February 27, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a golden onion. Any golden onion. One planted or harvested. An onion chopped for a meal. How can you use an onion as a prop in a character’s hand? Go where the prompt leads!
Knowing One’s Onions
The Little Tittweaking’s Fruit and Veg show often produced surprises. Bea Troot won the Wanda Lust Memorial Tooting Rooting category for her Requiem radishes, named when impresario Di O’Reah used these volcanic veg to fuel her Bach From The Arse soirées. Ro Maine protested Chico Rees entry for the Ms Limp Leaves garland arguing they were a trans-salad and not a lettuce from seed. When Pearl Onions displayed her magnificent golden glowing orbs, the press went wild with the headline.
Once again Pearl Onions has proved to one and all the sun really does shine out of her alliums
Thump wasn’t your ordinary canon. Thump had been around. Cast in 1740, as a shiny new gun, he’d joined the Worthy Seaman and travelled the world, defending his men. He loved his gun crew, though all that soft flesh meant they changed often. The good ones oiled and wiped him, understood how salt water stung and sun sucked him dry. They ensured he was protected from hard jolts and metal hammers. In return he hurled himself forward, out of his gun port as he spat those little pips at the French, the Dutch and, especially the Spanish. Crump and Trump, cast in the same foundry had gone, one sunk to the bottom of the Sargasso Sea and the other smithereened in a battle with pirates off Florida, but new canon were always arriving, chirpy hollows of iron keen to get pumping, wanting the experience the searing heat of the gunpowder, the dizzying rush of the expulsion. Thump would tell stories of battles fought, of miraculous escapes when the ships caught fire or some other canon ball almost destroyed their gun deck.
He’d survived the change to ironclads, been adapted to fight on a gun carriage and travelled Europe and North Africa, blasting at hills and stone forts. There was a satisfaction in watching walls crack and crumble but he hankered for the easy life at sea, the softness of the waves against the ruts and holes of the roads much travelled. And the company. He missed the camaraderie of the gun deck.
As the nineteenth became the twentieth century, Thump was converted again, this time a step up to perform ceremonial duties, for Royal birthdays, national days of celebration and visiting dignitaries. He’d been admired by decorated veterans, aloof princelings and sticky-fingered children.
And now here he was, fully retired and settled into his own rampart, back where he was forged so many years ago.
As he contemplated the horizon, he felt content. Life had been good and now, for the first time in centuries he didn’t have a headache…
Two things had me thinking today. The one year anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine and watching the much lauded film, All’s Quiet On The Western Front.
I read the book at school and it was too heavy going then. I would have understood it better with more years under my belt. The same is true of reading Sassoon and Owen’s poetry.
It’s a terrifically well made, horrific film that captures the futility, inhumanity and mental degradation that war engenders. At the end, there are several scenes around the negotiations for an armistice. In the book and here the Germans are portrayed as desperate to end the conflict, the chief negotiator wanting to stop the killing. The French, opposite the Germans but undoubtedly supported by British and Americans wanted the Germans to agree to the harshest terms and held out. More dying ensued. I don’t know my First World War history well enough to know if this was the dynamic and, any way a rogue German general forces exhausted troops for one final piece of carnage before the 11am ceasefire.
To the Victor, the Spoils. So they say. And in the context of WW1 the victors certainly took the spoils during the Versailles negotiations that led to the ball-busting treaty of the same name. They ruptured German economic strength, took its lands and reparations and demanded it demilitarise. Famously a British MP, Eric Geddes said he wanted to see the German lemon squeezed until the pips squeaked. Revenge, a dish served cold is also best if comprehensive. At least to the Victor.
I don’t necessarily blame the politicians at the time; given the anger at the war and its consequences they wouldn’t have seen any other way and therein lies a recurrent problem with large conflicts.
It’s easy and right to abhor what the Germans did during the 30s and 40s but creating the environment in which they could was at least in part down to Anglo-French retribution in 1919. A more magnanimous peace and how likely is it that far right governments would have arisen?
This famous cartoon appeared in the Daily Herald in May 1919. It’s difficult to see clearly but the crying baby is a 1940 child.
After WW2, it is possible we might have gone the same way, but a combination of the divvying up of central and Eastern Europe at Yalta and Potsdam and the stagnation of the Cold War coupled with the regenerating impact of the Marshall Plan and that same outcome didn’t happen. Not so obviously, at least.
What did was the abrasive tensions across Europe that led, some might say with the same prescience as above to the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989 and 1990.
So many peoples rejoiced. Understandably. So much help was offered to nations, now independent who were incorporated into NATO, the EU and the broad church of western democracies.
The one obvious example where that didn’t happen was Russia. It was left to its own devices, the creator of its own demise as many who’d suffered from the controls imposed by Moscow saw it. So what if get rich quick oligarchs dissipated its natural wealth? Why shouldn’t we – I’m looking at you, City of London – have a slice or two of that pie?
Whose pie was it? Ordinary Russians, not the exploiters, of course but who cares, eh?
I’ve bugger all sympathy for anyone in any sort of position of power in Russia and the reactions are entirely understandable. But, and this is the thought process I’ve been going through what if we’d been more generous, more understanding? Really sought to help, to shore up the best influences in Russia and not encourage the exploitation. Would the context for Putin’s rise have existed?
To the Victor the Spoils, only history suggests the Victors always spoil things. When, one day, soon I hope, Ukraine kicks some serious Russian arse and takes back control of its borders and we all rejoice and start planning how we are going to help rebuild Ukraine, can we not repeat the past? Can we be generous to the vanquished too? After all, it might just be in our best interests.
February 20, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about what it means to be a literary artist. You can pull from your own experience, re-imagine the idea, or embody something else in a character. Be playful, go deep, and let your story flow. Go where the prompt leads!
Art For Art’s Sake
Little Tittweaking was considered to be cultured. Rene Sance created infeasible clouds and fat babies from recycled party balloons and out of date puff pastry; Pru Rafael-Light woke up regularly to smell the coffee only to be disappointed; Art Deco took peeks into the future; and the recently ennobled Sir Realism studied the ineffable infinity of melted camemberts and the impact of salivating cheese on the fecundity of granite. The most famous though was Libby Rarian, the self proclaimed bookmeister who, after too much Jane Austen’s Old Peculiar took umbrage and painted the town read. Umbrage sued and won.
It was probably 1961. It was cold and if not Christmas Eve then very close.
Back then, the attitude towards dogs, at least in our part of north Surrey, perched on the edge of the North Downs’ escarpment was lax by what passes as sensible ownership these days.
The family pet was a big boxer, a soft hearted, hard headed, constantly drooling mutt whose size and strength and saliva tended to make people cautious about approaching. I may be misremembering but in my mind’s eye Punch was let out every morning after breakfast. Off he’d go, roaming the local streets, fields and woods of Upper Caterham, Kenley, and Whyteleafe until he came home for more food. No one objected I think and while he might have ranged a distance occasionally, mostly he stayed close.
The point, though, is his absence for a few hours wasn’t a worry. However, if he failed to return for food, something was wrong. This particular day, it was early evening when his absence was noted. ‘Don’t worry,’ said Dad. Even then, we knew better than to take his assurance at face value. Eventually, Dad was persuaded to go and look. When he returned empty-handed, their worries were self-evident. ‘There was a dog, yowling, but it wasn’t Punch,’ he confided.
Even with so few cars, there must have been a worry about an accident. He had a collar tag. Wouldn’t someone have rung?
In the morning, Dad was off again. Eventually, he turned up at house with oddly yowling unPunch-like sounding dog. ‘Excuse me, that dog…’
‘Not mine. Bloody thing is salivating. All the time.’
‘Can I look?’
‘Be my guest, but if he eats you, it’s your lookout.’
Of course, it was Punch, poor thing. The man followed Dad, and once the master and hound relationship was established, the man came close and helped Dad with Pucnh.
‘Stupid ‘appeth’ the man concluded and took a picture, a copy of which he later gave Dad. This…
The history of Anglo-Japanese relations is not something with which I was familiar beyond battling them in WW2. Post war, the reconciliation was clear, but the relationship could never be defined as close.
All that rather overshadowed the contacts and unexpected years of friendships from the opening up of Japan in the mid nineteenth century to the 1930s.
Before the Shogun generals took Japan into isolation, our trading relations with Japan in the 17th century were important and growing.
All this history was beautifully reflected in the Japan exhibition where the many gifts received by the Royal Family were displayed.
Early on, there was a full suit of Samuri armour with its tortoise helmet and lacquered panels that were gifted to James 1st in 1613 at the point we signed a trading treaty with the Royal Household in Tokyo.
There was the most delicate porcelain, delightful weaving, classic screens, and block prints.
There were multiple items of weaponry and cabinet wear.
And the story of the growing friendships between Royals.
The thing about this relatively small exhibition is the level of skills on display. Everything is in miniature, balanced and redolent of the most amazing patience.
My one criticism is that the low level of lighting, which may be necessary to preserve some of the exhibits, makes ones appreciation of what’s on display somewhat compromised. Which is such a shame.
One thing I would avoid, if you go, is the shop. The exquisite tat on sale may make a lot of money, but seriously? When did we sink so low?
There’s no cafe, though – and I can’t speak for the ladies – the gents are a class apart. I can’t remember if I’ve ever been confronted by a urinal framed in sculptured mahogany. As someone once said to my father, when he found himself in a similarly opulent gents in the House of Lords following a dinner ‘the trouble with performing in such grand surroundings, is that it makes your little fella look distinctly shabby’.
I doubt the Japanese had that problem. Nothing about them is in the slightest bit shabby.
This week’s prompt from #writephoto has me channelling some domesticity…
‘Rip? Did you know there’s a camel in the kitchen?’ Sandy Cove stood by the door and stared – goggled might better suit her expression – at the placid pachyderm which chewed methodically while eying Sandy with what she considered to be an unnecessarily supercilious gaze. ‘Did you hear me, Rip? I said…’
Rip Tide bounded into the hall and stood behind his partner. He put his hands on her shoulders and leant in close to her left ear. ‘Beautiful, isn’t she?’
Sandy’s own gaze dropped to the ruminating ruminant’s back legs. ‘Unless that’s a novelty bumbag, I’d say it’s a boy. More to the point what’s he doing in our kitchen?’
Rip, from whom a little of the joy of the moment had been expunged by Sandy’s perspicacity, moved past her and squatted down. He eyed the bewhiskered testes, managing to resist the urge to bang one against the other, as one might have if a Camel’s gonads had been included in Newton’s perpetual motion machine. ‘Bugger it, the sales chappies assured me he was a she. A Sheba, he said. That’s a girl’s name, isn’t it?’ Most of his confidence that had appeared welded to his smile when he’d heard Sandy’s first question was now breaking free and beginning its long descent to the floor.
‘It doesn’t matter if it’s a girl camel, boy camel or currently considering a reassignment to a zebra, what in blue blazes is it doing here?’
Rip straightened up, wondering if you might spay a camel and if the cost was dependent on the pendulosity of the parts removed. ‘I’d say he was thinking.’
‘Stop being obtuse. You are clearly not surprised to find this thing…’
‘…find this thing,’ she repeated with more force, though some of her indignation was morphing into anxiety at the way the camel looked at her. Like it understood. ‘Find her here. So maybe you can explain her presence.’
Rip fiddled with his expression and settled on a I know it might be too early but I thought it was time face. ‘After Pendragon passed, I know we said we needed space…’
‘Rip, please tell me you haven’t…’
‘And you said you couldn’t have another dog after Drool but everyone wants… needs a pet…’
‘Are you out of your mind?’
‘… and Cliff mentioned his Uncle Pete’s bactrian had pupped…’
‘I will kill Cliff Erosion…’
‘… and maybe we’d like to have one of the litter. So I said yes.’
‘You said yes. Like we have space here, in a two bedroom semi for a camel. It’s not even fully grown is it?’
‘No. It’s more fun having them small and watching them grow.’
‘That might work for a soft fruit bush, but a camel… you’re potty, utterly barking.’
Rip’s expression took on a taking the positives vibe. ‘That’s another plus. She doesn’t bark, unlike Drool. Though…’ a small grey cloud scudded across his face, ‘she does spit.’
‘Spit! You are kidding me?’
As if the reinforce the I’m listening fear of a moment before, Sandy watched in horror as Sheba rolled her bottom jaw, pursed her lips and with a smack that could have brought the social workers from several counties running spat into the sink with a ringing thwack.
Rip laughed nervously. ‘Quite a deterrent to any burglar, don’t you think?’
‘I suspect merely being confronted by a camel would put of most house breakers.’