a flash-fiction piece

Felicity and Ben make the perfect couple. When they set up home, Felicity brought the tools. She’d followed her father and took a plumber’s apprenticeship. Over time, working alongside other trades, she’d picked up skills like carpentry, bricklaying, rendering and plastering. She rarely shied away from dirty work; she was strong. She was persuaded to try out for the women’s rugby team, which she enjoyed.

They’d met in the library where Ben worked: some pipes needed replacing. He’d brought in brownies he’d baked for the other librarians and offered her one. She accepted; it was love at first sight.

(99 words)

written for the Carrot Ranch Literary Community Flash Fiction Challenge, 18 April – “Gender”

In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about Gender. It can be fixed or fluid. Explore the topic on your own terms and open your mind to possibilities and understanding. Go where the prompt leads!


The Sign Writer’s Decision | #writephoto

a flash-fiction piece

The carpenter had done his job: a sturdy monument to his trade; the fencer had brought it directly to the site and sunk it firmly in the ground; the surveyor, having previously measured out the respective distances, had paid the sign writer a florin to finish the work. And so the painter walked the mile up from the village of Long Standing and stood before the unfinished post with the coin jangling in his pocket, a brush behind one ear and, amongst the few possessions in his knapsack, a can of fresh white paint.

The surveyor had instructed him thus: the post being a mile from the village, two miles to “Great Risingham”, and two and one half to “Little Risingham”. He would be along shortly to oversee the work.

The painter, satisfied to be at the right place, sat resting his back against the post and waited on the surveyor. Over time, not being of those parts, he wondered idly which way the two villages of Great and Little might be set. As he saw things, either way could boast the same. He plucked a stem of tall grass from the side and sucked on its sweet fractured end for inspiration, though nothing came.

Not even any sign of the Surveyor by the time the sun was at its zenith. An hour later, he took a quarter of game pie, an apple and a water bottle from his sack and began his lunch. When he had gnawed the fruit to its core, the Surveyor still hadn’t shown. He threw the core into the hedgerow and sighed. His paint was thickening in the heat; his patience was running thin. He stood to look at the post and, thrusting his hands into his pockets, felt the hardness of the coin within. Taking it out, he played with it in his agile fingers and, wanting to go home, an idea came to him. Little and Great Risinghams? He would toss the coin.

And this he did and just before dusk he had completed the work, packed his sack and was on his way, back towards Long Standing. He would, of course, give half the fee back to the Surveyor, if he met him; it was only right and fair. And any traveller wanting to know the way, and coming upon the sign, would have to do what he had done: toss a coin, or simply choose, being forewarned, for the painter’s coin had chosen “Little Risington”, and this is what he had placed upon both markers, his contract fulfilled for precisely half the bargain.

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

The Road Gang

We are settling into village life more and more and I received a nice email thanking me for my participation in the village tidy up. There were about a dozen of us meeting up last Saturday morning. We each had a pair of gloves, a hi-vis tabard, a plastic sack and one of those extended picker devices operated by a trigger so we didn’t have to keep bending down. Then we scattered to different points of the compass to pick litter.

The last time I went on litter patrol was at school. Then, it was seen as a punishment for some trivial felony, like refusing to wear a school cap or picking one’s nose in religious education. Although there was the ecological and aesthetic benefit to school, the purpose behind it was more humiliation.

But on this occasion it felt good and worthy. It helped that the morning’s weather was mild and sunny, and my stretch of road offered high views across the fields where there were sheep and lambs and cattle.

It was a big sack and I was worried I’d not fill it and look like a worthless newbie on my debut. So I busied myself with every speck of paper and dog end I could spot while my companions strode forth and were soon almost out of sight. I needn’t have worried; a little past the village welcome sign, I found all sorts of discarded detritus. Mostly, it was the expected soda pop cans, coffee cups and drink cartons, occasionally a takeaway container and a burger meal bag. I did find the broken remains of a car accident which filled up the sack to breaking point – I knew then I wasn’t to fail.

The oddest things I picked up in the space of an hour were, a large medicine bottle with a prescription label, an empty economy bottle for hair conditioner, a plastic box for small tools – the places for pliers, screwdrivers, wrenches etc. were clearly indented – a race competitor’s number label, 106 – I hope she or he wasn’t disqualified for losing this – and a pair of cut down denim jeans.

I got the hand of the extended litter picker eventually but I will say a thank you to all those considerate individuals who crush their cans before throwing them out the car window. Crushed cans are a lot easier to pick up with an extended litter picker than uncrushed ones – these tend to slip away as soon as they’re clamped. So, thank you crushers! A little thoughtfulness in a world of mindlessness makes life a little better.

Yeah, right.

Little and Often: a life principle

I believe that most people are contradictions. Take me and work: I am a lazy sod, just won’t touch work; until I get going, then I’m a workaholic; I don’t know when to quit. Possibly the built in laziness is a defence against my inclination to work for too long, or maybe I just forget how satisfying a day’s work can be.

Unfortunately, I don’t seem to be as fit as I used to be. For stamina, I mean. My strength seems to be okay. I’ve managed to dig out and lift a couple of rhubarb plants, and the girth of mud attached which was not much smaller than I could hug, and put them one at a time into the barrow, and manage to steady the barrow one time as it was in danger of toppling over. But now the plants have been relocated, mulched and watered, I am proverbially “cream crackered*”, and it’s only lunchtime. I’ve had a couple of bits of toast and marmite, and sat down with a cup of tea, and now I feel lazy again.

I can’t remember who it was that told me their life principle, “little and often”, but I need to adopt that myself.

Quite right, it’s the wrong time to be digging up rhubarb but those plants were where I want to put my shed, so they had to move.

* cream crackered – cockney rhyming slang for extremely tired.

Four Lessons for your consideration

This article in Artsy magazine on Willem de Kooning had me thinking whether there was an equivalent in painting and drawing to “writer’s block”. Why I should make this leap – more a sidestep in reality – when the article doesn’t mention anything like it, I don’t know but thinking does that sometimes. There probably are some similarities between the creative arts.

The article deals with de Kooning’s lessons in becoming an artist. I thought I might consider these in the wider perspective of creative work. There’s a link at the end to the actual article if you want to read that.

Lesson #1: Don’t be afraid to be influenced by fellow artists’ work.

This is funny because I’m often unashamedly, and sometimes unconsciously, mimicking the work of others I admire. Sometimes I might even play around with stuff I don’t particularly admire.

I remember reading a story about Jimi Hendrix when he was seen coming out of a back street dive having gone in to see some second rate band. “Why on earth would a player of Hendrix’s standing bother watching a bad act?” He explained that even a poor player can sometimes give you a great idea about performing or songwriting. He took the influence and improved on it.

Lesson #2: Seek out glimpses of inspiration in the world around you.

This is probably the writer’s block bit. I don’t know about you but there’s always moments when I notice something interesting or inspirational. It might be a small thing, or it might be significant. It’s important to just log it in your mind – or jot a note down (I admire note takers a lot even though I rarely do this for myself).

Lesson #3: Pay attention to your desires, not the critics.

What motivates us? Yes, I think we all like a little approval, we like a little praise. Constructive criticism would be good too, providing we can handle it, though it’s not very nice; it depends where we’re at, past the tipping point of having gained self-confidence enough to brush off the nonsense stuff.

I think you have to be faithful to your desires.

Lesson #4: Embrace imperfection—even failure.

Whatever you’re into to, there ought to come an important tipping point when you realise that a mistake, far from being annoying or an embarrassing set back, is actually a real progression in learning your art. Failures make better teachers than successes. Of course, you have to look it squarely in the eyes and know why, and how to avoid it a second time, but this isn’t something you’re more likely to do with a success.

As a perfectionist myself, this has arrived later than it could have. I see perfectionism as a disorder and it still cuts deep at times but it shouldn’t hold you back.

Article: Willem de Kooning: How to be an artist (Artsy magazine)

image: The Privileged (untitled XX), 1985 by Willem de Kooning

Brain Kaputnik

I realise I am not posting that often lately. The new home seems to be taking up more of my time. I could post about that but I’m afraid it might be too boring. Instead, I’ll tell you about my dream…

I have on record said that I don’t remember my dreams much and it’s true, but I woke this morning in the middle of a dream. I say “middle” but it could’ve been the end; how would I know? An odd thing about this dream I remember is that what with the stress of moving ebbing away, I’m sleeping better and, therefore, I ought not to be aware of dreaming, which, as I say, is the normal way with me. But that’s irrelevant.

So, in this dream, I’m aware of walking amongst working men. Actually, I’m walking more against them in that they appear to be coming out of places, like factories or mines or something, and I’m pushing past to get inside whatever it is they’re coming out of.

It turns out to be some kind of washroom as I’m then inside looking in cubicles, and toilets and showers. I’m going around corner after corner until I enter a space which seems to be a refectory and I sense this is what I’m there for.

The refectory is laid out in a smorgasbord style with great dishes and plates holding all sorts of foods, nothing of which takes me fancy. I’m feeling disappointed when I spot a bowl of risotto. I’m not actually recognising it as risotto but it is clearly labelled as such; just “risotto” and no clue as to what ingredients have been cooked with the rice. I’m happy with the risotto as a man would be happy with an offer of an umbrella on a rainy day.

I pick up a clean plate for my meal and place it on the counter in front of the risotto container when a man walks to my left hand side and speaks to me. I don’t get what he’s saying, small talk possibly, but I notice out of the corner of my eye he’s sizing up my empty plate for his own food. I pick my still empty plate up; he carries on talking while I watch him, intently, spoon all kinds of food selections directly onto the clean, white table cloth where my plate once was. I feel like it’s one of those Laurel and Hardy moments, where I’m Laurel and he’s Hardy.

And at that point I woke up.

The main reason I’ve neglected blogging lately is a lot of my mind has been taken up with plans for our new home. The reason we moved was to get back into growing fruit and vegetables again. I’ve made a start at digging over the plot, about one of the three areas we’ll use in a rotational method. The fourth area will contain permanent planting.

There is nothing I enjoy more sometimes than a bit of mindless labour. Having been involved in employment where the brain is used disproportionately to the body, and mainly performed in a sedentary position, entirely indoors, I find wielding a spade in the fresh air very therapeutic. It’s probably healthy too. Certainly, there’s no discernible stress and providing I give it a break after three quarters of an hour, I don’t suffer any physical problems either. During the break, I drink a cup of tea and stand and look and dream.

If I were a businessman, I’d sell it on the internet. Mindless Therapy. It could be a perfect counter to all this Mindfulness Therapy I read about now.

Do you Think too much? Way too much Conscious Awareness in your life? Is this Stressing you out? Come over to my School of Mindless Therapy Garden, switch off and grab a fork and spade!

It might be a bit like Tom Sawyer and painting that fence…

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.

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.

The Dream

They say a mind at peace never recalls its dreams and, for more nights than I could count now, I have slept “dreamless” nights. Last night was different.

I woke this morning with a feeling of physical paralysis which we are told is associated with the dreaming state, the NREM phase. I had to force myself to move else I might doze off again. I hate that, I’m not the lie-in sort. Besides, breakfast is always a good reason to get up.

The dream had me wandering within a large, open-plan office full to capacity with workers. Each desk was tiny, the size you would find in primary schools and everywhere there was clutter – under desks, under chairs and on shelves. A potted plant was knocked over by unseen hands and fell to the floor in front of me. The pot broke scattering its dirt. I couldn’t find my desk and my work.

I had a sense that I’d worked there before, that I was in the middle of doing something for them, and all those people weren’t there previously. They were new workers brought in and they showed no concern for what had gone on before; no concern and no respect either for the work previously done or for the people who had done it. I felt strongly that I should go, just walk out the door without a word.

You can interpret this dream any way you want, if you want. The message, if any message exists, will be obscure. It may have nothing to do with work at all. Or crowds of people. Dreams may not be literal mirrors of our lives. Who knows? A hypothesis suggests that dreaming is the unintentionally retained memories of the process of consolidating long-term memories from weaker, short-term ones. This the brain does whilst the body sleeps. It’s as if the brain does some things in secret, keeping it from other parts of the brain, manipulating memories; a sinister or benevolent duality.

I wash, shave and dress, then go downstairs to make coffee and eat breakfast. Tomorrow, or even later on today, my dream will be vague to recall. It is a short term memory. Left to get on with it, the mind will reject it as pointless, I think. I will return to dreamless night sleeps again.

And October can be nice also

Well I am pleased to have quit work in time to enjoy the Autumn. There was a danger of it rolling on into Winter and I didn’t want that.

Though the weather in England is unpredictable and often disappointing day by day, we do have the two beautiful, though short, seasons, Spring and Autumn, which I think are sadly absent in a lot of the world. Spring is Life and Autumn for Contemplation, the best seasons in my view.

Autumn is a beautiful word for it, quaint and comforting, though Fall is better descriptive of what happens with the deciduous leaves; deciduous itself a wonderfully sounding word, from decidere, to fall down.

In my younger days, there was a colleague called Stefan. He was a peaceful guy with a soft Polish accent. One lunchtime, we came across one another out walking around a large public park in Ealing, London. It was a fine day as we talked about it. I said how much I liked September, when the weather could be great. He said, and I remember it exactly, both the words and the sound of his voice,

“And October can be nice also.”

And he is right.

image by Annie Spratt via