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The Safebreaker’s Daughter

a flash-fiction piece

They’ll tell you careers are chosen, but that isn’t true. Had her parents been teachers, she may have stood front of class. Or if doctors, she might been saving lives. Though the course isn’t always obvious.

She built safes. Her mother cracked them. Every one. She wasn’t good enough; mother made sure of that: ridiculing, taunting, laughing to her face.

“Where’s your mother?”

The detectives called again. Another unsolved burglary. She didn’t know, she lied, and they left.

She stroked the box in the corner. Safes were made to be broken into, but breaking out was a different matter.

(99 words)


written for the Carrot Ranch Literary Community Flash Fiction Challenge: August 29th

In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about the safebreaker’s daughter. Who is she, what did she do, and where? Go where the prompt leads you!

Nature Notes: Painted Ladies & Butterfly Bushes

It’s easy to see why butterflies have an appeal despite being bugs. The gentle, unthreatening way they move around and the diverse and spectacular colouring of the wings of some.

We have inherited a plethora of buddleia and it’s no wonder they are known also as “butterfly bushes”. I can’t remember seeing as many different butterflies before, outside of a butterfly house. They come to drink nectar out of the buddleia blooms; great tortoiseshells, peacocks, red admirals and painted ladies.

I read that it’s a favourable English Summer for painted ladies, a once-in-a-decade abundance partly due to the wind. Who’d have thought a good wind would benefit such fragile wings? It’s a long flight from North Africa otherwise.

The buddleias come from China. Originally, I mean. Ours probably came from a garden centre down the road. Probably just one or two as they are demons for self-propagation, as any trip along a railway in town will show you. They’re not fussy about where they settle in, even growing out of the sides of viaduct brick walls. Railway maintenance consider the species a nuisance.

We take out several plants leaving a few choice specimens where we can see the butterflies from our window, or from seats in the garden. Buddleias need attention, maintaining a good, constrained shape rather than a gangly, overbearing upstart. Pruning and dead heading also encourages fresh blooms, and more butterflies. That’s what you want – a butterfly bush.

More Stoats (nature notes)

What did I say?!

It had been a strange and frustrating journey home this evening. I set off in good time but my fellow drivers had other ideas:

First, there was an HGV struggling up a very steep hill. No problem on most days as it’s served by a dual carriageway. However, a guy two cars in front, driving what looked like a perfectly able car, barely managed to go faster than the trucker.

Secondly, I came across an unexpected tailback. It was caused by a stationary horsebox – not the trailer type but one of those pantechnicon things which always seem to be driven by a middle-aged, mumsie-looking woman in a gilet and head scarf. Sure enough, a woman seen matching that description – though minus scarf (it was warm) -could be seen on the other side of the road waving down traffic. God knows what that was about; maybe she’d misplaced her nag.

Following this, I managed to get behind slower-than-the-speed limit no. 2 but after a few twisty bends, the road opened up enough to pass. A couple more twisty bends and I was behind an old banger – slower-than-the-speed limit no. 3. It was an MG open-topped death trap, emitting a stench of two parts burnt oil to one part raw fuel, each time the driver shifted gear.

Finally, we hit another straight stretch where I passed safely. All in vain: around the next bend was a Romanian HVG barely touching 30. The speed limit for the road is 60mph.

Fortunately, it wasn’t too far from the cut through, a narrow country lane, where I spotted a stoat a week back. I turned into the lane and cruised about a mile from where the stoat was seen when I saw a group of animals scurrying along in the distance, tight into the verge.

I took them for partridge initially as there is a lot of game bred in these parts. I slowed right down as I approached them as birds are unpredictable, but then the group suddenly turned a right angle and I could see they were definitely stoats. One hundred percent.

Four of them, running across the road, leapfrogging, and playing what could have been stoat tag. I’m guessing they were siblings. What is the group noun for stoats? What do you call them at birth? A litter? A kettle? I don’t yet know.

The lesson of this tale to take away is not to get irritated by delay. It’s just time’s way of presenting an different experience. Had I not been held up, I’m sure I would have passed by long before the stoats happened to cross. It was a rewarding sight.

Colour me blue, or green, or anything you like.

Prof. Brian Cox’s recent documentary series, The Planets, on our solar system neighbours was brilliant though short and sweet. It’s on the iPlayer for the best part of a year so watch it if you can. It’s mind boggling and it makes me think how could there possibly be life anywhere else. As for humanoid aliens, especially ones which speak fluent English with American accents, no chance!

As I watched it n the BBC app, it threw up some other suggestions I might like and one of those is a documentary about colour. I watched two episodes and it’s okay, maybe a bit superficial scientifically but entertaining and well produced (link below).

The funny thing about colour is it probably doesn’t exist. Or, I should say, it didn’t exist until life developed eyes. And not all eyes: the earliest eye probably only distinguished between light and dark; then there are eyes which only see in monochrome shades. Even the human eye is limited, only able to detect light within the band known anthropologically as visible light. Only some critters, it is thought, see beyond that.

And even within the so-called visible light, different people see different colours. This idea came home to me this week when I was looking over a drawing with a colleague. It showed a floor plan of a building where each of the rooms was coloured corresponding to its use. A key to the side of the drawing explained what each colour meant bit there were so many room uses that some of the colours were indistinguishable at a glance.

My colleague pointed to a room and said it wasn’t clear what kind of room it was; it could, he said, be either one or other shades of green. This struck me as odd. I couldn’t determine which type of room it was either but to my eyes the colour was definitely one of the two shades of blue.

Admittedly it wasn’t lapis lazuli, more the colour of a clear morning sky with a little pollution. But it wasn’t green, no way. Or was it?

I had an odd notion that I could reproduce near enough the exact colour by mixing primaries, blue, red and yellow – pigments, not light, of course. But then the colleague would agree it was mixed perfectly, but he would still see it as green.

So, remember, when we’re visited by those little green men from outer space, they might actually be blue. Or, quite possibly to their eyes, deep x-ray-ultraviolet.


image (top): No. 61 (rust and blue) by Mark Rothko

Colour: The Spectrum of Science (BBC TV)

The Unfathomable Workings of Memory

“Warner!”
The name just popped effortlessly into my consciousness like a long forgotten disc might drop randomly onto the platter of a mechanical jukebox. It made me feel like dancing…

He used to be this guy I worked alongside decades ago and, up until now, I could only remember him as Tom. His face, however, remains as a composite of several similar faces I have met over the years and will stay so, unless I happen to see him again. It’s unlikely and as the passing years have grown long, soon I’m wondering if he is still alive. I believe there’s a good chance but probably I’ll never know.

I did try to Google his name and scrolled down, as much as I could bear, looking for a recognisable face amongst the endless mugshots of strangers. Unless you’re searching for the bleeding obvious, search engines are an utter disappointment now, a complete waste of effort. Too superficial, populist and trivial. Like the arm-banded kid too afraid of the deep end.

The point about Tom, why I remember him, albeit vaguely, is that he was a rare deep guy. Even in the twiggy branch of the knowledge industry in which we were employed, he impressed me with his erudition and free-thinking. He was an interesting guy to talk with.

But how and why does the memory do that; why does it play such games. I hadn’t forgotten his name, as I thought for years, it was just misplaced somewhere in the grey matter. Buried. And, yes, jammed: I could almost sense a physical blockage and the frozen cogwheels up there if ever I try to recall a name or a word. Memory is a mysterious function but I bet Tom Warner would understand something about it.

The Joy of a Random Segue and of Reading at Odd Moments at Work

On Music

I’ve said I’m back working. Just for a bit, hopefully, as I realise I am genetically unsuited to it. However, as into each life a little rain must fall, so too does every cloud have its silver lining.

In the hour long drive at each end of the day, I’m enjoying listening to my playlist again. Ever since I owned a car and had audio fitted – a twenty-five quid diy job for my first car, I remember – I’ve always loved listening to music while driving. At the start, it was tape cassettes; a fiddly process at the best of times and always a risk of the machine chewing up your favourite recording. Thank Apollo! for digital and the invention of the USB memory stick, a thing half the size of a thumb which holds 750+ songs and that’s only half its capacity. I plug it in the car’s audio and request “Shuffle” and it plays my favourite songs in a random order.

I could make my own playlists, as I did with cassettes. The problem with this, for a perfectionist like me, is getting the segues right so that the mood of the music flows. This is not as simple as it sounds and it’s a good reason to leave it up to the mindless machine. However, even the uncultured gadget occasionally delivers beautiful segues and makes me think, I must make a note of that. But I never do. I haven’t worked out how to make notes while driving along.


On Reading

I’ve also started to grab an odd moment at work to read. This might mean the last ten or fifteen minutes at the end of lunch. It’s easy to think, ah, ’tisn’t worth getting out the book, or tablet, for such a short time, but I’ve found it is.

Reading at different times of the day and in different environments is surprisingly a different experience to normal, I find. Habitually, I tend to read last thing at night. Contrary to what experts say about reading off an illuminated tablet, I don’t find it induces insomnia. I actually find I’m nodding off and though I’m following the text, there’s a point when I’m not taking anything in. This isn’t really a good way to read at all but, in a busy day, it’s the only time regularly available.

At work, I find these moments where there isn’t much else to do. It’s not time to get back to the grindstone but lunch is eaten and I’ve done all my personal chores like checking my finances, answering personal emails, and shopping. It may be just ten minutes but out comes the iPad and I kick back and read a few paragraphs, and I realise it’s a different kind of joy. And whatever it is I’ve read stays firm in my mind, which is what it’s all about, isn’t it?


image of person reading by Blaz Photo via Unsplash.com

Oh, no!

Sheesh! I hope I don’t live to regret it but I’ve accepted a bit of work, succumbing to a little flattery from those responsible. I find, when sat at a desk, working, I have more moments of inspiration for blogging but less time to write anything up. Still, with an hour’s commute at each end of the day, I’m listening to more music.

I can’t say too much about the job but It’s the usual “fools rush ahead” fiasco and something about it put me in mind of the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke – that’s a levee thing for holding back the sea.

Googling it, I’m surprised to find it isn’t a Dutch story at all but an American myth. It’s a story within a story and features in the 1865 novel, Hans Brinker, or, The Silver Skates: A Story of Life in Holland, by American writer, Mary Mapes Dodge.

The poor boy isn’t named but the story goes that when walking past a section of dyke, he discovers a hole and bungs a finger in thus saving the whole of Holland from a tragic flood. He remains there all night, freezing cold, until the grown-ups come looking for him, rescue him and fix the hole.

So, that was me this week, feeling like an unnamed boy with a finger in the hole. But nobody came to rescue me.


In my first week at work, I was invited to go “plogging” at lunchtime. This is, apparently, where you go jogging and pick up any litter and rubbish you see on the way.

What will they come up with next? “Blogging”, where you run along, thinking up daft things to post?

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”

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!

”I’m too old for this sh*t”

The above phrase, or variations on it, is probably the worst line of film dialogue ever, but more on that later.

Many moons ago, before the millennium even (yikes!), I found myself working alongside a fellow freelancing engineer called Dave. He was at that time, shall we say, mature in years but not old in mind. We got on very well. I remember this one time he told me how he still felt in spirit that he could run onto a football pitch and chase the ball around for forty-five minutes though, in reality, he knew this couldn’t be done. Being a lot younger, I didn’t really understand the feeling he was describing but I’m beginning to now.

The trouble in our job is that we spend our best years driving a desk, and worse now, working at a fixed gadget which holds everything you’re likely to need to do your job effectively without ever moving 97% of your muscles. Every day, nine hours back to back. Looking back, this is a cause of much regret to me. If I was in the business of offering careers advice to young people I would say, steer clear of office based work! We’re not made for it. (I have other reasons for advising this but that would be for another post.)

Since deciding to give up regular work last autumn, I find myself being a lot more physical. Naturally, I’m on my feet a lot more and only this past month I’ve dug over the vegetable plot, man-handled eight-foot six by eight railway sleepers into a raised border and, a couple of days ago, installed a new rotary clothes dryer. The dryer required the holding tube to be embedded in concrete to a depth of two feet, and I guessed the hole needed to be at least eighteen inches square. Surprisingly, this took five and a half loads of hand mixed concrete, in quick succession. Where it all disappeared to in that gluttonous void I can’t imagine but, together with it being an exceptionally hot day, it took its toll on the old bod, wasted by years of sedentary work.

One of my pleasures is cycling. I have a road bike but I’m mindful, if not slightly anxious, about my health and ability to ride up the many hills around us. I’ve read of a few cases here of cyclists found collapsed by the roadside in remoter places – it’s no joke. Fortunately, I think, I’m biased towards optimism though this may easily be my undoing, but I’m not ready to utter that most overused line in Hollywood quite yet.