History Repeats

‘She’s there, just by the shore.’ Sarah glanced nervously at Martine, hoping for some response. Any response.

‘How far?’

Sarah sighed. Martine was like the others. ‘About 200 yards, at two o’clock. She’s staring out to sea.’ Of course she was. ‘You don’t think I’m bonkers, do you?’

Martine put an arm round her friend. Yes, maybe a bit, she thought. ‘Course. Always were. But only after a couple of peach mojitos.’

The smile, when it came, was forced. ‘She never looks back. Not once.’

‘When did you find her?’

Sarah nodded, grateful that Martine was at least trying to believe. No one ever saw the woman. Only her. Of course, only her. ‘Three years ago. I thought I was mad.’ She snorted a short laugh. ‘I think the really mad bit was coming back the next year, to check. I had to know.’

‘Know?’

Sarah shook the tension from her shoulders. ‘Come on. I’ll explain as we walk.’

‘Where are we going?’ Martine vaguely hoped it was coffee. June on the beach wasn’t always welcoming.

‘To prove I’m as sane as you.’

Good luck with that, thought Martine as she followed her down the steps.

Sarah started speaking, in a flat voice. ‘Her name was Kate Atkinson. She was nineteen, married, with a daughter. On 25th June 1944 she came here to stare at France, knowing her beloved husband Albert was there, part of the D Day landings. He was a radio operator.’ She swallowed. ‘He was killed outside a small town about ten miles inland. A gas explosion, apparently. Kate received a telegram the day after hew as killed.’ She stopped and looked at Martine. ‘You wouldn’t think they could have been that efficient.’

‘How’d you find that out?’

‘The coroner’s court records were put on line a few years ago. Kate came here the same day she heard the news. She dressed her best. Nice skirt and blouse. Patent leather shoes. Shoes for dancing. She took them off and walked into the sea.’ She checked her watch. ‘In about five minutes.’

‘Geez, you’re not serious?’ Martine stopped and stared at the empty beach, trying to imagine being that depressed. Especially a mother of a child.

Sarah had kept going but she paused to wait for her friend. ‘I don’t get too close until she’s gone. I worry I might see her expression. I don’t think I could cope with that.’

‘Earlier, when I said how did you find out I meant how did you find her name.’

Sarah smiled. ‘It’s why I came first time. She was my grandma. When mum went into the home I found a shoebox in her wardrobe. There were pictures of Kate and Bert, a newspaper article about his death and hers. They only knew it was here she walked into the sea because she took off her shoes. It was foggy that day, a real peasouper, and no one saw her go.’ Sarah turned towards the shore and stood very still.

To Martine, it looked like a thousand yard stare, but she knew now what Sarah was seeing. Then Sarah sighed, her shoulders dropping as the tension left them.  Like the relief at the end of the minute’s silence, Martine thought.

‘Is it over?’

Sarah nodded. ‘Come on, before the tide turns.’

In silence the pair trudged across the wet sand, both of them gazing towards France as Kate has done seventy five years before. Sarah began hunting for something, her head down concentrating hard. ‘Here.’ Her voice spoke of relief not triumph.

Martine walked over. Sarah stood a few feet from a set of prints: the sole and heel of two size six, or so Martine guessed, women’s shoes placed side by side. Leading away from those two prints and into the sea were more prints but these were bare feet, deep and determined. She looked up and met Sarah’s gaze.

‘You can see them?’

‘Yes. Yes I can. Oh my dear, how utterly poignant.’ A thought struck her. ‘If you can see your grandma, what about your mum? Do you think she might? Even now?’

Sarah crouched down and traced the edge of one shoe print with her finger. A wave curled across the toe softening the edges. She stood, brushing away a few grains of sand. ‘Let’s get a coffee.’

As they headed across the beach, Sarah peered at the flat white sky. ‘I thought about that but it’s too late.’ Tears which Martine had expected earlier poured down Sarah’s cheeks. ‘She’s gone into the fog, just like Grandma did.’ She sniffed and took her friend’s arm. ‘Let’s hope they find some comfort in there, eh?’

Behind them the waves spread across the sand, smoothing it for another year.

This is another story that will feature in the upcoming anthology, Life and Soul.

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I Swear

As a child I was sheltered from the adult world in many ways. One part, to which I returned this week was swearing and what one might describe as Oaths, Ancient and Modern.

During my primary school years, I became aware of swearing though it was mild by today’s standards. The worst swearing imaginable was to insert ‘bloody’ into a sentence such as: ‘That’s bloody ridiculous.’

Dad also had problems with ‘damn’. And he squirmed if either the Archaeologist or I said ‘Oh God.’

Being told ‘Don’t swear,’ if we used these words was pretty common the older we got. The hypocrisy too as he wasn’t able, as was mum, to control his language under strain. But then again it was a time of don’t do as I do, do as I say.

As for the F and C words? I couldn’t have guessed what they might be, back then. Flipping? Cripes? Possibly the C might be a bit more blaspheming in a dad’s eyes: Oh Christ! That was a no no. So what could be worse than that?

I turned two corners in my early teenage years, in terms of language.

First, when my Uncle un-emigrated from Australia. I remembered my uncle and aunt from the early sixties but only snippets. They had a car before mum and dad. They loved picnicking. And uncle sang ‘There was an old lady who swallowed a fly…’ with lots of actions, just for me.

Then they decided to try their luck as ten pound poms, or whatever scheme was in place. When they returned, ten years or so later, they brought my two cousins. My first cousins, two lively super blonde girls of about six and four. We met at my gran’s in Kent and that first day is memorable for a walk to the shops. My aunt had us play a game of not treading on the edge of the pavement. When my cousin lost her balance and crossed a crack, her response shook me.

‘Oh bloody hell!’ She was about six.*

(* my cousin, however, denies this. Of course she does. She has the same, or similar, genes, the same instinct to snobbery as me).

I looked at my aunt. She smiled back at me. It didn’t matter. It was just a word.

I’m not sure how I processed this. But I’m pretty sure, after that, I wasn’t so intimidated by the power of language.

And the second thing? Chaucer. Studying English literature was eye opening. His language was… erm, earthy? Extraordinary? And we were being taught about it as if it was normal. No longer would the C word be cripes…

The power of language is extraordinary. So many words are used to hurt, to control, to embarrass, to belittle. But of course, it’s not the word itself, but who’s using it and to what end. Watching the Hoffman film on Lenny Bruce in the 70s had a strong impact. Since then I’ve been cautious about those who try and dictate what language I can use. I understand some words have been made to carry associations that give them a power over and above others. I am happy to abide by the cultural norms, if otherwise it would cause offence. They will no doubt change as they have changed before in my time.

But swearing? Nope, I enjoy it too much to stop now.

Posted in family, memories, miscellany, thought piece | Tagged , , , , , | 43 Comments

A saucy postcard and a Limerick

As a child, I had a summer holiday every year at my Gran’s house on the north Kent coast at Herne Bay. It had all you could want as a holiday destination: a beach, albeit mostly made up of stones, two sea water pools to risk life and limb in as they were slathered in seaweed, a pier, a clockhouse, a promenade, a cinema with Saturday morning pictures, fish and chips and cockle stalls. It also had those ubiquitous tacky gift shops. We weren’t allowed to spend our pocket money on the most off kilter examples but a postcard for the other grandparent or a school friend was permitted.

When sifting through the selection, I was always intrigued by the cartoon cards. Cartoons were for children yet these were ones that caused laughter amongst the adults but seemed daft to me. This was my introduction to the saucy postcard.

This memory came to me when Esther Chilton provided this week’s Limerick prompt

Boil

Imagine if you will a surprised nurse, holding a pan of water, a doctor looking aghast and a horrified patient gripping the blankets. This was in mind when I wrote this little ditty

Trainee nurse, Christopher Tick

Was as mustard keen as he was thick.

When told to prick Colin Doyle’s

Large and aggressive buttock boil,

He, instead, heated water and boiled his…

Posted in humour, limericks, miscellany, poems, poetry | Tagged , , , | 33 Comments

Wishing Yourself Free #99wordstories

The #99wordstories prompt from the Carrot Ranch this week is

June 20, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about what freedom feels like. Whose point of view do you use? Does the idea of freedom cause tension or bring hope? Let the reader feel the freedom. Go where the prompt leads!

Wishing Yourself Free

Save a Sprite, get a wish; it was Little Tittweaking lore. For many it meant freedom; for Norman Nocoff, not so much.

Norman played a set at the Compost and Rot. He allowed the foot high piano-player to join him. A visiting pig castrater, sipping dubonnet gawped. ‘Who’s he?’

He couldn’t explain, not again. Norman was broken; why had the sprite been partly deaf? Norman was young, only thinking of girls. Slipping his wish away, he returned to the horrible moment his wish had been granted, and he had opened his hand to find a twelve inch pianist.

Posted in #99wordstories, Carrot Ranch Congress of Rough Writers, creative writing, humour, little Tittweaking, miscellany | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Week Twenty-three: 2022

We went to the theatre last week to see Middle at the National.

As the name suggests, it’s the middle play of three. We missed the Beginning or the Start or the Commencement (I’ve not checked) which didn’t seem to matter. It’s a challenge writing something in parts and making each part standalone yet echo and foreshadow the other elements without overdoing the catch up. This managed it ok.

In this case the setting was domestic, the middle section of a marriage that was at a tipping point. The wife has decided it had come to an end, the husband wanted to avoid considering anything beyond the pork roast he planned on cooking the next day and so the jeopardy of the drama was established.

Some of it was a little stereotypical, trite almost, a lot thoughtful discussion belying the inherent difficulties in determining something had ended and having a neat explanation of why when the whys comprised nothing nuclear. Incremental breakdowns have no defining features, no stopping point. Sometimes, as here it seems that the lack of an inciting incident made it harder to handle than the crushing car crash of an affair would be.

The couple tried to talk but there was no territory that held firm long enough. It was painful and funny, too.

At one point the confused Gary despaired at his wife’s attempts to keep everything civilised as if such a catastrophe could be handled with grace. ‘We’re from Essex,’ he sighed. ‘We don’t do conscious uncouplings in Essex’… he looked wistful. ‘A few unconscious couplings, sure…’

At the end, as with the marriage itself, nothing was clear. Was it over or could it be saved? I’m guessing, as this was the Middle, it was the latter. Maybe not. It’ll make the Ending interesting if a little short, if it all finished in the Middle. In truth it was excellent and it didn’t really matter. They were muddled and they would keep on muddling.

Like so much in life.

Coming out of a play like that leaves me a bit discombobulated. I’m not sure what to think, I need to process things and so am not really in the frame of mind to be confronted by a new electronic barrier to exit the car park. I sat starting at the stand, looking where to put my ticket and failing to ascertain a slot while the peeps behind me told me to stop bring so senile. It was only as I moved my gaze to the mirror to glare behind me that I caught a glimpse of an open barrier. I drove through feeling (a) foolish and (b) nervous in case my delay caused the barrier to get bored and close on the car roof.

I was back hanging quilts on Saturday. The Textiliste will be curating another show in September but, meanwhile a charity she has worked for – Fine Cell – who teach prisoners to quilt enjoyed their 25th anniversary and hired Bell House, the venue of the Quilt Show, for a celebration. Naturally, given her knowledge of what works Mrs LP was inveigled into the organising which meant me and a ladder were called upon. I rather hoped that the quilt she managed from conception to completion as part of a V&A commission for their first quilt exhibition some years ago might feature.

One section; I’m sure our cats sat on this corner a fair bit.

Apparently, despite being manhandled by goodness knows how many clammed fingered cons while it was being made, now it has joined the V&A collection it costs several £000s to hire, you need to give at least a year’s notice and amongst other conditions when hung, it must be behind a Perspex screen. I am sure it’s absence was toasted.

It even made it into the garden…

Temperatures here soared into the low 30sC. To some that will seem chickenfeed. To we Brits, it’s Death Valley and Mercury rolled into one. Dog just can’t get it.

Posted in 2022, miscellany, theatre, thought | Tagged , , | 33 Comments

Life And Soul #shortfiction #flashfiction

Every year I collected together the pieces of short fiction I’ve written into an anthology. The current set I’m working on is from 2019 and it can be a challenge. The most difficult bit, as the writers amongst you may concur is finding an example which really isn’t up to the mark. Then you have the challenge of trying to improve it or, if it’s incapable of remedy, binning it.

This short piece is a case in point. It’s not long and I’ve trimmed it and changed it. I wonder what you think? Worthy of inclusion?

Little Helpers

‘I hate this time of year, you know.’

‘I’m not listening, Elvis.’

‘I don’t ask to get picked, Ernie, but I always am.’

‘It’s a privilege, you know. Errol’s never had a turn.’

‘He can take my place, any time.’

‘Don’t be silly. The Missus chooses. You know that.’

‘Yeah, but why is it always the same people? You know it’s true. Eric, Elrond, Edward…’

‘It’s because we’re good at what we do. And those lads love it. Look, they’re nearly running.’

‘Yeah well. I’d be happier if they left me in jigsaws. I’ve found my niche in jigsaws.’

‘Don’t you get bored, cutting up the same pictures year after year?’

‘Nope. The patterns are always different. Do you know there are two hundred and seventy one million permutations?’

‘You are as boring as everyone says.’

‘Thanks. Maybe if I was more chummy I wouldn’t get this de-icing gig.’

‘You know it’s not that. It’s them.’

‘My hands?’

‘Of course your hands. There’s no one else with hands like yours. The Missus says you were sent by a divine gift when you appeared with those hands.’

‘Ernie, can I ask you a question? It’s a bit personal.’

‘Go on.’

‘I’ve been thinking. It’s just because of something Ethelbert said, after last year’s Freeze. Something about why the fellas don’t treat me like they do the others.’

‘You don’t want to believe what he says. You know he’s been in toy trains too long, don’t you? Keeps losing track.’

‘Yes well, it’s just it made a bit of sense, see. Do you think the boys hold it against me, what I do with my hands?’

‘Do?’

‘Where they go?’

‘They know someone has to, erm, do what you do.’

‘Yes sure but until I came a long it wasn’t the same each year. It was shared around, yes?’

‘True. Everyone got a turn.’

‘And it’s not like people were crying out for that turn was it.’

‘Well, no, it wasn’t exactly a privilege, but given your gifts, we could all see it was your destiny.’

‘I really don’t want to do it, this year. Maybe I could do his ears and…’

‘Noooo. No, that’s not the attitude. You’re so good. If any of the rest of us tried it would take weeks. You can knock them out in a couple of days.’

‘But still, it’s not exactly how one wasn’t to be remembered, is it? It’s one thing to be part of a special elite chosen by Missus Claus to go and de-thaw Santa, ready for the Christmas delivery; it’s a bit different to be known as the hot-handed elf who each year melts Santa’s balls.’

‘You can hardly leave them frozen, can you? It’d be like having a pair of maracas, clickety-clacking every time the sleigh hits a bit of turbulence. If that didn’t wake up all the kiddies I don’t know what would.’

‘I suppose…’

‘Come on, cheer up. The sooner you get his gonads glowing the sooner you can get back to those puzzles.’

Posted in anthology, flash fiction, short story | Tagged , , | 33 Comments

The Garden – Mid June 2022 #garden

It’s been a bit mixed and today it’s nearing 30C with 34C threatened tomorrow making it one of the hottest June days on record. The colours, though have been stunning and while I’ve let the lawn grow shaggy to preserve it against browning off, everything else seems to be thriving for now. Cooler, nearer average temperatures are due this weekend we hope.

I think I’ll leave the pictures to speak for themsleves.

And Dog?

Posted in dog, gardening | Tagged , , , | 30 Comments

Moving House #writephoto

This week’s #writephoto prompt is

Mus Souris had a problem. The tornado had been inaptly timed. He and his mussus had just settled into their toadstool apartment when the wretched wind had picked up No.7, The Fungus and blown it into the acacia. While normally this would be treated as a small inconvenience and he could have organised a temporary move, this had the potential to be a total disaster. It was bad enough that his soon to be mother in law was coming to stay, but add in the plan for his fourteen nephews to have a sleepover and the recipe was not encouraging; especially with his front door now fourteen feet off the ground.

Mus scrolled through the google responses to his ‘who can help me move my house?’ question to Alexa. The first ten, irritatingly, focused on the contents rather than on the house itself, though Mus chided himself for failing to focus the question more accurately.

Entry eleven, however, suggested a more hopeful response. He dialled the number.

A cheery, if rather menacing voice answered after one ring. ‘Proboscis Plant and Animal Hire. All your lifting needs dealt with, with a grunt and a grin!’

‘Oh hello. Do you move houses?’

The responder sounded unsure. ‘We can, er, Sir?’

‘It’s Souris. Mus Souris. My house is stuck up a tree and I wondered…’

‘Oh! Are you an, erm, you know, thingy?’

Mus sighed. Weren’t they beyond this causal mousism? ‘Yes, I’m a mouse. So?’

‘No, really it’s not…’

‘Ok, we squeak but all that stuff about messing our own homes is exaggerated, I, for one, haven’t been inside a wheel in a decade and, personally I hate cheese. Anyway, most of the rubbish you hear was spread by those bloody rats to deflect from their own problems…’

‘No, really, it’s only…’

‘What?’

‘Well, our lifting operatives are all elephants.’

‘Ah…’

‘So, you’ll understand there might be some health and safety considerations.’

‘Crushing?’

‘Inadvertent dimensional reconfiguration has been known, Mr Souris, but, as caring employers, we have to ensure the mental wellbeing of all our staff and, well, most of our Heffalump Hydraulic Operatives are inclined to bouts of RAIN…’

‘What? They dribble?’

‘No, not rain. R.A.I.N – rodent anxiety incapacity neuralgism. Basically if they see a mouse…’

‘Excuse me? You’re slipping into institutional mousism again.’

‘I’m sorry. Of course I meant a mammal with rodentian characteristics. They freeze. Which, of course, depending when they become aware of a mo… when they first notice the, erm… it can cause problems. Only last week one of our best operatives was draining a lake prior to removing some boulders and came upon a party of water voles over from Helsinki for the grain festival and he let go of several hundred gallons of water in his panic.’

‘Did he kill the water voles?’

‘No, they loved it – they’d been on the grain for a couple of days and basically surfed the ensuing tsunami. But a flock of passing sheep thought differently. Their coats were just about to be harvested – they were at maximum bouffancy – but after the dousing both the wool and their profits shrank by seventy four percent.’

‘You can’t help then?’

‘I fear not. But you could try Derek.’

‘Derek?’

‘He’s a crane. Now I know you’re going to say one bird isn’t likely to be enough, but he manages an avian assistance association. They’ve become pretty adept at difficult lifting jobs like yours.’

‘Thanks. It’s kind of you to recommend a competitor.’

‘Oh they aren’t really competitors. Most of their work is small scale. It’s only where we can’t take on the job that they might be the answer. I mean, there are the side effects…’

‘How so?’

‘Well, for starters, you would have to expect your house to be redecorated.’

‘Sorry?’

‘To lift a house you’ll probably need at least 200 different species of birds… that’s a lot of straining and a lot of…’

‘Shit…’

‘Precisely. Would you like their number anyway?’

Posted in #writephoto, flash fiction, humour | Tagged , , | 22 Comments

Philately Friday: Traditions Interrupted

I’m going to talk about Christmas stamps. Eventually. I’ll share some imagery of various versions as we get there.

My father’s life was a journey of sorts. As a teen, in the Army at the end of WW2 he abhorred petty rules and authority generally even if he joined willingly to be part of the ‘show’. His antipathy to the Government at the end of the war – not Churchill per se, but the Tories he led – was deep rooted. By the time I was old enough to discern his political instincts, he was about as liberal as Nigel ‘Mine’s Pint and Send Them Home’ Farage. He reach peak reactionary, I’d guess around the Falklands conflict of the mid 1980s when his general suspicion of M. Thatcher had morphed into an abiding respect. He liked her principles, her values and her inclination to traditions rather than novelty. I’m pleased to say that thereafter the edges became softer, the opinions more considered if no less strident and empathy for the perils of his fellow man more obvious.

That’s not to say he didn’t enjoy the benefits of progress, even if, for him a revolution only brought you back to where you started. Mind you, progress in the guise of technological advancement could leave him splenetic with barely suppressed frustration.

‘This bloody thing hates me, Barbs,’ he would complain to my mother when he discovered his latest attempt to record the rugby on the VHS player had instead left him to enjoy a Malcolm Muggeridge special on the verrucas that shaped Christianity. The epitome of this antipathy was his relationship to motor cars, with each of which he had a fractious and tendentious relationship. He would insert the key in the relevant aperture, pull out the choke, grip the starter and pray; he wasn’t especially religious and, in the case of cars, it wasn’t a prayer to a benign and loving god that he pledged allegiance every morning, but to the most egregious kind of capricious sociopath who had ever been allotted a small rocky outcrop on Olympus from which to ply His trade. On the good days the car started and stayed started until he reached work; on bad, he could be seen through the net curtains in the dining room window, gripping his pipe in his teeth as he plotted revenge on this particular deity, if ever they bumped into each other in the public bar of the Harp and Hymnal or whatever passed for a watering hole in his allotted afterlife.

This urge to stick to what he knew, keep it simple and avoid frills manifested itself in his taste in stamps. He was opinionated on the subject in ways most might find faintly ludicrous. To this day I can hear him engage in one of his favourite past-times: the anticipatory moan. This small pleasure is found in the toolbox of the collector of passive-aggressive behaviours. There is something that is about to happen/be revealed/announced. It is being kept secret save for some teasers. That’s all Dad needed to nestle onto his launch pad and engage the countdown. It could be pretty much anything. The new Doctor Who, recently revealed would have been one such…

‘It’ll be a woman… (there has been a woman, dad)’

‘Or foreign though we had that Scottish twit… (and Welsh)’

‘I’ll bet they want a ginger after that bloody Royal… ‘

‘I don’t know what was wrong with William Hartnell…’

In the case of stamps, it was the designer David Gentleman who set Dad ready to stun. In truth there were some of Gentleman’s images he didn’t mind, but the one that started his dislike was the Battle of Britain stamp that came out in 1965 on the 25th Anniversary. It laid out the groundwork for a life of bafflement and pseudo despair.

But, and here we come to the point, he never enjoyed the Christmas Stamp. That disdain started with the very first in 1966. Here it is.

As you can see it comprises some children’s drawings. Dad had nothing against children’s drawings or, indeed, was his antagonistic to the notion that Christmas, for those of no especial religious bent, is for children. But things have their place, or otherwise they will fall apart and we will end up with a society in which the News is no longer at Ten, you have to explain what sort of milk you want with you tea and men stop wearing ties to work (he’d really not cope with the world today).

For some time, I assumed he disliked these naif images for the lack of skill shown in their design. However, I think he was in fact expressing his political prejudices; in 1966 the Postmaster General, the man (of course it had to be a man) in charge of the issuance of stamps was one Tony Benn. To say Benn epitomised the character of the Labour Government of the time would both true and enough of a reason for Dad to instinctively hate the stamps. Looking back, it does seem a bit unfair on children who drew these images that they should get caught up in this small class war being fought between Dad and all things socialist.

Mind you, Benn wasn’t the worst, in Dad’s eyes; that mantle fell to be worn by Roy Jenkins the Chancellor who in 1967 devalued the pound. When the soap we were watching was interrupted with the news Dad sat bolt upright and began a diatribe against the Wilson government in general and Jenkins in particular for destroying all we held dear. Condoning the issue of a non traditional stamp was symptomatic of this awful malaise

Posted in stamps | Tagged , | 29 Comments

The Eyeful #99wordstories

This week’s #99wordstories prompt from the Carrot Ranch is

June 13, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a danger zone. It can be an exciting plot-driven story (think “story spine”) or a situation a character must confront. Play with different genres, and use craft elements like tension, tone, and pacing. Go where the prompt leads!

The Eyeful

The last corner before you enter Little Tittweaking is a notorious blackspot. There have been a few car-tree interfaces, but mostly the damage is psychological: the driver is found whimpering, with his or her eyes tight shut.

This danger zone results from the unfortunate juxtaposition of Mrs Pendulous’ Bauble Emporia on one side and Auriola Snatch’s All-weather Nude Yoga classes on the other. Many’s the driver who mounts the verge when confronted by Colonel Guy Rope’s downward dog, as reflected against that day’s bauble, certain they will be crushed by a ginormous pair of rapidly approaching testes.

Posted in #99wordstories, Carrot Ranch Congress of Rough Writers, creative writing, flash fiction, humour, little Tittweaking, miscellany | Tagged , , , , | 36 Comments