Friday Flash Fiction – 700 – Solo

Ellie sipped her tea as she watched breakfast television. Women doing amazing things, how come she hadn’t thought of these ideas in this year of living strangely? Swimming in the Thames every day, wild swimming… cold water was the latest way to keep healthy. If everyone went in the river every day the whole country would be healthy, probably immune to Covid as well. Ellie tried to imagine herself going down to the local river early every morning; alone, bit risky but who on earth would want to join her. Where would she get in, not that swampy reed bed by the bridge, the slipway at the rowing club…

Perhaps it was better to stay in a boat like that English yachtswoman; Vendee Globe non-stop round the world. Ellie didn’t even know the race was on, let alone who was in it, but Pip Hare was and here she was back again and talking to Breakfast Television. She hadn’t actually won, but it was still pretty good. She looked about Ellie’s age and totally normal. A good way to avoid lockdown, or rather it would be like lockdown only with the scenery changing, mainly sea, but Ellie could cope by herself, she had learned that much since Dave had announced his departure this time last year. Turned out to be the best thing that could have happened. In lockdown with Dave, Dave working from home, 24 hours of Dave… what a nightmare. If Ellie could cope by herself in this little flat, she could cope by herself in a state of the art yacht. She had only been on the ferry to the Isle of Wight, but she loved the sea, looking at it, swimming in the summer. The open seas, independence, learning about yourself; she had looked into her inner self, but hadn’t found anything yet; well that on line course ‘Unlocking the True You’ had been rubbish anyway. She should probably start by crossing the Atlantic; it couldn’t be too hard to learn how to sail, it was all satnav and computers on board and everything was made of tungsten. Ellie would have to give up her job… she would love to give up her job. Working from home she had realised that it wasn’t just the people at work she didn’t like, she hated the job as well. Money could be a problem, but she could get some charities to sponsor her…

Her reverie was interrupted by her phone buzzing, message from Ruth.

Do you mind if we give it a miss this morning, it’s bloody freezing out there, I had to melt the bird bath and that east wind will be unbearable on the prom, you’d best stay in.

Ruth was chickening out of their daily walk, their daily exercise with one person from another household? The daily exercise and gossip was all that was keeping Ellie sane. It was alright for Ruth with her garden and birdie friends. Ellie would have to go out all by herself.  Well a bit of a breeze wouldn’t put her off, she could do it. If she wasn’t meeting Ruth at their usual spot she would go on  a different circuit.

Half an hour later Ellie realised her first mistake, she should have walked the other way round, heading east along the promenade the wind took her breath away, the sand stung her cheeks, her eyes were watering, her scarf came unwrapped, her hood would not stay up. The next zig zag path up the cliff looked so far away, who would even notice if she didn’t make it home. Despite hardly being able to see, she could not fail to notice a familiar bright pink hat in the distance. The pink hat was heading towards her, it could only be Ruth and she was walking with someone else. It was galling that they had chosen the right direction to walk, setting a fast pace with the wind behind them. Did Ruth assume Ellie would have stayed at home or on their regular circuit? Ellie was Ruth’s one person from another household, so what was Ruth doing walking with someone else?

Poole sailor Pip Hare delighted with Vendee Globe finish | Swanage and Wareham Voice

Silly Saturday Slowly

First there was slow food, then there was slow television, the antidote to 24 hour news, sport and noisy, violent dramas. With slow TV you can spend two hours drifting down a canal or take a real time steam train journey.

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At this time of year in the northern hemisphere you may be settling down on winter evenings to watch your favourite dramas and probably your favourite crime dramas. January 2020 saw the start of new series of two popular and enduring detectives.
As Vera drove her Land Rover through the wilds of Northumberland a thought occurred. What if she just kept driving and didn’t bother to arrive at the police station, didn’t get any urgent calls on her mobile about a murder? Two hours of lowering Northumberland skies and rugged green landscape, advertisements providing the only drama. How relaxing.

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Vera Stanhope is the creation of a crime writer I enjoy, Anne Cleaves and is played by one of our national treasures, Brenda Blethyn. Antidote to glamorous cops, a middle aged woman in sensible, scruffy clothes and the muddy Land Rover. Some of her team have changed but she’s still going strong in this tenth series.

http://www.anncleeves.com/vera/

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A complete contrast is Granchester, set in a delightful village near Cambridge in the nineteen fifties. The stories were originally written by James Runcie, son of a former Archbishop of Canterbury. His crime solving vicar Sidney Chambers has been replaced by an impossibly handsome young vicar who rides a motorbike and fortunately also has a talent for talking to people ( getting confessions out of them ) and solving crimes, helped by the police inspector Geordie Keating. Life in the lovely village is slow, but a surprising number of murders occur. Life in the village would be pleasantly slower if there were no murders or crime of any sort and the police inspector became a lay reader and helped the vicar with his church services instead.

https://www.radiotimes.com/news/tv/2020-01-17/grantchester-series-five-cast-characters/

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Slow Crime, No Crime could be applied to dramas set in any part of the world. There is always ‘the drive’ – through Scandinavian snow or the red dust of The Kimberleys at the top of Western Australia. Frantic chase scenes in cities could easily be slowed to a halt with road works or green protestors.
But how soon before the novelty wore off for viewers? The truth is, most of us don’t want people being killed just for our Sunday evening entertainment. We want to see scenery and in winter we like to watch anything filmed in summer, but we also want to peep into other people’s lives. The advantage of murders is that they give the perfect excuse for screen writers, the police and us to dissect every detail of the life of the victim and the lives of every person known to the victim.

sunshine-blogger
Do you like fast crime, slow crime or no crime?

Friday Flash Fiction – Up In the Air

When Karina left her home in Bolivia to spend the last few weeks of the year with distant relatives in England, she was looking forward to curling up with a book by a roaring fire, Christmas shopping in large brightly lit stores and snow. She did not expect it to involve rubber suits and colourful parachutes.

The drive in the dark from Heathrow Airport had been endless; on the map of little England her cousins’ town had looked close to London.

When she was woken up the next morning it was still dark.

‘Sorry to wake you early Katrina,’ said Aunty ‘it’s an ordinary working day for us, but you relax and enjoy the start of your holiday. You won’t be on your own, we have students staying with us and I have four more coming in for a lesson this morning.’

There were young people coming and going and she wasn’t sure which were her cousins. One expectation came true, it was cold, the house was freezing. She was sent out to the shops with two of the students, as Aunty had to wait in for ‘The Gasman’ because ‘Centralheatingsontheblink.’

Outside, the prevailing colour was grey; the sky, the buildings, people’s clothes. But the students were friendly, assuming her to be one of them, completing a tally of one from each continent.

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The next morning was Saturday and the house had taken on a more relaxed atmosphere and brighter aspect; looking out of the front window Katrina realised the sky was a washed out blue instead of lowering grey.

‘Isn’t it a wonderful day,’ said Uncle ‘we have a treat for you, the boys are getting the gear ready, there’s a good breeze, you can help your aunt pack a picnic.’

Katrina wondered nervously if a treat for a girl from a land locked country would be a trip on a boat and if so, what sort of water was involved? In a house full of people she had soon realised that each assumed someone else had told her what was going on.

Outside the front of the house several young men were hoisting huge rucksacks onto their backs; a couple of girls beckoned her to follow. The sun was not as bright as back home, but it was so low in the sky it blinded her. They set off down the road and it came completely as a surprise to Katrina when they arrived at a cliff top and the ocean opened out in front of her. The sky above the water was blue, but a cold wind caused her to shrink inside the borrowed coat.

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Down a winding path they came to a beach and were not alone; people were strolling as if it was summer, young children played on the beach dressed in boots and bulky clothes and dogs of all shapes and sizes ran circles around everyone. Stranger things were to follow. She trailed after the others to a quiet stretch; her relatives looked as if they were setting up camp. Bags were ripped open; the young blokes dragged black rubber suits on, hauled out boldly coloured kites with tangles of line, then strapped themselves into harnesses. Karina thrilled to see the curling waves, but hoped she would not be expected to go near the sea. Even as she wondered what would happen next, the kites had floated into the air and turned into parachutes dangling the men like puppets; they jumped onto small boards skimming the waves. She watched the wind take them out to sea and her stomach flipped as a black and red curved canopy soared up, taking the young man high up into the air…

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Silly Saturday – Season of Sustainability

Are you ready to recycle Christmas? Whether you want to save money or the planet the Xmas season is to be avoided. Our consumption of pastry and plastic increases drastically at this time of year, followed after Christmas by throwing most of it away. Even that which we cannot see, gas and electricity, is used in abundance. This is partly the fault of the earth’s axis in the northern hemisphere; it is winter and the nights are long, we need heat and light, but do we need all our houses lit up like Las Vegas with generators pumping air into giant inflatable snowmen? Bring back Scrooge…  Most people complain that their councils haven’t put up enough lights, not too many. Of course it is the colourful lights that make dark winter afternoons more bearable…

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Perhaps you can still have fun with a guilt free Christmas. One of the few things Prince Charles and I have in common is that our worries about the environment were laughed at in years gone by… My favourite part of Christmas is unwrapping presents carefully and folding the paper ready for ironing and reuse next year. Now even wrapping paper is bad, shiny and plasticised, we have to use plantain leaves instead.

And what gift is wrapped inside? Our love of cute and fun presents has encouraged the passage of thousands ( I don’t claim the statistics to be accurate ) of container ships full of plastic rubbish. Let’s all make our own presents and decorations or buy them from charity shops and give aunty back the vase you gave her last year which she dumped at the Red Cross shop. Last year we did Secret Santa for the adults, this year we are doing the same except we have to get gifts from charity shops – I’ll let you know in the new year if it’s a disaster!

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Last year I crocheted an advent calendar for a little person; I don’t claim to have designed it, I do claim it does not look quite like the picture in the Christmas crochet book I bought at the knitting shop. I made another one this year for his little brother, which looks even less like the illustration. The key point; it is in line with government policy on child obesity, there are no chocolates in the pockets; I cut little pictures out of recycled Christmas cards. My next project is knitted crackers – the sort with a joke inside, not the sort you eat with cheese.

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The best decorations are those our ancestors used for Yuletide, totally organic and natural, holly and ivy. If the holly in your garden bears no berries, creep round to your neighbours after dark and surreptitiously snip off some branches. You can also pick up odd branches that have fallen off the trees in the park during windy weather and stick a few sprigs of holly in to make a table decoration.

Whether you knit grandma a scarf with huge needles and chunky wool or create exquisite treasure boxes with your wood turning skills, home made presents show you care – or that you are flat broke. If you are an author you can give friends and family autographed copies of your own books, whether they want one or not. Cyberspouse says at least it’s one way of getting rid of them.

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If you don’t fancy DIY gifts there are still environmentally friendly alternatives. Have your children got too many toys? It’s probably a bit late for this Christmas, but start next year stashing away surplus toys; by next Christmas they will have forgotten them and you can rewrap them.

One year we gave the elderly relatives (who were always saying they didn’t need anything ) gifts from World Vision, but they were a little confused. This idea can backfire if the receiver is upset they aren’t getting a real goat to keep, or insulted that you have given them a toilet.

https://www.worldvision.org.uk/ways-give/buy-gift/

For more ideas to help the environment follow Carol Taylor’s regular blog.

https://carolcooks2.com/category/environment/

What are the best or worst home made presents you have given or received? Are you making your own decorations?

liebster-award

 

 

 

 

 

Silly Saturday -November – Know or No

What are the pros and cons of going on holiday in November – in the Northern Hemisphere? If you plan to trek to the North Pole there are no pros, you had better wait till summer which won’t be much better… but for elsewhere?

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Pros

There are not too many people around, you don’t have to queue or worry you won’t find a parking spot.

You won’t have to book accommodation well in advance.

You can take advantage of last minute cheap deals.

You won’t have to book on line well in advance for places of interest.

Packing is easy, just your winter clothes.

You can work up a good appetite with the chilly weather.

You can enjoy sitting in front of a log fire.

There are plenty of hours to enjoy the night sky.

You will not get too hot when going walking or climbing.

It is invigorating walking by the sea or on a hill top.

It’s not the school holidays.

The autumn trees are a beautiful colour.

You can start Christmas shopping.

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Cons

It’s too quiet, there aren’t many people around.

Your hotel is empty and depressing, the staff bored.

That last minute bargain deal is not a bargain, the hotel was cheap because it’s awful.

The places you were glad you didn’t have to queue up for are closed for the winter.

Lots of places are closed for the winter.

The places that aren’t closed, close early, usually just before you get there.

Packing is hard as you have to fit in gloves, scarves, thick socks, hats and lots of everything in case you get soaked in the rain.

You can’t have picnics.

It’s hard to find somewhere open to eat.

It’s even harder to find somewhere open in the evening to eat.

The days are too short.

If you go walking out in the country you will probably slip in the mud or fall into a fast flowing stream.

If you go to the seaside to  photograph winter waves you may be swept away by a freak wave.

Children are at school, you’re surrounded by pensioners on holiday.

The trees are bare and depressing.

The shops have started Christmas too early.

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sunshine-blogger

 

 

Friday Flash Fiction – 900 – New Shoes

He was there again, outside the station, selling the Big Issue. Giles never bought one because he didn’t want one, or at least he didn’t know if he wanted one; you could hardly peruse it then hand it back. On the tube Giles had The Times to read, he subscribed to it on his Kindle. He had also downloaded 563 books, 13 of which he had read. Occasionally he wandered into WH Smith for the pleasure of browsing amongst colourful, glossy magazines: photography, computers, music… perhaps buying…

‘Can I interest you in a half price Galaxy Sir?’

Yes, he would take a treat home for Judith.

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‘No thank you.’

‘Have a nice day Sir.’

Why did the Big Issue seller have to be so polite, making him feel more guilty?  There was a whole minefield of BI behaviour he had observed over the years, over the cycle of half a dozen sellers. One man regularly bought a copy and dumped it straight in the bin a few yards further on, others proffered a pound or a handful of change without looking the seller in the eye. This morning he observed a woman offering a shiny two pound coin, holding out her hand to receive the magazine.

Keep the change.’

‘They cost £2.50 each love’ the homeless one answered curtly.

Flustered, she hurried away clutching the coin.

Giles was glad to get out of the biting east wind, down into the warm depths of the underground, but he wondered where the Big Issue seller lived. Did he really have to sleep out on the streets in this awful weather, or did he slip round the corner and drive home in his Jaguar?

A truly good person would offer a homeless man shelter not just buy a magazine. Giles had spare bedrooms; well not exactly spare, where would Judith put her sewing and what about the computer?  Sarah’s bedroom looked much as it had when she left a year ago. A vision passed before him of the homeless one sitting on the pink bed clutching Big Ted.

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Over dinner that evening Giles said ‘Do you think we should downsize?’

‘What?’ exclaimed Judith. ‘We’ve only just finished paying the mortgage, we deserve to enjoy this house.’

‘But we don’t need four bedrooms.’

‘What if Simon and Tammy have a baby, we’d need room for them to stay.’

‘As Tammy isn’t pregnant yet and they are going round the world, we could help a homeless person get on their feet.’

‘Are you feeling alright Giles? You couldn’t wait for Simon and Sarah to leave home, now you want to… what are you suggesting?’

‘Imagine sleeping out on a night like this.’

‘There are hostels; besides, we’ve only got one bathroom and we’d have to hide our valuables.’

‘We haven’t got any valuables.’

‘Imagine explaining to the police or the insurance company that we invited a total stranger into our house and he rifled my handbag and your wallet for drug money.’

‘We don’t know that he’s a druggy.’

‘Precisely, we don’t know anything about him, I don’t even know if he’s a real person or hypothetical.’

‘Hypothermic probably.’

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He was there again the next morning. At least he’s survived the coldest November night for years, mused Giles. How would a stranger fit into one’s home, lodger, son… how old was he? Hard to tell with that woolly hat. If they went out to dinner would they leave something in the oven for him? Judith might take to him if he scrubbed up well; some of Simon’s clothes were still in the wardrobe. What would he do all day while they were both out at work, odd jobs perhaps?  If the real man emerged, clean, witty and intelligent, they would be proud. Judith might take a shine to him, too much of a shine, he could become her toy boy, like one of those novels they read at her book club.

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The idea came to him at lunch time when he was in the new shoe shop. He found a decent pair of comfortable black leather shoes for work.

‘Two pairs for the price of one sir, opening offer, today only’ said the girl at the till.

‘But I only want one pair, on second thoughts have you got another pair much the same?’

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He was there when Giles came out of the station concourse carrying two carrier bags, shoes and WH Smith. Giles almost lost his nerve. He mumbled to the Big Issue seller.

‘You’re on your feet all day, are these any good to you… have a Galaxy as well.’

The man looked suspiciously at Giles, but it was a start, perhaps tomorrow he would start a conversation, find out what the man’s situation really was.

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When Giles turned on television for the local news the next morning there was a picture of the underground entrance.

…and in further cold weather news, the body of a man believed to be a Big Issue seller was found early this morning by the locked gates of an underground station. First indications are that the cause of death could be hypothermia, but police are not releasing medical details until a post mortem has been carried out. They are keen to speak to commuters or anyone from the Big Issue Community, unusually the dead man was wearing a brand new pair of good quality leather shoes.

Read tales for all seasons in Hallows and Heretics – take a peek inside the book.

A second anthology from the author of ‘Dark and Milk,’ including recent prize winning short stories. As you would expect, some tales are light, others very dark and you will not know which are which until it is too late! Visit places you may or may not find on a map, discover the Hambourne Chronicles and meet people who may not be what they seem.

 

 

 

The Ghosts of Christmas Past – Episode Two

There is only one event certain to happen during the Christmas season, the winter solstice; Winter solstice 2018 in the Northern Hemisphere will be at 22:23 Greenwich Meantime on Friday 21st December, it is a moment, not a day. But for those of us who are not scientists it just means the shortest day; 7 hours 49 minutes and 41 seconds in Britain. While the shops are crowded with shoppers, others will flock to Stonehenge; the prehistoric monument is carefully aligned on a sight-line that points to the winter solstice sunset.
People were celebrating at this time of year long before some spin doctor had the brilliant idea of tacking Christmas on to Yueltide. Apart from the weather, Christmas is what we make it and after all the media and commercial hype, when Christmas Day finally arrives it is centred on the home, each family creates its own traditions.

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Events in our lives can be marked by where we spent Christmas. When I was twenty I arrived at Heathrow Airport at six o’clock on Christmas morning, for a six month working holiday that stretched into infinity. The airport was huge and deserted, but by some miracle I found my way to the waiting relatives; back at their home I saw colour television for the first time. The weather was mild and damp, pretty normal for the south of England, but I had forgotten how early it gets dark at that time of year. On Boxing Day I was glad to get out with the relatives for a walk and fresh air; day two, out on a misty Surrey heath, it felt right to be back, but on day one in the airport I could never have guessed I would end up living nearby, working there.

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Friday Flash Fiction – Desk

There were oohs and ahhs as Liz walked into the office, it was only a few months since she last set foot in the place, but anyone listening to the other girls would have thought they had not seen her for years.

‘Oh, he’s gorgeous, take his hat off so we can see him properly’ said Carol.

‘Can I hold him? Look Lucas, do you like the Christmas decorations?’

‘Must be your family he gets his red hair from… he’s very pale, I thought he would be more sort of coffee coloured.’

‘Well he hasn’t seen any sun yet,’ said Liz defensively ‘besides, Jarrod’s got such a mixed ancestry I expect he had some ginger forebears.’

‘So how’s it been then, does Jarrod change the nappies?’

‘Of course, he’s a fantastic Dad, even gets up to make me a cup of tea in the middle of the night, fetches Lucas from his cot and plants him on my breast so I don’t have to move, then sits and chats so I don’t get bored.’

‘Lucky you, I had to make do with my phone for company during night feeds.’

‘Are you going to take the whole year then?’

‘I’m not sure, Jarrod’s so besotted he reckons he should take time off work when Lucas is on solids, he hates having to leave him to go to work.’

By this time a few of the fellows considered enough minutes had passed to show they weren’t gaga about babies and wandered over.

‘Pity you’re going to miss the office Christmas party,’ said Dave ‘wonder if it will be as wild as last year?’

‘I don’t remember it being wild’ Liz blushed.

‘You were so drunk you probably don’t remember anything.’

‘You’re a fine one to talk, Dave.’

‘I was quite sedate compared with the boss.’

‘No, he was dead sober,’ said Carol ‘at least he stayed till last to make sure everyone left safely, he was going to call a cab for Liz.’

‘So what else has been happening, did John go to head office?’ Liz tried to steer the conversation away from parties and tried to avert her eyes away from the desk that used to be hers. She hadn’t been so drunk she couldn’t remember. Hopefully Mr. O’Brian would stay in his office. It had been a mistake to come, but all the girls had phoned and e-mailed pleading to see the new baby. Liz couldn’t really recall how it had happened. She was gathering her handbag from her desk and he was leaning over to use her phone to call a cab – he did call a cab afterwards, for both of them, made sure she got home safely before he returned to his wife and their lovely children. She knew they were lovely because he had a photo on his desk, two boys and one girl, all with hair of burnished copper.

 

 

 

Friday Flash Fiction -177 – Night Watch

Damp cold creeps up from the ground: long johns, zips, buttons, scarf, hat and gloves provide no defence against the bitter wind. I thought being a BBC cameraman would be a glamorous job, but someone has to do the night watch. At least it’s peaceful, better than being in a war zone.

I stay alert; my ear pieces are in, though all I can hear inside my woolly hat is my tinnitus, but when the signal comes I will be ready, this is a live broadcast.

He is standing motionless, head held high, I have him in my sight, in my lens, in focus. Then come the words I am waiting for.

We now go over live to Downing Street to hear from our political correspondent.

He looks directly at me, ready to speak to every home in the country, to tell the news we already know from the six o’clock bulletin, to repeat what the presenter in the warm studio has already recited from the news desk.

‘…as yet, there is no news from Downing Street.

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