Sombrero Vikings

We were using music as a starting point to write a story and having mused on a track from the film ‘Little miss Sunshine’.  I came up with this.  What do you mean, you’ve never watched it?  Oh you must…you just must. …

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The rain had bottled them up in the van for forty minutes.  This was too much for Suki.  Even though she was a nine-year-old expert in dinosaurs, bugs and, as of this week, birds, she’d exhausted all her conversation.  And then ‘pop’ a topic arrived in her head.   So she began the tale of Dad, aka Dan, breaking up with his latest girlfriend Clare, aka fluffy bunny.   But now Grandad and Dad were even quieter. Maybe it was a boring story, she thought; after all, Dad was always breaking up with his girlfriends.  She shrugged to herself and went back to thinking about budgies.  The silence got coloured in by the rain playing jazz drums on the roof accompanied by the experimental sounds of Grandad’s crunching of extra strong mints and deep throat grumbling.

“Looks like that’s the last of the rain Suki” said Dan “Look at the light coming through those clouds.”

Suki stirred from thoughts of Budgie mirrors and looked up at the sky.

“I think they call those beams, Jack’s ladders” added Dan.

“It’s Jacob’s ladders,” Said Grandad curtly and huffed back into silence.

“Vikings believed they were Valkyries coming to earth” Suki recalled from her third favourite subject.

“Who told you that?”

“Clare did.  I liked Clare” Another mint cracked.

“And what do the Valkyries do?”  Asked Dan trying to ignore the look from Grandad

“They come down to collect the warriors and take them to Venezuela”

“I think you mean Valhalla, sweetheart,” said Dan. “Do you want to go and start feeding the birds and then we’ll go for a walk around the lake.  I just need to have a quick chat with Grandad.”

Suki clambered out from between them, said hello to the ducks and waved an angry finger at a nearby seagull.

The lecture began with the rattle of another mint around the dentures, a sigh, and a pinch of the bridge of the nose.  Then came Grandad’s long march speech on settling down, no-ones perfect, Suki needs stability.  The sermon continued with them both watching Suki attempting to get as much food to the ducks whilst keeping a determined gangster seagull at a distance.  Grandad’s pitch heightened and he introduced emphatic hand gestures.  The seagull crept closer.  Grandad raised the subject of his daughter’s death and what she would have wanted.  The seagull’s neck stretched out.  Grandad brought up Suki living with him again and the seagull’s beak scratched the seed bag.

There was a flash of wings and a hollering cry that echoed over the lake.  Grandad stopped in mid-sentence.

“Bloody hell,” he said “Did she just punch that seagull?”

That’s my girl thought Dan, that’s my girl.

Bimbling out of my life

I’ve not posted a story in over a month.  Honestly, I’ve been doing stuff, I really have.  It’s not all been sipping champagne whilst being fed grapes by the bronzed and the beautiful…at least not at all the time.  So here for your delectation is another little ditty from my writing course.

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Bimbling out of my life

On an island off Africa (but somehow part of Spain), where plastic grass framed a palm tree-shaped pool and fairy lights blinked around the fake hoarding of a mock Hawaiian bar and a Portuguese impersonator of a dead American singer entertained the glowing pink and alcohol soaked German tourists who clapped out of beat – there – gripping my shopping, wide-eyed and stiff as a nail, stood me.

It was the wrong hotel.

I’d turned right in instead of left but it looked almost exactly the same as ours, just this one was full of Germans.  Different enough though, just enough to make me see it as it was.  And suddenly doing what’s expected, obeying the rules, if this was the result…well…it didn’t make sense.

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Mrs Humphrey’s rang her bell, ‘When you hear the bell you must form a line, be quiet and wait to be told to take your seat in class’.  And that bell just kept ringing in my head.  Ding! Don’t talk too much.  Ding!  Don’t be too quiet.  Ding!  Be an individual.  Ding!  But don’t stand out.  Ding!  Be independent.  Ding!  But find a husband.  Dong!  Pretend to yourself that you’re being yourself as you’re being a self that fits in.  Don’t rock the boat and soon this life will all…just blow over.

And that was my life, my beige adventure, my way of being a sensible me.

School, college, boyfriends, husband – Ding! – new rules to learn.    And life became the wearing of matching cycling helmets, shopping in M&S for underpants, and fostering a heightened sense of concern over the price of semi-detached houses in the Dorchester area.  It was all very tidy and organised although a bit quiet even with the friendship of our semi-detached neighbours who accompanied us for a bi-annual visit to the Bristol Ikea for meatballs and communal passive aggression.

And kids came and grew and went and all done very neatly.  Housework, M&S, Ikea and the annual holiday in Grand Canarias and life all kept bimbling along.  Grand Canarias, same hotel, no surprises, bags packed by Nigel with his system of saving space and a plastic wallet for the paperwork and its printed Excel spreadsheet checklist.  It was going to be fun.  It said so on the list.

6.20 taxi, 11.30 flight, 13.30 hotel check-in, the bell rings for the buffet and we all take our seats. Ding!

9 pm and I’m watching Spanish Elvis with the German tourists in the Hawaiian bar and it all looks horribly absurd.  I turn and walk away, quietly I slipped back to my room took my bank cards and my passport, dropped my room key down the drain, waved down a cab and gently bimbled out of my life.

Two very short stories

Two short stories this week.  Bargain!  The task was to write a story of just 150 words (ish) and one of 40 words (ish).

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Falling

I saw my TV vanish into the floor followed, a moment later, by the carpet, the sofa, the cat – then… me.  I was still holding the remote as I fell off the edge of the world. My street, my town …everything followed, spinning into chaos.

And “they” said it was round..tush!

And God did I scream.  Everyone screamed. The air rushing up like it did and oh that sinking feeling and the muddle of people, bricks, toasters, dogs, cars and…well…everything. Just all the confusion, oh it was dreadful.  But…but it was such a long, long way down.

Eventually…eventually, people stopped screaming.  Surprisingly…it got boring, just falling.  So that’s when folks got busy.  They made things from the debris: roads made of rope, built homes, formed committees, got jobs, planned parties, made friends, had kids, all in the tumbling chaos.  Now we’re so damn busy, we could almost forget that we are falling.

Almost.

Food Bank

I’m stumped to know what job would suit you, though I must admit, that’s quite a trick.

Next day, early at his new job at the food bank, he pulls out his basket, his bread and his fish.

No previous convictions

This started off as a short story about a 92-year-old crook but I think it works better as a script.  

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Exit DS Hicks and DCI Oates.

Scene: Hallway – DS Hicks gently pulls the door from the interview room behind him.

HICKS: So, do we continue the interview? Will the brief be up for it?

OATES: Who?  Rumpole Rupert?  He’s alright. New Year’s day?  He’ll be getting top whack for this, don’t worry about him.  He may look miserable but inside he’s on a bouncy castle counting his fee.

HICKS: What do you think of Sydney?

OATES: I think he’s a villain; I don’t care if he’s 92 and mad as a cow on skates he’s still a villain.  Haven’t they brought him some clothes yet?

HICKS: They did but he refused to get changed; he says he likes the paper onesie we gave him from forensics.  It doesn’t chafe …(pause)…apparently.

OATES: Loveable eccentric or a playing with us, hard to tell ain’t it

HICKS: How do you mean guv?

OATES: Well, how are you supposed to seriously question someone when they look like…that.  Why’s he got the hood up?

HICKS:  I told him he could take it down but he says he likes it like that.  Does make him look a bit…odd.

OATES:  Looks like a telly-tubby on crack.  What happened to the Social Worker?

HICKS: He’s on his way. You don’t seriously think he set the fire deliberately?

OATES: He told us… he hated the new management of the home, he has motive

HICKS: Yeah, but he had money as well, if he didn’t like it he could have just moved.

OATES: What did he save from the fire?

HICKS: His photo album.

OATES: With all those photos of the other residents.  It’s not just his hobby, they’re his friends.  He didn’t want to move without ‘em.

HICKS: (Pause) But why naked?  Why didn’t he put some clothes on and then set the fire?  Doesn’t make sense.

OATES: He said he didn’t want to get dust on the photos as he developed them; do you believe that?

HICKS: But why would he be naked if he planned it? Did things go wrong?

OATES: He sets the fire using the alcohol, picks up his photo album, runs through the day room, gets everyone’s attention.  The residents run after him, all the staff run after them.  By the time they’re all fine and dandy the fire’s taken hold.  But…but…everyone is safely out the building.  That’s why he had to be naked.

HICKS:  But why do it?  What would he be after?

OATES: All those photos of the residents, all set in their rooms, yes?  Did you see what’s in the background?   All his little gifts from his antique shop days?  Should help with the insurance claim.  Don’t you think?

HICKS:  Insurance job?  No…no….sorry guv doesn’t make sense. Why burn the house down with the antiques, why not just sell the antiques?

OATES:  I know…I know…it doesn’t make sense, I know.   But it was him. It was… I know it.  I just bloody know it.  I just don’t know what he’s up to.  But he did…he bloody did it.  Why’s he waving at us?

HICKS:  I think he’s just being friendly guv.  (Starts waving back)

OATES:  What are you doing?

HICKS:  Just…(pause) waving….back?

OATES:  Christ…. (Exit Oates, Hicks looks to see he’s gone…Hicks waves back at Sydney)

Nice Cara

I thought I would carry on writing about this character Paul (the Photojournalist who’s got a spot of PTSD and is unbearably honest to people).  This week’s homework was seeing what happens when said character goes back to their hometown.  I’m not sure it works as a story but he is fun to write.

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Nice Cara

My indignation felt like a ghost from the past.

“Why? I’m a nice person!  I don’t even fancy you!”  I yelled at him.  An awkward silence fell over the café.  Paul stopped, shook his head, turned and sat back down.

“I agreed to meet because we use to be friends,” He said, “but, frankly I don’t know who you are anymore.”

“But…”

“No Cara…stop talking!  You want to know why then stop talking.”

He lit a cigarette, blew a cloud of smoke into the ceiling fan then turned to me with a look that narrowed down like a focusing flashlight.

“You use to tell a story about how you stuck a pencil into some kids hand at primary school.  Remember?  I loved that story. It didn’t surprise me about you.  Back then you had sharp teeth and claws.  Not the kind to be messed with, not the type to be pushed around.

And now? For the last hour you’ve done nothing but whine.  Oh the clients, so demanding, oh the funding, so exhausting, oh the Trustees, so tiresome.  And, oh the stress.  Oh, such the bloody martyr. Really pulled yourself up on that cross haven’t you, agreeable Cara the sacrificial victim. Oh, but always such a good egg …poor Cara.  You’ve done nothing but angle for sympathy for the last hour, well sod off, you’re getting none from me.  If people are walking over you its cause you let them.  And you let them cause you’re frightened of people seeing who you really are and of not being needed anymore and who is Cara if she isn’t needed.

The Cara that I knew, I respected.  I didn’t like her because she was a bitch, I didn’t like her because she was nasty.  I liked her because she could be a bitch, she could be nasty but she chose not to be.”

Paul got up and slipped on his jacket.

“Truth is, I’d have more sympathy for you if you didn’t feel so sorry for yourself.  I still like you, how couldn’t I, you are so very ‘nice’, but I don’t respect you.  You turned yourself into a doormat which is dumb, you fish for sympathy which is pathetic and you turn to me for sympathy?  Me?  You pulled out your own teeth and claws for the benefit of other people’s opinions.  If you’re not bothered to be pissed off about your own life then don’t be surprised if you get pissed on Cara.”

“You know what Paul?” I said, “You’re such a wanker.”

“Yeah, but I’m right though.  So, are we done here?”  I nodded. “If you can leave the fluffy bunny act at home then I’ll see you here next week otherwise have a nice life.”

It’s just so scrummy

We were asked to describe a scene in a way that says something about a character…so…

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Three options:  take a break, see a therapist or get fired.  So here I am, rural Austria, on a narrow country road, sliced through a shallow valley between two banks of custard yellow flowers stretching to the horizon.  Don’t ask me the name of them…I don’t do flowers.

It’s a bright morning, no clouds to obscure the dull beauty of this pretty blue sky.   As I screw around on my heel the ocean of nothingness stretches out in every pointless direction.  These fields of flowers, neatly carved up by freshly made tidy fences, should be perfect but it looks like a screen saver image, one designed by a committee on Mogadon.

Wherever I point my camera it’s just relentless…quaintness.  I’ve seen this place before… somewhere. On adverts for washing detergents?  Or some music video?  An irritating hipster girl in a floral dress, a vacant grin, oversized glasses and a ukulele that’s begging to be used as a face bat.   I’m not usually this surly, honest, not even in riots; maybe it’s the pollen.

I’m a photojournalist and this saccharine cyanide of a view is just not for me; not anymore.  I’m not a photographer, it’s not the same.  People get confused when I say that.  Friends use to ask me to take photos of weddings.  I did a couple; returned images to them of how they’ll look a week before their decree absolute.  It’s in my nature, I suppose, to scratch the surface, find what’s hidden, what’s ugly.

Give me rust and graffiti, streetlights at dusk a shimmering drain cover; give me a disused factory, a sinkhole estate punched into the face of the countryside.  Give me a corner of a brutalist concrete car park where burnt teaspoons rattle in the cold winter light, give me wars and riots and a gangster’s bloody smile, anything, but these bloody flowers.

I watch the yellow dots swaying as one mesmerized mass in the light breeze and feel I’m being watched by a legion of tiny moronic cult followers.  It’s all so viciously needy.

There’s nothing to focus on nothing to capture nothing to see, nothing but me and, Christ, I don’t need to be looking at me.  I put the camera back in the bag.  Put out my cigarette on a dry fence post and find brief satisfaction in watching it burn.

Framed

Short story on love and starting over

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Until yesterday, the photographs stood like certificates of a joyful marriage.  He took the shots; she built the frames with wood, shells and shinning small stones. Now it would all be remembered, nothing new.  This morning she watched him lowered into the earth. Words were said, faces streamed and she heard so many ways of saying ‘sorry for your loss’, that it became mumbles merging with an engine of the car that pulled her to the wake, where teacups rattled like terrified bones, and it was all too much to walk through a door and she said…something and the family made concerned whispers and now here she was in a park, on a bench with a handsome man smiling at her.  And she traces the line of the wedding ring and can’t recall putting on the red plastic raincoat over her black dress and it all feels wrong… like Christmas.  Like Christmas morning when you open the curtains and there is a grey, wet sky, not a spark of snow. It’s not how it should be, not as you’re told it would be, doesn’t match expectations.  It’s as if life has robbed you.

And she can’t help thinking, as the man smiles at her again, that maybe life is so callous that this is how love starts over; at the right wrong time.

What if he’s rich and mad enough to love me?  What if he’s the kind of madman that leaves flowers next to parking tickets, pulls faces at old hippies and I miss this moment to play at being me again?  Could we talk and swap numbers?  He phones, we meet, he laughs and jokes that his favourite word is ‘apple’ because it makes my lips form a kiss and then we do kiss.  Then eat together, walk together, a city break a new home a rescue dog with cross-eyes. A new shelf of photographs of new memories: him with a sombrero, me sliding down a ski slope, our wedding in Santorini.  Two middle-aged fools dancing on white hotel sheets and happiness so raw it feels like biting into a fresh lemon and laugh and cry and be so in love and stupid and silly and childish and electrified with fun and grasping all that life can give up, until all the hours are used up.  Until, again, his last day, his last night and his last kiss on the palm of my hand, his eyes bright, my elbow locked; with all those smiling photographs watching us and all so beautifully framed.

Worrying about worrying about worrying about…

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I get anxious.  I’m beginning to feel that I’m built for it: the turn of the stomach, the tingle of the shoulder muscles, and the collision of random thoughts like the regular groaning thud of an offloaded hot dryer.

I get sad too. And, again, I could be just designed this way, venting a sigh like the brakes on an artic and passing through friends generously proffered positive perspectives on life like a welding laser through a plastic charity toy.  I wouldn’t say I’m depressed though…more of a functional moody bitch.

I always thought these sparks of fears and lulls in mood could be…solved.  I had thought that one day, in some faith or view or therapy or drug or drink or guru or friend or lover or pastime or song or self-help manual or meditation or medication, priest, monk or daylight SAD lamp…that I’d find the answer.

But what if I can’t help the way my muscles twitch and strain.  What if I can’t help the way these uncomfortable spectres dance and trudge their way through the highways of my nerves.

What if it’s just…me.

I thought about this a few weeks ago whilst riding my bike through a storm and dodging branches on the wet road.  And I thought, between thoughts of fearing a slide under a passing truck, about how anxious I am about being anxious, how sad I am about being sad.  I would worry, about how I worry, about worrying but then I’d end up worrying about worrying about worrying about worrying…and that just wouldn’t do.

I console myself with the thought that there is sadness and anxiety in life and it’s just the way it is…not a fault, not a problem to be solved…just life.  I happen to have a brain running on an operating system of the Smiths back catalogue – just built this way and no point in worrying about or at least not worrying about worrying about it.

Nowhere

Class assignment:  write a dialogue that sets out an alternative world.  (Vaguely based on experiences in the Nowhere Inn, Plymouth.

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Nowhere Inn 8.30pm and Russell, a multi-reality hippie with boss eyes, consoles his friend Tom.

“Stop telling me to ‘chill-out’ Russell; you’re doing my swede in.”

“It could be worse.” Said Russell, as he stirred his crème de menthe with a flake. “Getting bummed out isn’t helpful.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.  Being beaten up by my landlord for being in my own flat is perfectly fine.  Let me guess, it’s a learning experience.  I’ve been fired from a job that apparently I never had, but never mind I’m sure it’s just another tool in my box of coping strategies.  Yes, let’s be positive, I’ve got plenty of time now to look for a new home, could be tricky seeing as I’m erased from people’s memories ten minutes after meeting them, but praise be, my girlfriend hasn’t forgotten me.  Oh no, wait, turns out she has a bit of a dark side.”

“What?” Said Russell,  “No, Zara’s a sweetie.”

“She carries her mother’s decapitated head around in a box!”

“Cool, you met Brunhilda.  Did she mention me?

“Funnily enough I don’t recall, can’t think why maybe it was that she’s a talking decapitated head in a box. Don’t you get how weird this all is Russell?  No one remembers me.  I talk to people and then I’m…woof….forgotten.  I’m like a freaking ghost and the only people who can keep me in their memory are, and let’s be generous here, a bunch of weirdos.”

“I’m charming.” Protested Russell, “different, I grant you, but that’s just eccentricity.”

“Russell, you walk into walls that aren’t there and you glow when you sneeze… that’s weird.”

Tom pushed his fingers through his hair and slid down into his chair.

“Nothing is right anymore, I don’t get it:  tartan flasks as teleportation devices but only to seaside resorts…madness, gloves left on park railings cure a toothache…ridiculous, and spiders grow by the fluorescent bulb of street lamps to have fifteen-meter razor-sharp metallic-legs and come out on quiet frosty mornings to trade secrets of the universe for a Remington Fuzz-away.  Talking spiders, talking decapitated heads, a dual reality hippie, and a 1980’s sandwich Brevil that brings back repressed memories…it’s just…all…so…silly.”

“Actually, did you know” Began Russell in a whisper.  “that It used to be that a Brevil recycled three times through a car-boot sale would let you speak to God.”

“You could talk to God… through a Brevil?”

“Well…yes, you could… but then they switched her off.”  Tom slapped his hands over his face and shook his head.

“You’re not helping.”

Russell shrugged.

“It could be worse.”

“Worse?  How could it be worse?”  Russell took a bite of his flake.

“Well…it could be happening to me.”