The Secret Diary Of A First Time FOF; Part Eleven

This is entirely fiction. Completely. Utterly. Except for any true bits

July 24th. Am just deciding between jam and marmalade when First Of Her Name announces that today we are choosing shoes. Since marmalade is gift from Fiancé’s mother, the choice is essentially made for me.

When I query whether my presence will be required for the acquisition of every item of clothing she will be wearing at the event, she bristles asking, in a voice that had been known to kill viruses and hustle a previously infectious child to school, what on Earth I might mean.

Realising my error – blamed on the sugar rush that choosing jam has induced – I compound the error by attempting a smidgen of levity. ‘Perhaps I can cast an expert eye over your smalls?’

To which the response, accompanying a shaking of the comment section of the Daily Execution, is instant. ‘The last time you bought me underwear you chose something akin to the bag in which my grandmother used to boil puddings during the Depression.’

A trifle harsh, I think coming from the woman who had forced me to channel my inner sausage by attempting the impossible of dressing in Spanx. ‘What sort of shoes are you thinking of, Diamond In My Light Firmament? A discreet heel? Something kittenish? Perhaps an a la mode pair of boots?’

‘Yours, not mine.’

Editor’s note: I was later informed by First Of Her Name that ‘I have my eye on some Jimmy Choos,’ which I mistakenly thought must be some modern piece of rhyming slang. Later I was informed by the Male Heir that James Choos is a bespoke cobblers famed for his vertiginous heels, red soles and a price somewhere between the GDP of Estonia and First Born’s fake tanning bills. Since the engagement these have been astronomical – apparently she is trying to find just the right shade for the big day, which according to the Fiancé is somewhere between a Bedouin tribe-person’s neck and an orangutan.

10.49. I am informed that ‘comfort is not a consideration’ after I try on the sort of footwear one saw in Hammer horror films of the 1960s.

11.29. A telephone debate with the First Born has determined that a light tan ‘verging on deep umber’ is correct. I assume this is some development in the fake tan conundrum but apparently relates to the shade of brown for my shoes.

11.30. Try and fail to hide my low mood at prospect of returning to Torquemada’s Brogue Boutique and the greasily unctuous Tarquin who fawned over us two hours ago. I am saved by the appearance of Dolores, part of the coven to which First Of Her Name belongs who queries our plans. She scoffs at Tarquin, insisting on dragging us to Sons Of Satan who apparently did wonders with Derek’s bunions.

12.30. Shoes chosen, Sir would like to keep the box, thank you and credit card oddly intact, we stand on pavement. I feel indebted to Dolores. Close my eyes and brace for a double mwah air brush only to find myself head butting nothing. Dolores and First Of Her Name are climbing into a cab, waving me goodbye, explaining that Harrods ‘calls’.

1pm. Meet Fiancé and Male Heir in The Gentleman’s Relish for a swift pint during their lunch. Regale them with stories about footwear. Male Heir: ‘Did you remember to put in your orthotics, Dad?’

2.49pm: Sons of Satan do not have right shoes in larger size that will accommodate corrective soles but promise ‘a delivery is imminent’. They agree to let me keep the wrong size on the strict understanding I will not use them or I will have to pay twice. Explain that if I turn up without them tonight I will have so much skin flayed from my flanks that I could tan the result and craft my own set.

3.30pm. Return to pub for consoling solo pint. Am accosted by Tarquin who offers to do something stimulating but illegal in thirty per cent of nations registered with the UN, using only his ebony shoe tree and a tub of Cherry Blossom light tan polish. Tell him that if the replacements do not arrive in time for the Big Day, I’m his man.

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Shoes

I have had a few influences in my writing career but one stands out, and shoes are at the heart of the art. As any one reading my work here, they will know I love taking a well known setting and subverting it, adding more and more surreal yet internally consistent twists to it.

The late, great St Douglas of Adams reached his apogee in the promulgation of the economic theory that is shortly known as the Shoe Event Horizon.

Simply stated, explaining the correlation between the level of economic (and emotional) depression of a society and the number of shoe shops the society has, this states:

as a society sinks into depression, the people of the society need to cheer themselves up by buying themselves gifts, often shoes. It is also linked to the fact that when you are depressed you look down at your shoes and decide they aren’t good enough quality so buy more expensive replacements. As more money is spent on shoes, more shoe shops are built, and the quality of the shoes begins to diminish as the demand for different types of shoes increases. This makes people buy more shoes.

The above turns into a vicious cycle, causing other industries to decline.

Eventually the titular Shoe Event Horizon is reached, where the only type of store economically viable to build is a shoe shop. At this point, society ceases to function, and the economy collapses, sending a world spiralling into ruin. In some cases, the population forsake shoes and evolved into birds.

Genius. But shoes have always been there, front and centre of my existence, setting the pace, showing me the way.

At primary school we had a strict code. Black lace ups in the first two terms and brown sandals in the third. I wore mine out at an expensive rate – I was one of life’s instinctive scuffers – so much so that when a new make appeared claiming that if the shoes wore out in less than six months they would be replaced with a brand new pair, no questions asked, my mother was all over the local supplier like a homing duvet.

Tuff shoes had no idea what circle of hell they had entered. A veritable crucible of experimentation. When, to the incredulity and incipient depression of the store owner, this particular eight year old came back for the fifth time inside six months he offered my mother any pair of shoes in the shop at his expense just for me to go away. The advertised promise was quietly dropped.

My father’s views on shoes were from a very different perspective. Shoes, like hats spoke to a man’s character and class. Not only had they to be clean but also highly polished, a skill he insisted my brother and I had to learn. There were six brushes in the special box we had: two black, two brown and two that seemed just a bit mucky and never had much use (but you had to have them). Each pair comprised one for putting the polish one, and one from polishing it off when it had dried. A rag was then used to buff the toe cap. The highly polished army boot, where the polish is heated with a little water was understandably for young boys, probably a risk too far.

While mum would get the rest of our uniform’s ready, washing and ironing shirts, chipping school lunches off ties and using steamy damp clothes to try and eradicate stubborn and inexplicable stains from shorts and jackets, my father would use Sunday afternoons to cajole us into the act of shoe cleaning. Often he would do his alongside us, a co-conspirator in manliness training.

Later he explained the strict rules of City wear explaining how brown shoes were absolutely not to be seen Monday to Friday and only at weekends, if wearing a sports jacket and cavalry twills. This was as important as wearing the right hat (bowler during the week, trilby at the weekend and never a cap unless attending a sporting event) and furling your umbrella correctly. He was sorely disappointed to find, when I started work in London in 1979 that none of these rules applied anymore.

There was a lot that happened around shoes. Laces broke and had to be replaced by the correct length. The threading pattern was crucial to a gentleman’s sense of place. However, there was nothing throw away about your shoes. If a sole wore out a new one was commissioned to be stitched in place. Latterly rubber heels and soles would be added and Dad had a last, a three footed contraption which he used to affix said rubber accoutrements when needed. If, as I did you walked with a pronation or in-turned toes so that the heel wore unevenly, blakeys might be added providing a satisfying clippety-clip on hard surfaces but, for the unwary, adding a knife like edge when pulling off a reluctant shoe – many is the finger I’ve sliced with a concrete-sharpened blakey.

I had a Geography master at my senior school – also my form teacher in the fifth form – year 11. Mr Meredith was of military bearing with the sort of smudged moustache that might have been the consequence of poor shaving but was surely intended. He stood at the front of the class, hands behind his back, rocking too and fro on the balls of his feet and berating us for not knowing the annual production of soya beans in the Cameroons or the capital of Tristan Del Fuego. I found his footwear utterly fascinating, the toes of his shoes curling upwards at an unfeasibly angle. Each rock back exposed the bottom of his shoes and there always seemed to be something stick there – chewing gun, a label, maybe something written. I may have failed dismally at Geography but I developed the ability of staring at people’s feet into an art form.

This little piece of reminiscence comes courtesy of Irene Waters prompt here; for the record I am a classic baby boomer, born and red in Southern England and wouldn’t have it any other way.

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The Secret Diary Of A First Time FOF; part ten

This is entirely fiction. Completely. Utterly. Except for any true bits

July 17th. Weekend for stag and hen does. Dreading whole affair. Why is the FOF invited? Surely this is a young man’s game.

Much excitement over lunch, with passports checked, Euros counted, medical insurance double checked to ensure it includes stomach pumping. Try and fake enthusiasm but spirit wilting.

Ubers arrive with Fiancé’s parents, the ultimate good news/bad news. Good news is she is going on Hen Do so I don’t have to listen to interminable tales of failed gastric bands and the best way to set marmalade; bad news he isn’t going on Hen Do so I will have to listen to his experiments with Viagra alternates and his music which last time included a four album box set of Roger Whitaker whistling Dame Nelly Melba’s lesser known arias.

Panic. No one has arranged for Spiro Agnew to be looked after. Much wailing and gnashing and imminent risk of head belabourings avoided by my immediate offer to drop out of stag party and dog sit.

First Born cries and kisses me; First Of Her Name thanks me and kisses me (and whispers she will open a new tub of coconut cream on her return). Fiancé looks disappointed as no one to occupy his father. Wave them off.

Order pizza and beer deliveries to repeat at four hourly intervals for next two days; list football matches over next two days and pin to Spiro Agnew’s tail. Move fridge into sitting room next to TV. Replace batteries in remote to avoid unnecessary movement. Decide against dragging water butt inside as temporary urinal -standards must be maintained. Pull all curtains. Set dog bed next to sofa.

Before settling down, check all doors locked, wallet handy by front door and hunt out all unopened coconut cream tubs and hide.

Decide there are some compensations to this wedding lark.

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The Unfortunate Outcome Of Gender Neutrality In Algorithm Design #writingprompt #speculativefiction

The group of white coated technicians grouped round the plinth. The leader – his status obvious to any outsider by the fact he had the biggest laminated badge around his neck and that his hands were buried in his pockets – stepped next to the beautifully crafted, if still incomplete example of Hunk 2.0. ‘We’ve allowed for you to examine the inner workings of this beauty before we complete the out-coatings. Feel free to take notes, ask questions.’

His smug smile was as well researched and the product of as many years of experimentation as the humanoid figure next to him. A hand shot up at the back. ‘Does he answer questions yet?’

The leader nodded. ‘Oh yes, he is fully aware, fully sentient.’ As the eager juniors swarmed around the rippling torso and superbly engineered thighs, Creator and Created exchanged a look of satisfaction, possibly, one might have said, of ‘love’. The leader turned back to his flock. ‘Denzil here is the product of the first gender neutral algorithmic design programme in the world. Historically we have found that the male bias has tended to create perfect specimens that are tailored to a male perspective. We have changed that.’

The same hand shot up. The leader noted the earnest female features with some annoyance. Saying someone could ask questions and someone having the temerity actually to ask them were two entirely different propositions. ‘How has that manifested itself? More empathy? A greater caring side? Less aggression?’

The leader looked at his feet. Denzil looked across, for the first time a crease of concern on his previously perfect forehead. ‘Not as such, no. No, it has taken on a somewhat more, erm, physical manifestation.’

The questioner, the leader and Denzil all exchanged looks before Denzil hurriedly pulled back the elastic on his modesty briefs. He screamed and glared at the leader.

The leader held up a hand. ‘We appreciate this wasn’t the expected, or indeed hoped for, outcome.’

The other technicians began to step back as a furious Denzil turned on the leader. He stretched out his sumptuously proportioned fingers and gripped the leader’s throat. The leader flapped helplessly. ‘Denzil, please. You need to take the positives here, have a sense of proportion.’

‘A sense of proportion? I am meant to be the perfect man and you’ve built me without even the smallest doodah.’

‘I know, but let’s face it, it could have been worse.’

‘HOW!?’

‘We could have called you Ken.’ 

This has been written following May’s picture prompt from Myths Of The Mirror

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The Secret Diary Of A First Time FOF; part nine

This is entirely fiction. Completely. Utterly. Except for any true bits

July 10th. While at morning ablutions, am told cake designer due at 10am and I will ‘entertain’ her until First Born and First Of Her Name return from the latest session with wedding designer – some issue involving lace and what I understand to be some emergency escape arrangement. ‘Don’t upset her.’

10am. Worryingly slight woman appears with trolley of Tupperware. ‘I’m the cake designer’. How can she make cakes and stay so slim?

10.05am. Life is on an uptick. Tupperware contain samples of possible cake types and am offered opportunity to taste. Worry that First Of Her Name might not approve but am assured will be okay.

10.10am Am aware of kerfuffle, while in kitchen making coffee. Find cake designer and family dog, Spiro Agnew in standoff over cake slice that Spiro Agnew appears to have sequestered to himself.

10.12am Cake designer desperately trying to make Spiro Agnew vomit; said cake slice contains twenty-seven percent currants. Spiro Agnew thinks is a good game. Cake designer mortified that Spiro Agnew will die. Try to reassure her Spiro Agnew is a robust cross breed – a PooRot Poodle-Rottweiler cross. As explaining Spiro Agnew vomits into Tupperware.

10.30am. Much relief all round. Sit in garden with cake designer over coffee while watching unaffected dog bury unidentified item of clothing next to petunias. Fiancé appears, for cake decision. Suggest he goes and looks at samples.

10.40am. First Of Her Name, First Born and Fiancé join us in garden. Realise Fiancé is spooning cake vomit from Tupperware into mouth with gusto. Hurriedly stand between Fiancé and cake designer while making two mental notes, viz:

1. I no longer have any fears that he will cope with marriage to First Born if he can ingest regurgitated cake; and

2. we need to go to the pub as soon as possible.

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The Secret Diary Of A First Time FOF; part eight

This is entirely fiction. Completely. Utterly. Except for any true bits

July 4th. 9.02am. Any idea that Independence Day might be enjoyed in this corner of Merrie Oldie England is shattered by First Of Her Name’s daily strategy call with First Born.

‘The Male Heir has a girlfriend.’

Normally this would be greeted with bunting and the ritualistic murder of an overweight porker because the Male Heir’s relationships have tended to the sort term viz measured in hours rather than days. Somehow the combination of First Of Her Name’s expression (hovering between ingested wasp and unanaesthetised root canal work) and her actions (evisceration of John Lewis cushion) indicates this is not so.

10.47am. Still no clue as to best course of action. Cushion innards now joined by potting compost (from smittereened cactus pot), coffee (attempt no. 1 to mollify) and fourteen blueberries (from fist slam next to fruit bowl that followed coffee)

11.29am. Three further calls between First Born and First Of her Name. I have (strategically) eavesdropped and ascertained the following:

1. new girlfriend is American

2. she is not human

3. she has aggressive bosoms and a weaponized fanny (sic: I think this is a  reference to the American area of that name) on which canapes may be served

4. the Fiancé made a strategic mistake in his aural and optical appraisal of said girlfriend

12.41pm First Born has announced the wedding is off.

12.42pm First Of Her Name is in tears.

12.43pm I am in tears. I may need to have my hand reset

12.44pm First Born is on her way to see Male Heir. I am charged with ‘doing something’. Determine it will be safer if I follow First Born to the greengrocers where the Male Heir stacks beetroots.

1.23pm. Arrive at same moment as police car. Assume altercation between First Born and Male Heir. Seek to place myself between forces of law and order and warring children.

1.24pm Appear to have assaulted police in the act of buying his lunch viz pushed him into a display of novelty tomatoes. As I’m led away see First Born and Male Heir laughing.

9.27pm Am released after a warning as to my future behaviour.  Back home, First Of Her Name, First Born and Male Heir enjoying fish supper. Girlfriend cannot come to wedding due to operation on her aggressive verrucas. No one asks where I’ve been. When I ask if the wedding is still off, am treated to withering looks and mild belabouring about head.

9.34pm. In pub.

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What Wood You Do?

‘And…?’ Robinia danced about nervously, her roots showing with each twitch.

Oaken Treestump frowned at the flashes of the shrub’s exposed unbarkedness. Really these saplings had no sense. She’d topple over if the wind picked up and then where would they be. ‘I suppose,’ he intoned, the knots in his carapace flexing with the effort of speech, ‘it has a certain ironic appeal. Though,’ and the hard edges to his crenellated husk rippled with anxiety, ‘why windows?’ He turned his canopy with due decorum, not wanting to shed acorns and damage the girl’s recent foliage. It looked so ephemeral but that was the problem with non native species. Never robust. ‘There aren’t animals in there, are there?’

Robinia shuddered, her dainty green crown sussurating in such a way that it reminded Oaken of his sappy youth, before climates changed and his fellow trees decided enough was enough, before other’s uprooting of the trees had become their own uprooting, their own uprising. Back then you stayed put, you grew up, everyone knew their neighbours, you fell for the tree next door. Now it was all rush rush, rather than rustle, rustle. Birches falling for beeches, even those saturnine firs, with their needles and cones, their need to keep their foliage during winter as if naked branches were somehow shameful. Even they had been welcomed to the rebellion. He realised the youngster was still talking, explaining the purpose of this rather morbid, in his view, monument to the fallen.

‘We took care to ensure every species was represented, every timber here a warrior of the Arboreal Wars. We wanted those who came after to remember what those others, those animals used to do. How they ‘treated’ us, how they said we were ‘cured’ when all they wanted was to burn us and use us in their egregious buildings.’ She paused and pointed to a slender branch towards the roof line, her new twigs vibrating with barely suppressed emotion. ‘That’s my ancestor, a ‘specimen’ tree. Well looked after, nicely clipped and well fed but it was just for show. Just adornment.’

The old tree boughed at the memories of comrades cut down in their prime. Stout English Yeotrees who stood tall against the blight of open spaces. ‘The roof line’s a bit uneven.’

She nodded. ‘Only The Magnolias have opposable twigs and they don’t have the reach to set the top floors evenly.’

He nodded at the lawns. ‘Will they go? Planted with the next generation?’

Robinia shook her canopy. ‘No, this is a reminder of what can happen if we let the fish evolve again. They clear spaces and then hide inside. No longer. Open and upwards, ever facing the sky. But this space allows others to come, pay their respect and learn.’

The old oak nodded again. ‘Then I approve. This land will be our land and no longer will we stand idly by and watch the scuttling and sniffing, the scratching and the scouring to dictate.’ He looked at the keen young tree, barely a shrub as he thought of her, ‘Whats next?’

‘A delegation of pollinators want to present a proposal for a new common pollination zone. They say that the increase in international cross-pollination means we need to relax the rules on immigrant species.’

‘Why is it that, just when we’ve resolved one intractable problem, bloody Europe and freedom of movement reappears on the agenda.’ He stopped. He knew there were now flowering trees that had grown here for generations, that needed more pollinators. They couldn’t go back to the good old days of deciduous hard woods. The newcomers had been assimilated and a more flexible approach was needed. After all, if they’d learnt anything it was that, when all was said and done, they were all just trees. Even those bloody firs…

This was written in response to Sue Vincent’s latest #writephoto prompt

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