In preparation for our house move, I loaded up the car with accumulated garage rubbish and we headed off to the dump (aka “the tip” – official name: Civic Recycling Centre). Damn us if the thing weren’t open.
Lots of other people were caught out too, enough to alert us something was up before we even reached the gates. To be fair to the dump, they’ve always been closed on Tuesdays and there’s a dirty great sign by the gate which says so. The thing is, these days, in England, we’re just used to everything being open whenever we need it.
I’m old enough to remember when shops and stores were closed all day on Sundays and shops would close for Wednesday afternoons, and banks, bless ’em, would shut their doors mid-afternoon, Monday to Friday. Weekend banking? Not a chance.
The thing was that this wasn’t really a problem for most of us as the situation was quite clear. Shoppers had a responsibility to mind the time and, if they missed the shop, they only had themselves to blame. It usually meant opening a tin of something, like it or lump it.
I have noticed whenever holidaying in Wales and Spain – in certain parts, at least – you can’t find a restaurant or gastropub (or whatever the Spanish equivalent of that is) open on a Monday. Sundays is normally dead being the Sabbath, so avoid going on a short break anywhere over a Sunday and a Monday, unless you want to eat McDonald’s.
What’s my (serious) take on this?
Well, for a long while I’ve kind of missed the spirit of the quite Sunday (early closing Wednesday was sometimes a pain in the arse). There was something ineffably calming and peaceful and ordered about Sundays. I mean, it wasn’t ever a religious thing for us but if that’s what it takes, so be it. A sabbath made for man; I quite like it.
“Really?”, said Rudolph.
“Kids today have it all; they’re not fussed about some random fat man coming around once a year.”
Rudolph’s nose began to glow. Santa continued,
“When I first started out, a kid would be thrilled to get an orange or a balloon. I once turned up at one house having forgotten the present. So I just painted a great big lump of coal red and he was over the moon. Kids today? You can’t satisfy them.”
They stood in silence for a bit.
“What about Christmas?”, asked Rudolph.
“What of it?”, replied Santa.
“Well, I mean, the true spirit, apart from the cynical commercialism and all that”, said Rudolph
“Well, it’s a funny thing, Rudolph. It wasn’t mentioned when I applied for this job but I’ll let you into a secret. I’m a Buddhist.”
“How strange”, said Rudolph, becoming that excited, his nose seemed on the verge of meltdown, “me too!”
This week’s Flash Fiction story was inspired by the picture kindly provided by Akshata Ram.
In fact, I’m all for Christmas and have no issue with Santa being Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Jew, Sikh, Jain or whatever. I’m not religious but I’m not anti-religious. It’s all a fascinating aspect of being human.
The rules for FFFAW are all explained HERE or click on the black box right, or on the blue FROG button below to read other stories submitted.
I was reading an article last week about different country’s attitudes to social media interaction, which must include blogging, and those “taboo” controversial subjects – religion, politics, sport, and music/movies.
Not being religious, I don’t want to be one of those aggressive, brute, atheists I often read in the comments section of national newspapers. I don’t wish to pour scorn on people’s personal faith. Politics, I just don’t understand enough about to argue. As for sport, it’s games – fun to play and all that, but what’s with the tribalism? I never got it.
I was surprised to see “music/movies” included. What can be controversial about those? Surely, both are fair game for social topics. I know there are significant numbers of people who still hold faith in power of The Beatles, and others who feel the same about Led Zeppelin, but generally I’ve found people to be open-minded and curious towards music.
I’ve probably written before that my first foray into blogging was themed around music. It was simply something to write about; I wanted to try blogging and couldn’t think of anything else to write about. It’s often tempting to go back to that theme and write around music till the cows come home but I’m mindful to avoid it. Mainly, I’ve found music to be a personal journey, one not easily put into words. I could do a mix-tape – been there, done that, on a blog, weekly – but who’s interested?
But as it’s Christmas, and I seem to have had a bit of time on my hands this morning, I’ll let the guard down slightly and offer a glimpse of my musical tastes. Bandcamp, whose blog I follow on WP, have posted their top 100 albums of the year and I’ve listened and selected three of those which I quite like (I was happy to hear all of them though some of them once only),
It’s annoying that I can’t get an audio clip to stop playing once another clip is selected. I did try some code – it didn’t work – sorry but life is too short.
Immediately this felt like familiar turf. It’s what I’ve concentrated on for the past decade. I started exploring bebop, and jazz in general, just to get away from pop and the dull, time-worn ubiquity of electric guitar bands. I’ve always had an ear out for jazz, or at least jazziness, but it got serious when I gave Miles Davis a chance. Not being a musician, I wouldn’t say I get the theory involved, but I love the instrumentation, and the sense that they are virtuoso players, not people making sound with the minimum of education.
There’s a whole wide world of music out there though most are content with what’s in their own back yard. It’s a shame, I think. I didn’t know this performer. Though the style is pretty familiar, the vocal is in Korean. I find electronic music – synths and stuff – can go one of two ways, but carefully composed, it’s delightful. I love to get my ears inside those layers of simple, repetitive beats and rhythms. I like mesmeric sounds too, though not necessarily electronic.
I like folk, and I like country. And I like to hear an acoustic guitar being picked, and I like meaningful words. This is a proper ballad, it tells a story, it draws you in, it’s interesting. A ballad isn’t just any old quiet number in the repertoire of a hard rock band. Do me a favour! It’s quite dark this one, isn’t it? I like the ‘cellos too.
Why was there not a bridge over the river Styx? A bridge could imply an ease of passage both ways, which wouldn’t be a bad thing: Death and an afterlife in Hades seems so absolute. As for Charon, the ferryman, did he not become too weary of the job as he himself approached his end of days? I can imagine him one day setting off and not coming back, his fare paying passengers, their mouths full of drachma, having to roam the shore, with all the penniless souls, for eternity.
There are many rivers to cross, as the old song says, and the metaphor of a bridge aids the idea of linear time. As opposed to an idea of circular time, giving a sense of continuous renewal. Each is a reasonable assumption were it not for modern science leading us to the ideas of entropy and time’s arrow. Yet, are we not more than physical things? Then there comes quantum theory which includes the idea of particles being in more than one place at any time. Maybe we got time wrong; maybe we’re in the top half of the universe’s hour glass and it’s all we can possibly see and understand.
I was in Sydney at the end of 1984, a year we celebrated Christmas on the beach with barbecue steaks and prawns, and on New Year’s eve, drank chilled beers on the grass overlooking the fireworks in the harbour. It was mid-Summer and it seemed odd. I wondered how the Aboriginal people celebrated the year’s passing. I’m left wondering. They have the tradition of Dreamtime, a timeless existence encompassing all their ancestors lives back to the originals. Though it seems paradoxical to have originals in a timeless place, I feel I know what it means. The innate human desire to return.
Reality and dreams, that’s what it’s all about as we cross another bridge, hoping there are many more ahead. Regrets and aspirations, death and rebirth. I heard old Charon has been given a toll booth now, on the bridge. He collects the coins from passing souls and has a nice electric heater to keep him warm (the gods have promised air-conditioning in the refit for the Summer months). Now he’s not going anywhere that he might not be coming back from, and everyone’s happy.
This is the last of Reena’s enjoyable challenges for this year. Hopefully, more to follow in January 2019.
image: painting of “Psyche Crossing The Styx” by John Armstrong (Victoria Art Gallery, Bath)
Nearing its end, 2018 has been, for me, a significant year: a milestone birthday, a determination to give up routine work, and a decision, soon to be realised, hopefully, to move home.
We are not moving far, no more than seven miles from where we are now and have been for the best part of twenty years. We had intended to move sooner, sometime around 2008, but there was always something going on (in 2008, it happened to be the banking crisis and the recession, but there were personal things happening as well). Every year seemed to bring with it a doubt as to whether it was the right thing to do.
But there comes a time when you think you’re not going to end up on the proverbial death bed with big regrets, so you sort out those dreams which might be realised and act. Big resolution time!
The justification for our move is food. It would be, wouldn’t it. For years, we kept an allotment, a narrow strip of cultivation rented for a small annual amount – £15, I remember – on which you could grow fruit, vegetables and sometimes flowers for cutting. There are rules and obligations to keeping a plot and this, we felt, wasn’t for us. We simply didn’t have the time and we let it go but the keenness to grow some of our own food remained. So we trust we can begin in the new year with a decent sized garden, and a greenhouse included. Straight from the ground, into the kitchen, and onto the table. There’s not much that can beat that, food-wise.
Moving further away from town, the one thing I think I’ll miss most is the easy walk into town for some casual shopping. It’s not much of a walk, as walks go around here, though I have spotted deer, water voles and the intermittent sighting of a kingfisher, a brief halcyon blue dart heading upstream or down.
Apart from this, I’m happy to leave. With the passing of years, town is reminding me a little too much of the suburbia I left thirty years back – though not as bad as suburbia is now. My regular walks will probably have to be to a pub, about a mile away. It’ll be tough but it’s got to be done.
At this the toad remarked, “Whatever’s good for you, for us it’s the other way around”, and with a hop and a plop he disappeared below.
“Strange fellow”, thought Alice, and the voice in her head agreed, “Strange fellow indeed. Though wouldn’t you like to follow, just to see, the world not as it is but how it could be?”
Alice didn’t like the voice in her head; it was always too clever by half, often just contradictory for the sake of it and, on occasion, not beyond a little sarcasm. She sensed the start of a battle of wills.
“Follow him, in this dress?!”, she cried. And the voice in her head, caught off guards, replied, “Oh well, dear, you know best”.
But then it continued, “Oh! I can’t stay here all day gossiping, I’ve got better things to do”, and was off. Alice knew not where the voice went when it was sulking; suddenly she felt alone and melancholic.
“One needs to break the tension.”
Alice looked around but saw no one. “Pardon?”, she said.
“The tension, one needs to break it.”
“Who are you?”, asked Alice, “and where are you?”
“I am the lake”, it said. “look, down here.” It went on,
“For pity sake, I see your confusion but what you see is just an illusion; it’s as I did mention, all down to the tension, which one may break by casting a stone, then one will see, what lies beneath will be gone.”
“Oh”, thought Alice and picked out a nice stone by the bank but hesitated. Ought she to cast it? The lake noticing her dilemma, said,
“One ought to do as one’s heart wishes. But, please, if one does it, do mind the fishes.”
Alice considered the fishes, and the kind toad, in their upside down world and dropped the stone where she stood. She wiped her hands down her dress, because, in the great scheme of things, wearing a clean dress didn’t really matter. Then, taking one long last look at the lake, she went off to find where the voice in her head was hiding.
Yes, it Lewis Carroll’s Alice. I was thinking of calling her something else but a) it was a problem coming up with a name, and b) it would be too obvious who it was really.
I think it became, unconsciously, a bit of a parable of first world politics. If you can see this, all well and good; and if you can’t, just go ahead and cast a stone, I don’t mind.
What is Love? as Haddaway once sang (over a rather catchy electro-funk backing track which, in case you’re unfamiliar with it, I’ve linked at the bottom of this post a version of it with some natty street dancing licks.)
What is Love? We know when we feel it but what is it? Is it inexplicable, as is God and Art?
Of all Art, the most inexplicable form, probably, is Music. What is Music? You should hear some of the things I hear presented as Music; it’s hard to differentiate it from just Noise.
But then I was once asked to listen to an egg frying as a piece of, well, Music, in as much as it was featured on a music programme. The recordist had put a contact mic on a pan and recorded from beginning to end, the frying of an egg in some fat. Listening through earphones, is was wonderful, though it did make me hungry.
As promised, here’s Haddaway. Now, does it make you wanna Dance too?
image: “Lovers’ Hands on Sand” by Wilson Sánchez via Unsplash.com
You can wait a good while for a lift on a lonely road like this. He’d spent three hours stamping his feet and blowing into his hands; he couldn’t say how this helped the cold but it seemed instinctive, something learned in the womb. For the first hour, some residual warmth from the heater had sustained him but this had petered away and he had resorted to pacing the highway.
He’d passed a gas station ten miles back. Emptying out the trunk onto the road, he’d found the can he’d kept for such an emergency. He was in the middle of putting everything back when he saw the headlights. Leaving the rest littered on the dirt, he picked up the can and stuck out a hand. The car slowed to a promise but within five yards, it suddenly accelerated and swiftly passed; he watched it disappear into the gloom. He shook his head looking down at the contents of his trunk. It’s not easy getting a ride when you’re a hockey mask and chainsaw salesman.
This week’s Flash Fiction story was inspired by the picture kindly provided by Jodi McKinney.
The rules for FFFAW are all explained HERE or click on the black box right, or on the blue FROG button below to read other stories submitted.
Thanks to Pete of BeetleyPete this morning for reminding me of the late Innovations catalogue. This was a mail order catalogue, a precursor to online shopping, and was included amongst all the crap you found inside your Sunday newspaper. The peculiarity of Innovations was that few of its offers were born of the maxim, Necessity Being The Mother of Invention. Not only were the items practically unnecessary but were often presented as solutions to problems which never existed.
I’ve shared the link Pete found below to give an idea of the absurdities you could have had but the one I want to consider here is the Humane Spider Remover. Basically, its a trap on a stick and operated by a trigger comfortingly remote from the offending “insect”. I assume you caught the spider at arm’s length and release it, in a similar fashion, out of the nearest window.
Now it was with some shock and disgust when a mate of mine told us he simply got out the vacuum cleaner and sucked up the offending critter. Oddly, a lot of the shock and disgust came from those in our circle who I knew to be somewhat arachnophobic.
So it got me thinking: what is it with spiders that we honour them above all other bugs? Happy to swat a fly, chop a worm and stamp on ants but render no harm to our eight-legged friends. This appears to be ingrained in British culture, and is adhered to whether you hate them or not. I wonder, do other cultures feel the same?
Personally, being a bit of a born again Nature Boy, I tend to give safe haven to all critters. I even risk life and limb to allow an angry wasp free passage from inside to outside my window (though I have drawn the line at times with the persistent blighters when dining al fresco – there are limits).
I remember one assembly, the headmaster kept us back for admonishment over the proliferation of graffiti. We knew why. It was ZP.
Around the school, singularly or amongst others, the initials “ZP” could be found. Originally, the perpetrator must have fashioned them with a blade into the soft brickwork. Latterly, he had employed more expedient methods.
Who was ZP? I spied a boy once in the act, but was it he? By then, years had passed. I heard the originator had gone to study archaeology. I hoped so: in time, he may be required to account for his folly.
“December 6, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about graffiti. It can be an artist, art or the medium itself. Get out your can of spray paint and go where the prompt leads you.”
I enjoy this process, it teaches me the discipline of hard editing. I begin writing with the sense of constraint in mind, like curving a shorter line into a circle, or tying a knot in a minimal length of string. It’s almost impossible.
This came out initially in 132 words. 33 words, around a third of the composition, seems a lot to remove and retain the same level of meaning. Only the challenge stops me abandoning the effort and publishing the piece separately from the prompt; I love a challenge.
It amazes me how many words I write are redundant or unnecessary. For instance, this fiction is partly based on truth and discipline and rule enforcement was the job of our deputy headmaster. But who out there cares? One word gone, 32 to go. Whenever I spot a whole sentence which can be pruned with success, then I feel I’m cooking on gas. But the closer I get to the goal, the harder it gets. Editing becomes brutal and more imaginative. Yet it’s fun to do.