Monday, 30 December 2019

Musings on a Wet Afternoon by Virginia Hainsworth

Transition excites me.  It means development or growth.  Enhancement.  Improvement.  I want to exist in a state of transition.  To set off on a journey and arrive back in the same place but to have developed en route.  That is a good journey.

A word used too often.  ‘I love Asian food’.  ‘I love Oxford.’  We should only be allowed to utter the word a maximum of 100 times in our whole lifetime.  Then we would use it wisely.  I love that idea.  Oops!

I like people who are oddballs. Unless they sit next to me on a bus.  Then I feel intimidated by them.

I wish I had a magic wand and could conjure up intensity when I required it – focus, concentration, passion, expression – at the drop of a hat.  How wonderful that would be.

Everyone should have a place of their own.  A small space where they can be themselves.  Be safe, be warm, be content. If only for a moment.  It troubles me to think that many people do not have such a place, not even inside their own mind.

Adventure is the spice of life.  Even for those who are cautious. What would the world be without adventurers?  Scott of the Antarctic.  Ranulph Fiennes.  But you can go on an adventure inside your own head.  In fact, that is the greatest adventure of all.  You are capable of anything.  Can become anything.  

The biggest and most exciting adventure of all is the one from who you are now, to who you can become.

A Happy New Year to all readers and contributors.

Monday, 23 December 2019

Elf Trouble by Holly Berry (aka Clair Wright)

Jane was starting to wish she had never given in to the Elf on the Shelf.
   Emily had started her campaign in September. “You want an elf, don’t you Thomas?” she asked her little brother.
  “What does it do?”
  “It watches you, and it tells Santa if you’ve been good,” said Emily.
   Thomas looked doubtful. “And it’s funny! It does lots of really fun things!” said Emily. “Everyone else had one last year.” She looked reproachfully at Jane.
   It was true. Jane’s Facebook feed had been full of cute, clever photos of little red elves getting up to “mischief” in the homes of other school mums. It all looked like a lot of effort.
   By the end of November,  Jane had been worn down. If the elf could get the kids to do their chores, then it was worth a try.  
   On the first day of December, she played it safe with the elf sitting in a plant pot, watching over the dinner table.
   “I don’t like him watching me,” pronounced Thomas, as he tried to hide his broccoli stalks under his fork.
   “He’s cute!’ said Emily. “You’ll just have to be good, won’t you?”  She finished off her peas. “I wonder what he’ll be up to tomorrow?”
   Jane was quite proud of her efforts in the first week. On Monday,  the elf was writing his tiny Christmas cards, on Tuesday, he was cleaning his teeth (to promote good oral hygiene).   On Wednesday, he was revising his spellings (it might be Christmas but education is still important). On Friday, he was tangled in the fairy lights, to show his fun side. Thomas was still not convinced.
   “Does he really report back to Santa?” he asked Emily, keeping a close eye on the elf as he set the table.
   “Oh yes,” said Emily. “He goes back to the North Pole every night, doesn’t he Mum?”
   “That’s right!” nodded Jane.  “Don’t forget the coasters.” She was starting to like this elf thing.
   On Saturday, the elf was tidying the Lego. On Sunday, he was pairing socks. Thomas rolled his eyes. “This elf is such a goody-goody!” he said.
   “He’s setting a good example!” said Jane. “You don’t want him to tell Santa to put you on the naughty list.”
   On Monday, Jane woke at six with a start. She had forgotten to move the elf! She pulled on her dressing down and ran downstairs. 
   The elf was no longer sitting on the paired socks in the corner of the kitchen.  She rummaged amongst the clean laundry, but the elf wasn’t there. Jane hurried into the living room, listening for sounds of the children waking.
   There was the elf, lying on top the bookcase. He had made a perfect snow angel in the film of dust. Jane gave him a quick shake and flicked off the dust with her sleeve.  She propped the elf between the books (to promote reading).
   “Why is the elf all dusty?” asked Emily.         
   “No idea!” replied Jane. “Go and tidy your rooms!” Thomas scowled and slouched upstairs.
   On Monday evening, Jane remembered the elf. She wasn’t going to get caught out again. But the bookcase was empty – the elf was gone.
    This time, she found him in the pantry, peering out of the empty biscuit tin. Jane had finished the last hobnob while the children did their homework.  She brushed crumbs off his red suit. “I’m allowed a hobnob!” she retorted as the elf frowned at her.  Jane popped the elf in the fruit bowl (to encourage health eating) and went to bed.
   On Tuesday morning, Thomas rubbed his eyes over the breakfast table. “Where’s that elf?” he asked, warily.  
   Jane glanced at the fruit bowl, sitting on the kitchen table. The elf wasn’t there.
   “He’s there!” shouted Thomas, jumping out of his chair.  He pointed to the oven.
   Through the grease-spotted glass, Jane could indeed see a little red figure, staring accusingly at her. “What’s he doing in the oven?” Emily pulled open the oven door. She snatched up the elf. “Look at him! He’s filthy!”
   Jane peered into the oven, which was indeed overdue a clean.  Thomas looked anxious. “Are you on the naughty list now, mum?
   She held out her hand to Emily. “Give that Elf to me,” she said. “I’ll take care of him.” She glowered at the smug expression on his grubby face. 
   Jane had a feeling the elf would be delayed on his trip to the North Pole tonight. Very delayed indeed.

Monday, 16 December 2019

Faerie Queen by Charles Penrose (aka Chris Lloyd)

In a time long ago, before mountains were fully grown and the cold, harsh, rocky land was covered with snow and ice and the nights were as black as the inside of a black cat, (or an old oven) and wolves and other, unknown animals, (Hmmm), roamed with impunity, a Faerie Queen ruled over her people with a kind, beatific sense of peace and calm.  The Faerie Queen had been on her noble throne, (in reality a so-called magic rock), for many eons and she was thinking that it was time to hand over the wand to a younger queen and besides her bum was numb from sitting on the damned cold stone. So, one bright sunny day, the first for a while, she called a meeting of her sub rulers and their customer-facing drones. (Drones were mainly males but most did not have the parts that definitely meant they were males in the Faerie Queen’s eyes, well not eyes, you get the drift.) Her desired meeting was a call for the election of a new Queen and her most trusted Sentinels. This was the first time for two eons that such an election was called during the time immediately before the faerie’s most joyous time of the year, Getting Pissed and Fat Day, (that is a loose translation but near enough.)  All the faeries would visit each other, let their wings down and the younger ones would generally slag each other off by sending images of themselves in various state of undress, to the faerie media companies. It was such fun until someone sent an image of you with a Sentinel when you were at a Faerie Party, then it was tears, denials, resignations, recriminations. Thankfully, the Faerie Queen didn’t have any Princes being silly.

But I digress. The Election call was met with much shouting, waving of bits of paper and pointing. The head Sentinel had to visit the Faerie Queen to formally ask her to suspend the powers of all concerned so they could all have a jolly good time wandering around schools, hospitals, Faeries’ doors, and other places where they were not welcome. Now I think it fair to say at this juncture that there were no chickens in Faerie Land in those days so the shouting and strutting could go on without fear of having an egg collide with your clothes, or your face which was a shame. The Faerie Queen was putting a great deal of trust in the Election Committee, which was a semi-power house of old Sentinels who were deaf, incontinent or blind drunk. When they got out of hand, the ruling Sentinels ignored them and did their own law making anyway. It is termed “democracy.”

There was to be a short time to complete the election as Getting Pissed and Fat Day period was usually devoted to rushing around with bags of useless tat purchased from the Ezelek shops, (Faerie Land currency), which was all broken by the end of the celebration. However the fact that the date of the election was near that time, it could be said that the result would favour those people of Faerie Land who were, shall we say, less likely to be chasing around the Ezelek shops for gifts, as they had “Faeries” bring presents to them in order that they could select in the comfort of their own well-appointed underground maisonettes.

The day of the Election dawned and the time of seeing Sentinels that you had never seen before passed. This was met with great relief by the general Faerie population; all that remained was the vote and all over Faerie Land little houses were erected in case it rained and so that the voting Faeries could go in and stab a hole in a spot next to their candidate. Easy, you would think. No; simply because if the bits of paper of the stabbed ballot paper, (called chad, after the Chad Hole Punch Company), did not cleanly fall out, that vote could not be counted by the notoriously unreliable counting machines. This was clearly a dilemma, (had there been tampering, or other nefarious deeds to make less chad?) Anyway, they would never be used again.

The head Sentinel summoned senior sentinels and discussed whether to hold a referendum to determine if the “Chad Votes” as they were known, should be in the vote or out. The Sentinels, except Jimmy K from Northern parts, refused a referendum as they were worried Jimmy K might turn it into a different referendum.

At last, ten days before Getting Pissed and Fat Day the result of the election, minus Chad, was announced. 

The ruling group would remain in power with enough seats to ensure that fairness among the populace would remain firmly in the south. The second main group with the beardy Sentinel gave up. The Faerie Queen decided that actually she could have sat on the rock, sorry throne, for a bit longer so all in all a complete waste of time and all the high street shops, or what was left of them, complained for weeks after Getting Pissed and Fat Day that they had lost stacks of money because the interference of the election diverted faeries’ minds just before the biggest shopping period of the year. It makes you feel sorry for their highly paid Directors!

And on that bombshell, things in Faerie Land did not change one iota! Except that the beardy one sort of disappeared from the scene with a lot of his friends. Happy Getting Pissed and Fat day!

Charles Penrose

Monday, 9 December 2019

Snapshot by Dave Rigby

With the girlfriend gone, I can’t afford this place, so it’s downsizing time.
   Going through box after box in the attic, I come across my old camera. There’s an unfinished film inside. With the camera pensioned off when I got my first smart phone, the film must be all of ten years old.
   In town the next day I find a feller down in the arcade who still does developing. The age of the film shouldn’t be a problem. But it turns out the price tag includes having to listen to an endless story about his dog.
   When I collect the prints the following day, I’m suddenly quite excited. No idea what they’ll show. I escape the storyteller and grab a coffee. Most of the snaps are either under or over-exposed. There’s one or two where I’ve tried and failed to be arty. But the final one stuns me.
   I’ve no memory of it being taken. Perhaps the barman took the shot.
   Four of us, arms over shoulders, like first row forwards, grinning like idiots. Me and my old school pal Jonno and two Aussie’s we’d just met in a club.
   A down-at-heel place, above one or other of the rivers, on the edge of the old town. I can still hear the deafening music, taste the cheap, greasy pizza and feel the stifling heat – and my thumping head. We’d all had more than a few.
   A summer night, warm as hell, t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops. We walked along the bank to where the two rivers joined. Right at the end of the spit, there was a grassy patch and two ancient tram rails leading nowhere, apart from into the river.
   We lay on our backs star-gazing. Jonno and Luc fell asleep. Their snoring set me and Mads off giggling. When she kissed me – well I couldn’t believe it.
   The next moment, she was up and away, standing on the edge of the water, waking Luc with a shout and telling him to follow her. They waded out between the rails.
   Then in a flash they disappeared.
   I thought they’d resurface further downstream, laughing their heads off. But they didn’t.
Jonno was still out of it. Besides he couldn’t swim, so it was all down to me.
   The water wasn’t as cold as I’d feared, but just as murky as I’d imagined. Submerged, I had to feel around for any sign of them. But there was only water and mud – and those rails, sloping away.
   Coming up for air, I called to Jonno. Had he seen anything? No reply.
   My search continued, but as exhaustion set in, it dawned on me that I had to save myself.     With no chance of getting back to the spit, against the current, my only option was to drift further downstream and hope.
   A few metres to the left and the boat would have hit me. But I was in luck. It saved me. Breathless, I managed a few garbled sentences and listened as they put out a search and rescue message. The incoming was an incomprehensible squawk.
   No trace was found of Luc and Mads.
   Jonno refused to believe they’d perished. Hard to understand, but he felt sort of responsible for their disappearance, the way he’d been out of it that night. Over the years he’s made enquiries, but with so little to go on – no surnames, no addresses and only our own hazy descriptions – he’s got nowhere.
   But now we have a snapshot. They’ll have changed after all this time, but still, there’s a chance someone will recognise them.
   I scan and email the pic to Jonno. Message back – he’ll be on to it straight away. ‘Mr Social Media’, him – a foreign language to me.
   Nothing, until two months later, an email from ‘Melbourne Mads’.  
   How did you get that photo?
   I reply, explaining about the long-undeveloped film, asking what had happened after she and Luc disappeared into the darkness of the river, telling her of my rescue attempt.
   She phones me.
   The two of them had just drifted off downstream, too high to be worried, never a thought that I’d try and follow them. I’d seemed far too sensible for that. And where is Luc now, I ask. She doesn’t know. They’d drifted apart. And that kiss. Does she remember. Sure, she does!     How about a repeat performance, she asks?
   That would be great, I tell her, but it would take a while to save up the air fare to Oz.
   No need, she says.
   She’s in London and has been for nearly ten years.

Monday, 2 December 2019

The Letter by Virginia Hainsworth

He sat down at the carved antique desk and looked out of the window at the long drive ahead.  On the desk before him lay smooth vellum writing paper, coloured inks and an array of beautiful writing implements.  A familiar sight and one which normally centred him and made him feel calm.  But not this time.  He looked out at the carefully manicured lawns and the rows of poplar trees standing to attention in the warm sun.  What would it be like to lose all of this?

His hands shook as he lifted his favourite fountain pen and began to fill it with purple ink.  He gripped the chunky barrel of the pen and held it, poised over the paper, as he considered how to start what might be the most important letter of his life.

Suddenly, the door opened so violently that it made him jump and a tiny blob of purple ink escaped from the pen and fell onto the paper.

'Damn,' he uttered as the ink slowly spread outwards, as if it were acid, eroding the paper.

'How can you even think of writing at a time like this, when we need to talk?' spluttered the woman at the door. 'I've been looking for you all over the house but should have known that I'd find you here.'

He remained silent as the ink blot grew in size.

'Well?' she continued.  'What excuse do you have this time?'

No answer.

She persevered.  'How did you get hold of the whiskey?  I told Clarkson to remove it all to the cellar.  He said the cellar key has not left his sight since last night.'


'I guess you must have smuggled it in.' She continued the conversation with herself.  'Although God knows how.  You promised.....'

Her words seeped into his ears.  The ink seeped further into the paper.

'Aren't you at least going to apologise?'

He looked up at her and could see beyond, where Clarkson was hovering with a tray of coffee, about to turn away, so as not to intrude.

'It's OK, Clarkson,' he called across.  'Coffee would be great, thanks.'

She stepped aside to let Clarkson through and then disappeared from his view altogether.  He could just about hear the sound of her heels on the wooden floor as she tip-tapped away down the corridor.

He breathed a sigh of relief and returned to his letter - thankfully, the ink blot had not soaked through to the leather inlay beneath the paper.