Thursday, 26 February 2009

Comic Relief No 7 - For H

A mound of minute granules of chewed up bits of earth, that's how we see an ant hill. But a house? More elaborate perhaps but the same amount of chewing up goes on in its creation. Let me explain.

Barbara was a shy little girl. She had goofy teeth and knees that knocked together. When they played British bulldog in the school yard – a harsh game for a four-year-old girl – she retired, flushing with fear to the safety of the wall, one leg bent up underneath her and leaning back, rather like a drunk flamingo. The boys' wore scratchy blazers just the same as the girls but they always looked more layered somehow and as they tore backwards and forwards during the game, each component of their uniform took on a life of its own. Barbara's clothes, on the other hand, remained rigid, neatly tucked in and she couldn't bear the tickly feeling she got on her back if her blouse slipped out and her jumper rode roughshod through the open gap. Appearance was everything to her and from her point of observation at the wall, she sensed that it meant nothing to the boys; that whilst she was nurturing perfecting her outer shell, they prized the way their inner warriors burst through their shirt buttons and spilt out onto the playground, completely spent. This uncanny intuition was to save her from many a fall in the playground.

As she looked on at the game, she knew that one day, she would have to let one of these nasty little beasts through her outer shell; that if she wanted wedded bliss like every other little girl, she would have no choice. It was disgusting. She'd read about it. Every night, the same thing happening in bedrooms up and down the country. Yuk. She loved her invisible fairy wings and reached back over her shoulder to stroke their downy hair, almost believing that they were real. She knew that one day, she would leave her parents' nest and the nuptial flight would be her last before her wings were chewed off.

And so it was. But she was prepared and in a big way. During playtime one day, she went upstairs to the school library. From up there in her castle, she could see the other children charging around outside like mad things propelled by the hidden energy to self destruct that she seemed to be lacking. She sat down and surveyed the spines of the books. She half pulled out the odd one here and there until a particular cover caught her attention. It was about The Stupa in Sri Lanka, a huge brick construction that looked like the biggest ant hill she'd ever seen. Occupied by Buddhist monks, apparently. Now you might think that at this point, she decided to become a nun. Not so. At this point, she gazed at the image of The Stupa and vowed instead that she would have the most huge, the most elaborate brick palace built for her by her suitor as compensation for having to take that nuptial flight. So from her seat at the library window she looked down again at the ant-like figures darting around on the playground. She was looking for the fastest, the most aggressive, the one using the cleverest tactics to conquer the enemy. Little did Barbara know that sixty years later, she would just be satisfied with finding one using his own teeth.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Poor Koalas

Last week, you may remember that I wrote about a mysterious piece of newspaper that turned up in the post from my sister, Maureen, in Australia. Initially confused as to why she should be sending me adverts for mobility scooters and various other matters of interest for the over 60s, I eventually - perhaps optimistically - realised that it was a feature about someone who had got a publishing deal from blogging. Okay, so she was 77 so really, the whole two pages were devoted in some way to senior citizens which makes you wonder whether it was the whole paper was like that or if Maureen just saw it and felt compelled to rip it out and send it to me. If you can tell that I am becoming a little paranoid by all this then you may be right especially as I only came here to tell you about the latest post from the other side of the world.

Again, I thought it was going to be stamps for my father-in-law. But no, it was koalas. Not whole ones, obviously as this would be cruel but pictures of them. Now I think I quite like koalas even thought I've never seen one as I've never been to Australia but they have nice faces. They look sort of loved, patchwork in some way, maybe because of the shape of their ears and it is like someone has thoughtfully just sewn on a nice new leather nose. They also look slow, as if they are unlikely to make any sudden moves and this, I like. I also like the idea that they smell of eucalyptus and this reminds me of our children's bedtime creatures that we put in the microwave (obviously, I'm not suggesting that I would microwave a koala any more that I would like to put one in the post) so there's something very comforting about the image of a koala.

Anyway, the pictures were of koalas who had suffered in the recent bush fires. I had already seen some images emailed to me by my brother-in-law and if you click here, you can see them too. I'm trying to think what to say. The scale of human loss is unspeakable and although the images depict animal suffering, their very existence seems to capture the essence of what it is to be human, of being fragile. I will say no more now because I think that the pictures speak for themselves.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Comic Relief 6 - for Judith

This one comes from my sick bed but more exciting, it comes from my brand new netbook:

She'd been sporty when she was younger, for about a month, but it was long enough that she could regale her friends with tales of pulled ligaments, going for the burn eighties-style, thus providing an explanation for her creaky knees. Now, at forty-five, any hint of a weekend sporting event and she would be found either in the local supermarket or the coffee shop. The former she found rather depressing as even the displays for pizzas and barbecue food were were studded with flags, the latter a welcome relief from the national frenzy which on this particular occasion was directed towards the Olympics.

That Sunday, she almost turned around and walked straight back out of the shop. It was as though all the local mothers had decided to bring their offspring here. It was an Italian shop, well established in the town and one of its appeals for her was that the décor was brown and dingy. For her, it had the air of a proper continental cafe, the sort where you could drop in, read the paper, write a bestseller and not be under any obligation to leave before you were ready. The ban had seen to it that the umbrella of Galoises smoke was in her imagination as was the bohemian customer base. The reality was that the small middle-class population flocked there competing for window seats, ignoring their wayward, sugar-fueled children whilst they gossiped at ever-increasing volume to drown out the next table, a mirror of their own except that the children scattering in different directions would shatter the illusion of glass existing between them. Sometimes this unhappy fact intruded upon her ruminations but today, the coffee was especially good and she was able to shut them out and slip through the door into her imagination.

She was already on her second latte. The last square of her complimentary bitter, dark chocolate was melting on her tongue. She watched the brown sugar flow from its little tubular wrapper into the centre of the surface, its edges darkening as they became saturated and finally sinking, dissolving in a spiral, still swirling as she sipped it, lifting her up, up so that she could take a deep inhalation of the Galoises whilst ignoring the clattering below. What she breathed out onto the paper would be a mystery until it emerged; a plan for a story, a few notes, observations of the way the barista danced to the rhythm of the coffee machine, the way his black apron was tied as if he had been giftwrapped that morning, but no, today her plans were skipping sideways and then forwards rather than dwelling on the here and now.

Four years from now, she would be sitting here, slightly more grey, skin fading and the children snapping around the wooden tables would have moved to the doorways of the burger restaurant or the fountain. Four years from now, her husband would be sitting in their lounge in front of the latest technology (a necessary purchase for such a big occasion) watching the Olympics again.

Four years from now, there would be at least two major conflicts in the world, troops would still be somewhere foreign, at risk from insurgents, politicians from opposing parties would be battling over tax and expenditure and we would still be fighting climate change. All this much was certain. What was also certain was that the rift between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots, the hungry and the overfed would remain. She knew that the flags would come out again and she would take herself off to the coffee shop to hide with her fellow sport-avoiders. Absentmindedly, she had written down two words: coffee and olympics.

The barista with the bow-tied bottom had just been dismissed from her thoughts as the solution of caffeine and sugar deluded her into thinking she had found a solution of a different kind. Her tangential plan was one of pure and simple and genius. Even the traditional Olympic motto: "Citius, Altius, Fortius" - "Faster, Higher, Stronger" could be reused in 2012.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Comic Relief No 5 - for Chris

The outward bound instructor surveyed the gathering of souls around him. He thought that one looked a little more on edge than the others. Physically, they matched his expectations all having donned a comfortable attire, a weathered face, possessing feet clad in seasoned walking boots. Standard stuff. Except that one. That one, whom, he could tell, wasn't paying attention now to his exposition of the current health and safety risks. He would have to speak to him privately later.

The teacher fingered the folded up piece of paper in his coat pocket. Aside from biscuit crumbs and an empty cellophane wrapper, there was also a biro. He hoped that it still worked, that the crumbs hadn't clogged up the ballpoint. It gave him a secret sense of security outside of the classroom. He couldn't risk taking the paper out now, it would be considered odd. He would check it in private later. If there was a later.

The boy's father was worried about his son. He shouldn't have brought him on this foolish trip. Should have listened to his wife, taken a proper weekend away. Somewhere like Chichester where they could all enjoy themselves together, she'd said. She could wander around the cathedral, visit the theatre and then on the Sunday they could have gone to the Harbour. But he never went for the safe option and now here they were miles apart. Like this.

The writer was feeling on edge. He wasn't really here for the outdoors experience as such, more as an observer but then again, his existence depended upon that. Always on the outside then on the inside but never quite fully engaging with his subject. But this wasn't the moment for beautiful prose or poetic descriptions of the Welsh wilderness or indeed any form of introspection, come to that. He should pull himself together. He looked down into the icy water. He marvelled at the depth, the layers of the non-colours, all distinct, solid yet fluid. Yes, it was the movement of the water that was hard to capture in words. The bubbles, the foam on the surface; they were the defining features of what was going on underneath, of what the conditions were really like in the body of water.

One canoe, that was all the rapids had left behind. One canoe, one boy and an ensemble of characters who should have been a strong and united force just like the rapids but instead, were a feeble trickle of drips being blown indiscriminately by the slightest whim of the breeze over a fragile shield of glass. The boy looked at them. Unnoticed, he climbed down the bank and into the remaining canoe. It rocked precariously as he eased himself in and pushed off with the paddle. He turned back to look at the spot he had just left. There was one man staring back at him.

He might have expected a crowd as it seemed to him that adults made things overcomplicated, made themselves overcomplicated. Why couldn't they just be? Why couldn't they understand that sometimes, sometimes, you've just got to get into your canoe and paddle?

Friday, 13 February 2009

Comic Relief Number 4 - for Sarah Salway

I'm afraid, Sarah, that this one's way, way, over the 500!

It had been one of those nights. You know, one of those nights. Whilst his younger workmates were probably worrying about their pulling power and shining up their Friday night shoes, Bruce had gone into the corner shop with every intention of getting a six pack of bottled lager, some corn chips and salsa dip. It was one of those shops for which he was both thankful but yet despised. It was so in your face. The chiller units against the wall were oversized for the width of the aisles so that in order to squeeze past the cardboard boxes of wine on offer (surely a contravention of some health and safety rule), you could almost fall inside them. Even when not falling in, you could breathe in the gases being exhaled from their vents, both warm and cold which pretty much described the contents on display too. Not much of an invitation for Bruce to indulge so he slithered sideways through, only knocking one of the price labels off from the perspex strip along the edge.

The prize for being able to negotiate his way to the back of the shop without picking up what he didn't want was the holy grail of seizing what he did want. When Bruce finally got there, he gazed despairingly at the gaping chasm on the shelf in the drinks chiller. No, it couldn't be. Surely they knew it was Friday, that he would be in. Anyone taking a cursory glance in his direction would have seen a middle-aged man, in smart, casual attire in autumnal colours with his head bent, hands over his ears, possibly conferring with his wife on his mobile over the choice of wine to go with dinner? But no. If they'd lingered a little longer, the picture would have become far more horrific. This was a man pushed to the brink of despair. There was no phone. No emergency service that could save him from what was about to happen. No choice of white or red. Just red.

In the queue of customers (and they did have the cheek to call themselves that), was a mixed group of youngsters, late teens, laughing and texting, jostling for position of top dog, excited about an imminent party. They had a trolley. The trolley was full of Bruce's favourite bottled Friday night lager, nicely chilled. Oh, and six bags of corn chips.

Bruce was beginning to lift his head now and as he did, the rage pouring forth in their direction may as well have burned a trench in the shop floor. Had there been room for more people in the aisle, they surely would have parted to allow what was about to happen. It had been a tough few days. This week's special offers: credit crunch, cut backs, no bonuses. Next week? No job.

Bruce ran his fingers through his scalp as if that by making his forehead more taut, he would appear more fierce. But there was really no need. After all, if you saw someone charging towards you with the acceleration of a cheetah, letting out the most soulful roar, you may pause before retaliating. You may just stand back in wonder as the middle-aged man with the boiling, crimson face draws level with you like a freight train rushing past the platform of commuter station in rush hour and deftly swipes your trolley from under your nose. After all, it's not paid for or anything and it's a bit of a laugh, really isn't it?

Meanwhile, the cold air had smacked Bruce in the face and panic began to set in. He couldn't go back. He couldn't go home. So he kept running. He ran in the darkness under the subway to the park, through the gates around the pond and sat, panting heavily on one of the benches there. He was in no doubt that they would find him but the reeds and laurels would buy him time.

In the distance, he heard a siren and he wondered if it was for him. But then again, he wasn't alone in all this mayhem was he? There were the ducks for a start. Was it the end of the world to lose your job? He could live just paddling around his flat, being thrown crumbs by the state with no stress. The ducks weren't stressed. There would be no Friday nights, no wind up, no wind down, no high-flying career to aspire to. He sat back and smiled.

The yellow street lamp on the perimeter of the pond reflected on the wire of the trolley, glinting conspiratorily at Bruce. He reached in for a bottle of lager, opening it on the gaps between the slats in the bench seat. He may as well enjoy his last moments of freedom. He rummaged a bit deeper down in the trolley for the corn chips. He was feeling much more relaxed now. As he felt around for the packet, he realised that his bounty was greater than he'd thought. Delighted at his find, he unwrapped it, bit off the top, stuck his tongue in down through the hole and waited to feel the sweetness of the yellow centre dissolve and slip around inside his cheeks.

He heard footsteps beating across the frozen grass and torch beams filtered through the bushes. This was it. In no time, he would be been positioned leaning forwards over the bench, gripping the back with his hands whilst the officers frisked him. They would feel egg-shaped protrusions.

'What's this then, mate? Would these be eggs or are you just pleased to see me?'

But Bruce wouldn't respond, maybe saying 'So how do you eat yours then?'

Comic Relief Number 3 - For Laura & Charles

A slight case of insomnia tonight. I think I'm just excited at having raised £25 already! Thank you and please keep it coming!

So, here I am in Paris. It's been a dream of mine as long as I can remember. We got here this morning, fought our way across from the airport by bus and eventually found our hotel. Lovely place but I don't suppose we'll be able to afford the mini bar. Still, it's a treat. And after all, it's a special occasion. Where else could be better to take the missus for your Silver Wedding? She wants to get our pictures painted by one of those artists by the Seine tomorrow. Perhaps we can get them to leave a few of the wrinkles off, though! Barbara calls them laughter lines and there's no denying we've had more than our fair share of laughter over the years. Luckier than most, I suppose but then I was born lucky; came from a long line of lucky people too. The only one who wasn't so lucky in my family was Bob, my brother, I bet he wished he'd swapped his sink plunger for something else but that's another story. We've left Bob and Reading far behind, forgot all about work and everything the moment the plane took off and we watched the rooftops get smaller and smaller below.

We've never been on a plane before, always stuck to the ferries and went to the Isle of Wight most years. We were going to go to America for Bob's wedding and then he went and did it in Las Vegas so we didn't get to go. What a mistake that was! Apart from all the grief over that, I was gutted not to make the trip. That's why it's all the more special being here now.

Look down there. See? The little cars and their lights are like Dinky toys. Barbara's clinging on tight to the railings. Mind you, she's not as fit as she used to be so it might not be the height. She's not used to it like I am. I can't believe that they won't let you walk up the stairs right to the top. I don't mind lifts themselves, it's sharing them with other people I'm not happy about. I like my own space, space to breathe, to look down. Yes, now we're here, I can appreciate that it's been worth saving up for. All those weddings I did, dressed up in my top hat (like I wear that all the time!), going around kissing brides and shaking bridegrooms' hands like some idiot; it's all paid off. There's more to it that you think, you know. City & Guilds, a code of practice to stick to and knowing how to talk to people. It's mostly about prevention, like most things I suppose.

I hope Barbara's enjoying it. She's let go with one hand now and slipped her arm inside mine. She told me earlier that I still scrub up well, even now. What a great place the Eiffel Tower is! Where else would a chimney sweep come for his Silver Wedding?

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Comic Relief Number 2 - for Sarah C

OK, Sarah, so it's more than 500 but who's counting?

he estate agent was uncomfortably close to Beryl, cloaking her in aftershave whilst blinding her with the glint from his shoes, one smartly cuffed arm hovering behind her back, the other gesturing over the fence to the allotment as if thanking an orchestra for their contribution to his concerto.

He plucked his eyebrows, she was sure. No man had eyebrows as neat as that. Bernie would have pruned the hedges with that kind of precision but not his eyebrows. He was gone now but the mark his hands had made on the earth would keep touching her; little seedlings germinating from plants he had nurtured, even the piece of soot that blew down the chimney in the storm would have been because he had lit the fire and sent it off to wait for that moment, timed to fall and remind Beryl that he was still with her.

In springtime, the daffodils appeared, shouting out 'Spring', echoing Bernie's excitement at the list of gardening jobs ahead; she almost expected his hands to rise right up out of that soil and say 'Pull me up dear, I've got work to do' but of course, this never happened. It was just a feeling she had.

Beryl was reluctant to consider moving house, especially so early on in the year. Aware that their décor was old-fashioned and flowery, she hadn't really expected to get a buyer so soon. She was unsure about leaving before the daffodils had reached out of their winter coffins or if their voices may be lost in the wind of change brought about by young, minimalist-loving new owners. Would she still hear them?

The estate agent was still going through his act. He'd made a remark about his girlfriend and her mountain of clothes. He probably had a whole repertoire of little anecdotes to demonstrate the virtues of various features. As he threw his head back laughing loudly, his sparkling teeth were more mesmerising that his sharp wit.

'So, shall we make an appointment for Mr Williams to come and view the property? Where are we? Yes, goodness, I can't believe we're at the end of February already. We have had a lot of interest so it really would be better to get him along pretty soon. A house like this in such a great area is just bound to ....'

'No, it's okay thank you. He's ....'

'Let's go back into the house shall we? We'll get warmed up and I'll give the office a buzz. We can sort out a time to suit you. Any of my colleagues would be more than happy to come out with your husband.'

They turned their backs on the sleeping allotments and headed towards the kitchen. The estate agent ushered her with much grandiose over the threshold. Just as he followed her through, a sudden gust of warmth caught the door from behind him and slammed it shut. At the same moment, the grip on the ceiling of a cold, clammy pancake was loosened and it landed square on the top of his perfectly coiffured head.

The way in which the pancake hit the estate agent implied a speed of impact disproportionate to the momentum you might expect it to have gained travelling from the ceiling. Beryl took the estate agent's silence and obscured vision as an opportunity to slip out of the front door. It wasn't the house for her. It just didn't speak to her in the same way as her old one. The door slammed hard behind her.

First Posting for Comic Relief!

100 WORDS FOR CHERYL - I hope you like it! (they were free, those last ones)

Having dropped her bicycle, she raced over, wiping the grey city rain off the car window with her uniform cape. Before the clear patch could disappear again, she peered in. The figure inside, surrounded by ash, butts and crisp packets was unmoved by her camera-like gaze taking in the scene or the knock-knock of her fob watch. She tried to part the curtains of gloom hanging weightily on the inside with a strange but familiar sense of reluctance and intensity. She knew what to do. She would arrive on the ward again already having done a day's work.

Comic Relief

I must be completely mad. I've just come up with the idea of writing for Comic Relief. Please visit my page:

Responses to the prompts will be posted here. I thought I'd start now because that gives me a whole month to get writing!

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Thank you - I think........

My sister who lives in Queensland sends over stamps in an envelope for us to pass on to my father-in-law (I hope you're following this, or better still, following this and still awake) and usually, the envelope contains nothing but used stamps.

However, today the envelope arrived with pages 33/34 torn from The Sun Herald. Now I'm a bit confused because there's nothing with a ring around it, highlighted or marked in any way at all. Here are the contents of the 2 pages:






GET MOBILE IN STYLE (advert for mobility scooters)

VINCE MALONEY SALE (from 9am tomorrow)

Finally, I spotted the one, possibly: WRITER, 77, PUTS HER DREAMS INTO PRINT FOR CAREER BREAKTHROUGH. It is an article whose online writing was spotted by a publisher which led to the release of her first novel. This is good news. That gives me another 32 years to become successful. Or maybe it was the mobility scooters after all .....

Monday, 9 February 2009


Today, I have taken delivery of a new book to read, Direct Red, by Gabriel Weston that I ordered after seeing her on BBC Breakfast the other day. The author studied literature before switching to medicine and becoming a surgeon. An account of what life as a surgeon is really like, it promises to be interesting. Meanwhile, the weather promises to be miserable and as I'm feeling very under the weather too, I'm going to take a little break from using the computer (I may have to be surgically removed) for a few days whilst I recharge my batteries. Back soon!

Monday, 2 February 2009

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Caught in the act

This image speaks for itself. All I need to tell you is that this was taken early yesterday morning. Someone isn't quite as fast on their feet as they used to be.

The lost photo

This was one of the photos I couldn't upload on Friday.