Toe To Toe, Cheek To Cheek

The Textiliste and I have been dancing for many years now and have developed a decent repertoire of Latin and Ballroom classics.

There’s this myth about dancing, that the man leads. Fortunately same sex dancing has knocked that on its head and, anyway Ginger Rogers famously pointed out she did just as much as her partner Fred Astaire only she did it backwards and in high heels.

For us dancing has always been a partnership, neither able to do it as well without the other. In my case I have a better memory for the steps; in the Textiliste’s case she keeps us on time – left to me the music would become like that piped into lifts: pleasant if unmemorable background.

Sometime ago this inspired a sonnet on our relationship as seen through the eyes of our dancing twosome.

Today this picture appeared in my FB timeline posted by the Vet a few years ago and reminded me of that poem. I hope you enjoy them both.

The Hand That Guides
Your consoling hand sits light on my sleeve,
A Macavity tap to release me on four;
We set sail, in step, gliding with ease
Past blind spots and honey pots strewn on the floor.
I fumble to catch that elusive toe-tap
Which, if I could, would allow me my head.
You remind me, by way of a quick finger snap,
Of the dangers where taking that path might lead.
I continually try to do it my way,
To give into weakness of flesh and of soul
But you hold the leash tight; I cannot stray
And we remain linked; two parts of one whole.
May it always be thus as we gib and we tack;
You looking forward, my hand at your back

Posted in family, marriage, memories, miscellany, thought piece | Tagged , , , | 26 Comments

A Bit Of A Tool #carrotranch #littletittweaking

This week’s #carrotranch prompt takes us back to Little Tittweaking and the latest cultural event, its spanner festival

November 18, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write about tools. Whose tools are they and how do they fit into the story? What kind of tools? Go where the prompt leads!

A Bit Of A Tool

Dumpling Pendulous ran the Little Tittweaking Tool Museum with the zealousness of a radical grammarian, leaving no semi-colon unturned. Spanner week, when all unattached males displayed their equipment was anticipated by the residents as a way of getting all spotty, beardless lumpen peri-menopausal adolescent males out of their respective caves. This year Dennis Fumble entered his nickel alloy double ringed with unexpected gusto while the normally reticent Godfrey Pricktingle made a show of displaying his antique iron clad single end. But everyone agreed nothing was quite as impressive as Kevin Largehampton’s freshly lubricated two-handed reciprocating adjustable.

Posted in carrot ranch, creative writing, flash fiction, humour, miscellany | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

Off His Trolley #writephoto

This week’s #writephoto prompt is

Terrance Pebble stepped across the aisle, his recalcitrant trolley, Percy skidding sideways as Terrance checked along the shelves. It had gone. Bloody goblin. It had been there moments before so where was it hiding?

His wrist sensor still suppurated, a sure sign of the presence of magical fae. He snatched a pack of cottonwool and wiped the mucus off the sensor’s face. The dial pointed at the next junction. That’s when he noticed the red cabinet. ‘Golden Lady’.

Oh bollocks, he thought, not her. How was she always in the right place at the wrong time? Forcing Percy to go first, despite its protesting, he fumbled in his pockets. Why, he cursed, did he never have anything to pay fealty when he needed it? He’d have to speak to Marginal again, ask her not to empty his pockets and eat his change. Sure, she liked a nickel snack after sex but this was compromising his job.

The trolley lurched into the shelving, muttering ‘perfume’ as the iconic pink wrinkled box of Dior’s ‘Midnight Scrotum’ fell into the basket. Yes, that would probably do. Eau de Jock had been on the list of recommended briberies for Her Blingness for the last while. Pushing the trolley with one hand and opening the packing with the other, he glanced at his appearance in the mirror attached to the end of the shelving, let go of the handle to straighten his tie – The Golden Lady was a stickler for appearances – and watched with horror as Percy crashed into the red housing.

As Percy did its best to look small, the door to Her Lady’s retreat swung slowly open.

As it did so the goblin, who Terrance had been pursuing since he’d spotted it putting a curse on the cheese counter fell out and into Percy’s basket.

Showing an unusual presence of mind for a wire sided wheeled vehicle, Percy folded in on itself, trapping the goblin.

The goblin must have been momentarily stunned as it was still shaking itself and beginning to prep a curse when a shimmering sun-filled vision emerged from the open cabinet. She waved a vague hand at the furious slimeball, turning it into a piece of tacky, in all senses, art as she swung majestically round to face Terrance. ‘Yes?’

He offered her the perfume bottle. She regarded it with disdain, took it and finished it in one swallow. While she showed no reaction, the bottle sighed, went limp and began to smoke. In a voice that spoke of inconceivable wealth, unfeasible power and a penchant for chocolate hobnobs the Regal Oneness nodded at Terrance. ‘You keeping the goblin?’

‘I probably should put it back in the toy department. The Christmas rush will be starting soon.’

‘That’s rather cruel, isn’t it? I mean, can you imagine being the plaything of a four year old?’

‘There are worse fates, if you ask me.’

The Vision looked briefly interested. ‘Really? Pray tell?’

Terrance looked at Percy, who had begun to vibrate to try and shake off the glutinous excretions that the goblin continued to extrude. ‘Shopping with a trolley with a mind of its own. Bloody nightmare.’

The Golden Lady swept up her gown and climbed back into her cabinet. In moments the space where the cabinet had been was empty and the aisles began to refill with shoppers again. Terrance let go a large sigh. ‘Come on,’ he said to Percy, ‘let’s get this done.’

Posted in #writephoto, creative writing, humour, miscellany | Tagged , , , | 22 Comments

Life Sentences #shortstories #anthology

I’m preparing another anthology of short fiction based on pieces I’ve written for this blog, competitions and guest posts. It’s time to decide on the cover. With the three previous anthologies, some part of my head appears on the cover. This is an example, from the 2017 collection Life In A Coversation

This time these are the possibilities for Life Sentences and I’d welcome your thoughts

Cover One

Cover Two

Cover Three

Cover four

And while you mull your answers, here’s one small piece from the collection to whet your appetites

The Immorality Of Rocks

Plinth the Undulating watched them approach. A girl, pebble-young in white, eyes lowered, nervy; a woman, nicely strata’ed, also in white, talking softly. Sodding devotees, that’s what they are, he thought. A novitiate and her minder. She’ll want to light the bloody candle, too and that wax would play havoc with his fissures, sticking the planes together when they should be easing – gloriously, inevitably – apart as the rain permeated his corporeal magnificence. That said, he mused, but for all the wax that had dripped down his flanks over the centuries, he’d be gravel by now, washed to the river and out to sea. Yuk. The idea of being completely granulated jarred like an earth tremor. Boulder had wanted that, hadn’t he? He’d been convinced he’d be at peace, in the swish-swosh-swirly currents. Bloody fool of a rock.

He’d had millennia to ask why. Why had they chosen him? Why had those stupid, simple minded druids decided he was divine? He was just an ordinary stone; not once of them Sarsen poseurs, but big enough to stand feature on their maps. The others, granite and grit alike, said it was his uncommon smoothness, the sheen of his flanks much admired amongst the Alluvial Set. At one point those lumps had tried to grind each other, the vanity of abrasive emulation blinding them to the reality that all they achieved was an accelerated erosion. Boulder had said they were flakes. Wise conglomerate that Boulder.

He’d not been immune, of course. He’d lost a couple of meters to floods and shakes before that little ape first appeared. Of all the warm-bloods, the bipeds, with their knowing eyes and chants and, especially those pointy tools, were the worst. It had been just another day, warmish with a chance of occasional storms later when that nosey little vandal appeared. Plinth saw in his eyes he was captivated by his curves. Then those strokes – they were nice – and how he’d titled his head better to see the way the sun reflected back off the sheen of the piece of polished quartz that had just been exposed by another flaking. It was then Plinth knew things wouldn’t be the same. The grubby little mammal had fallen to his knees.

Plinth watched in disbelief as this oaf, this ‘artist’ brought others to look, to stroke, to sigh and to chant. Then they started chipping. Chipping! The indignity. The discomfort. After their first efforts the other rocks started calling him ‘Uneven’ rather than ‘Undulating’ because of their ham-fisted carvings. They planted a tree which was all he needed, sheltering him from the rain and absorbing the water table before it could crumble him from below. And then they’d gone.

But relief was short lived. Every two centuries or so another group would find him, swoon, stroke his sides, see the old chip-scars and start their own chipping and chanting. Swirls and crosses, spikes and shelves; he had had them all. The candles came, what, five hundred years ago and hadn’t stopped.

The flame flashed and Plinth screamed; sadly he screamed at a pitch that the bipeds didn’t register but it caused the nearby limestone outcrop to wet itself again and another cliff fall ensued. How bloody long was he going to stay like this?

The girl scorched his surface with her clumsy match. It wasn’t her fault – she looked terrified. One day she’d be that woman with another clumsy little pyromaniac. He looked up at the sky, at the gathering clouds and felt the steamy heat. He’d have his revenge.

The pair finished their ceremony and kissed him, like it made things better. He watched them go. One day, one day soon enough they will be a reckoning, he thought. Go on, melt the ice caps, morons. That’s what always happened before the next ice age. Then we’ll see who’s best equipped to handle all-terrain glaciation. Oh yes. You’ll need a bigger candle then, he thought.

Posted in book launch, Books, cover reveal | Tagged , , | 54 Comments

So How Is It For You? The Mid November Garden

It’s autumn and mild. Wet occasionally but, well, see for yourselves. We tried a circle in the centre of the lawn, imagining a bed there. Might be nice..

Right, some autumn colour first…

and some of the flowers, going to seed though they are…

after dark..

last June…

and Dog (plus foxy)

Posted in miscellany | 38 Comments

November 11th And Giving Thanks To A Small Statue And Many, Many Men And Women #remembranceday

Artefact - Joan of Arc

My brother, the Archaeologist wrote this piece for my blog back in 2014 when we were thinking about the 100th anniversary of the start of that god-awful conflict. On this day of days, a unusually mild and beautiful November here in South London I feel sure this piece deserves a repeat, the story of a little statue that, in part, I like to think, means I am here today, writing these posts. Thank you, Bruv for this post and thank you Joan

In a display cabinet, a few feet from where I am sitting is a small porcelain statue of Joan of Arc. Whilst it is over one hundred years old, it is of no particular value, especially as the head has, at some time, been knocked off and crudely stuck back on. But it has been treasured in our family for many years – and this is her story.

Percy Francis Officer - perhaps before graduation

Percy Francis was fascinated by flying. Today it would not be unusual, but this was 1911. Powered flight was only a few years old and the primitive machines that clawed their way into the sky were incredibly dangerous. But Percy loved it. By 1911 he was by his own account ‘involved in aeronautical research’, and in 1912 he was an official of the London Aero Club helping to run the first London Air Show.

Forward two years and when war was declared he naturally wanted to join the embryonic Royal Flying Corps. However hardly anybody had any idea of what aircraft could do in war and he was told to wait. But all his friends were joining up so he decided to join the army anyway. When one friend bet him he would never wear a kilt, he joined the Seaforth Highlanders – one of the ‘Ladies from hell’ as the Germans were to call them.

Percy Francis Seaforth Highlander 1

By November 1914 he was in France and, during the cold winter of 1914-15 he turned his ingenuity to making underwear – as the uniform didn’t include any to wear under the kilt. This was perhaps his only failure. More successful was the film projector he found, and for many month he ran the ‘Only Cinema at the Front’, as it was called on the posters. French films could easily be played as, in the days of silent film, all you needed was someone to translate the titles when they appeared.

Cinema poster

In the spring of 1915 the Seaforth’s were one of the regiments involved in the battle of Neuve Chapelle, one of the first big trench battles of the war. The regiment played a particularly gallant part, so they commissioned a war artist, Joseph Gray, to depict the scene when the Seaforth’s advanced. Percy was chosen to be the model for all the soldiers depicted, walking, shooting, shouting encouragement. We still possess a sketch of Percy, the highland soldier, that Joseph Gray gave him, and he is recognisable at least four times in the finished paintings!

(c) The Highlanders' Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Joseph Gray

Towards the end of that year he took part in intelligence gathering, creeping out after dark into no man’s land to map German positions, the compass he used lives in my study.

Artefacts - Compass and Binoculars 2

For one particularly hazardous expedition he was offered the choice between a military medal or immediate commission, he chose the latter and became Lieutenant Percy Francis. He didn’t remain long as an officer in the trenches but rapidly managed to get transferred to where he had long wanted to be – the Royal Flying Corps.

It was while he was back in England, doing his pilot training (he didn’t need to learn to fly, but rather become acquainted with the military aircraft of the day), that he was arrested as a spy. Officers didn’t need to wear uniform when not on duty and he was sitting in a London park reading a magazine. He had fair hair, close cropped to fit under his flying helmet, and someone thought he looked German. A crowd gathered and a policeman had to take him into protective custody.

Leave - Fishing party Brendon

Back in France he joined his squadron, whose job was mapping enemy positions. Flying low and slow over the trenches, whilst the observer took photographs. The average life span of a pilot in those days was thirteen weeks; he did it for over eighteen months. He was never shot down – he seemed to have regarded the enemy as a minor irritation and the aircraft he was flying were much more dangerous.

He was right, in early 1918 he was going home on leave and was offered the choice between taking the troop ship home or flying a plane back to England. He naturally chose the latter and set off across the Channel. Then the fog came down.

For three days there was no news, it was assumed that his aircraft had been lost at sea, then a gamekeeper walking on the cliffs near Dover found the crashed aircraft. Though he was badly injured, Percy made a full recovery.

Convalescing - Larking around

Much to his irritation the Army wouldn’t pass him fit for flying, but gave him another promotion and a desk job, and so he survived the war. He went on to race at Brooklands,

Percy in 3 Wheeler

and fly with his friend Geoffrey De Havilland and design a Flying Bicycle!

Artefact - RAF Badge

But what, you will be asking yourself if you remember the beginning of this tale, has Joan of Arc got to do with it all. Shortly after arriving in France, Percy found the statue of St. Joan in a shelled church. He repaired it and took it with him wherever he went as a good luck charm. As you may have realised his career in the war, from ordinary soldier at the front – to officer at the front – to officer in the Royal Flying Corps, took him into more and more dangerous situations.

Artefact - Flying helmet 1

In protecting our grandfather, Percy Francis, St. Joan worked overtime.

Posted in family, France, memories, WW1 | Tagged , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

And Repeat…

News yesterday told us of the battle between the musical behemoths of Adele, Ed Sheehan and Coldplay, all of whom want to corner the vinyl printing market for their new albums in time for the Christmas spendfest.

Now forgive for thinking that vinyl had long ago become the Betamax of home music delivery systems even though, I, like a number of others retained the albums and singles I bought as a youngster, before being seduced away to tapes and then dvds. I must own to missing the joys of the album art and the inclusion of the lyrics that often accompanied the sleeve of the album but one had to keep with the times.

Yes, here we are, at the outset of a rewriting of history. The old is becoming the new new.

And it makes me wonder what else will return to enliven our lives.

Will snickers return to its marathon roots.

Will toilet paper be rewaxed?

Will the flies on jeans go back to buttons (again)?

I rather hope not, well maybe the egregious rebranding can go.

But there are some things that we might save before they become the vinyl of their day.

Here’s a few of mine:

At least one day a week gentlemen should wear a tie in its customary position, around the neck rather than hastily repurposed as a belt.

The postage stamp

The cheque

And eventually cash…

And related to the last, a physical representation of where I bank, somewhere on a high street near me

The changeable tire on my car rather than something that forces me to a garage within a gnat’s long jump of my puncture

Phone calls to utilities that are answered without having to listen to some moronic Spotify playlist or play keypad bingo in order to speak to something vaguely sentient (competence was removed as a prerequisite of employment in the 1950s according to my mother)

I’m sure there are many more that will occur to me when I’ve posted this. How about you? What do you fear will go, for no benefit other than someone else’s commercial imperative or which reduces something intangible but good in our lives?

PS writing this drove me to check my dusty old albums. I should know better as it reminds me that my first purchase rather betrays my rock n roll credentials. Back to Front by Gilbert O’Sullivan. What can I say? I was raised by tone deaf aliens.

Posted in memories, miscellany, music, thought piece | Tagged , , , | 20 Comments

A Sense Of Calm #blogbattle

This month’s #blogbattle prompt is the word ‘hypnotic’ and this is where it led

Pug Contrarian tried to maintain his calm but picking a pumpkin to carve was proving to be something of a splinter as he slid down the bannister of his weekend. ‘Can you just take one, please?’ He knew he sounded peevish but then again his twins Scottie and Bull were pushing him beyond reason. Their prattling arguments reminded him of his last months with their mother. If he could only have been more patient, less inclined to explode.

A sign snagged his attention. Free instructions in calm; control the angry you and impress your family

If only, he thought. Beyond the sign, through the smeary glass he noticed a grizzled old man in a shapeless cardigan. At the moment he spotted the man, he looked across at Pug and nodded once. Embarrassed to be staring, Pug looked away, vaguely aware the the twins had stopped arguing and were focused on the door to the shop.

‘Cute kids.’

Pug started. The old man stood just behind him, watching Pug’s children. ‘They’ll want the best pumpkin to carve, won’t they?’

‘I’d be happy is they just chose one. We’ve been here hours.’

The old man seemed not to notice. He waved at the children. ‘Take that one.’

So far as Pug could see the man was pointing at a pumpkin behind a barrel of some kind. Scottie didn’t wait, skipping to it and, to Pug’s surprise lifting it easily. ‘This is so cool, Dad!’ cried the little girl. To Pug’s astonishment Bull followed his sister and took the vegetable from her. ‘Good one, sis!’ he exclaimed.

‘Well blow me, they’ve agreed on something.’ He glanced to where the old man had been but he was gone. ‘What the…?’ He checked the shop window but shutters had been pulled down. In truth it looked like it hadn’t been open in an age. Shaking his head, he led his children to the counter to pay.

The woman serving looked as harassed as he’d felt earlier, though right now he felt as calm as he did after a couple of whiskies. She took the pumpkin, frowned and turned it in her hands. ‘You sure you want this one?’ She hefted it, as if checking its weight. ‘Feels empty. Might be rotten.’

Pug looked at the twins’ imploring faces. ‘We’ll risk it.’

She sniffed. ‘It ain’t got a label. I can’t charge you if it don’t have a label.’

Pug essayed a grin. ‘It must be free then,’ he met her gaze as he spoke.

Her expression clouded. ‘Free? Yes, it must be free,’ she intoned in a flat voice. Then she smiled, an expression that didn’t sit well with the rest of her face. ‘That must be it!’ She handed the pumpkin back to Scottie who whooped and passed it to Bull like it was a ball.

Normally Pug would have admonished them, told them to stop in case they dropped it and it smashed. Instead he just began to follow, feeling oddly good.

‘Hey, mister,’ the cashier called him back

Here we go, he thought. Time to pay.

Instead she held out an envelope. ‘You left this.’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘Are you Pug?’

‘Yes.’

She held up the envelope. His name was written in neat block capitals on the front.

Pug took the envelope from the woman, wondering what on Earth it could be. It felt like a book, or a pamphlet. It was a mistake. He was about to hand it back, when he realised the woman had gone and the cash desk was unmanned.

‘Come on, dad!’ Bull waved at him. ‘We need to get home and get carving.’

All the way back, Pug wondered what had happened. One minute he was on edge, well capable of losing it. The next it was all zen and smiles. He shook his head in wonder. And the kids. They were teasing each other, but neither was being wound up by it. Miracles

Indoors, the pumpkin sat on the counter while they had a bite to eat.

‘What’s in the envelope, dad?’

He’d forgotten about that. Pulling it from his jacket he ripped the lip and pulled out a thin booklet. On the cover was a pumpkin, much like the one on the counter under the heading

Control of the mind through the eyes of a master.

Bit weird, Pug thought as he opened the cover. He couldn’t help laughing. Exercise one: carve the pumpkin. That was it?

Scottie read over his shoulder. ‘It tells you how, dad. We need a knife.’

‘On it,’ Bull jumped up and pulled open the cutlery drawer. ‘Here.’ He offered Pug a short wooden handled knife Pug had never seen before.

‘Was that in the drawer?’

‘Yeah. On top.’

Pug was about to argue. It must have been at the back, something he’d never noticed after Angela left. But the moment of bubbling irritation died as his attention caught sight of the pumpkin, held by Scottie.

Bull turned the page. ‘Let’s follow the instructions.’ He pointed at the next picture. ‘It looks like that old man’

Pug stared. It did though how you could make a large Orange pumpkin look like a gnarly decrepit old shop keeper was beyond him.

Pug considered himself to be lacking in any artistic skills, but following the instructions proved to be surprisingly easy. In no time they had something that looked unexpectedly similar to the picture.

‘We need a candle,’ Scottie announced.

‘There’s a tea light under the sink,’ Bull announced.

How did he know that, thought Pug. He doubted Bull had ever looked under the kitchen sink. But the boy was right.

As Pug lit the little light and stood back, Scottie moved to turn off the lights. Warm beams poured out of the eye slits and mouth.

For a moment Pug felt a deep warmth begin to fill him, much like the candle filled the centre of the pumpkin. He felt drawn to it, wanted to touch it, sense it…

Then it spoke…

Posted in #blogbattle, creative writing, miscellany | Tagged , , , | 20 Comments

The Little Tittweaking Film Festival

Long time since I’ve done a 99 word Carrotranch prompt so here we go again.

The Little Tittweaking Film Festival

Little Tittweaking nestled in the bosom of the countryside, happily anonymous. When Colonel Daub Byzantine retired to the old vicarage, he and Maple Byzantine hoped to join a lively community. They were wrong.
‘What shall we do?’
‘A film festival. Everyone can make their own.’
The other residents weren’t sure, but mucking in was expected.
‘Just supply your films by the closing date. We’ll do the rest.’
It was therefore with some surprise that the Byzantines received the entry forms covered in a variety of dusts, condensations and mucuses .
‘Not everyone sees films like you do, Daub,’ lamented Maple.

Posted in carrot ranch, creative writing, humour, miscellany | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

Guardian Angles #writephoto

This week’s writephoto has generated this little bit of nonsense…

‘Ok, sonny, so what speed do you call that then?’

Prendegast Toblerone stared at the uniformed hulk looming on the other side of the battered fence with surprise. He was angry and frustrated and the last thing he needed was some jobsworth stopping him getting rid of some of his overwrought emotions. ‘Where did you come from?’

The huge moustachioed man rubbed his gnarly and apparently granite chin thoughtfully. ‘Just now or originally? Because I think origins are tricky.’

Prendegast stopped himself mimicking the man, dropping his hand from his chin, a chin which, even if he lived 100 years would never be considered to be on the gnarly granite spectrum of jaw apexes. ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend.’

‘Offend?’

‘You know, I’m sure you’re British and everything and your heritage is your own affair.’

The man nodded. ‘British? Yes well recently that’s true. I’m more an agglomeration than anything else.’

‘An agglomeration? I’ve not heard that one. Is that like a super mixed race, you know with lots of strands?’

The man shifted weight. As he did so, the sound of pebbles falling made Prendegast look round. He’d been warned this place might be dangerous but he hadn’t considered they’d meant at risk of a land slip.

‘Race, you say? Is that why you were going so fast, young’un? In a race, was you?’

‘I wasn’t going fast. Officer.’

The man’s hand, a huge nobbly thing ran through his hair, followed by a deep – the word ‘seismic’ popped into Prendegast’s head, though he couldn’t have said why – rumbling sound that had to be a laugh, if the rather terrifying grin that accompanied it was any clue. Goodness, thought Prendegast, the man has serious teeth, like… well, yes, like gravestones.

‘Me, an officer? I don’t think so.’

‘But the uniform?’

‘Oh that. It’s more your guardian’s clobber, if you get my meaning. The lads thought it added a certain gravitas. I told them that added gravity was what caused my back problem. Just my joke, you know.’

Not really, thought Prendegast but he didn’t feel inclined to argue. That said, if he wasn’t any sort of police… ‘if you’re not an officer, then by what right can you stop me speeding?’

‘You acknowledge you were speeding.’

‘Hardly.’

‘More than that?’

the man pointed at the sign specifying 5 mph in the red edged circle.

‘Well, yes, probably but that’s just an old sign. It doesn’t mean anything. Not anymore.’

The man took a step forward. He really was huge and as he moved the ground shook in a very unsettling way. ‘Why do you say it doesn’t mean anything? You know what this place is?’

‘A dump?’

The huge man became enormous as he stretched to an unfeasible height and moved beyond looming and entered towering territory. ‘It’s part of the national defences…’

‘Not any more it isn’t.’

The expansion of the man, which Prendegast feared was becoming a danger if he toppled over reversed as quickly as it had started. ‘It ain’t?’

‘You’re thinking about this as an airfield? That ended, what, years ago. In the dark ages. Before Maccy Dees and Strictly.’

More scratching, more disconcerting quarrying sounds. ‘No one said.’

‘You worked here? When it was an aerodrome?’

The man grew a little but stopped, to Prendegast’s relief at merely a small overhang. ‘I was security. No one got past me.’

‘And they left you here? Since what, the 1950s?’

‘I suppose.’

‘Where on earth did you live?’

‘Not so much on as in.’

‘Sorry?’

‘In earth, not on earth. Here,’ to Prendegast’s surprise the man reached forward and ripped out the remnants of the fence and stood back, ‘this way.’

Tentatively Prendegast stepped through the gap. He was always being admonished for his recklessness but curiosity followed him like a sleazy reporter. In the distance, the land spread away across old concrete landing strips, weed blown and crumbling as they were. Immediately in front however was a yawning hole several metres deep that looked like it had just been excavated. The man’s terribly arthritic finger pointed at the chasm. ‘There.’

‘There? You can’t have lived there. No man could survive living in that?’

The man wobbled his head in an acknowledgement of the truth. ‘It’s okay if you’re a troll.’

Prendegast sort of knew laughing at this point wasn’t likely to be welcomed. ‘A troll? The Ministry of Defence employed trolls to guard their aerodromes during the war?’

‘We could hardly fly the planes, could we?’

‘I suppose. And you’ve been here for what seventy odd years?’

‘I’ve no idea. We count in Halleys.’

‘What’s a Halley?’

‘The comet?’

‘Oh that Halley. How did you survive? I mean food and stuff.

The troll’s shoulders gave way a little revealing a different strata. ‘You think we eat people don’t you?’

‘I.. no… the thing is…’

‘Billy goat gruff?’

Prendegast bowed his head.

‘It’s alright. There are a lot of expectation gaps, aren’t there? You’re just exhibiting some standard flesh and blood privilege. You assume that if you were our size and density we’d have to stick away a lot of carbs, like some pan galactic body builder. As I said I’m an agglomeration thus we’re agglomorants. We survive in substrata and absorb the local rock formations.’

Prendegast yawned.

‘Am I boring you?’

‘What, no, not at all.’

‘Good. Originally there were three types of troll. Metamorphic, igneous and sedimentary…’

‘I learnt about them in geography.’

‘They teach trollism?’

‘Not exactly. What are you?’

‘I’m mostly metamorphic. My ancestors migrated on a prehistoric glacier but since I arrived on this landmass I’ve been more and more sedimentary.’

‘I suppose it comes with age. My grandpa is pretty sedimentary these days.’

‘He’s a troll?’

‘He writes pretty stinging letters to the paper about graffiti and the bin collections but he’s not really a troll. What are you going to do? Now you’ve no job?’

‘Oh I expect someone will hire me.’ The troll began to turn away, his rock language suggestion a deep sadness.

‘I’m sorry.’

The troll stopped. ‘What for?’

‘Speeding.’

The troll raised a hand in acknowledgement. He stepped into the fissure and slowly lowered himself. Before he lay down he met Prendegast’s eye. ‘One question.’

‘Yes?’

‘Who won?’

‘Won what?’

‘The war?’

‘At the time, us but looking back, it’s probably a little less easy to say.’

The troll nodded. ‘Perspective. It’s good to have perspective.’ He smiled. ‘There’s hope for you lot yet.’ With a crash he flopped back, the earth and turf displaced by his action falling over him and hiding him completely.

Prendegast straddled his bike. As he peddled away he found himself humming. Odd, he thought that in this day an age it’s a troll who’s cheered me up.

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