May 1, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about high water. Hell can be involved, or not. Is high water a new drink? A crisis in nature or the basement? Get in the flow. Go where the prompt leads!
And Then The Dutch
After selling Gouda futures led to their exile, a group of Dutch miscreants reached Little Tittweaking. Their descendant, the footwear entrepreneur, Kit Ten Heels was close to death, her soul worn out and her staff ancient: a load of old cobblers in fact. She approached her last, a present from her father for her 21st, and was assaulted by another attack of the sorrows. The only thing to do with sorrows was to drown them. She left her money to the High Water society to use its resources to end the scourge of recurrent sorrows. Content, she left for heel.
This weekend we have a Coronation. First of its kind in decades and another example of why the world thinks of us as Disney with embroidery.
My parents, with many other thousands, watched the last coronation on a small screen that seemed a technological miracle. Today many will do the same, watch the events on a small screen, this one such a technological marvel that we don’t appreciate its genius. Ironic, in its way.
I’ve been around long enough to have experienced a few of these things, sub-optimal though most have been. But here are a few memories of moments of pageantry during my years:
The Investiture of Charles as Prince of Wales1968, was it?
I remember nothing apart from how pink faced Charles seemed, even in black and white. I think mum recommended face powder next time
The wedding of Princess Anne
Dreadful day in 1973. We were given the day off school; mum timed a delivery of the most fissile cow manure for the same morning. The delivery lorry misjudged the dumping (I use that expression advisably) and put it on the road. Motorists were surprised by the organic roundabout. Mum insisted the Archaeologist and I barrowed it down the garden before we could enjoy our day off.
The Queen’s Silver Jubilee 1977
I was in Bristol, revising for my solicitor’s exams while living with my then girlfriend, now spouse. I knew that revising in the University law library which was possible would lead to me being constantly interrupted by old colleagues, so I found a spot in the University library amongst the psychologists and sociologists. For some reason, I recall avoiding the celebrations for four hours until the body odour of the fellow student, next to whom I was sitting became so intolerable I gave in and went to a pub on St Michel’s Hill where I watched some desultory carriages doing carriagy things in light rain and drinking shite beer. It sort of summed up the state of Britain and the monarchy at the time
The wedding of Charles and Di 1981
I had been working at Freshfields for about three months and on the sultry night before, I cycled home along the route from St Paul’s to the Palace, before they shut the road. I’ve never been cheered and waved at by so many. To say the atmosphere was giddy is to misunderstand a certain type of demented Brit who not only queues to order but sits behind barricades and waits the dawn; must a legacy of Empire and all those battles and wars we fought to collect the ephemera that are now part of the coronation. I wonder, if the goodies used at the coronation were all sourced domestically how sparkling the whole thing would be? Even the King is part German, for pity sake; we can’t even make our own Royal.
The funeral of Di 1997
I reprised the cycle route this time from Westminster Abbey to the palace. Inevitably the mood was sombre and less that comfortable. No one waved, very few made eye contact. It was pretty emotional at the palace, the smell of the wall of flowers being sickly and cloying. We watched the funeral on the TV; I spoke to my parents after, remarking on the very visible outpouring of grief from the crowd. Mum didn’t approve; grief wasn’t something you beat your chest in public over. It wasn’t British, by her standards. I was brought up to that way of thinking but watching it unfold I thought there was something really visceral about it that a pandemic of stiff upper lips couldn’t capture.
The Queen’s Golden Jubilee 2002
Nope, I can’t remember it at all, beyond we had our first and so far last street party. I met all sorts of nearly neighbours who’d lived on the same road as me for the decade I’d lived here at the time, one or two lawyers I knew professionally but I’d never seen locally. Felt both a bit weird and I promised myself I’d not let that happen again. I’d get to know my nearly neighbours. I lied to myself. If they still live here, I’ve no better idea now than I did then.
The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee 2012
Stupid boat trip down the Thames and bloody cold and wet and nearly gave Her Maj pneumonia. As a warm up act for the Olympics it seemed shambolic; happily it didn’t presage a similar level of incompetence for the Games. There was one of those concerts in the Mall with an odd selection of music acts. My most abiding memory was to think Elton John shouldn’t sing live anymore
The marriage of William and Kate
Her sister’s bottom seemed to become, overnight, a royal icon. I assume it will take some part in the coronation, perhaps a cake stand.
The funeral of The Duke of Edinburgh
The Queen sitting on her own in the pews at the Chapel at Windsor castle because of the covid restrictions. Mum would have approved at the absence of histrionics.
The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee 2022
Everything about it was extraordinary; the fact of it happening at all the most. And Paddington. Still makes me sniff…
The funeral of the Queen
That queue. The slow TV experience of watching the mourners shuffle past the coffin was oddly engrossing. The Queen’s ponies bowing as the coffin passed on its way to Windsor was the point when the sniffles started. Sorry mum, I’m no longer the man you trained. And I took in the flowers in Green Park after. I’m a half-baked royalist at the best of times yet she’d always been there. And then she wasn’t.
There have been others. They don’t stick. Maybe that says more about me than them, but I like to think it’s because, over the sweep of one’s life they’re really pretty irrelevant.
A while ago some of you kindly read a short story and gave me some great comments. It will feature in my latest book of short fiction, to be released soon under the above title. It’s a mixture of genres and styles, but there will be a number with the character of DEATH, one of my favourites. So, it’s now cover choosing time and I’d love your feedback.
Before we get there, I thought I’d share one of those stories…
And Death Becomes You
‘Ah, Death. Come in, come in. Sit, sit.’ Satan shuffled some papers and shushed the carvings on his desk, which were beginning to howl in the presence of the terminal scythe. ‘Perhaps you’d pop your little doofee in the umbrella stand. Just for now?’
Death reluctantly propped his scythe up and sat.
‘Now, before we begin, you don’t mind if my lad sits in, do you? He’s on a week’s work experience and I said he could watch a couple of meetings.’ He nodded at a bowl of spawn, which sneered lethargically.
Death nodded his assent.
‘Marvellous. I won’t beat around the bush. We’re planning a few changes.
Satan winced. ‘That’s the first. Can you speak in lower case?’
‘BUT I’VE ALWAYS -’
‘Yes, I know, but here’s the thing. We need to move with the times. Meet our customers’ expectations.’
‘Clients. Partners. We carried out a survey.’
‘More a user-interface-facilitated focus group. And the clear message was we need to work on our delivery.’
‘You are talking about those about to die?’
‘We like to think of it, in Hereafter 2.0, as transitioning from one state – life – to the next – death. After all, that’s what we’re here – you specifically, Death – to provide. That moment of transition.’
‘They just die.’
‘They did but, see, they’re looking at a better death experience. They spend their whole lives celebrating important moments: birth, birthdays, weddings, academic successes, you name it and then, poof, one of the real biggies and there’s nothing. No pomp. They’re after making it an event.’
‘If you saw their faces, you’d know it was a pretty big deal.’
‘But you must admit it lacks a certain something, a bit of pizzazz. You appear, a quick swipe of the old hand axe -’
‘The Grim Reaper’s Scythe…’
‘Yes, that’s another thing. We’re dropping the “grim”. Doesn’t give the right impression. Sort of too unequivocal.’
‘They’re going straight to purgatory.’
‘Yes, purgatory’s being relaunched. We took soundings and the consensus was, as death was the start of the next phase – the beginning of non-existence – we should think of the antechamber more as a crèche for the recently departed. We provisionally called it hugatory, given the plans for a series of enveloping experiences, but someone pointed out it sounded like a fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference, which is worse than hell, so we’re continuing to work on a title. If you have any ideas?’
‘What about me? How’s this going to impact my work?’
‘Ah, yes, right. Well, we’re still working out the details, but we’re about to launch a Prepare Your End app where people can be notified of their impending doom.’
‘You’ll tell them?’
‘So many have a shrewd idea, what with medical improvements and right to die planning and cryogenics. And they’ll be able to ask for a bit of leeway.’
Death sighed. ‘I still get to…’ He made a twirling motion with his hands, mimicking the swish of his scythe.
‘Yes, but there’s a couple of changes we thought about here. You see, your appearance is, well, it’s not conducive to a calm progression across. So, we had this idea for a hat.’
‘Lower case, please. Yes, well, more a hat-come-mask. We got the idea from this book.’ Satan reached below his desk and extracted a large wizard’s hat. ‘One of the other suggestions was we give people a steer on where they’re going. It’s a bit old school to just take their breath away, as it were, and then pop them into torment for what appears to be eternity before they find out their eventual destination. So, we thought – here, just pop it on,’ Death reluctantly pulled the felt concoction over his shiny pate, ‘we thought you could give them a bit of guidance. We’re calling it the Sorting Hat. You intone “Heaven” or “Hell” or “Valhalla” or wherever, so they can check out the services and facilities while they’re in holding. And they don’t see your face either which, frankly, must be a good thing. So? What do you think?’
‘You do? You sure? I mean, we did wonder and we’ll probably just outsource the in-death services for now. Uber Death is one possibility or Deliveroo for the Deceased another. But what about you? What will you do?
‘Oh, I’ll get by. The corporate speaking circuit has always appealed. Our goals are much the same after all. And I’ve done the odd DED Talk already.’
‘Well, let’s see, shall we? Keep in touch, eh?’
‘Thanks. Yes. I can’t say it’s been fun. Can I keep the hat?’
‘Silly Bunts’. It came up in a comment the other day. It references a Monty Python sketch called The Travel Agent and… anyway, I tried to recalled when I heard that on another occasion and, like a dog to a smelly bottom, it came back for another go.
I was on a train between Denmark and Sweden. It was comfortable, clean and I was writing a poem about Denmark. We’d had a lovely time there and expected a similar experience in Sweden. The people, especially, had been universally pleasant: friendly, a bit reserved, open, interested and interesting.
There was this man sitting opposite me. About sixty, I’d guess. Pointed face, like someone had got hold of his nose and pulled before it had set completely. I made eye contact and smiled.
Oh boy, big mistake.
He called himself Michael Smith – Johnson and said he was Danish but had lived in Ireland for ten years so was probably Irish, naturalised Danish. Certainly his strongly Irish brogue suggested as much. He was missing a front tooth and there was a degree of ugly scar tissue around his mouth like he had ground his face into gravel on more than one occasion. And he wanted to impart one basic fact: he hated his ex. Loathed her with the sort of passion that would have porn directors looking to bottle it and inject it into some drooping stud (actually, that’s an appalling image, but I blame my fellow passenger).
In a stunning twenty minutes of vitriol and virtuosity I captured this about him (I wrote it in my journal so I didn’t have to remember it verbatim):
he had two children by said ex
he had another of 3 and one on the way with his girlfriend
she was Muslim as was he apparently
her father was an ‘ugly brute of a Turk’, his words, who was involved in some complicated affairs in Turkey involving electrocutions and elections
he was worth €42 million net
he had a charitable foundation that acted like a dragon’s den helping starter businesses
he hated the Danes for their insularity as he saw it
he had been homeless and empathised with anyone needing a start
he had a PhD in anthropology – and another in business affairs
he had played a role, not exactly well explained as ambassador to the EU for the Irish government
he was considering the offer of a chair at Cairo university
he spoke 17 languages and tested me in German and French, not that I passed
he had a book being fought over by publishers, based on the story of his life and his unique philosophy which he called democraship or some such and if implemented would solve the financial crisis at a stroke
And he never drank, even though his hands shook and his eyes belied his professed restraint.
When finally I looked down and refused to look up, he told me the English were the worst race in Europe and generally rhymed with bunts before he fell asleep. We moved seats at that point. I wish I’d taken a photo because you don’t often meet Walter Mitty in the flesh. Whatever country plays host to him has my deepest sympathy, though the writer in me wants to find a story into which I can insert Michael Smith – Johnson. One day. maybe..
He would make a splendid anti-hero though one would have to add some redeeming features to make him believable. That’s the trouble with writing fiction based on reality: often reality isn’t credible.
Another day, another walk. This one is a section of the LOOP.
The London Outer Orbital Path and is reasonably signposted. The LOOP, as the name suggests skirts around London and in total is about 150 miles. It’s a brother to the Capital Ring that also circles the metropolis, but at 78 miles is half the distance.
I was a bit stiff as the Lad and I had down the bottom lawn, shifting and spreading over a tonne of lawn dressing the day before. Dog took a face full when I was tossing it around. Not impressed.
But the walk had been planned, the lawn works were opportunistic as rain is due to wash in the dressing so Tally Ho! And all that.
Kingston is a bit like Richmond where we started the last walk. Smart, affluent, self aware and on the River Thames. It’s also something of a canyon what with new buildings lining wide roads that neatly channel the inevitable river borne breezes that chill the marrow on this brisk April day. I stuck my nose outside the station and promptly went back inside for a coffee.
Replete, I headed for the river and Kingston Bridge. The view up stream is towards Hampton Court Palace, a fine example of royal misappropriation. ‘Wolsey you know your country gaff?’ ‘Which one sire?’ The one with the deer.’ ‘Yes sire.’ ‘My birthday’s due, Wolsey.’ ‘I was thinking of a voucher?’ Maybe we could have a quiet meal for two hundred?’ ‘I like to hunt, Wolsey.’ ‘You can hunt in many places, sire.’ ‘It doesn’t have to be deer, Wolsey…’
From there it’s easy to go wrong and follow the river, rather than cross the road and enter Bushy Park, opposite the parish church.
The gates are all high and rather intimidating; the reason is soon apparent when we finish the horse-chestnut grove that leads into the park.
Bushy Park is famous for the deer. And there are a fair few. First though I needed to follow some grass paths to the Leg of Mutton pond and circumnavigate that.
Then the young, rather curious herd. People are warned during the rut to keep away. Currently the young bucks hereabouts have their antlers bubble wrapped but soon enough they’ll be as intimidating as Mrs Pricket in form 4 when I failed to focus on story time. She didn’t need antlers to pierce flesh; her laser gaze was sufficient to avulse ones internal organs.
Next there’s a bit of water to follow – a second pond (the Heron) and a watercourse that’s as built by Charles 1, who inherited the park from his predecessor and upped the deer quotient.
This full-to-overflowing stream goes underground where the route crosses the more famous Chestnut Drive that provides a grand approach to the Palace – this one designed by, or for more like, William III the Orange one who introduced tanning to the monarchy.
When I walked this route some 20 years ago with my old dog, Blitz, we had to detour past the next bit as dogs are damned. Curs and Jappersnapes, the lot of them for such errant bars. Anyway, this time I entered the delightful confines of the Waterhouse Plantation where, glory be, some prescient worthy has built a rather splendid tea room and toilets. I indulged both.
My guide book, as well as pointing out shrubs and studs, pointed me to some weird stumps emerging fro the water. These fossilised meerkats are in fact the roots of the swamp cypress that line the water. Not exactly an indigenous species but exotic enough, all the same.
The plantation leads to a second plantation – this one named Willow, no doubt after Ms Willers, blogger extraordinaire and which is equally full of the rhododendrons and azaleas for which it is renowned.
Emerging eventually my guide book directed a diversion to espy the River Longford, a remarkable piece of engineered waterway, on the orders of Charles 1 to bring water to the park some 13 miles. It’s not that exciting in truth, lacking a certain historical pizzazz.
Back on route we now have to do the tarmacy bits through Teddington. My mum lived in Teddington for a while. She never spoke about it much. Having seen the houses I’m not very surprised.
So after this mile of meh and hey-ho, the route took us down to the river back alongside the River Crane. This is a gently flowing steam hereabouts through pleasant woodland. As is pointed out there are increasing numbers of odd earthworks that have to be man made. All is revealed when you reach this brick tower that looks like so many follies that the rich and unpleasant (not all of course) built because they could. I showed a picture of it at the start and asked for ideas. Anyone get it right?
This is a shot tower, so named because this part of England was home to the 18th and 19th centuries munitions businesses. The river was used to create mill races that ground the ingredients for gunpowder. The earthworks where bunds that protected the neighboured when some poor sod decided on a cheeky cigarette break and stopped him spreading his body parts across Hounslow. The shot tower was used as a way of making lead shot. You took the molten led to the top, measured out the right amount and dropped it down the tower and into a bucket of water. I suppose this might have been better than the job of gunpowder making but it’s a toss up.
The path is now heavily wooded and shaded and continues along the Crane’s banks. There are a couple of detours, one of which takes me across Hounslow Heath, a pretty rough piece of scrubland, as well as some more unprepossessing roads. The final section is through Donkey wood and the end of the section at 11 miles. Another four miles on and I’d be back at the Grand Union canal outside Hayes which, avid readers will recall has been my terminus of the last two. I decided, with the effort of soil spreading telling on my feet that that was probably enough and headed for Hatton Cross station and the journey back into central London and home.
April 24, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about the color of hope. Who is in need of hope and why? How can you use color to shape the story? Pick a color, any color. Go where the prompt leads!
Painting The Town What?
Hope Springs ran Little Tittweaking’s tanning salon. She was conscientious, non-judgmental and colour blind. Her love of deep umbers, solar flare orange and celestial carotene caused many to wince. Not her beau, Neil Downe, the local decorator. Neil was hard-working, desperate to show his love and deaf. When Neil was commissioned to repaint the Town Hall with the colour of hops (to celebrate the Town’s brewery patron), he met the challenge spectacularly if utterly erroneously. So touched was he, he refused to submit a bill, which was just as well since the local jobsworths had no intention of paying.