Monthly Archives: July 2013

Last Call

Sidey’s Weekend Theme is “late”…

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It had been a long day. But then, Judgement Day was always going to be. All of mankind having a list of their deeds read to them, then each being allocated to a particular line, was always going to take ages, like being in the “ten items or less” queue in a supermarket.

Most of Earth was in ruins, because War, Chaos, Famine and Pestilence had turned up, as foretold, and that’s a lot of crap for a planet to put up with all in one day.

The Devil had taken his people with him, through the door that read “You don’t have to be crazy to work here, being nasty gets you in as well”. The more fortunate had gone upstairs, where even now they could be heard practicing for the choir. Billions of voices were making a fairly bad first attempt at Hound Dog, and not for the first time God wondered whether it had been a mistake to make St Elvis choirmaster. Oh, well, he thought, they’ve plenty of time to get it right.

He was just starting his way up the stairway to heaven himself when out of the corner of his eye he saw something move. He turned. There was a man standing there.

“Sorry,” said the man. “I’m late.”

“For Judgement Day?” said God. “How could you possibly be late?”

“Oh, I’m always late,” said the man cheerfully. “My mum used to say I’d be late for my own funeral.” He looked at the devastation around him. “Funny, I’d always thought that was just an expression.”

“But where were you?” asked God.

“I was asleep,” said Dave.

“Seriously?” said God. “You slept through the clarion calls of the Angels? The trumpets? The weeping and the gnashing of teeth?”

“Gnashing of teeth is not actually that loud,” said Dave. “I doubt it’s ever woken anyone. As for the rest of it, two words – ear muffs.”

“Isn’t that just one word, hyphenated?” asked God.

“Don’t ask me,” said Dave. “You’re the one who knows everything.”

“Not everything,” said God. “For example, I’ve no idea what I’m going to do with you.”

“Why?” asked Dave.

“Well, all the files have been put away,” said God. “And the computers have been turned off and the doors have been locked.”

“I could stay here,” said Dave. “I could be a ghost.”

“And haunt who, exactly?” asked God.

Dave thought for a moment. “Well, there are still the animals,” he said. “They can’t have been part of all this, it’s a bit difficult trying to decide whether a goldfish has been naughty or nice.”

“You’re mixing me up with – oh, never mind,” said God. “Look, ok, if you want to spend the rest of eternity jumping out in front of zebras and going “boo” then go ahead. Sounds like Hell to me.”

God left, or at least had as good a go at it as any omnipresent being can. Dave sat down alone for a few minutes. They say Mankind is the great survivor, he thought, and they’re not wrong.

He whistled softly, and his wife Julie stepped out from behind a tree.

“It worked!” she said.

“Told you it would,” said Dave. “Now, we’d better get down to begetting. We’ve a human race to rebuild.”

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Masterpiece

Another camera-free attempt at the WordPress Photo Challenge….

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Mona LisaLeonardo da Vinci led Michelangelo into his studio and across to the easel in the corner. He held out one hand toward the painting resting upon it, and while he didn’t actually say “Ta-Dah!” Michelangelo could almost hear the words inside his head.

“What do you think?” asked Leonardo.

“Mmm … not bad,” said Michelangelo.

“Not bad?” said Leonardo in astonishment. “Not bad? This is my masterpiece.”

“Seriously?” said Michelangelo. “Better than The Last Supper?”

“That’s just rubbish,” said Leonardo. “I painted them all sitting on the same side of the table, what sort of a supper-party is that?”

“But people love it,” said Michelangelo. “They analyse it, they think one of the guys is actually a girl, they even think it’s some sort of code.”

“They’re mixing me up with Jamesbondo,” said Leonardo. “He goes in for that sort of stuff. Anyway, what’s wrong with this painting?”

“Well, in the first place it’s a bit gloomy. Where is the background supposed to be?”

“Tuscany,” said Leonardo.

“What, sunny Tuscany? I can’t see the Tuscan Tourist Board being too impressed, you’ve made it look like Mordor on a winter’s day. And she’s a bit gloomy too.”

“What do you mean?” asked Leonardo.

“Well, why is she glaring at you like that?”

“That’s not a glare. That’s an enigmatic smile.”

“Is ‘enigmatic smile’ a euphemism for glaring?” asked Michelangelo. “Because she looks as if you’ve just told her that yes, her bum does look big in that dress. Plus she looks like a Goth girl.”

“No, she doesn’t,” said Leonardo.

“She does,” said Michelangelo. “Give her black fingernails and black mascara and she could go to a Metallica concert.”

“Is Metallica still going?” said Leonardo.

“Yes, he’s got a whole band now,” said Michelangelo. “A string quartet, apparently. And speaking of mascara, why has she no eyebrows?”

Leonardo stared at the painting. “Shit,” he said. “I’ll paint some on later.”

Michelangelo knew that he wouldn’t. He had known Leonardo for a long time, ever since the two of them (along with Raphael and Donatello) had been at school together. He knew that within seconds of the conversation ending Leonardo would be drawing futuristic sketches of helicopters, TV remote controls and the transporter room of the starship Enterprise, with the eyebrows already forgotten.

“Any other constructive criticism from someone who’s basically an interior decorator?” Leonardo said nastily.

“Yes,” said Michelangelo. “Where are her boobs?”

“Er, on her chest,” said Leonardo, confused.

“Yes, I know that,” said Michelangelo, “but you can’t see them, can you? Boobs are very popular at the moment -”

“Aren’t they always?” asked Leonardo.

“Well, yes,” said Michelangelo, “but I mean in art. Look at Botticelli and his Birth of Venus. Logically Venus should be a tiny baby at her birth, but he made her a grown woman, stuck a big pair of knockers on her front, and was able to sell the painting for ten thousand lira.”

“Isn’t that about three quid?” said Leonardo.

“Nah, this is 1506,” said Michelangelo. “The lira hasn’t collapsed yet.” He looked at the picture for a moment. “Who is she, anyway?”

“That’s a secret,” said Leonardo. “She’s supposed to simply represent ‘woman’.”

Michelangelo looked harder at the picture. “Ah, now I get it,” he said excitedly, “and you’re right, it is your masterpiece.”

“Er, why?” said Leonardo.

“Because you, the artist, obviously represent simply ‘man’, and like simple man have just come home from the pub four hours after you said you would. She’s ‘enigmatic smiling’ at you in that way that all we men recognise in such occasions, and, of course, we have your final touch of genius.”

“Which is?”

“She’s checking her watch.”

Dry Humour

The prompt at today’s Irish Writers Centre workshop was to imagine it’s your first night in your local pub without drinking. Though I have myself been to my local after giving up drinking I would like to point out to those of you from said local who read this blog that this is fiction …

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The front door has stained-glass in it, like a church window. I suppose it’s because this is, after all, where people come to find comfort and solace. I looked at it for a moment, took a deep breath, then pushed the door open and walked in.

Before I could speak The Owner picked up a pint glass and placed it under the Guinness tap. Just as the first flow of brown ooze began to trickle down the side of the glass I said “Hang on, I’ll have a Coke.”

Silence descended, the type of bar-room silence normally associated with Clint Eastwood pushing open the saloon double-doors.

“Coke?” said The Owner, in the same tone that he’d have used if I’d ordered ostrich piss.

“Coke,” I said, with a firm resolve that I didn’t really feel inside.

The Owner shrugged, popped the cap off a Coke and poured it into a glass. “Ice?”

“As long as it’s fresh,” I said. “I don’t want any of that frozen shit.”

This attempt at humour did not go down well. To be honest, neither did the first sip of Coke, but I stuck manfully at it.

Eventually The Old Man At The Counter, who has been sitting on the same stool since the bar opened in 1842, spoke.

“Are you driving?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “Well actually yes, but because I’m drinking Coke, not the other way round.”

While he was trying to figure this out The Guy Who Always Drinks Standing Up said “but it’s just for today, right?”

“No,” I said. “I’ve given up drinking.”

The deep silence returned, though within it you could hear shock and, I think from The Guy Who Thinks The World Is Against Him, a tiny fart.

One Of The Domino Players had a guess.

“Are you sick?” he asked.

“Er, no,” I said. “Coke-drinking is not a recognised illness.”

“Well, it should be,” said The Man Just Coming Out Of The Toilet. They all laughed. I didn’t.

“Are you trying to lose weight?” asked The Guy Throwing Darts On His Own.

The Man Who Knows Everything snorted. “Of course he’s not trying to lose weight, look at the size of him. He’s only six stone -”

“Nine stone,” I said.

“- and because he’s six stone,” went on The Man Who Knows Everything, “if he lost any more weight he’d blow away on a windy day.”

“You’re not becoming a Muslim, are you?” asked The Other Domino Player.

“What?” I said.

“Well, they don’t drink,” he said.

“Neither do babies,” I pointed out, “and I’m not becoming one of those either.”

“Actually you are,” said The Big Guy With “Mary” Tattooed On His Arm (she’s his wife and he’s terrified of her, so from here on he will be referred to as The Boy With The Naggin’ Tattoo), “because a man would drink real drink like the rest of us.”

“I knew a man who gave up drink and was dead within six months,” said The Bloke Who Just Reads His Paper In The Corner. We were all astonished, he had never joined in a discussion before.

“What did he die of?” I asked suspiciously.

“He was run over by a bus,” said The Bloke Who Just Reads His Paper In The Corner. He nodded to himself, as if to say “so there”, and went back to reading his paper. In the corner.

“Are you seriously off it?” asked The Guy Who Laughs At His Own Jokes, “because if you are then I’m going to sell my Guinness shares, they’ll be out of business by Christmas.” He laughed loudly at this. “Out of business by Christmas,” he repeated, because he doubled as The Man Who Always Says The Punchline Twice.

“Exactly. You’re destroying the economy and forcing people out of jobs,” said The Man Who Came Out Of The Toilet A Couple Of Paragraphs Back, who has no other distinguishing character traits.

“Like the bankers,” said The Man Who Knows Everything.

“And the developers,” said The Guy Throwing Darts On His Own.

“And the politicians,” said One Of The Domino Players.

“Should be hung, the lot of them,” said The Other Domino Player.

I was enjoying this brief interlude where contempt was being focussed elsewhere. It didn’t last.

“Are you out of work and trying to save money?” said The Guy Who Thinks The World Is Against Him.

“How could I save money drinking this?” I said. “It costs more per litre than petrol.” I took another sip. “And tastes worse than it.”

“That’s because it has so many chemicals in it,” said The Man Who Knows Everything. “You can clean toilets with it.”

“Maybe you should do that, and drink Toilet Duck instead,” said The Man Who Laughs At His Own Jokes, laughing uproariously.

The Man Who Knows Everything waited patiently for The Man Who Always Says The Punchline Twice to repeat “drink Toilet Duck instead”, then went on. “They also use Coke to wash out oil-tankers, un-stick barnacles from ships’ bottoms, and in the jet that comes out of bidets in France.”

I should have mentioned earlier that The Man Who Knows Everything is in fact The Man Who Gets Most Things Wrong, and that none of us have ever had the heart to tell him that.

I finished my drink and stood up to leave.

“You’re really not drinking?” said The Owner.

“No,” I said. “I told you all.”

“Yes, but we didn’t believe you,” said The Boy With The Naggin’ Tattoo.

“So we’ll never see you again?” said The Old Man At The Counter, almost plaintively, as if one of the Dwarves had just told his brothers that he was emigrating to Pluto.

“No, I’ll still be coming here,” I said.

“But if you’re not drinking why would you want to be here?” said The Owner, before he could stop himself. The phrase “with these gobshites”, though never spoken, sounded inside my head and, judging by the glares that he got, in everyone else’s as well.

I smiled sweetly back at him.

“For the conversation, of course,” I said.

In The Family Way

Sidey’s Weekend Theme last weekend was “gasconade”, which I am only getting around to now because I was busy not being busy. The word apparently means “excessive boastfulness”, though I had already written this when I looked that up…

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The Gasconades have been one of the most famous families in France for over five hundred years now. The earliest recorded ancestor was Claude de Gasconade, known as the fifth Musketeer, proudly wearing the traditional Ladies-Day-At-Ascot hat, complete with the tail-feather of what must have been a pterodactyl.

He met his end over a spot of bother with his wife and one true love, after they met each other at a party. His wife, a feisty girl called Fleur Delis, challenged him to a duel and, as he stood en garde with sword ready, shot him with a musket, a method of combat which seems not to have occurred to any of the Musketeers, though you’d have thought their name was a pretty big hint.

Next came Jean-Luc Gasconade, who boldly went where no man had gone before by joining the Foreign Legion, where he got to wear the traditional cap with the tea-towel hanging down the back. He joined after a spot of bother with his wife and one true love, after they met each other at a party, and although he sent home many French letters begging for forgiveness his wife, Claire Deloon, refused to take him back. He died a broken man, mainly because he fell off a camel.

Pierre-Auguste Gasconade moved to Paris after his wife and one true love (no, this time they’re the same person) encouraged him move there to practice his art. So, wearing the traditional beret he became one of the great French Impressionists, with his impersonation of Gerard Depardieu being an especially big hit.

They do not speak of Marcel Gasconade, who shamed them by becoming a mime artist. In fairness, he doesn’t speak of them either.

The current Gasconade, Thierry, is an amateur weather forecaster, studying the behaviour of cows in the fields to predict how the day will go. If the cows look hot (“les rosbif”) he says that the day will be sunny. If, however, the cows are huddled under an umbrella he will pack up his picnic and bundle his family into the car shouting “Apres Moi, Le Deluge” (“Follow me, it’s going to rain”).

On Retreat

Since I spent last week on retreat in the West of Ireland with other members of my Writers’ Group you may be here expecting my writing to have reached new heights of eloquence, wit and beauty. Those of you who have known me for longer, however, will be expecting the same sort of stuff that I always produce.

We didn’t write a lot.

In our defence we had expected to be trapped in our cottage for the week, staring out at driving rain while trying to think of something that rhymes with “saturated”. We had not expected that Ireland would get its first summer since 2005, nor that the West, normally the wettest part of the country, would have the heatiest of the heat wave.

So we had swimming to do, ice-creams to eat, salads to prepare, sunscreen to apply (I used an entire bottle in six days) and lolling about complaining about the heat to be getting on with before we could get down to actual work.

We did try. All of us wrote something. We also tried painting, to see if that would stimulate creativity (since I paint like a four-year-old my attempt will not be featuring here, even though it might well have been the funniest thing ever to appear on the blog).

The cottage was in the grounds of the Park Lodge Hotel, just outside Spiddal, which is run by the nicest and kindest family that you have ever met in your life. We would wake to little baskets of croissants or banana bread left on our kitchen window sill. When thanking them for their wonderful hospitality I promised I would mention them here, and am delighted to do so.

They would refer to us to the other guests as “the writers”, filling us with pride. We didn’t quite gate-crash a wedding one night, but did sit drinking in the beer garden where the wedding guests came out to smoke, so ended up chatting merrily away to them.

And one evening the family in the neighbouring cottage, walking home at midnight past the hotel’s childrens’ playground, did pass us playing on the swings.

So we were vain, we were eccentric and at times we acted like kids.

We may not have written much, but as least we behaved like writers.

Gone West

This is Day 2, and this is sentence number one. This means I will have three whole sentences written by Sunday.

Perhaps the above needs some explanation. Inspired by the number of writers throughout the ages who have escaped to remote cottages to finish their great novel, our Writers Group decided to book a cottage together for a week in the hope that we might start ours. So four of us have come to the lovely village of Spiddal on the west coast of the country and I am writing this outdoors, in frighteningly garish shorts and a chilly breeze.

There are a couple of confessions I need to make. Our cottage is not deep in a forest surrounded by pine trees and bears. We are in one of seven in the grounds of a hotel, just two miles from the town, so we will not have to set traps to catch possum in order to eat. And the absolute silence of Thoreau’s retreat in Walden is not quite matched here, where I can hear traffic and where the cottage next door have their radio on.

The four of us know each other simply from the Writers Group. We have always got on very well there, where we write, encourage each others’ work and then chat in the coffee shop afterwards. We have not lived together, where we can have rows over who ate the last Jaffa Cake and who left the toilet seat up. So the cottage may end up as friendly as the house on Walton’s Mountain, with cheery goodnights emerging from every room, or may end up like the last twenty minutes of the Shining.

We plan to swim, to go for walks, to listen to traditional Irish music in small dark pubs. We also plan to write. Honestly.

Yesterday was a settling-in day, but today, as you can see, we’re giving it a go.

(PS. I have just noticed that WordPress suggests “toilet seat” as one of its Recommended Tags. Who am I to argue with the masters).

The Idiot And The Odyssey

Sidey’s weekend theme is “Characters from an epic tale” and comes with this helpful chart:
Characters from an epic tale

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Act 1, Scene 1.

In the Throne Room of The Royal Palace (what other type of palace is there?). The King and The Queen are being entertained by The Dancing Bear, a five-piece boy-band from Luton. The Hero enters.

The King: Well, met, young Hero! Hast thou completed thy quest?

The Hero: I hast. I travelled to the ancient land of Oregano, where I rescued the Lady Saffron from The evil Twins, Tumeric and Tarragon. And their Midget servant, Basil.

The Queen: And have you brought back gifts?

The Hero: Just one. (he motions, and The Guards lead in The Magic Cow. The Hero milks one of its udders, and hands a mug to The King). This is Strawberry and Banana Milkshake.

The Queen (snorting): Pull the other one.

The Hero: As you wish. (He milks the other udder, a line easier to type than to say. The Queen sinks the drink in one gulp, then belches loudly). Thou should have been less hasty, Your Majesty. That was lager and lime.

The King: We had hasted haved planned another quest for you. The Messenger hath hast, oh, forget it, brought news of the Minotaur, a creature that is half-bull, half-Kylie-Minogue. I would have Kylie here, to sing to me.

The Queen (dreamily): and I would have the bull.

The Hero: What if Kylie is not the top half?

The Scarecrow (the court jester): Then she would be called to Taurmino, wouldn’t she? God, I don’t even have a brain and I know that.

The Hero: Very well, I will accept this quest.

The Queen: Just as well, it would have been a very short tale otherwise.

Act 1, Scene 2.

In the Hero’s quarters. The Hero is looking through photos, like Jim Phelps in Mission Impossible, to select the comrades who will accompany him. He picks the Knight for his bravery, The Escapist in case they need to escape, and The Sniper, to catch snipe for them to eat. He picks the Dandy (along with The Beano) for something to read on the way, and The Skeleton, in case they have to distract any wild dogs by throwing them bones.

Act 1, Scene 3.

Enter The Tart.

The Boy: If you say so.

(They exit, hand in hand).

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Interval

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Act 2, Scene 1.

They have had many adventures on the road. They have met the Wanderers, one of whom has a wheelbarrow full of dung while the other has a hump that makes Quasimodo’s look like a zit. They have met the Urchins, who sang at them in irritating mock-Cockney accents and then picked their pockets. They now meet The Pirate, who has The Monkey on his shoulder.

The Hero: What the Devil? Shouldn’t that be a parrot?

The Pirate: Have you any idea how much their talking gets on your nerves? And using The Devil in a sentence is cheating, by the way. Now, hand over your doubloons.

The Hero: But then I’d be The Nudist.

The Pirate: It doesn’t mean trousers, it means money. Now, hand it over.

The Hero: Never! Get him, men!

The Knight gallops at the Pirate, on horseback with a lance pointed in front of him, essentially polo without balls. The Pirate steps to one side and the Knight crashes into a tree. The Escapist escapes, and the Skeleton falls to pieces. The Pirate swings his sword menacingly above his head, and the Sniper shoots him, turning him into The Corpse.

The Hero: You copied that from Indiana Jones.

The Sniper: Yes, but it’s still funny every time you see it.

Act 2 Scene 2.

Enter the Hermit. Actually no, he doesn’t, because if he did he wouldn’t be a hermit.

Act 2 Scene 3.

An inn. The Visitors are sampling the local ale, as you do when on holiday. The Old Man seated at the bar is staring in horror at The Apparition, The Giant Cat, because that’s the kind of thing that happens if you drink rum all day. The Freaks are in a booth, kept away from the other customers, and if a story contains a Birdman, a Giant and a Hairy Beast yet you’re still regarded as The Freaks then you must be pretty hideous. The Husband and The Lover are jousting playfully with toy lightsabers before heading off to bed together (what, you thought he was the Wife’s Lover?). The Hero approaches the Innkeeper.

The Hero: Why is the inn called The Invalid and Nurse?

The Genius (the teller of this epic tale): How the hell else was I going to get them into the story?

Enter the Minotaur, singing “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”.

The Headless Man: I suppose she thinks that’s funny.

The Hero: I know you from somewhere, but I can’t place your face.

The Headless Man: You’re not the only one.

Enter the Necromancer, who turns the Minotaur fully into Kylie. She is now The Girl.

The Hero: We must wed. The Hero always gets The Girl.

The Prophet of Doom: The King and The Queen will not be happy. You will become the Convict.

The Three Witches: Don’t worry, we have plans for The King and The Queen.

Enter The Priest.

The Priest: Who has the ring?

The Ringmaster: I have one ring to bind them.

Enter The Golem.

The Golem: My precious!

The Hero (looking up out of the page): That’s not how you spell “Gollum”, you gobshite. (To The Girl): Bloody Hell, calls himself The Genius.

The Priest: What God has brought together let no man pull asunder.

The Floating Head: Fair enough. (Settles himself onto the shoulders of the Headless Man).

The Girl (linking arms with The Hero): Now is our wedding night. Let us become the Wrestlers, if thou knowst what I mean.

Cheering. Curtain. Applause.

The Metal Man: Oy! What about me?

The Genius: I didn’t need you. Go off and start a blog or something.