The Advent Calendar #shortstory

I was over at Solveig’s blog with an advent calendar post about, erm, an Advent Calendar. It’s a longish short story which I’ve replayed here since I’m having problems with links. Please visits here (if I can get it to work!) for more of her lovely posts…

‘What is it, Mum?’ Emily Smith, fourteen, looked up from her book.

Gilly, her mother, said, ‘A parcel from Uncle Augustus.’

‘Who is Uncle Augustus?’

‘I don’t really know. Someone on your father’s side. Do you remember the man you said looked like Gandalf? At Ben’s funeral?’

Emily nodded. She had wanted to speak to him, but there hadn’t been a chance on that awful day.

Gilly went on, ‘He said he’d be in touch with a little something.’ She pulled open the letter attached to the parcel.

‘What’s he say, Mum?’

Dear Both. I’m so sorry to miss you this Christmas,but I’ve had this curio for a while, waiting for the right home. Perhaps Emily can find out its secrets.

Emily moved to her mother’s side as she ripped off the paper. In moments they were staring at a dark wooden box, two feet square and six inches deep. On one side there were twenty-four little knobs in three rows of eight but none moved.

Gilly said, ‘It’s like an advent calendar but with one square missing.’ She left Emily trying to work out how it opened.

*

Three days later, on the first of December, Emily woke with a start; her alarm said just after midnight. Had she heard a noise? Lying in the dark, straining to hear, she realised she was extraordinarily thirsty. She needed a drink and soon. Pulling on her dressing gown, she crept down to the kitchen.

As she gulped the cold water she leaned back against the sink. Uncle Augustus’ present sat propped against the back door; it looked like her mother intended to throw it out.  Emily put down her cup and went to retrieve it.

It was as she picked it up she noticed that, just above the first knob, a gold “1” had appeared. It looked like fresh paint. Emily smiled. Her mother had worked out the secret and painted on a “1”. She wondered what was inside.

She had no intention of opening it then and there, but a surge of curiosity made her run her finger down the “1”. Immediately the drawer sprung open.  Inside was a small wooden brick on which was written: Make a wish

Emily’s smile broadened. ‘Get you, Mum. My bodyweight in chocolate, of course.’

She had barely said the word “chocolate” when she heard thumps outside the kitchen window, like someone was throwing something against the glass. Nervous now, she pulled up the blinds. Rectangular packets hit the glass and bounced onto the flower bed and lawn just outside the kitchen.

Surprised rather than frightened, she hurried to the back door and threw it open. Something caught her on the cheek and dropped at her feet. It was her favourite bar of chocolate. All around dozens of bars of chocolate lay and more fell from a murky, weirdly lit sky. It was quite literally raining chocolate bars.

Emily didn’t stop to wonder how her mum had arranged this or the damage the bars were doing to the sodden lawn and flower beds.  She knew she had to start collecting her prize. A flash of light drew her gaze to her right: the wheelbarrow. Of course.

It took her a sweaty forty minutes but, eventually, she had collected them all. She thought about bringing the barrow inside, but it was then she saw the mud on her slippers and pyjamas and the damage done to the garden. ‘Oh god, I’m in so much trouble,’ she said to herself. Quickly she wheeled the barrow to the shed, pushed it inside and covered it in an old blanket. Somehow she’d sort out a better home tomorrow.

Back inside Emily washed as best she could and changed into clean pyjamas. The dirty clothes and slippers went in the washing basket. She’d worry about them in the morning too. Exhausted, she glanced at the bedside clock; it said three am. Tomorrow was going to be awful.

*

‘Emily? Come on sleepy. Time to get up.’

Emily felt as if she hadn’t slept and peered at the clock. It said seven thirty but surely it couldn’t be already. Just then she heard her mother scream and swear. Feeling sick she grabbed her dressing gown and hurried downstairs.

Her mum stood at the kitchen window staring into the garden. ‘Someone’s vandalised our lawn. Why would anyone do that?’

Emily thought about the chocolate bars and the box. She wanted to say something but didn’t know where to start. The best she could manage was, ‘I’ll help you tidy up, when I get back after school. If you like.’

Her mum smiled and kissed her on the head. ‘That’s a lovely thought. Let’s worry about it later. We both need to get a move on.’

Emily forced down breakfast. She wanted to have a look in the shed but there just wasn’t time. She would have to be patient.

*

Emily didn’t get back from school until after it was dark; there was a house meeting and then her bus was cancelled. She was just pulling on her gumboots when her mother appeared from upstairs. ‘What are you doing, Emily?’

‘I said I’d help with the mess.’

Her mother tutted and turned back to the kitchen. ‘That’s a lovely idea but it’s too dark. Come on, what say you we make pancakes?’

Emily looked longingly at the back door and, reluctantly turned to follow her mother.

The next morning Emily could barely sit still and eat some toast. She had to look and see if that chocolate was real. Finally her mother went upstairs to find her umbrella and clean her teeth. As soon as she had shut the door to the kitchen, Emily raced out of the back door and down the garden.

She pulled open the shed door and gasped; inside the wheelbarrow sat where she had left it. She yanked away the old picnic blanket she had thrown over it and goggled; there it was, her bodyweight in chocolate. On top sat the box. Emily glared at it.

Outside her mother’s “really not happy voice” floated down the garden. ‘Emily Smith, what are you doing?’

Emily, however was staring at the box. The Number “1” had gone; instead the second knob had “2” by it. She touched the drawer and it sprang open. Another wooden brick with Make a wishon it appeared. She could hear her mother’s squelching footsteps getting very close. She glanced at the brick. You might make her friendlier, she thought.

‘Wowza,Ems. You got chocolate? Sick.’

Emily frowned and gawped at her grinning mother as she dropped to her knees and dug her hands into the barrow’s contents. Her smart wool skirt sunk into the mud that had fallen off the tyre when Emily had hidden the barrow the night before. ‘Mum? You sound weird.’

‘Hey,it’s Gilly, silly.’ Her mum giggled. ‘Gilly-Silly. That’s soooo neat. BFFs right?’

‘Mum!’

‘I just came to say we need to get going but, hey, what say you we have a duvet day? Just us girls and this chocolate feast? Laters, we can go get our nails done at the new nail bar and then go and buy those sick shorts you saw Thursday?’ She tore off the wrapping paper from a bar. ‘This is my all time fav choc. Did you know?’ She tried to say something else but her chocolate-filled mouth prevented any coherent sound.

Emily tugged her jacket. ‘Mum you’re getting filthy. We need to get going.’

Her mother shook her head violently. ‘Chocolate. Need chocolate. Now, now now. Choc choc choc…’

‘I have to get the bus, mum. You going to be ok?’

This time there was a vigorous nodding. ‘Choc choc ch…’ which turned to mumbles as more chocolate was stuffed into her mother’s mouth.

Emily backed out slowly. Her mother had begun ripping open wrappers at random and and cramming in yet more chunks.

‘Stop it, Mum.’

Her mother spat the contents into her palms and sneered at Emily. ‘Boring. Bet I can eat more than you.’ She glanced at Emily out of the corner of her eye before she planted her face in her hands and started slurping up the regurgitated gloop, brown liquid oozing out the sides. Gilly wiped her face, smearing it everywhere and then reached out with her chocolaty hands apparently intent on making palm prints on Emily’s school uniform.

Emily turned and rushed away. She had to be at school. She’d call her mum when she had break. Make sure she was alright.

When she called her mother didn’t answer so she rang her neighbour who sent Emily a text.

Your mum is in the garden shed. She sounds happy.

As soon as she got back from school, to a dark house, Emily shot down the garden with a torch and pulled open the shed door. It looked like there had been a chocolate explosion, in the middle of which her mother lay on the filthy picnic blanket, groaning. She was surrounded by wrappers.

‘I’m dying.’

‘Come inside,Mum.’

It took Emily an age to half carry, half drag her mother indoors; on the way she threw up over the roses and giggled and then vomited again over a tub of pansies. Emily made her some hot water and lemon, pulled off her filthy clothes and helped her to bed, where she lapsed into a deep sleep. Emily asked her neighbour if she thought her mum was ok and was told she looked like “she might have had too much of a good thing” and to leave her alone with lots of water and a bucket.

She made herself toast and went to bed early.

Emily slept badly and once again woke with a start just after midnight. Something made her go to her mother’s room. Glancing in, she could see her mother clutching the advent calendar box to her chest. She wondered how it had got there because the last time she’d seen it it was in the shed. As she eased it out of her mother’s grasp, she saw a gold “3” was glowing from the third drawer.  She touched the number. Clutching the Make a wishbrick, she said, ‘I want my old mum back.’ She stared at Gilly. After a moment her mother began snoring. Emily sighed; Mum was back all right.

*

Gilly looked awful at breakfast. ‘I had the weirdest dreams, about you and me and chocolate.’

‘Shouldn’t eat cheese late at night, Mum.’ Emily forced a smile and promised herself she’d leave the advent calendar alone.

Her mother blinked several times. ‘Do you know why my suit is filthy?’

Emily couldn’t meet her mother’s gaze.

*

All that day she thought about the calendar. She awoke again, at just after midnight and saw the box had appeared at the end of her bed. She refused to go near it. The next night she got up and looked at the drawers. The “4” of the night before had gone but the “5” had appeared and it seemed the gold paint was even brighter. The urge to tap the number and make a wish was so strong. Could she think of a wish that it wouldn’t misconstrue? She forced herself to ignore it, sticking it in her sock drawer at the back.

The next night, when she woke at midnight – it was getting so she felt like she hadn’t slept so sure she was that she would wake –  the box had somehow been placed by her bed and the “6” had replaced the “5”.  Seeing it she had to look away; it was so bright it burnt her eyes, like if you look directly at the sun. She just knew she couldn’t let it get any brighter so she went to the bathroom and splashed water on her face. As she did so, she saw, with horror, a large spot had erupted on her chin. That would do it. Turning quickly, she went back to the box, tapped the number and held the Make a wishbrick.  ‘No more spots,please.’ She added, ‘On my face.’

She touched her skin as she returned to the mirror. The spot had gone,but her face felt odd. She soon saw why and reeled back. Instead of her usual pale complexion her face was covered in red and white diagonal stripes. Tears sprung to her eyes. She hated this calendar. She hadn’t asked for stripes so why did it choose stripes in place of spots?

The next morning, her mother was horrified when she caught sight of her and asked her if she’d used some new cosmetic that had caused such a bizarre reaction. Emily told her she had and asked to stay off school, which her Mum agreed to, reluctantly. She wanted to take Emily to the doctors, but Emily made her promise to wait a day.

She drifted off into a strange sleep and woke as if poked at midnight. The “7” glowed softly. Emily hurried to tap it, took out the Make a wish brick and wished her old face back, spot and all. Her fingers touched the zit on her chin; never had she loved any blemish as much as she did this one.

*

By now she was certain it was dangerous to leave the wishes. But if things went wrong she hated waiting a day to be able to correct it. For brick “8” she woke at midnight but ignored the box, setting her alarm for 11.30 pm, nearly a whole twenty-four hours later. Sure enough, the “8” still glowed. Taking a deep breath, she tapped it, took the Make a wish brick and said, ‘Please make me happy.’

For the next thirty-two minutes she felt she would explode. Laughter couldn’t escape quickly enough. Her throat hurt and her eyes ached as she tried not to wake her mother. She saw the “9” appear and laughed louder. Somehow she wrestled the box to the floor as hysterics overwhelmed her and threw her against the table. Almost by accident her finger touched the number, the drawer opening and a Make a wish brick tumbling out. She wished herself back to her old self and immediately fell asleep.

*

The next day she woke with a start. Everything ached, and bruises were beginning to show on her arms. She stared at the box, once more perched on the table. Leaving it seemed to intensify the results, but asking for anything was a disaster. What was she going to do?  Once again, she left the box alone; then, at 11.50 the next day she tapped the “10”.  Taking a deep breath and holding the box as well as the brick, she wished her room to be decorated for Christmas. Instantly everything started to be wrapped in gaudy paper with lights emerging like snakes and twisting round her chair and table and then her legs. Baubles and tinsel were next. She gripped the box hard, and trying to swell the growing panic and she was covered in more and more decorations, her finger pressed against the eleventh drawer. As soon as she felt it pop open she wished her old room back to how it was. She was in bed and falling asleep before the last of the glitter and paper had retreated. She was at her wits end and exhausted.

*

She dreaded the following day. As usual she woke at midnight and spent the next seven hours fretting over the “12” that glowed at her. When her alarm went off and she got up for school,  she was tired and nearly desperate. In the kitchen, her mother looked at her with worry across her face. ‘You look awful. Are you going down with something?’

‘I’ll be fine, Mum. I just need to survive until Christmas.’

‘Goodness that sounds dramatic. Shall I give you a lift to school? I need to pop to the shops after anyway.’

‘Thanks,Mum.’

While her mother went to their old car to “warm her up”, Emily collected her books and bag. A noise brought her to her bedroom window. Her mother was standing by her car, red in the face and kicking the tyres. Emily went downstairs to find out what was happening.

‘Sorry,love. Car’s kaput. Sounded terminal this time. Maybe we can get a jump from Mr Grumpy next door. You try and get it to start and I’ll go and speak to him. If that doesn’t work, I’m afraid you’ll have to catch the bus. How on earth will we afford the repairs this time?’

Emily sat and stared at the dashboard. Her eye was drawn to the clock and the “12”  that stood out in gold. That wasn’t the usual colour. She glanced in the mirror to see if Gilly was coming and there, on the back seat was the box, the “12” glowing brightly. It must have reflected off the box onto the clock. Emily twisted round and tapped the number. If the car was buggered as Mum said, what harm could this wish do, she thought?  She held the Make a wish brick. ‘Fix Mum’s car.’ Surely this can’t go wrong?

Emily stared as all the lights came on on the dashboard. The engine started and began idling easily. The windscreen wipers swished once, clearing the remnants of last night’s rain from the glass.

‘You been taking car repairing lessons?’ Gilly stood by the driver’s door, peering inside her car. ‘It even looks cleaner. Come on. Hop out and I’ll drive you.’

As they drove Gilly fiddled with the dials. ‘What did you do? The interior light and heated seats are fixed too. They haven’t worked in ages.’

*

All day Emily wondered if the car would be ok. When she got home her mother held out a small package. ‘I don’t know how you did it, but that car is like new. You have miracle hands. Thanks, love.’ Inside was a small silver necklace. ‘Early present.’

*

That night Emily had a mad idea. As usual she woke at midnight. She touched the “13”. This had better not be an omen,she thought. Then, ‘Get rid of Mum’s curly fringe.’ Gilly hated the way her fringe curled, whatever she did to it.

In the morning, Emily waited for her mum to appear. She seemed to be spending ages in the bathroom. When, finally, she came into the kitchen Emily said, ‘What have you done to your fringe, Mum?’

Gilly shook her head. ‘Nothing. It’s… straight.  The curl’s gone. I’ve been wishing it away for thirty years and at last someone has listened.’

‘It looks great, Mum. I must dash.’

*

Emily could barely contain herself. She now understood. Wish for something for herself and it went horribly wrong; wish for others and it worked. She spent the day working out what she might do with the remaining wishes. They couldn’t be dramatic, or people would have too much of a shock. Part of her wanted to wish her dad back to life but somehow, she knew that was going to be a selfish wish and she didn’t dare think how that might come out. Instead she helped her best friend’s mother with her backache, the homeless man with the dog that limped and the shopkeeper whose son had an awful skin problem.

The numbers came and went, and it worked. She actually felt excited. Eventually, the last drawer, number “24” glowed on the box. She knew exactly what she was going to do. It was Christmas Eve, and having hung on all day, as she went to bed, she touched the “24”.  Taking a deep breath, she said, ‘Give Mum whatever she really wants.’

*

Emily slept soundly. On Christmas morning she awoke with a start. She heard her mum in the kitchen singing along to a Christmas song. Grabbing her dressing gown, she bounded down the stairs. ‘What did you get? What was it?’

‘I’m sorry?’

‘Didn’t you get the thing you want most?’

Gilly looked confused and then smiled. ‘Silly, I’ve got that already.’ She hugged her daughter. ‘You.’

Posted in guest post, miscellany, short story | Tagged , | 22 Comments

Dark and Light, Black and White #flashfiction #morganandlogan #carrotranch

More thoughts from the Numpty Dumpty in chief, Morgan and his loyal sidekick and long-suffering friend Logan…

‘Amanda’s a dark one.’

‘As in?’

‘Sorry?’

‘Do you mean she’s mysterious, or you’re being politically incorrect about her racial characteristics or she’s the primordial, sapient, cosmic force of evil.’

‘Probably, though the last one’s a stretch; it’s more she can be a bit of a pain if I forget she likes her coffee black.’

‘Or dark?’

‘You wouldn’t say that.’

‘Why not? If you want a room dark you get blackout curtains.’

‘Are thin curtains whiteout then?’

‘No, that’s a bad snow-storm.’

‘I’m lost.’

‘That’s because going inside your head is always like going into the dark, Morgan.’

November 29, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the phrase “into the dark.” What must a character face? Write about an encounter, journey, relationship, or quest. Follow the ship’s lights on gloomy seas. Go where the prompt leads you.

Posted in carrot ranch, creative writing, flash fiction, logan and morgan | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

The Dangerous Art Of Talent Shows #flashfiction

DS Percy Worple nodded to DC Kate Perkins who waited by the entrance to the Cabaret Lounge.

‘What’s the story?’

‘Not sure. Caller said something about the Crimea and someone being cold blooded.’

‘Russian mafia killing? Just what we need.’

Kate titled her head to a poster. ‘It’s meant to be a Magical Talent Show.’

Percy wrinkled his nose. ‘Ok. Let’s find out.’

Inside the front door the officers showed their warrant cards to the white faced doorman who couldn’t speak.’

‘You ok?’ To Kate he looked frozen. She had to resist the urge to touch his face.

His eyes directed them towards the club room.

Percy strode ahead. ‘Pretty undemonstrative.’

‘More like petrified.’

They glanced at each other and squared their shoulders. Inside the tables and chairs were randomly scattered. Glass crunched under their feet. To their left a crowd of terrified faces peered over the bar like targets at a fairground.

On the stage, sitting on a stool in the spotlight, a man with a wand and wearing slightly tired looking evening dress appeared to be talking to a six foot long lizard. Only the reptile had the face of the manager.

Percy looked from one to the other. ‘What on earth happened?’

‘I was taking audience suggestions for one part of my act. Novelty chimeras. Someone said make him a lounge lizard. So I did.’ He tried a smile. ‘It will wear off. Eventually.’

Kate bent to the manager. ‘You ok? Anything we can get you?’

The manager flicked out his tongue. ‘I’m a bit peckish, what will all this changeling malarkey.’

Kate looked at Percy who stood back and raised his hands. ‘Hey, I’m the one who’s the sergeant here. I’ve no flies on me.’

Posted in creative writing, flash fiction | Tagged | 8 Comments

Cinderella And The Ubiquitous Uber #writephoto #flashfcition

‘Oh bloody hell.’

Cinderella stuck her head out of the coach window. ‘What’s wrong?’

‘What’s wrong? What’s wrong? Where is this bleeding castle?’

‘How do I know? I’ve had my head up a chimney for 16 years. How am I…?’

The horse stamped its foot. ‘You said it was just over the hill. Well, it’s me what’s over the bloody hill, pulling this useless vegetable…’

‘Hey, mind your manners.’

‘Oh come off it.’ The horse pulled a sick face. ‘How can a coach talk?’

‘You’re a fine one. Whoever heard of a talking horse?’

‘I didn’t want to talk, did I? I didn’t want to be a horse. I didn’t want to be out in this bloody snow. There I was happily nicking some grain and that old bag…’

Cinderella glanced around anxiously, ‘Hush. That was a Fairy Godmother.’

‘A Fairy Godmother? As in there’s more than one?’

‘Has to be,’ intoned the coach. ‘I mean they’re pretty ubiquitous in fairyland so..’

The horse laughed. ‘Where does a vegetable learn vocabulary like ‘ubiquitous’?’

‘Oh go on, sneer away. I’m not one of your mindless root vegetables. I watch, see. I listen.’

‘Yeah and apparently you speak all of which makes you a loony. Schizo-rhizome syndrome, if you ask me.’

‘Who,’ sniffed the coach, asked you?’

‘Exactly my point. No one asked.  Oh it’s all very well for that tweenie maid, getting her moment in the sun…’

‘As if. It is bloody cold.’

‘Yeah, sorry, bad choice of metaphor.’

‘More a figure of speech than a metaphor.’

The horse nodded. ‘You’re pretty good for a mad fat carrot.’

‘I’m a Herculaneum Pumpkin if you must know, one of the Dolomite Squashes.’

‘Oh, get you. Well I’m a working dormouse who needs his sleep but what do I get? 50,000 volts up my arse and a spell pulling Mr. Podge the Pumpkin. Fairy Godmother. More like Freaky Godfather. The woman’s a monster.’

‘Do you mean mobster?’

‘Oh very drole. Look girlie. Me and the boys will take you to that corner over there and if there’s no castle you can walk.’

‘But I can’t walk. I have glass slippers.’

The horse squeezed his eyes shut. ‘You’re wearing glass footwear? Are you mental? It’s a ball you’re going to? Not some arty-farty glazier’s convention. If you want to nab a prince, take my word and get yourself some DMs. The boys will be utterly potted and if you’re sporting glass a couple of turns on the Viennese waltz and he’ll have lacerated his instep. Did your wonderful Fairy Godbollock give you them?’

‘Yes, she said he’ll fall in love with my feet so my shoes had to be see through.’

‘Leaving aside the fact that the woman should know better than pandering to some royal fetishist’s foot fancy, why not go bare foot?’

‘Oh no, I must have heels. It’s in all the manuals on how to win a prince.’

‘Well, whatever the merits of all this crystal cobblers, I’m stopping by the next stand of trees.’

‘Oh please, I really do need to be dropped off at the front door. And you’ll need to be ready to dash away so being by the door is pretty essential.’

‘Dash away? What’s all that about? You know anything about this, coach boy?’

‘Not me. I was told to go where you pulled me.’

‘Right. Thing is, girlie…’

‘It’s Cinderella.’

‘’Right. Thing is girlie…’

‘Are you always this patronizing?’

‘Hello? I think we’ve established I never exactly chose this gig. If I have to pull this lump of pith around…’

‘Hey, stop being so Legumist.’

‘Oh do shut up. See, once I’ve dropped you, I’ve another fare over in Fairytown then there’s a quick run round the magical forest and…’

‘But Bunty said…’

‘Bunty? No, I don’t want to know.’

‘Bunty said I need to be back under the duvet with cocoa and the latest Joan Collins by midnight or we’ll all turn back.’

‘What into mice?’

‘Yep?’

‘Geez. Seriously?’

‘Fraid so. It’s in her T&Cs.’

‘No one reads T&Cs.’

‘Your bad.’

‘You think? Out you hop.’

‘Here? It’s a foot deep in snow.’

‘Look, We’re what? Four, five miles from home? If me and the boys suddenly turn back into mice, how do you rate our chances? Alright for you. All that cleaning, going up ladders, lugging coal about. Your thighs are strung like an archer’s bow. Nope, not risking it.’

‘But what do I do?’

‘You’re sixteen, right? On a night out? Do what everyone else does? Grab an Uber.’

This is in response to Sue Vincent’s latest #writephoto

Posted in #writephoto | Tagged , , , | 40 Comments

Life? Pah, You Couldn’t Make It Up #philosophy

geoff-and-jenz

This was me, two years ago. Six years old, again. Now, two years on and I’m eight today, so, utilizing the patented Le Pard Failsafe Body Clock that takes the digits of your years on the planet, adds them together and expects you to think like that person, where do I stand? Well if I could ask my eight year old self what I thought about LUE (Life, Universe, Everything) I’d like to hope some of the below would have been his aspirational philosophy.

I’m not someone taken much by grand schemes, anything organised or supernatural or indeed much that is not susceptible to ridicule so in writing this I expect to be teased, laughed at and generally the subject of incessant and, hopefully, complete mockery.

As this newly minted eight year old slides down the Grand Bannister of Life hopefully avoiding too many splinters perforating his arse, these are the pillars of my wisdom:

  • be optimistic: not everyone’s cup of tea and I understand that there’s a middle ground haunted by the dullards who count themselves as realists before reaching the mind-grinders and fun-suckers who are pessimists but honestly, it’s one life, it might end any second in a death both tragic and comic so, smile and squeeze out all the juices now. Half full? Half empty? Pah! Tosh!! Morons. It’s overflowing…
  • be resilient: you don’t walk through as many doors as I have without the odd one swinging back and smacking you on the nose. I learnt early that you still need to walk through the door. And if you can avoid kicking the sodding thing on the way past, so much the better because..
  • do not, under any circumstances, beat your head against a brick wall (or kick a swinging door): because, dear reader the wall doesn’t give a hoot and it never hurts the wall. Walk away and find something soft and spongy to argue with, or debate over, because at least there’s some chance the soft and spongy might give a little
  • be generous: my old man had an aphorism for every occasion: here the apposite one would be ‘always leave a man with his trousers’ – never just take, give at least a little and preferably a lot. You’ll be amazed how good it feels and how often there is a surprising return, but…
  • do not give and expect a return: because, if you condition your generosity you are liable to be disappointed. You’re also an arsehole.
  • understand that respect, like trust, is earned: and like wisdom is not a dictate of age, authority, position in life or any other criteria. And the more senior, educated, affluent, or powerful you are the greater the requirement on you to make it easier for others who might be less fortunate or in a less exalted position. I would modify the old adage ‘with power, comes responsibility’ by saying that ‘ with every ounce of power comes a tonne of responsibility’. The scales should not be tipped in favour of those who already have.
  • and what would be my motto? I was once asked what I’d learnt from my father than had stood me in good stead in life and after a little, but some relatively deep thinking, I replied:

speak when you are spoken to and confess your farts

In many ways that sums us both up. And as the saying goes, I didn’t get to where I am today by being somewhere else.

Posted in humour, thought piece | Tagged , , | 34 Comments

Appraising The Big Beasts #workplace #memories #management

Having finished this year’s Nano with a book in first draft form and a few days to spare, I was thinking about the need to maintain one’s self confidence to achieve these sorts of goals. Historically I haven’t been that imbued with enough self confidence but as I age I get better at, at the very least, convincing myself I can do things. It has taken quite a while to get here.

For some it was second nature.

Recently an acquaintance went to a corporate shindiggery-thingy where he met people in the same line of work and engaged in the papier-mâché version of casual sex where people share pieces of cardboard as the end game of the interaction rather than bodily fluids. When we met, shortly after, he recounted one encounter.

Him: ‘I met Rodney Hybrid-Postbox the other day.’

Me: ‘Rodney? Bloody hell, he used to work for me.’

Him: ‘He said. Sends his regards. Seems he’s doing well. He’s a partner in Globetrotter, Pince-nez and Globule.’

Me: ‘I’m not surprised. He always had a certain self confidence. I did wonder where he would end up.’

He was unique, was Rodney. I wrote a year ago about my experiences of appraisals in the work place, here if you are interested. I carried out several hundred in my time but Rodney’s was unique.

One of the things you learn working with a bunch of highly educated (I could say intelligent but that’s not the same thing) hyper sensitive overachievers is that, for the most part, they suffer from various versions of impostor syndrome and need bigging up in some way to maintain their fragile self confidence.

Not Rodney. Rodney was from the generations of associate lawyers who had to complete a self appraisal form against a set of criteria which a partner and he would discuss. Each of the five categories (variously technical competence, time management, team working, client relationships and something else I can’t remember) he would give himself a number out of 5 and then a comment that was meant to identify  strengths and areas for improvement (nothing as undermining as weaknesses, necessarily).

In each case Rodney had a five and nothing he considered needed any work.

At the end of the form there was a box ‘to be completed after your appraisal’. The idea was the partner and the associate would offer up their versions of what worked well and what needed doing and this box would contain the summary, usually some actions.

Rodney listened to my thoughts, nodded at my well-pitched suggestions for things to consider and laughed gently at the idea that perhaps his form suggested a little self awareness wouldn’t go amiss. He promised to give serious thought to what went into the final box.

I received it back inside a day. It said:

Rodney is considered to be probably the best associate in the department.

I went to see him; I ran through the points I’d made and asked if he thought he might reconsider that final box. He agreed he would. He laughed dutifully when I said just taking out the ‘probably’ wouldn’t work.

It took him two days this time. It said

Rodney is considered to be probably the best, if not the best, associate in the department

I knew he would go far; I was just never quite sure in which direction.

Posted in humour, miscellany, thought, work | Tagged , , | 20 Comments

Nano Completion and All That

Ok, so I made it. Nano’s 50,000 words have been banked (indeed it’s reached 68,000) and I now have the first draft of magical realism novel. It’ll take a while to make it ready for publication so, to keep you amused, here is a story for Christmas that I originally penned as part of Nano 2016

Nanthology Ro's prompt

A Truth Universally Acknowledged

This picture prompt was originally Rowena Newton’s at Beyond The Flow 

 I hope she won’t mind me reusing it here

‘So what did he say?’

‘It’s a long story.’

‘Aren’t they all? Go on, try me. It’s Christmas and I’m feeling generous.’

‘He did say we wouldn’t believe him.’

‘So what is it? A badly timed stag prank that has left him superglued to our truck? Some jilted girl tricked him?’

‘He says he’s a real Santa and…’

‘Yeah, come on, Chris. If we had a quid for every loon and lush who gets trolleyed on his stag night and ends up chained to something and then tries on the ‘I really am Santa Claus’ we wouldn’t be playing the lottery, would we?’

‘Did you buy the ticket, by the way?’

‘Don’t tell me you forgot again? It’s your turn. Please don’t…?’

‘Nah just kidding you, chief. Any way, of course he’s making that bit up but you play along, don’t you? Ok Santa, I says, where’s the reindeer and the Sleigh and all that good stuff?  And he says the Sleigh is a mythical construct created to fit a supernatural narrative that accords with the psychological development of the receiving population at the time of the Claus Conundrum.’

‘You’re making that up, too, aren’t you?’

‘Nope. He said no one would believe me so I might as well write it down.’

‘I still don’t believe it.’

‘He said that too. Here…’

‘Ok so he’s some kind of arrogant know-all science pillock who wants to baffle you with gobbledygook. That doesn’t explain what he’s doing here.’

‘Seems something went wrong and he’s now stuck.’

‘Patently. It’s minus five and he’s been freezing his arse off for five hours but that doesn’t explain why he refuses to get out of his stupid suit and come indoors. Just tell him not to be a prick.’

‘Electro-magnetic molecular something or others. That’s why he’s stuck.’

‘Look I’m a fireman not a physicist but even I know you need metal for a magnet to work and that suit is 100% a man-made fire hazard and not metal. Tell him..’

‘I don’t know chief, do I? All I know is he says he can’t leave the truck. You speak to him if you don’t believe me. Oh and he has a bit of a voice thing.’

‘Such as?’

‘It’s sort of squeaky, like he’s ingested helium. He got well angry when I laughed.’

‘Ok. Grab us a coffee and I’ll talk to him. What’s he answer to? Claus? Nicholas? Kris?’

‘Claus. He said he’s not the only…’

‘Just get the coffees.’

*

‘Right, Mr. Claus? I’d like you to come indoors. You’ll freeze out here.  And we could really do with our truck back.’

‘I realise I will have to keep explaining until this is resolved so I apologise if I do it the quick way. There.’

‘But you didn’t say.. Oh.’

‘Precisely. You know don’t you?’

‘How did you do that?’

‘Thought implantation. Unless you block it, it is easy, like hacking an open wifi link.’

‘You’ve been in my mind? Just like that?’

‘It’s much quicker if you think your questions. Go on try.’

‘No look, that’s not right. Stop it.’

‘Hey good. That was a decent attempt at a block. Trouble is you’re not telefit so you’ll be exhausted in about twenty minutes if you keep trying.’

‘Right now you are violating a piece of local government property, interfering with an emergency service and I could have you arrested.’

‘In theory yes. In practice neither you nor I can get me off this blasted truck. As I’ve explained.’

‘No, hold on. Is this ethical?’

‘What?’

‘I don’t know what you are. Some sort of mind-reader, I suppose but don’t you have a code? You know only with consent?’

‘Yes but..’

‘So don’t go inside my head.’

‘It really only applies to Clausians but, given that I shouldn’t be here at all, I will do as you ask. Speaking really is the most old-fashioned way of communicating. Like you using smoke signals. To reiterate, I and my rather pathetic suit are stuck to your truck and there is nothing you or anyone you could call upon who can release me.’

‘If you’re really Santa Claus, then surely you have a way?’

‘Yes and no.’

‘You could be a politician, not answering. Please come inside. We have donuts.’

‘What I meant is, yes, I am what has been called Santa Claus over the centuries since we were first spotted. But no, I’m not some omnipresent pogonophile with a penchant for chimneys and red suits that you think of when the words ‘Santa Claus’ are mentioned.’

‘Coffee chief. How’s it going?’

‘Slowly. I think you should called Sergeant Martin. I’ve a feeling we are going to need the police.’

‘Can you not do that please? I understand how your bureaucratic minds work – you have a problem and rather than try and solve it, you pass it on to some other authority who keep passing it on. It’ll only make it a longer process of rehygening.’

‘Are you going to explain?’

‘I did. Go and think in your recently learnt files and…’

‘Just say it. My officer hasn’t heard it yet.’

‘You won’t be believed when you try and explain what you’ve heard and seen so we will cleanse your memories to avoid problems.’

‘I thought you said it was unethical…’

‘…to interfere with Clausians yes, not lesser species.’

‘Hey, come on.’

‘Oh grow up. What’s the next most intelligent species to humans? Gorillas? Whatever it is, you’re happy to keep them in cages and take them away from where they’re comfortable and poke sticks at them. At least we treat you with respect. We clean your memories for your own safety.’

‘How’s that making us safe?’

‘Do I have to speak? Can’t I..?’

‘Just do it.’

‘Can I have a sip of your coffee?’

‘You like coffee?’

‘Ha so you’re beginning accept I’m not human.’

‘No. You just look like a tea drinker.’

‘Oh give me a break…’

‘Will you explain why we’d be unsafe knowing our minds might be cleansed.’

‘So here we have proof of a higher lifeform who’s been involved in your planet for a couple of your centuries and you think everyone’s going to go, oh goody, now when’s the sport on?’

‘I suppose. Look it’s still hard to believe. Do you meet humans often?’

‘Nope. This is a first for me and there will be a stink.’

‘But it does happen?’

‘That’s why we have this whole Santa Claus thing. Back when we first found Earth we weren’t expecting any sort of intelligent life and it was primitive. But next time, the dinosaurs had gone and we felt guilty we didn’t try and help them. By then humans were developing rapidly. So we stayed, did a few surveys and realised you needed help. Unfortunately our camouflaging wasn’t very advanced and we spent stupid amounts of time trying to clear up. In the end it was easier to spread a story, to explain our presence.’

‘Sleighs? Red suits and beards? What’s that all about?’

‘Back when we started it was just a stranger who gave a present – we gave them things they’d never seen. But as you became more sophisticated and sceptical we added the nonsense. If it sounds childish people ignore it, don’t they? We installed a few implausible stories and allowed the balance of cynics and believers to fight it out.’

‘I need to sit down. You are an alien, aren’t you?’

‘That’s rather pejorative. We are visitors who happen to be a different species.’

‘And you’re here all the time?’

‘Hardly. The last survey was twenty-five years ago.’

‘Why then?’

‘Remember 1989?’

‘Erm? The Bangles, Eternal Flame?’

‘The Berlin Wall came down. The Cold War was getting out of hand so we gave things a nudge. We understand Armageddon and try and prevent it. Same with pandemics.’

‘Weren’t so hot in 1918, were you?’

‘No, we were distracted with elections. The foreign aid budget always takes a hit at these times.’

‘If you’re so all powerful, why are you stuck on that?’

‘We’re not really omnipresent you know, just highly manoeuvrable. And this is a practical joke gone wrong.’

‘How so?’

‘I’m getting married. My friends saturated my brain with pleasure particles and when I was away with the space dust they conjured up this outfit, brought me here and embedded me in your engine.’

‘Yeah, that happened to me, chief, remember. They handcuffed me to a lamppost. ‘

‘Same the universe over, hey, only they changed the molecular structure of my trousers and bottom so I’m actually part of your fire engine. Until I get hold of the genetic coding I’m only going where this vehicle goes.’

‘But why aren’t you hiding from us.’

‘When you were handcuffed to the lamppost, Chris, did they leave a key? A phone?’

‘No way. Stripped me naked, painted my balls blue and left me to rot, really.’

‘Same with me. No way back. So what did you do?’

‘I kicked up such a stink, the police released me to stop me corrupting public morals or something.’

‘And that’s what I’m doing.’

‘Right. I see. Only I don’t actually. You seem to be making no sound and… Oh I get it; you’re screaming inside their heads. That’s…’

‘No I said. We know how to shield ourselves. It’s a first lesson, up there with toilet training and self-replication.’

‘Self..? No, don’t tell me. Look if you can’t scream inside their heads and, frankly you’ll do well to be  heard in the canteen let alone another galaxy with that voice, how will you get them to rescue you?’

‘Oh they’re on their way. I took down my shield so they know I’ve been seen. They’re monitoring everything you’ve said and will be here any time.’

‘They care about you then.’

‘Not so much. What they really want to avoid is the real disaster.’

‘Huh?’

‘Everyone finding out that Santa Claus is real.’

Posted in creative writing, nanowrimo, short story | Tagged , | 34 Comments