challenge

Back to Normal

“We just want to go back to some semblance of a normal life that everyone else has”
(Eric Van Balen)

Humans are conservative by nature; they love normal, they desire normal whenever life seems… abnormal. An excess of normal is often seen as being boring.

Normal is the rock on which we build successfully. Normal is the level base upon which we grow, from which we develop. Normal is sane. Normal is rational. Normal produces a healthy intellect, encourages imagination and innovation.

Normal is the calm before a storm, and the calm following a storm (unless on Jupiter where the storms have been raging for thousands of years. For a Jovian, that’s normal).

Normal is peacefulness, a time free of trouble and conflict, unless you’re a child born in Yemen or Syria where war is continuing. Fear is normal.

Normal is routine. A morning begins with fresh coffee, from a pot which has already been cleaned from the previous day’s use, the coffee jar not yet empty, fresh water in the jug, sugar in the sugar pot and clean mugs.

It’s getting ready for work at the right hour. It’s regular work. When I explained to my father-in-law that I worked freelance for short contracts, he was aghast. He’d told me, with some pride, how he’d been with the same firm for forty years. I have known people who started work after university and are still at that same company, the same commute to the same office, the same lunchtime routine, the same time going home. The way the company works, the way it likes to do business, has become second nature. That’s normal. Though in that time, they say they have seen changes. That’s normal.

Normal. Even the sound of the word appears to grind to a standstill.

If you’re an adventurer, if you’re a party goer, if you grab life by the balls, carpe diem, and all that, and you do all this, then that’s normal for you.

Normal is what we want unless that’s all there is, and then we want something else. And that’s normal too.


Written for Reena Saxena’s Exploration Challenge #68 – “Back to Normal”

It’s a train of thought piece which is how posts normally start though it’s not normally how I publish them.

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Fishless January

It seems a bit cruel to decree this a month in which we must abstain from alcohol AND meat when most of us are struggling to give up CHOCOLATE.

It’s staggering to read there are now probably 3.5 million UK citizens who identify as vegans. This is about 7% of all British men, women and children. Though, significantly, the motive has shifted from mainly cruelty concerns in farming to personal health benefits and awareness of climate change, and given a tremendous lift by social media and following celebrity lifestyles.

I’ve received a bulletin email from my supermarket of choice, Waitrose, announcing a launch of their “Fishless Fingers“. Presumably it’s aimed at people who shamefully admire fish fingers but wouldn’t eat fish. This is, surely, imitation-alternative gone too far; the food equivalent of jumping the shark.

I remember the debates back in the 70s as to what part of the fish their fingers actually came from. Today, I find that their history goes way back to 1900, and the commercial product gained popularity in Britain in the 50s. Clarence Birdseye, the doyen of frozen foods, first marketed them as “herring savouries” though public opinion preferred cod fish, so he dreamt up instead “battered cod pieces” which sounds like the aftermath of a terrible fishing accident. His employees rescued the day in an opinion poll, considering “fish fingers” to be the most attractive marketing name.

I’m sure they used to be a way to get young kids to eat fish – which was considered as “brain food”, benefiting their developing intelligence. However, more recently, and with improved quality, it has found favour with adults as a convenient and easier way of packing fish into a sandwich. Hence, I suspect, the necessity to invent the Fishless Finger alternative.

Beyond the year 2050, when we’re all vegan, what will future generations who won’t have known meat make of the term, Fishless Fingers? Or will it be just a flash in the pan?

Drooling

Here’s something which might pass the Inktober 2018 challenge – no.6 “Drooling” – though it’s a poor cheat as I’ve rescued it from the archive.

The guy originated from a plain, absent-minded doodle drawn at work. I lifted him out, coloured him up and placed him in a cover setting for a hypothetical magazine. I can’t claim any credit for the fonts – standard issue. Magazine covers have always fascinated me, even if I have no interest in the magazine; so I guess they’re doing what they’re supposed to do.

The title of the magazine came from a previous doodle I did, inspired by the lyrics of Little Wing, easily my favourite Jimi Hendrix recording, taken from the concert at the Royal Albert Hall.

Well, she’s walking through the clouds, with a circus mind that’s running wild….

A Circus Mind, what could that be? Butterflies and zebras, moonbeams and fairytales. That’s all she ever thinks about, riding with the wind.

Now you know, but have you ever been to a circus like that? Fancy going? Buy the magazine!, there’s two free tickets on the back cover.


Inktober 2018

Little Wing – Jimi Hendrix Live at The Royal Albert Hall, 1969

No Expectations

On day three, he eventually arrived, stoned; his only possession a guitar in its case. It turned out to be just an acoustic. Taking himself into a corner, he fiddled around mindlessly, striking notes randomly. He appeared to want to tune it but made no effort.

The band had already laid the track, the producer said it just needs backing vocals, and something else.

You think you can cut it, man?

They set up a mic. Reaching into his case, he withdrew a bottleneck. The red light was on, the track played, and the sweetest slide ever was recorded.

(99 words)


Written for the Carrot Ranch Literary Community Flash Fiction Prompt: “Bottleneck”

Boy, it’s so TOUGH getting a story into just 99 words! But it’s fun trying.

I’ve liked The Rolling Stones for a long while, their early period and their golden period especially. From the start, there was always a mythology about them. The band was formed by Brian Jones, a Cheltenham lad, a man whose character changed as fame arrived and the decline into drug abuse. He had unwittingly created a thing which, in time, no longer needed him. He was sacked; they said he showed no surprise. Not long after, he was found dead, drowned in his own swimming pool, an event itself which conjured up fantastical theories of how? and why?

I read, or saw, an interview it which the band discuss Jones and his part in his final recording with them on their Beggars Banquet album. My Flash Fiction, which is totally made up, was inspired by the interview. In a nutshell, he was permanently wasted and the band found him impossible to work with. He was put in a quiet corner while they got on with business. But the song “No Expectations”, a slow blues, suggested a slide guitar and they took a chance on him. He managed to perform it very well.

Ghosts

When we broke free of London and its gravitational influence, we settled into a small, rubble-stone cottage in a Wiltshire village. The house was, we were told, at least three hundred years old and had once doubled as a boot mender’s shop. After eight happy years, we left to move closer to the town where our children would go to school.

It was only after we left when our youngest told us about the ghost. Her bedroom was directly at the top of the stairs and the position of her bed gave her a clear view down to the living room below. She woke during the night to see a man in a tall hat standing at the foot of the stairs. Pulling the covers over her head, she eventually returned to the land of Nod and by morning the ghostly man had gone.

When we lived there, if ever I thought about its ghosts, I imagined they must be friendly. I think you have that feeling about a place, when it feels like home. Fortunately, I haven’t yet been in a place which feels inhabited with the unfriendly sorts; certainly not the mischievous poltergeists, though when things sometimes seem to move of their own accord, I belief the cause is more mundane. I have yet to discover ectoplasm in the attic.

I haven’t made up my mind about ghosts. This is likely because I haven’t an answer to the question; what are ghosts? I’m not altogether happy in associating them with the dead, to be honest. They seem to me to be living things by all accounts. The fear we have towards them is born out of ignorance and superstition and with the absence of light. Hey, I’m talking about them as if they actually exist! Maybe they do, maybe they don’t.


Inspired by Reena’s Exploration Challenge, week #49

Flash Fiction Challenge

Smart Alec, so-called because his sleeper once cost a hundred bucks, his mattress an unfolded packing case from Bergdorf Goodman, his rain shelter another from Saks. He never panhandled below Fifth, and never slept east of 49th; if he could help it. If the cops moved him on, he’d keep walking the block, until the cops moved on, or got a call.

He said he knew Trump, knew the price of any building in NYC, but they say you’re just one step away from the streets and, once there, you’re a million miles away from where you were.

(99 words)


Submitted for Flash Fiction Challenge at,

Carrot Ranch Literary Community.

May 17, 2018, prompt: Property Values

In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about Property Values. Perhaps it’s a home, business or pencil museum. What makes them go up or down? Go where the prompt leads.

chess in the parc

This is prompted by an email notification I received days ago from Flickr. Someone has kindly liked an image I uploaded in 2008, though not the one below.

You obviously know that Flickr is a photography hosting website. I joined it many moons ago, prior to the Yahoo! buy out, while I was doing photography. But the image that got a “like” is actually a drawing.

It’s a bit of a cheek putting drawings and the like on a photo site, and some photo nuts were a bit huffy. It was done as part of a social media challenge with nine (I think) other artists and amateurs using those sketching notebooks known as Moleskines. The challenge was to fill three pages of a book and send it on to the next person in line. At the end of the year, I had my book returned filled with a diverse range of work contributed by all those involved. I still have it on my bookshelf, it’s a treasure.

I haven’t used Flickr for nearly a decade, as the dates show. I stopped using it for photography too; in fact, I stopped photographing altogether. I certainly can’t remember my password. So I used the email notification link to have a sneaky peek at the sketches I did. It’s odd how the “views” ranged from four figures to just a tiny few – presumably folk are searching “tags” assigned to individual images rather than accounts – but mostly in the low hundreds. It was really a niche group.

I was pleased to find that drawing above had gained a couple of likes. It’s an idea I had meant to work up in oils using the glazing technique. Obviously, it’s an idea I forgot about. From the notes I added, it was drawn in carbon pencil and watercolours. And I was listening to S.E. Rogie – ” [a] sweet, laid back man & the great sound of Danny Thompson’s bass! “

I titled it, Chess In The Parc. It’s intentionally the French spelling as it was inspired by some photos I snapped in Paris one Autumn. We were strolling through one of the parks and came across two old men in a square, deeply engaged in a game of chess. It was remarkable as they both looked as if they’d been to the market buying their daily groceries before the challenge of a game distracted them from their homeward journey, each had a shopping bag beside their chair, brimming with vegetables and one had a huge baton of bread poking skywards. I remember it was quite chilly and leaves were occasionally falling all around, and these two solitary men sat intent on chess and oblivious to everything else.

But also from my notes I see I’d been,

” somewhat inspired by Herbert Bayer’s sheet music. I’d been admiring his photography for some time and hadn’t realised he also painted! “

I must check up on Bayer. I think I remember something about it, vaguely; maybe it’ll be a renewed delight. So much here that is a memory not exactly forgotten but terribly neglected. I haven’t played S.E. Rogie – now the late S.E. Rogie – for too long, and Richard Thompson’s double bass! aah. And Bayer, and the oil glazing technique I once loved. Not forgetting romantic Paris, and Autumn leaves in the parc.

I mustn’t forget, also, my last note under the drawing, if I do attempt it again,

oh yeah, I can’t count – too many squares on that board…

S E Rogie – Dead Men Don’t Smoke Marijuana (youtube)

Danny Thompson – He Can Play A Bit… (youtube)

Danny Thompson – playing a bit (with John Martyn) (youtube)

Herbert Bayer @ MoMA