Word on a Whim

What began as a blog about writing and publishing has become a blog of whatever I feel like writing. Jules Lucton.

Chelsea the Cat

Chelsea was the cat we adopted some years ago (before Gandalf’s time) and cared for during the last couple of years of her life.  I just read a post about a cat on a favourite blog, and it sent me looking for photos of our special cat, and I decided to post them here, to record her in history; and to bridge a gap in this blog.  No-one seemed to know where she had come from, and I have no idea why she was known as “Chelsea”, but that’s what the local kids called her.

We brought her home on a cold February night after hearing reports that she had been sleeping in a plant pot on someone’s doorstep but the plant pot had been turned upside down as the resident feared finding the cat dead in it each morning.  She had a large, pendulous cyst hanging from her neck that was easily removed with surgery – but yet she never did hold her head up – as if she had become used to the weight of it pulling her down.  On the first visit, the vet scanned her in case she was micro-chipped and gave her a general check-up.  Considering how she put away hard biscuit kibbles as well as soft meat, it was a surprise to learn that she had no teeth – they had all been extracted except the two canines.  The vet’s verdict was that she was an old cat who had been well cared for until recently, so we could only assume that her owner had passed away and the poor cat had been made homeless.

 Despite being elderly herself, in true feline style, she moved on and found herself a new home; with us.  She loved being held and stroked and rarely stopped purring. Too arthritic to leave the garden, and on steroids that sent her doolally tap; she would clamber out through the cat flap, walk a few yards to the patio doors and knock to be let back in.  I think she must also have been deaf as the pounding on the glass was accompanied by a loud “BRRRWOWWW!!!!”  Then, once indoors, she would saunter through to the kitchen and back out through the cat flap again – and then “BRRRWOWWW!!!!” … you get the picture?  In case not, here she is, bless her:

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“The Fog Horn” by Ray Bradbury – a lost treasure rediscovered.

I have always been a lover of lighthouses and, as a kid, had a romantic idea of being a live-in lighthouse keeper.  In the last year at middle school we studied a short story and then had to write a poem on the theme of loneliness.   The short story was set in a lighthouse and I loved it so much and was so moved by it that I kept the printed handout it was typed on, instead of giving it back.

Some years later I looked for it amongst my junk – it was only about five pages and must have been inserted in a book that got charity-shopped, because I never found it again.  I tried, a couple of years ago, to find it on the internet with no luck.  I hadn’t taken any notice of the name of the author, and I thought the story was called “The Sea Monster”.  Today, having an hour or two to spare, I looked again on the internet; typing in snippets and phrases from the story that were still stuck in my mind after thirty-seven years and I found it!  “The Fog Horn” by Ray Bradbury.

It was a surprise to discover that it was written by Ray Bradbury – I had pictured some old Cornish gent as the author.  I read it just now and I love it all the more – with a better understanding of the themes as an adult.  As a kid I only cried over the poor sea monster.  A link to a PDF is below.  Read it if you’ve got time – it won’t take too long and I think it will stay with you long after you’ve read it.

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28/05/16 – I see from my stats that this post is still of interest but the link to the .pdf no longer works.  Therefore I am pasting the story below.  I’m sure someone will let me know if I am breaching copyright:

THE FOG HORN
by Ray Bradbury

OUT there in the cold water, far from land, we waited every night for the coming of the fog, and it came, and we oiled the brass machinery and lit the fog light up in the stone tower. Feeling like two birds in the grey sky, McDunn and I sent the light touching out, red, then white, then red again, to eye the lonely ships. And if they did not see our light, then there was always our Voice, the great deep cry of our Fog Horn shuddering through the rags of mist to startle the gulls away like decks of scattered cards and make the waves turn high and foam.

“It’s a lonely life, but you’re used to it now, aren’t you?” asked McDunn.

“Yes,” I said. You’re a good talker, thank the Lord.”

“Well, it’s your turn on land tomorrow,” he said, smiling, “to dance the ladies and drink gin.”

“What do you think McDunn, when I leave you out here alone?”

“On the mysteries of the sea.” McDunn lit his pipe. It was a quarter past seven of a cold November evening, the heat on, the light switching it’s tail in two hundred directions, the Fog Horn bumbling in the high throat of the tower. There wasn’t a town for a hundred miles down the coast, just a road, which came lonely through the dead country to the sea, with few cars on it, a stretch of two miles of cold water out to our rock, and rare few ships.

The mysteries of the sea,” said McDunn thoughtfully. “You know, the ocean’s the biggest damned snowflake ever? It rolls and swells a thousand shapes and colours, no two alike. Strange. One night, years ago, I was here alone, when all of the fish of the sea surfaced out there. Something made them swim in and lie in the bay, sort of trembling and staring up at the tower light going red, white, red, white across them so I could see their funny eyes. I turned cold. They were like a big peacock’s tail, moving out there until midnight. Then, without so much as a sound, they slipped away, the million of them was gone. I kind of think maybe, in some sort of way, they came all those miles to worship, Strange, But think how the tower must look to them, standing seventy feet above the water, the God-light flashing out from it, and the tower declaring itself with a monster voice. They never came back, those fish, but don’t you think for a while they thought they were in the Presence?”

I shivered. I looked out at the long grey lawn of the sea stretching away into nothing and nowhere.

“Oh, the sea’s full.” McDunn puffed his pipe nervously, blinking. He had been nervous all day and hadn’t said why. “For all our engines and so-called submarines, it’ll be ten thousand centuries before we set foot on the real bottom of the sunken lands, in the fairy kingdoms there, and know real terror. Think of it, it’s still the year 300,000 Before Christ down under there. While we’ve paraded around with trumpets, lopping off each other’s countries and heads, they have been living beneath the sea twelve miles deep and cold in a time as old as the beard on a comet.

“Yes it’s an old world.”

“Come on. I got something special I’ve been saving up to tell you.”

We ascended the eighty steps, talking and taking our time. At the top, McDunn switched off the room lights so there’d be no reflection in the plate glass. The great eye of the light was humming, turning easily in its oiled socket. the Fog Horn was blowing steadily, once every fifteen seconds.

“Sounds like an animal, don’t it?” McDunn nodded to himself. “A big lonely animal crying in the night. Sitting here on the edge of ten million years calling out to the deeps. I’m here, I’m here, I’m here. And the Deeps do answer, yes, they do. You been here now for three months Johnny, so I better prepare you. About this time of year,” he said, studying the murk and fog, “something comes to visit the lighthouse.”

“The swarms of fish like you said?’

“No, this is something else. I’ve put off telling you because you might think I’m daft. But tonight’s the latest I can put it off, for if my calender’s marked right from last year, tonight’s the night it comes. I won’t go into detail, you’ll have to see it for yourself. Just sit down there. If you want, tomorrow you can pack your duffel and take the motorboat into land and get your car parked there at the dinghy pier on the cape and drive on back to some little inland town and keep your lights burning nights. I won’t question or blame you. It’s happened three years now, and this is the only time anyone’s been here with me to verify it. You wait and watch.”

Half an hour passed with only a few whispers between us. When we grew tired waiting, McDunn began describing some of his ideas to me. He had some theories about the Fog Horn itself.

“One day many years ago a man walked along and stood in the sound of the ocean on a cold sunless shore and said “We need a voice to call across the water, to warn ships; I’ll make one. I’ll make a voice that is like an empty bed beside you all night long, and like an empty house when you open the door, and like the trees in autumn with no leaves. A sound like the birds flying south, crying, and a sound like November wind and the sea on the hard, cold shore. I’ll make a sound that’s so alone that no one can miss it, that whoever hears it will weep in their souls, and to all who hear it in the distant towns. I’ll make me a sound and an apparatus and they’ll call it a Fog Horn and whoever hears it will know the sadness of eternity and the briefness of life.””

The Fog Horn blew.

“I made up that story,” said McDunn quietly, “to try to explain why this thing keeps coming back to the lighthouse every year. The fog horn calls, I think, it comes…”

“But-” I said.

“Sssst!” said McDunn. “There!” He nodded out to the Deeps.

Something was swimming towards the lighthouse tower.

It was a cold night, as I said; the high tower was cold, the light coming and going, and the Fog Horn calling and calling through the ravelling mist. You couldn’t see far and you couldn’t see plain, but there was the deep sea moving on it’s way about the night earth, flat and quiet, to colour of grey mud, and here were the two of us alone in the high tower, and there, far out at first, was a ripple, followed by a wave, a rising, a bubble, a bit of froth/ And then, from the surface of the cold sea came a head, a large head, dark-coloured, with immense eyes, and then a neck And then-not a body-but more neck and more! The head rose a full forty feet above the water ona slender and beautiful neck. Only then did the body, like a little island of black coral and shells and crayfish, drip up from the subterranean. There was a flicker of tail. In all, from head to tip of tail, I estimated the monster at ninety or a hundred feet.

I don’t know what I said. I said something.

“Steady, bot, steady,” whispered McDunn.

“It’s impossible!” I said.

“No, Johnny, we’re impossible. It’s like it always was ten million years ago. It hasn’t changed.. It’s us and the land that’ve changed, become impossible. Us!”

It swam slowly and with a great majesty out in the icy waters, far away. the fog came and went about it, momentarily erasing its shape. One of the monster eyes caught and held and flashed back our immense light, red, white, red, white, like a disc held high and sending a message in primaeval code. It was as silent as the fog through which it swam.

“It’s a dinosaur of some sort!” I crouched down, holding to the stair rail.

“Yes, one of the tribe.”

“But they died out!”

“No, only hid away in the Deeps, Deep, deep down in the deepest Deeps. Isn’t that a word now, Johnny, a real word, it says so much: the Deeps. There’s all the coldness and darkness and deepness in the worldin a word like that.”

“What” we do?”

“Do? We got our job, we can’t leave. besides, we’re safer here than in any boat trying to get to land. That thing’s as big as a destroyer and almost as swift.”

“But here, why does it come here?”

The next moment I has my answer.

The Fog Horn blew.

And the monster answered.

A cry came across a million years of water and mist. A cry so anguished and alone it shuddered in my head and my body. The monster cried out at the tower. The Fog Horn blew. The monster roared again. The Fog Horn blew. The monster opened its great toothed mouth and the sound that came from it was the sound of the Fog Horn itself. Lonely and vast and far away. The sound of isolation, a viewless sea, a cold night, apartness. That was the sound.

“Now,” whispered McDunn, “do you know why it comes here?”

I nodded.

“All year long, Johnny, that poor monster there lying far out, a thousand miles at sea, and twenty miles deep maybe, biding its time, perhaps a million years old, this one creature. Think of it, waiting a million years; could you wait that long? Maybe it’s the last of its kind. I sort of think that’s true. Anyway, here come men on land and build this lighthouse, five years agao. And set up their Fog Horn and sound it and sound it out towards the place where you bury yourself in sleep and sea memories of a world where there were thousands like yourself, but now you’re alone, all alone in a world that’s not made for you, a world where you have to hide.

“But the sound of the Fog Horn comes and goes, comes and goes, and you stir from the muddy bottom of the Deeps, and your eyes open like the lenses of two-foot cameras and you move, slow, slow, for you have the ocean sea on your shoulders, heavy. But that Fog Horn comes through a thousand miles of water, faint and familiar, and the furnace in your belly stokes up, and you begin to rise, slow, slow. You feed yourself on minnows, on rivers of jellyfish, and you rise slow through the autumn months, through September when the fogs started, through October with more fog and the horn still calling you on, and then, late in November, after pressurizing yourself day by day, a few feet higher every hour, you are near the surface and still alive. You’ve got to go slow; if you surfaced all at once you’d explode. So it takes you all of three months to surface, and then a number of days to swim through the cold waters to the lighthouse. And there you are, out there, in the night, Johnny, the biggest damned monster in creation. And here’s the lighthouse calling to you, with a long neck like your neck sticking way up out of the water, and a body like your body, and most important of all, a voice like your voice. Do you understand now, Johnny, do you understand?”

The Fog Horn blew.

The monster answered.

I saw it all, I knew it all-the million years of waiting alone, for someone to come back who never came back. The million years of isolation at the bottom of the sea, the insanity of time there, while the skies cleared of reptile-birds, the swamps fried on the continental lands, the sloths and sabre-tooths had there day and sank in tar pits, and men ran like white ants upon the hills.

The Fog Horn Blew.

“Last year,” said McDunn, “that creature swam round and round, round and round, all night. Not coming to near, puzzled, I’d say. Afraid, maybe. And a bit angry after coming all this way. But the next day, unexpectedly, the fog lifted, the sun came out fresh, the sky was as blue as a painting. And the monster swam off away from the heat and the silence and didn’t come back. I suppose it’s been brooding on it for a year now, thinking it over from every which way.”

The monster was only a hundred yards off now, it and the Fog Horn crying at each other. As the lights hit them, the monster’s eyes were fire and ice, fire and ice.

“That’s life for you,” said McDunn. “Someone always waiting for someone who never comes home. Always someone loving some thing more than that thing loves them. And after a while you want to destroy whatever that thing is, so it can hurt you no more.”

The monster was rushing at the lighthouse.

The Fog Horn blew.

“Let’s see what happens,” said McDunn.

He switched the Fog Horn off.

The ensuing minute of silence was so intense that we could hear our hearts pounding in the glassed area of the tower, could hear the slow greased turn of the light.

The monster stopped and froze. It’s great lantern eyes blinked. Its mouth gaped. It gave a sort of rumble, like a volcano. It twitched its head this way and that, as if to seek the sounds now dwindled off in the fog. It peered at the lighthouse. It rumbled again. Then its eyes caught fire. It reared up, threshed the water, and rushed at the tower, its eyes filled with angry torment.

“McDunn!” I cried. “Switch on the horn!”

McDunn fumbled with the switch. But even as he switched it on, the monster was rearing up. I had a glimpse of its gigantic paws, fishskin glittering in webs between the finger-like projections, clawing at the tower. The huge eye on the right side of its anguished head glittered before me like a cauldron into which I might drop, screaming. The tower shook. The Fog Horn cried; the monster cried. It seized the tower and gnashed at the glass, which shattered in upon us.

McDunn seized my arm. “Downstairs!”

The tower rocked, trembled, and started to give. The Fog Horn and the monster roared. We stumbled and half fell down the stairs. “Quick!”

We reached the bottom as the tower buckled down towards us. We ducked under the stairs in the small stone cellar. There were a thousand concussions as the rocks rained down; the Fog Horn stopped abruptly. The monste crashed upon the tower. The tower fell. We knelt together, McDunn and I holding tight, while our world exploded.

Then it was over and there was nothing but darkness and the wask of the sea on the raw stones.

That and the other sound.

“Listen,” said McDunn quietly. “Listen.”

We waited a moment. And then I began to hear it. First a great vacuumed sucking of air, and then the lament, the bewilderment, the loneliness of the great monster, folded over upon us, above us, so that the sickening reek of its body filled the air, a stone’s thickness away from our cellar. The monster gasped and cried. The tower was gone. The light was gone. The thing that had called it across a million years was gone. And the monster was opening its mouth and sending out great sounds. the sounds of a Fog Horn, again and again. And ships far at sea, not finding the light, not seeing anything, but passing and hearing late that night must’ve thought: There it is, the lonely sound, the Lonesome Bay horn. All’s well. We’ve rounded the cape.

And so it went for the rest of that night.
The sun was hot and yellow the next afternoon when the rescuers came to dig us from our stoned-under cellar.

“It fell apart, is all,” said McDunn gravely. “We had a few bad knocks from the waves and it just crumbled.” He pinched my arm.

There was nothing to see. The ocean was calm, the sky blue. The only thing was a great algaic stink from the green matter that covered the fallen tower stones and the shore rocks. Flies buzzed about. The ocean washed empty on the shore.

The next year they built a new lighthouse, but by that time I had a job in the little town and a wife and a good small warm house that glowed yellow on autumn nights, the doors locked, the chimney puffing smoke. As for McDunn. he was master of the new lighthouse, built to his own specifications, out of steel-reinforced concrete. “Just in case,” he said.

The new lighthouse was ready in November. I drove down alone one evening late and parked my car and looked across the grey waters and listened to the new horn sounding, once, twice, three, four times a minute far out ther by itself.

The monster?

It never came back.

“It’s gone away,” said McDunn. “It’s gone back to the Deeps. It’s learned you can’t love anything too much in this world. It’s gone into the deepest Deeps to wait another million years. Ah, the poor thing! Waiting out there, and waiting out there, while man comes and goes on this pitiful little planet. Waiting and waiting.

I sat in my car, listening. I couldn’t see the lighthouse or the light standing out in Lonesome Bay. I could only hear the Horn, the Horn, the Horn. It sounded like the monster calling.

I sat there wishing there was something I could say.

 

 

 

The Mayor’s sponsored reading ‘Mayorathon’

I saw the Mayorathon advertised in the free weekly paper a few weeks ago, and knowing I wouldn’t be at work on this day, decided to take part.  Each participant could buy a five minute slot to read to an audience an extract from a book, a play or a poem of their choice.  You could buy as many five minute slots as you wished, so long as you raised sponsorship of a minimum of £5 per slot. So I pledged a fiver and rehearsed reading a five minute extract from The Rise of Serge and the Fall of Leo. The Mayor had chosen a charity that supports people with acquired brain injuries and this seemed particularly appropriate as it is the cause of Serge’s disability.  I didn’t only take part for charitable reasons; I saw it as a potential opportunity to publicise my book and it was also a challenge to myself to read out loud in front of people.  The thought was terrifying.  I don’t know where my confidence has gone over the years. In my early twenties I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid at the prospect – in fact I was in a local amateur dramatics group and even had the nerve to sing a solo in a pantomime as the Prince in ‘Sleeping Beauty’.  Looking back, I was a different person then – although I doubt my singing voice was much better than it is now.  What a cringe-making thought!  I want to get a bit of confidence back you see, so that I don’t turn up at job interviews like a gibbering wreck.

So, I found an extract that wouldn’t entail doing Serge’s voice or Paddy’s Northern Irish accent and turned up, as instructed, fifteen minutes before my appointed time.  The place was packed; standing room only. I had expected a more casual affair – but there was a platform, a lectern and, gulp – a microphone. Looking up, even the gallery was full – and they were mainly children.  I can’t remember what was being read at the time, but it sounded good.  I think it was an extract from a Dickens novel.  I thought about the extract I had chosen to read and whispered to the lady at the door who was doing the register; “Will it mess things up if I don’t read?  Only this isn’t a children’s book.”

She beckoned me out into the entrance hall and some of the other organisers followed us to see what was up.  “There’s no rude words but urm … this guy’s about to top himself by jumping into the Thames on a freezing cold night and he doesn’t actually do it and it turns out okay but there’s a fair bit of detail and I don’t think I should read it to the children.”  It was at that point that I wondered whether it was a good idea to be reading it to anyone.

They assured me it was fine – the children would be leaving in about ten minutes. They had been surprised and honoured that the whole school had come along to listen and to support the event.  Sure enough, ten minutes later, the children filed out, leaving an audience of about six – plus the organisers and the Mayor.  Cool.

I was surprised how good the readers before me were – and the ones I listened to after my turn, as I didn’t like to dash off the minute I was done.  I waited until some more folk arrived and then slipped out.  The readers I listened to had such lovely voices and great presence.  I have a thing about voices – you know how sometimes someone looks gorgeous but then they open their gob and ruin it?   I have never liked my own voice – it’s a bit nasal and I can’t pronounce the letter ‘r’ pwoperly; but I don’t mind sounding northern – if ‘a’ and ‘u’ were supposed to be pronounced the same there would only be four vowels in the alphabet.  Northerners make good use of all five.  I think swear words have more impact with a northern accent but am not sure whether that’s a good thing or not.

Anyway, my bit went okay.  I didn’t faint or have a coughing fit or anything.  It seemed odd to be out of the office on a week day, doing something different and being able to appreciate the time and effort that people put into organising these charity events. Then I came home, took off my Jules Lucton costume, put on my warmest top that smells slightly of yesterday’s cooking, and applied for a job as a Test Analyst.

Twelve Weeks

My twelve weeks redundancy notice has been the longest time ever, and it’s not over yet.  In the new year, I found myself sharing my colleagues’ enthusiasm for future projects but then had to remind myself that I wouldn’t be around to be involved with the development, which has led to boredom and general lack of interest in any of the tasks I am given.  Although there are a few of us leaving the IT department, I am the only one from this site and have noticed that some people have started to speak to me differently, with a tinge of sympathy in their tone, as if there is something wrong.  It makes me think there must be.  Others keep asking if I have got a job yet.  No, I haven’t.

I got as far as a second interview and the guy from the agency named the day when he would phone and let me know … and then never phoned.  That was two weeks ago, and I have just about stopped carrying my mobile phone around everywhere.  I thought about phoning them but left it, thinking maybe if no-one else accepted the job they might come back to me.  Now I think I have seen it re-advertised with a more specific description of the role and the skills required.  I don’t want it any more though, I’ve moved on from that.  I said originally I didn’t want another job in IT – but this was close to home and appeared to fit.  I have applied for several other jobs that are not ruled out by my lack of experience or wrong qualifications, but other than an automated reply from a couple, I have heard nothing.  When people advise me to apply for anything, as I have nothing to lose, I am inclined to agree – I’ve probably told other people the same – but I do have a tendency to completely see myself in the particular role, so there is an emotional investment, and this is what gets lost when I hear nothing.

I have filled in a form to apply for voluntary work at a wildlife sanctuary but have not sent it off yet, in the hope that the offer of paid work might be just around the corner.  The thought of having nowhere to go, and not ‘belonging’ to anything scares me slightly. I started work straight after school and am lucky enough never to have been unemployed and, other than holidays, scheduled appointments, or working from home, I have never had time off.  I even have an award for attendance – a little plastic gold cup on my desk; an award for being a bum on a seat and for my mild OCD about being in the right place at the right time. Now at that age where bits might start dropping off, I am looking for some wood to touch in this office, but it is all plastic or formica.  I guess I’m also a little worried that if I end up out of work for a few months I will adapt to enjoying the freedom and will resent it being taken away again – but then  adaptation must be the key, so  it will work both ways.

The IT manager just made me laugh.  He was faffing around in the meeting room, setting up a projector.  Satisfied everything was ready to go, he walked across the office, stood beside my desk and said in his most polite and deliberate voice; “I have been tasked with presenting to the department a video about the state of the Company, and where we are now.  Would I be correct in assuming that you don’t give a rat’s arse?”  Bless him!

So, whilst everyone was watching telly I wrote this.  I’m glad I decided not to try to stick to writing about writing as I now have far more scope for writing – and no-one has to read it if they don’t want to!

Oscar !?

I know I’m not the only one who was shocked to hear the news this morning.  I could picture it so clearly; Oscar asleep in bed, and then suddenly his girlfriend turning up very early to surprise him on Valentine’s Day morning.  Waking with a start but still groggy, he grabbed the pistol from beneath the bed and fired.  No sound, other than the gunshot – because the first gunshot had killed her.  Unnerved, he fired again and then again – maybe thinking it was just a dream.  I imagined the absolute horror and disbelief when he switched on the light…

The silly girl!  As a hater of practical jokes, and a massive admirer of Oscar, I felt slightly cross with Reeva for misunderstanding him so badly – for not knowing that he would not like surprises.  But I have followed the developing story throughout the day, and, well, it is looking more as though he might have known he was shooting her.

Only last night I watched a video of him advertising sportswear.   Since I ‘Liked’ his Facebook page I get such links on my News Feed.  I confess I watched it twice.  Okay, I’m old enough to be his mother – but there’s no harm in window shopping – and it’s not only that he’s a hunk; there is also the running connection.

Running has helped me to retain some sort of sanity over the years and I try not to imagine a time when I cannot run, and I never take it for granted that I still can run, and I always give thanks at the end of a run.  This is how Oscar first became a hero to me – a guy with the motivation, not only to run, but to run competitively and to succeed beyond all expectations – with no fucking feet!

It is difficult now to read that Oscar has been “charged with murder” and I can only wait for the tragic story to unravel.  So often it seems that geniuses or people who excel in their particular vocation have some kind of imbalance that manifests itself as a weakness in another aspect of their makeup.  Perhaps the intensity of Oscar’s competitive spirit has in some way tipped his balance?  I feel so sorry for anyone who is personally connected, and my thoughts are with them tonight … but more particularly with Oscar.

Mad World

Yesterday morning when I was driving along a country road, a car appeared sideways from round a bend – the back end overtaking the front end as it drifted across my side of the road.  I swerved to the other side of the road to try to get round it but there wasn’t enough room and the rear end caught my front nearside wing and wheel.  Crunch.  The other car drifted along gracefully for some distance, thankfully losing momentum, so that it finally settled into the grassy roadside rather than hitting it with a bump and landing upside down in the ditch.  For the driver and his passenger, it must have seemed like an eternity before it came to rest.

Someone who saw it happen stopped to check that everyone was okay; delivered gratuitous male banter to the other driver, “You lost it there mate, didn’t you, ha-ha,”  then went on his way.  We then set about getting the cars off the road so as not to cause another accident, and exchanged details.

I phoned work and told them what had happened and that I would be ’working from home’, and everyone I spoke to asked if there were any witnesses.  Yes, someone stopped.  “Did you get his name and address?”  No.  The driver who skidded was a really nice guy.  Ashen faced, he had taken a brush from his car and swept all the debris off the road, and given me a card with all his details on.  “Did you take photos of the scene?”  No.  Our priority was to get the cars off the road and into nearby clearing as they were a potential hazard.

I knew they all thought I was daft, but sure enough, yesterday evening I had a call from the guy’s insurance company who said he had reported the incident and accepted full liability.  So there!  He’d probably gone and done his day’s work before going home and reporting it.  I wish it didn’t have to be anyone’s ‘fault’.  None of us really want to be driving on black ice in the weak early morning light – it’s just that we have to keep our hamster wheels turning.

Today I am ‘working from home’ again and will be collecting a hire car this afternoon that I will use until my car is fixed – but how silly is this:  The car rental firm is coming to collect me to take me back to their office to complete the paperwork so that I can bring the car back here.  Bearing in mind that the main road into the village is closed again due to flooding and we will have to go all around the Wrekin, why can’t they just deliver the car here and complete the paperwork on the kitchen table, saving everybody’s time and thirty-odd miles of fuel?  No wonder all our insurance premiums are so high.

A visit from the President

The “President and CEO” of the U.S. company I work for is visiting today.  The building smells of paint – honestly!  The painters were in last week, as well as the window cleaners.   We had the usual email about wearing appropriate attire and keeping the office tidy – it wouldn’t do to give the impression there was any work going on – and there was another request that made me laugh:  “Please ensure there is no preparation of food with strong or spicy odours.”  I don’t know why they didn’t give us all the day off, in case we make the place look untidy, or make a smell.

He is due to visit our department at 2pm and, although I only have another seven weeks left to work here, I am looking forward to meeting him.  In photos and videos he looks like Superman but with more appropriate attire.  Either he is about eight feet tall or else he surrounds himself with very small people.  I wonder if you have to put your height on your CV if you apply for a job as CEO in a large company?

Now I can hear scraping noises outside – and a colleague who normally wears overalls, but is wearing a suit today, is breaking up the compacted snow with a spade and removing it from around the visitor parking spaces – and as I watch a buffet is being delivered.  No onions, I hope.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Well, 2pm has been and gone, and so has our VIP visitor.  He looked older and thinner than he looks on camera – and he also looked eight feet tall, but then his posy were all shorties.

I said to him, “You should come here more often – the place has never looked so clean.”  No I didn’t.  The poor guy was wearing the glazed expression of someone who is jet-lagged and/or does not wish to engage in conversation, and walked through without saying anything.

I shouldn’t take the mickey.  My own home would be so much cleaner if I had visitors more often.

New Year’s Eve

Christmas had been a miserable time for Ella – searching frantically for her engagement ring yet trying to be discreet so Jim wouldn’t catch on that it was lost.  Well, it wasn’t lost – of course it wasn’t… it had to be somewhere…

The living room being so cold had done nothing to improve her mood but she couldn’t turn on the gas fire because a bird had come down the chimney on Christmas Eve.  Since then, its intermittent futile fluttering had become a fixation.

“At least we’re saving on the gas,” said Jim.  “Hey, turn it on if you’re cold.  The fumes will either kill the bugger or make it fly away.”

Ella had turned on him. “Don’t you think the poor thing would fly away if it could?  Anyway, the gas man’s coming some time today to take the fire out-”

“On New Year’s Eve!  How much is that going to cost?”

“I don’t know! It’s not like it’s a bank holiday. I just hope he manages to get here today.”

Hearing the tears in her voice, Jim left it.  Pre-wedding nerves, no doubt.  His own nerves were frayed only by worrying about how they were going to pay for the event.

Ella could remember taking off the ring to make mince pies…

“Lost something?”  Jim startled her as she knelt on the kitchen floor, yet again sweeping a runner-bean cane beneath the gas cooker.

“No… I just thought I dropped a sprout down here on Christmas Day – it will stink if I don’t shift it.”

Jim stooped to kiss her briefly.  “I’ll see you this evening.  I guess you’ll have to wait in for this gas man.”

The door clunked shut behind him and she slumped back against a kitchen unit and gave way to tears of frustration. She had succeeded in losing a little weight to look good on the wedding photos and the ring had become too loose.  It could be anywhere.  The bird fluttered again from behind the gas fire…

A van pulled up outside and she hurried to the door.  “I’d almost given up on you!”

“Oh? Sorry, it’s been a busy few days…”

“Look, I know I should have asked when I phoned you – but what do you charge, you know, for birds?”

“I do birds for free.”  Noticing her fleeting anxiety – a glance at her ringless finger, he hurried on, “I mean… we all have to do our bit in whatever way we can.  But I suggest you get a cowling, you know, over the top of the chimney.”

“Oh!  Yes, okay.  We’ll do that next year.”

He pulled out the gas fire and caught the bird easily; gently cupping his hands around its body to prevent it from flapping.

“A Magpie.  Poor thing. Shall we put it out in the garden – give it some water maybe?”

Ella sorted out the water and some fat off the ham in the fridge.

“Erm, if you don’t mind seeing to him it’ll give me a chance to clear out all that muck from behind the fire … before you put it back in place… thanks.”

From the kitchen window she watched as he placed the Magpie on the shed roof and then slowly retreated whilst it took a moment to gain its bearings then flew away.  Gas man clocked Ella’s smile, grinned back at her and returned to reinstall the gas fire.  Finally, she saw him out, handing him a litre bottle of Magpie.  “We had expected to pay you, but … well … we happened to have this.  Happy New Year!”

When Jim finally returned, she was kneeling by the fireplace smiling happily.  He stooped to kiss her but over-balanced and rolled over on the hearthrug, pulling her on top of him, laughing merrily as she told him about the Magpie and all the dirt she had cleared out from behind the fireplace.

Jim was about to kiss the engagement ring on her finger then hesitated with mock-disgust.

“I do hope you took this ring off before clearing out fifty year’s worth of bird shit!”

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes

After a few weeks of ‘consultation’ I have today been given notice of redundancy from my job.  The consultation process has been a charade – a procedure that was necessary to safeguard the company from any possible litigation.  I believe they had already decided on the outcome, but we had to have meetings to put forward our ideas as to how the redundancy might be avoided.  The timing surprised me;  I was half-expecting it a few months ago when the legacy system I had developed and supported was finally laid to rest and I was struggling to learn the new programming languages, but this has happened just as I was starting to be useful.  There are a few of us going from IT and many old colleagues from other departments.  Budgets have been tightened and the company is cutting away some old wood.  The bugger of it is that I have to work twelve weeks’ notice, so I won’t finish until mid-March.  Traditionally in IT, anyone made redundant has their access to the systems revoked instantly and is escorted from the premises.  Unfortunately, that rule has just been changed here.  Maybe if I rant at my screen and say “delete” as people walk by they might let me go?

It has been a funny few weeks.   That initial meeting so suddenly called – and the first formal letter informing me that my job was “at risk” came out of the blue at a time when from my point of view we were particularly busy – so it came as a shock, followed later by a vague sense of bereavement at the thought of parting from my colleagues.  I have worked with some of them for almost thirteen years.  Now I am trying to focus on the things I won’t miss such as the bizarre heating system that blows hot air from the ceiling – drying out your eyes whilst your feet freeze beneath the desk …

I have been lucky with managers in that those I report to have always told me the truth as they saw it – but the truth has mutated with the passage of time and the failing economy.  Our project plans – all that future work – has suddenly lost its priority.

I have always believed that things happen for a reason, and was tentatively hopeful that my screenplay might make it through the BBC Writersroom and I would suddenly have loads of time to write scripts.  Not expecting to hear anything unless I was successful, I was surprised to find an email from them this morning – but it turned out to be a rejection.  By no means the first rejection I’ve ever had – it is something many writers get used to, and at least I know now, and I can knock that little fantasy on the head.  It means a lot to me to have dates and times, and to know what’s what.  I really wish it didn’t.  I wish I could be more laid back, and ‘take it as it comes’ but this is the way I am and yes, I know it is only a job, and losing it is way at the bottom of my list of the precious things in this life that I constantly worry about losing.  But yes, I was grateful to receive the email from work this afternoon.  I am on holiday this week – I was advised to use it!

So, what next?  Preferably something different – something that doesn’t necessitate sitting at a desk for hours on end … but what?  I am determined to be optimistic that this change is for the better.

Happy Christmas!

Love xxx

“The Snow Cock.” – Flash fiction

It was no great surprise to Mr Petrov when he looked out of his bedroom window and saw a huge snow cock in the front garden next door.  His neighbours were artists.  Olga was a sculptress who chiselled erotic shapes out of lumps of stone, whilst Luigi painted landscapes – mostly white.

Mr Petrov marvelled at the anatomical correctness as his eyes wandered from the asymmetrical testicles, up the shaft to the skilfully crafted knob.  He had always found Olga’s sculptures bizarre and grotesque, but this one made him smile.  He was still smiling as Olga crunched through the ice to load yet another of her stone sculptures into the van.  It looked heavy.  She was a tall and well-built woman, but surely her husband should be helping her?

By the time he had made it to the sub-zero outdoors, Olga was going by again with yet another sculptured lump of stone, bigger and heavier than the last.  She had to stop for a breather …

“I’m sorry I can’t help you with that, Olga.  You know I would if I could.”  He leaned on his walking stick, already shivering with cold but noticed she was sweating from exertion.

“Don’t worry, Mr Petrov, I can manage.  Hey, did you know we were moving away?”

“No?”

“Yes … to a faraway country where the climate is warm.  I am leaving tonight.”

“So soon?  So suddenly?”

“Ha!  We have not been good neighbours for you … I hope you will get better neighbours next time.”

It was true that Mr Petrov had not enjoyed listening to the arguments next door …  Luigi was a small, fiery Italian and Olga seemed to thrive on lighting his fuse.

“But why isn’t Luigi helping you with this?”

“Luigi?  He has gone already.  Gone to the hotter place.  His landscapes now will mostly be red!”

Mr Petrov shook his head.  How selfish of Luigi to leave his woman to clear the house.  He didn’t know what to say …  “Well, they forecast that it’s going to be warmer this weekend.  We’re expecting a bit of a thaw.”

“Really?”  Olga glanced with regret at the magnificent snow cock she had created.  “But of course I will be far away by then.”

 

It was no great surprise to Mr Petrov when he looked out of his bedroom window and saw that the sun was shining and the snow cock had begun to shrink.  But what was that mark on the top?  By the time he found his binoculars and focussed them it had expanded.  Mr Petrov dropped the binoculars and fell back on his bed.  The knob had melted away to reveal a mop of short black hair.

🙂

 

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