prompt

Five Questions Answered

Chelsea Owens has tagged me to answer five questions. Here they are,

1. How much chocolate is too much?

I remember the first time I set foot outside Britain, I was on a boat. This was lucky as I wouldn’t have wanted to get my shoes wet. We took the ferry to Holland and onto Amsterdam. Apart from being offered mayonnaise whenever we bought chips (French fries) on the street (in England, it was only ever salt and vinegar) the most amazing cultural shock was that they had actual chocolate shops! Imagine, a shop only selling chocolate.

Now, this wasn’t dainty, little selections of chocolates in a pretty box, like we have now, nor was it offering any number of wrapped branded chocolate bars. The chocolate they sold was presented as big blocks and slabs. From a distance these looked like whole cheeses, and when you told them how much you wanted, they’d actually cut your piece off with a kind of cheese wire, weighed it and wrapped it in butter paper.

There was white chocolate, caramel chocolate, milk chocolate and dark chocolate and all sorts of added stuff to chocolate, nuts and fruit and things. I liked the white best at the time. I’m not saying there was too much chocolate though, in terms of calories and artery clogging saturated fats. There was just a lot of information to take in for a boy fresh out of England.

2. Who would really win: Batman or Superman?

As a kid, I loved super hero comics. There was a specialist shop at the end of our road which sold, amongst other things, imported comics from the States. I know there’s been plenty of movies made in the intervening years but I haven’t really kept up.

The answer to this question is, I think, Batman. He’s a billionaire whereas poor old Clark is having to hold down a job as a lowly reporter for some regional rag. I bet he hasn’t even got gym membership as part of that employment package.

Batman is also tech savvy; he’s got all the gadgets, he’s even got a laboratory. He’s even got somewhere in there where he can change in and out of his bat suit. What’s Superman got? A public telephone booth! There’s not many of those left when everyone has a cell phone. And he must get through a lot of suits, ripping them off like that. And he wears his action clothes under his day ones at all times? Boy, how his suit must stink.

If I remember right, Superman’s ability to fly – or at least leap tall buildings – comes from the fact that his home planet is massive and the difference in gravity is immense. Like when those guys hit golf balls on the moon and they couldn’t find them because they’d probably hit them clean into space. Well, all the time they were fooling around, their bones were disintegrating because the body didn’t need or want to carry around that amount of skeleton anymore. So, Superman, after a year on Earth, would be as puny as any human.

Anyway, Batman has a crystal of green kryptonite tucked into his utility belt, just in case.

3. Why is it always the last place you look?

This is incredibly important. I have learnt the hard way and never again.

I once lost my keys, found them, and then, probably high on success, just kept on looking. It was four days later that I arrived at the conclusion that my efforts were pointless. Had I mislaid my keys again in that period, it might have not been wasted time. Unfortunately, I knew they were in my pocket all the while.

4. What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen European swallow?

I’ll have to admit I didn’t know there was a European swallow. I bet they don’t realise it themselves either. I guess after Brexit we won’t see them ever again. European birds! Coming over here, eating all our flies, sticking their mud nests on the sides of British houses…. (sorry, UK political satire).

I wonder what they would be laden with if they were not unladend. Tiny, little suitcases. What a marvellous thing nature is.

5. Where would you go to find The Meaning of Life?

Well, the best answer I can give is – follow this blog!

But, ha ha, no, I can’t be so brazen and to give you false hope too. Besides, I can only offer the meaning of this life. Mine. You’re better off reading Douglas Adams where the short answer would be Earth.

It may be irrelevant but it’s a fact that at the end of my first job interview, which took place a whole year before HHGG was made public, I was tested by two impromptu questions. “What happens when water freezes?” and “What are six sevens?” I must have given satisfactory answers because I got the job but I now know that to the second I should have said, “Surely, you meant to ask, what are six nines?” because that is the meaning of life, folks.


The idea now is to nominate five bloggers and provide them with five new questions. This is like opening a can of worms: who to choose, who to leave off, will they want to, will those I haven’t chosen really really would have wanted to?

The reason I’ve done this is, in honesty, because I enjoy writing about anything and mostly bloggers need prompts like oxygen. So, in the spirit of writing and prompting, here are five questions open to any writer. Please leave a ping-back or comment below, if you like, and we’ll check it out – that’s guaranteed.

1. A Can of Worms: what would that look like? Literal or metaphorical, I’ll not mind.

2. If you never threw any clothes out ever, what would be the worst mistake found in your wardrobe?

3. Can you compose a haikiddle or riddku (that’s a riddle in haiku form, in case you don’t know) to describe something in your room? I’ll try to guess what it could be.

4. As the motto of the USA is “In God We Trust”, should it adopt a dynastic monarchy, or similar, instead of just letting the people decide its leader?

5. Is it a good idea to take potatoes to Mars?

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The Treasure Chest

Clearing the attic, I came across an old wooden barrel-lidded chest. Its hasp had been broken, the rusted padlock still attached and hanging useless, but everything else about it looked oddly pristine. A mix of trepidation and curiosity beheld me as I gripped the sides of the lid and inched it open.

Inside was a hand drawn map, a brass key and nothing more. The map had aged badly but beneath the stains of time I could just about make out the circumference of an island made apparent by the draughtsman’s inclusion of groups of tiny waves surrounding its enclosed shape. In a space between the waves was a scaled line noting a measure of half a mile. Within the island were groupings of palm trees, a dwelling which looked a lot like a shed, a large letter X, and an incongruous but perfectly recognisable standard door, the sort you normally see on the outside of any ordinary house.

It was then that I looked inside the empty chest and discovered that its base was in fact a door, with panels, a knob, and a keyhole, just like the one drawn on the island of the map.

Looking at the map again, I calculated that the door was easily within distance of the large X. I then held the key up to examine it in the half light; could it, I wondered, fit the lock in the chest door?

There was only one thing for it. Exhaling long and deeply, I put the key into the lock at the base of the chest and turned. There was some resistance, then a definite click. I grasped the knob of the door, holding my breath at this point. My palm was moist with perspiration and I couldn’t turn it sufficiently. Wiping my hand across the front of my shirt, I took hold for a second time, gripped tightly and, exhaling as before, turned the knob successfully. I sensed a lightness in the door and pulled it upwards, towards me. Suddenly, a huge gush of salt water poured forth from the chest, flooding the attic and washing its contents and me down the ceiling hatch and into the floor beneath. I fought for breath and control of my senses, the plume of water was unabating, my possessions cascaded down the stairs and into the street; I followed them, helplessly, soon after. Eventually, I managed to reach for the safety of a lamppost and pulled my fatigued body to the side, watching the torrent of water resemble a river in flood, or a tsunami, rolling down the street and through the town.

“What happened, Bud?”, a voice asked over me.

I looked up into the face of a policeman looking down.

“I guess someone drew the door in the wrong place”, was all I could think of answering.

The river is still flowing to this day, but as for the chest, I never set eyes on it again.

(493 words)


written for Peregrine Arc’s Creativity Contest writing prompt – “Treasure Chest”

Smorgasbord Me

Blogger BeetleyPete is currently showcasing some of his favourite followed blogs. It’s interesting to see what ideas bloggers have and I am inspired to give this one a go as it could be fun. (As I think it may be to promote authors, and as I am not one, I will just keep it to this place.)

The request is to write 100+ word responses to five of the 52 prompts listed. For an extra challenge, I dialled the Random Number Generator 1-52 to select the five questions from the list.

12. What is the one ambition that you still have not achieved?

I know the permanent answer to this is a peaceful departure. The old joke which tickled me on hearing went,

“When I die, I want to go like Grandfather, dying quietly in his sleep – and not like his passengers, terrified and screaming behind him on the bus.”

I wonder how we would be if we all knew precisely how and when we would die, whether it would be worse or better, psychologically. Of course, we don’t until near the very end and so we convince ourselves it’s best not to know, and so there’s hope. It’s difficult to view it any other way.

45. What is your favourite vegetable and how do you like it prepared?

I love veggies, and don’t really go in for favourites, but I will say Asparagus. They have to be fresh, and they cannot possibly be too fresh, which means growing your own. Once they’re cut, the sugars begin to starch up and they lose that desired sweetness. The season is quite short in England though, about six weeks, and then the plants need to revive and replenish. Fortunately, we used to grow them and will try to do so again soon.

We’ve tried all kinds of ways to prepare asparagus, and all sorts of dressings, but we always liked simple steaming, and a dollop of yellow butter and freshly ground black pepper over to serve.

They make your pee smell funny, that’s about the only downside.

3. Tell us about your craziest experience.

Looking down the list of prompts, I see this could also be the answer to question 14 because my craziest experience has to be a recurring dream. We all dream but the idea is that we shouldn’t remember them upon waking; this, I’m told, is the healthy option. As a rule, I can’t recall my dreams but during two, separate periods of my life, I have experienced troubling recurring dreams. The latter one in adult life, I can probably explain was triggered by stress. It’s the earlier one that’s a puzzle.

I had it from before I can properly remember much else of my life and came often up until the age of about seven when it completely disappeared. It was a very intense and abstract dream, beginning with just a long sensation of passing blindly along a passage or tunnel. Then suddenly, I’m aware of being in a room full of regular geometric shapes: pyramids, cuboids, cones and cylinders. I am perfectly still in this space though not calm. Then the dream ends. That I can remember this vividly after so many years adds to the mystery. I wonder if it has anything to do with the naturally forgotten experience of being born.

42. What is your favourite music genre and why?

I’ve had so many, I might have had them all. My most recent habit is Jazz though it’s a big field and I can’t say I love all Jazz. The thing I like most about it isn’t so much the composition as the instrumentation. I got into Jazz as an antidote to electric guitar bands, in particular Indie rock/pop which was indistinguishable from any other rock/pop to me. The sound of Miles Davis exquisitely soloing a muted horn was instantly attractive, as was a Joe Morello drum solo, an Oscar Peterson-Count Basie piano duet, and a Dan Berglund augmented double bass intro.

I’ve always loved Jazz, to be fair. I was brought up in the period when Jazz was the go to sound for incidental music on movies and dramas. It was in the air, as much as pop music is now – but it had no longer been youth music and so I had to get youth out of the way first and become educated. Now I like to hear lots of different music but I’d probably put Jazz top of the list.

5. If you were to become invisible for a day what is the one thing you would do?

I have a mischievous character and a healthy amount of curiosity – and I also live in a town which boasts about the excellence of its cctv security below its welcome signs – so such a thing could be like all the Christmases and birthdays happening at once. My immediate thoughts, however, are overwhelmed as to what I could do.

As a foodie, I may find myself in some unaffordable restaurant – unaffordable to me but not them – sampling my way through the menu. Maybe get into a West End show gratis.

I feel a lot of obvious things might actually be disappointing. Peeping into any person’s private life, for instance. I’ll probably stick with a bit of free grub.


inspired by and borrowed from Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Honour #writephoto

A rose plucked and laid
red across a pallid stone
for love enduring,
memories of adonis’ wounds
mingled with a turmoiled earth
which, amongst the remains,
bore blossoms of a different kind
though red, not of a rose,
though dead, not for love
but honour.


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo Photo Prompt Challenge – “Honour”

Up against Quintus Horatius Flaccus and Wilfred Owen, I ought not to try for a poem this time but I simply didn’t have a story.

I then wondered, in my ignorance, whether poetry was a higher form of literature and should therefore be truthful. From the heart, so to speak. I don’t think I believe in the sentiment of “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”.

Amour sans frontières.

Looking Back: The Hour Glass

The longer he lived, the more his life took on the metaphor of an hour glass, its sand slipping away, quickening, now greater below than above. Unlike the glass, there’s no way of resetting life.

He saw his moments, those grains, as equal, not one larger than another. The highs and lows, the same now: irrelevant. Somewhere beneath the pile lay his childhood, a happy time only he knew. He imagined that when the last grain had dropped, the family would pack it away amongst his other miscellanies. Until a time when it’s rediscovered and its meaning completely forgotten.

(99 words)


Written for the Carrot Ranch Literary Community Flash Fiction Challenge Prompt.

“In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a character who looks back. It can be a metaphorical reflection or a glance in the rear-view mirror. Who is looking back, and why? Go where the prompt leads.”

An hour glass can be considered in different ways. Someone may see it as a metaphor for life, another may see it objectively, a device to measure an hour by utilising gravity, some may see it as just an anachronistic curiosity.

Similarly it could be said for a fictional story, I suppose. An element of autobiography, an observation of another’s view, a simple play around with a common trope. Perhaps all of these and more.

There isn’t a glass large enough to hold all the grains of our imagination. Still, once it’s gone, it’s gone. Write it all down.

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.

The Ends

“What shall I do with all the end pieces, sir?”

Said the new Apprentice Meat Pasty Pastry Case End Trimmer brandishing his snippers aloft in a rather careless way.

“Are there that many, boy?”

Questioned the Chief Meat Pasty Pastry Chef in reply from the farther end of the conveyor.

“Did thee cut off too thickly? Did thee waste a lot a pastry?”, he added.

The boy assessed the damage and wondered if he’d done wrong.

“Ney, lad, don’t fret. We’ll cover them bits in cheese and ground black pepper and bake ‘em with the rest, then we’ll have a nibble while we wait on turkey to roast. Ma’s bought a bird big as an ostrich this year, and we won’t be eating him before teatime, I reckon.”

Relieved, the boy grinned, put down his snippers and skipped off to the fridge to get the round of cheddar.

(148 words)


Written for Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers Photo Prompt – Week #197.

This week’s Flash Fiction story was inspired by the picture kindly provided by Yarnspinnerr.

Thanks Yarnspinnerr!

Happy Christmas, Everyone.

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.

Bridge In Time

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.

(382 words)


Written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #67 – “Bridge In Time

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)

Alice At The Lake

Alice looked up after a sup from her daisy cup and said, with a frown, “Everything in there looks upside down”.

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.

(373 words)


Written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto Prompt – “Beneath”

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.

A Long and Lonely Road

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.

(174 words)


Written for Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers Photo Prompt – Week #195.

This week’s Flash Fiction story was inspired by the picture kindly provided by Jodi McKinney.

Thanks Jodi!

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.