Friday Flash Fiction – 1000 – Walking The Dog

Sam spotted her locking up her bike, hoping she was coming to the meeting, wondering if she would remember him. Two of his team had dropped out already, he didn’t imagine they had anywhere better to be on a Friday afternoon, but that’s the way it was; some homeless people didn’t like being organised and they didn’t like talking. He couldn’t remember her name, despite making such an impression on him. Katie, no, perhaps the earnest facilitator would say her name. He whistled to Sheba who helpfully rounded up his new charge, a snappy terrier mix the elderly owner claimed was a Jack Russell. He would have to keep her on a tight lead at the meeting.

Cassie removed her cycle helmet, took her shoulder bag out of the panier, stretched her back, stepped onto the path and nearly tripped over a little dog.

‘Sorry.’ Why was she apologising to a dog?

‘Bella, come here…’ a man’s voice called.

Bella! Maybe she was pretty as a puppy. Cassie regained her balance and carried along the path, wondering how today’s meeting would be. One of the others from work couldn’t come, he was actually back in the office so had a good excuse. All the more reason for Cassie to feel she should attend, even though James had suggested a trip over on the ferry and lunch outside a waterside pub.

She was aware of someone behind her, in these days of pandemic it wasn’t just women in dark lonely places who were nervous of strangers, anyone who took the virus seriously did not want people breathing near them. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a man on the grass, giving her plenty of space on the path.

‘I’m so sorry, the dog, not mine, exercising her for an old lady. You don’t recognise me, do you?’

When a shaggy dog bounded up she realised who it was.

‘Sam, oh sorry, haircut and wrong dog.’

‘No wonder you’re confused, you are going to the meeting again?’

‘Yes, yes, I’m a bit worried as one of my team can’t come and it was my company that started this in the first place.’

He laughed. ‘Two of my team are missing, not as if they had anything better to do, hope we don’t get told off.’

‘She is a bit serious isn’t she.’

Cassie smiled to herself. Sam brushed up well with his neat haircut and she found herself glad he was going to be there. Perhaps a reflection on her lack of a social life, no that was a condescending thought, Sam was as worthy of sharing her afternoon as James and probably more interesting.

‘You must like dogs a lot Sam.’

‘I like Sheba, not too enamoured with this one, but the lady who is fostering Sheba while I’m in the hotel suggested I get into dog walking, might be an earner.’

‘Oh yes, it was big business where I was in London, some walkers even had their own doggy mini buses.’

He looked crestfallen.

‘Oh I’m sure most dog walkers just have strong leads and a good supply of those plastic bags… hmm rather you than me.’

‘That is a downside, but I’ve seen worse in my life.’

‘Of course, I mean er…’

He smiled in a way that suggested he was worried about embarrassing her, rather than the other way round. ‘Hey, what was pre Covid stays pre Covid, new haircut, new man. That’s what I liked about the group, not dwelling, just looking for solutions, looking to the future.’

‘Will you still sell the Big Issue?’

‘Yes, I just started again, over the water is my pitch, small town, but no other sellers around. Trouble is, people haven’t really started coming out much, I need more strings to my bow.’

‘People going back to work – lonely dogs, people isolating – bored dogs, yes I’m sure there will be customers out there.’

That’s what Sam liked about Carol, no that wasn’t her name, anyway she was easy to talk to and positive. She was pretty in a quirky sort of way, not that she could ever be more than a friend, what clever career woman would want to go out with a homeless chap. Besides, she was probably married, children, teenagers even, hard to say how old she was, his age, younger… Still, it was good to have a nice sensible adult to talk to, though he would not mention the fact that he was likely to have to leave the hotel next week with no idea where to go. It was unlikely that well intentioned meetings could come up with solutions quickly.

They were all greeted by name by the earnest facilitator who seemed relieved that anyone had turned up again. Cassie, of course, why hadn’t he remembered that was her name. He smiled at Cassie across the six foot gap between their folding chairs, but was jolted out of his relaxed state by a familiar grating voice. Lindy, one of the other homeless staying at the hotel, Lindy who loved talking, Lindy who he tried to avoid.

She did not wait to be introduced but launched straight into her spiel.

‘So can your company, PMJ…’

‘MPJ’ Cassie tried to interrupt.

‘…JPM really help? I’ve been here before, talk, talk, talk then you all go back to your comfortable homes.’

Sam felt his stomach clench, mortified for Cassie, most people weren’t given life on a plate, what did Lindy know about Cassie and her colleague. He managed to catch her eye and wink, did she smile back or was she just cringing. For a moment he closed his eyes, imagining going over, clasping her hand and taking her away… but Lindy was still talking.

‘… and then there’s poor old Sam, gotta leave the hotel next week, can’t chuck me out yet, cos I’m a woman…’

Sam kept his eyes closed, could he ever really move forward?

Game Set Match

Game, set, match are words you will not hear this week as Wimbledon has been cancelled, but there are plenty of games people have been able to play in lockdown and isolation, from real cardboard playing cards on a real table to computer games.

Humans have been playing games since forever. Adam and Eve probably got bored playing hide and seek; Eve for sure, that’s why she went looking for new interests like the tree of knowledge. Our cave dwelling ancestors collected shells and stones and drew lines in the dirt, but got annoyed with their children for time wasting.

‘Will you stop playing with those sticks and stones and go and collect some berries like I told you to.’

…and onward millennia to the last years of the twentieth century when parents would be telling teenagers to get off the computer ( the one household computer bought by fathers across the land because it would be educational for their children, though they really wanted to play with it themselves ) and do their homework, or read a book, or get out in the fresh air. At one stage I was heard to say I would never have got married let alone had children if I had known home computers were going to be invented…

And who would have imagined that their son in his thirties would still be playing computer games with his school friends; not still going round each other’s houses, they live hundreds of miles apart, but playing on line with X Boxes …

Call of Duty Warzone – 150 players in teams of 4   – already my mind is boggled. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0E44DClsX5Q&feature=youtu.be&fbclid

‘This game uses something called “skill based match making” which uses a combination of different player statistics to fill games with people mostly of the same skill level. The result is that as you get better you never feel like you are getting better. The advantage is that players do not feel like they don’t stand a chance against very good people. It’s very controversial within the gaming community.’

The world of computer games is a total mystery to me, but one advantage of blogging is that you can write from a position of total ignorance. I do understand that computer games have been made by very clever and creative people and they are just as valid an art form and interest as any other. Now portable personal electronic devices are the latest entertainment for older generations to worry are time wasters and just plain bad. Books, radio and television have all been frowned upon in their time.

I informally interviewed a few of the first generation to play computer games, the first parents to not mind their children playing.

In contrast to Call of Duty fans a professional chap enjoys single-player games such as Batman and Uncharted 4 ( which seems to have ‘real people’ in it ) . ‘I don’t have any online friends to play with, or the time to play online. Zelda: Breath of the Wild is probably one of the best games ever made.’

Lego Harry Potter sounds more fun, a favourite of a lady in her thirties. ‘It’s all about collecting studs and learning spells and defeating He Who Must Not Be Named!’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TEQ4ky00L8Q

Lego games are all good for children and parents to play together. Another couple have bought a Nintendo Switch and the first game they are trying is Mario Kart, basically racing, to play with their young children.

Why you play is different for everybody, a mum in her thirties says ‘I like to play co-op games rather than competitive ones, otherwise it’s too annoying.’

Another professional man who enjoys computer games for unwinding says ‘How can they be called time wasters, at least they are interactive, not like slumping in front of the television.’

If I wasn’t busy blogging, writing, reading, gardening; perhaps if I tried some of these games I would enjoy them. It’s never too late to start. On Woman’s Hour this week they were talking to some ladies in their seventies who love playing computer games and their grandchildren love being able to play games with them. They like the challenge of… what are all these game about? Getting out of places, through a maze or something completely different?

 Minecraft is a game created by Microsoft where players can explore a 3D world, discover natural resources, craft tools and build houses or other structures. Now that sounds quite fun. I read in the newspaper that an archaeologist has recreated a Bronze Age landmark – with a great deal of technical help from his eleven year old daughter. Doctor Ben Edwards and Bella have created a digital version of Bryn Celli Ddu, a 3000 year old burial mound on Anglesey, with further help from other experts.

https://www.minecraft.net/en-us/

I think I would like a game where you create your own country estate with beautiful gardens which wouldn’t need weeding. If such a game exists let me know.

A more exciting thought; can authors turn their novels and short stories into computer games, will that be the next thing on Amazon KDP? I think some of my writing would be perfect, I just need a few artists and people who do coding, whatever that is…

You’ve read the books, now play the amazing games.

Do you or your family play computer games? Love them or hate them?

Silly Saturday – Baz the Bad Blogger Bounces Back

Today I welcome back Baz the Bad Blogger who has been taking a blogging break. I first interviewed him in November 2018.

https://tidalscribe.wordpress.com/2018/11/03/silly-saturday-baz-the-bad-blogger/

‘Baz, may I ask you why you took such a long break?’

‘I was bored with blogging and I didn’t sell any of my novels.’

‘Did you find it hard to keep up with writing blogs?’

‘No, I just got bored with reading other people’s blogs.’

‘Do you think your followers will be happy to see you back?’

‘Well I only have one follower left, the others stopped following me after I made honest and helpful comments on their blogs.’

‘Oh dear, well I guess this is more of a relaunch. Do you have a new novel in the pipeline?’

‘Yes, the sequel to ‘I Zomboid’, my dystopian novel about a government taken over by zombies and androids. I am having trouble, as real life has become stranger than my fiction.’

‘That’s for sure, which leads me to my next question, how have you been coping with this pandemic and lockdown?’

‘Very well, I work from home anyway, or would if I had a job and when I do go out I find people are considerate and keep their distance.’

‘Are you looking forward to the pubs opening today?’

‘I was hoping to sink a few pints, but you have to book in advance and when I mentioned my name none of my locals had any vacancies.’

‘That’s bad luck, will you enjoy a drink in the comfort of ChezBaz?’

‘What?’

‘Um are you hoping to enjoy a drink at home this evening with er… do you live alone?’

‘No, we’re quite a household, me and the snakes.’

‘Have you decided on a title for your next novel?’

‘Panzombic.’

‘Finally, will your new blogs have a theme, perhaps one that fits in with the strange ideas in your novels?’

‘My garden through the year, everyone is interested in gardening lately, lots of bloggers post pictures of their garden. Baz’s Blooms it will be called and I am bound to get lots of new followers.’

Baz kindly shared some pictures of his garden…

Friday Flash Fiction – Open Space

Cassie was feeling more positive than she had for a while as she saw James approaching on his bicycle for their rendezvous at the austere offices of their employer MPJ. It was not because the pubs were opening tomorrow, something to be avoided, or because she believed the pandemic was over, it was not; but her mind was open to new possibilities.

‘How was the ferry James?’

‘Great, it’s so windy out there on the water this morning, I love it like that, blowing the virus away; only a few of us on the boat anyway.’ He laughed. ‘Less than a week of the ferry back on duty and they have taken away my hire car.’

Cassie couldn’t help feeling a little pleased that once again they were safely separated by the water and a limited ferry timetable. Their several meetings at the offices had been good, making life seem a little more normal, but would it be awkward now she had declined to join his bubble? Would he try and change her mind after she admitted on Facetime last night that Doris next door did not want Cassie to create a bubble for her. Doris’ son and family were now 85% sure they would be over from the USA for their delayed annual holiday and Doris was hoping they would quarantine with her, be her bubble.

James keyed them in at the side door, ushering Cassie in first and keeping a safe distance. At the desk the lone security chap looked glad to see them.

‘How many in today?’ asked James.

‘Three, no sign of the boss yet.’

They walked up the stairs; even if they had wanted to use the lift James had put several bands of yellow tape across the lift doors. The corridor was silent and Cassie stifled a giggle.

‘Why are we whispering.’

‘Strange isn’t it, I didn’t realise how noisy this place was when it was full. Coffee first? That machine must be the only thing still working at MPJ.’

It was still a bit awkward – just standing there a few feet apart. He was smiling at her.

‘I like this, having a proper chat, I know it’s not every girl’s… wom… lady’s idea of a date. That’s what I like about you Cassie, up for anything. I love the way you aren’t worried about what you wear and don’t fuss about makeup and stuff.’

Cassie wondered how to take his remarks, she couldn’t imagine him doing very well on the dating scene, but obviously she wouldn’t either.

‘Has anything new been decided about work? The parents in my group are going round the bend. The children are going back to school next week, but it’s only for two days a week, then in two weeks it will be the holidays.’

‘So what do parents usually do in the holidays?’

‘Don’t ask me, what does you sister do with her two?

‘They are too far away for my mother to help out, they take some time off for the family holiday, that’s up in the air this year… the rest of the time, holiday clubs I think.’

‘All grandparents can’t be isolating, they can’t all be old and have health issues.’

‘The younger grandparents probably have jobs, or did have. Anyway, the boss still thinks we’re all doing a wonderful job working from home and wants as few coming back here as possible till we’re absolutely sure it’s safe.’

‘You can’t blame him after losing his daughter and that girl in my department, but it’s never going to be a hundred per cent safe in any work place, safe anywhere for sure.’

‘He’s changed a lot,’ said James ‘those who have known him a long time say he’s changed completely. Now we not only have to treat all the staff as family, we have to look after the homeless as well.’

‘I know, I got the email, I volunteered.’

‘I didn’t volunteer, it’s been dumped on me, have to work out the logistics of using this nearly empty building to make sure nobody in this city goes back on the streets.’

‘Isn’t that the future of offices, that’s what everyone is saying, but what do the homeless want? That’s what I’m going to find out at this ‘People in the Park’ thing this afternoon.’

‘Oh that, don’t you go taking in strangers Cassie.’

‘Is that likely, I’m afraid I’m not that much of a do-gooder, my home is my castle.’

‘Don’t I know it’ said James.

Cassie smiled to herself as she cycled to the park. Poor James, she was still managing to avoid telling him where she lived, but would she feel home owner guilt as she met up with these homeless people?

Luckily some overly sincere volunteer was facilitating the little gathering in the park, a couple of other MPJ people and five men and women and a dog. Cassie didn’t think of herself as good with people, but this little straggle of folk must be feeling even more nervous. She found herself drawn to the chap with the shaggy dog, Sam he introduced himself. The others were happy to let him do the talking, he was engaging and had good ideas. He needed a haircut, but so did everybody till the barbers reopened tomorrow; Sam didn’t match the homeless stereotype. Staying in a hotel obviously helped and perhaps he was recently homeless without ‘complex issues’. The more he talked the more fascinated Cassie was, how could such a chap have ended up with nothing in the world except a rescued dog? But what he said was true, how would putting these people in an empty office building help if they didn’t have jobs to regain their self respect. Where would the jobs come from in a post Covid recession.

When they broke up from their carefully distanced circle, agreeing to meet next week, Cassie felt she was at least part of something new and positive, even if she couldn’t see how it would work out. She felt a cold nose on her hand.

‘Sorry Miss, Sheba doesn’t understand social distancing.’

‘Oh er, call me Cassie please Sam, I like dogs, or at least I’ve never had one… I have got a pair of geckos.’

‘Really, how about that, I used to have some strange pets when I was a kid.’

Sam’s route around the park, with Sheba glad to be on the move, was the same path back to where Cassie had locked her bike. He walked parallel with her, keeping to the edge of the path, a safe distance, but smiling and chatting. Yes, Cassie felt she was part of something new and positive.

Five Seconds of Fame

I keep listening out for the doorbell, I keep looking out of the window, but the street is empty. The postman, greengrocer, Amazon delivery and Co Op groceries have all been, but They never come. Another day when a long pole, with a microphone on one end and a television interviewer at the other end, has not appeared at my front door.

How do they choose all these citizens who keep showing up on the news and breakfast television? I am not talking about science experts, political commentators, journalists and doctors, but ordinary people who sit in their living rooms unashamed of their ghastly wallpaper and awful fashion sense. Out of millions and millions of us how do they get chosen to be interviewed for several minutes in a segment that will be repeated endlessly on the main news and on News 24.

If they happen to have recovered from Covid they obviously have a head start over the rest of us, but it’s not just people pondering on pandemics, I have always been ignored. Every general election, the long years of Brexit, no one knocks on my door or stops me while I’m out shopping for my opinion. Though I would flee in the opposite direction if I did see cameras; too windswept, wrong clothes for television…

But if a reporter did call on me at home they might not get away; all those years of stored up opinions.

 ‘Yes we need more lockdown not less, gatherings of more than two people forbidden, identity cards, everyone to stay inside their own postcodes, disposable BBQs should be banned, litter bugs should be tasered on the spot, private motor vehicles confiscated, air travel banned… it was so nice during the first few weeks of lockdown…. Perhaps you and the cameraman would like to buy one of my books, I just happen to have a box full… or buy all my books…

Maybe a little bribery would secure their release…

Everyone is filmed at home now so if you haven’t had the chance to appear on television you can always pretend. Facetime with your boring family could become one of Alan Bennet’s brilliant Talking Heads – which are perfect for isolated actors and have just been remade.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p08ftkkx

Or dust off your bookshelves and pontificate late at night on tomorrow’s newspaper headlines.

In the kitchen you can have your own masterchef celebrity banquet bake off.

‘What are you making?’

‘Bangers and Mash, it could all go horribly wrong… I’m just going to test the potatoes, okay, this is the moment when it could really go wrong, I could end up with third degree burns, I need to strain the potatoes now… make sure the camera lens doesn’t steam up…  yes the sausages all free range, they were running  around in a Hampshire field yesterday… oh oh is that the smoke alarm, I forgot to check the sausages…

Perhaps it would be better to stay in the garden. Gardening programmes are so popular now for peaceful healthy escapism and you can even send in videos of yourself and your delightful children giving a guided tour of your fantastic / unusual / beautiful / bountiful garden. Gardener’s World receives thousands of them, so you might not get chosen unless you have turned your bathroom into a tropical paradise, installed a waterfall in your living room, or turned a six foot sunless concrete square by your back door into the Garden of Eden.

Perhaps it’s best if I don’t film my garden; putting carefully cropped selected flowers on Instagram is my limit. Though if the people with poles do turn up tomorrow I could give them my views on new major projects injecting money into the economy; have all the motorways turned into cycle routes and gardens…

Have you ever invited television cameras into your home?