Sunday, 30 October 2011

quick brown foxes

I taught myself to type after I left Polytechnic, on my mother's old manual typewriter, by typing 'the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog' over and over. It has all the letters of the alphabet, so gradually you learnt where they all are on the keyboard. You had to pay close attention in those days, there was no going back and erasing the mistakes. And you had to hit the keys pretty hard. None of this namby pamby tap tap tapping, it went clunk, clunk, and at the end of each line sprung back with a loud 'ka-ching'.

(Linking back to Magpie Tales 89)


Today I don't want to write 100 words. I can't be bothered. I have sat and stared at this stupid little empty square. I am tempted to just write 99 and see if it will tell me off. Because I seem to be doing everything wrong today. I chose the wrong day apparently to feel pissed off and taken for granted. Because today was the day when I was supposed to be strong, competent, supportive parent. Today I get accused of being unapproachable and judgemental. When I am asked for help i have never turned any of them away. Ever.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

First NaNo meeting

The anxiety started to build as we waited for the tram. Creature was convinced we were 'late', I said I bet there would be hardly anyone there yet. It was half past by the time we got off at Market Street, though we were reassured to see the place across Piccadilly Gardens, right where she thought it was. It was crowded inside so I asked and was directed towards the back. We weaved through the bar, were briefly concerned at the sight of a random group of middle aged blokes, and then we saw the signs on the tables, 'NaNoWriMo'.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Macaroni cheese

It's a macaroni conspiracy. You go to the cupboard and invariably most of it has escaped from the packaging and you have to sweep it up from the shelf. Or there is only that stuff that you bought in an emergency and it was never very nice, far too starchy so it stuck together when it cooked, so it was left at the back uneaten. Or you've got a lovely new packet, specially bought for tonight and the packet bursts and spills its contents across the kitchen floor. But a good cheesy sauce can effectively cover all manner of sins.

(another inspired by Creature who is downstairs cooking her favourite dinner)

Sunday, 23 October 2011

bad news

A siren sounded in the distance but somehow he knew that it was not coming to his rescue. He stood back in the corner of the room and tried to calm himself. In only a few minutes they would be there and he was supposed to be in control, at least of himself if not the situation. The door opened and the men filed cooperatively to their desks. He took a deep breath and began handing out the assignments. "Well Mr Manson, I'm sorry, but you'll have to re-write that essay, it's really not up to your usual standard."

(Feeling uninspired Dunk found a random writing prompt generator for me and it came up with 'a teacher gives some bad news to a mass murderer')

road rage

Eunice's knees were feeling particularly bad that morning, and she hadn't slept well, so the move from her bed to the chair was going to be a slow one. Her slippers were as she left them the night before, just under the edge of the bed. She shuffled with her walker to the bathroom and relieved herself noisily, sighing with pleasure. She put in her false teeth and peered closely at her face in the mirror. Then she ran her brush through her fine hair and coiled it into a tiny bun. She shuffled on, and in the kitchen made coffee and toast. It was difficult to walk and carry so cup and plate where shifted to the edge of the counter, then to the telephone table by the door, then to the coffee table by her chair. She finally sat down and sighed again, settling herself with the Radio 4 news.
The first sip of coffee was interrupted by a loud crunch and the blaring of car horns. Eunice pulled herself to her feet again and leaned against the window frame to see down to the street. Two big expensive cars were stopped directly below. Already both drivers were out of their cars and angrily blaming the other for the collision. She opened the window a little wider, took from her windowsill a glass paperweight, and pitched it smack in the centre of the first car's windscreen. In the stunned silence that followed she sat back and picked up her coffee.

(Linking back to Magpie Tales 88.)

Friday, 21 October 2011

no baby

There is a pushchair parked in the wheelchair space, but there is no baby in it. Instead it is piled with bags of junk. In a plastic carrier is a yellow plastic truck with blue wheels. A child's pink backpack hangs from the handles but most of the space is taken up with a bursting bin liner. Out of the top protrudes one of those CD racks that looks like a huge metal toast rack. From another bag pokes the leg of what might be a bamboo stool or maybe a small table. The woman looks at first as if she has dreadlocks, but in fact her hair is just very tight tangled curls. She gets up from her seat abruptly and goes up the stairs. We can hear her having a conversation, perhaps on the phone, asking someone to come and meet her from the bus. She comes back down and tries to strike up a conversation with a woman she appears to know. The woman acknowledges her momentarily then turns her attention back to her newspaper. She seems embarrassed that the attention focussed on the woman is reflecting on her too. The woman with the curls keeps chatting, oblivious to the fact that the other woman is ignoring her. She shifts her laden pushchair out into the aisle and the driver tells her off. She makes a fuss about moving it out of the way and starts a loud diatribe against Manchester buses and announces she is going to London. I hear someone towards the back tut dramatically, as if they have heard it before. She makes preparations to get off, standing in the way of other people for several stops, repeatedly telling the driver that she wants the next one. The bus brakes and her pushchair rolls down the bus, crashing into the door. As she rescues it she continues all the while her conversation with the unresponsive woman, who appears to slump with relief when she finally disembarks. As we pull away an elderly lady with neat maroon gloves asks the woman with the newspaper, "Does she have anyone?"

Thursday, 20 October 2011

foreign poetry

It's funny how you can tell that poetry is poetry even when you can't understand the words. It has a rhythm unlike normal speech, patterns within the language that are there over and above the meaning of the words. But then I wonder if it is really possible to translate a poem. The words are so carefully chosen, for the nuances of meaning that come with intimacy. Surely when translating the words what you are doing in reality is writing a whole new poem, even if the author themselves translates it. Language is just so much more subtle than that.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


It was a dark and stormy day, the rain came down in torrents. Word passed swiftly around the office concerning the atmospheric conditions causing disgruntled mutterings amongst the postmen as they waited to leave with their laden bags. Where ordinary people make polite conversation about the weather, for Royal Mail employees it is the subject of serious discussion. The weight and duration of any potential precipitation, the rise and fall of the temperature are always of great interest. A day is judged as 'good' or 'bad' based on the moisture content of your shoes at the end of the shift.

Monday, 17 October 2011


The cat watched him through the window, as if she knew what he was up to. The grass was sodden with dew so he stomped down the garden in his wellington boots. In the shed he found the spade, it had a coating of rust pitting the surface and a bit of dead bramble tangled round the handle but it would do. He decided on a spot behind the compost heap and cleared away the leaf mulch and some fallen branches. The ground was soft and easy to break open, it wouldn't take him long to get it deep enough.

Saturday, 15 October 2011


The birthday card sits, threateningly, on the fireplace. It portends the disappointment to come. There have been years when things have gone quite well; friends came, candles blown, cake eaten, but the excitement and anticipation of childhood have mellowed into a cynical disenchantment. Too many years when there was no one to invite, when there was nothing that she wished for. Sometimes I am glad that she is so un-acquisitive, that her happiness is something much more intangible. The trouble is that it's very intangibility makes it all the more elusive. We try to keep things low key nowadays.

Friday, 14 October 2011

bike ride

I am a demon cyclist. Like Cruella de Vil chasing the puppies in her car, bloodshot eyes flashing, hair flying wildly, dishevelled and frantic, I race up Oxford Road. I jump red lights, dodge around buses, weave in and out of standing traffic. Then a nice smooth run as I join the cycle track up past the university, only the odd straying student to beware of. I hit a red at the RNCM but make my way to the front of the queue. The fumes choke me but I am determined to make it. Don't you just hate being late.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

A near miss

The man stepped out , oblivious. Just wandered across even though the lights had changed. The bus slowed, only slightly. The people on the pavement barely had time to react, but barely reacted. Then the man stopped and held up his hand, like a traffic policeman or a lollipop lady, as if he had the authority to arrest the traffic. The bus jerked, lurched, jerked again, and stopped, within a few inches of the man. Two girls across the aisle screeched in alarm. He took a few meandering paces across the tarmac, obviously unsteady on his feet. Then we moved off.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Joining a biker gang

"I'm off to Patrick's, can I have tram fare?" The bag has her book and her contact lens stuff. I am always telling her off for sleeping in her contact lenses when she stays over with friends. "Will you be back tomorrow," I ask. "Of course, he has college on Monday," she reminds me, irritated at my forgetfulness. She ties her hair back, shoulders her bag and is out the door before I can interrogate any more. Walking swiftly to the end of the road she glances briefly behind her, climbs on the back of the motorbike and is gone.

(For Creature, a private joke)

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Home Education

If you chose to home educate your children you should first be aware of the rigorous demands on your constitution. In the name of encouraging curiosity you will let your children fall into ponds, climb very high trees, bring home dead animals and melt stuff with matches. You must be prepared to drink bad tea in draughty village halls while they charge around with other wild children hitting each other with sticks. You will never have a moment's peace and the noise will echo around your head for years after they have left home. But it will be worth it.

Monday, 3 October 2011

The Messenger

"This is getting ridiculous, we must do something."
Artemis looked accusingly as Zeus, it was the third time this century that she had bought up the pollution problem and each time he had evaded her demands.
"I realise that your approach has become a bit more laissez faire over the last couple of millennium but it really is time we stepped in. War ravages so many lands and peoples, their thirst for resources is destroying the last of my wilderness, and the filth and waste they churn out is taking it's toll on the whole planet."
"So what are you suggesting?" Zeus retorted angrily, he didn't much like anyone questioning his policy decisions. "They have their 'free will', it's no longer my responsibility."
"How about a message, a sign that can't be ignored," suggested Hera, trying to keep the peace. "It wouldn't be like any kind of direct action."
"It's got to be pretty big though." Hermes joined in, warming to the idea. "What's the most massive creature we've got?"
"An elephant," said Artemis, enjoying having some support for a change. "Human beings have a soft spot for elephants anyway. But we have to make a bit different, we don't want them thinking they've had a visit from Ganesha or the Hindus will just think they've won."
"Ok," said Zeus, "I'll just give him some wings, that way he can fly himself down there and arrive in style, visit all the important people and then fly himself back again, I mean we can't just leave a winged elephant wandering around on earth can we."
So the giant beast was adorned with wings and dispatched to proclaim his message to the people of earth. He landed amongst the factories and chimneys of the industrial countries. He raised his trunk and trumpeted his warning, urging the humans to give up their destructive ways and turn to peace and cooperation with their planet. But in their eagerness the gods had forgotten to give him the power of speech ... so his voice went unheeded, his warnings misunderstood. The humans took him for a freak of nature and stuffed him for posterity, so their children's children's children could see what an elephant used to look like.

(Linking back to Magpie Tales 85)

Sunday, 2 October 2011

pine cone

The pine cone on my dressing table continues to open and close with the weather, even after thirty years, though there are no longer any seeds within falling from between the scales. We were holidaying in France, 1979 I think. The campsite was hot, dry and sandy beneath the pine trees though we were more than a mile from the sea. We had long days of getting sunburnt on the beach and sitting in the café playing pinball with french boys, me pretending to be grown up like my sister. Before we left I picked it up as a momento.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Mr Grey

Mr Grey sat on the bench in front of the house. Not watching, not waiting, just sitting. When the neighbour walked out to the shop he stared at the ground and pretended not to notice. He smoked skinny cigarettes that he rolled between stained fingers, flicking the butts into the neglected flowerbed. About ten thirty a funeral cortege rolled slowly past, a single occupant in the limousine. He followed it impassively with his eyes, all the way along the street until it disappeared under the railway bridge. He closed his eyes for a moment, then he rolled himself another cigarette.