging his pen across the paper. What would happen if his pen broke? Is this his way to stay awake.

The telephone obsessive

Ok the seminar is free and the heating is on but even so why come if Candy Crush is more important that hearing about the fines for late filing of your confirmation statement – the company house Jonnie said they collected a staggering £92 million in late filing fines last year, all going to that jolly nice Mr Hammond at the Treasury to waste on some vanity project like Brexit or joke writers for Boris. To be fair Candy Crush has more of a frisson and edge than the speaker but maybe that’s just her mellifluous Welshness calming me…. zzzzz

The telephone incompetent

‘Please turn off your mobile devices or put them on silent’ says the speaker, but there’s always someone who fails. 45 minutes in and Shirley Bassey starts belting out ‘Goldfinger’. Like the reverse of  a stone’s impact  rippling out across a pond so the audience turns to focus on the miscreant who is desperately trying to stop his/her phone before giving in and hissing, ‘This really isn’t a great time, mum’ as he/she heads for the exit.

The sloth/new parent/narcoleptic

Ok so this could be me but I do wonder who has has best mastered the art of the camouflaged power nap? The reverently bowed head hiding a snooze, or the chin resting on palm creating a sense of focused concentration to disguise 40 winks. One man has stopped rubbing his temples with the zeal of a cramp victim attacking his knotted calf so either he is spark out or the migraine induced from grappling with the rules on ‘persons with significant control’ has ended.

The hydration fetishist

Ok, hands up, this us one of my bugbears but why do people under say 35 have to drink water quite so obsessively? When I was their age plastic bottles held urine samples not over priced water. Now with some health nazi having convinced Generation Wet that they must ingest 5 litres every 20 minutes the woman next to me has replaced her whole body weight with H2O in the last hour. Which might not have mattered apart from the fact she clearly can’t breathe through her nose meaning each speaker’s words are filtered through a rumbling grumble much like listening to a herd of unmilked cows trying to get into the milking parlour from about half a mile away and over a hill.

The Persistent Cougher

Britons were once described as a nation of shop keepers. These days it’s  the league of the unwell. Gather a group of, say, 20 plus people, and at least one will cough, all the bloody time. I had a friend whose heart valve issue manifested itself initially in a cough so I’m coy about being too snotty (sorry, had to do that) about the man two rows behind me but, in all honesty WILL YOU GET ON AND EXPIRE PLEASE…

The Getaway Driver

We are indoors, the heating is on and while the hall we are in is large veering towards cavernous, it doesn’t support its own micro climate. So what is it with the outdoor coat, the fleecy hat and the gloves? That and the fact he hasn’t stopped clutching his briefcase throughout the last 90 minutes. I can only surmise that a heist of some kind is planned, or a kidnap maybe. I’m keeping my eyes peeled anyway.

The Face Fidget

I’m used to sitting next to women who tease their hair throughout a seminar, redoing hair bands and untangling knots happily while taking notes and replying to emails. But here we have a male equivalent, whose hands haven’t left some part of his face throughout. It’s grisly, it’s gruesome but it is utterly compelling. He has stroked then tugged his beard, toggled and squidged his nose, undergone some painful looking ear origami, mined both ears and nostrils for whatever gold can be found within and currently is checking his teeth for spinach/plaque/decay. I suppose if this was a whole day session he might move on to a full body health and stress test but we finish in an hour so I think I’ll avoid having to watch him check his reproductive areas for various cancers.

The Zealous Questioner versus the Incompetent Questioner

I’m not sure which is worse: the man in the front row whose hand is faster on the trigger than Wyatt Earp and whose questions are on repeat or the man over near the exit, next to the getaway driver, who has tried to frame his question but so far hasn’t mastered the concept of a sentence. Now he is probably shy, English may not be his first, or even top ten language but as a member of an audience with limited time to me he is just as irritating as the guy hogging the Questioner. On balance it’s the former because no one can interrupt him. The other guy is just being ignored. I suppose he’ll probably get the question out 20 minutes after everyone has left.

And finally: The Man Who Realises He Is In The Wrong Seminar 30 Minutes After It Starts

He alone is worth the entrance money. The confidence with which he settles in his seat; the confusion; the hurried checking of his phone; the dawning realisation he shouldn’t be here; the crisis of confidence; the surreptitious packing of his bag; the scanning for the best exit to minimise his exposure as an utter twat; the humiliation as he clutches coat, bag and phone apologising to all those in his row as he squeezes past, wondering why he didn’t sit in that aisle seat… yes that was me only I stayed: embarrassment has always been the rock that anchors me to reality.

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A Time In Africa – part one #memoirs #africa #Safari

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In 1988, I had turned 30, been married 4 years and been a partner in my law firm 12 months. The Textiliste and I had undertaken a rather crazy project of refurbishing a house in Herne Hill, South London which, when we moved in, in January 1985, was an utter heap. By mid 1988 therefore we needed a holiday that didn’t involved plaster dust and Nitro Mors (which has to be singularly the most unpleasant substance I’ve yet to bring into contact with my skin, with the possible exception of shaking Tony Blair’s hand).

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How do you choose your holidays? Is it by setting out criteria – sunshine, food, culture, must speak a language that doesn’t involve clicks, somewhere that doesn’t have more than 15 deadly poisonous mammals? We are influenced by what we see and, especially, read. For instance our on going love affair with all things Scottish and especially the Highlands and Islands comes directly from watching the film Local Hero.. cue music…

Sorry, very self indulgent, but Mark Knopfler is brilliant…

About this time, we had seen a TV adaptation of Elspeth Huxley’s autobiography, ‘The Flames Trees of Thika’ a beautifully written story of her childhood in Kenya, up there with Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa which came out on 1985 as film with Redford and Streep.

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a flame tree

Reading both books told us exactly where we needed to go. East Africa and specifically Kenya and Tanzania.

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The Falls at Thika – we came to them later in our trip…

I managed to blag my way to three weeks holiday, as did the Textiliste – I’m not sure either of us really know how – and in late September 1988 we boarded a British Airways flight to Dar Es Salaam, via Nairobi.

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The Crater

As it happeend the Aga Khan’s family was travelling in the front bit and there was the most enormous kerfuffle when they got off in Kenya. Lots of flunkies bowing and scrapping; enough to make you Republican, I always think.

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Anyway, we arrived safely, were met by our guide and driver who, I think, was called Moses or Jesus or some such Biblical name. He was a cheery fellow who saw us to a hotel, for a night’s kip before we headed for the Ngoro-ngoro crater and our first taste of wildlife.

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The crater is an extinct volcano and the wildlife in it, we were told, had been trapped there so it had developed somewhat separately from that living on the rest of the massive savannas that make up the Masai Mara and Serengeti game reserves.

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At least that’s what I recall nearly 30 years on. Could be rubbish and, frankly, if you care enough to question it, there’s always Wiki…

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It was spectacular. Today it would be phones but back then we had this rather splendid camera recommended by the Archaeologist.

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It had lenses you changed and dials and numbers and SLRs and all sorts. I hadn’t  clue, if I’m honest but the Textiliste had researched it and we took some part way decent pictures, courtesy of her guidance.

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In fact by the end of week one, I had listened to her instructions often enough to be confident in my own guidance. Back then, it seemed natural to pass on my new found knowledge; now I realise it is gratuitous mansplaining. And thus we men are educated in the error of our ways…

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The one downside to life in the crater was the rather fragile nature of the power supply at the hotel. Twice it collapsed completely for 24 hours rendering the cooking non existent and the toilets unusable.  We had treated ourselves but, at that point, camping appeared to have been a better option.

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We had a ball. Well apart from the picnic where a kite took my cheese roll right out of my hand. Moses laughed and explained how lucky I was that the wretched bird hadn’t taken a bit of me at the same time. Of course I immediately saw the funny side…

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But of course, it was the wildlife and the extraordinary scenery that made this trip. Here are a few images.

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Next time: The Serengeti and Treetops

Posted in Animals, memories, miscellany, Photograph, travel | Tagged , , , , | 47 Comments