Monday, 24 April 2017

This blog is now defunct, not going anywhere, has breathed its last, dropped off the twig and gone to join the choir invisible. 

After its leap up to around 300 in the daily pageview charts in mid-November and through till March, it has slumped into single figures, so is clearly not worth continuing. 

I now leave it undisturbed to concentrate on finishing my novel, initially inspired by the Bonfiglioli himself and now into its 29th chapter with the final five or six already planned.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Let's get back to humorous verse. I could do with a good laugh. Perhaps my readers in USA could do with one too. Where have you all disappeared to, guys?

The Magnificent Attenboroughs

That chap David Attenborough   
Is inordinately thorough                                                                     
When searching out new species.                                                                  
He studies everything                                                                             
From the colour of their skin                                                              
To the individual texture of their faeces.                                              
Now Dickie, on the other hand, he                                                      
Made the film entitled “Gandhi”,                                                        
That architect of India’s freedom.                                                      
Although a man of fame and note, he’s                                               
Remembered most for skinny legs                                                      
And freshly-laundered dhotis.                                                            

That’s Gandhi, by the way, not Dickie;                           
Wearing loincloths would be tricky                                 
In “Rillington” or Kringle’s fable,                          
Okay in “Great Escape”, perhaps,                                   
But not for pukka English chaps         
Who’d find it most un-pal-a-table.

In science fact and filmic fiction,
These brothers shone with rare conviction.   
On movies and on TV screen,
So hard, you say, to choose between.
You’d vote for Dick or Dave, alright. 
But which one is your favou-rite?

Friday, 7 April 2017

Here's my third place winner (if that's not a contradiction in terms) for Flash Fiction at the Scottish Association of Writers annual conference. 

I was about to give up on this blog when the pageviews slumped from about 300 a day to single figures and tens. But there was a welcome spike of 64 at 10 am on Wednesday (thank you, Japan), so I am encouraged to to carry on.

Now if I can just find a tasteful illustration of a skull on Pinterest - or a bonfire with dark overtones of impending doom . . .

In Sure and Certain Hope

He came in from the back garden sweating, though the night was cold.  Walking on the newspapers, he peeled off his overalls and gloves and all his clothes and placed them neatly in the middle of the 
papers, muddy shoes on top.  She’d had a thing about keeping the kitchen clean.
     The dog cowered down in its basket, trembling.
     After a thorough shower, he came back and knelt to bundle up the papers and the clothes.  There 
would be a load of rubbish to burn tomorrow.  The huge pile of fallen leaves and old cuttings at the bottom of the garden was covered with a tarpaulin to keep it dry.  She’d had plenty to say about that. 
     Funny, she didn’t say much about the text from Denise, the one confirming the flight time and the hotel booking.  Just shoved the phone in front of him and walked away with her face shut tight.
     A shoe had fallen off the pile.  But he’d placed them so carefully.  No mistakes now.  He checked the clothing.
     One blood-stained glove was missing.
     Cold air came in from the garden.  That bloody door!  Never did close properly.  He looked around . Jack wasn’t in his basket. 
     ‘Oh, Christ, he’s got the glove!  He’s going to bury it.  I’ll kill the yapping little bastard.’

     He was still in the garden, naked, digging frantically along the borders, shouting ‘Jack!  Come here, Jack!’ when frightened neighbours dialled 999.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Another piece of flash fiction from my files

Pin preview         

Leave 'er!

Mick was getting impatient.  Why was Robbo standing there like a plank, looking at the bundle on the ground?
     Shes 'alf dead, cant yuh see?  Fuckin leave er, mate.
     Robbo made no move.  The globes on the park gates lit the scar on the side of his face.
    ‘She’s nothin’ to you,’ said Mick.  ‘Just some old tart.’
     Robbo said nothing.
     Look, if were still ere an someone comes. theyll think we fuckin done it.
     Robbo turned his head.  Mick had seen that look many times, in gang fights, in police cells, in the underpass where the two of them, empty handed, had faced the Mullen brothers and their baseball bats.
     You dont fuckin tell me what to do. You can piss off. Im stayin, alright?
     The bundle of clothes moved slightly.  A whimper escaped from her tortured throat.  Mick spat and moved away.
     Im out of ere.
     Go, then! Go on, get aht of it!  Robbo knelt beside the woman and took hold of her bloodied hand. 
     She was middle-aged and chubby, wearing heels and a skirt that was too short, for her and for this weather.  Shed been badly beaten.  In the dim light, her frightened eyes looked for his.
     Im here, okay?  I’ll stay with you.  No ones gonna hurt you any more.  He felt a movement in the hand he was holding.  ‘Can you hear me?  No ones gonna hurt you any more.
     He felt for his phone.  Hed never called 999 before.

Robert was 12 years old again, holding his sisters hand.
     I wont leave you.  He heard his fathers step on the stairs, heard the belt buckle being loosened.  I wont run away this time. I won’t.

Robbo was still sitting there, cradling the womans head, talking to her, when the ambulance lights turned in at the park gates and came bouncing over the grass towards them.  A police car followed.
     He didnt move.  Didnt struggle when they cuffed his hands behind his back and shoved him into the car.
     The sergeant sitting in the front seat turned and glared at him.
     ‘What did you say, scum-bag?’
     Robbo said it again, almost to himself, ‘I didnt run away this time.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Here's a double helping of fantasy, a 1600 word story, from the guy who didn't think he could write fantasy. I suppose mine is too rooted in reality to be out and out fantasy - no swords, sandals or mythical beasts. Still, I hope you enjoy it.

Looking Back

I first noticed the difference in Tuesdays English lesson with 4B. I suppose most teachers can manage the usual trick.
     You know the one. Facing the blackboard, you might say, Dont go to sleep yet, Hutchings. Wait till the lessons finished. or (utterly reckless of your professional career) If you dont stay in your seat, young Potts, Ill glue your disgusting trousers to it. 
     Its a combination of your knowledge of the usual class suspects and an ear attuned to every sound in the room, from creaking floorboards to the rustle of paper aeroplanes. Snoring of course is a dead giveaway.
     That Tuesday afternoon I surprised myself. Terry Turnbull was dumbfounded.
     That wont fly, Turnbull. A Muller corner lid lacks the structural integrity for unpowered flight.
     I turned to face the class and an open-mouthed Turnbull - and immediately noticed a minor mistake Id just written on the blackboard.
     ‘After you’ve shut your mouth, you can come out here and cross the final T in tarts. And I shall be watching you. Dont even think about adding anything to the first one. A couple of seconds went by till they made the connection, then the whole class erupted with laughter.
     The bell sounded soon after. The class filed out, still talking about my supernatural powers.
     Driving home, it was very disconcerting at first not to have to check the mirror to see the traffic behind me. But already I was beginning to fantasize about how I might be able to use this new power.
     At home, I asked, Darling, can you see anything different about the back of my head? . . . Look closer, then. Anything at all?
     Sylvie carefully ran her fingers through my hair.
     Whats that? she shrieked. Oh, my God, what is it?
     She slapped my arm, quite hard. Youve been to that joke shop again, havent you?
     No, love. It just happened this morning. I dont know what it is. What does it look like?
     Its an eye - a bloody eye! It was looking at me.
     Yes, I saw you. You did look surprised.
     Of course I was surprised! She sat down suddenly on the nearest chair and started to sob. Youll have to see the doctor. I’ll phone Jim
     Oh, no, I said. ‘Ive seen those flying saucer abduction movies. No, weve got to keep this quiet.’ I patted her shoulder while I looked around for a pen and paper.  ‘Let’s think about it, Sylvie. This could open up possibilities we’ve never dreamed of.  Now if I were a football referee, or a store detective . . hm . . wonder if MI5 could use me? Is it something I could teach others to develop? Start an Academy of the Super Senses?
      Sylvia’s sobbing got louder.
     ‘Could you be quiet a minute, love? I’m thinking.’
     She rushed off into the kitchen. A bit early, I thought, to start the dinner. Has she got something special to prepare? It’s not an anniversary or something, is it? I’m not very good at remembering them.
     A thought suddenly occurred to me. Why hadn’t I thought of it before? How did I manage to see through my hair. It’s not short at the back. Sylvia hadn’t noticed anything odd till she parted it. No, not odd. Unusual, yes, Special, even. Special.  It’s special.  I’m special.
     The point is, how could I manage to see so clearly - even that uncrossed “t” on the blackboard - if my special vision was obscured by hair?
     The thoughts were coming thick and fast now. Next thing I found myself in the hallway, calling out excitedly to Sylvia, ‘Just had an idea, love. Nothing for you to worry about!’ I resisted the temptation to use the phrase “pretty little head”; I learned that lesson a long time ago.
     I grabbed one of my trilbies off the hatstand. Sylvia was always at me to get rid of them. ‘Nobody your age wears a hat like that now. It makes you look ten years older.’ She worries about things like that.
     First, I closed my front eyes - as I had already come to think of them.  Immediately the world went dark.  So, my special vision was somehow connected to them.  Just as well, otherwise sleep would be a real problem.  Carefully I put the hat on and lowered it over where I judged the special one to be, took a deep breath and opened my eyes.
     I could see clearly everything behind me. Wow! How far coulod this go?
     Pots and pans were clattering in the kitchen, as if Sylvia was searching for something.
     I wondered, could I?  Is it possible? If I can see through a hat, could I see through a wall?
     I turned so that my back was toward the kitchen.  Nothing at first.  I concentrated, willing myself to see, trying to become aware of the focus of the eye, extending that focus further and further, till suddenly . . .
     I could see Sylvia in the kitchen.  I could actually see her, through the wall, clear as anything.
     She was standing at the open door of the ‘odds and ends’ cupboard, where she kept the utensils that she hardly ever used. I could see that she was holding the cast iron frying pan my mother had given her some years ago. It was part of a gift set for her birthday. Can’t think why she’d looked that out. She had always resented it; called it a reflection on her cooking skills. Personally, I thought it was nice of Mother to try to help, always coming round with recipes for the dishes I used to like when I was at home.
     I was getting really excited now about this new-found skill, attribute, whatever you like to call it. What could I do with it? What could I not do with it? I needed to experiment.
     ‘Just going out, love. Don’t bother about cooking anything special; I’m too excited to eat much, anyway.  I’ve got to test this new skill, find out all the things I can do with it.’
     I was on one knee in the hallway, putting a shoe on, when I saw Sylvia coming out of the kitchen behind me.
     ‘No need to come with me, dear. You won’t be able to help. Just stay at home and get on with your wifey things.’
     I saw the heavy pan coming towards the back of my head, felt the wind of its swing, but I couldn’t do a thing about it, kneeling there.
     A blinding pain in my head, flashes of light.
     When I came round, much later, I was in a bed at the Royal  Infirmary, head bandaged and tongue babbling. They told me later that I’d been singing, ‘Remember you’re a Womble’ over and over. People do funny things under anaesthetic.
     Our GP was there, Jim Harrison. We’ve known him since schooldays. Sylvia was there, crying again. It’s an annoying habit. I’ve told her many times. The consultant was there. And the policeman. Forgot about him, sitting there taking notes. I wonder how many pages he had of ‘Remember you’re a Womble’. He was very young.
     Jim was on his feet and quickly came across to me.
     ‘Hallo, David, good to see you awake. How much do you remember?’
     Of course, I remembered everything. I pride myself on my good memory - well, except for birthdays, anniversaries, stuff like that. But I hesitated. I could see the warning in his eyes. I could see my little Sylvie, still shaking.
     ‘No, not much,” I said. ‘Did I . . . have a fall?’
     ‘We’re not sure, David. Sylvia was a bit confused when she rang 999. Then she rang me afterwards.’ Jim gave me a look that said, plain as anything, just as well she did.
     The young policeman got to his feet. ‘Excuse me, doctor.  I have to check.’ Then to me, ‘Are you sure, sir, there’s nothing more you can remember?’
     ‘Yes, there is.’ The room waited.
     ‘For some reason,’ I said, ’I think I was carrying a frying pan at the time.’
     He seemed to be satisfied. Sylvia gave me a trembling smile from across the room.
     Then it was the consultant’s turn. She told me I’d been taken straight to A&E and operated on. There was now a metal plate in the back of my head. She said they’d had a real mess to clear up, including what appeared to be a growth. Had I noticed anything there? 
     ‘No,’ I said, ‘What sort of growth?’
     ‘Nothing to worry about,’ she said, ‘We did a biopsy. It wasn’t malignant.  Anyway, it’s all gone now. You don’t need to worry about it.’
     ‘But could you identify it? I mean what sort of…?’
     ‘Just a growth. Just tissue. Nothing to worry about. Really.’
     All that was some weeks ago. Sylvia and I are picking up the pieces, as they say. She’s out of hospital, too. The other hospital, if you know what I mean. I’m on beta blockers for my blood pressure and on extended leave from school, and she’s on vallium again. The psychologist said we should take a break, get away from it all for a while. Bournemouth is still quite warm in September.
     There was one thing I didn’t tell him. Perhaps because I’ve now lost that special extra sense, as it were, another sense has become more acute. I feel it now, as I put my hands behind my head and settle back on the deck-chair, and the murmur of the waves a few yards away grows louder.

     Perhaps I ought to check up on this strange little growth in my left armpit, like a ring of cartilage. I’ll see Jim when we get home. I won’t mention it to Sylvia, though.  It might be a bit much for her.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

An episode from my ultra-pure youth.

The One that Got Away

She was sitting on one of those uncomfortable iron slatted benches that used to be anchored on concrete bases in our parks. This one faced a deserted playing field beside the County Education Centre.
     I was strolling round the edge of the field. It was a warm summer evening in my last term at the Grammar School. She and I were part of a gathering of some fifty pupils from a number of schools in the South Bucks area. From Friday to Sunday we were expected to converse, sing, read, make jokes and declaim poetry entirely in French. In its way it was the definitive "le weekend". The Academie Francaise may have hated that adulterative phrase and its recent intrusion into the purity of their beloved language but they would surely have approved of the idea: English boys and girls spending a whole weekend being as near French as possible.
     I was usually shy around girls, even at seventeen. I'd been at an all-boys school since I was eleven; my pastimes were either solitary reading or the obligatory "healthy outdoor pursuits"; and my female cousins lived too far away to allow social forgathering or covert exploration.  But Frenchness it seems works on other levels than language.
     Judy was small and slight with short, very blond hair. She would not be called pretty but she had an air of calm self-possession that immediately attracted me.She had two books on the bench beside her and one open on her lap. She looked up as I approached. She didn't smile a welcome but neither did she look away.
     I forget what I said to open the conversation but it was almost certainly a question about what she was reading.  It was not in French. Mock horror from me; a half smile from her. Perhaps, I suggested, this was why she was sitting alone, out of sight of inquisitive teachers. 
     Within seconds we discovered a shared passion for the Romantic poets. We chatted, we smiled, we finished each other's quotes from Shelley, Keats, Byron, Browning and his Elizabeth. We even dipped into Rimbaud and Baudelaire. We delighted in our shared enthusiasm.
     The light was fading. I don't remember if any others strolled by; we might not have noticed if they had.
     Someone had to break up our joyous tete-a-tete. Two seventeen-year-olds of opposite sexes sitting together in the gathering dusk of a summer evening could not be allowed. In 1952 the parameters of moral turpitude were clearly defined.
     'Come on now, you two. Inside with you. The dance will be starting soon.'  
     Our joint protests, even in untidy French, fell on deaf ears.'Oh, Mamselle. Nous n'aimons pas la danse. Est-ce que possible que nous restons ici? Nous lisons les poemes Francaises. It's French poetry we're reading.' (hastily shoving aside the Shelley and bringing out the Baudelaire.)
     Weekends like this always finished with a dance. It was a good excuse to keep all the hormones - raging, simmering or apparently dormant - herded together in one place under the vigilant eyes of chaperoning schoolmasters and mistresses. No matter that Mr H.C. (Harry) Todd, our Francophile English teacher, had whisked Miss Elizabeth Thompson (History) off to France last summer in the sidecar of his motorbike - a cause of much lurid speculation in the upper forms . 
     We went into the hall. Judy disappeared either into the crowd or to her dormitory. I can't remember if I enjoyed the dance or even if I danced at all. I never saw her again.
     Our brief meeting is sweet in my memory.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Last week I promised I would post an article about tai chi chuan, which as you will discover, is one of my passions. The promise was to the daughter of an old friend. She was one of my earliest tai chi students and her daughter remembers as a child trying to copy her mother's  movements when she practised at home. That indicates how long I have been teaching.
     It also shows that the circle keeps turning, that all our actions have consequences, that the yin and yang, the symbol of tai chi, is more than a symbol. It is a part of life. 
     Tai chi is a big part of my life.

Finding Stillness in Movement

A posture from the sabre form.
That's "posture", not "poser".
At a sports hall on the outskirts of Aberdeen           
every Wednesday evening, you will see 
people gathering for what might be an 
exercise class, or possibly an indoor games 
evening. Some carry six-foot poles; some 
have long bags designed for hockey sticks; 
others only a water bottle and soft flat shoes. 
But somehow you know that not one has a 
sweatband or a lycra leotard.
   These people practise the Chinese art of 
tai chi chuan, sometimes rendered in our 
alphabet as taijiquan (but pronounced 
exactly like neither). Its slow, graceful, 
spiralling movements help them to achieve 
flexibility, co-ordination and a composure 
that stills the mind and balances the body.    
It loosens their joints and stretches their 
muscles rather than tightening them; it puts 
health before fitness.
     Tai chi chuan is usually translated as “supreme ultimate fist” and, for all its slowness in practice, is an authentic and effective martial art. You may be relieved, or possibly disappointed to learn that this class we speak of doesn’t include any fighting. Very few do. But the hockey bags open to reveal practice swords and the long poles are swung and aimed in pre-set patterns of spear-thrust and parry.
     Many will have heard of tai chi but few know its depth and potential. The clue is in the name. “Tai chi” is not the whole story. That term describes the Taoist  principle or philosophy on which the art of tai chi chuan is based. Among other things, Taoist thought embraces the concept of “yin and yang” – the opposing yet complementary forces that have shaped and continue to shape the world. These forces are constantly changing, growing and diminishing in turn, since each contains within itself the seed of its opposite – the black dot in the white half of the circle, the white in the black.
     Tai chi chuan expresses that concept in movement. Thus there is constant change from back to forward, left to right, from yielding to countering. The movements have a gentle elastic quality; within every backward movement there is an opportunity to go forward.
     Too many people see only the graceful and apparently effortless movement of this art. So they think it is no more than waving your arms about in some mystical way in order to become “at one with the cosmos”. Unfortunately some teachers pander to this notion and foster an atmosphere of mystery and magic. Self-delusion is a powerful thing.
     True to the Oriental delight in paradox, it is often said that the practice is simple but not easy. Like anything else that’s worthwhile, tai chi chuan demands your full attention and commitment before it will yield up its enormous benefits. It is not a quick fix or a flavour-of-the-month.
     As you practise this art, you experience examples of paradox. Imagine for instance a system of fighting that can be used to heal; visualize slow, relaxed exercises that can develop tremendous whole-body power. You are discovering the stillness in movement.
     Some who practise this art are in denial over its martial lineage; a few teachers have renamed the movements. Kick with the Heel becomes Release; Parry and Punch is rendered as Open and Drive. This may be understandable on the basis that sensible, civilised people do not seek to get involved in physical confrontations. On the other hand it is unforgiveable because they deny their students the chance to appreciate the whole picture. If you aren’t told how the movements originated or how they were designed to be used, even those with such poetic names as Parting the Wild Horse’s Mane or White Crane Spreads its Wings, then the movements lose their focus and intent. This does not mean you have to fight. You don’t need to throw someone to the ground to feel within your body the beauty of a slow, turning, sinking Step Back to Beat the Tiger.
     The proper study of any martial art teaches us to avoid violence. I venture to suggest that any youngsters studying martial arts under responsible teachers are not the among the thugs infesting our streets and invading our lives.
     Movement without purpose, however graceful, is just beautiful empty movement. When movement has focus and purpose, it comes alive. Consider ballet, consider athletics – any sport. Torvill and Dean’s “Bolero” tells a story; Sebastian Coe’s home-straight sprint, a surge of power from such a slight frame, wins the race. Purpose, focus.

     The standard image from TV and magazines of old Chinese folk moving slowly in the morning mist in a Beijing park is only part of the story. In my class there are indeed many pensioners. (I started in 1987 at 53 – work it out.) But there are also a couple of students and two university lecturers, a builder, a young woman expecting her first child, a chimney-sweep and a physiotherapist. What they have in common is the maturity to mix serious study with a light-hearted approach to the life-changing influence of tai chi chuan.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Rediscovering Bonfig

An apology (I seem to have been apologising a lot on this blog): I was busy on the early postings (2013, would you believe?) uploading photographs that had mysteriously disappeared (see below). I surprised myself by succeeding. 

On this post, unfortunately, not only did I bring the photo to life once again, but the post itself time-travelled four years into the future and reappeared as today's post.

I hope it hasn't confused too many people.

I also managed, after all these years, to change my Location in the panel on the right from USA to UK. I have not been able to change from Pacific Standard Time to Greenwich Mean Time. Will this mean I'll lose my American readers/viewers/visitors? I hope not; they have boosted my pageview numbers recently to what for me were gigantic proportions. It was not a deliberate ploy to increase readership - honest!

Another thing, while I'm on about numbers. My pageview numbers took a huge drop on Monday 20th of this month (February). After being consistently around the 300 a day mark, they dropped to under 100 but recovered the next day. Was there a Rip van Winkle effect? Did America go to sleep for most of the day? Did Donald Trump's executive order on immigration apply to alien blogs as well?
 Anyway, because I haven't yet found a way to beam the post back to where it belongs in the past, I'll leave this time-warped piece of history to keep you occupied till tomorrow, when I'll post an article on tai chi chuan which has been my passion for the last almost thirty years.


to my first ever blog - both of you.  Let's hope we have more company soon.

     I shall guess that at least one of you has read and been delighted by the novels of the man of the title, my late friend and former colleague, Kyril Emmanuel Georg Karl Bonfiglioli - novelist, wit and knife-thrower.  The other of you, whether curious or just lost in the labyrinth of the internet, can prepare to be enlightened.   I hope you'll both be amused and entertained.

     Because my memories of Bonfig (for whom the phrase "colourful character" might have been invented) are too worthy of a good telling to be condensed into one post, too rich a banquet to be savoured at a sitting, I shall serve them up as weekly dishes.  Your comments can provide the seasoning of your choice.

     If you've read his books, I dare to hope that you may find a faint echo of his writing style in mine.  There, I've admitted my presumptuous ambition.  I shall now be at the mercy of every Bonfiglioli aficionado, literary troll and online heckler.

     When I first googled his extraordinary name upon a whim and a startled keyboard, I expected to find no more than half a dozen entries, maybe a few Amazon special offers on his novels (he'd written three and most of a fourth) and possibly something about his remarkable knowledge of heraldry.

     I did not expect page after page of biography, bibliography and plauditry that approached cult status, with praise from literary lights and entertainment greats (Stephen Fry, Susan Hill, Craig Brown and Miles Kington, to name those I care to remember).  There were pieces glowing with praise from the New Yorker and the Independent, not to mention the TLS.  The various articles and mini-biographies seemed to cover most of his life till he died in 1985.

     Most but not all.  This personal memoir is written to fill that gap.

     Though his Army service in West Africa was listed, there was no mention of his time as an Education Sergeant at the Gordon Highlanders Depot in Aberdeen.  That is where he and I first met in the summer of '54.

     I had the same three stripes, though I was junior to him in every respect.  He taught me knife-throwing, fencing and how to fry peas in Worcester sauce.  In the few months that I knew him, the man had an influence on me which has lasted to this day - to say nothing of bringing my university career to a full stop before it even began.

     Rediscovering Bonfig after he had died only made me want to know more.  I tracked down his second wife Margaret, author of The Mortdecai ABC, an invaluable and insightful volume of Bonfigliana that takes its name from his supposed alter ego and the anti-hero of his novels, the Hon Charlie Mortdecai.  I was delighted to receive an encouraging reply, urging me to go ahead with this bundle of reminiscences.  Her support has even extended to forgiveness for the parody of her title and the flagrant theft of her format.

    Accordingly I call it

The Bonfiglioli ABC  (to be continued)

Kyril Bonfiglioli, Summer 1954

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Sarina was not her name; she used it when she was in a trance or "channelling".

Past Portrait

The portrait she planned was the face of a queen;
the painting emerged as a bearded young man,
someone imagined, whom she’d never seen,            
a face from the past, from a far foreign land.     

Painted in earth colours, russet and gold,
the most striking feature the mound of dark hair,
bushy and full with a queue as of old,
it looked like a head-dress, exotic and rare.

Sarina once told me she painted this picture
almost in trance, as if being led.
Hardly aware of the brush in her hand,
she brought to existence a being long dead.

She called it “Bartholomew”, felt that the name
was right for the man who appeared on the page. 
Never knew an apostle was called by the same.

Was this a link with that Biblical age?

Monday, 13 February 2017

A dark poem for dark February days:


I sit alone with the dark gods in the dark cave and wait.
My chanting joins with others, the unseen ones.
Flames dance on the flat cave wall.  I need to see
the pictures in my mind before I touch the paint.

Tonight I will paint the great bull, the one who sweeps
the sky with his horns and shakes the earth
with his feet, the one who carries my arrowhead
in the muscle of his hind leg.  I will place
my red-earthed hand over him and tomorrow
his blood will be mine and the clan will feast.

Alone I paint mind-pictures on the wall
but at night all the men will come, every one
who has left his boy years and bears the man-mark,
the hunters and fighters, protectors of the family.
We will sip bitter juice and see the flames dance,
then up and stamp, jump and whirl, chant and
watch my pictures come alive and move, hear
the song of the gods and see tomorrow’s hunt.

We will feel the bull’s great bulk, see his chest heave,
hear his hooves like thunder in the ground.
But tomorrow he will be slowed, his flesh gnawed
by the grinding flint, and we will run him down.

Then we will shout and sing and weep in praise
for this great beast who ran and shook the earth,
who swung his horns and died standing, who now
will feed our children for days and our stories for years. 

In the dark cave with its dark gods and painted wall

the unseen ones will wait for me to come again.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Free-writing exercise

At the Writers Circle last week, after we'd read out our prepared pieces and heard other members' comments, we tried an exercise that frightens many people. Not just people; it frightens writers, though it shouldn't. 
     It starts with a prompt of some kind, something to spark the imagination. It could be just a word, a phrase or a quotation. You might get to choose a picture, or be given a character and a situation.
     It demands that you write quickly because time is limited. 
     It demands that you write freely, uninhibited by thoughts of whether it's good or bad, explains itself perfectly or merely suggests possibilities, is fit for publication or only fit for the rubbish bin. (No, make that the recycle bin, because a writer should never throw anything away.)
     Why does it send shivers through the spines of so many writers? Because in a very real way it takes away their control over their material, allows the subconscious to take over. You see appear on the paper under your pen or the screen in front of your eyes, words and phrases you didn't think about using. You didn't think; that's what's important.
     That's what makes free-writing such a fantastic exercise. Often those phrases and words and sentences are more appropriate than you first thought - or with a little editing can be made so. The point is they don't have to be perfect right there and then; nobody's going to criticise it. It's only an exercise. You're practising. You're flexing your writing muscles in a different way.

I do believe my enthusiasms are showing. I'll roll them up and put them away and show you what I wrote last week.
The prompts I was given were a quotation from Oscar Wilde: "An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all." and the cover of  "Lady Chatterley's Lover" with an illustration showing a phoenix in the flames.

I wrote this:

Like a phoenix aflame, the lust for life
Flares, bares itself, scorns a danger
That dares discovery, flaunting itself,
Living to fullness again.

In the dull mind, dull thoughts drift,
Muddied, sluggish and satisfied.
No danger here, no shiver 
Of sudden fear, only the torpor
Of nothingness, of mind death.

I may make something of it one day.


Saturday, 28 January 2017

This blog's pageview stats tell me I'm getting a regular readership (or at least a "glancership") because it gets about 300 visits a day. The vast majority of you (6,685 last month) are in the USA.

On the basis that some of you might be looking for a touch of escapism right now, here's a story that has more than a suggestion of escape in it. Enjoy!

The Longest Day

 Jeanne Laporte’s journey had started more than a thousand miles away. Ahead was what could be the most difficult part, when the documents she carried would be subjected to the closest scrutiny. Again she took the little mirror out of her purse  and touched her hair. That gave her the chance to check if anyone was watching her. Even more important ly, she could briefly touch the papers that would be her passport to freedom.
     There had been many moments of doubt. A couple of times she’d nearly panicked. On the station at Schaumburg, just before the train pulled in, when she thought she was being watched by a man in an unfamiliar uniform; in the café at Henrieville when she’d spilled coffee on her ticket, the little piece of card that had cost her so much. She worried that it might be queried by the ticket-collector. With every incident she‘d become more anxious.
     ‘Don’t think about it,’ she said to herself, ‘Just do it. You’ve come this far. You’re almost there.’
     Always there was this feeling of being a stranger in an alien land. She knew the language of course, but the accent was different here. There was no one to turn to. She was on her own now.
     Sometimes she had the feeling she was being followed. She resisted the temptation to turn. ‘Feel confident and you’ll look confident,’ had been the advice.
     Now it was time for the last few steps, no more than the length of a football pitch. Just stand up from her table at the pavement café, pay the bill (she hadn’t spilled the coffee here - was that a good sign?), cross the street and enter the imposing building facing her. In less than an hour, once the paperwork was completed, she could be on another train, a train that would take her home.
     Her new home. The word had a different meaning now. No more looking over her shoulder. No panic at the late-night knock on the door . Freedom.

The highway out of town ran alongside the rail tracks. Just before the road swung away northwards, Jeanne saw again the sign she’d seen on the way into town. Now she saw it from the other side. “Al’s Diner and Gas Station. Get filled up before you leave Reno. There’s a whole lotta desert ahead.”

In case you think I’ve invented the town names to suggest this “escape” story is set in Europe , Schaumburg is in Illinois and Henrieville is in Utah.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Safe at Last!

It's well past the middle of January, so it's probably safe for me to go out. The gods of split eyebrows will have forgotten about me by now.
     The problems started on the 30th December 2014. I took Bess, our collie, out for her afternoon walk about 4.30 as usual. It was pretty dark as well as cold; Aberdeen is further north than Moscow and even some parts of Alaska. 
     I didn't realise it was icy underfoot till I was in the middle of a bumpy rough track leading to the woods. I tried to step carefully but my feet slid from under me and I crashed down on my left side. My head cracked on the frozen ground. I felt the shock go right through me. 
     I lay there for a few seconds, feeling sick, still holding Bess's lead and calling for her to come back to me. I watched the blood dripping from my head. I slid rather than crawled onto the grass where I could stand up.
     As usual, I didn't have a mobile phone with me; I hardly ever use it. Holding my eyebrow together with a folded tissue, I staggered back home. Martha cleaned the cut, examined it with a trained nurse's eye and said, 
           'That eyebrow needs stitching - and the other one's twitching. 
           You look like you've been in a fight.
           Blood's still flowing free, so you'll have to agree 
           That's it for the rest of the night.' 
     (She always speaks in verse during the pantomime season.)
     At Aberdeen Royal Infirmary they stitched me together and kept me in overnight in case the pain on my left side was an incipient heart problem. It wasn't; just bruising.
     That was 2014. Fast forward to 30th December 2015: same dog; same day; same time; different walk. Passing the library I saw a football abandoned in the car park, just sitting there waiting to be kicked. I can never resist a football. I took a run and whacked it against the library wall. It bounced off at an angle and I chased after it to try again.
     I didn't see the kerb that marks the parking spaces but I did notice that the ground came up very fast to meet my face. Not again! In seconds the other eyebrow was doing its best to incarnadine the car park - and making a pretty good job of it. 
     This time I was farther away from home so I had to call Martha and she brought the car to pick me up. Though I looked like one of Mike Tyson's sparring partners for a few days, this eyebrow didn't need any embroidery. 

     Needless to say, on 30th December 2016 I trod very carefully whenever I stepped outside the house.