Considering the nuance between mystery and just plain esoteric.

“‘you seen the cat, Erwin?” asked Mrs. Schrödinger, spooning out its Whiskas.

“I’m sorry to say it may have died,” said Schrödinger.

Mrs. Schrödinger thought, “funny, he seemed exceptionally ebullient yesterday,” and, looking to the window, said,

“Died?!”

“Only possibly,” said Schrödinger.

(42 words)


Can a story be written in 42 words? This prompt is for a 42 word story on “Mystery”.

Thanks to Deb Whittam at Twenty Four blog. Check out the link below for more stories,

Twenty Four 42 #19 Mystery

photo: by Elena Kloppenburg via Unsplash.com

Composition & lessons in flash-fiction

“Plot is the last resort of a good writer.” Stephen King

I’m fairly new to writing flash-fiction. I only came across this method of writing a made up piece to a prompt this time around in my intermittent blogging endeavours.

Before that, it was all more or less true stuff I published. Before that, the last time I made up a story was for my “Ordinary Level” English Language examination – the trick there was to make up at least three stories in advance, trusting that one could be bent into the shape asked for on the exam paper. It was called “composition” in my schooldays – what is known as today, I wonder? I can’t say I enjoyed it; probably because, like all school work, I saw it as a chore or an imposition. And I don’t think I received much praise or encouragement when I tried (okay, there was one teacher who wrote at the bottom of one composition, in red, how much she enjoyed it. Unfortunately, she was only my teacher for one year).

Now I can’t think what was in my mind when I had a go at blogging a piece of flash-fiction a couple of years ago. But I enjoyed it a lot. Having read consistently since my teens, and nearly always trying good books too, it doesn’t surprise me that a time came when I thought I’d see what it was like to write fiction; if not a novel, then a short story; if not a short story, then a tiny piece of flash-fiction.

On doing it, it made me realise I’m not especially into the idea of a story. What do I mean by that? Well, casting back to school classes – as a small boy in short trousers, not an O-level student – we were probably taught that a story had a beginning, a middle, and an end. Though it might not have been as explicit, it was no doubt inferred that it had to have a purpose beyond the writing: a message, meaning or moral, in other words.

I find that this idea has not died. Among the plethora of blog post articles on how to be a writer (better/successful/published/professional), I came across one suggesting how to write better flash-fiction. The author included a link to a free class and being a born-again student, I thought it might be interesting if not fun to do.

But having enrolled, I’m not sure it’s a wise thing to do. I’m not a serious writer and have no inclination to be one, to wish to support myself financially, even in part, by writing. I wouldn’t want this anymore than say wanting to be a one-star Michelin restaurant chef off the back of a love for preparing an enjoyable meal for two, each evening. I believe the work would destroy the love.

However, the class, and its forum, are dominated by wannabe serious writers. And, it transpires, these peers are also your teachers and judges – it is free after all – and they hold on to the rule of a story needing a beginning, a middle, and an end – and a meaning, and absolute clarity, and linear progression, and almost anything which ensures formulaic adherence to the traditional idea of a story. And that is not where I’m at after all these years of reading good books!

It seems ironic to think back to when I was studying English Literature – a separate subject and O-level examination at school – I would question why we’d be picking over an isolated passage from a novel instead of reading the whole from the beginning. And now this is what I like doing!; although in the course of reading a book in the usual way.

Maybe those lessons have finally taken root and flourished in my mind; or maybe I’ve been subconsciously conditioned to discover the beauty in the paragraphs, and pay no mind to the plot. I don’t know. But here I am, and enjoying it, and this boat is not to be rocked!

Distraction

She stood in a field quartered by the crossroads; the main road between the two towns, and a side road between a large farmyard and nowhere in particular. We – me and this complete stranger – waited fifty yards down at a stop for the bus, both connected only in our mutual intrigue for this picture of a girl.

She was as still as a statue, arms stretched aloft: posed, like the qigong fighting crane; the vogue manikin; the stringless puppet; the girl on the cross, unseen; the dying swan-queen; she had been hung out to dry.

Was she trying to fly? Summoning the power to remove herself from the ground; the unseen force of self-determination simmering beneath that tranquil pose? The only perceptible movement came when the light breeze rippled her thin blouse.

I sensed the stranger beside me edge closer, though without dropping his gaze from the spectacle.

‘That’s funny,’ he said, ‘that scarecrow’s scaring crows where there ain’t no crops!’

Something familiar about his words struck me and I turned to look at him for the first time. His profile reminded me of the filmmaker, Alfred Hitchcock. At that precise moment, in the far distance I could just make out the No. 78 bus approaching beneath his accumulation of chins. The light drone of a small aeroplane passed uneventfully overhead, barely breaching the continuing silence. I forgot about the girl and thought about the shopping instead: what was it the wife wanted again? Bread, pint of milk, and…something else?

(250 words)


a writing prompt from a selected photograph from a random search of the licence-free website, Pexels. Photo by Maksim Goncharenok, titled ‘Woman At A Flower Field’.

Really, I nabbed this photo off a post on Medium having seen it credited to the above site and photographer.

Gold

a flash-fiction prompt

There was little blood; a mere trickle, long since dried, on his lips.

“Sergeant?”

“He’s missing two teeth. Front incisors.”

“Anything on his person?”

“No ID; wallet’s empty; but there’s this card…”

The Inspector took it gingerly,

24-HOUR DENTIST. House calls made.

(42 words)


Can a story be written in 42 words? This prompt is for a 42 word story on “Crime”.

Thanks to Deb Whittam at Twenty Four blog. Check out the link below for more stories,

Twenty Four 42 #6 Crime

Funny Animation

A funny occurrence on Youtube is when an old video from way back resurfaces for some unknown reason. It happens quite a bit judging from the comments; these all start from years ago and then very recent ones appear saying the same thing: “why is this [old video] suddenly trending?” This one dates from 2016 yet now trending.

Another thing is more often than not I find a hyped up title. Not so in this case. Actually, it should be Funny Animations. I really liked the wildebeests; I loved the dog; hey, I liked them all.

Wall #7


Digging into my saved Youtube clips once more, rediscovering the gems I found over the past decade or so. I think the kind of things we like to watch says a lot about who we are.


When the one and probably the only talent a comedian has to have is an ability to make us laugh, we should perhaps have a special high regard for guys like Bill Bailey. He is nothing short of being superb; broad in scope and insight. And now he can dance too!

The west London I knew has definitely moved on yet I’m aware of some of its changes, youth culture in particular. Here, the juxtaposition of acting cool even in mundane situations expresses the ridiculousness of taking that stuff too seriously.


George Formby is from another era. Not allowed to be overtly indecorous, these comedians relied heavily on innuendo. Ridiculous really as risqué was the humour those audiences wanted.

Unlike Bailey, Formby was poorly educated, left school too early in years and, I understand, was more or less illiterate, a thing he regretted later in life.

While he could play the banjolele, he hadn’t the knowledge to play in different keys. To get around this, he had someone tune a performance set of banjoleles with different tunings and played them the same way, only matching a particular instrument with a particular song.


A beauty of Youtube is when it throws up a performer I probably wouldn’t get to know otherwise; some of the talented people might be amateurs. I don’t know Danny James and I don’t know why the reference is to Hendrix; he does well on his own merit.

In my early 20s, I shared a house with a couple who were in a band, or trying to form one. The guitarist would often practice riffs or just a few bars of a tune, but never playing what sounded like a complete piece. This would annoy me a bit: it sounded good and then he’d just stop and go on to something else, over and over.

I’ve tried to play the guitar but haven’t the patience. If I could, I’d play whole pieces. I think I could no more play bits and bobs anymore than I could write half a sentence or draw half a portrait.


I’m a fan of Commissario Montalbano, both the novels by Andrea Camilleri and the dramatised series starring Luca Zingaretti. The theme tune used is from The Dance of the Macabre composed by Saint Saëns, a jolly sounding piece despite the title.

However, in one of the later episodes, the end theme was replaced by the haunting Malamuri sung by Olivia Sellerio. What a beauty! Sellerio is Sicilian and the song is in Sicilian too, not Italian. I tried to find a translation but couldn’t. I’m sure the title means bad love, or something like it.

Some years ago we took a studio apartment on the Greek island of Zakinthos. The owners took us to a local tavern for an authentic Greek dinner and there was a trio of musicians playing folk music by the side. Knowing no Greek, I ask our hostess what the songs were about; they all sounded feisty, and some sounded really bawdy, like rugby songs. “Oh, love, love, love, always about love, nothing else,” she said.


Further up the Italian coast there’s Venice, and further back in time, there’s Baroque, and in that space there was Barbara Strozzi. I read from Wikipedia how she was the most prolific composer in her time. Not merely for a woman, mind, but out of all composers of either sex.

When I hear this piece, I get the same sense as hearing the blues. It’s profound and soulful, and I love that kind of thing.


As an antidote to the seriously cold weather presently here in England, I’m putting up Third World and 96° in the Shade.

I had a copy of the studio album, bought after the hit single, Now That We Found Love, and it is one of the most musical reggae bands I think I’ve heard, mainly down to the lead guitarist.

Although a protest song, but like all reggae tunes, I find it exudes warmth and energy which envelops the soul and makes you want to move around and sing. Wonderful music.

Kindle vs. old paper & ink

the yellow pages

I used to be anti-Kindle but I changed my opinion with experience.

I couldn’t bear the radio or telly on in the background while I’m reading but I have cottoned on to having an audiobook playing. Then when the audiobook sounds more interesting than the book book, I can switch attention to that; then if it becomes less interesting, I go back to the page. That way I feel I’m making the most of my reading time.

I have been thinking how books are a big time commitment for readers. I favour shorts story collections for two reasons:

If you don’t think much of the one you’re reading, it’s no problem; they’ll be another one starting in a moment.

And they demand less of our time, so we can read more widely.

I don’t know if there is such a place but thinking along similar lines to Youtube etc., whereby a selection of excerpts or chapters from books were offered by means of a grid;


Shortly after five o’clock – when the spectators could not have counted certainly less than 30,000, and might in all probability have amounted to double that number – the procession moved off to a note of Mr. Coppin’s bugle, caught up and repeated by other marshals along the line. The procession was headed by the dark blue Pickwickians, for the very good reason that theirs was the oldest amongst the clubs… Boldly they rode and well, these Pickwickians, as indeed did the great majority of the members of those other clubs mounted on their steel steeds.

To experience the fresh air and beauty of the countryside was, in Blatchford’s opinion, to acquire a sense of what a socialist society would feel like.
While we waited for an ex-con to come by and make an attempt on Miranda’s life, we settled into an oddly pleasurable routine. The suspense, partly mitigated by Adam’s reasoning, and thinly spread across the days, then even more sparsely across the weeks, heightened our appreciation of the daily round. Mere ordinariness became a comfort. The dullest of food, a slice of toast, offered in its lingering warmth a promise of everyday life – we would come through. Cleaning up the kitchen, a task we no longer left to Adam alone, affirmed our hold on the future. Reading a newspaper over a cup of coffee was an act of defiance. There was something comic or absurd, to be sprawled in an armchair reading about the riots in nearby Brixton or Mrs Thatcher’s heroic endeavours to structure the European Single Market, then glancing up to wonder if that was a rapist and would-be murderer at the door.
He whistled over and over a tune whose end immediately suggested its beginning.
He felt old, and breathless from the uphill climb, and weary from thankless enterprises.

“My days have passed more swiftly than the web is cut by the weaver, and are consumed without any hope.”

The girl did not recognize a quotation. ‘Have you no hope?’ She looked up at him for a second. Her eyes were extraordinary, he thought: a smoky fawn flecked here and there with yellow, a colour more suitable in a cat than a nun. The question seemed to have struck her. Rather than give an answer, Fludd walked on.
‘I see you’re reading The Grasshopper Lies Heavy,’ he said. ‘I hear it on many lips, but pressure of business prevents my own attention.’ Rising, he went to pick it up, carefully consulting their expressions; they seemed to acknowledge this gesture of sociality, and so he proceeded. ‘A mystery? Excuse my abysmal ignorance.’ He turned the pages.

‘Not a mystery,’ Paul said. ‘On contrary, interesting form of fiction possible within genre of science fiction.’

‘Oh no,’ Betty disagreed. ‘No science in it. Not set in future. Science fiction deals with future, in particular future where science has advanced over now. Book fits neither premise.’
Mason grabbed the other by the arm, but that arm had lost the greater part of its outline, had become a vague patch of light already fading, and when Mason looked at the hand that had done the grabbing, his own hand, he saw with difficulty that it likewise no longer had fingers, or front or back, or skin, or anything at all.

All these excerpts are kept available in the library without defacing any book. Some have notes made by me in the course of reading, again without resort to defacement; any can be further edited or erased. The ease at which they can be retrieved, then copy and pasted above, could hardly be easier.

By the way, the bit above about listening to audiobooks is in jest.

I tried but couldn’t get on with audiobooks. Two things: the voice of the reader interfered with my imagination. And I’m not convinced yet that listening is the same as reading. Especially while doing housework or driving a car, two of the suggestions made to increase my reading time.

I can see the science-fiction future where whole books are transplanted into our brains as false memories; public libraries, if they remain, will look more like out-patient clinics. In this respect, I’m firmly attached to the traditional way of books, or at least something closely resembling it.

Wall #6

Billy Liar, actually Billy Fisher, a creation of the writer Keith Waterhouse, is a fantasist- dreamer, much to the chagrin of his father and employers. In the 60s film adaptation, he’s played by Tom Courtney, one of the brilliant young British actors from the 60s who is still with us.

Shadrack, the undertaker-in-charge, is played by Leonard Rossiter, who seems to have had a face which began life in middle-aged and didn’t venture much from it afterwards.


I did have a notion briefly to do a whole wall of cover songs, being always interested in how musicians approach the work of well-known songs. I decided not to though I’ve included two here and a kind of cover-analysis of another.

The first is a version of Hendrix’s Little Wing. This is probably my favourite of his though I’d insist on the live performance at The Royal Albert Hall over the studio recording. That’s a tough one to beat though it’s been tried a few times by eminent guitarists such as Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton. No one is better than Hendrix at the RAH.

You have to approach it differently; I feel this is the secret to good covers. I like this mandolin version. Also, the same musician plays what looks like a bass ukulele, or bassulele, (I may be wrong) and a cajón. So different approach and it works.


In the previous wall, I included a video from the short film channel, Omeleto. Another great short film channel is Future Shorts.

La Migala is a tale about an arachnophobe trying to cure himself by drastic means. Does it work? Watch and see!


Take Five is probably one of the most familiar jazz tunes. It’s melody was composed by saxophonist Paul Desmond of the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Drummer Joe Morello was playing around with beats in 5/4 time as an alternative to the usual standard 4/4; the story goes that he was bored of 4/4 all the time. On hearing the beat, Brubeck asked Desmond whether he could write something to go with it. That is Take Five.

This video isn’t so much a cover – and a pretty good one at that – it’s more an appreciative analysis of the song. Joe Morello was a superb drummer but I like this guy’s style too.


The Five Minute Interview was a pretty good thing in my view. I’m in two minds about so-called chat shows, from Parkinson to Jonathan Ross, they seem such desperate affairs to get disinterested celebrities, out of their comfort zone, to entertain us for fifteen minutes or more under the direction of an inept and ill-informed inquisitor. My two minds are roughly split 70/30 against it.

Brian Sewell was a much misinterpreted man, and he knew it. I suspect he was quickly judged on his voice and his apparent self-confidence. He was though an exceptionally informed art historian and critic. He was also socially minded, winning the Orwell prize for his essays on a wide range of issues other than art; he said he preferred writing about those subjects more than writing about art.


I’m finishing the wall with a third cover version; it’s another familiar song: Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush.

I don’t know much at all about Little Boots but judging by her performance, she can sing and play. What’s more, her voice suits the lyrics and the minimalist piano accompaniment gives something more to the song than the original recording with its many instruments.

Who are we?

Some mornings when I’ve been on WP for too long, I get to thinking I may have “Imposter Syndrome”.

Looking it up on Wikipedia, I got to the “see also” section and found “Dunning-Kruger Effect” which is on the surface slightly more interesting. Here’s an excerpt by way of the nub of the thing,


The psychological phenomenon of illusory superiority was identified as a form of cognitive bias in Kruger and Dunning’s 1999 study “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments”.

The identification derived from the cognitive bias evident in the criminal case of McArthur Wheeler, who, on April 19, 1995, robbed two banks while his face was covered with lemon juice, which he believed would make it invisible to the surveillance cameras. This belief was based on his misunderstanding of the chemical properties of lemon juice as an invisible ink.

(Wikipedia: Dunning-Kruger Effect)


McArthur Wheeler: now you see him, now you still see him

1999 may not seem that long ago until we recognise that WordPress only came into the public domain as recently as May 27th 2003.

Blogger, probably its closest rival, was utterly a non-entity while McArthur Wheeler was free to roam and out shopping for citrus fruits.

Had Kruger and Dunning only waited half a decade more, their study material would have been more ubiquitous. Things might even have been too obvious to warrant a study in the first place. They were ahead of the curve but not by much to make it an impressive find in the timeline of psychiatric disorders. Wheeler was simply an extreme individual on the spectrum of normal human cognitive bias.


Incidentally, I remember having a book for Christmas; one in a series of Ladybird publications for children. I can’t recall the title but it explained a set of “experiments” kids could perform at home with everyday items, and one of those was how to make invisible ink with the juice of a lemon.

I bet Wheeler had that book too. It’s fascinating how common threads run through us all.

Wall #5

Another wall of videos I’ve collected from Youtube. I appear to have saved a lot of videos over the years – decades by now, I imagine – and looking over these I had this idea about theme walls: there were plenty of interesting song covers; clips from feature films; many film shorts; philosophy; art; extraordinary science; ordinary science!

But then I thought, that’s the opposite to how I watch Youtube and how I’ve come across these ones to save. It’s a jumble, a random, some might say eclectic. Homogeneity, it ain’t, so there.


I think I’ve mentioned, and included, stand-up comedian, Stewart Lee, before. The first video, on which Lee narrates, is a sweet little documentary about repair shops in Hackney, a suburb of east London.

Long ago – well, not too long ago – things used to be repaired when they broke or malfunctioned, as a first step before considering a replacement. Somewhere during the past forty years, this tradition diminished significantly and we became what’s sometimes referred to as a throwaway culture.

And now the savvy are saying we’re paying for this careless extravagance. We may need to return to prior methods; it’s encouraging to see not everyone has forgotten the skills.


Geoff Marshall has made a series of these “the secrets of…” aesthetic eye tours of the stations of the lines of the London Underground. The Central Line was my line, the nearest station about a fifteen minutes walk. I could have walked to the Piccadilly Line (25 minutes) or the Metropolitan Line (25 minutes), but the Central, as it’s name implies, got you into the centre of London in the shortest time.

I admit, I took a lot of it for granted and wasn’t too interested in the architecture of stations aa a youth. M has done his homework and delivers a good job.


I’m always fascinated by stop-frame animation (you can keep CGI animation: no skill, not interested), and I don’t believe anyone who hasn’t had a small go at a flip-book, probably drawing in the corner of a pocket book or diary.

This guy from Andymation takes it to another level, even composing a storyline. Follow the dots, it’s amazing.


Ever wondered about that equation giving the area of a circle?

A = 2πr^2

The definition of π is simply the ratio of any circle’s circumference to its diameter (or to twice its radius). But what about that area equation! Dark magic, eh?

I love mathematics and teacher Eddie Woo explains it simply and brilliantly.


Omeleto is one of a few channels on Youtube dedicated to very good short film dramas. I liked this one about the difficulty an orthodox jewish woman has with a secret sex toy during Shabbat.

I’m not Jewish but I understand for the orthodox followers, it is forbidden to work or cause work to be done during their Sabbath.


I’ll finish up with a piece of unusual music; that is, music not normally heard on the mainstream. There’s often something pleasingly mesmeric yet playful about Steve Reich’s compositions, especially pieces for multiple instruments of the same kind. Enjoy two marimbas played by the duo, Todd Meehan and Doug Perkins.