Monthly Archives: August 2021

The Girl with a Flint Earring

65,000-year-old cave paintings discovered in Spain prove that Neanderthals had a fondness for creating art, making them possibly the first artists on Earth…


Ogga (image by me)

Ogga’s flowers were dying.

Ugg had given them to her for her birthday in a heart-melting and frankly startling gesture of affection. She had placed them in a small earth pot, watered them everyday, and stared into them and into nothingness whenever he was out hunting, their beauty soothing her uneasiness until his safe return.

Now they were wilting, as if weighed down by the burden. Soon they would be gone, and Ogga knew not when she might get more, since there were no calendars and she had no idea when her birthday would next arrive.

She stared at the flowers for a long while, surprised at the tears filling her eyes. Then she picked up a pot filled with a thick, gloopy liquid, the result of an unsuccessful attempt at inventing gravy to soften the taste of roast stoat. She looked around for something soft to dip into it, found the tail of, well, a stoat, and began to paint an image of the flowers onto the cave wall.

Hours passed like seconds. When she had finished she stood back and looked at the picture, holding the stoat brush vertically in front of one eye, because that is what artists do. She frowned at the dull monochrome of her creation, then spread some of her liquid onto a piece of slate and, by adding crushed herbs, chalk and animal blood to various areas she created a palette of coiours. The flowers on the wall came to life under her flitting brush as their leaves gleamed green, their stamens flecked with white, their petals flamed red.

Ugg arrived home, dragging two rabbits, a deer, and a stoat. He sniffed the air, stared at the wall, then spoke warily.

Ugg (image also from me)

“Uh oh,” he said. “What have I done wrong?”

Ogga frowned. “Why would you think you’ve done anything wrong? ” she asked.

“Well firstly, I don’t smell any dinner,” said Ugg, “and secondly you seem to have hurled my flowers so hard at the wall that they’ve stuck there.”

Ogga laughed and pointed to the bowl beside her. “No, look, they’re still here,” she said. “I just put a picture of them on the wall too.”

“I see,” said Ugg, who didn’t. “Will they wash off?”

“I don’t want them to wash off,” said Ogga. “I want them to stay there. They make the place look pretty.”

Ugg shrugged, a imperceptible gesture since he had no neck to speak of. “If it makes you happy,” he said.

Over the next few weeks the cave’s walls filled with Ogga’s art – a picture of fruit, some lilies in a pond, a night-skyscape that was merely an oblong of woad with specks of pigeon-poo dotted about it. She moved then into portraiture, painting a picture of Ugg that secretly unnerved him, since it’s eyes followed him around the cave and he felt as if he was haunting himself.

He was more unnerved by her next suggestion, that she get Abbs the village hunk to pose naked for her, and his expression, a monalisa stony stare with added eyebrow, persuaded her to drop the idea.

Ogga’s art soon attracted notice, and Ugg got used to coming home to find villagers moving slowly around the cave, pausing before one painting after another and nodding gravely. Others then started to take up the practice, and to move it in different directions. Some painted animals, usually dead ones, since live ones would not keep in pose. Some painted historical scenes, though since history was quite short back then they tended to have titles like Aargh Stubbing His Toe On A Rock, Last Week. Others went for imagination, painting non-existent fantasies such as Round Thing That Makes Pushing Something Easier and Small Piece Of Clothing To Wear Under Your Fur To Keep Your Arse Warm.

Others tried to portray inner turmoil, producing daubs of darkness with titles like Loneliness, Fear of Spiders in a Supposedly Alpha Male, and Mixed Feelings on your Mother-in-Law Being Mauled by a Mammoth.

Ugg tried to join in, but quickly gave up after the village mocked his portrait of Ogga, in which she had one eye higher than the other and both boobs pointing off to the left.

Sadly, he was a man ahead of his time.






Like Taking Candy

Traffic was heavy on the motorway, according to the radio, as David set out on his morning commute. Since this commute, however, comprised eight steps from the kitchen to the spare bedroom, David didn’t care. These days the only jam he met in the morning was on his toast.

He pushed open the door to what was now his office, set his tea on the desk, and nudged the mouse to nudge the computer awake. He sat down and looked out into his garden. A robin was hovering, resting on the sky, as he pecked at the fat-ball in the bird feeder. David smiled.

He loved working from home.

He had thought it would be hell, that he would sit in his little room drowning slowly in a sea of isolation and bad wi-fi, and he had been wrong. The hell, he now realised, had been the forty-five previous years of his working life, in a series of jobs linked by the common thread that they had all been in the city centre, twenty gridlocked miles away.

He had risen in the dark for over nine months of every year, although none of his jobs had involved feeding livestock, delivering milk, or turning on the light in a lighthouse. He had slumped sleepily on crowded buses while people beside him rang other people to loudly tell them that they were on the bus. He had trudged to the office through the gale that habitually howled down the river, head bowed and one shoulder dipped as if he were trying to force open an invisible door. He had sat under harsh lighting and freezing air-conditioning. He had tried to concentrate while surrounded by shrill ringtones, barked laughter and loud conversations about Love Island, all of which are part of what is apparently called ‘the hum of activity’. He had put up with soul-draining drudgery, since drudgery was all there was.

Now as he worked he could listen to music, shout aloud at ludicrous emails, wear elf slippers. He never got rained on.

He didn’t see his workmates anymore, except on Zoom, but he didn’t miss them as much as he had thought he would, because he saw more of Margaret.

No longer did he leave the house before she had woken up. No longer did he go exhaustedly to bed at nine-thirty, leaving her to sit alone for the rest of the evening.

They now spent more time together than they had since they had been courting. They called themselves the Bubble Buddies, and walked together, laughed together, watched rubbish together. They hadn’t been as close for a long time.

David had been transformed from a gloomy man counting down the years to retirement to a happy man wondering if he need ever retire at all. He could stay doing this forever, maybe cutting down the number of days as the years passed.

He was fitter than he had been in decades. He walked every day. He hadn’t been to the pub for seven months. He hadn’t eaten a Chinese takeaway in over a year. He hadn’t had a Crunchie in fifteen months. He hadn’t –

He hadn’t had a Crunchie in fifteen months. And it had just hit him why.

He hadn’t been to the Childline box in fifteen months.

The Childline box in the office was a cardboard display like an old cinema usherette tray. It was stacked with chocolate and sweets, presumably donated by local shops, and had a little slot on the side where you could put in your money. On Tuesdays someone would come, refill the box and take the money away for the charity.

Monday in the office was free fruit day. Word would go around that the fruit had arrived and the young, health-conscious people he worked with would rush to fill bowls on their desk with bananas and grapes. David would ignore all of this, but on Tuesdays one or other of the young people would notify him when the Childline box had been re-stocked, and they would all watch and smile affectionately as he bolted from his desk with a fistful of coins (from his weekends, in the pub) to buy a chocolate bar for each day for the rest of the week. He always took whatever Crunchies were available, before moving on to Twirls or Lion Bars. His colleagues then would shrug off their health regimes and forage too from the box until all that remained were the Skittles, the confectionery version of the last kid picked for a football game.

David had done it to feed his inner child. That real children had benefited had been a happy by-product that he had never really thought about.

He thought about it now. Childline were no longer getting money from him. They were no longer getting money from any office in the city.

And at the worst possible time. He had read about the increased number of calls that they were taking. He imagined the stress of being trapped, now full time, with an aggressive parent. He imagined the stress of living with parents who were good and loving but who now were struggling with bills and unemployment, and whose frightened, furtive sobbing fed frightened, furtive sobbing in their kids. He imagined that there were things he couldn’t imagine.

He looked out of the window. The robin was now pecking contentedly at nuts that David had provided.

He turned to his computer, searched for the Childline page and clicked ‘Donate’.


Childline Ireland and Childline UK have been busier than ever during the pandemic, providing help 24/7 for children faced with difficult and stressful situations. The work that they do is wonderful.