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Transition #writephoto

a flash-fiction piece

All the time when we lived opposite and she was alive, I would envy the woman her house across the courtyard from mine. It was serene: the wonderful stone gable, the stout, reliable oak door, and a small, teak garden bench for sitting out, catching the morning sun, while my own was cast in morbid shadow. Then, in the afternoon, when my half was scorched in a blistering oppression of the merciless sun’s heat, hers was sheltered, and shady, and cool. I’d notice her seating outside, on her bench, under her window, sipping wine, or maybe some cold cordial; a book open upon her lap. She was often smiling; contented.

And then she died. A brief illness, I don’t know what. An ambulance came one day last Spring and took her away, and the next thing I knew about it was the agent’s man coming around to fix up a board. “For Sale”. Of course, I bought it; a ridiculous price but I had to have it, see? After all those years, looking out upon it.

There is a new family in my old house now. Two children play in the courtyard after school, in the afternoon sunshine, while the couple cuddle up on my old bench, under my old window. They are always laughing. Sometimes they notice me looking out and they give a little wave, and occasionally mime a friendly “hello”. They seem happy and at home, in my old house, and I envy them.

(287 words)


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

Official: I am not middle class

Here’s a bit of fun from the Daily Mirror. How “Posh” are you?

Well, I didn’t think being middle class was posh, more aspiring posh, I think. However, an expert in etiquette, William Hanson, claims there are 16 tell-tale household possessions which can determine how middle class you are.

And, surprisingly, I score a fat zero.

Okay, hands up, I have owned one or two in the past but, of this precise moment, I don’t. Here they are, listed in order of popularity,

Smart TV. I have thought about it but telly is a bit crap, so I’m putting it off.

Dyson Vacuum Cleaner. Have had two in the past. Expensive crap, both fell apart. Bought German design instead.

Barbecue. No, much prefer proper cooking.

Vinyl Record Collection. Gone to charity.

iMac Computers. Never considered it. Does an iPad count?

Nutribullet. Have teeth, prefer chewing.

Samsonite Wheelie Suitcase. What’s wrong with a couple of carrier bags?

Wood Burning Stove. Previously had one a couple of houses ago. With the state of the world, might need one again soon.

Spiralizer. What the hell is that? Sounds like the name of a 90’s Indie band.

Mulberry Bags. What, like for carrying your mulberries home in? What?

Matching Coasters. The coffee cup marks on the table provide evidence to the contrary.

Boiling Water Taps. Had these at work once. Don’t actually boil water. Horrible tasting tea.

Hot Tub. I very much doubt this is in any way “posh” but, nope, just wouldn’t.

Aga Cooker. Have used one before but – see same for barbecue above.

Smeg Fridge. Sounds obscene: something they store samples in at a sperm bank, perhaps? A fridge is a fridge, isn’t it?

Brompton Folding Bicycle. Never had a car I couldn’t easily throw an ordinary bike into, so, no thanks.

Ha, what larks! Are you middle-class? Want to be? Buy all of the above.


You are posh if you own one of these 16 items says etiquette expert (Daily Mirror)

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

New Endings and Beginnings

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.

One hello and two goodbyes

I have written before how I could become in time one of the last sons of Middlesex. I mention this because recently I have seen photographs of this once agrarian county of England being consumed by the creeping tide of a London expansion. Suburbia was to be its new crop, perennial and unyielding, though eventually showing signs of going to seed. Looking over these photos of precise grids of similar houses, of clean, barren streets between orderly rows of little shops, I feel sadness even though I never knew its countryside. I imagine the farms and the people working the fields, and the villagers, self-contained and neighbourly, and their children playing in the streams and brooks, under a broad, open sky.

Samuel Johnson once said, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life“. But I bet he never lived or worked in its suburbs.

They say that the entire human population can be housed in average sized family homes, with a small garden, in a suburb not much larger than Texas. I think this would be a good idea. And we could all go to work in Oklahoma, leaving the rest of the planet to be “rewilded”. Or at least managed in a sustainable, close to natural way.

I, myself, had a desire to leave as early as ten years old but had to endure it a further fifteen years. Yet, after a further quarter of a century in my adopted home, I can see the invasiveness of urban culture around me. Expansion seems inevitable, grace, peacefulness and beauty is discounted and up for grabs. Our government has promised 300,000 new build homes each year to solve a “crisis”; it’s not clear for how many years.

Idealist, or fantasists, I’m not quite sure, talk of going to Mars. It may come to that and I feel as sad for that generation to come as I do for the generation I imagined in the old photos, losing their lifestyle, their future and their culture. For progress.


Written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #65.

Middlesex was an English county, known as a “Home County” for being close to London, the capital and traditional seat and home of the monarchy. In 1965, it was divided between Greater London and neighbouring counties; it ceased to be although addresses containing Middlesex were valid until the introduction of national alpha-numerical “post codes” made this inclusion unnecessary.

The name derives historically from the domain of the Middle-Saxons, the collective immigrant/ invaders/raiders (along with the Angles and other Germanic peoples) who came to rule some time after the Romans, around the 5th Century and up until the Norman conquest in the 11th Century.

The radical north-west suburban expansion into what was coined “Metroland” on account of the above ground extensions of the London Underground rail networks, began in the early twentieth century. Further sprawl was partly contained by the “Green Belt”, a narrow ring of permanent countryside, though this is continually under threat.

In Samuel Johnson’s day, London more or less finished at about Hyde Park.

Blogs (not death) and taxes

Oh no! It seems I have been absent from Blogworld for five days. This is all because we have decided to sell our house and buy another, and though it’s been a long while in planning, it still comes as a shock.

It is said that moving home is one of the most stressful things first world people can experience in life. Fortunately for us, there’s an element of excitement and optimism which goes to counter the bad stuff like legal issues, due taxes, and acquiring all the necessary home buying expertise. Not least, the total chunk of cash which needs to be paid to various parties is eye watering and the lion’s share of all this goes to Her Majesty’s treasury in so-called stamp duty – a tax on the audacity of wanting to own your own home – it’s a wonder her subjects move at all.

Anyway, it probably means I might not be up to reading any of your blogs, or even writing in mine, until that particular fat lady sings. The idiomatic fat one I mean, not the Queen, god bless her.

Family Dynamics

They say that Blood is Thicker than Water. I don’t know why that’s important because Treacle is thicker than Blood and it’s a darn sight tastier.

My family lived in a cupboard. Well, that isn’t strictly true. We lived in a full house; if someone opened the front door, we’d all fall out into the street. It was like a cupboard, and we were like the tins of treacle, preserves, beans and all kinds of things you might put in a cupboard that’s useful.

We were a very useful family. Dad would make things, Mum would bake things, Gramps would rake things, and I would break things. I was the most useful because I’d give the others something to do.

(120 words)


Inspired by Joelle’s Tales: Tell Me A Tale In Exactly 120 Words – “Family Dynamics”

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

Accents

We stayed overnight at a small hotel, Grym’s Dyke, on the outskirts of North West London, near the area where I grew up. It’s an interesting Victorian gothic building, once the home of Lord Gilbert, of Gilbert & Sullivan fame.

As the night was warm – a thunderstorm followed – I’d kept the window open. Down in the grounds, some guests could be heard talking, and their voices sounded strange yet familiar. I didn’t know them from Adam but then I realised it was their accents I was drawn to. It was my accent.

I don’t think we’re ever too aware of the accent in our speech, a way of speaking which is acquired from growing up in a certain region. Even after moving away, to a different region amongst people with a profoundly different accent, it’s not yourself who sounds peculiar. Yet, we’ve lived in the South West of England for 25 years now, and though there are some noticably stronger and unmistakable local voices, mostly accents here go unnoticed.

To clearly recognise your own tonal patterns of speech in others is, to say the least, weird at first, but again, it was slightly reassuring and comforting. I’m sure it must have something in the basis of identity and even, perhaps, in the sense of the Welsh, hiraeth, loosely though possibly not accurately translated as an ineffable nostalgia for a time passed.

Flash Fiction

The picture on his exercise pad did not make much sense. He had heard the stories, of course. Many times. Of Home. They said Home but home was here. That blue – what was it, a sky? – looked deeply disturbing. Unlike the cool, faintly pinkish glow he knew, the sunshine sky – he turned in his seat to glance out of the portal to reassure himself of this fact, that everything was okay with the world. It was. He grinned.

“Michael!” The stern voice of his humanities tutor. He turned back to his exercise pad, slowly by degrees, acting begrudgingly.

What the hell could these black and white lines mean? Some sort of chaos in the landscape. Everything ought to be ordered, systematic. They vaguely brought to his mind trees but not the trees he saw in the fields, their perfect uniformity of shape: a Y upon a Y upon a third Y, sleek shapes, fixed equidistant in arrays of ten by ten, a space for a road, then repeated, another ten by ten, a road, and then more again. Proper grid engineering, his science tutor had said.

He supposed the white stuff was pollution, sticking horribly to those mutated tree things. It’s why they left. Not him, he’d been born right here, but his Mother, and her family, while she was a baby. She always called it Home but when he asks her anything about it, she can’t remember. The class is lining up now, the tutor is asking each student to peer into the electroscope, to find the pale blue dot again. They do so obediently but show little interest, a cursory peek and a quick turn away. They’ve already seen it, a thousand times, the dead world, sometimes glimpsed over the southern horizon.

(295 words)


Thanks to Rachel Poli.com for this writing picture prompt, Time To Write: Picture Prompt 15.

I found Rachel’s blog on my continuing wanderings through planet WordPress, listed at

makeitultrapsychology.wordpress.com.

I think this is a really good idea as WP don’t seem to offer a directory of bloggers. You might like to check out the link.

I couldn’t see any rules to this prompt. I’m calling it Flash Fiction, the same as the other prompt.