challenge

The Foreign Bloke

a flash-fiction piece

“Minding my own business, I was; jest popped out for a drink; the missus’s sister come visiting and I can handle a woman’s company, but two in the bush, you get my drift? I always sez, it’s for a man to decide whether he wants it or no. So, I sez, I’ll go for a snifter, my sweet, and give me regards to yer sister! So, I’m enjoying my lonesome with a glass and it’s slipping down peaceful, when this chap’s come over and what if he don’t settles besides me and bends my ear over a story ‘bout this man he met in a place like this. What a peculiar sight, sez he, I’d never believe it but it were true. It wasn’t that I doubted him, nor any word he spoke, it was jest I couldn’t understand everything he said, his accent, see? He was some foreign bloke.”

(150 words)


The city of Bath has a modest art museum. Its exhibits are not exceptional but it is a gallery and it’s a good place to experience something other than work for half an hour of a lunchtime. After many visits over a long time, I get to see the paintings as you might old friends. I see their familiar sides and then they reveal other things about themselves.

I hadn’t really taken in this funny little painting before, by Rex Whistler (not to be mistaken for the guy who famously painted his mother; that was the American artist, James McNeill Whistler). I snapped it on the mobile phone, it’s easier than describing it in words but I’ll do that as well.

It shows two guys sitting at a table upon which are two quite different drinks. Judging by the glasses, they look alcoholic so we can assume they’re sitting in a bar or pub, though the view out of the window behind them suggests the room is upstairs. Maybe a private room in a pub, or an hotel bar. The signs outside the window behind them don’t appear to be in English, so which of the two men is the eponymous “Foreign Bloke“?

It soon struck me that this painting would make a good prompt for a flash-fiction piece. Actually, galleries are awash with paintings which are ambiguous enough and intriguing to be fiction prompts (rather like The Girl With The Pearl Earring – a whole novel was inspired by that one).


Rex Whistler died in action in 1944, after the Normandy landings. He was a tank commander in the Welsh Guards Armoured Divisions. He was struck by the blast of a mortar shell whilst running between his incapacitated tank and the one following behind. When they recovered his body, there wasn’t a mark on it but his neck had been broken.

During combat service, he was an unauthorised war artist, stowing his brushes in a bucket hooked on the side of the tank. There were official war artists employed as serving men in WW2. It seems a very strange assignment to me.

Rex Whistler, artist 1905 – 1944 (wiki)

Forgotten Memories #writephoto

a flash-fiction piece

Just a wall, we wouldn’t have noticed it, but a door, that’s something else. Remember how it drew our thoughts to imagining what could be on the other side?

Not that we would have bothered with a boring old door when there was that wall to climb. Besides, doors have locks, and a lock needs a key, and we didn’t have one of those between us. Which was a good job, really, because, I said, who wanted a key to unlock a door in a wall when you can climb over it instead? Not us.

It was apples on the other side, if you must know. Not that we went a bundle on apples; especially not those kind as they were sour green cookers. Remember, we made the little one eat a whole half of a big ‘un until he said he felt sick and threatened to tell his mum? He would have as well. We gave him nine pence and a button – that’s all we could muster between us – to keep him quiet. I don’t know if he ever told on us; we didn’t hear anything bad.

Not being able to eat the fruit, we had a battle instead, dividing ourselves into two tribes, standing apart and hurling great, green apples at each other. It was a laugh. Until Graham caught one in the gob; made his lip bleed; bright red all down his yellow shirt. And he cried.

He ran blubbing to the door and, somehow, he had it open, just like that, and was off home. The door hadn’t been locked at all, all that time. Fancy that? Still, it was a good job we hadn’t tried it first because, as I say, who wanted to walk through a silly old door when there was a perfectly good wall to climb?


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt – “Forgotten”.

(The image incidentally brought to mind HG Well’s short story, “The Door In The Wall”. It’s good; it’s part of a short story collection of his and I recommend it.)

The Old Man and the Attic

a flash-fiction piece

Dad had me follow him into his attic. I thought it was to stop him falling but he seemed agile enough. He turned on the light and held his arms outstretched.

“One day,” he said, “all this will be yours!”

I surveyed the rubbish: busted furniture, piles of magazines, even an old toilet seat. “Daft old goat,” I thought.

The next week, he asked me up there again. Had he forgotten? He’s losing it, for sure.

But this time the attic was empty. “I’m building a model of New York City,” he explained. The old man still had dreams.

(99 words)


written for the Carrot Ranch Literary Community Flash Fiction Challenge, May 9th.

In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about growing older. It can be humorous, dark or poignant. It can be true or total fiction. It can be fine wine or an old fossil. Go where the prompt leads!

The Opportunities of Old-Age

a writing prompt piece

As a freelancer, I moved around, but there were one or two places I’d return to because they were better places to work. In one such place there worked these two guys. They were of a similar age, worked in the same team and were, in every sense, workmates, almost companionable. They were both humorous, and one especially so. Often they were like a comedy duo, The Odd Couple, Laurel and Hardy, that kind of thing.

Well, I left and then went back and only one of them was still there. The funnier one had retired. In fact, both had reached retirement age but the remaining one had negotiated to stay on, part-time, two days a week. He told me, it got him out of the house; out from under his wife’s feet; gave him something to do; earn a little pocket money. I thought he was crazy. I’d watch him at his desk looking disengaged. Occasionally his eyes would droop, and then close. At four-thity on the dot, he would go home.

Then one day the other guy popped in. He was passing the office and thought he might as well show his face; it was a face beaming from ear to ear. He said something funny which I’d heard before. He said, looking back, he didn’t know how he ever found the time to go to work. In retirement, his hours were fuller, and, I had the impression, with a greater sense of purpose and enjoyment than when he had to work.

Working is for mugs. The trouble is, we’re all mugs and there’s little to be done about it. Just don’t plan to be a mug all your life.

(284 words)


written for Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie’s Tale Weaver prompt #222 – “The Opportunities of Old Age”

Thawing

Greenland Is Falling Apart.

It was the sort of morning headline that had me spitting hot coffee into my “bursting with sunshine” cornflakes.

I could never help focusing on Greenland on the map, that large chunk of inverted triangular whiteness in the top left, between Canada and the North Pole. Why Green-Land? I had heard that they had named it thus to divert plunderers, making them do a sharp right before reaching Ice-Land. I mean, imagine you’re a Viking tourist who only has a couple of names, which one would you have chosen?

Of course, it’s neither too green nor that large. It’s relative scale is distorted by the Mercator effect of unwrapping a spherical world and laying it flat – it plainly can’t work and so Greenland appears as big as the USA when, in reality, it is only one-eighth.

Still, it’s big enough that when you read it’s falling apart you sit up and take notice. There’s a lot of ice melting and flowing into the sea. That ice helps maintain global temperatures within our comfort zone by reflecting solar radiation. When it’s gone, it’s gone.

There has been crazy talk about wrapping Greenland in a great white sheet, or painting the whole place white in reflective paint. It may come to that. But people actually live there, indigenous people. For me, it’s difficult to understand how anyone ended up there in the first place, coming out of Africa and all, and even more puzzling why they stayed, but they’re there, their choice, their home. And now it’s falling apart. And it’s probably all our fault.


written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #84 – “Ice breakers/Cracking Ice/Thawing”

image: the church at Nanortalik, Greenland

Exhaustion

a flash-fiction piece

“Exhaustion isn’t a fit state to be in.”

Though his body could move no more, his muscles seemed not to rest; he felt no peace anywhere within his body, and his mind, if he could ever reconcile with it again, was stirring in chaos.

He lay agitated and regretful in an envelope of ache, desperately wanting a sweeter release.

“I said, exhaustion isn’t a fit state to be in,” repeated the voice.

He looked up at the old man smiling down.

“You needed the work done, Dad,” he groaned.

“I know,” said the old man, “but there’s always tomorrow.”

(99 words)


written for the Carrot Ranch Literary Flash Fiction Challenge, April 25th – “Exhaustion”.

In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes Exhaustion. Who is exhausted and why? Can you make art of exhaustion? Go where the prompt leads!

Perspective

I don’t believe anyone isn’t familiar with the scene in the Irish comedy series, Father Ted. It’s in the episode where the three priests are holidaying in a caravan in a field during inclement weather, so they are stuck indoors. In the brilliant scene, Father Ted is sat across the table from the young dimwit, Father Dougal, and on the table is a toy set of plastic farmyard animals.

The scene opens with Ted picking up two toy cows and he says to Dougal,

Okay, one last time. These…,” showing Dougal the cows, “are small,”

then gesturing to the window, he continues, “but the ones out there…are far away.” Then deliberately more slowly, he hammers it home,

Small. Far away.”

And Dougal’s face says he simply doesn’t get it. And for a long time neither did artists, this illusion of perspective. Even today, artists make mistakes in perspective.


Technical drawing was probably my favourite class in school because a lot of the tricks involved in drawing geometry absolutely fascinated me, and this included the way to do a perspective representation using vanishing points, or VPs, and projection lines. Of course, revealing the working out – these points and lines – isn’t often desirable but I think it looks beautiful, probably because it shows an understanding.

An important benefit of practicing drawing and fine art, and even photography providing it’s not done carelessly and superficially, is the way it encourages the practitioner to see things accurately, and to notice things in relationship with other things.

And it doesn’t stop there. Once you’ve got this germ inside your mind, I think it expands into other aspects of life: abstract thought, philosophy, innovation and generally understanding of most things. Everyone ought to try a little perspective representation, once in a while.


inspired by and written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #83 – “Perspective”.

image: from The Book of Perspective by Jan Vredeman de Vries, (1604)

Here’s that scene from Father Ted,

Beyond #writephoto

Everything alive here, now and before, is the favour of the sun; its light and warmth. In the cold of late winter, before the spring, before the earth has warmed and, in its turn, warmed the air which remains chill to our senses, our sun can give its warmth directly: the wonderful experience of feeling its heat on your body as you walk outdoors, or through a sunlit window as you sit.

To think of all the sentient creatures of the world which have sensed this too. From the time of insects energising their gossamer wings for flight, and upon the scales of giant lizards, the dinosaurs, and the feathers and down of early birds, then the mammals and us.

It is believed, with the irreversible stresses we have placed on the Earth, that the next life forms will not be organic but cybernetic, in order to survive the heat and extremes of the environment. What will a cognitive machine make of the sun’s radiant energy, if it analyses it through an electronic sensor chip, with artificial intelligence; or even senses it at all? What meaning will such an experience have for the soulless beyond?


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto challenge – “Beyond”.

Are all my protagonists me (white, male, and vaguely English)?

Here’s an interesting essay from Lithub.com, a blog I’m following, about a writer’s difficulty in portraying a non-white character – Egyptian, in this case – without their ethnicity being explicitly relevant to the story.

I suppose the problem has a lot to do with the author being in America, a nation founded on worldwide immigration yet somewhat biased in favour of white, Anglo-Saxon ethnicity.

I googled “Egyptian novels” and, of course, they are many – I didn’t doubt it – and I doubt their readers visualise anything other than Egyptian characters in those stories. However, that doesn’t help an Egyptian author based in Brooklyn.

I’m still a novice at storytelling and I feel my characters usually stem naturally from some version of myself. I seem more than comfortable with this and see it as complying with the old writer’s tenet for writing only about what you know.

But it’s different for me. I’m not a professional, I’m amateur, I dabble. I’m not seeking success, financial reward, or even approval. To hell with tenets, I want to have fun, experiment, to stick my bare wet fingers into the live socket just to see what happens. What do I have to lose?

I was editing a story this morning which could be gender ambiguous. In my mind, however, it was a male, probably white, and English. There was no reason for the subject to be any of these things, so I changed it. Changing the sex filled me with a little anxiety. Cowardly, I substituted a few words so as not to be seen as overly presumptuous about how women thought. In the end, gender ambiguity became gender neutral. For now, that’s the best I can do.

I hope I made her vaguely American rather than vaguely English. As for implicit ethnicity, I have no idea how to do that yet. Maybe this is something left to the reader.

All thoughts welcome!


Waiting for the day that characters don’t default to White (Lithub.com)

Woman – her journey

To paraphrase the old chicken and egg thing, I wonder which came first, the woman or the man. I know, I know, the bible says, and all those other versions about the globe concur, mostly though perhaps not all, but…think about it.

Logically, it seems to me that while a man cannot possibly grow an infant alone, chances are a little better for a woman.

I think, free from politics, religion and all other enforced mumbo-jumbo, men and women could get along just fine. Or at least better than they have with all the historic mumbo-jumbo. I wonder how it would be if there was equality between the sexes. I don’t mean equality of opportunity, careers and wages, or anything modern like that, but physical equality. I’m not sure the men would fare as well; possibly they would be like the bees and ants, subservient and with one purpose, and once that was over the women might bite off their heads and eat them. Despite the randomness of evolution, are males not merely couriers for chromosomes?

I think the males better watch out. And I don’t mean fight back. They are clearly evolving into a weaker version of their sex, psychologically mostly but with the advent of modern technology, clearly physically too. While there is still evidence of chumps about, knuckle dragging ignoramuses, grunting and blowing in your ear ‘ole, these are swimming against the tide. The great emasculation is happening, concurrently with the slow progress of feminism. Thanks to technology – ethics and morality, philosophy and politics have no option but to follow on – the gap is closing. And if we can all keep our cool, that’s good, isn’t it?


written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge Prompt #77 – “Woman – her journey”

A difficult thing for me, a privileged, white, western male, to write about not wanting to cause offence. Sorry if any offence is unwittingly caused.