This week, a short poem. On seeing things in other things…
A life measured out in dustbin days, detritus carried away; bins wheeled from our door, returned empty ready for replenishing. What if our Days could be like that? Each we could fill to the brim with laughter and sunshine or just the pleasure of living. Then every two weeks our joy, once peaked would be removed – bin spritzed out – for hygiene reasons and every season, every week we could restock, refill and so often turn the other cheek to distant unknown neighbours who, not as lucky as you can only fill their bins half full or perhaps that should be half empty
With the bank holiday nearly upon us, and with many of us heading for the beach, instead of a blog, here’s a 300-word short story. Catch ya in September..
He took my hand; shook it warmly. “Pleased to meet you,” he said, casually, calmly. But I could tell by the burning in his eyes that he felt neither casual nor calm.
I knew how he really felt: said nothing. Didn’t need to. We exchanged pleasantries, chatted to journalists, smiled for the cameras: all over the web in seconds – as many seconds as it had taken for me to take his hand the first time.
“Take my hand!” I’d shouted, above the viscous, angry voice of the wind that worked to deafen us as I’d balanced perilously over the edge of the life raft.
The relentless spray had battered our faces, cold salty water trying hard to blind us, distract us from our task. But we would not be distracted. Not ever.
Numb from the cold I’d felt his fingers weak in my gloved hand, leaned further and grabbed his coat, hauled him aboard. His face, riven with shock, looked back at me: a portrait of fear and dismay and embarrassment.
“Canapé?” his wife offered. I accepted. Popped the little shrimp-topped pastry into my mouth, spat tiny crumbs as we made conversation. Someone laughed and we turned. A fat man I didn’t recognise. But then we all look so different with our clothes on. In the horror of the moment, soaked through to the skin and shivering, when the light of life is almost gone from our eyes – then we are naked. And I have seen so many of us naked. I check my watch. Time to go back to work. New houses won’t build themselves. I say my goodbyes and leave, my pager like a second heart, beating gently in my pocket, until it’s time to take another hand.
Thank you to all the RNLI volunteers who so selflessly give up their time to help those in danger on and in the sea
Following on from Max Bantleman’s blog about the trials of finding inspiration, and combining it with Debbie Young’s, about her husband’s altercation with a chainsaw and a bird’s nest, two days ago three wonderful characters were born right in front of my eyes. The goody, our protagonist, was just a mere frog when I set eyes on him. Just a little brown-green frog going about his business under damp leaves and nowhere near being a character in a short story. Then the brutish antagonist arrived, deftly hopping, if not slightly slyly, through the undergrowth: a blackbird, our antagonist, and also our baddy. The two creatures went about their natural activities for a while offering me a refreshing chance to watch nature literally at my feet.
The frog hopped away to find shadier places. The blackbird turned over leaves and pecked at the mud to find grubs before flying off. Five minutes later, like a rocket blasting low over my head flew the blackbird with the frog in its mouth. Mortified that my actions in tidying the garden had led to this little frog being lunch for a murderous blackbird I followed to see where the blackbird took it’s haul. I don’t really know why I did that, seeing as birds have wings and tend to live in trees and I am a flightless land dweller. Guess you could call it the sub-plot. I found nothing, but also reassuringly heard nothing, knowing that frogs do tend to put up a bit of a squawk when in danger. Maybe it wasn’t Freddie, I thought, immediately naming and birthing a character. I returned to my digging. A short time later, Brandon the killer blackbird returned, landing at my feet as if nothing had happened and even if it had it was nothing to do with him. His name just popped in to my head (after Beaky, it’s true, but that just sounded silly) and I questioned him about kidnapping Freddie but he didn’t answer, intent as he was to unearth a very large slug and mercilessly peck it to slimy death. Sooo….an antagonist with a good side I thought. Maybe it hadn’t got Freddie earlier; perhaps it had speared a different but not so popular creature, Vince the slug, aka the third character. Somehow I didn’t mind so much if Vince the Slug got trashed in the first chapter – he was already dislikable or even unlikeable to start with. And now it looked like his cousin was getting a severe jabbing as well. Thoughts came and went and a story emerged.
Brandon watched the smaller man as he continued about his business. Quiet, detached, melding with the city streets in a coat of leaden grey, Freddie’s walk was slow and deliberate. Brandon’s unblinking black eyes had him in his sights. A brief gust of wind scattered urban leaves around Freddie’s feet and he slowed further, as though distracted by their rich autumnal colours. He hesitated, deep in thought. Moving his head slightly, Brandon turned his small flat face to the breeze, his keen eyes and sharp intellect calculating the logistics. Five seconds passed. Decision made.
I went to another world recently. Not a wizardy fairy-filled world nor an inter-galactic time-warped world, but one stuffed with millions of words, thousands of pages and probably over one thousand combined years of writing. I’ve been in many a bookshop and library over the years, but never a bookshop like this – an antiquarian bookshop – and I was enthralled. It’s true I didn’t have much of a clue about most of the books I was looking at, or their importance when they were published or their significance now, but oh, the smell! Or should that be aroma? Isn’t it true that good food smells nice and anything rotten just smells, whereas old books and herbs are aromatic? My dictionary tells me that Aromatic means ‘having a distinctive and pleasant smell’, which leads me to conclude that if something smells good and of one particular thing, then our brains will identify it for us without us having to think about it, ie – an old book.
Only an old book smells like an old book. Only an apple smells like an apple. I was in the company of an apple tree and a lady recently and she was voicing her disappointment with the fruit, as it ‘didn’t taste of anything. Just apple.’ But I digress.
Anyway, back to the bookshop. Some fabulous books. On the dustcover of one particular book was a photograph of a member of the clergy with the words ‘Arrested in 1932 for ****** and eaten by a lion in 1937.’ You just don’t get that sort of thing on the covers of modern books.
But who will buy all those old, old books?
At what point do they stop being an item to be kept and treasured and become a paper-mite-infested, out-of-date irrelevance? Never, shout book lovers the world over. Yet I have this debate with myself every time I rehome books. How long will they do the rounds of charity shops, car boot sales, etc? Until they become tattered and dog-eared and no longer look good, despite the message inside? I will confess to not being an Early Adopter, but an up-to-a-point troglodyte, joyfully and deliberately old-fashioned when it comes to books. I am happy to use my books as coffee cup coasters or pile them high to ensure my bedside light is raised another few inches; I couldn’t do that with a Kindle (other electronic reading apps are available.) (Apparently.) And if you’ve read this far and are interested in what happens to old books, here’s a Radio 4 link should you want to have a listen.
Not a moniker you would normally associate with tomatoes I’m sure, and when, aged 12, a retired sailor-turned-gardener described his much fussed-over tomato plants as bastards, I was both shocked and a little bit thrilled by the use of the word. I had no idea what he was talking about of course and wasn’t that interested in his plants: it was the use of the B word that so wrested my attention. A long time ago, the only B words you were likely to hear were Bum, often used by granny if she got in a tiz or children aged around 8-10; or Bloody, used by any male about any thing, and rarely the hard-core profanity, Bastard, which was used only when the situation demanded, by ex-sailors and old gardeners. (And may be wronged-wives as she cut the arms off her soon-to-be ex-husband’s shirts. But that I feel is another blog.) The chap in question who had so rudely abused his plants was an uncle, the Tomato Incident occurring two weeks after he’d been laid-up with a dodgy stomach bug. On returning to his allotment he found that his Solanum lycopersicum hadn’t so much made a bid for freedom, but had staged an out-right coup of every square centimetre of land around them, smothering and destroying everything in their path. As Uncle Tom (as we shall call him and you have to admit, is pretty appropriate) began hoiking the plants back up their canes, chopping and pruning and tying them tightly, he muttered and cursed, wondering why he bothered, look at the damage they’d done and vexatiously complaining that generally, tomatoes were bastards.
“Turns your fingers green for weeks,” he moaned. “Look!” he said, waving his large sausage-like fingers in front of my face. That image has stayed with me all these years. Whenever I see tinned tomatoes I can’t help but murmur Serves You Right.
Tomatoes Are Bastards a poem
Thick green stem
lays across the ground,
pushing out bubonic lumps
of root protrusions
that greedily seek water.
Hidden between the lush green leaves
are the tiny yellow flowers
that will form fleshy plump tomatoes:
Eden’s alternative fruit.
Rambling outward, unstopped,
this brute of a plant keeps going
untamed and feral,
smothering all in its path,
until cut down by storm or frost,
and when tinged by nature turns black and rots.
But washed by rain, concealed
and protected in the soil
are the indestructible seeds
of next year’s bastard tomato plants
making the loam their home.
Recently, I came across this rather perplexing – and not to say intimidating – sign. Apart from the unexpected use of a comma (but no full stop) and the over-use of capitals, it was the menacing use of the phrase ‘or similar’ that intrigued me. What is similar to skateboarding and rollerblading? Apart from Heelys, I cannot think of any other footwear with wheels or balls that enable perambulation. Wheelbarrowing? No. Skiing? Well, no, for obvious reasons. Maybe it was a cost-saving exercise; instead of a separate sign declaring No Cycling or another instructing No Scooters, the Anti-Fun Police in the civic offices just went for an all out ban on the latest craze in whichever decade it could apply. I assure you that where I saw this sign Rollerblading would not have taken place on a sunny seafront by young people with pepped-up pecs and buttocks hard enough to crack nuts. No. This sign was erected in an area not known for its wealth or health. Clearly an epidemic of skateboarding and rollerblading had occurred at some point in the past serious enough to warrant the cost of designing, creating and putting in place a large DON’T sign. Tax-payers money well-spent I say. But wait! If you dare to contravene this instruction and find yourself whizzing down the road and in to the arms of the, er, Rollerblade Police (or similar) you will be fined! How much, I wonder? And what would the charge be? Contravening byelaw 47 I guess.
“Your Honour, the Defendant has been charged with contravening byelaw 47 by committing the Or similar offence”
“I see. Please elaborate.”
“Well, he was seen skidding along in a pair of pink Heelys borrowed from his sister at a speed of nearly 0.1mph, trying to keep his balance while trying to keep up with his grandmother.”
“I see. to Defendant How do you plead?”
“Guilty as charged. Take him down.”
Another sign that caught my eye recently was this one: I don’t know what it’s referring to
but I do know that you’re not allowed to use it. Ever. Which makes it all the more interesting…