Tag Archives: Inkslingers

Especially For You

I wrote this two weeks ago, and upon opening my blog this morning I discovered that I’d forgotten to hit publish….

Our Inkslingers writing group has re-started its Saturday sessions after the Christmas break. We had to write to the picture prompt (again taken from Simon’s Happy But Scrappy series,a collection of artwork and writing by users and residents of the Dublin Simon Community) , or to the sentence. Or both…

After a lifetime of trying various get-rich schemes, Peter McKenna had stumbled upon the simplicity of winning fifteen million euro on the Lottery. His joy at this was tempered by nagging annoyance at how much of his life had been wasted working, since Peter was the type to find negativity in all situations, the kind who sees sunshine merely as an absence of clouds filled with possible silver linings.

He quickly recovered, though, and decided that all of the village would see the trappings of his wealth. The grandest house, the newest car, the greatest folly. Local tradesmen were summoned to assist.

It was Joe the stonemason who stood before him now, his blueprint flappingly unfurled across a garden table, fighting him like a playful baby during a nappy change. “I designed it with you in mind,” he told a doubtful Peter.

“How so?” asked Peter, who was aware of his unpopularity in the village, so had an image of a stairway up to a gallows poking at the back of his mind.

“It’s what you do if you’re a rich man,” said Joe. “It’s a staircase leading nowhere just for show.”

“That’s a great idea,” said Peter. “How much will it cost?”

Joe planned to build it from discarded gravestones, ones where he had made an error in the deceased’s name or date of demise, even the one where he had carved “Sleeping with the Angles”. The consequent zero material cost and a few hours labour on a Saturday meant that he would make a decent profit by charging five hundred euro. He knew Peter, though.

“Four thousand euro,” he said. He watched Peter’s chest fill with pride.

“Done,” said Peter.

“Indeed,” said Joe.

 

Sunday Stroll

Bandstand on Bray promenade, about 5 miles from my house (image Wikimedia commons)

On Sunday afternoons before the advent of TV, people would stroll along the promenade of seaside towns, and act posh. They would dress in their best clothes – the men in shiny shoes and shinier suits, the women in skirts too long to walk comfortably in, as if they were trying to perform Riverdance in a sleeping bag. They would stop at tea-rooms for scones and clotted cream, the pathway to clotted arteries.  They would buy candy-floss, an unruly dandelion clock of flying sugar, for grumbling children to whom the Sunday walk was simply the boredom of church moving into extra-time.

And they would stop at the bandstand. There local musicians would dilute the beauty of classical music and popular tunes of the day by adapting them to the barking honk of brass instruments, seasoned by the occasional ting of a triangle. People would circle the bandstand to watch the performance while stiff onshore breezes meant that other people two hundred yards west got to do the actual listening.

The performers were protected from the elements while the crowd found it literally rained on their parade. In the bands’ defence they were doing their attendance a favour here, since a tuba filled with water produces a sound like whale-fart.

The band would finish with their most popular number, bid the crowd farewell by the name of their town, and leave.

The bandstand is the original festival venue.

Well Wisher

Like black-smiths, thatchers and public hangmen, water diviners have been largely driven out of existence by modern life. It’s been many years since Michael hung up his stick, or at least took to throwing it for his dog.

But the change to remote working has re-invigorated the occupation, as IT professionals give up expensive apartments in Dublin to move to what they will imagine will be idyllic bliss far out in the countryside. They have not factored in field-mice, gale-force winds or the four-mile walk to the pub, but they have at least considered that they will need water, and Michael is getting more and more calls from those keen to find a well on their land.

For this he has had to find a new dowsing rod. Although all of the ability is innate to Michael, handed down through generations of genes, he still needs a good stick. Just as a golfer has a favourite driver or a snooker-player a favourite cue, water-diviners have favourites too, a piece of wood they feel at one with, through which they channel their power and confidence. And these have to be broken in.

Which is why we find Michael up to his thighs in water. He has his hat on, because heaven-forbid he might get wet, and is training his new stick. He is starting with easy stuff, the Atlantic Ocean, and will move on to rivers, then small puddles, then slow drip of a leaking tap until eventually his stick and he will be able to twitch out the trickle of an underground stream from two miles above.

Though it’s only the first day, he is excited about his choice, thrilled by its frantic twitching and its headlong dive into the sea. He feels this might be a good one.

It’s the moisture equivalent of a Ouija board.

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The image is from Simon’s Scrappy But Happy 8 Collection, the 8th edition of Dublin Simon Community’s showcase of artworks and creative writing pieces by some of those who access its homeless and housing services

Writers Tears

Seen in the Celtic Whiskey Shop, Dublin

Writers Tears is an Irish whiskey. It says so on the bottle. Having established that, you may be thinking that there was no need to further point out that it is a product of Ireland. If you are thinking that then you’ve never asked yourself where Mars Bars come from.

It is aged in American and French oaks, however, which is baffling. We have trees of our own.

The name is probably fiction, judging from the size of the bottle, unless they used a lot of writers, or just one writer on a very bad day. Since we are meant to be a melancholy bunch do not rule out the latter.

Whiskey drinkers describe it as smooth. Do not be fooled. Whiskey drinkers describe all whiskies as “smooth”, in the same way that winter swimmers describe all water as “lovely”. In reality the tiniest sip of whiskey feels as if you’ve been waterboarded with paraffin, and then force-fed a firework. One wonders have whiskey drinkers ever tasted, say, smoothies.

Writers Tears is bitter. That very sentence, with its clash of singular and plural, sounds like the best of Irish writing itself. Writers Tears is fiery. It can be bring tears to your yes, wrench your stomach, and stays with you long after it is gone. It can lead to confusion, exhaustion, and headwreck.

It is basically bottled Ulysses.

Acquired Tastes

Still Life with Bottles Roderic O’Conor 1860-1940 (from http://www.tate.org.uk/)

The Guinness is long gone.

He drank his last three cans on St Patrick’s Day, in patriotic fervour and in the belief that the lockdown would only be until the end of March.

Because he is 72, that didn’t happen.

Full lockdown is a problem for a man terrified of his daughter. She shops for him every two days, leaving pasta, fruit and, although she knows he doesn’t like it, broccoli, in a bag at his gate. Day after day he promises himself “tomorrow I will ask for a slab of cans”, but day after day the thought of her stony disapproval, like a grave slab, puts him off.

So he has been driven to the back of his kitchen cupboard, passing a tin of Carnation milk, a can of meatballs that pre-dates ring-pull lids, and a jar of Marmite from which just one experimental knife-scrape is missing. Here he has found the lost bottles, bought to remind him of holidays that he has long forgotten.

They are a mixed bunch.

The blue stuff is from Reykjavik. It looks like mouthwash and tastes like dishwash. The big green bottle at the front is some sort of Austrian herbal concoction that has hints of weed, though not in the good meaning of that word.

He was delighted to have found the bottle of Spanish lager, but time had not been kind to it. Opening it released an eye-watering vinegary tang so startling that he spilled most of the lager onto his slippers, which have begun to dissolve.

The pink bottle at the back is Cinzano which he does not remember buying. In fact he didn’t. Every home has a bottle of Cinzano, and where they come from if one of life’s great mysteries.

The small bottle is actually after-shave which he bought in Sicily, lured in by its promise of ‘the sultry scent of Etna’. In fact its scent is of microwaved socks, but he has discovered that it tastes better than the others.

And since lockdown he has stopped shaving, so he reckons it would be a shame to let it go to waste.

 

A Tail Of Woe

“What made them blind, Daddy?”

“Er, I don’t know, Sweetie. Anyway, see how they run-“

“How could they run if they were blind?”

“Um, maybe radar?”

“That’s bats.”

“Now hold on, young lady –“

“No, it’s bats that use radar. Miss Buckley said.”

“Oh.”

“So how could the mice run?”

“Maybe they could still make out shapes.”

“Like zombies?”

“Um, I don’t think zombies are blind –“

“Zombies are dead, Daddy. They must be blind.”

“Look, maybe this story’s a bit too scary. How about-”

“No, go on about the zombie mice. What happened next?”

“Ok. Well, they all ran after the farmer’s wife –“

“What?! Mice chase you?”

“No. Definitely not.”

“But they’re chasing her.”

“Maybe they don’t like her.”

“What if they didn’t like me?”

“Of course they’d like you, Honey. Everyone loves you. Anyway, she cut off their tails –“

“What?”

“She cut off their tails with a carving knife.”

“But.., but.., but they were nice mice. You said they liked me.”

“Well, yes, but -”

“So it turns out, when she ran away first, she was just going to get a concealed weapon.”

“I suppose she – where did you learn that phrase?”

Paw Patrol. Anyway, basically she tricked them. She lured them after her then pounced. She’s a wicked old woman.”

“Really? She’s usually seen as the hero of this story.”

“Well, she isn’t. She’s like the witch that trapped Hansel and Gretel. In fact, I bet she’s the one who blinded them in the first place.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t-”

“I bet she did. Stabbed them in the eyes with her stupid knife.”

“Yuck.”

“What happened next?”

“Um, don’t know really. It just says ‘did you ever see such a thing in your life’ and then ‘Three Blind Mice’ again. It’s a bit lame, to be honest.”

“I bet they kept after her.”

“I’m sure they didn’t.”

“I bet they did. That’s what zombies do. They couldn’t see but they just kept coming, and now they had no tails but they would’ve just kept coming, and then she’d have cut off their heads and they’d have just kept coming, and she’d have run and run till there was nowhere to run to, and then she’d have fallen into her own mousetrap and they’d have eaten her like cheese.”

“Now, honey, don’t go scaring your-“

“Serves her right.”

“Oh. Well, good night, Sweetie. You’re not too frightened to sleep, are you?”

“Of course not, Daddy. That was the best story ever. What’s tomorrow?”

“Humpty Dumpty.”

“Is he a zombie?”

“No. Actually, come to think of it, probably yes, in the end.”

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.

As Write As Rain

At our Inksplinters writing group this week we had the challenge of picking a hobby or interest and write about it using as many clichés as possible. I don’t fish, by the way, but it was easier than writing about slumping in front of the telly….

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I used to think that fishing was as easy as falling off a log, especially if, as I do, you do it sitting on a log. In fact it I thought it was as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.

Then yesterday morning I woke up and smelled the coffee, then I got up with the lark and shot from my bed like a bullet out of a gun, grinning like a loon, ready to carpe the diem, and indeed hopefully the carp. I made my toast as easy as pie, then hopped into my car and drove off like a bat out of hell.

I whipped out my rod and opened a can of worms. This was because I hadn’t yet reached the lake, and whipping out your rod on an open road certainly does open a can of worms.

I made my apologies to the traffic cop and finished my trip. I sprang from my car and looked out at the lake.

There are more than fish in the lake. There was a line of ducks, all in a row.

I slung my hook, then got a nibble, but it slipped through my fingers like water through a sieve. I watched  its rear as it swam away, like a vet looking up a cow’s arse.

I was not a happy bunny, nor a ray of sunshine. I was crestfallen and down in the dumps. I was not as happy as Larry, who was fishing thirty yards away and had just landed a ten-pound mackerel.

Because you should have seen the one that got away. He was the size of a house. A big house, obviously, otherwise that sentence means nothing.

I was so pissed that I went to the pub, to get pissed. In the Depths of Despair (that’s the name of the pub) I drank like a, like a, well, like a fish actually. I got as drunk as a skunk, that well-known species of heavy drinkers. My barmates tried to tell me that there were plenty more fish in the sea. They told me keep my chin up, to cheer up and to buck up. I told them something that rhymes with that.

Going forward I’m going to fish with dynamite. There’ll be a big bang (no, not that one), there’ll be a whole new meaning to the expression “the fish are rising” and they’ll shoot from the water like a bullet from a gun, a sentence that’s as old as the hills, since I used it in the second paragraph.

Then it will rain fish, like it’s raining cats and dogs.

And That’s Flat

At the Irish Writers Centre Workshop on Saturday we’d to “create a still-life in a room (e.g., an overturned chair, some balled-up pieces of paper) that implies a dramatic moment”, and describe what happened just before or after that moment…

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It looked like a jellyfish, or at least the way a jellyfish would look if had decided to play on a trampoline and hadn’t realised how low the ceiling was.

It was splayed across the ceiling, testament to man’s determination to show off, and to the adhesive qualities of a pancake. God knows what they must do to the inside of your stomach.

It was Pancake Tuesday and she had been making pancakes because he had asked her to, since he was a traditionalist at heart, and she had been flipping them because he had asked her to, since he was a big child at heart.

She had been tentatively flicking the pan upwards, like a person trying to bounce a ball on a tennis-racket. Her pancakes would jump slightly, like a magic-carpet with a faulty motor, and then flop onto the side of the pan like a towel left lying on a bath.  

He had said she was not much of a flipper, which had not improved her mood, and then made that dolphin noise that sounds like Woody Woodpecker with a peg on his nose, which had improved it even less, or disimproved it even more. She handed him the pan and asked him to show her how it was done, in order that they could actually eat some of the pancakes so that, as she put it, he would be even more full of crêpe than usual.

He took it, put one hand on his hip like the Dread Pirate Roberts fighting a duel, and vigorously flicked the pan.

In his defence the pancake did turn over in the air on its way to the ceiling. They watched it splat, they watched it sprawl. It was as though they were watching a murder-movie with their TV upside down.

And as they gazed upwards gravity went to work, and he ended up wearing the pancake like a Spider-Man mask.

It was the best Pancake Tuesday she’d had since she was a child.

Liar Liar

At last Saturday’s Workshop in the Irish Writers Centre we were given this prompt: “A woman knocks on the door of another woman’s house. She lies to get what she wants. Does she get it?”  I know I’ve slagged her before, but there’s only one possible person this could be about….

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She was told not to open the door. She was told not to speak to anyone. She was told, most definitely, not to let anyone in.

So when the knock came on the door she opened it, spoke to the person outside, and then invited her in.

Snow White wasn’t very bright.

The Queen, who had changed her appearance into that of an old crone, said “hello, dearie,” because she believed that’s the kind of thing that old crones say.

“Hello, old woman,” said Snow White, because she had never been to finishing school.

“Are you alone?” asked the Queen.

“At the moment, yes,” said Snow White. “The seven men I live with have all gone to work.”

“She lives with seven men?” thought the Queen. “Wow, what a slapper.”

“What are you doing in these woods?” asked Snow White.

“I sell apples,” said the Queen, showing her a basket.

Other women might have asked themselves how you could possibly eke out a living selling apples in a forest that had only one cottage in it, but Snow White was the kind of girl to whom the height of intellectual thought was that one day her prince would come. She was the fairy-tale equivalent of a WAG.

“They look really lovely,” she said. “Can I have one?”

“Yes, of course. Try this lovely red one,” said the Queen, holding out the apple which she had filled with poison.

“I prefer the green ones,” said Snow White.

This possibility had not occurred to the Queen, because nobody throughout history had ever preferred green apples to red ones before.

“Er, no, you don’t want a green one,” said the Queen. “They, um, show traces of horsemeat,” she finished desperately.

“Very well,” said Snow White, who soon wouldn’t be. She took a bite, then staggered about clutching at her throat as it’s recommended that you do when you’ve been poisoned, despite the fact that it doesn’t in any way help.

“Why?” she gasped.

“Because with you dead I’ll be the fairest of them all again,” said the Queen.

“Seriously?” said Snow White, looking at her gapped teeth, her hooked nose and her pebble-dashing of warts. “I haven’t met any of the other girls in this kingdom, but they must be a right collection of mingers.”

“Oh, just hurry up and die,” snapped the Queen.

Suddenly the door burst open and the seven dwarves rushed in. They saw that Snow White was dying and they all looked expectantly at Doc. Doc, however, was actually a Doctor of Fish Psychology, a quack qualification that he had picked up via a correspondence course, so he just stared helplessly. To everyone’s surprise it was Bashful who rushed forward, just as Snow White was gasping her last, and performed the Heimlich Manoeuvre.

Around her knees, unfortunately. After all, he was a dwarf.

But what was effectively a rugby tackle caused Snow White to fall forward, her chest hit the kitchen table and the piece of apple popped out.

The Queen ran out the door and, shedding her apples, her basket and her disguise, fled deep into the forest.

That was where she came face to face with the Prince. Her shoulders slumped in defeat, and she resignedly awaited her fate.

But the Prince had been searching for Snow White for months now and in truth was getting a bit tired of the quest. So when he saw the Queen, who was not only the second fairest of them all but also had a dangerous bad-girl aura about her, the Prince found himself hooked.

So the Prince found a bride, the Queen became the world’s first cougar, and Snow White settled for life with the dwarves, consoled, of course, by the fact that they owned a diamond mine.

It truly was a story where they all lived happily after.